That being said, I found the story more compelling this time around. I'm finally starting to get a handle on the seven main characters, who they are as people, and what their powers are. The plot, which concerns time agents and the death of JFK, was interesting and suitably crazy.
I just... I wish I cared about the characters more. I feel the script is too preoccupied with being clever, and misses repeated opportunities to be genuine and human. It's a pity, because there's plenty of potential. This could have been a steampunk Wes Anderson comicbook. The visuals are you there, and there's plenty of quirk, that's for sure....more
In a Victorian, steampunk world, seven gifted individuals with an inexplicable birth are brought back together by the death of their adoptive, mad sciIn a Victorian, steampunk world, seven gifted individuals with an inexplicable birth are brought back together by the death of their adoptive, mad scientist father. The Umbrella Academy reads like something of a cross between The Royal Tenenbaums and a superhero comicbook, and has plenty of quirky, visually-arresting material to present.
What saddens me is that, ultimately, the story itself is a bit unsatisfying. As much as I wanted to care for the seven grown-up children of the Umbrella Academy, there's too much wit and creativity to really let the human interactions shine through. The world seems too preoccupied with being clever to be authentic, and the story suffers from a constant barrage of random encounters.
Perhaps things settle in place in later volumes, but for the time being, The Umbrella Academy comes across as a mere collection of disjointed events with really cool visual design. Some of the character conflicts show promise, but they neither resonate with real pain nor get a proper sense of resolution.
I'll keep reading, though... Because the characters and overall designs are really unique and fresh. Let's just hope they all reveal a bit more depth....more
"Wizard P.I." Sounds pretty good, right? Well... yeah. Let's just say the execution doesn't do the concept justice.
The idea sure is great: Harry Dresd"Wizard P.I." Sounds pretty good, right? Well... yeah. Let's just say the execution doesn't do the concept justice.
The idea sure is great: Harry Dresden is a full-on wizard in modern-day Chicago, working with the police to solve magic-related murders. The novel goes for a Noir style early on that sets a great tone but fails to elevate the writing above pastiche in the long run. What comes next is a sequence of Noir clichés: the femmes fatales, the protagonist's self-loathing, the dark and stormy nights. The addition of magic to all this never makes the writing rise above its derivative roots.
Despite all this, The Dresden Files still sounded to me like the ideal guilty pleasure. That's until it became painfully obvious Dresden has issues with women. I don't think Butcher set out to write him this way, but every scene involving a woman had some sort of cringe-inducing factor to it. There isn't a woman in the book—not even though-as-nails Karrin Murphy—who doesn't get judged for her looks. Murphy, being the strongest female character in the book, hurt the most to read; she might be tough and no-nonsense, but Dresden is never gonna let you forget she's a petite cheerleader type.
It got to the point where my mental image of Harry Dresden turned into something like this:
I started reading the book as if Dresden was an unreliable narrator with a deluded view of himself: it certainly explains the social awkwardness, the fact he goes around wearing a duster over sweatpants and a T-shirt(!), his propensity for getting out of breath, and his insistence on being "chivalrous" to Murphy even though she clearly told him it pisses her off. And surprisingly, there's quite a number of women in this book, all gorgeous and some quite willing to throw their willing bodies at Harry. Again, I'll chalk it up to wishful thinking and a propensity to lie. Dresden claims he can eat what he wants and stay thin, which only convinced me even more he was anything but and seriously deluded about it.
That aside, the plot meandered for quite a while, but it did pick up in the end. Nothing spectacular, and it certainly didn't hold a reveal worthy of a proper Chandler, but it was fun and enjoyable. I'd be quite willing to give the Dresden series another try if I knew its women turn out to be more than hapless window dressing, but I doubt it happens....more
I'm a big fan of Robert Charles Wilson, and I like to say a lesser book by Mr. Wilson is still better than most other SF authors' above-averages. TheI'm a big fan of Robert Charles Wilson, and I like to say a lesser book by Mr. Wilson is still better than most other SF authors' above-averages. The Affinities is a good test of this assertion: if, like me, you find yourself enjoying it despite it all, then you may just be a Wilson fan.
Oh, it's not a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination. As with every other Wilson book, it's got a pretty cool Big Idea: in this case, the eponymous Affinities, twenty-two socially attuned groups that function halfway between a modern-day tribe and the Freemasons. The writing, too, is on par with Wilson's usual humanist prose. The characters are well drawn and filled with quirky little details that make them stand out from the page.
So, where does the book go wrong?
First off, for all the coolness of the concept itself, the SF idea of the Affinities never really went anywhere. The science behind them remains purposely vague, and besides people in a certain Affinity being able to empathize easier with others, there isn't much there that's really compelling and thought-provoking. Worse, we only ever see the Tau Affinity, and their arch-rivals, the Hets. Now, the idea of a war between "proto-ethnicities" is interesting, but Het is never more than your baseline antagonists: they're military-like, they support anti-Affinity initiatives, and they really like authority somehow. Of the twenty other Affinities we never learn more than a few lines.
And as well-written and complex as the characters are, they never really go anywhere. Adam, the narrator, never really becomes a sympathetic character. Nor do the members of his Affinity, except the old ladies who own the Affinity house: they all come across as inhuman and cult-like in their disregard for human life outside the Affinity. Instead of pulling us into life within an Affinity, we're left gaping at these Affinity members and wondering who in their right minds would call one's mother a "tether" in a derogatory manner. Rather than being aspirational, Tau sounds like a death cult.
It would have helped if the story took us to interesting places, but I closed the book feeling I was no better than when I started. Wilson took a cool concept, failed to nurture it to true literary SF greatness, and filled it with great writing which was pleasant to read but never truly resonated.
Me, I still liked it even if I'm damning it with back-handed praise. Whether you do or not will depend on how much of a fan you are. This ain't no Spin or Chronoliths, though, that's for sure....more
Don't be thrown off by the word "screenwriting" in the title: Story is a book about Writing with a capital W. I learned a lot from this book that canDon't be thrown off by the word "screenwriting" in the title: Story is a book about Writing with a capital W. I learned a lot from this book that can be applied to short fiction and novels, and I bet it translates to other media as well. Yes, the overall focus is on movies, but the lessons clearly transcend the medium.
For all its discussion of story arcs and compelling scenes, though, Story can be a bit of a chore to read. It'd be ironic, except I'm sure McKee didn't want to create an entertaining storytelling guide: he wanted to create a comprehensive and useful guide, and that's just what he did. The book is best read as a reference manual, where you look up the sections that interest you the most at any given point. In that aspect, it's a formidable tool, because it looks at storytelling in a very no-nonsense, practical, and pragmatic manner.
McKee is nothing if not thorough. He breaks down the art of storytelling from the overall arc down into beats and turns of individual acts. The whole exercise is backed by a grounded analysis of various movie scenes. Frankly, I've never quite encountered a book that went so much to the heart of what makes a compelling protagonist and how to build engaging scenes. Nothing about is feels like a recipe: it's a science, and it requires hard work and dedication to the craft.
If there's one thing I wish the author would do, it's update his movie references. I get that, say, "Kramer vs. Kramer" is a fantastic piece of screenwriting, but the movie just doesn't resonate with me. I hope McKee will choose to release a new edition with modern references.
But be that as it may, Story has earned a place of choice among my reference material. This is one book I'll keep returning to....more
I started reading this book hoping it would be something else than a fad diet book. It isn't.
It makes some good points about gluten, so it wasn't a toI started reading this book hoping it would be something else than a fad diet book. It isn't.
It makes some good points about gluten, so it wasn't a total waste of time, but nearly so. What the book has to say would have made for a good ten-page article, so writing an entire book about it is spreading it pretty thin. As a result, it repeats a lot of what it's trying to say, and often does so in a manner which I found condescending. There's a hilariously bad section, for instance, where the writer is trying to establish the difference between "chronological age" and "biological age," and talks wistfully about how easy it would be to tell a woman's true age if she were a caribou and you could saw off her antlers.
The science itself is questionable at best. There are plenty of footnotes that are there to make the book sound serious and well-researched, and they serve to hide the fact that the author is cherry-picking to support his anti-gluten crusade. There's no discussion of how some of the ailments he attributes to gluten can be more widely blamed on processing, for instance, or also apply to, say, refined sugars. No, this is the anti-gluten show, so there's no place for nuance. You'll learn how gluten in all its forms causes schizophrenia, premature aging, diabetes, allergies, and acne.
The kicker comes when you get into part three, where the author discusses the practical ways of getting off gluten. At which point, the author explains that gluten is one thing, but you should also avoid any and all grains regardless of gluten content, focus on vegetables, eat quality meat, and avoid all processed sugars.
This approach to health certainly works. But so would a diet that says "avoid the color blue at all costs" if you also included these additional guidelines.
I've read speculative fiction all my life, yet nothing could quite prepare me for the awesomeness of Borgian magic realism. Borges is fantasy elevatedI've read speculative fiction all my life, yet nothing could quite prepare me for the awesomeness of Borgian magic realism. Borges is fantasy elevated to high art; his writing is highly elegant, whip-smart, and infused with breathtaking ideas about the nature of reality and the meaning of life. To read Borges non-stop is to go on a mind-bending journey where the most common things gain extraordinary meanings and purpose.
A mix of love of SF and a dogged determination to prove myself to no one in particular led me to pick Borges' Ficciones as the first book I read entirely in Spanish. It was a patient endeavor that forced me to slow down and savor the words, and in the end I'm glad I read Borges' work in its original language. I don't recommend it if you're anything but an advanced reader--or possessed of the same silly determination I did--but I can't imagine how any translator, no matter how devilishly talented, could capture the full awesomeness of Borges' style and literary wit.
For me, Borges is the ultimate proof that any rule of writing can be broken by the masters. Some of the best stories of Borges are firmly in the 'tell, don't show' camp, in that they give us the contours and shapes of wondrous things that would be impossible to describe. This is the case of the library of Babel, or Pierre Menard's wonderful line-for-line retelling of Cervantes' Don Quixote. Borges invites the reader to imagine his own stories and characters within the wondrous contours he describes.
If you love literary SF, you owe it to yourself to read Borges, whether in Spanish or in translation, and Ficciones is a perfect starting point....more
Decades from now, mainstream horror will hail Ligotti as one of the masters of the genre. He's already recognized as such by a smaller circle of peoplDecades from now, mainstream horror will hail Ligotti as one of the masters of the genre. He's already recognized as such by a smaller circle of people, who easily class him alongside Lovecraft and Poe, but his focus on short fiction has so far kept him from the public eye. And considering how reclusive Ligotti is, that's probably just the way he wants it.
Teatro Grottesco is a frightening dive into the author's psyche. His horror is certainly not the jump-scare type, quite the opposite; Ligotti's terror is existential, philosophical. It's the horror of living in an uncaring universe that will not surrender meaning no matter how hard we try to pry it from its cold, alien hands.
Reading Ligotti induces this kind of gloom in one's mind, draining the world of colors until all that's left is an unsettling pattern of gray that drives you mad from its lack of answers. In a way, it reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges' mythical prose and reality-bending ideas, but with a more nihilist, pessimistic slant.
Definitely recommended for fans of true horror who don't mind having their optimism challenged by brooding nihilism of the finest order. I recommend reading Ligotti's nonfiction work, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race as a companion piece to gain greater insight into Ligotti's unique worldview. Just don't expect to emerge from it with a smile on your face....more
You shouldn't read this book if you're feeling down. Heck, even if you're feeling cheerful, this book will kick your happiness in the kidney and leaveYou shouldn't read this book if you're feeling down. Heck, even if you're feeling cheerful, this book will kick your happiness in the kidney and leave it reeling. It's a grim book, filled with forbidden knowledge about the human condition. I figure it's a question of time before someone kills themselves and this book gets the blame, although that would be missing its point.
I came by this book via HBO's True Detective when I heard the series' creator had read it (along with In the Dust of This Planet) as inspiration for the character of Rust. I'm no philosophical pessimist myself—I'm generally of the opinion that there is enough joy in life, be it illusory and man-made, to make it worthwhile—but I love thought-provoking ideas that challenge my worldview. And let it be said, Ligotti's thoughts rattled me.
That's not to say I walk away from Conspiracy a newborn philosophical pessimist. As Ligotti says himself, being optimist or pessimist is largely a matter of personal disposition, as we all use logic to solidify the positions dictated by our emotions. Conspiracy isn't so much an argument for pessimism, as it is an exploration of its modes of thought and its main proponents. It's fascinating in a morbid sense, and exposed with a lot of verve and conviction by Ligotti.
It's also a great thought experiment: what if Ligotti was right, and our genes conspired to hide us from the awful truth that life is malignantly useless? What if being alive was not "all right"? It's a scary concept, which is why I think it's worth exploring. In the end, Ligotti didn't sway me, but he forced me to think long and hard about why he didn't.
Ligotti might say I've examined my puppet's strings, seeing them for the first time, then shrugged and went back to blindness. Perhaps. Be that as it may, I'm glad for the vision....more
This book made my skin crawl and my mind expand. It's a dense, sometimes impenetrable work of philosophy that discusses the Unthinkable, so obviouslyThis book made my skin crawl and my mind expand. It's a dense, sometimes impenetrable work of philosophy that discusses the Unthinkable, so obviously it's not going to work very well as beach reading. But if you give it your attention and an open mind, there are some seriously creepy-cool concepts about the Universe to be gleaned here.
I heard about this book through a fascinating Radiolab episode about the book's improbable underground cult status. Thomas Ligotti has heaped praise on it, and the creator of HBO's True Detective mentioned it as part of his inspiration for McConaughey's character of Rust. That being said, this pedigree led me to believe this book would be about something quite different than it is. Although it does touch on themes of nihilism and philosophical pessimism, this book's main focus is on the genre of horror, and the way in which it complements philosophy in addressing the subjects that philosophy cannot touch.
Thacker introduces some concepts that truly blew my mind and made me think long and hard about my own existence. He introduces three levels of reality. First is the "world-for-us", which is the familiar, the scientific, the purview of our human experience. Next is the "world-in-itself," which escapes our grasp, but remains knowable. And finally is "the world-without-us," the unknowable, the unthinking; forever outside our grasp and our ability to define. Horror, then, becomes the human tool that we use to discuss this world, hostile to our very existence, and unknowable.
Thacker's argument is that the horror genre and the occult are means by which humanity has tried to understand the "world-without-us," in a way which, by definition, philosophy never could. His arguments, through the analysis and discussion of horror and occult concepts, is fascinating and horrifying in its own right. It induces this sense of cosmic, intellectual horror which permeates the works of H.P. Lovecraft, among others. This is potent, fascinating stuff that's well worth the investment in time and mental energy.
In the closing chapter, Thacker introduces a poem, "The Subharmonic Murmur of Black Tentacular Voids," which he then uses to bridge philosophy and horror as he explores the concept of unknowing and cosmic horror. It's a clever bit of meta literature, and an effective one at that. Although I was unimpressed by the poem at first, I reread it a few times and its cold, scientific genesis of extremophile life hostile to thought got under my skin.
All in all, a fascinating, difficult read, and one which touches on subjects that are, by definition, untouchable....more