Category: Criticism and Reviews (Page 1 of 3)

Not Ready For Player One

It can be difficult trying to decide what swords are worth falling on, what one’s ethics require of them in regards to the small things. Deciding one small thing might mean more than it seems, or that the small things add up.

I’ve been thinking about the film “Ready Player One” for a few weeks now, trying to decide if I’m going to see it or not. There’s an interesting article, “The Complexities of Supporting Art by Problematic Artists,” where the author discusses how and if we can, personally, support the work and art of people who have been uncovered to be terrible people. (Quick side note, my problems with Ready Player One are entirely with the writing and the content, and absolutely nothing to do with the author, Earnest Cline. I have met him, and have a couple degrees of separation from him by friends, and I’ve found him to be a spectacularly friendly and gregarious fellow, with no hint or allegation of himself being “a problem.” The above article, however, is a good essay on dealing with accepting problem-connected art.)

The author of the essay, in light of all the allegations coming out about terrible men in Hollywood, says:

Does this mean you should boycott all music created by these artists because you don’t agree with their personal lives?

I can’t answer that because that’s for you to decide.

Personally, I know I won’t be able to veto everything that’s problematic or created by problematic individuals… nor can I as a woman of colour. If I did, there would literally be a handful of music, shows, and movies I could consume without getting upset… which is both disappointing but true.

It’s true that many terrible people have been involved in some of the greatest or most popular works of art we know. We have to decide whether the work itself can stand alone from the creator. To this, she continues:

You have a bigger voice in society than you think and it’s your duty to be a vigilant consumer. Are you contributing to a society that values the output of art over moral integrity? Does this even matter to you?

Personally, I don’t believe art can be completely isolated and removed from the artist. Art embodies cultural footprints and implicit connotations that can either enrich or diminish its value. What might just be art to one person is a can of worms to another. Just because you can separate a piece of art from the artist doesn’t mean everybody else can.

And it’s with this in mind I’m having to make decisions about “Ready Player One.”

But why this film, this book? Why is this a problem, and I’ve not angst and blogged about anything else, like, maybe the latest Harry Potter-verse film with Johnny Depp?

This is problematic for me, and I feel my actions say something more significant in regards to what I do about this film, specifically because I am precisely its target audience. The film, well, most certainly the book, was written by and for white, middle-class, “x-gen” males. Almost to the exclusion of anyone else. The book was written for me, the film made for me. If I patronize it or not, I’m saying something about whether or not I accept and validate the problems inherent, or I refuse them.

What are the problems, precisely?

Well, let’s get the easiest one to deal with out of the way right off — it’s a poorly written novel. It’s a Mary Sue wish-fulfillment tale with no real peril or depth, no character arc of development, and as this article, puts it: “Ready Player One Is an Orgy of Nostalgia in All the Wrong Ways.” Or as one commentor online, who I can’t find to give credit to the quote, said: “*Ready Player One* is *Shrek* for nerds – a simple-ass story built out of soulless references to other pop cultural artifacts, constructed entirely to stimulate the pleasure of recognition.” At no point in the novel did I feel the hero was in any danger. In fact, pretty much a quarter of the way in I pretty much knew exactly how it was going to end, with, spoiler, him getting everything he wants, including the trophy girl. (More on the real problem of that in a second.)

Earnest Cline also wrote the 2009 film “Fanboys,” which has many of the same problems. Primarily, for me, was the climax of the film (as well as a demi-climax halfway through), was entirely a trivia contest. The protagonists had to prove they’re worthy by answering trivia questions, see how much esoterica they knew about Star Wars. That’s the “final battle” of the film. And Ready Player One is essentially that “soulless stimulation of pleasure of recognition” for an entire novel.

The problems I found with the writing are well-stated in the critique, “Why So Much Backlash? Ready Player One is Basically Twilight for Nerds” which I found myself nodding the entire way through:

The relentless references soon started wearing thin, and Wade’s ability to effortlessly conquer his challenges—like playing a perfect game of Pac-Man—started feeling empty and undeserved. By the time one of Wade’s obstacles for saving the world entails him and his friends reciting dialogue from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (a feat they accomplish with glee), I felt like a kid who thinks eating an entire cake by himself sounded fun—I was sick of it, and craving something of real substance. But the thing is, Cline really loves the ‘80s and expects the reader to feel the same. If he’s right to think that this affection is enough to carry the reader along on its own, then his deluge of pop culture references makes sense. If he’s wrong, the reader is left with references they either don’t know or don’t care about, an onslaught of nerdy nostalgia that often doesn’t advance the plot, and very simplistic writing. As in, even more basic than Twilight’s writing. In fact, film analyst Lindsay Ellis recently released a video apologizing to Meyer for getting caught up in the frenzy of bashing Twilight years ago, and acknowledging now that Meyer’s writing is really not as atrocious as everyone makes it out to be. A book Ellis mentions as having legitimately terrible writing, on the other hand? Ready Player One.

That said, I won’t not see a film because of that! One bit. I have a very low bar for quality when it comes to movies, so long as it’s audio-visually appealing. And, “Ready Player One” does promise to be that!

No, the real problems with the novel (and most likely the film), come from the toxic masculinity, the tokenism, casual racism, and misogynistic sexism deeply embedded in it.

Remember that trophy girlfriend mentioned? That’s essentially the only purpose the female character serves in the novel is to be something to be won by the hero. And to push the hero to winning his destined reward, herself getting nothing except, presumably, the pleasure of being his to own as well. On top of that, the novel falls deeply into the now-toxic trope considered a standard of so many “rom-coms,” of the guy not taking “no” for an answer. He continues to barrage and harangue her, stalking and badgering her, until she’s finally worn down and gives in — and this is considered “romantic”! Huge problem with that.

The article “The Trophy Woman of Ready Player One” does a good job focusing on that problem of the novel/film.

Then we have the tokenism and racism, addressed in this article, “We Need to Talk About Representation in ‘Ready Player One’.” This article does a far better job than I can at addressing the racism, and abelism, I felt reading it. More than implying that is you’re black, gay, disabled, disfigured, female, you better hide it… the crass patronizing only we privileged can commit by, “looking past those flaws, anyway.”

But finally, here is where it comes down to for me, where my patronage, my support or rejection, speaks directly to my experience: Ready Player One reinforces the misogynistic penis-measuring gatekeeping found rife throughout nerd culture.

I’m a nerd, been one all my life. Playing D&D since I was 10, read The Silmarillion at 12, spent every lunchtime in the school library writing programs in Apple Basic at 14, etc etc and all the stereotypes of being a geek and nerd since. And one thing nerds of all stripes do, is challenge each other to prove out worth in how much we know about something. Usually, among what has traditionally been a male-dominated culture, a newcomer says “I’m into X too!” and we fellow nerds might ask, “What’s your favorite Y from it?” and with even a vaguely acceptable answer, they’re in the club.

But to mansplain to people who are not female-identified for a second, this is not what happens to girls and women in nerd culture. If you’re female, and you dare to try to intrude into the community and say, “I like X, too,” you will be barraged with an endless challenge of questions going deeper and more minute than anything a guy would have to deal with, to prove yourself. And often times, the goalposts are moved to much and so often, there’s simply no winning, no acceptance. This kind of gatekeeping is used in such a vitriolic and cruel manner to “keep girls out!” I’ve seen it done, any woman vaguely interested in anything nerdy will likely tell you stories of it being done to her, and I thank my effing stars I never participated in it myself before I became aware of it.

Ready Player One is this gatekeeping, which the entire climax of “Fanboys” consists of, is a celebration of this, at best, pissing contest, at worst, weapon against interloping women upon the guy’s domain, purified and concentrated into the very core of what the story is.

Ultimately, I really can’t support this film, even if it improves upon the novel (which I seriously doubt it can), because of the very problems inherent in the story itself. As well as supporting the film is support of the source novel that spawned it. This is a film that if it came out some years ago, I would have raced to see, and probably see over and again as my dopamine receptors flooded with “the pleasure of (self-congratulatory) recognition” with each re-watch revealing new things I could elbow my friends with, “Didjya catch that?? Did you know what that was? Are you as knowledgeable as me??” But we don’t live in a world where we, and I’m no longer a guy who, can accept such thoughtlessly insensitive and even outright offensive representation simply for entertainment value.

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Electric Dreams of PKD and Safe with Foster

First, don’t you hate when a near-blogfaded bloggers apologizes for not blogging in so long? Yeah, me too. Sorry.

I can’t believe I haven’t complete binged the entire series of “Electric Dreams of Philip K. Dick” already, I still have a few episodes to go — but I’m really loving it. Well, I love the fact there’s more SF on TV right now, period! And, of course, being a huge Dick-head, I’m overjoyed that he’s getting even more screentime. Even though, I think, this show has been a mixed bag of both quality and level of honoring the original story the episode comes from, overall, I’m quite enjoying it.

But there’s one episode in particular I can’t get out of my head and I keep wandering back to in comparison to the original story and Dickian themes. The episode is “Safe and Sound” based on the story “Foster, You’re Dead!” I’ll give a spoiler-free general thought first, then I’ll get into some specifics after a warning.

I keep thinking about this one because the original “Foster” story is one of my favorites of Dick’s, and entirely because of the blatant criticisms it lays at late modern capitalism and disposable consumerism and manufactured need in order to make people endlessly consume. Dick has never been accused of being subtle, and this story he is at his bombastic best. The show episode “Safe and Sound,” however, does play into some subtlety and, actually, brings in some classic Dickian elements that the story did not contain, which was really interesting — but is actually at the core of my consternation. More on that after the jump.

But one of the things I thought the show did fantastically well was in modernizing the story while keeping the fundamental themes. The plot is different, but in ways in which make perfect sense, bringing story set in and critiquing late modern capitalism to that of our late postmodern capitalist world. Updating the threat of Cold War and Soviets and bomb shelters to invasive privacy issues, existential threats of terrorism, and identity. I suppose there’s not much more I can say without spoilers, so I’ll just say despite my problems with the episode, it’s a really fantastic one (even if I’m stymied whether I like the ending or not — and, even as I write this, I’m coming to the belief the ending is actually more in keeping with the story than what I would have liked to have seen in an episode they set up if it weren’t based on previous work).

And below be spoilers!

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Mark Z. Danielewski comes to visit

danielewski-1Just a couple days following the appearance of Neal Stephenson at Powell’s west, one of my favorite postmodern author’s, the risky and groundbreaking genius, Mark Z. Danielewski came to the main Powell’s to talk about his new book series, The Familiar. It’s a 27-volume series inspired by serial television, with many characters with intertwining lives, all written in each character’s unique typography.

Danielewski rocked my world around 2002 with his novel, House of Leaves. (Sadly, I can’t get this blog to properly color the word “house” in blue as it should be.) Every work of his, Danielewski deconstructs the idea of the “novel” as a form, and reinvents it. Using every trick of typography imaginable (and some unimaginable), he turns the act of reading a novel into a unique and active experience that derives from the story, but exists outside the story.

danielewski-3Reading a novel is a passive experience, for the most part. Sure, it’s far more active than sitting in front of a screen where nothing is expected from you except a working sensory system. A novel has you converting symbols on a page into meaning and engage your imagination to bring the narrative to life. But it’s still passive in the sense that the traditional novel is just a platform, a means of ingesting a story.

Danielewski’s works expect the reader to be more actively involved than to just look at words in a continuous line from one page through a serious of ordered pages til the end. His books demand for you to interact with it. To actually make choices with how you are going to ingest the narrative, and thus with how the narrative is revealed and understood. My reading of House of Leaves, or Only Revolutions, is going to differ from yours not just because we might be imagining the same story with differences, such as hair color or tone of voice. Our experience of the book will differ structurally, fundamentally.

danielewski-2Well, anyway, he read a relevant bit from House of Leaves, and an interesting chapter from his first volume of The Familiar. And his Q&A session was great! Man, I so wish I’d taken notes. Most people asked really thoughtful questions, and his answers were so well-said, so insightful, and inspiring. The only thing I can remember, and is probably the least interesting thing he said, was “The way you live your life will affect the kinds of things you create.”

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Redshirts and Year Zero

I recently finished reading, well, listening, to a couple of fantastic novels on Audible. (I had a lot of car-driving time this last week.) I want to spend a little more on the absolutely amazing, beautiful, crazy novel, Redshirts, so I’ll discuss Year Zero first.

Year Zero is about the wacky hijinks of aliens, and their human copyright lawyer, trying to deal with the recent discovery that they owe the Earth literally the entire universe’s wealth in music licensing fees for all the music they’ve been pirating for the last 40 years. It was written by Rob Reid who is no stranger to the world of music and copyright law. The very, very absurd and ridiculous world of music and copyright law. This farcical and comedic novel is a perfect foil to point up just how comedic (in a black comedy sort of way) the reality of the subject is. In fact, the slowest parts of this fast-paced novel are where copyright law and licensing are discussed. But the thing is, the real subject — the revolving-door lobbying, the absurd legal penalties, the paranoid and spiteful barriers to licensing improvement — is so absurd that it actually doesn’t take away from the farcical fiction of the story.

One of the ups and downs of the book is just how much it tries, tries hard, to emulate Douglas Adams. Maybe not quite a “Hitchhiker’s Guide” novel, but at least a “Dirk Gently” novel. At times Reid handles it quite well and I laughed aloud at the pun or slapstick or wacky description, but much of the time, I listened with a small smirk the occasional eye-roll and groan. The novel bounces around from clever to silly to clever quite a bit, and the number of times aliens are depicted saying, “Well, duh!” got a little tired. …and then, like a Family Guy gag, it was to over-used that it almost became funny again.

In any case, it was a fun read, well written despite the groan-worthy puns. I hate puns!

And then there’s John Scalzi’s Redshirts. This was a huge surprise of a book! John Scalzi is a favorite author of mine, and an inspiration to my own writing. And based on the description of the novel and much of what I’d been hearing about it, I thought this was going to be a purely fun, action-packed, quirky romp. And, indeed, the first two-thirds certainly had a lot of that! But then, starting at the end of the main story and carrying through into the three codas, the book takes a very serious turn that left me both inspired and emotionally wracked. The codas are, from what I’ve read of his, the most sentimental (in the good way, not the sentimentality-bad way) stuff he’s written.

What’s funny (not in the ha-ha way), is that I did read some reviews of the novel before hand, to get an idea of the book before I bought it, trying to not spoil myself. And, I read a lot of comments saying that, “This is a great book! Until the stupid codas. They’re pointless and totally don’t fit.” A lot of those kind of comments. So, I was prepared to enjoy the satirical and fun first two-thirds of the main story, and then just kinda gloss over the rest. Whoa, was I wrong! No… boy are those comments absolutely wrong! See, despite the fact that most of the book is the story of a bunch or “red shirts” on a space shift figuring out newbies on the ship tend to die on away missions and figuring out how to overcome this apparent curse, that’s not the real story. In fact, I see that as the preface for the real story, which is the three codas! The sci-fi action story is a necessary setup for the themes and conflict that are dealt with in the codas which investigate the nature of finding yourself. Discovering who you are, what you want to be and do, and how you deal with the life you’re “given.”

I really can’t say more without spoilering the book. And this is a book that I highly and heavily recommend reading! It’s a short book, and very fast — you could probably read it all in a day and evening. I would recommend listening to the audiobook as Wil Wheaton (also no stranger to star ships and red shirts), does a fine job! Although, I don’t agree with some of his inflection and tone choices. Until He gets to the codas. Then, I can’t imagine anyone else reading it. He’s absolutely brilliant, and I’d recommend anyone listening through the first part in order to hear Wil Wheaton read the codas. He’s an actor, so very possibly the emotion I hear in his voice toward the end of the last coda is acting… but I don’t think so. I think, considering what and how he talks about his own life in his blogs, he’s truly feeling the emotion of that last coda, and it’s bringing tears to my eyes right now as I remember it.

Read Redshirts. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, even if you don’t think you’ll get the satire and the in-jokes. That’s okay. Remember, the main action story is just a prelude for some of the best contemporary literary fiction that is the core of the book.

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Looper

I just got done seeing the new film, “Looper.” Wow! That’s good cinema! An original film (not a sequel, not a remake — although I do not have anything against remakes) that takes you on a ride both emotionally and viscerally. It’s from the same writer and director who made “Brick,” one of my all-time favorite films. A film that also starred one of my increasingly favorite actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As I write, briefly, about this film, I will avoid spoilers that aren’t evident from the commercials and trailers.

Now, you certainly know, it is a time travel film. (Huh, Bruce Willis is good in those — see: “Twelve Monkeys.”) And yes, if you’re the kind of person who demands that your time travel films make complete and logical sense without any paradoxes, this film is going to totally P. you O. There are some potential problems with the laws of causality in this film. But, to badly paraphrase one of the characters: “I’m not gonna sit here and discuss time travel paradoxes with you! We’d be here all night and end up diagramming shit with napkins and straws.” This is obviously the filmmaker telling the audience, yes, he’s well aware some stuff doesn’t makes sense, thank you. Deal with it. He’s letting you know that time travel is, in a sense, a narrative macguffin, something you just have to accept as necessary and watch the film for everything that the film ultimately is about.

Now, I do have a fictional theory as how this fictional notion of time travel could work in this fictional world and have the kind of cause and effect it presents, and would be happy to discuss it with anyone curious — but I’m not going to spend time detailing it here, not without risking sounding like a pedantic hypernerd, (in Simpson’s Comic Book Store Guy’s voice) “They clearly established in episode 46, ‘Rise of the Regalitrons,’ that deck 12 only has 20 rooms as the phasematter converter controls are there. So, obviously, there can’t be a ‘room 14’ on that deck, unless it is 30 meters outside the starboard side of the ship. And I think not. Obviously, what would the crew even breathe?! Sheesh.” Sorry… back to “Looper.”

The film has a wonderful balance of dark pathos as well as moments of fun, and necessary, humor. There’s one moment that Gordon-Levitt’s character is seen examining his hairline in the mirror which makes fun of the fact that the prematurely balded Bruce Willis is in his future. There’s also some moments that, without giving much away, is difficult to watch as a parent. So, fair warning. But the script is clever, the acting just great, and the story engaging!

An element I found interesting: most of the film takes place in Kansas City or thereabouts in 2042 — thirty years from now. The world that’s created feels, sadly, extremely believable. There’s rampant poverty in the streets, mentions of “vagrant wars” (or “vagrant riots,” I can’t remember), and realistic appropriation and adaptation of technology, like solar panels everywhere and hydrogen fuel recycling systems fitted to early 21st century trucks. The only bit of tech that had be raising an eyebrow was the jet cycles that had hover capability. Eh, no, not buying that. Oh, and there’s one other major story element that I won’t spoiler because I don’t believe it’s revealed in any trailers, that, for me, is far less believable than time travel paradoxes and had me thinking outside the film a bit much.

It was nice to be able to get out and see a fun, dark, actiony, humorous film. Oh, and I saw a goose-bump-raising trailer for the upcoming film, “The Cloud Atlas.” Can’t wait! And a trailer for some Abraham Lincoln film that oddly had nothing to do with vampires. Pfft. Leave it to Hollywood to toe the line and perpetuate the lie about the truth about Lincoln all these years. *grin*

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Glasshouse

(A no-spoilery review.)

I recently finished Charles Stross’ novel of the posthuman future, Glasshouse. It was closer to his novel Halting State in style, and certainly more readable than its unofficial prequel, Accelerando. While not a perfect novel by any means, and containing a few misses and rough parts, I’m placing it in my top 10 favorite SF novels and top 5 posthumanity-themed works.

I stopped reading Accelerando, but not permanently. (Not like Dies the Fire, the probable inspiration for the upcoming TV show, “Revolution.” That book is the only one that I’ve put down mid-way and said, “Nope! I’m done, thank you. No more.”) It really is a fascinating book that depicts the coming singularity, the advent of the posthuman age, in a believable and detailed manner. Unfortunately, I’m finding it a bit too dense, too inscrutable when it comes to the detailed, and far too often, explanations of intellectual property rights and venture investing and whatnot.

In contrast, Glasshouse, like Halting State, is more action and adventure. Where Accelerando explains the posthuman rise, Glasshouse exists in it. We don’t need to be told what’s happening, it just happens. In the opening pages, the first scene, the reader is thrust right in the middle of a strange, new existence where bodies are interchangeable and minds can be backed up and restored. At first, you have no idea if the characters are players in an advanced online RPG, a virtual reality, or what. But soon we come to accept that this setting is post-Earth, post-human, post-normal expectations of what it means to have a body or even an identity. The protagonist, Robin, goes through a crisis of identity involving his past life (lives — in the metaphorical sense, not any metaphysical “reincarnation” sense), while at the same time dealing with his current situation as a test subject in a closed environment meant to simulate late 20th, early 21st century Earth.

One of the most clever conceits of this novel is making most of it take place in a setting that’s vaguely familiar to the reader, if a bit askew (like a collision between the village from “The Prisoner” and the town from “Leave it to Beaver,” with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and an Ikea display showroom), and allowing that to counterpoint the characters and their floundering in this environment. We can understand the posthuman world better because of the way the characters who live in that foreign world react to the things and ways of our world–and at the same time provides the cognitive estrangement needed to examine our own ways and mores with their arbitrary restrictions and customs.

Meanwhile, Robin must solve a couple of mysteries, one involving who these people are running the experiment, and the other involving his missing memories.

Glasshouse is well-written and moves reasonably quick, but there are annoying moments where characters occasionally do or say something odd that pulled me out of the book. Whether it was something that was unmotivated, or awkwardly phrased, I found moments that my reading ground to a halt, I would have to go back and re-read the passage to see if I missed something, and just ended up shrugging and moving on. Fortunately, that was a rare occurrence. The only other complaint, is that some of Robin’s background and history would be presented in flashback with teasingly little in the way of context and explanation. This is fine, when explanation does eventually come and the tangles and loose ends get wrapped up; however, too much of his flashback went unexplained for too long, making it difficult to understand how it motivated some of his fears and goals. By the end, when the whole story starts to come together, I felt it was too late to make me really grasp who he was and what was going on in the past.

Indeed, difficult not just in understanding Robin, but the history of the book as well. The greater wars and conflicts that happened before the novel begins, which helped shape the condition of transhumanity in this story. Some of it in intentional, as, and this is difficult to explain without spoilers, much of history is actually lost to the characters and must, therefore, be lost to us readers. But I feel as though there are too many holes that Stross let go in the backstory that I really needed to have filled before the climax.

Stross and his works appeal to me because of my own keen interest in the topic of post- and transhumanity. It’s been a focus on my own graduate work (and, hopefully, will be the focus of my doctorate work when I finally get to attend Trent University. Oh, yes–one day I shall!), my writing, and my hobbies. I’ve written recently on my love for the pencil-and-dice RPG, Eclipse Phase. The creators of that game, set in a quasi-posthuman universe, have listed Charles Stross as a “writer to watch,” and it’s no wonder why: I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Eclipse Phase was heavily influenced by Glasshouse (and Accelerando), as much as it was inspired by Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and maybe a bit by Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. (I really want to see reputation (i.e. Doctorow’s “wuffie”) used more as currency and capital n the game!)

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“Sleeping Beauty” really needs a wake-up call!

I caught the Julia Leigh film “Sleepy Beauty” on Netflix the other night, and, if it weren’t for the final scene, I would have forgotten it as a sexually exploitative mediocre-at-best art-house film. Unfortunately, thanks to the penultimate scene in the film, what “Sleeping Beauty” is, is in fact, a near-miss at a truly excellent feminist psycho-drama. Sadly, no matter how affective one good apple of a scene can be, it’s not enough to save the rotten barrel. And because of that, instead of simply sighing and mumbling, “Well, that was a wasted two hours,” I’ve not been able to stop thinking about what this film could have been.

Needless to say, this critique/review is going to contain spoilers. If you’ve not seen this film. . . well, actually, I’m not sure I can suggest doing so. As I’ve indicated, and I’m going to go into, it’s not a good film. It’s certainly not something you want to watch for the entertainment value–it’s not entertaining. Well, unless you’re someone who watches, say, Lars von Trier films for entertainment. *scowl* Poorly made Lars von Trier films as that. So, if you’ve not seen it, and would still like to read this article, I won’t stop you.

That said, I really don’t feel like summarizing the film any any great detail for people who’ve not seen it. In fact, I would suggest reading the Wikipedia summary of the film before continuing. But, for clarity’s sake, here’s the broad brush: A college student played by Emily Browning appears to go to class, work two normal jobs, prostitute at night as a free agent, and subject herself to medical/scientific testing for extra cash. How she finds time to do all this, well, let’s just say time management isn’t the only fanciful aspect of this film. In the process, she gets hired on to be a half-naked “silver service” server and objet d’art a la Story of O for a private dinner party club. Evidently, because of her unique beauty (and, I assume, preternatural lack of emotion or flappability) she’s contracted to be put to sleep (literally, not figuratively) naked in bed so that high-paying men can do. . . whatever, to her while she remains comatose.

Yeah, sounds just lovely, huh. The film could have, and I think, though I’ve not read any articles about the writer/director, sincerely tried to use this rather unusual, twisted adult fairy tale of a plot, to make a feminist indictment of the way in which women are exploited and used by the patriarchal society. And, it comes close. At least, the elements are there, ready to be activated into a stunning and unforgettable critique of society. But the production fails to activate the materials. The catalyst was never set off thanks to a script that, at its best, rises to the level of tedious, directing that aspires to be as good as tedious, and acting that tries really, really hard but is hamstrung by the script and directing.

Before I get back to why the feminist structure was there, I want to touch on the acting. Emily Browning does an admirable job portraying a young women who, on the surface, is easily dismissed as “self-destructive.” Certainly anyone who lives the life her character does can’t be anything else but, can she? But no, it’s deeper than that, and Browning shows it. Her character actually doesn’t appear to care enough about her own being to be something as active as self-destructive. Nihilistic is perhaps the best description.

Actually, not long ago I discovered a mental-behavior disorder known as depersonalization disorder. Essentially, someone with this condition generally feels disconnected, literally and figuratively, from their body. They tend to go through life not as a participant in their own actions but rather as an observer–a detached viewer of a person they don’t identify as themselves. Browning’s character is never described in the film as having any kind of mental or behavioral disorder, and the somewhat surreal atmosphere and circumstances of the film tend to preclude being able to diagnose any of its characters with any real-world DSM-IV conditions. They simply are what they are without the benefit of medical classification. But, if I had to label her, I would say she depicts someone with depersonalization disorder to a tee. This analysis becomes very important in discussing why the ending of the film is as powerful as it is and nearly redeems this movie.

Browning’s character goes from job to class to job to drug to sexual exploit entirely unaffected. When a clinical scientist is running a tube down her throat for a test, when she’s making endless copies at an office job, when she’s lying to her alcoholic mother and gives her her fake(?) credit card number, when she’s negotiating for sex with a client, when she’s being examined for marks before joining the dinner party service team, nothing breaks through her detachment. She performs every task and duty equally submissive, equally detached. Until the end, there are only four times in the film she shows any emotion. One is, unbelievably, some semblance of happiness in the company of what the viewer can only assume (as no direct explanation is ever given) a long-time friend who appears to be a shut-in and either a recovering alcoholic or is chronically ill. Another is when said friend informs her that he can’t go on any longer and implies he’s either “letting go” or will commit suicide, she shows weakness, sadness, and even a bit of fear. Then, when she discovers him near-death from what appears to be drug-induced suicide, she crumbles and cries, allowing herself to be cuddled by him as he dies in bed. And finally, at the funeral when she demands of a new character and evidently long-ago friend of the both of them, to marry her (jokingly? sincerely? both?) and he angrily rejects her, she herself displays barely-repressed anger.

It’s these four, only four, instances of sincere humanity that peak (yes, “peak”) out from an otherwise Kansas-flat vista of stoicism, that allows the viewer, just barely, to feel some amount of empathy, or at least sympathy, for her character. Just enough to let us keep going along this weird and twisted journey she’s on, to see where it ends. The 95-percent unaffected behavior from her is necessary for the socio-political purpose of the film, and to make the ending as effective as it is, while the four-instance emotional cracks allow us to believe the ending is possible while, also, not getting so disgusted by her alien behavior that we have to give up on her before journey’s end.

No, all blame for the failures of this film rests at the feet of the director. For example, just what style was she going for? Kubrickian? David Lynchian? Catherine Breillat-ian? von Trierian? It certainly doesn’t establish a style of its own, despite the pastiche, as the styles of the afore-mentioned auteur directors are employed with heavy-handed obviousness and no cohesiveness. Which is made worse by the fact that the viewer can’t tell what directorial choices are in fact choices or mistakes or carelessness.

For example, in one particular scene, Browning’s character, Lucy, steps out from a car having arrived at where she would be sleeping, and stops in the driveway to stare at something. The camera slowly pans (Lynchian-style) across the building to where there’s another car that two men help a drugged young woman into. The camera slowly pans back to show Lucy vaguely curious. The problem here is that once the camera reveals the men, woman, and car, it’s obvious that they wouldn’t have been visible to Lucy at the point we see her stare before the camera makes its languorous trip. So, is this intentional? Is this just lazy direction?

In another scene, Lucy is in an electronics store to buy a concealable camera. Her image is displayed on various televisions from what should be a camera on display. However, it’s obvious here that her televised image was pre-recorded and Browning is having to act to match the dialog and movements of herself in the screens. This is terribly perplexing; there’s no logical, practical reason why the production couldn’t have used a real-time digital camera patched into televisions the same way thousands of department stores do daily. Just replace whatever they had feeding the screens with her pre-recorded action with a live camera. The fact they used a recording had to have been a conscious and intentional decision, but why? For all the oddness of the film, it’s not so odd that this display of a fracture in reality, I can only assume, is justified and appropriate.

And, not to mention, the scene that was surely the worst directed scene I have ever seen since an Ed Wood movie. The scene in which Lucy has her interview with the hostess/madam, Clara, and her assistant(?). The entire, single-cut scene, felt like the director said, “Action!”

And the actors replied, “Uhm, you never gave us lines or blocking for this scene.”

“Well. . . oh! We’ll do this scene. . . minimalist natural realism! Yeah, that’s the ticket. Now. . . action!”

“Er, we still don’t really know what to do here.”

“Action!”

It was awkward and uncomfortable watching it, and I sat through “Jurassic Park 2.” I almost gave up. I thought to myself, “I don’t care how artsy and film-festivally this is, this is terrible.” But, I try never to stop watching a film so that, if nothing else, I can say, “Yeah, actually, I saw that. Let me tell you how bad it was!” (And yet, I still refuse to see “Twilight.”)

This brings us, finally, to the saving grace that made me throw up my hands in cry, “This! Why couldn’t the previous 97 minutes have lived up to this?!” Here’s what happens:

So, she rises to the position of being a beautiful rag doll in a lavish bed. We see her on three different occasions get molested in her drugged state by three wealthy men she never meets. The first one is, in a manner of speaking, the more gentle one who seems to want to do no more than appreciate her appearance. (Still misogynistic, and I’ll go into that later.) But he’s a sad, broken rich man. He comes back at the end of the film to allow himself to be drugged to death by the madam/hostess and die in bed next to the naked and sleeping Lucy.

Cut to later when Clara returns and checks to make sure he is indeed dead. Clara sits on the bed, perhaps sad. She attempts to waken Lucy and discovers that (thanks to her still having last night’s recreational drugs in her system) Lucy won’t awaken. She’s forced to give her near-panicking mouth-to-mouth. Lucy wakes with a shock and a start. She looks around, seemingly for the first time, sees the man dead next to her, and screams. And screams. Not the scream of panic, nor of shock, nor anger, but of pure, brutal existential crisis. She screams in spiritual terror like a newborn pulled violently into a new world, but also with all the awareness of the terror of what life holds.

Every ounce of emotion that Lucy should have felt throughout the film, throughout her whole life perhaps, comes out in this instantaneous realization of who she is, what she is, what she’s done. The dam has burst, the walls have collapse, the ground has given way, every masonic artifice that is used to hold in the unbridled force of being, is gone. All is left is pure pathos. And Emily Browning performs this painful and terrible moment with complete and utter sincerity. We, the voyeur who has watched her emotionless debasement for an hour and a half is given a view of the cost and are then swept away, never to know if this re-birth leads to her new life, or ultimate destruction where what was before an existence not-lived or examined, becomes active self-destruction as she realizes she can’t live with her new awareness. The scene cuts to video of what Lucy had secretly recorded of that night using her covertly placed camera–her asleep, and him presumably dead, in the same position he was found in. Then, credits.

That catharsis gives meaning and purpose to the previous hour and a half of detached ennui. And the previous small cracks give the catharsis sincerity. Sadly, however, the scene can’t be seen entirely as Lucy’s horror and catharsis and one can’t help but see, perhaps, some of Browning herself in the emotional release, due to the fact that the awkward and amateurish direction throughout the film gives the impression that the actress is being exploited and abused nearly as much as the character. While the presumed intent of the film was to critique misogyny, the failure of the message makes the actress as much a victim as the character. Perhaps not as intentionally as von Trier and his sadistic debasement and abuse of women (the actresses themselves in what seems like the director’s hate for women) in what is truly misogynistic film-making, but the end result is the same.

So, because of the embarrassingly awful and never-quite-sure-what’s-intentional directing, the potentially powerful message gets turned into exactly what the film was trying to subvert–a misogynistic sexual exploitation piece. Lucy is supposed to represent the female, made to be submissive and without voice in the patriarchy. She’s expected to be all things: the good daughter, the student, the hard worker, the sex slave, the piece of art on a pedestal, the caretaker of the weak and sick . . . . And she’s expected to do it without complaint. Without even her active participation in those roles. She’s simply . . . expected.

Clara, the hostess/madam, should have been an interesting character. She is what Lucy would have become in fifteen or twenty years. Clara appears in the film nearly as unaffected, as detached as Lucy. She is, in fact, representative of the self-victimization of the woman. She facilitates her own subjugation and the subjugation of women because that is, again, what is expected. It’s what she knows. It’s auto-pilot. Throughout the history of the fight for gender equality, some of the fiercest opponents have been other women who resent the idea that they should question the world, the role, they know and have been convinced is the right and proper “place” for a woman in this “man’s world.” Without question, without a raised eyebrow, Clara perpetuates the abuse to the next generation. Lucy has woken up, and has avoided that fate–though we don’t know if for good or ill.

The three men who visit the comatose Lucy represent three different ways in which society sets men up to subjugate women. The second man to use her is overtly abusive, raining verbal abuse upon her and even burning her with a cigarette. There is no subtlety with him, he is hate. Interestingly, before his visit, Clara had but one rule for the men: no penetration. She had even told Lucy, in these words, that her vagina is a temple (which Lucy dismissed). This points out the patriarchy’s obsession with “purity,” or virginity, despite the complete disdain it has for all other aspects of the female. “Virginity” is code for “property.” Only the man who owns the girl can despoil her in such a way, while society has historically had no similar attachment of “purity” toward men. (At least, not until the rise of equal rights when, faced with the hypocrisy, instead of giving up on the obsession with female virginity, Judeo-Christian culture started giving lip service toward the value of male virginity. Though, in cultural practice, this is empty sentiment.) This is evident in the rise of the rather creepy “purity balls” which have no male version.

In any case, Clara’s one rule was to maintain the patriarchal obsession with purity in hypocritical counterpoint to the range of abuse otherwise allowed, until the second man’s visit. Clara then adds a second rule: no marks. After all, we are still talking about property.

The third man is a large, bull of a man who is surreal David Lynch style, performs a scene of trying to pick up the limp, naked Lucy, carry her around and replace her on the bed, only to have her continue to slide off the edge despite his efforts. It really is almost as absurd as it sounds. This man is the hypocrisy of chivalry. Chivalry (as we know it today, not its medieval origin) is a false theatrical replacement for actual respect. If you want to open a door for someone, protect someone’s honor, treat someone with deference, you do it out of respect for that person as a human. While the patriarchy exploits and abuses the female, it hides behind this play-act of being a protector and guardian of virtue of “the weaker sex.” It’s patronizing and demeaning and borne, once again, out of protection of property, as opposed to out of human respect as equals. The third man tries to be the strong, dominant hero, and because he sees her as the other men do, an object, property, he ultimately fails.

Back to the first (and final) man, he is the subtle symbol of patriarchal exploitation. His first visit, all he does is look, admire, touch, with what appears to be both longing and adoration. On the surface, this seems harmless enough. But remember, he’s looking and touching and admiring a woman who has been made to order to be unresponsive, unaware, without voice–still, just an object. His tender touch is no different and has no more care than a stroke of a statue or a vase. In the western patriarchy, women are objectified and presented on magazines, TV, billboards, as commodity. To be consumed. The image of the woman is sexualized, made glamorous and seemingly untouchable, but consumed all the same. This seemingly kindly, older man, is not being kind to Lucy, he doesn’t even know or even see a “Lucy.” He sees an object, something he’s paid to consume.

And in the end, with his second visit, he uses her in a most obscene way, by making her without her consent, see him off into death. We may feel sympathy for him because he’s alone and broken and desires to leave the world next to something beautiful, but this does not absolve him of the exploitation he commits, of the person to which he is incapable of apologizing to. And it perverts the earlier scene where she voluntarily gives comfort to her friend as he, in counterpoint, also leaves this world, broken. That scene (though directed awkwardly), is heartbreaking; the scene with the rich old man, is perverse. This realization is certainly part of what instigates Lucy’s ultimate breakdown.

The indictment is there, the statements are there, the critique is there–but what ultimately comes out of this film is clumsy and . . . whatever German word means: ironically sexual without any actual sexuality.

Oh, and a final word on the marketing of this film. From what I’ve seen, it’s been marketed as an erotic drama, even romantic is some strange way. For the DVD release, the studio even did a promotion where you could win a chance at a prize for sleeping in public in their display bed. Seriously. Think about what this movie is about, and then consider this “you too could be Sleeping Beauty for money!” promotion. Reminds me of how “Hunger Games” was promoted. “You too can participate in the Hunger Games!” kind of hoopla to the books and fast food tie-ins and stuff. Think about that. “You too can participate in a horrific and evil competition where you kill other children in grisly ways and try to survive! Buy our stuff.”

I hate marketers.

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“Blade Runner’s” 30th anniversary and cartoonists with projection issues

Well, yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the release of “Blade Runner” — the film I have, since I saw it when I was 11, invariably listed as my favorite film of all. Like most people (who weren’t up on the latest literary scifi trends) at that time, circa 1982, I had no experience or knowledge of “cyberpunk.” But the style and themes of “Blade Runner,” despite having had only 11 years of safe, middle-class life experiences to draw upon, etched themselves into my mind and from that moment, converted me from a die-hard Ray Bradbury fan to (although I didn’t yet know it) a die-hard William Gibson fan. After “Blade Runner,” my scifi aesthetic became dark as an alley and bright as neon. I didn’t yet know it, but the seeds of appreciation for the posthuman were planted, the seeds for understanding postmodern capitalism were planted — albeit deeper.

Though, on the surface, what that 11-to-13-year-old me most loved, was most amazed by, was the very, very, un-Star Wars, un-Star Trek view of the polluted and dying megalopolis depicted in the film. A film with the symbol of human progress and science: the flying car, set, unexpectedly, among the decay and nihilism of the cyberpunk world.

Thanks to having my awareness primed by “Blade Runner,” when I did finally come across William Gibson in the fiction pages of OMNI magazine just a couple years later, the short circuit was made and I became. I began to truly understand what it meant to question being human, what it meant to fear the future and question the myth of the bright and glorious future of humanity.

And, over the 30 years, every time I revisit “Blade Runner,” by accumulated life experiences informs my appreciation for the film and those questions and fears even more — and more deeply.

Gareth Branwyn wrote a short essay on BoingBoing.net a few weeks ago, remembering the truly sublime, life-altering experience seeing “Blade Runner” for the first time was for him. He had the life experiences to allow him to have that sublime epiphany in the moment. I had to draw that moment our over three decades into growing awareness punctuated by moments of, “Ooohhh, yyeeaahh….” (Be sure to read that BoingBoing article! Emotional.)

The latest stage of my developing awareness came, funny enough, toward the later years, when I discovered the works of the man whose novel, Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep, inspired the film. Philip K. Dick. There is no “Everything happens for a reason,” but it’s difficult to ignore the feeling that my history with “Blade Runner,” Gibson, cyberpunk, didn’t lead me to where I could encounter PKD prepared to appreciate and understand his work, his themes, his intent, from the first word of his I read.

Naturally, the plot of “Blade Runner” diverges from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep somewhat significantly. But when you examine it, and realize Ridley Scott had to pare a novel down to a two-hour audio-visual version, it really is an excellent, and indeed, faithful translation. And from the script he read and the dailies he saw, PKD thought so as well until he passed away so close to the premiere.

And this is where my assessment appears to diverge greatly from that of cartoonist John Bonner. In his one-page comic, “Comic Crits Classics: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick,” Bonner speculates that PKD would have loved the style of the film (which he did), but would have ultimately been disappointed and even betrayed by the lack of certain thematic elements. Not only is Bonner likely wrong about what PKD would have thought (based on PKD’s own words), but he’s factually wrong about the film not including some of the themes he seems to think it missed.

He has his Philip lamenting the film’s lack of “kibble” (sic) and the “exploration of the android-human dilemma.” In fact, he projects that his idea of Philip would be “heartbroken” at the loss of supposedly nearly everything from the book that didn;t make it into the film. Well, allow me to address Bonner’s errors.

The so-called android-human dilemma is at the very core of the film. In fact, the primary theme of the film centers around the dilemma of androids who are more human than human and yet are considered less-than human by the cold and resentful humans that created them. The entire film asks, “What does it mean to be ‘human’?”

And the kipple? (As it’s properly spelled.) The film is wall-to-wall with it. A couple of years ago I wrote a paper for grad school titled, “The Ubiquitous and Panasonic Kipple: Tracing the Consumption of Death, from Philip K. Dick to Don DeLillo’s White Noise.” As the title suggests, I deal with the concept of kipple a wee bit. From Do Androids, here’s what it is:

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up in the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.”

“I see.” The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.

“There’s the First Law of Kipple,” he said. “‘Kipple drives our nonkipple.’ Like Gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody there to fight the kipple.”

“So it has taken over completely,” the girl finished. She nodded. “Now I understand.” (57)

In Androids, PKD has to, naturally, explain what kipple is and that the world is filled with it. It’s a novel. Ridley Scott, however, is (despite the heartbreakingly disappointing “Prometheus.”) an expert filmmaker. He doesn’t need to tell you about kipple, he shows you. Every set, every scene of the film is wall-to-wall kipple. The streets, Deckard’s apartment, Sebastian’s apartment, Zhora’s dressing room, everywhere except Tyrell’s conference room is littered with kipple in a claustrophobia-inducing crush. Scott doesn’t have to tell you that the decaying Earth is being weighted down by the cast-off corpses of consumerism — it’s evident in every shot. It seeps into the subliminal awareness of the film like the way kipple seeps into our lives. Scott “gets” it. And that’s probably one reason PKD did indeed love what he saw of the film:

I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of BLADE RUNNER is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people — and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches BLADE RUNNER. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, BLADE RUNNER is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, canbe.

Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the BLADE RUNNER project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER. Thank you.

And:

“I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull’s special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.”

Mercerism was an, admittedly, prominent and important aspect of PKD’s novel, but to attempt to include that would require a film twice as long. And from PKD’s appreciation of the script he read:

After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel. I was amazed that Peoples could get some of those scenes to work. It taught me things about writing that I didn’t know.”
[…]
“You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.

…I think PKD was perfectly okay with their not including that half of the book in this film.

So, I have a feeling that Bonner was personally disappointed by what he felt the film missed from one of his favorite books, and decided to project that disappointment into the voice of the author — despite the author’s own well-documented opinions of the film.

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Rothfuss reaction

So I just finished Patrick Rothfuss’s second “Kingkiller Chronicles” novel, Wise Man’s Fear. In general, not quite as good as Name of the Wind, but still a brilliant novel. Rothfuss has a command of the language and ability to paint with words that’s just awe inspiring. I’m not going to be spoilery in this, well, more of a reaction than a full review. But I must be specific in mention how, in Wise Man, there’s a picnic scene near the end that is heartbreakingly beautiful and, and gut wrenchingly tragic. Rothfuss is able to manipulate emotion with words the same way his Kvothe can do it with song. Even the almost-Tom Bombadil-superfluous segment of his adventures in the land of fey is a roller-coaster of drama.

One of the things about Name of the Wind that kept me on the edge of my seat and constantly unsettled (in a good way), is the way he constantly changes the fortunes of his picaresque hero on a dime. One minute Kvothe is doing something so brilliantly, he succeeds at something so skillfully, that I would be shaking my head incredulously if not for being thrilled by the process of success. A success that almost invariable makes me think in some small voice, “Oh, that’s a bit too convenient. He can’t lose, now!” And then, before the thought is fully formed–wham! Kvothe is blindsided by a problem, an issue, a challenge, a loss that is actually worse than the previous success was wonderful, in such a way as to make me gasp and wonder, instead, “Yikes! How the heck is he going to recover from that? That’s really going to cost him.” And then, what follows, is an entirely believable and well-earned overcoming of misfortune.

The one problem I had with Name of the Wind was that the ending felt anti-climactic. But, when you consider, it’s really meant to simply be a first act, it works okay–especially since I was able to carry right on into the next book.

The problem(s) I had with Wise Man’s Fear is that it felt too much like his escapades were unearned, and Marty Stu-ish. Such as the afore-mentioned time in fey with a “lust goddess.”

“When Larry Met Mary”

(Oh, that’s funny. Re-reading that comic’s title, I just realized realized the very connection to the complaint I just made above! Duh! [Larry Stu is another name for Marty Stu, which are both variants of Marry Sue. See trope link.])

And then his excursion into the realm of, yeah, what’s essentially the equivalent of a ninja-factory, and all the fantasy sexinating he does there. (Another tangent: His time there reminded me way too much of the hero Anjin-san’s sexedumacation of the free and lusty way of feudal Japan in James Clavell’s Shogun.) It just didn’t have the same realism of the first book.

But then, what we’re reading in these two books, is the bildungsroman of a man who would become a legend, a subject of fantastic tales. He has to develop as a young man from urchin to world-wise proto-myth. He has to have the adventures and experience to create the mythic figure. And, I said before he doesn’t seem to earn the rather too-good-to-be-true romps, and as I think of it, he does… but doesn’t. *sigh*

Before he enters fey (like, literally stumbles into it from out of nowhere),  he has an experience during a fight that is rather horrific. It’s horrific for him, and it’s wonderfully and properly horrific for the reader. On the surface it’s an event that should be worthy of a positive turn for him. A piece of Kvothe’s “soul,” if not his sanity, should have been harmed in that event. But, then, really, it’s not. Rothfuss creates this event, this scene, that should have been extremely formative to Kvothe’s psyche, but it’s dropped almost as soon as it’s over. He does have a very negative event in fey with an enchanted tree (not as silly as it sounds–it’s described quite wonderfully!) that does in fact harm him and he carries the pain through the rest of the book. But, in my opinion, the tree event is a far lesser terror than what happens in the battle, and the lasting reactions and terribly flipped.

…unless, it’s intentional. Unless the the reason why Kvothe is able to shrug off the one and let the other emotionally haunt him, is very telling of the kind of man he becomes. If so, well, it needs to be more apparent in book three.

And, speaking of the man he becomes, this is the last thing that bothers me: The books are the story of Kvothe’s early life wrapped around a frame narrative of the man that he became telling his story. But the man in the “present” is constantly shifting, as if Rothfuss isn’t very solid on who Kvothe is these years later. One minute he feels like he’s in his 50s and has done and seen many great things before essentially retiring, and the next minute, he’s only a couple years older than the character he’s telling the story of. It’s very shaky.

Okay, the criticism aside, Wise Man’s Fear, not as good as Name of the Wind, is still one of the best fantasy books I’ve read. The emotion feels so authentic, the drama is compelling, the dialog is extremely believable, the writing is endlessly skillful yet completely painless to read. The wait for book three has been two days long for me and is already interminable!

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“The Return of the Novella, the Original #Longread”

The Atlantic has a really interesting article entitled, “The Return of the Novella, the Original #Longread.” The author discusses how the novella, once the literary standard, is now the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry. I like this section from Stephen King’s discussion on the topic in Different Seasons:

“I couldn’t publish these tales because they were too long to be short and too short to be really long,” he lamented. King illustrates his point with a geographical metaphor: The short story and novel are like two respected nations sharing a vast, ill-defined, and sordid border region. “At some point, the writer wakes up with alarm and realizes that he’s come or is coming to a really terrible place,” King intones, “an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic called the ‘novella.'” It’s a dark place for a writer to be, and most feel they must keep going, or else turn back.

Then, the article begins to discuss the Melville House Publishing project to publish, in physical print form, classic novellas. Cool idea!

But it took a frustratingly long time for the writer to even touch on the subject of e-books and online publishing. Finally, near the end, he deigns to spend a couple of paragraphs on the topic:

And, increasingly, the prohibition against short books seems to make no economic sense. Thanks to e-readers and digital editions, we’re seeing a renaissance in the mid-length non-fiction. The journalistic equivalent of the novella is thriving—whether it’s through Kindle Singles or Byliner one-offs like Jon Krakauer’s blockbuster expose, “Three Cups of Deceit.” These novella-length#longreads have proven to be profitable for authors and publishers as well as pleasurable to readers. Why shouldn’t the increased formal latitude extended to journalists be granted to fiction writers, too?

That’s all he says on the subject. In an article (a good and informative one, don’t get me wrong) that defends the novella and discusses its potential come-back, he only gives a passing mention to the single most important lifeline to the novella: e-publishing. And, especially, the self-published novella. That’s not to say the established and contracted author wouldn’t want to put out their novellas in convenient packages–even this article mentions how contemporary writers would like to have that option. But publishes have priced themselves into trouble with their hyper-inflated e-book prices. When you’re making customers pay $15 for a digital copy of a book, when the dead tree version is only a buck or two more, how can you justify charging less for 2/3 the size work? I mean, $15 for a product with no physical existence, no material cost, virtually no overhead, regardless of if it’s a 100,000 word work, a 40,000 word work, or a bazillion-word work, they’re in a bind justifying charging their likely $12 price for something that the consumer will more readily pause and wonder why they’re paying that much for the equivalent of a 60-page book.

The self-publisher is in a perfect position to take advantage of the big publisher’s foolishness. As many novel writers are charging $3 to $5 for a novel, they can easily charge a very reasonable $1 to $3 for what the article writer defined: “a narrative of middle length with nothing wrong with it, an ideal iteration of its own terms, that can devoured within a single day of reading.”

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