Sunday, November 8, 2009

Central Canada Comic Con

For my birthday, my girlfriend got us weekend passes to the Central Canada Comic Convention held here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. This was her first Comic Con ever, and I was filled with excitement and anticipation. What kind of crazy costumes would we see? Who would be too large to fit into her Harley Quinn outfit? All these questions and more plagued me....

On Saturday, we marched from our apartment to the Convention Centre, and immediately, I saw a Klingon having a cigarette outside the building. Yes, it's going to be that kind of Con, huh?

With our weekend passes, we got a goodie bag filled with a free comic, some temporary tattoos, buttons, and coupons coupons coupons. Lots of 'em. The free comic my g/f got was a Jeph Loeb Red Hulk comic. I advised her to chuck it.

We wondered around and saw the Batmobile, the Ecto 1 that I saw at the last Con, and we got glimpses of Adam West and Julie Newmar (who looks like she's had "some work" done, if you know what I mean).

I met Marv Wolfman and asked him about the scriptwriting process for New Teen Titans. I met Joe Rubenstein and he almost yelled at me for commenting that Starlin draws small faces. He thought I said "weak faces".

When I went up to Rodney Ramos, I asked him why Darick Robertson's pencils on the Boys are so rough whereas his pencils on Transmetropolitan are cleaner. Ramos exclaimed loudly that its his doing and that Robertson hates when Ramos inks over his stuff. Robertson apparently likes the rough style and disapproves of the cleaner lines that Ramos gives. On top of that, for the Fury: Peacemaker miniseries with Ennis, Ramos had to redraw some Robertson figures because he couldn't be bothered with character models or face consistency. Ha!

I picked up the complete run of Tom Strong for 50 dollars even. As well as Sebastian O by Grant Morrison and finally, the last piece of the Ennis puzzle, I got The Punisher: The End, the only issue I didn't have of his. I also grabbed the 2 Disc Special Edition of Spielberg's Munich, an edition that is not available in Canada!

We also picked up some prints by Tommy Castillo who signed them, and my g/f picked up an autographed photo of Steppenwolf for her dad. All in all it was a good haul.

We also saw Klingon belly dancers. It was gross.

Here are some pictures to finish off the tale....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Hayao Miyazaki is a legend. From Princess Mononoke to Spirited Away to Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind, the man is an absolute master of his medium. Animation is such a varied and vibrant medium, and Miyazaki makes his mark with style and warmth. My absolute favourite from Studio Ghibli is my first, which was Princess Mononoke, often considered his most environmental or adult film. After that comes the spectacular and heartbreaking Spirited Away. This year, Miyazaki came out of retirement to bring us Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, and I finally got a chance to see it.

Before we go any further, a note on which version I happened to see. Normally, I prefer subtitles with my films of a different language, never dubs, but Miyazaki films often get produced with the finest translations and casts possible. In North America, the odds were that I was going to see a dubbed version. However, I got lucky, and was treated to an original version with official subtitles.

Ponyo is a goldfish who dreams of being a human. After meeting Sosuke, a five year old boy living on a cliff with his mother and mostly absent sailor father, Ponyo desires freedom from her father, Fujimoto, who keeps her in an aquarium at the bottom of the sea. Thanks to a drop of Sosuke's blood, Ponyo is able to temporarily transform into a human. Ponyo and Sosuke fall in love, or at the least the children's version of love, and embark on an adventure through the flooded town in which Sosuke lives, all the while evading Fujimoto and his magic.

It's an extremely simple story and the observant viewer will notice the archetype of Han Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid story. But Miyazaki isn't content to retell a story of a goldfish who wishes to turn into a human. Miyazaki stamps this film with his pet themes of environmentalism, strong heroines, and the oft-beguiling nature of a child. Throw in some gorgeous magic all hand drawn like the rest of the film, and you have an absolute visual treat.

However, this is not Miyazaki's best film to date. While the first half of the film is engaging, the second half sags a bit. In the beginning the humour and wonder of a goldfish turning into a girl propels the film forward, as does the well drawn (figuratively and literally) characters. But once the sea has exploded and flooded the town, and Ponyo and Sosuke travel by boat, the pacing slows down to a crawl.

When the film meanders to its conclusion, it feels rushed. There's a great chase scene that happens, but it only happens for about two minutes. The adult characters stand around and talk, but only some of it is revealing. Mostly the machinations of Fujimoto, the antagonist, remains enigmatic and elusive, almost as if since the main characters are children, and wouldn't understand the adult world, neither should the audience. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is strange.

Those two complaints are not ruining. The film is still utterly beautiful and wondrous, like a child's dream. The animation is beyond reproach, and should (but won't) signal a return to 2D animation. Hopefully Disney's paean to their glory days, The Princess and the Frog, will boost the traditional animation's profile.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea isn't perfect, but it's extremely close. A little tighter in the pacing, and a bit more exposition, and we'd have a masterpiece on our hands. This is a amazing and wonderful movie for children and adults, and a terrific throwback to when animation wasn't done on computers. I highly recommend this!

Multitrack Fun!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

L'ennemi public n°1 - l'instinct de mort

I hadn't heard of Jacques Mesrine, or of this biopic about him, but when I found out what it was all about, I had to see it. L'ennemi public n°1 is a two part French film starring Vincent Cassel as the famed public enemy number one Jacques Mesrine (pronounced may-reen, but more French-like). This was directed by Jean-Fran├žois Richet who has previously done the average Assault on Precinct 13 remake, and Richet seriously banks good will with even simply the first part of this movie, called L'instinct de mort, named after the book Mesrine wrote while in prison. Let's get into it, shall we?

It's 1959 and Jacques Mesrine has just got back from a tour of duty in Algeria, where he may or may not have ignored the Geneva conventions and killed some prisoners-of-war. He's bored with his stale life and rebukes his parents' offer of a steady job at the factory. Instead, he and his friend Paul start burgling houses and paying up to Guido, the local crime boss. Eventually Mesrine becomes a close employee of Guido. At the same time, Mesrine indulges in his fascination with a prostitute named Sarah. When Sarah is horribly injured by her pimp, which is Mesrine's fault, Mesrine and Guido take the pimp to a country villa, and brutally stab him and bury him alive. Mesrine the soldier is being replaced by Mesrine the anarchist.

He meets his wife, Sophia, in Spain while on vacation, and once back in his native France, they have three beautiful babies. However, men like Mesrine could never settle down. He does a stint in prison, and when he comes back, he vows to go straight for the sake of his children. But he can't. He is Jacques Mesrine and Sophia abandons him.

Mesrine meets Sylvie, who he would eventually call his wife, and they enact a string of armed robberies together. But when a rival gang tries to shoot him in broad daylight along with his daughter, Mesrine takes Sylvie to Montreal, where they end up kidnapping a millionaire and robbing a bunch of banks. So much for laying low. Mesrine is called Public Enemy Number One by the Canadian government. Their time as Bonnie and Clyde come to an end in an impressive Arizona desert car chase. Extradited to Canada, they are sentenced to prison. For Mesrine, the prison is brutal and horrible.

Along with his friend Jean-Paul, they daringly escape, rob two banks in the same day, and return to the prison to help others escape, resulting in a huge bloody shootout that takes out as many guards as it does prisoners.

Once Mesrine and Jean-Paul leave the bloodbath, they swear to each other to live by either freedom or death. Upon which, Mesrine executes the forest ranger who snuck up on them. The first part ends with this amazing moment.

This movie is balls-to-the-wall action, but with style, subtlety and engaging performances. Cassel is a standout in his role as Mesrine. He comes across as bad-ass, but broken, the man ever chasing the high from crime, but never catching it. L'instinct de mort benefits from the spectacular life that Mesrine had which simply screams movie.

Not only does this movie have bad-ass moments like Mesrine punching a glass into a man's mouth while he drinks from it, but it has a kidnapping gone wrong, a desert car chase, two prison escape attempts, and a couple massive shootouts and Mesrine just doing what he does. It's like a couple action movies stuffed into one, but it never feels overlong or poorly paced at a breakneck speed. The film gets a chance to breathe with moments after the crazy incidents, when you get to see him watch TV, or hang out with his buddies.

Richet directs this like a documentary, in the Paul Greengrass-Steven Soderbergh style. It's like we're the crew following Mesrine along, watching him rip shit up. The shaky camerawork can be exhausting for some people, but I've always been a fan of it. Richet includes some fun split-screen sequences, and an amazing colour palette of blues and reds to make what's already good into great.

What astonishes me is that according to the reviews, part one is the lesser of the two parts. They say that the second part, confusingly titled L'ennemi public n° 1 as well, is absolutely perfect and way better than the first. (The reason why the title is confusing is that in France, the movie is called Mesrine: L'instinct de mort and Mesrine: L'ennemi public n° 1. As opposed to outside France, where the movie is called Public Enemy Number One Parts One and Two)

I can't wait to watch the second part, considering that I absolutely loved this film. It was exciting, interesting, dynamic and never boring, so I have high expectations for the conclusion. Check back here in a couple days for my review of the final part of L'ennemi public n° 1!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doctor Who - Series One

They say everybody remembers their first Doctor. You never forget who your first exposure to was, whether it be the First or Tenth Doctor. Mine has the dubious honour of being the Eighth Doctor, of the FOX tv-movie fame. Yuck. I remember not being terribly impressed with Paul McGann or anything about that particular thing. It's not like I know nothing of Doctor Who. I'm familiar with the set-up, and the basic gist of the series. When I heard all the accolades being lavished upon the revival, I took notice and got my hands on the first series.

I approached the revival series with trepidation. I wasn't sure what I was going to get. The only non-Star Trek:TNG show in the sci-fi genre that I've watched more than one episode of was the revival of Battlestar Galactica, which I didn't much care for (but I hear that the show gets better as it goes on... maybe I'll give it another try)

But, Series One of Doctor Who took me by surprise. It was equal parts inclusive of new audience member, and drippping with references to previous continuity. The whole premise of Doctor Who is conducive to attracting new fans, and that's exactly what this show did.

Both the leads are stand out. Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor was a mixture of sorrow, self-deprecating humour, unbearable smugness, and a desire for a happy ending. Meeting Rose, played by Billie Piper, you get the sense that he was lonely til she accompanied him. However, Rose is the real star of this show. The whole thing unravels from her point of view as she's the audience surrogate.

Rose is the more multi-textured character of the series. At the beginning of the show, she selfishly leaves her mother and boyfriend behind on a whim, going into the TARDIS with the Doctor. As the show progresses, and Rose learns more and more of the universe, she also learns more of herself, as she has hurt the ones she loves. Rose comes to realize that her family is important and that a healthy balance must be met between the present day and her adventures with the Doctor.

In those adventures, she and the Doctor encountered all sorts of creatures, in the future (the Face of Boe), in the past (the Gelth), in the present (Slitheen, Autons), and everywhere in between. Everywhere they go, both of them see this phrase "Bad Wolf" repeated over and over. What is the Big Bad Wolf? Who knows?

Along the way, Rose and the Doctor meet Captain Jack Harkness, a time-travelling con-man from the 51st century. Jack might be my favourite character from the show. His mixture of reluctant heroism, his charm and his arrogance make him extremely entertaining. He also represents the first character in Doctor Who history who isn't strictly heterosexual. In the 51st century, it's explained, sexuality is much more fluid. It's an interesting more modern take on the realities of the possible future.

The whole series comes to a head with the last two episodes, in which the Bad Wolf is revealed, the big bad is revealed (not the same, apparently...) and a huge moment in the relationship between the Doctor and Rose happens.

It's almost a shame that Eccleston didn't want to continue with a second series, seeing as how he's fun hilarious and interesting, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. In a heartwrenching scene, the Doctor regenerates, and we're left with David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, and we're left with a cliffhanger.

All in all, I was immensely entertained. There was time travel, strange creatures, exciting action, and carefully plotted character arcs. Add to that the serial style of storytelling, and I'm please. I eagerly await the chance to keep watching with the second series, starring Rose and the Tenth Doctor. I also am looking forward to Torchwood, the spin-off starring Captain Jack Harkness. Excellent series and highly recommended.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Classic Tarantino versus New Tarantino

Last month, I had the pleasure of seeing Inglourious Basterds in the theatre, and I loved it. I almost loved it more than Kill Bill, and when I said that Kill Bill was my favourite Tarantino, people look at me like I'm crazy. They want to know why Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs aren't my favourite. It turns out, that the one-two-three punch of Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds retains the highest point on the Tarantino-Olympic pedestal. But why, people ask?

For the purposes of this post, we'll split his career into two. The first era spans Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, while the second era spans Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 (considered one film in this post), Death Proof, and Inglourious Basterds. There's a six year gap between the two eras, and that represents a natural cut-off point. 

One of Tarantino's strengths is his gorgeous profantity-laden dialogue. As readers of this blog know, I'm partial to good dialogue. If it sounds clunky, I'm perturbed and shaken. If the conversations float gracefully, up and down like arpeggios, then I'm in heaven. The dialogue of all of Tarantino's movies are unmatched. Often imitated and never duplicated, the conversations are like operas of words. Yes, there's profanity, racial slurs, slang, patois and slight tics, but all of those things are put together to make music.

However, the dialogue of the New Tarantino is just slightly better. In the Classic Era, he wore his international  influences on his sleeve but made his vision more American. With the New Era, Tarantino wallows in the influences. His movies are made up of other movies, so what does he bring to the table that's uniquely him? His strong sense of talk. Talk, talk, talk. That's all his characters ever seem to do, with brief interruptions of shocking violence.

In his newest film, Inglourious Basterds, the opening scene, which feels like half an hour, is a tense and beautiful conversation between a Nazi who hunts Jews and a French farmer hiding the Jews under his house. Using only the power of words, the Nazi intimidates the farmer into revealing where his hidden occupants are. It's an amazing scene.

Conversely, one of the best dialogue-focused scenes in the Classic Era is the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, in which Mr Pink espouses his views on tipping. It's a fantastic scene, but it's built on observations, rather than pushing the scene forward.

Tarantino, in the New Era, has refined his use of dialogue, and perfected it. He's integrated that sense of talk into the movie. The film becomes about conversations, working to his advantage.

Secondly, a major improvement over the Classic Era is Tarantino's cinematography. He's actually learned how to shoot a scene, use proper composition, and frame his shots better. The mise en scene is better, frankly. This doesn't mean he's made his camera movements more erratic, or used jump-cuts or long cuts, but he's making the prescence of the camera less noticeable.

One of the most famous scenes of Pulp Fiction is the dance sequence, a veritable classic of the Classic Era. However, his camera placement is so intrusive, getting so close to the actors that it's claustrophobic. Pull back, I say. Let them breathe and shake and move around.

On the other hand, going to the New Era, the signature sequence of Death Proof is the car stunt near the end, in which stuntperson Zoe Bell gets out onto the car and rides the hood. It never seems like there's a dolly hovering over her. Tarantino cuts around, giving the car shape and substance and weight, making it more dangerous. It's a fantastic piece.

Really, Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 is my favourite Tarantino movie for a bunch of reasons. The plot is engaging, the characters seem like more than caricatures, the acting is superb, and the action phenomenal. What is most appealing is the tonal shift between both features. The first is an epic Japanese samurai film, while the second is more of a spaghetti western via Hong Kong  flicks. Splitting the two features means the tonal shift is less abrupt, more natural. Also, it adds the cliffhanger aspect to the first, which is always a plus for me.

I absolutely love Tarantino, and every time he makes a movie, I'm fascinated. He's not perfect, and neither are his movies. Each and every one of his movies are funny, gripping, interesting, and always entertaining. I look forward to more films from this American virtuoso.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Documentaries of Richard Dawkins

Everybody has their own folk hero. Some people follow sport stars. Some people obsess with fictional characters like Batman. Other people faint at the sight of rock stars. My girlfriend and I are different. Our folk hero isn't attractive, strong, athletic, or even a vigilante. No, our folk hero is British, arrogant, logical, intelligent, controversial and funny as all hell. He is Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, and he's my favourite person in the world right now.

His bestseller The God Delusion is what brought Dawkins to the attention of the mainstream world, but Dawkins has been around much longer, publishing influential works such as The Selfish Gene or The Blind Watchmaker. His output before The God Delusion was more hard science, more in line with his academic background of evolutionary biology.

At some point, around 9/11, Dawkins looked around and realized that there is a dangerous enemy in the world, far more dangerous and elusive than the Al Qaeda. This enemy fights against logic, reason, and preys upon the whole world's imagination. This enemy is religion, in Dawkins' mind. It doesn't matter which religion, as they are all guilty of plaguing the thoughts and actions of humans.

Dawkins partnered with the BBC and released two documentaries, one after another: The Root of All Evil? and The Enemies of Reason. This post will take a look at the two documentaries and surmise my thoughts on the presentation, rather than the message.

The Root of All Evil? is a question for a title, but the answer is quite clear from the first couple minutes of the program. Dawkins loathes religion. He blames it for mass murderers, suicide bombers, genocides, stoning, rape, and a whole host of other serious crimes. In the course of the program, Dawkins interviews numerous religious experts, psychologists, sociologists, the Bishop of Canterbury, novelist Ian McEwan, and a bunch of pastors, preachers and priests.

The best part of Dawkins as an interviewer is his sheer politeness. When somebody says something completely ridiculous, Dawkins never argues, he merely states the opposing point. His graciousness and quiet British manner are like a subversive tool, making him seem much more sane than the person being interviewed.

One of the highlights of the show is the interview with Pastor Ted Haggard of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Dawkins is impressed with the sheer size and theatricality of the building itself, and sits through a sermon with Haggard, and thousands of believers. Watching Dawkins' silent, unimpressed sour face is a hoot. This face appears a hundred times throughout this program, but this is the best example. Once the sermon is over, Dawkins gets a chance to ask Haggard if religion is dangerous. Of course, the conversation spirals into Haggard making wild claims about the veracity of evolution (something near and dear to the Professor's heart). Haggard says Dawkins and other "evolutionists" are guilty of scientific arrogance, and Dawkins begins pressing his points much stronger. There's a great sense of tension but both men try to stay calm. However Haggard's facade slips briefly but his smile never leaves. It's an awesome scene.

In Jerusalem, Dawkins talks to high ranking officials of both Islam and Israel, and comes up with nothing satisfactory. It's obvious that both sides are irreconcilable. So, Dawkins goes to meet an American born Jew who on traveling to the Holy Land, switched sides and became Muslim. His name is Yousef al-Khattab, and he is an angry young man. Immediately, he begins accusing of Dawkins personally of allowing women to dress like whores and he advises Britain to fix their own land, and fix their own women, and get their troops out of Jerusalem. It's unsettling, and Dawkins almost loses his composure.

There are some other great highlights to this show, but none as good as those two. In the rest of the series, Dawkins looks at the invasion of religion in the education system, how some American teachers were accused of being "Satan's incarnate". He examines the morality of the Bible, and comes up with a bunch of examples of why we should never ever ever use the Bible as a moral compass. He concludes the discussion of morality, by discussing the lessons of morality from an evolutionary standpoint. Reciprocal altruism is used by countless species of animals, and it seems to work for them.

The major conclusion that Dawkins comes up with is that atheism doesn't contend that life is an obstacle to the hereafter, the reward that can't be proven or disproven. Therefore, atheists believe they have only one life to live for a short time. Atheism is ultimately more life-affirming than religion could ever hope to be.

A year later, Dawkins produced the second documentary called The Enemies of Reason. In this program, Dawkins takes a look at the intrusion of alternative beliefs rooted in pseudo-spirituality, and alernative medecine such as homeopathy.

Dawkins argues that there are so many wonders in the natural world, and science is doing so many amazing things, but 25 percent of Britain still believes in astrology and the horoscope. This is dangerous, Dawkins believes, and he attempts to get an understanding of it, and why it's never been put to the proper scientific method of testing, retesting, and retesting again.

He visits a health fair that features tarot card reading, crystals, and angels and whatnot. Every time, Dawkins submits to their nonsense with a polite tone and a gentle pressing of logic. When he gets frustrated, the arrogance and stiff-upper-lip come out, which is what makes Dawkins such an entertaining presenter. He demands answers of people who can't give them, and when they don't, he dismisses them, and lectures on the benefits of the scientific method.

He calls this alternative medicine and beliefs dangerous because there are better, more scientific healing methods that are given a bad reputation from the media, and people avoid them. Modern medicine is the boogeyman according to the press. He cites the MMR vaccine scandal as the best example. He argues that one of the reasons why people distrust modern medicine is because it has become far too complicated for the layperson to even attempt to undersand, and therefore, that which man doesn't understand, man fears.

In the absolute best scene of the both series, Dawkins visits a holistic and alternative healing spa, where a mixture of chanting and meditation. The woman who runs the spa believes that she can alter DNA. In the beginning of the interview, she tells Dawkins that some people have three strands of DNA in a form other than the double helix. The woman's voice fades out and Dawkins' voiceover says "I know what you're thinking. 'I thought I was watching a serious program about science and here's Richard Dawkins' picking on an easy target'." While this is being heard, the camera closes in on Dawkins' silent, unimpressed sour face. My girlfriend and I were laughing so hard.

The second documentary takes a look at other alternative medicine such as homoepathy, which involves the belief that water has a memory and dilution of a substance is a cure against the same substance. It's all nonsense, Dawkins says, but what is worse, is that the British taxpayer is subsidizing homoepathy.

Skeptical rational inquiry is best to figuring how the body works, and what is needed to heal it, not superstition and other dangerous beliefs. It's a very compelling argument that he makes.

A common theme in both programs is Dawkins' unwavering stance that the scientific method of experimenting and testing and peer-review is best. He asks people to submit to double-blind experiments or rigorous studies to prove their claims and very few rise to the challenge. Individual scientists can be immoral or biased, but the scientific system is designed to remove all such biases and morality. There are only facts, logic and reason. For Dawkins, you can see the excitement in his voice when he gets a chance to say this. His enthusiasm for science is palpable and contagious.

For this reason, and his absolutely hilarious method of interviewing people, Dawkins has become my hero. His books entertain and educate me, his documentaries enlighten me, and he is simply a funny man to watch. I propose that he be given a man-on-the-street style program, in which he is launched at imbeciles around the world and watch him get utterly frustrated with the idiocy in the world.

Both series are highly informative, highly entertaining and extremely compelling. Religion is dangerous, superstition is dangerous, and science is the better more rational method of divining the secrets of the world. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What I've Been Watching

A little update to tide you out there on what I've been doing. Mostly, like usual, the only television I've been watching is shows from the U.K. However, the girlfriend and I have been slowly watching the entire run of The Sopranos, from beginning to end. It's her first time with the show, and my second time going through the entire thing. This is a follow-up to both of us watching The Wire for the first time. Both are amazing shows and testament to the power of the serial storytelling medium. 

I love serial stories. The ongoing storyline, the A plot, the B plot, the characters, the mysteries teased out for weeks, the cliffhangers, there's so many elements that make television so unique, and nobody does serial television quite like the British. I'm going to highlight two shows that I've been watching with excitement.

The first is Life on Mars, starring the imitable John Simms, who also starred in the amazing State of Play (the serial I reviewed here and was made into an American feature film that I haven't seen). The premise of Life on Mars is absolutely amazing. A cop, Sam Tyler, in the year 200- is hit by a car and wakes up as the same person in 1973. Is he in a coma, is he dead, or is he a time traveler? While he tries to figure this out, he comes into conflict with the bygone era of cops in 70's era England.

A combination of science fiction and mystery, this is a police procedural in the British sense. Each episode follows an A plot, for example, the cops chasing robbers, or a kidnapper, and in the B plot, Sam Tyler has problems reconciling the 1973 way of doing things with his more politically correct and technologically oriented style. The overarching mystery of why Sam is in 1973 gets teased throughout the entire show.

I love cop shows, I love time travel, and I love John Simms. This is an excellent show filled with great cop moments, and a tantalizing mystery. The series is comprised of 16 episodes over two series (or seasons) and was followed by a spin-off series, Ashes to Ashes, also named after a Bowie song.

The other show I've been loving is Primeval. Strange time anomalies have been opening up in Britain, letting creatures loose from a prehistoric or alternative time, and it's up to Cutter and his team of scientists to figure out what's making these creatures appear and how to stop them.

This is classic British science fiction, sort of like Doctor Who, but without the space or alien angle. Again, this is serial television, so each episode follows a monster-of-the-week format, while slowly advancing the plot of the overarching story. In the first of three series, it's the mystery of where Cutter's missing wife is.

The show was created by the people who created the Walking with Dinosaurs show that captivated many English viewers with its mixture of cutting-edge CGI and actual science. But Primeval is not about real science, as many of the creatures are futuristic and imaginary.

While the writing isn't top notch or the characters very fleshed out, the show's premise and execution are enough to keep me watching.

Stay tuned to a lay of the land as I watch Torchwood and the classic show, The Prisoner.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"The police are no longer in control"

The city has made national news. Read this article on Yahoo News. Is it getting worse? 


I live in Winnipeg, a city associated with high rates of auto theft and murder. In the past three weeks, two babies have been assaulted, a teen murdered and left in a cemetary, numerous beatings and shootings, and a man was set on fire. The family of the man who was immolated told the Winnipeg Sun that "the police are no longer in control".

And it's true.

I don't normally talk about politics on this blog, as I'm not qualified to explain my position well enough. But I do want to say this.

The police are no longer in control. My girlfriend's purse was stolen a week and a half ago, all of her identification, her cellphone, her money. It was stolen out of a locker at the Pan-Am Pool. You can just walk into the pool. You never have to pay. The staff don't even notice you. If I can walk right in, so can a couple teen girls with nothing better to do than steal my girlfriend's stuff.

Fair enough that this is a lesser crime than immolation, but the police haven't called her. At all. She had to spend her time on the phone, tracking down the right guy who knew what was going on, and all she got was an incident number. They didn't ask her for a statement. We have descriptions of the girls. We have the licence plate of the car they drove away in. We did the police work for them, and yet the police are too busy with egregious crimes.

But these awful violent crimes aren't being stopped or prevented. The resources for the police aren't being allocated properly. Dave Chomiak, our Minister of Justice, has created an anti-gang strategy, and a Aboriginal women at risk strategy, neither of which will be given NEW resources. All of the money has to come from other departments, departments which are clearly suffering and unable to do their job properly.

I don't blame the police officers for this. The good men and women who risk their lives every day (especially in our blood-soaked city) are deserving of our respect and our help, certainly not our scorn.

I blame the government. The police, infrastructure and education should always be top priorities for governments, not whether or not the Bombers get a new stadium.

The police are no longer in control in our city. Somehow, we must put the power back into the hands of the justice system. This is not an easy task. Our judicial system is one of the most incomprehensible ones in the world.

Read this article from the Sun. A woman is convicted of owning child pornography and is given a two week sentence. No that isn't a typo. Two weeks in jail.

Why are we so lenient? Why does our justice system fail us over and over and over again?

The police must take control. That is the social contract. Without law and justice, anarchy takes its place.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Progress of Love

To me, short stories are all about artifice. They are about the creation of a moment, and the subtle way the author brings us to the moment. It seems that most short stories these days work on the subtextual level, rather than at the plot level. It's more about the epiphany that the characters reach or don't reach than about whatever happens, or whatever plot machinations exist. I mean epiphany in the Joycean sense, that is, an illuminating discovery, often putting the person's whole life into a new perspective, changing how they see themselves. An amazing example of this style of short story is any one story from Alice Munro's award-winning collection, The Progress of Love

These eleven stories gathered together create a vivid tapestry of public and private lives, often jostling together for superiority, juxtaposed and compared. Each story is densely plotted, surprisingly. These stories do not lend themselves to sporadic reading; each one demands to be finished once started.

The highlight of the entire collection is the gripping and poignant story, "The Moon in the Orange Street Skating Rink". It is the narrative of two cousins coming of age in Southern Ontario, it is the story of understanding of the secret internal world of adults and of adult affairs. The two cousins begin their sexual history by experimenting with the cleaning girl that lives and works in their boarding house. It all comes to a head when they think the girl has become pregnant. It is not until late in the main character's life does he understand the emotional ramifications of what has happened. 

It would spoil the story to divulge any more of the plot. This isn't to say that the story is rife with melodramatic moments of arguments, love-making, accusations. The betrayal that exists in this story and others by Munro are far more subtle and the consequences far more emotionally devastating. 

These stories are dense not just because of the complicated families, or the non-linear and complex timelines, but because the characters are so vividly imagined. In twenty or so pages, Munro deftly implies whole lives that we merely get a glimpse of, and not just of main characters, but colourful secondary actors, coming and going. 

It is said often that one of Munro's stories contains more than most novels. It is the artifice and economy that make Munro such a master of the form. With very few words, and those words precisely chosen, she creates worlds out of these lives, these lives wounded and broken by marriages, infidelity, the quiet broken friendships, the lies. 

The Progress of Love is a staggering collection of short stories presented by a true master of the form. With her plain but evocative prose, Alice Munro shows us numerous lives with stories to be heard, characters perfectly imagined. It is no wonder that she has been lavished with literary awards, praise, and comparisons to the masters, such as Chekhov. This is highly recommended.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Fire Upon the Deep

I like hard science fiction better than so-called soft science fiction. I assume, like all matters pertaining to geek culture, that the genre boundaries are seemingly arbitrary and therefore, forever argued amongst the fans. For the purposes of this blog, let's define hard science fiction as any sci-fi that features science and technology based on real principles, or are at least properly extrapolated from real principles. Conversely, soft science fiction displays its technology without explanation, and presents science as magic. Often, hard sci-fi is set in the present, or the near-future, that way the author's predictions are accurate, or at least a safe bet. Not very often does a hard sci-fi novel come into contact with the genre of space opera, the much maligned "country cousin" of the sci-fi world. Space opera has given birth to such works as Flash Gordon and Star Wars, both of which we would never call intelligent because of its tech. But there exists smart space opera, and I'd like to review one example of it.

This long introduction brings me to the Hugo Award-winning novel A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. Published in 1993, Vinge's novel postulates a far future where thousands of cultures and races and species exist in the galaxy, but are separated by physical distance measured in "zones of thought". Essentially, this is Vinge's ingenious solution to the Fermi Paradox, as well as a sidestep to the concept of the technological singularity problem. The idea is that the human race will inevitably make a machine that has superhuman intelligence, after which, the machine will continue to improve itself until it's at the point of godhood (in our frame of reference). The technology to come after the moment of creating the superhuman intelligence will end the human era.

Bear with me, I'm going to get to Vinge's novel in a second. We just have to explain the byzantine background of the novel before attempting to explain its plot.

In the galaxy, the zones of thought imply that at the lowest level, technology is stupid and slow. In the middle are faster than light travel, and other sci-fi esque tech, and at the other end is where the super-intelligent transcendent beings are, the ones creating life. These beings, called Powers, are so beyond human that the normal being anywhere else outside of this zone cannot comprehend the Powers' thought process. They are at the god level.

In A Fire Upon the Deep, some human on a research laboratory have accidentally uncovered the means to awakening an older Power, one with vast intelligence and motives far too complex to ever understand. This Power amasses an army through mind-control (or rather, something else, but to give it away would spoil the novel), and tears through the galaxy.

Okay, still with me? Some humans escape the laboratory with the countermeasure, but are stranded on a "slow" planet, populated by strange aliens. These marooned children, hopeless to understand the countermeasure, send an SOS to a relay station that "relays" information through the Net (like a far-future USENet). Our main characters, a humanoid, a swashbuckler from the ancient times, and two plant-aliens, travel to this slow unthinking planet to rescue the children and employ the countermeasure before the destruction of the Power engulfs the entire galaxy.

Whew. So if you're still with me, you can see that this is a big novel filled with big ideas - massive ideas, actually. Vinge himself is a mathematician and one of the world's best futurists. His concept of the technological singularity looms over this novel, so much that in order to properly tease out the science, one must understand the underlying theorem.

This space opera can be enjoyed without the long winded explanation that I gave. It's a gripping story that includes a really long chase, huge space battles, lots of destruction, and tons of well-imagined aliens.

Reading A Fire Upon the Deep, I was disappointed. Much of the narrative takes place on a medieval alien world, and many aliens get their chance in the spotlight. It was like I was being tricked into reading a fantasy novel, almost, but with many technological insights. Plus, Vinge's characters are paper-thin, and his prose doesn't really leap off the page.

But as I absorbed the novel, and really thought about how much cool science is in here, I began to appreciate the novel even more. There's so many fun little things scattered around that covers for Vinge's deficiencies as a character-builder. The amount of thought he put into the aliens is astonishing. Every little detail about the two main alien species are developed fully and with attention to realism. He even manages to avoid the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and have the aliens speak languages obviously invented by an author.

As a novel, A Fire Upon the Deep isn't the greatest. It's more a collection of really cool ideas thrown together. This isn't necessarily a negative thing. In terms of space opera, this is really good, but in the larger picture, I'm not about to include this book among the literary canon.

The novel's science is amazing, and the theory that it postulates about the technological singularity is fascinating and frightening. However, the prose is workman-like and the characters bland. A Fire Upon the Deep is an amazing curiosity shop of concepts rather than a solid novel, but still worth reading. I would recommend this to fans of hard and soft sci-fi as it bridges the gap quite well, containing excellent science and great action.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lush Life

The ability to write convincing dialogue might be the most important thing that I require from an author. After being spoiled by William Gaddis, Richard Yates, Richard Ford, and a host of others with the skill, I tend to judge poor dialogue very harshly. Clunky conversations can make or break a novel for me. So it was with great pleasure that I discovered the incredible Richard Price, and his most recent novel, Lush Life.

Ike Marcus, a waiter in New York, is shot dead on a random street, and the only witness is struggling writer Eric Cash, who may or may not be telling the truth when he's interrogated by Detective Matty Clark. Billy Marcus, Ike's father, hounds the police in a seemingly Sysphean effort to have this unfathomable murder solved. Using the parallel narratives of Matty and Eric, the novel traces the investigation of the murder, and the emotional and sociological fallout. 

The plot of this novel is thin, but that doesn't matter really. The star of this work is the absolutely brilliant dialogue. Pages upon pages of perfect, nuanced, clever, and most importantly real dialogue wash over the reader, creating a portrait of New York, circa 2008. It's a story about the neighbourhood, and every little character, and every little detail is shown to us, efficiently and vividly. 

Price's eye for detail and character and ear for dialogue is unmatched by contemporaries. I can't say enough about how he manages to make every single sentence sound real. Not only that, but it's enjoyable to read. This isn't just a bunch of conversations about nothing. For these characters in this borough, the stakes have never been higher. 

When we reach the inevitable and realistic climax, the audience isn't taken aback or thrown for a loop. It reveals itself in a logical and rhythmic manner. It's all about beats, in terms of speaking, and in terms of plot. Price's background as a screenwriter helps him create a structure to hang the plot on, and the same training helps him create the dialogue to move that forward.

I keep harping on the dialogue, but for good reason. Richard Price is well known for his attention to detail. When doing research, the man has gone on ride-alongs with the police. He spends years researching and picking up little stories and little details that go into his novels.

One of the reasons why his characters stand out, even the ones non-essential to the plot, are the fact that Price lays them out so vividly so quickly. He sketches them in very few paragraphs and they stick with you. I can still remember Billy Marcus and Eric Cash, and I read Lush Life back in February of this year. Not to mention the other Price novels I read, many characters within that I can still picture, or remember their details. Many authors pray they could sketch a fully realized character as quickly as Price does, or even as Scott Smith does, the writer of A Simple Plan and The Ruins. It's an envious skill.

While Lush Life isn't the deepest or most insightful, and while it doesn't stand up beside the great sociological realist novels, it's an excellent work, worthy of attention, just like Price is telling us these people in this borough are worthy of our attention. His uncanny ear for dialogue, and masterful skill with plotting, make Lush Life an entertaining and breezy read. 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Up on Blu-Ray

The best movie fo the year comes out in November (my birthday month). Here's a look at the packaging and the specs (courtesy of
  • Commentary by director Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson.
  • Dug’s Special Mission – An all new original short film that follows the misadventures of Dug as he attempts to complete his “special mission.” The short is directed by Up Story Supervisor, Ronnie Del Carmen.
  • The Many Endings of Muntz – Many ideas were hatched about how to dispose of the film’s arch villain, Muntz, and now viewers can see the many alternate endings proposed during story development.
  • Partly Cloudy –The hilarious short film that preceded screenings of Up. Everyone knows that the stork delivers babies, but where do the storks get the babies? The answer lies up in the stratosphere where the cloud Gus is a master at creating “dangerous” babies, which prove to be more than a handful for his loval delivery stork Peck. Directed by Pixar story artist, animator and voice actor Peter Sohn.
  • Adventure is Out There – This action-packed documentary tells the story of the filmmakers’ own trek to the tepuis mountains of South America to research the design and story of the film.
  • Digital Copy
  • Cine-Explore – A visual montage of concept art, clips and documentary coverage that illustrates the directors’ commentary.
  • Geriatric Hero – A character study of Carl, from research to realization including art and design, rigging, animation and story. It focuses on the issues of aging, “simplexity”, shape-language and compelling character arcs.
  • Canine Companions – For anyone who ever wondered where CG puppies come from, an introduction to the design, behavior and language of dogs.
  • Russell: Wilderness Explorer – A character study of Russell from inspiration and design to finding the character arc and authentic voice for this wilderness ranger.
  • Our Giant Flightless Friend, Kevin – Find out how avian research and development at Pixar helped bring a mythical, 13-foot tall iridescent bird to life.
  • Homemakers of Pixar – Carl and Ellie’s house is an important “character” in the film. Fans follow the development of the house from story to art to its ultimate realization in the computer.
  • Balloons and Flight – Carl’s house and Muntz's dirigible presented the filmmakers with two different problems—how could they make a physical impossibility possible? And, in the case of the dirigible, how would they unearth a fallen giant and let it soar?
  • Composing for Characters – Composer Michael Giacchino returns to score his third Disney Pixar feature film. See how the Up filmmakers collaborated with Giacchino to create the memorable score and compelling musical themes.
  • Married Life – The original story concept that became the powerful “Married Life” scene, showing Carl and Ellie’s love story.
  • Global Guardian Badge Game – Players try to locate countries, states and capitals around the globe in a multi-layered BD-Exclusive geography game enhanced by BD-Live.
Once I get my hands on this Blu-Ray, I'll post an in depth review. For now, just let it be known that when I saw this movie in the theater, I cried tears of sadness, tears of joy, and tears of laughter. I'm not exaggerating; this is the best film of the year.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Gathering

It's an absolute shame that any Irish writer with a modicum of talent is going to be instantaneously compared to James Joyce. Firstly, it's not fair, considering that Joyce was a unique genius, and secondly, even if the new writer has talent, it doesn't make it the same talent as Joyce. This brings me to Anne Enright's
The Gathering, an Irish novel, in that it's about the Irish, and family, and booze, and obsessions.

he Gathering follows Veronica Hegarty as she, her eight siblings and her mother gather to bury Liam, their brother, an alcoholic who committed suicide. Veronica's complex relationships with each of her family members is highlighted, including her mother, a woman made crazy by having so many kids.

During this time, Veronica imagines the chance meeting between two men and her eventual grandmother in the distant past, and how this meeting affects them now in the present. Veronica also contemplates her views on sex and the opposite sex.

It all builds to a head and climaxes at the wake, where Veronica's dark secret that includes Liam is revealed to the audience and to some of the family.

This is a very cerebral and internal novel that isn't melodramatic or even dramatic at all. The narrator moves along in time simply commenting on everything and never judging. She can't even bother to muster anger at her mother. Veronica is a complex character, just like the individual members of her family, but I'm not sure if Veronica has anything interesting to say.

What struck me most about this novel was the narrator obsession with referring to meat or flesh when speaking of anything sexual, or anything to do with men. She would go to pains to describe a penis in the most physical and grotesque way possible. For sure there's a reason for that, along with her shaky and antagonist views on men, which relates the secret that's hinted at for most of the novel. Veronica's views on men are as close to offensive as they can be without completely alienating the audience.

Enright's prose is decent enough, but her real weakness in this novel is a lack of structure. The Gathering has a decidedly non-linear narrative; inherently not a negative thing. What makes it frustrating is the aimlessness of it. For a non-linear narrative to work, there has to be at least a story-structure to the telling of the non-events; there has to be a reason why it's non-linear. For example, and this is a very "pop" example, but in
Kill Bill, the reason why Tarantino tells the story out of order is that the character's arc in not in order. The people she kills are not in order of importance right away, but the movie is structured around the importance of the kills. That's a reason for a non-linear narrative.

The Gathering, Veronica's wandering through time strikes me as being pointless. There doesn't seem to be reason for the going back and forth. It feels like the novel would have been better had the novel followed a more visible structure.

It's irritating to compare Enright to Joyce, as the blurb on the front cover does, considering that they are very different writers. Joyce was a genius, who tried to rewrite the rules of the novel, and of the language used in a novel, where as Enright set out to compose, by her own admission, the Irish equilivalent of the Hollywood weepie.

I didn't find
The Gathering to be anything remotely close to a weepie, though. I didn't find it sad at all. This novel was more disconcerting due to the narrator's obsession with gross physicality, and the aimlessness of the narrative. The characters were sharply defined, but I just didn't care for any of them.

The review is coming off overly negative, and this novel isn't terrible by any stretch. It just did nothing for me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Chesil Beach

[Finally, we end the time travel streak]

This is a book about sex. Or rather, this is a book about two people having sex. More specifically, this is a book about two people not having sex, not talking about sex, and not being emotionally prepared for sex.

At the beginning of
On Chesil Beach, it's 1962 and Edward and Florence have just been married. They're both young, educated, and completely inexperienced with sex. During the course of their honeymoon retreat on Chesil Beach, the characters have dinner, go for a walk, and then attempt to consummate the marriage.

Using flashbacks, different perspectives, memories, and an anachronistic narrator, McEwan develops these characters so strongly that they seem to breathe and almost walk off the page. Almost entirely do we get each of their lives, from the beginning (or at least the beginning relevant to the story) and the end.

Both of them are so innocent when it comes to sex, both of them so apprehensive, that when they finally come together, and attempt to do it, there are disastrous consequences. Like McEwan's earlier
Atonement, all of their lives seem to impinge on a singular moment, a defining moment. What happens after are always in the shadow of this one event.

It's a testament to McEwan's power and skill as a novelist that the outcome of this moment is developed from the characters' psychology. Combined with his powerful and elegant prose,
On Chesil Beach is a masterpiece, albeit less then 200 pages.

It's a small novel, but that doesn't mean it isn't substantial. There are all sorts of things to examine in this work. For example, the narrator's curious awareness of time. It gave me a feeling that the narrator was looking back on things, like he or she was situated in a different spatial or chronological point. The effect is elegiac. It's very haunting.

The novel's structure is elegant, as well. Composed of five parts, it's set up like a classic tragedy, even though this is a small story of two people. I was reminded of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, as if Edward and Florence's emotional journey could be compared to the twilight of the gods.

But in McEwan's deft hands, their fates are as important as the gods, if not more. The author is taking a shot at the repressive society of Sixties-era England, when two young people couldn't have a frank conversation about sex. Like many great novels, this is a book about communication, or lack thereof. McEwan is stressing the dangers of a society where we can't talk to each other. However, he isn't bludgeoning the audience with his point. No, McEwan's skills are more subtle than that. This novel is a perfect example of that.

On Chesil Beach is a uniformly awesome novel. Its characters are sharply defined, its themes grand, its prose exquisite, and ultimately, it is heartbreaking. McEwan is a huge talent worthy of following no matter what his subject matter, even if it's a book about sex.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bones of the Earth

I love time travel stories. A lot. The past two books I reviewed featured time travel used in unique and interesting ways. The novel I'm about to review,
Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick, uses time travel in a classic sense, kind of like Heinlein's "All You Zombies".

A mysterious man comes into a paleontologist's office with a job offer. When the paleontologist refuses, the man leaves a cooler on the desk. Inside is the recently dead head of a dinosaur. It turns out that the man has the technology for real time travel, and he's assembling the best scientists from the present and the future for research in the actual distant past. But of course, there exists contingents of Creationist groups looking to sabotage, and another mysterious female paleontologist from the future looking to expose the whole thing. So begins an epic race through time....

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Sounds like a rip-roaring adventure? Well... it is and it isn't. If you can sort out the book's extremely complicated chronology, then you would probably have a great time. I was enjoying myself following the scientists through various periods, savoring the resolutions to paradoxes and having a blast, but then it gets even more complicated.

Difficulty in fiction isn't a problem for me. The book I read before
Bones of the Earth was Madame Bovary and before that, four novels by J. M. Coetzee. I have no problem with difficulty. However, unnecessary obfuscation for the sake of opacity leaves a poor taste in my mouth.

In most time travel stories, the plot itself unravels in a linear sense, whether or not the chronology is linear. Along with that, and sometimes parallel to that, is a linear viewpoint of one character.
Bones of the Earth features neither of those things. There are plenty of vignettes that proceed in a linear fashion, but numerous vignettes side by side seem to have little to do with each other.

The longest and most constant of plot strings in this book is the stroy of the main character stranded in a prehistoric period with a group of research assistants and very little equipment. It's fascinating, but further complicated when it's revealed that the female paleontologist at the centre of the story manipulated this event and changed its outcome due to a paradox that fixed itself.

Oy vey.

It's not terribly written, and this review makes the novel seem awful. It's not. Swanwick's prose is excellent, and the characters seem well developed as I could make sense of them. Maybe reading it a second time will ameliorate my experience, but as it stands,
Bones of the Earth was acceptable, but nothing praiseworthy.

Empire Star

Empire Star is now packaged in volume with Babel-17, both by the great Samuel R Delany, also the author of the incredible Dhalgren. Until I read the double feature book, the only Delany I had ever managed to finish was Dhalgren, which blew my mind. I had never read anything like it ever before, and I'm not sure if I ever will.

One can't discuss
Empire Star without first discussing Babel-17. In the latter novel, one world is warring against another world, and it seems the enemy is employing a new weapon in the form of a new language. Inspired by the (now incorrect) Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, in which language shapes thought, the novel attempts to show the development of the protagonist through the development of his social and linguistic eduction.

Without ruining anything, Comet-Jo goes from some backwater satellite community to the eponymous Empire Star, the mysterious star at the centre of the Universe, the centre of the story. His knowledge, language, and wisdom increase with each encounter that he has with various people and things.

As the novel progresses, the reader and the protagonist get the eerie sense of deja-vu. It feels like all the characters have already seen Comet-Jo, or will see Comet-Jo, or are possibly Comet-Jo. It's weird, but nothing distracting.

Once Comet-Jo reaches Empire Star, with whatever message that he was supposed to bring that he'll what is when he reaches Empire Star, we realize that the novel loopos upon itself numerous times, like the anthropomorphic jewel that Comet-Jo carries around that narrates the story. It's a story refracted across time.

Even ignoring the exquisite prose that Delany is known for, the sheer inventiveness and artistry of the complex plot makes this novel amazing. Here is a book where the main character has a linear story, but everything else has a non-linear progression, and it all makes sense and is accomplished with flair.

Empire-Star is a novel that your savor and appreciate for the artifice, the skill involved in constructing something this intricate, but still short and sweet. Less is more, apparently. If you've read Dhalgren, or ever had an interest in science fiction, Empire Star is essential reading.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Chronoliths

[Let's not even talk about my extended absence; let's just get on with our lives]

Robert Charles Wilson was familiar to me only by connection with the other giant of Canadian science fiction, Robert J Sawyer, whose novels I had read and discarded due to sheer incompetence of prose and dialogue. They were often mentioned together, and thanks to my unpleasant experiences with Sawyer, I avoided Wilson. What a mistake.

I saw the book at my library, with its epic-looking cover, and the blurb on the jacket reminded me of Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, specifically the awesome Time Tombs. So I picked up
The Chronoliths and started it.

A huge monolith suddenly appears in Thailand, made of a unfamiliar substance, marked with the celebration of a military victory twenty years in the future. Scotty, a programmer and American expatriate, is there to witness its sudden and cataclysmic arrival. The message on the Chronolith has ominous implications for the world. Who is this "Kuin" who is said to conquer this area of Thailand? Where does he or it come from? How can people stop him?

In a quiet and understated way, Wilson uses Scotty to examine what a prophecy of inevitable doom would spell for the world, in terms of sociological, economical and psychological implications. Never grandiose, never epic, but always intelligent and demur, the prose in this novel slowly unravels the mystery at heart. Along the way, it does what great science fiction does, and that's explore what it means to society as a whole, and how technology (no matter how seemingly magical) shapes and influences it.

The resolution, of course, is not what you expect, but on the other hand, exactly what you expect, the true mark of skill in an author. The conclusion must inevitably come from the nature of the characters, and not from a radical variant introduced at a critical stage. Not only is this true of Scotty, the protagonist, but of the entire human race.

This was a terrific novel that used time travel in a unique way. The audience never sees the mechanism of the time travel, but it is heavily implied in a clever way. Wilson kept me interested the entire way.

If I had a complaint with this novel, it's Wilson's prose. It never leaps of the page, it never reveals even a moment of joy or fear. It's languid and the words just plod along, simply recording the events. Now, this might be an intrinsic part of the plot, as the novel's main theme is of determinism, but still.... What happens to Madame Bovary is inevitable, but Flaubert still makes the sentences dance when they need to.

The Chronoliths is a good hard science fiction novel and of interest to those who love time travel. Since I fall into that camp, it was... inevitable that I read this.

[Ugh. Anyways, thanks for coming back to a lay of the land, if you come back]