Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pretend it's a plan...

Pleasingly right-on "Doctor Who" write up from Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker's science fiction issue. Working hard to establish her non-fan cred, she seems not to realize that some of the sterling qualities she is ascribing to the Stephen Moffat version of the show were actually innovated by Russell Davies, whose seasons she has not seen. She ends up praising Moffat for qualities he's actually soft-peddling, in comparison with his predecessor.

Before I caught up on the last two seasons, my expectations were low. I anticipated something like the seventies-era series that I faintly remembered: a goofy, juvenile thrill ride. (I haven’t watched Davies’s version, but a fellow TV critic told me that she was so attached to his “Who” that she wasn’t watching Moffat’s.) The original “Who” dwelt on pure sci-fi obsessions, abstract questions of how society is organized and the line between humans and machines. But, as deeply as fans loved the show, its themes were rarely emotional. Instead, it jumped from Aztec civilization to Mars, as much an educational show for children as an adult narrative, with a British-colonialist view of the universe. (So many savages, so little time.) The series’ most striking feature was the Doctor himself: in contrast to “Star Trek” ’s Kirk—the Kennedyesque leader of a diverse society—the early Doctor Who was an alien iconoclast with two hearts and a universe-wide Eurail Pass. For a certain breed of viewer, this was an intoxicating ideal: the know-it-all whose streak of melancholy—or prickly rage, depending on who was Who—had to be honored, because he actually did know everything.

Though that show had its charms, I was surprised, and delighted, to find that the modern “Doctor Who” has a very different emphasis: it’s a show about relationships, in an epic and mythological vein. Certainly, the show has plenty of the classic “Doctor Who” pleasures, albeit with more sophisticated effects: there are seafaring pirates; a metallic England floating on a giant “Star Whale”; and a factory full of avatar-laborers whose faces melt off like goo. The Doctor himself is a pale, puppyish genius who shares several qualities with Moffat’s modernized Sherlock Holmes, including fashion affectations (he insists that bow ties are cool, then fezzes, then cowboy hats) and a Professor-from-“Gilligan’s Island” allure. The show’s strength, however, is not its one-off stories but its longer arcs, a structural breakthrough of “The X-Files,” which modelled the notion that episodic TV could be woven together with powerful, season-long themes, inspiring the more complex breed of modern shows, both sci-fi and regular-fi.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More pulp:

While I was relishing the Moorcock/Dent formulae for writing pulp fiction, posted below, I was notified by Twitter of the latest "Weird Things" column by Damien Walter about "The New Pulp"...  He tries to make the case that this is a golden age for pulp because the barriers for publication have become so low...  Not convinced myself, but he has a couple of compelling recommendations, including one for a book called Empire State, by a guy called Adam Christopher, published by the admirable Angry Robot.

Sez Walter:

If the history of the 21st-century pulp fiction revival is ever written, Empire State might well be seen as its starting point... Empire State is a homage to all things pulp, a multi-genre mash-up of a novel that collides fictional tropes such as a literary particle accelerator, while hoping like hell the thing holds together – which on the whole it does quite admirably...


Monday, May 28, 2012

Why don't TV shows include song credits?


Arguably the most famous song from "Ice and Fire"is "The Rains of Castamere,"and The National has performed the Lannister ballad for the upcoming "Game of Thrones" second season soundtrack. "The Rains of Castamere" is about Tywin Lannister's overwhelming victory over House Reyne during the Reyne-Tarbeck Rebellion and is featured at several pivotal parts throughout Martin's novels. Particularly during... no spoilers. Let's just say it's an important number and the indie rock band's sombre sound, not to mention Matt Berninger's low register do it justice. It's not upbeat by any means but it's definitely worth a listen. UPDATE: If it seems familiar, it's what Tyrion has been whistling.


The Basics

How to Write a Novel in Three Days the Michael Moorcock Way.

Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula.


Friday, May 25, 2012

"I must be getting old."

I have found out, during almost thirty years of writing, that the best characters are the ones who simply walk, unplanned, into a story, and take it over. I suppose the real explanation is that they represent the spontaneous creativity of the subconscious mind, which is less labored than the conscious mind ... I must be getting old. I am tired of logical explanations. ... I prefer to think that Damon exists somewhere and demanded to be written about.
. -- Marion Zimmer Bradley, "Darkover Retrospective" (1980).


Thursday, May 24, 2012

As discussed... infinitum.

One reservation: a residue of elitism in the notion that a key to the fun of reading genre stories is the knowledge that we could be reading something better. Betcha some genre fiction defenders would find that patronizing.

"And part of the pleasure we derive from them is the knowledge that we could be reading something better, something that, in the words of [Matthew] Arnold, reflects "the best that has been thought and said in this world. ... readers who seek out mystery novels are seeking to escape not from life but from literature, from the 'pluperfect tenses of the psychical novel.'"
Looking at the quotes again I realize he's being sarcastic; patronizing the snobs, if anything.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Good grief...

The only TV show to date to be covered episode-by-episode in a New Yorker blog (by sainted Godard-worshipper Richard Brody) is now the subject of the sort of lead-review rave that the NYRB usually reserves for seasons of "Downton Abbey." I love the show, but this level of tastemaker over-reaction suggests that the fix is somehow in. Is "Girls" really that much better than everything else on the air?


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Just a taste...

"Trailers From Hell"


Friday, May 18, 2012

Just maybe not so bad.....

Joe Morgenstern on Polisse:

  ...What makes this astonishing French feature a singular experience is the convergence of fine acting, moral urgency and a willingness to linger on moments of great intensity. ..... Fred embodies the movie's moral and dramatic center. A passionately dedicated public servant, though also a volatile and violent one, he's played by the French rapper Joeystarr, a burly figure whose tenderness put me in mind of Wallace Beery.......  (The director and co-writer) Maïwenn—who was born Maïwenn Le Besco—plays Melissa, a photographer assigned to document the unit's activities. Like everyone else in the cast, she's an excellent actor with a great director.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

At long last...

..."Castle" takes the plunge.

The show at its best is near-perfect escapism, bending but not breaking the conventions of Old School, pre-cable primetime detective foolishness. But the increasingly strained contrivances needed to keep the leads apart were becoming irritating. Now "Castle" has a chance to become, if not "The Thin Man" at least "Hart to Hart," than which many things are worse.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The worst ten best? Or, how to get laughed at in the teens.

John Podhoretz, whom I generally admire, has been making great fun of Richard Brody's list of the ten greatest films of all time, posted and explained here.  He calls it the worst ten best list ever published and then goes further by posting Brody's picture and making fun of THAT. (To quote a line from Rocky "I don't see any crowd around you...") Adolescent hi-jinks aside -- and that 's what Twitter is for, right? -- there is a point to be made about the dangers of going too far in refining your taste for something that is, after all, a vital and popular art.  Here's the list.  (Turns out that I've seen all of these except "Voyage to Italy", and there are only two movies on the list -- "Playtime" and "Rules of the Game" of course -- that I seriously treasure.  It is truly a strange list, I must say.)

King Lear” (1987, Jean-Luc Godard)
The Great Dictator” (1940, Charlie Chaplin)
The Last Laugh” (1924, F. W. Murnau)
Marnie” (1964, Alfred Hitchcock)
Shoah” (1985, Claude Lanzmann)
The Rules of the Game” (1939, Jean Renoir)
Gertrud” (1964, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
Playtime” (1967, Jacques Tati)
Husbands” (1970, John Cassavetes)
Voyage to Italy” (1953, Roberto Rossellini)

UPDATE: Fanning the flames, Podhoretz in back to back tweets today quotes both James Wood on Hilary Mantel's gift of being interesting and Salman Rushdie saying: "Art is not entertainment. At it's very best, it's a revolution." To which Podhoretz adds: "Which is why he's a bad artist."

You could write a book on turning common-or-garden variety anti-intellectualism into its own aesthetic. Lots of people have, I'll bet.  I often lean that way myself, especially when confronted with the company I'd have to keep otherwise.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Broken-spined paperbacks

An interesting summary review of the six contenders for this year's Nebula by Chris Barsanti in The Millions.  Nothing here really attracts me this year (except Embassytown, of course, but I'm not sure if I'm up to it), but I loved his description of  "Among Others" by Jo Walton. (Especially since I just talked to an old friend who was reading a much-loved Ace Double until it fell apart in his hands.)

Walton’s real story is Morwenna’s love of science fiction. The novel is told in diary form, and nearly every entry includes some finely argued notation on the joys and merits of what she’s reading. Her list is heavy with dark transgressors like Samuel R. Delany and John Brunner, as befitting Walton’s late-1970s setting. There’s a gripping, deeply-learned love here that goes beyond mere fandom, delivering one of the most intelligently impassioned odes to science fiction, and reading in general, ever put to paper. As Morwenna says on entering her father’s study: “I actually relaxed in his presence, because if there are books perhaps it won’t be all that bad.” Anybody who has felt the glow and tug of mind-warping joy that comes with devouring a stack of broken-spined sci-fi paperbacks will know exactly what she means.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Black Wings" and Black Lizard

The incessant buzz around upcoming films can indeed be irritating, and to some of us more than others. But this report led me to information about a possibly great vintage (not Vintage, or at least not yet) noir novel that was completely unknown to me. And yet, no less an authority than Black Lizard founding guru Ed Gorman is willing to entertain the possibility that the "flawless" "Black Wings Has My Angel," by Elliot Chaze, is "the single best novel Gold Medal published during its heyday." Elsewhere, Bill Pronzini offers a picture of Chaze and says he wrote three other books that are almost as good. Marching orders, if I ever heard any.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

For my friends who want to discuss serious music

Offered here as an educational service of the Hungry Ghost blog:


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This is what matters, right?

James Wood, recommending Hilary Mantel's novels about Thomas Cromwell:

When a historical fact is central to a novelistic detail, Mantel uses it in a way so novelistically intelligent that the historical fact seems to have been secretly transposed into a fictional one:

This season young men carry their effects in soft pale leather bags, in imitation of the agents for the Fugger bank, who travel all over Europe and set the fashion. The bags are heart-shaped and so to him it always looks as if they are going wooing, but they swear they are not. Nephew Richard Cromwell sits down and gives the bags a sardonic glance.

Do you know if Mantel has manufactured or borrowed from the record this information about the fashionable Fugger bag? In some sense, it doesn’t matter, because the writer has made a third category of the reality, the plausibly hypothetical. It’s what Aristotle claimed was the difference between the historian and the poet: the former describes what happened, and the latter what might happen.

If you want to know what novelistic intelligence is, you might compare a page or two of Hilary Mantel’s work with worthy historical fiction by contemporary writers such as Peter Ackroyd or Susan Sontag. They are intelligent, but they are not novelistically intelligent. They copy the motions but rarely inhabit the movement of vitality. Mantel knows what to select, how to make her scenes vivid, how to kindle her characters. She seems almost incapable of abstraction or fraudulence; she instinctively grabs for the reachably real. Her two most recent novels concern famous historical events—Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, his marriage to Anne Boleyn, her execution at the King’s orders, the English split from the Roman Church and the authority of the Pope—but they make the stories fragile again, with everything at suspenseful risk.

In short, this novelist has the maddeningly unteachable gift of being interesting.