Sunday, July 31, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
Well on the way to becoming a staunch fan of the energetic and entertaining noir pastiche artist Christa Faust. Actually "pastiche" is the wrong word for what she does, implying irony or even parody, and Faust seems to be quite serious about re-using the classic paperback-original devices she's absorbed into her bloodstream. She's responded deeply to the vintage Gold Medal and Lion originals she avidly collects and expresses herself naturally in their broken-nose idiom.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
In this morning's New York Times:
In June I was bicycling with the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, and a mutual friend through Oslo, setting out for a hike on a forested mountain slope in this big yet little city. Two bodyguards followed us, also on bicycles. As we stopped at an intersection for a red light, a car drove up beside the prime minister. The driver called out through the open window: “Jens! There’s a little boy here who thinks it would be cool to say hello to you.”
The prime minister smiled and shook hands with the little boy in the passenger seat. “Hi, I’m Jens.”
The prime minister wearing his bike helmet; the boy wearing his seat belt; both of them stopped for a red light. The bodyguards had stopped a discreet distance behind. Smiling. It’s an image of safety and mutual trust. Of the ordinary, idyllic society that we all took for granted. How could anything go wrong? We had bike helmets and seat belts, and we were obeying the traffic rules.
Of course something could go wrong. Something can always go wrong.
Each year contestants are asked to compose the opening sentence to the worst possible novel. The inspiration is the opening sentence to "Paul Clifford", by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness"This year's winner:
"Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."Pretty good, but the winner in the Romance Novel category made me laugh:
"As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand – who would take her away from all this – and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had."
Sunday, July 24, 2011
The blog "A Penguin a week": Karyn, a PhD student in Perth and a collector of vintage Penguins, reads and writes about them. She is particularly fond of Golden Age Mysteries (Michael Innesis a favorite) and forgotten writers of light humor and fiction ( Gabriel Chevallier (?) and Angela Thirkell).
When I dream of withdrawing from the world, my imagined retreat looks something like this. In fact, were I a believer, my vision of the afterlife would look something like this.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
What a surprise: evil drug companies.
Arlene Tur as Vera Juarez
There’s one thing I’ve learned, and that is that the writer isn’t supposed to know what he’s doing. If you know what you’re doing, you can’t do it. Later, you can look back and see, with some surprise and maybe pleasure, what it is you did. In the early days, I used to answer questions about what I meant to do next, until I realized, by the time it was in print, I’d been absolutely wrong, every single time.
I had always thought that the obsession of the great Swedish and Norwegian crime writers with right-wing menace was overblown.....
Sez the Daily Mail:
The man responsible for the massacre in Norway was a member of a Swedish nazi forum which encourages attacks on government buildings.
It was also revealed by local police that he had extreme right wing views who hated Muslims.
According to Swedish website Expo Anders Behring Breivik is a member of 'Nordisk' which has 22,000 members and focuses on political terrorism.
The Norwegian daily Verdens Gang quoted a friend as saying he became a rightwing extremist in his late 20s. It said he expressed strong nationalistic views in online debates and had been a strong opponent of the idea that people of different cultural backgrounds can live alongside each other.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Lots of good stuff in this article (from The G*ard*an) in which crime writers write about their favorite characters, but Benjamin Black is particularly good on Richard Stark's Parker:
Parker – we do not learn his first name, if indeed he has one – is an elemental force, a Nietzschean Übermensch beyond good and evil.... He is a sort of marvellous machine, and utterly convincing. The books are intricately plotted, cool as burnished steel, exciting and intellectually satisfying.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
An article in the Economist about the state of the Chinese film industry discusses the easy money to be made by glorifying the Party and its history:
“The Beginning of the Great Revival”, a celebration of the founding of the Communist Party, opened at every cineplex in China on June 15th, in time for the party’s 90th birthday. Competing films with a shred of drawing power were blocked, even the awful “Transformers 3”. Many state-owned firms ordered their staff to attend. Schools organised trips so that pupils could watch and learn from the exploits of a youthful Mao Zedong. Government departments deployed waves of bureaucratic bottoms to fill seats. Online reviews alleging that the masterpiece was rather dull were censored. Success was assured.Extra credit for pondering this:
Tickets to Chinese cinemas are costly—about 80 yuan at weekends. The lack of copyright protection means that almost all revenue must come from the box office rather than from DVDs or television.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
So many books...
Guthrie, Allan. “200 Noirs,” at Allan Guthrie’s Noir Originals.
Guthrie is the author of one of the earliest Hard Case Crime books, and several more. He introduces this impressive list of 200 noir novels (better get a move on, is the implication) with the caution that his notion of noir "rules out most detective fiction -- unless the detectives are victims, crooks, lunatics or are generally shafted in some major way."
Why the lionization of noir? I mean apart from the fact that it jibes with fashionable narci-nihilism? I can see there's some truth in the notion that a classic noir story has the structure of a tragedy, most interesting when the protagonists bring about their own downfall. Apart from the fact hat noir characters tend to be the dregs and the traditional view of tragedy requires a fall from a great height, noir tales have the potential to be be powerful dramas evoking pity and fear and all the rest of it. But I find I still gravitate more powerfully to detective stories, and when I read Guthrie's patronizing dismissal I felt somewhat offended on their behalf.
Monday, July 18, 2011
On a crucial piece of direction from John Huston on The Man Who Would Be King: “At the end, when they bring the head [of Sean Connery], [my character] Kipling looks at it and says some line, and I tried to cry, and finally John said, ‘Chris, just take the music out of your voice!’ And by Jesus, I suddenly learned if you have a terribly emotional line in a huge close-up, you just have to deadly whisper it. And if you look at those old movie stars—the John Waynes and Gary Coopers—when they have a deadly line to say, it’s absolutely straight. The face does all the rest.”Goes pretty well with this old favorite:
"Bread that must be sliced with an ax is bread that is too nourishing." -- Fran Lebowitz - "Food for Thought and Vice Versa" Metropolitan Life (1974)
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Jack Bauer, Rupert Sheldrake and The Singularity. That's entertainment!
There are so many ideas per episode on this show that everyone who watches it will see a slightly different elephant. There's an especially interesting take here.
...a world where nobody dies is awfully similar to a world where we're all terminal patients who are just hanging on. The most sardonic note in the episode comes from a couple of different characters, who advance the idea that this is the Singularity, the transformation of humanity that Vernor Vinge, Ray Kurzweil and other geek icons have predicted.In fairness to myself, I wasn't the only supposedly smart commentator who averted their (his or her) gaze from the tedious spectre of the Evil Drug Conglomerate.
And that's the most awful thought of them all. The Singularity was supposed to turn us into something akin to gods. But this Singularity, far from deifying us, is turning us all into a legion of the damned, the endlessly suffering, trapped in a kind of half life.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Scroll down past the boring stuff about the closing of some skanky tabloid. (Does the Telegraph realize it's spelled Olyphant?)
...the quiet astonishment aroused by Timothy Oliphant, who stars as Marshal Raylan Givens in Justified (5USA). He is human, yet according to the massed ranks of fainting women in my family circle he looks brave, strong, kind, dependable and totally wonderful: not like some men they could name.Don't forget you read it here first.
Yet Justified would be a riveting creation even if it starred Steven Seagal, because it is just so brilliantly plotted and written. All involved seem keen to match the high standards of Elmore Leonard, a single one of whose short stories was the basis of the whole project. The show’s dialogue could be from a Kentucky fried version of Get Shorty, with an even greater range of nuance.
Graham Yost, in charge of the production, has an infallible ear of his own, so none of his writers can get away with anything less than perfection. Rarely, as the cool Raylan glides lankily about dispensing love and justice, have I heard an actor given such enchanting things to say. If you go back to Clint Eastwood’s early television apprenticeship in Rawhide, you will see that he learned to grit his teeth because he could do nothing else with the dead words they gave him. Timothy Oliphant has been luckier than that.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
This makes me feel quite a bit better about my recent supposedly unbecoming explorations of pop and rock music. (Latest startled discovery: Courtney Love. And you could not be more surprised than I was.)
As with most of the recent R&B singers, most of [Beyonce's] songs were half talk, and in between the songs there was more talk. All this talk I personally could have done without. My idea of an interesting speech goes back to Winston Churchill, who spent little time screaming: “Everybody put your hands together!” Beyoncé prattles no better than anybody else. But when she sings she is a storm of light, even if the melisma swamps the melody.
I suppose it helps to be cute. Such was her long-stemmed beauty, as she prowled and strutted in search of her missing skirt, that among the audience of 170,000 people there were young men who passed out standing up, their eyes wide open. You could tell by that helpless look.
David Edelstein on the Harry Potter series:
"...we needed these adaptations, even the unsatisfying ones. Good as J. K. Rowling is, she’s no prose stylist. The movies put interesting faces to names and fabulous designs to humdrum descriptions. The last novel’s clunky climactic wand-off, lacking emotional grandeur, begs to be bettered by the magic of movies."
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
In this morning's LA Times, Jeff VanderMeer celebrates the end of a long wait:
Martin's love for sophisticated, deeply strange fantasy permeates "Dance" like a phantasmagorical fever dream. Bran's arrival at the crow's sanctuary contains some of the wildest, most beautifully alien scenes in the series. Even Tyrion's journey in a boat sailing down a haunted river, replete with ghost boats and thick fog, provides thrills for jaded readers: "The drowned city was all around them. A half-seen shape flapped by overhead, pale leathery wings beating at the fog.") Martin's brilliance in evoking atmosphere through description is an enduring hallmark of his fiction, the settings much more than just props on a painted stage.
The Song of Ice and Fire novels work so well because the epic fantasy is grounded in a strong horror element and because Martin skillfully conveys the gritty (often bawdy) physicality of the world while moving, with equal effectiveness, between various levels of society. Martin also owes a debt to the dark yet humane cynicism of writers like Jack Vance, even though he cares much more about the inner life of his characters than Vance. Martin's devotion to fully inhabiting his characters, for better or worse, creates the unstoppable momentum in his novels and contains an implied criticism of Tolkien's moral simplicity.
Monday, July 11, 2011
==========Amazing that a distinguished literary novelist who decided to let his hair down and write an "entertainment" would come up with something this dreary. Is he having a laugh?
The Silver Swan: A Novel (Benjamin Black)
- Highlight on Page 27 | Loc. 427-38 | Added on Monday, July 11, 2011, 06:22 PM
He stood for a moment in the middle of the living room, the key still in his hand, looking about at his things: the characterless furniture, the obsessively neat bookshelves, the artist’s wooden manikin on a little table by the window with its arms melodramatically upflung. On the mantelpiece there was a vase of roses. The flowers had been given to him, somewhat improbably, he thought, by a woman—married, bored, blond—whom he had seen for a not very exciting week or two, and he had not had the heart to throw them out, although by now they were withered and their parched petals gave off a faint, stale-sweet smell that reminded him disquietingly of his workplace [the morgue]. He turned on the wireless and tried tuning it to the BBC Third Programme, but the reception was hopelessly weak, as for some reason it always was in fine weather. He lit a cigarette and stood by the window, looking down into the broad, empty street with its raked and faintly sinister-seeming shadows. It was still too early for the whores who had their patch here—oh, well-named Mount Street!—though even the ugliest and most elderly of them did a brisk trade on sultry nights such as this. He could feel the first fizzings of the desperation that often assailed him in these summer twilights. A soft, small sound behind him made him turn, startled: a heavy petal had detached itself from one of the withered roses and had fallen, like a scrap of dusty, dark-red velvet crimped around its edges, into the grate. Muttering, he snatched up his jacket and made for the door.
Are we in "Mars Needs Moms" territory yet? Inexpressive faces, stilted acting.... Good action stuff, though. Figures. (Pronouncing his name the way it looks was a no-no in some circles, but maybe that's me... In case you were wondering: The "i" is pronounced more like an "ah", or like the short "o" in "hot". The "n" is very nasal. The accent is on the second syllable. It's sort of like "tahn-TAHNG".)
Sunday, July 10, 2011
It's also on Amazon instant video at $2.99 for six days. But now that you know this DVD exists, how can you live without it?
Friday, July 8, 2011
Interesting review of new Benjamin Black (pseudonym of lit-fic god John Banville) crime novel in the Guardian on Thursday, with thoughts on how a Booker Prize winner deals with genre stuff:
(The book's) frequent generic echoes (the book also contains a pattern of knowing references to Ian Fleming's Bond) are something far more complicated than unoriginality. For Banville, they represent a respect for the form in which he has chosen to work. A sonnet lasts for 14 lines; the test is how good those lines can be. A detective novel has an emotionally insecure life insurance risk at its centre: the challenge is what can be achieved, linguistically and psychologically, around these fixed points.The answer, in the Quirke series, is a great deal....Also, this:
There are too many considerable prose stylists in the crime field (PD James, Reginald Hill, James Ellroy, for a start) for the Man Booker winner to be offering any kind of writing lessons to such professionals, but his sentences are a regular pleasure.
Monday, July 4, 2011
The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of Our Time (Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer and John-Henri Holmberg)
- Highlight Loc. 1685-89 | Added on Monday, July 04, 2011, 02:05 AM
Stieg had attended ScanCon, the 1976 Stockholm science fiction convention, and after the final party, he had agreed to get the guest of honor, author Jack Vance, back to his hotel, an experience he later claimed almost cost him his life. “Jack Vance is both large and heavy,” he wrote, “and at the time was also drunk as a skunk. At no time during the drive did he even seem to wonder about my suffocated and panicky gasps every time the cab made a left turn and centrifugal forces inexorably pushed Vance on top of me. I have never since been able to read one of his novels without a heavy weight settling on my chest.”