Jan 132019
 

One of the books in this series showed up in a “best of” list on Ars Technica and it looked interesting enough that I ordered the first in the series. It showed up recently but I’ve been busy and it sat on my desk untouched.

Then today, after a long six days of work with another starting up again tomorrow, I saw it and decided to give it a whirl. Ten pages in, I’d already laughed out loud hard enough to get choked and have to get some water.

The set-up is simple: Murderbot is shy and doesn’t like being around people because they get awkward and that makes him awkward and sorting through the layers just isn’t worth it because ultimately he doesn’t much care about their problems. He’s downloaded hundreds of hours of shows and he’d just like to watch them in peace. Unfortunately he’s got to go through the motions and do his job, otherwise someone’s going to figure out he’s hacked his governor module and is a free agent.

So these humans he’s with on this mission? They wind up in trouble on a faraway planet and they aren’t terrible and he kinda likes them. So he helps them survive the murderous plots of a rival survey group, and they in turn wind up helping him.

The whole thing was light funny and more-or-less perfect for a quick read on a lazy Sunday by the fire. On a more serious note, the few glimpses we have of the the mysterious larger context dominated by the Company and the rest of the economic and political powers gives plenty of hints that this is a story happening in the world that Google and Facebook built: a capitalistic panopticon become simply “the way things are.”

 January 13, 2019  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Dec 272018
 

Today the Beav and I took the train into town to see the Alexander Calder show at the MBAM.

What struck me at the show, and what I’m posting photographs to try to show, is the way the curators lit the sculptures to highlight and specify the complexity in what could seem like folk art or fairly imposing abstractions.

Shadows as interpretive tool.
“Performing Seal” and it’s shadow

The show was comprehensive. In addition to the various mobiles, there were examples of juvenilia, early paintings, early wire sculptures, and an early silent documentary showing Calder in his Parisian studio making a wire portrait. There were also scale models of late, monumental works like “Three Discs” on l’île Saint-Hélène in Montreal.

Yet despite its scope, the show was also small enough to be manageable. The beauty of the objects wasn’t overwhelmed by the scale.

Self-portrait with sculpture and the Beav

 December 27, 2018  Exhibition Logs, Uncategorized Tagged with:  No Responses »
Dec 272018
 

By its end, this trilogy reveals itself to be nothing less than a deep thinking through of the historical consequences of racism and its relentless transformation of the world day-by-day, year-by-year into something worse. The corruption is familial, it is sexual, it is social and political, it is climatic. 

The fantasy here is not that a wrong can be righted, even if only allegorically. The novel doesn’t right the wrong.

No, the fantasy is the idea that with courage, sacrifice and love, on-going destruction can be halted and the wound staunched long enough, to leave room for people of good will to begin the hard work of building up something better from the ruins.

What I find most political about this fantasy isn’t the representation of characters who are women and brown and queer, as powerful as that clear commitment to their visibility and their stories is. No, I think it is the hope that (and the confidence that) enough people will want to stop the destruction and that they can do so, even though the work required will necessarily begin with and take as its materials a world made a wasteland by the horrors of the past.

 December 27, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Dec 162018
 

It’s been awhile since I’ve read something, liked it for the first few chapters, but then chapter by chapter liked it less and less. This book is like that.

Johannes is not a pleasant or endearing character. His brother is, but he’s very much off-stage for long stretches of the action. And story-wise, the book is essentially a series of self-contained “bits” or set pieces that are wrapped up in the end with a few long final chapters suggesting just enough character growth to justify a happy ending.

None of which is necessarily a problem. Lord knows I like plenty of deeply risible claptrap. And this book is better than that.

It’s just that it’s a book that plays to a particular taste. You’re either going to eat up the constant winks, nods, puns and, most importantly, Johannes’s Victorian Gothic posturing or you are going to find them dropping like bricks, one by one and page after page, onto your last nerve. 

 December 16, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Dec 152018
 

The second book in The Broken Earth trilogy shifts the narrative in ways that I found disorienting for the first half of the book.

In part this was because—as was the case in The Fifth Season—narrative point-of-view is so central to the effect the book is aiming for. Again the principal point-of-view is a disorienting second person and it’s used to put identity—who is speaking? to whom?—and my efforts to “identify with” on centerstage as questions. By the end of the book, I’d finally clued into the fact that in being constructed as challenges, these concepts were also being thematized.

I was also slow to catch on to the new narrative stakes. Narrative lines established in the first book seemed to have faded into the background here without me having a good sense of what was taking their place. With the point-of-view holding me at arms length from the characters, my uncertainty about the direction of the story initially made for shaky (pun intended) reading.

Only once I was past the mid-point had I settled back in enough to catch on to the true source of my problems: the scale of the story had changed dramatically. What I’d understood as a of coming of age fantasy—a young country woman is brought to town, educated, discovers she’s important—wasn’t. Or at least it wasn’t simply that familiar story and resemblances to it were a distraction. The stakes here were social, historical and philosophical and the narrative was reaching for and attempting to establish the cultural resonances that support strong allegory.

I’ve already read The Stone Sky as I write this, so I should probably go ahead and admit that this second book in the series remains my least favourite. But seeing how successfully the final book arrives at the deep allegorical force this book is building toward makes me admire this one for all the work it does to make that final triumph possible.

 December 15, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Dec 082018
 

I stumbled across a reference to The Snow Leopard a year and a half ago reading something somewhere about Buddhism. I bought a copy, read it, read it again, and have continued to read it, a bit here a bit there, right up to the present day. That is a long time to spend with a book, and yet it remains as fresh to me, as extraordinarily beautiful, and as deeply moving as it did when I first picked it up.

The story it tells is simple enough. Matthiessen and his friend GS, a wildlife biologist renowned for his field research, hike from Katmandu in Nepal up (and up and up) into a remote region of the Tibetan Himalayas to observe the rut of a little understood mountain goat. If they are fortunate, they also hope to see one of the elusive snow leopards known to live in the mountains. Matthiessen, a student of Zen Buddhism, would like to visit the aging Llama of the Crystal Monastery as well. Weather threatens them continually on the ascent and both supplies and the porters to carry them are limited, but the men eventually make it to Inner Dolpo on the Tibetan plateau, much later than planned but in time for the rut. GS studies the goats; Matthiessen visits the monastery. The men then descend back down into the world of the lower altitudes.

Within the frame of this simple story, Matthiessen experiences something that feels like the entirety of a life and his writing evokes that experience anew each time I read it. In this the book echoes Alejo Carpentier’s The Lost Steps.

The foundation here is a spare taut prose with breadth and sweep enough to capture an immense natural world while also remaining grounded enough to read as the language of a particular man and of his mind’s workings. The writing is always stunningly concrete even as he moves within deeply philosophical considerations of love, death, family, friendship, the nature of reality, and the existence of the self. His mind is strong, energetic, even stubborn yet also (amazingly) open, pliable, and generous.

I’ve spent eighteen months with Matthiessen’s book, and I’m certain he was a difficult and imperfect person, but as strange as it is to say, I suspect that many of the people who knew him fell in love with him and that, if I had, I would have as well.

Dec 062018
 

So this movie came out and was a bit of a thing and so I watched it (over three or four days, because…sigh) and it got better, bit by bit, and by the end, I thought, “this is pretty okay” and I was moved even and inspired and put a picture of the Beav as my phone’s wallpaper (because, love) which turned out to be a revelation.

Because it was weird to have my phone light up as it was sitting on my desk, and suddenly, there’s the Beav—“Hi Beav!”—with a notification across his face. And then I thought, is this what the teenagers in love today do, put a pic on their phone?, or is this just a movie thing? Because it’s weird.

So I changed my wallpaper to a photo of sunrise on the river in fog and experienced the peculiar pleasure of being age appropriate.

 December 6, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with:  No Responses »
Sep 122018
 

Imagine: Ted is a gorilla not a teddy bear.

Imagine: Walberg is The Rock and not from Boston.

Leave the rest.

So: these life-long friends have a special bond but suddenly fall on rough times and can’t get along. At. All. Eventually though, they work it out. Yeah, they’re rude to each other, vulgar even, but that’s how guys are together when they’re buds and need to say “I love you” but can’t. And before the credits, Walberg—I mean The Rock—gets the girl!

In this way the film ends: two buds and a babe. Happily ever after.

 September 12, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with:  Comments Off on Rampage
Sep 122018
 

This movie is so much better than Prometheus, and, as my brother said to me over the summer, it makes that earlier movie appear better in retrospect than it was at the time. This is fairly hesitant praise though and begs the question, what’s the problem with these new Alien movies? My thought is that they suffer from real confusion about their subject and their narrative obligations.

The most obvious of these obligations is that Aliens movies are about the xenomorph chasing humans in a labyrinth. The first two films and the director’s cut of the third stick to this subject and excel by offering variations on it. The second increases the numbers of monsters and people. The third explores the perversity which leads some people to empathize with a monster. The three later films, however, all stumble in their attempt to vary or enlarge that basic principle.

Alien Resurrection is, in a sense, the most confused and the most honest about its problems. Its representation of the xenomorphs approaches parody, which I read as an implicit, perhaps unknowing acknowledgement of the limits of the series’s basic monsters-in-a-maze premise. It gasps for air in an ultimately failed effort to develop story material from the veneration of Ripley and the ongoing ambivalence toward the inhuman android looming over each of the previous films.

Prometheus jettisons all of this in favor of origins and creation mythology. It aims to take a series based on a sci-fi revision of the dark house movie and turn it into “cinematic universe.” It is, in other words, what an Aliens movie looks like in the age of three (and counting) Spider-man reboots and The Avengers.

To the extent Alien: Covenant surpasses its predecessor—and it does—it surpasses it by overtly returning to the narrative touchstones of Alien and Aliens, repeating the iconic moments of those films as a narrative collage, as if these moments were established paroles in a generic discours. Ultimately though, I don’t think the film cares much about these moments or even its xenomorphs. The face huggers and chest-bursting and the slobbering, metallic beasts are more-or-less instances of the film pandering. What seems genuinely to interest the film but what it is too timid to embrace as its subject are the dangers posed by an uncanny and out-of-control synthetic intelligence, a motif found in every Aliens film since the first but that here seems to beg to be exploited as primary material.

It seems clear to me that in Covenant the true threat, the true parasite, is artificial intelligence lodged in an android body. This threat is a legitimate source of felt horror in our contemporary moment. The Aliens movies offer a vehicle for representing and exploiting it. But this latest film doesn’t do so, choosing instead to place its narrative chips on new stagings of familiar scares.

So as the credits roll, I feel relief. Finally, a real Aliens movie. Yet I also feel genuine disappointment because in this film, the true monster only shows—what?… itself?… himself?… the uncertain status of the artificial is part of its monstrosity, and it is this monstrous anti-humanity that seduces and captivates. Yet it reveals itself in only two or three scenes. So I walk away from the movie wishing that it had been different than it was and better.

 September 12, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,  Comments Off on Alien: Covenant & etc.