Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Archive for July 2009

The End Of The Magic

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The Harry Potter films have been a masterclass in polishing a turd but unfortunately this impressive showcase in transmogrification comes to an end with The Half-Blood Prince.

The books dropped off rapidly after The Prisoner of Azkaban, bloating out with The Goblet Of Fire, dispensing with plot entirely from The Order Of Phoenix and becoming tortuous and tedious. The films, on the other hand, went from strength to strength replacing Rowling’s awful prose with an increasingly rich and sure visual language and using the cream of British acting to bring genuine life to pantomime characters. In the later books not only does nothing happen but what does happen doesn’t make any sense. Now, for the first time, one of the films shares this problem. The Half-Blood Prince looks like a very big book made into a pretty big film – you can see the gaps in its jagged, stuttering structure, where scences hit the floor – which is a bit odd because what does make it to the screen betrays some very strange choices about what to prioritise. How many times do we need to see Draco whip a dustcloth off the vanishing cabinet? Was the spider eulogy really necessary? The Deathly Hallows is going to be split in two so perhaps this will solve this problem. Perhaps it will throw it into sharper relief.

In his scathing review Peter Bradshaw suggests that the opening scene is the only good thing about the film. Most of his criticisms are accurate but The Half-Blood Prince is still an enjoyable (if bum-numbing and squandered) film and a vast improvement on the novel. Regardless of the ungainliness that reliance on Rowling makes inevitable, I was still able to go with it, to enter the world evoked; like all the films, this has life. In contrast, in addition to being incontinently plotted, the books are emotionally dead: you never laugh, you are never scared, you just listlessly flip-flip the pages waiting vainly for something to actually happen. You get all that in the film plus even a bit of pathos as Draco struggles with the situation he has placed him in, although surely more could have been done with this. What you don’t get is any real sense of sadness when Dumbledore dies. This is probably because it is very hard to care about Dumbledore who, despite being Harry’s mentor, is never around to do anything useful apart from pop up at the end of each book to explain what just happens. There is no man behind the beard.

Written by Martin

20 July 2009 at 10:54

How Do We Sleep?

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Until now the Positive SF movement had been wrongheaded but it hadn’t been as egregiously stupid or as messianically blind as the Mundane SF movement. That changed yesterday. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Written by Martin

15 July 2009 at 10:16

Posted in genre wars, sf

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Rising Up, Rising Down

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John Burnside’s latest novel, Glister, finds him looping back to territory he has already mapped. His last but one novel, Living Nowhere, was set in the Corby of his adolescence, dominated by the steel works and on the cusp of becoming post-industrial. It was clearly strongly autobiographical and he followed this with a stunning memoir, A Lie About My Father, which Burnside noted was “best treated as a work of fiction.” Now, with Glister, he revisits the same subjects – youth, family, small town isolation – as fabulation. Things are heightened and distorted, mirroring the hallucinogens which feature in all three books. Corby is transmuted into Innertown and Outertown and the steel works simply become the Plant. Equally notionally the book exists outside of time but, flashes of modernity notwithstanding, we are back in the Seventies in Burnside’s youth.

It is an oddly structured novel: a clutch of short third-person chapters give way to a novella-length first-person chapter which makes up the bulk of the book. This is narrated by Leonard, an incredibly precocious and disaffected fifteen year old “who is quietly disappearing from the world he used to know and has already stopped knowing, more or less on purpose.” (p4) Not only is he too big for the town but a series of boys his age have disappeared. A fiction is maintained that they have simply left home but no one believes this, the pull of the Innertown is too strong. No one escapes:

But he didn’t go away. Nobody goes away. The kids talk about it all the time but the truth is , none of us really know what’s out there, twenty, or fifty, or a hundred miles along the coast road, because nobody has ever gone that far. (p68)

Instead a serial killer seems to be at work. Death is not rare in Burnside’s work but this hint of a crime drama or even a thriller makes the novel stand out. It is misdirection though, there is no interest in a genre narrative. Burnside’s focus remains fixed and it is impossible to read Glister in isolation. Dan Hartland described the novel as “visionary and elusive” and in a way it is but it is also much less so than Living Nowhere or A Lie About My Father. Burnside is a poet but much of the prose falls flat and there is often only a slender gap between ambiguity and inarticulacy. Burnside is doing many clever things here but he failed to hold my interest and that is a pretty damning criticism.

Written by Martin

14 July 2009 at 20:02

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King Leopold Stickytoes

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Alan Campbell on the ten worst stories he ever tried to write:

I found a document on my computer with the title, “Never Buy Radiators from Genies.” I didn’t remember writing it, so I opened it up. Inside the document I found this one sentence: Never Buy Radiators from Genies.

Written by Martin

14 July 2009 at 10:56

Posted in sf, short stories

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Your Favourite Show Sucks

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Patrick West watches Torchwood and asks why are the British incapable of making decent television science fiction? There are two main problems with this:

a) Holding Torchwood up as an exemplar in this way is like scrapping up a plateful of sick from the pavement outside Leicester Square tube and presenting it as proof the British can’t cook.
b) No one is capable of making decent television science fiction (at least on the available evidence).

Torchwood is a programme for people who found Doctor Who – a programme for under tens – too sophisticated. As it happens, I accidently saw the fifth and final episode of Torchwood – Children Of Earth on Friday. Like 24 its main aim was to wring cheap drama out of tawdry manipulation of the audience, although here Jack Bauer having to torture a terrorist to prevent a nuclear bomb going off is replaced by Captain Jack having to shoot a puppy to save the world. Sort of. West’s point is pretty similar: Torchwood is utter toss. Where he slips up is in his comparison to US television:

But whereas the US has given us Flash Gordon, The Twilight Zone, many incarnations of Star Trek, The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Futurama and, more recently, a re-vamped Battlestar Galactica, Britain’s principal contribution to the field can be summed up in two words: Dr Who.

It is notable that none of those US shows are currently on the air but it is also debatable how many of them were actually any good. Battlestar Galactica which has garnered more column inches and mis-directed praise than any SF show in recent memory (except perhaps Dr Who) was The West Wing in space but re-written for the politically illiterate and morally confused. I gave up on after the first season and, by all accounts, goes into Total Bollocks Overdrive thereafter. Futurama is, of course, great but it is strange he includes it when he dismissed The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy as being “sci-fi parody” that “inadvertently betrayed our timidity when it came to taking this genre seriously”. Quantum Leap? Seriously? It is true that American serial dramas are usually superior to British ones but this probably has something to do with the fact Britain doesn’t actually make any serial dramas. Even in America though, no SF approaches the truly great television of the last couple of years: The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire and so. Hell, it doesn’t even approach the level of second string shows like The Shield or ER.

Written by Martin

12 July 2009 at 15:30

Posted in sf, television

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The Guardian Tackles Popular Culture With Questionable Results

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Afua Hirsch on fanfic:

It started with Star Trek fans writing stories about a Kirk/Spock love affair, and it quickly became a craze. Fantasy fiction, or “fanfic” websites now attract contributions from large numbers of obsessive fans, and new genres are emerging at a remarkable rate: “slash” fanfic focuses on gay relationships (the Lord of the Rings characters provide particularly fertile ground), with “femslash” for lesbian characters; and then there’s “real person popslash”, where the unlucky subjects are celebrities in the music business.

Joe Queenan on spinoffery:

It is not always easy to figure out what is going on in the world of novelisations. Consider Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Novelisation by Alan Dean Foster. Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Novelisation is not to be confused with Timothy Zahn’s Terminator Salvation: From the Ashes – The Official Movie Prequel. Nor is it to be confused with Terminator Salvation: Sand in the Gears – The Official Movie Prequel Graphic Novel. Here, a bit of supplementary material about all this supplementary material may be helpful. Novelisations are based upon movies that already exist. Official prequels are novels based on the outline of a movie that has already been greenlighted, but may not yet have been shot. Prequels may thus contain scenes that ultimately get cut out of the finished film. For example, even if Hannah Montana ran away to join the Ladies’ Taliban in the prequel to her next movie it wouldn’t necessarily mean that she would do so in the upcoming film. In fact, it’s pretty unlikely. It could simply be the mad, zany fantasy of some out-of-control prequelist.

Written by Martin

11 July 2009 at 15:14

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My review of both Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui and the anime adaptation by Satoshi Kon is now up at Strange Horizons.

Written by Martin

10 July 2009 at 21:39