All the changes on LJ over the years have led to a lot of people abandoning it. I keep checking but the handful of people I know here tend to post a lot of the same things on fb or link back to lj. Communities have collapsed. Syndicated pages have stopped distributing content. It's just not fun here. Facebook was never as fun as this place was at its peak. Alas.
This is a photo Laura took of me in Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 2007. Pictou is known as the birthplace of New Scotland because it's where the first big load of Scottish immigrants landed in Nova Scotia in the late 1700s, on the ship Hector. It's also the birthplace of my mother and me, too. And a few years back a replica of the Hector was built by the Pictou waterfront. And that's where we were. I was wearing a Telesat Canada golf shirt, because the Americans hadn't yet bought the company and laid off me and most of the people I worked with.
Ten or eleven years ago, in the space of a few months, Laura lost her grandmother, her mother, and a cat she'd had since she moved out of her mother's home. We needed a new cat to bring some happiness and life, and we got Spencer. This is one of my favourite photos of him. He died a year or two ago, and although he had issues and was a lot of work, he was the first cat Laura and I got together, and I miss him.
During that 2007 Nova Scotia trip we spent a little time at the Pictou Lodge (then-Foreign Affairs minister Peter MacKay took then-US bigwig Condoleeza Rice there a bit later). Laura took this photo bright and early looking across the Northumberland Strait.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. They met filming To Have and Have Not and fell in love and made three more movies together, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, and Dark Passage, all well worth seeing.
A photo taken on the Leeds University campus and used as a placeholder image for a planned John Foxx album. He never actually used it, but I always liked it and I've used it as an icon/avatar in a few places online. I like the greyscale and the geometry.
So when I heard about Casablanca Blues by Tahir Shah I was curious. Shah’s a British writer of Afghan ancestry who moved with his family to Casablanca and wrote a Year in Provence-type nonfiction book about it, and later decided to write a novel in which a modern American obsessed with Casablanca the movie finds himself in the real Casablanca of the 21st century. The description promised adventure, humour, and romance, and of course the contrast between the fake Casablanca and the real.
Turns out that the book shares something important with the movie: it’s a melodrama that you can’t really take seriously, a confection that’s wholly enjoyable but not really any more realistic than the movie. But, like the movie, it sweeps you along. The Bogart secret mcguffin, the spoiled rich girl, the millionaire who decides to fight the corruption in his city, the mysterious villains, the raggamuffin thief with a heart of gold, the fights, chases, all of it is a long way from realism. But if it’s pulp melodrama, at least it’s well written pulp melodrama with a satisfying payoff. The characters may be a little thin, the exotic settings described in less detail than they might be, but I raced through the book and had a fine time doing so.
I think Shah understands something important about Casablanca that Michael Walsh failed to grasp when he wrote As Time Goes By, which served as a prequel and sequel to the movie. Yes, there’s death and sacrifice in Casablanca, and yes, it’s about the evil of the Nazis and the importance of taking sides when things get bad. But it’s heightened, melodramatic, and relatively safe. The Nazis even play nicely, not simply murdering Laszlo when he shows up in a territory run by the Nazi collaborators of Vichy France. Walsh’s decision to involve several of the film’s characters in a dangerous mission to kill a real SS leader, Reinhard Heydrich, just doesn’t work for me. It’s too real. Shah wants to talk about corruption, orientalism, and other things, but he’s learned from Casablanca (the film and the city) that gritty, brutal realism isn’t the only way to talk about them. Casablanca the movie is fun. As Time Goes By is not fun. Casablanca Blues is fun. Didn’t teach me a lot about the real 21st century city, but I can always get Shah’s nonfiction book The Caliph’s House for that, and I probably will.
Katharine Trendacosta wrote a post called Why Expanded Universes Are Important. I agree with the basic idea, but not all the details. Trendacosta looks at a handful of reasons why tie-ins are good things.
The Expanded Universe as a Gateway to Science Fiction Reading. It works for some people, but I've encountered too many people who read tie-ins and find "real" SF uninteresting, and SF fans who sneer at tie-ins. Personally, I got into them more or less simultaneously, for different reasons.
Expanded Universes as Gateways to Fandom. Sure, to an extent. But I was a dedicated tie-in reader for a long time in isolation. The Internet was a more important route to fandom for me.
Expanded Universes as Gateways to Writers and Writing. Well, blogging, maybe. I've never been a fanfic writer. Closest I came was working on an interactive Star Trek story in Apple Basic on my old Apple ][+ many years ago. It wad fun, mapping out paths, giving a hypothetical player some choices that led in different directions... but I hit the 128k barrier way too early in the story and couldn't figure out how to get each strand of the story to continue properly on the next program. Fun while it lasted, though. (Post-TMP Enterprise encounters a huge derelict starship that turns out to be a Preserver vessel. Didn't plot it much beyond that that I can recall.)
Conclusion and a Look at Star Wars' EU. In which Trendacosta basically says I love the Star Wars expanded universe and it was CANON! Well, actually, no. Despite the people with full-time jobs sorting out EU continuity, despite the levels of canonicity, George Lucas clearly said that there was his stuff and then there was all that other stuff he didn't pay much attention to. In other words: NOT CANON. (And the correct response is Says you, and who cares>)
Here's what makes tie-in fiction important and necessary and sometimes so damn good. When you see a filmed version of a beloved literary work, chances are, even if you like it you're well aware of how much is missing -- the interior lives of the characters, the background information that was dropped because the movie would run too long, scenes dropped because they just wouldn't work in a visual medium. Play that in reverse. A good tie-in novel takes a visual world and expands it into an ocean of words that can bring us into characters' interior lives as the show never could; they can show us all the little things that don't make sense in a fast-paced movie or TV episode; they can be crazy big epic beyond a budget's ability to realize. Try to imagine Doctor Who doing something like Alien Bodies or Star Trek doing something like Destiny (or How Much for Just the Planet, for that matter). It wouldn't work as well on screen.
In short, tie-ins make a fictional universe bigger, deeper, and better. That's why they matter. Says me, anyway.
( Read more... )
It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten. (H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival")
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(posted at thefiteenth.wordpress.com)
I used to blog a lot, despite not having an audience. That wasn’t really the point a lot of the time. Sometimes it was about throwing something out to see if someone had a shared interest, sometimes (as with livejournal) it was more social. But livejournal isn’t what it used to be. A lot of the old familar faces have moved on to other platforms.
Meanwhile, on a personal level, my life has changed. I started on wordpress when I was laid off from a job I’d had for just shy of 20 years, and I needed something to do online besides applying for jobs. So I blogged about music here. Back then the tradeoff was between having plenty of time to blog and being too depressed to want to, but I made an effort. And then I got a job and didn’t need the outlet so much and didn’t have the time.
And now I’ve been working again for four years and suddenly I miss blogging. I rarely tweet, I facebook a bit (but don’t find it conducive to and kind of in-depth discussion, I want to write longer messages and, frankly, not really worry whether I’m flooding anyone’s feed. If you want to follow, follow; if you stumble across a post that interests you, cool, say something.
I’ll try to find the time to restart the Trek books website, too. The Star Trek: The Fall novels have been pretty damn enjoyable so far, so maybe I can get excited about Star Trek again…
This isn’t just a music blog any more, though no doubt I’ll go on about music occasionally. Oh, and I’ll try to make this and LJ mutual mirrors. No need to follow both.
I don't think I encountered John Constantine when he first appeared in Swamp Thing in 1985, I think I was a year or two late. But when he got his own comic, Hellblazer, in 1988, I was ready. I bought all 300 issues right up to the comic's recent end, plus a bunch of spinoff miniseries and specials.
In the last ten of those 25 years, I changed my comic reading habits, due to significant life changes -- being married, mainly. Whereas it used to make sense to go to the comic shop every week and either sit at Irene's Pub reading them afterwards or just going home to my apartment and plowing through all the stuff I bought, that doesn't always work so well when there's someone else around and you don't get to the store every week any more. (Why do the characters on Big Bang Theory spend new comic book day looking through the back issue bins instead of picking up new issues? Anyway.)
Now, I go once or twice a month. And I let comics pile up until I have a good run of issues of a particular title to plow through, so I don't have to worry about forgetting what's going on, I sometimes let some titles pile up a little too long, though. So today I read issues 251 through 300 of Hellblazer and 1-4 of Constantine, the new series that plops John Constantine solidly back in the DC universe.
And damn, those 50 issues were good. There have been some runs of issues by certain writers who didn't seem to get it, but Peter Milligan did a fine job. Those 50 issues flow very nicely; though there are individual storylines, there are a few big arcs that work really well. Reminded me of those glory days when Garth Ennis was writing the title, before he got (imho) tiresome with that Preacher comic that to me felt like his 49th attempt at being oh so shockingly blasphemous. I've got no use for Christianity either, but I'm not obsessed with it. I digress again.
Milligan stays true to Constantine and his world and his recurring characters; he does the classic stuff while also going where the comic had never gone before by letting Constantine actually marry a woman he loved. And then the comic ends in a way that surprised me, given that I knew the character was coming back in that other series.
But reading the first few issues of that other series, well, the ending made sense, because this is not the same John Constantine, he does not have the same life history or friends or home or dialogue. Jeff Lemire may be a longtime fan of the character, and he may think he's being true to him, and he may be a popular and critically acclaimed writer, but compared to the 50 Hellblazers I read, the four Constantines were generic piffle.
Anyway. A lot of the original Shadow stories are written texts. Short novels, And yet the last attempt at reviving the Shadow in prose (movie novelization aside) was in the 1960s, an attempt at doing a James Bond/Man From UNCLE take on the concept. As for the original stories, they have their moments, but they are undeniably dated; they never reflected the changes in crime fiction that played out in the pages of Black Mask and Dime Detective as Hammett and Chandler reinvented the genre. So why can't someone make a go of it now? A decopunk/dieselpunk new take on the Shadow could be a lot of fun. George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan tried to do something very much like that, but its worldbuilding felt pretty shaky and arbitrary.
I think we need someone to take on the Shadow and everything about him -- the pulp crime adventures, the occasional forays into weird science and horror, the stories of the privileged rich at the Cobalt Club and the thugs of dark underground criminal lairs, the cast of supporting characters -- and spin a new series of adventures in a retro/anachronistic 1930s. As books, not comics, at least at first. And then let a new multimedia empire begin.
Well, it's fun to imagine.
But there are books I still can't get without spending several hundred dollars for an old print edition.
When I discover a new favourite author, I don't want to read just the handful of most popular or critically acclaimed books; I want everything. I'm finally pretty much there with Philip K. Dick, for instance, thanks to the recent reprint of Gather Yourselves Together, which was only previously published as a small press edition in 1994 that I somehow missed. Just pre-Amazon, probably. Anyway, I have every novel of his that's been published. The ones that aren't science fiction still reveal a lot about who Dick was as a person. And they're often better than some of his weaker SF novels. The thing is, all of it is the product of a unique voice and it makes sense to me to get everything I can from that voice.
And yet. I don't have every Thorne Smith novel. His humourous fantasies, like Topper, have been reprinted often and aren't hard to find. But his novel Dream's End, a more serious work? It bombed back in 1927 and hasn't been reprinted. Cheapest copy on ABE is $175. Can't find an ebook version, legal or otherwise.
I don't have every Cornell Woolrich novel. Before basically inventing noir he wrote a few F. Scott Fitzgerald-influenced novels. Only one or two have been reprinted in the last 50 years. He's got three long-gone novels I don't have that generally go for a couple of hundred bucks each.
And then there's Pepe le Moko, written by Henri La Barthe under the pseudonym Detective Ashelbe. It's a genuine pop culture phenomenon, being the basis for a classic French film, Pepe le Moko, a solid American remake, Algiers, and a later musical version, Casbah. The cartoon character Pepe le Pew was inspired by Charles Boyer's performance in Algiers. Casablanca -- on pretty much anyone's list of classic Hollywood movies -- owes a lot to Pepe le Moko. And yet the book has never been translated into English, as far as I can tell, nor is the French version -- which I'd be happy with -- anywhere to be found.
Lots of stuff shows up everywhere once it's in the public domain... but what if no one has a copy to work with? What if the only copies are in the hands of a few collectors who don't want to share?
Dubai has been all but buried by a massive sandstorm, the US Army's gone in to evacuate civilians, and something has gone very wrong because the Army and the civilians are still in the city and no one's heard anything from them. So a Delta Force captain, the character played by the gamer, is sent in with two other Deltas to investigate. And things get ugly. And then they get strange. This is a war game that would rather be Apocalypse Now than a typical action movie.
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About the only things left to say about Blade Runner now:
- If you haven't seen it, you can't see it the way people did 30 years ago. So much has borrowed from it that it just couldn't have the same impact.
- Ridley Scott is wrong.
- If there is a sequel, I'd be happiest if it never even mentions Deckard, given point number 2.
- Yes, it's flawed. And it's one of the best science fiction movies ever made.
- If Deckard is a replicant, everything about the movie is subverted for a bit of cheap irony.
- A high definition, gaming console remake of the Blade Runner computer game done to modern standards. I liked the idea of what KW Jeter did with the Blade Runner novels, but I really loved the hell out of that game.
- A once-and-for-all proper movie soundtrack without Vangelis's silly messing about, just the music from the movie.
There are still people who'll recognize the name Jack Finney. Over a dozen TV shows or movies have been based on his work, the most famous probably being Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the many remakes and ripoffs thereof; he also still has a devoted following for his classic 1970 time travel novel Time And Again, set in (and featuring photographs from) New York City in 1882. Everything I've read by him has been enjoyable, whether it's his SF stuff or his more satirical contemporary fiction like Good Neighbor Sam (made into a Jack Lemmon movie) and The Night People, or his often Twilight Zone-like short stories.
This weekend I finally read an old book club hardcover I bought close to a decade ago, his 1959 heist caper novel Assault on a Queen (Frank Sinatra starred in the movie version of this one). As is typical of older novels, it's only a couple hundred pages long, and yet in that short (by today's standards) space, Finney develops a set of characters and ratchets up the tension as they execute an unlikely caper -- resurrecting a sunken U-boat to make a pirate attack on a luxury liner. It was a lot of fun and didn't come close to overstaying its welcome. I understand the movie's a bit different, but I'd like to track down a copy now. And maybe one of Good Neighbor Sam, for that matter.
Fewer people will recognize the name Craig Rice. Her peak of popularity came a couple of decades earlier and the handful of movies and TV shows bearing her name are largely forgotten. But her books have occasionally had short-lived reprints; Bantam did a few about 25 years ago, and a smaller press did a few more. Her best known books are a series of mystery novels that combine the classic American mystery novel with the screwball comedy, resulting in a somewhat more bizarre take on the kind of thing the Thin Man movies did so well. I read all of the John J. Malone and Jake and Helene Justus novels I could find back in the early 1990s and had a blast.
A few of her books have probably been out of print for several decades, though, and I suspect the one I just read is one of them. But the Doctor Died was published as a mass market paperback by Lancer in 1967, a decade after Rice's death, and the cover promotes it as a newly discovered novel. I don't think I'd even heard of it before I picked up a used copy a couple years ago. Turns out it wasn't all that great, unfortunately. It was almost certainly written not long before her death; the emphasis on sex and espionage, the relative lack of humour, and the speed with which its complicated plot occurs, all make it feel out of time compared to its predecessors. It's very unrepresentative of the Malone and Justus series at its best. And yet I'm glad to have it. It's a long way from Rice's best, but it's a reasonably enjoyable and quick read.
Anyway, if you haven't read either Finney or Rice, keep your eyes open the next time you're at a used bookstore. Or, if you must, go search for something at Amazon or ABEbooks. It's just more fun to find this kind of thing at a real used bookstore. If they still exist...
Less than a year to 50 and I still buy comics. I don't consume them the way I used to, though, picking up a stack every week and reading them right away. Instead, I go every few weeks, get the stack, read the magazines (Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek, Locus, whatever), and pile the comics in a closet. Then every so often I sort them out and read a good long run of a title or two.
Just recently, I grabbed all of the issues of Madame Xanadu and Zatanna I hadn't read yet, as well as the first few Justice League Dark comics, and the first issue of the resurrected Night Force.
( Read more stuff about comics... )
Anyway, I saw a copy and thought it looked interesting, a mix of the familiar (part crime novel, part coming of age story, etc) with the not so familiar (desi culture). And now, having read it, well, I'm not sure what to think. At times the vernacular used by the characters,mixing UK slang, Jamaican slang, words in different Asian languages, put me in mind of a cross between Irvine Welsh's use of Scottish dialect and Anthony Burgess's nadsat slang in A Clockwork Orange, and I thought we were going somewhere with a bit of literary ambition. Then the plot started kicking in and it felt more like a gang crime thriller. Then the commentary on desi and immigrant culture issues made it seem like a work of social commentary. Then the romance and other elements made it seem like a YA problem novel.
And then the twist ending... well, I'm going to spoil it.
( SPOILER )
Ultimately, it's hard to tell what the writer intended with this one. Was it just a big, ambitious book that got out of the author's control and didn't get the editing it needed? Did Malkani really know what he was trying to do and say with this novel?
Overall... it's often entertaining, it's interesting, but ultimately it's too much of a mess to really recommend.