Alien III

Meanwhile, another Audible dramatic presentation, because that’s a thing I do now? It’s not really my fault, both of these were monthly freebie giveaways, and I still haven’t finished the Malazan side book I’m reading, due mostly to the previously mentioned horror show that is my professional life. Although to be fair, I would have spent a hard-earned credit on this one.

The thing is, I don’t really like Alien3. I mean, as a horror movie it’s actually fine, and as an Alien franchise movie, well, the truth is I like the world so much that I cannot fairly judge the film’s individual merits, but I’m pretty sure I like it in that context too. But I absolutely hate it as a sequel to Aliens, because it undoes everything that movie accomplished, from a character perspective. Hey, says James Cameron, let’s give the Final Girl from Alien a tragic backstory, where she loses her entire family over this mess because she’s lost in stasis for over fifty years, and now her daughter, older than Ripley and a grandmother in her own right hates and resents her over something Ripley had no control over. And then let’s send her to an amazing showdown with the creatures that took everything away from her, and have her claw her way back to a family of her own, over the corpses of the family members of the alien bitch that took it all away in the first place. That is narrative gold, and even as much as people mostly approve of Aliens, I still think it is badly underestimated. Top five movie, probably.

And then Alien Cubed comes along and says, haha, nope, what family, they all died in a random crash landing because all we really care about is Ripley v Alien, character development is for other genres. So yeah. In context, I really loathe the movie.

Enter William Gibson, who apparently wrote a script for Alien III, which for reasons unknown to me was disregarded in favor of the dreck above. If I had to guess, it’s because he delved a little too deeply into the corporatist framework of the previous two movies. Which, I mean, is what you expect out of the father of cyberpunk, right? Anyway, I had heard someone mention that his screenplay was floating around the internet, but I never got around to seeking it out. And now, I no longer need to!

The audiobook version is really just a movie performance without the images. So they spend a little more time dialoguing descriptions of what they can see to each other over the radio, which means a little less time in quiet claustrophobic scenes that drag on just long enough to stay scary. It weighs in at a little under two hours, and while there are aspects I would have tinkered with here and there, I am left saddened that I never got to see this movie, and even moreso that I will never get to see or hear its sequels. Because not only is it a better concept for a movie, it’s a better world-building trajectory for the Alien franchise than we will ever see.

Dark Phoenix

My job really is the worst right now, as I’ve learned over the past week of no longer having a co-worker. Because, obviously, the workload did not change to accomodate my new circumstance. Which is why, despite being seemingly the only person in the country who saw Dark Phoenix (and over a week ago, at that), I’m only now getting to a chance to review it. Ah, you ask, but how do you have time to write it now, on a Monday morning?

Joke’s on, well, on both of us really. Because the only reason I had time was that my machine was failing to connect to the network, so I can do some internet piggling instead. Only, now it’s back up, so, who knows when I’ll have time to get beyond these two paragraphs and into the actual review? (Answer: oh, look. Not only is it now Tuesday morning instead, but I’m also another review behind. Cool. Cool cool cool.)

Where was I? Oh, right, Dark Phoenix. And my understanding that it has not done well. This makes sense if you go by a random sampling of my friends, who watched the previews and were justifiably irritated that they showed a bunch of scenes on the theme of, “Oh no, what if a woman had a whole lot of power, but then she couldn’t use it properly and everyone were in danger?” Because, you know, it’s important for a company owned by Rupert Murdoch to keep banging that particular drum, if women are going to insist on continuing to run for high public office.

So, and here’s the spoiler that I cannot usefully review the movie without spilling: sure, they spent half the movie with her flailing around from betrayal to betrayal, lashing out with predictably tragic results. But in the second half of the movie, the people betraying her get their shit together and start supporting her again, because they realize she has not been the problem and that her power is not intrinsically bad or uncontrollable. Like everyone, she just needs her family (whatever that means to you) to support her.

All of this is not to say that it’s a great movie. But it’s a pretty good X-Men movie, and I am fine with it as the final entry in this version of their stories. Also: the precipitating space shuttle scene in act one? Completely worth the price of admission.

Dodge and Twist

To be honest, I’m not even sure Dodge and Twist qualifies as a thing I review. It’s in a weird netherzone heretofore unexplored. Because it’s a book without a book. In a dim forgotten age, it would have been a radio drama played out in half hour segments over a series of weekly appointments with the local PBS affiliate. But here in modernity, I got it with one of my Audible credits because I had so much new stuff to read between Malazan installments. So, does that even count as a book? I still can’t decide, but a full paragraph in, I may as well finish as scrap the whole thing, right?

This is a sequel of sorts to Oliver Twist, a book with which I am somewhat familiar without having really ever read it. Like, I know the first half pretty well from summary kidbooks, where the boy who wants more food at the workhouse eventually falls in with a master criminal who is more of a petty thief through our eyes, and also a murderous guy and his tragic girlfriend, and most importantly the Artful Dodger, best of the pickpockets in Fagin’s child criminal army. How or why the book ends, though, I could not tell you. Did I never finish the kidbook version? Was the story boring once all the pickpocketing interludes were over, and so I’ve forgotten? Who knows!

Anyway, now it’s twelve years later, and our characters (those still alive) are brought back together by circumstance, with stand-ins aplenty for the characters who are not (still alive, that is). Will Oliver be corrupted this time? Will Dodger have a brilliant plan for the biggest heist of all time? Will everyone sound terribly British? The answers may surprise you! …I mean, probably not though.

The biggest upside, of course, is that this sequel was in fact not written by Charles Dickens. But that’s because it’s a really big upside. At 5 hours, this was not a huge investment, and I liked the return. Plus also, now I have a slightly better idea of how the original book ended. Only slightly, but still.

Blade Runner 2049

The other movie I’ve watched lately (because these are both like two weeks old, sigh) is Blade Runner 2049, a long overdue sequel. Or an unnecessary one? The thing is, that is both true (in that Blade Runner told a complete story with a satisfying conclusion that revealed a lot about human nature) and untrue (in that this movie tells a mostly complete story with a conclusion who satisfaction depends on what you believe the movie to be (I’ll get back to this) that reveals at least a little bit more about human nature), and ultimately I will err on the side of it had good effects and a surprising amount of naked people (or not; mostly not, come to think of it) and if it was maybe a little long, I don’t think it was longer than it needed to be, and all in all, apparently my review is a tepid thumbs up?

It was better than that. It was not great, and I think I wanted it to be great as a means of justifying its existence, which is not judging a thing on its merits, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, it is, as advertised, the same movie 32 years later. There’s a Blade Runner, whose job is to get rid of rogue older models of androids, but that is a job whose niche is rapidly closing since the newer androids are programmed better now and always follow orders and never rebel. Except, obviously, there’s more to it than that.

What I like about Blade Runner is that it is a story with a central moral dilemma. The sequel does not have that. It takes a snapshot of a likely future based on its progenitor work, and it lovingly explores every facet of that snapshot. At the end of the movie, maybe two things that matter have happened, but it is important to acknowledge that the things I am talking about do really matter, and the world is a different place than it was when the movie started.

The good news is, a well-told story about a world that once did something amazing is pretty worthwhile, even if it is not in itself as amazing as the last story was. Also, though, I should watch it again. I am pretty sure that there are more layers to be revealed, when my own preconceptions about where the plot is (or should be) going aren’t getting in my way.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

During the credits for Detective Pikachu, I learned that the movie was based on a video game of the same name, which I had not been aware existed. So I guess this is technically a video game movie? Well, I guess Pokémon in general are from a video game, so that’s not really a revelation after all. Nevermind.

This is a kidmovie, mainly inasmuch as Pokémon is a kidgame. The good thing about this is that it doesn’t really reveal its colors until the too-neat denouement, and if I’m being realistic, lots of movies are wrapped up with a bow that are not strictly speaking aimed at kids. Still, this was, and its too-neat bow-wrapping was definitely kid-oriented.

Except for that, it turns out to be really good? Well, important caveat: if you like the tiny pokemen upon which its hat is hung. I am just barely the target audience for this movie, mostly because of all the Pokémon Go I’ve played. But they did an incredible job both of making the creatures that I guess replaced animals in the evolution of this particular world seem completely alive and real and part of the scenery, and also of giving those creatures personalities that were, at least on a per species scale, unique and identifiable. Okay, the last thing sounds less cool than it is, because there’s not much involved in making a monkey pokeman act like a monkey. But trust me: they did an amazing job of bringing the world to life, in every particular.

The plot? Well, our hero, Tim Goodman[1], who has given up on his dreams of being a Pokémon trainer to start a career in insurance, goes to a place not literally named Pokémon City to investigate his policeman father’s mysterious death. Well, no, to settle his estate, there’s no way the guy I just described would be investigating anything, except that his father’s Pokémon partner (everyone in the city has one, it’s not a cop thing) is Ryan Reynolds wearing a pikachu suit and a detective hat. Together, they… well, you know. Like I said, it’s a kidmovie at heart. It’s just a really excellently executed one, if you are down with the P.

[1] No, really.

The Lees of Laughter’s End

Well, this is incredibly annoying.

As you may or may not be aware, I am deep in the guts of a reread / relisten of the Malazan books, wherein I have audiobooks for the ones I already read once (which is four-fifths of the original ten book series) and physical books for the ones I never read before or didn’t yet get to. I am doing this by publication date, partly because researching a series chronology is potentially spoiler-laden, partly because the main series already has no truck with a strictly chronological presentation of its story, and partly because that is what the authors of the world recommend. Fine then.

Except, I just read The Lees of Laughter’s End, the second story in the three story collection of the tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (a probably evil wizard/theoretical necromancer and a completely amoral (in the literal sense) eunuch/practical necromancer), only to realize when I was pulling up Amazon to find a cover picture for the standalone book that it is the third story in publication order, even though it starts off merely days or weeks after the first one, Blood Follows, ended. Which is an understandable way to order a story collection, fine, but I clearly was not paying close enough attention to what was going on when I picked up the book and just started reading on the page after I’d left off. (Notably, this would have been even more likely / harder to deal with if I’d had it in electronic form.)

So much for doing a thing right.

Anyway. I think this may be the first Malazan book I haven’t really cared for. Here are a scattershot list of reasons why.

  1. The biggest one is ironically a strength of the series. It starts off res in the media of a really bad night on a ship bound for… you know, I have no idea where they were going? I suppose I know where they ended up, but that’s in dim and distant future from now. But my point is, things start happening fast and furious, and where a book or in some cases a series can benefit from in media res storytelling because you have time to ponder and cogitate and assemble pieces of the puzzle for yourself, a novella does not afford you that luxury. By the time things started being spelled out for me, the story was nearly over and I’d spent 80% of my readthrough confused. Whereas a couple of hours out of a book, or a lot of hours out of a massive series, that’s not nearly so bad. More time to care what’s going on now that it makes sense.
  2. I also usually like a good comedy of errors, and I think I know why I didn’t like this one. The reason a comedy of errors works, structurally, is because all these horrible, blackly funny things are happening to people you care about. All of the new characters in this one, okay, I did like them a little, but I was too busy being confused (see above) to really latch onto any of them; and as for the three main characters, I like one, appreciate one, and am completely creeped out by one. This is not the recipe for a successful iteration of the genre.
  3. Right in the middle of the story, there is an inadvertent crime against one of the bit characters by one of the main characters. It was not preventable, and nobody was at fault[1]. It was exactly the kind of fluke occurrence that fits right into a comedy of errors. Only, I’m really zero percent comfortable with this particular type of crime, played for laughs probably ever, but triply so when written by a male author and where the victim is female. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I will continue to read these offshoots. But it’s long enough between now and the previous one that I will be reading next, because sigh, that I’ll probably make another attempt. Still, though.
  4. It’s really the “for laughs” that is crushing to me, because without that tone… What worked about the first book is that it was all from the perspective of the necromancers’ manservant, Emancipoor Reese, who has a very Edd Tollett[2] outlook on life. Everything was either happening to him, or through his lens, and that kind of comedy I can get behind. This was more, look how zany and also legitimately bad but in a zany way things can get, and Reese was involved in maybe 20 percent of the events, and mostly his bits were what was good, but I just cannot with my point 3. I was wrong that the first point was the biggest problem after all.

Yeah. This is a book that is nowhere near good enough to justify how problematic it also is. It has not soured me on the original main series, but on its own merits I strongly disrecommend it, and it may well have soured me on this side series.

[1] Because magic, basically.
[2] A member of the Night Watch in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. If you get it, you get it.

Avengers: Endgame

I went to see the fourth Avengers movie on Friday afternoon, right after work and thusly before it was feasible that my on-call duties this weekend would interfere. (As it turns out, it has been non-stop smooth sailing, but I had no way to guess that then.) Obviously I can’t talk about the movie, because, well, you know.

So, the tickets I wanted to buy were sold out before I knew they were on sale. Not literally sold out, but the useful seats were, I mean. So I’ll have to go a second time[1] to see the Alamo’s version. None of this is the point. The point is: after I couldn’t get the tickets I wanted, I sat around for a few weeks waiting for the problem to solve itself, and then ended up not being able to get out of my on-call this weekend as previously referenced. The first time I knew for sure what show I would be able to make was Friday earlier in the afternoon. BUT: there’s this theater a few miles away attached to a mall, only the mall has been closed for years and is in the process of being torn down. Nobody goes to this theater.

So, I was able to get tolerable seats about two hours in advance, and went to a 5:30 show. When we got to the parking lot, it was… well, it’s not a huge lot, most everything beyond the theater’s entrance to the mall is fenced off. Also, what lot there is has not been well taken care of. The upshot of all this is that there are a limited number of spaces, yes, but there are a much more limited number of spaces that have been repainted anytime since the mall died. The upshot of that is that all of the good spaces were already taken, at only 5pm, and man can people not park straight without lines. Some lanes got gradually narrower, eventually dwindling into nothing; some lanes were only a little crooked off into the distance but with one random car blocking half the lane for no good reason. It was a mess and a madhouse. At 5 in the afternoon on a Friday at a mostly dead theater.

Someone not me said that this is plausibly a once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe even a once-in-an-ever) event, where the 22nd film over the course of 11 years tells one complete story. From my anecdotal evidence above, there are a lot of people who know that, even if they don’t have the same words for how weird and rare and wonderful this is.

The big question, then, is will these people be satisfied? Man, I don’t know. I started to say more, but then I realized that it would be by my considerations hugely spoilerish, so I will drop a follow-up comment below the review. Which I haven’t actually done yet; this is just a story about the time I went to see Avengers: Endgame.

And now: my review.

They stuck the landing.

[1] don’t throw me in that briar patch

The Ballad of Black Tom

As a part of the ongoing series, Chris Reads Books Years Past When People Were Recommending Them, sponsored in this case by Tor who had the ebook on offer for free a few months ago, I present: a review of The Ballad of Black Tom.

I guess this is what they call a novella. I’m not sure how many pages it weighs in at, since the Kindle only tells me what percent is left, but it’s maybe a hundred? Anyway, it focuses on a 1920s Harlem hustler musician who attracts the wrong kind of attention from, well, pretty much everyone. A creepy voodoo(?) lady in Queens, a beleaguered millionaire in Brooklyn, and of course the cops. Oh, and casual 1920s racism of the type unintentionally documented in the works of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, who I should say both figure heavily in the thematic ground the work covers.

I accidentally understand from research that this is the story The Horror at Red Hook, retold from a different perspective. This reminds me that I want to read more Lovecraft, while simultaneously cautioning me that, man, maybe I don’t want to after all.

The Walking Dead: The Rotten Core

I feel bad using the horror tag by default on The Rotten Core, simply because it’s a Walking Dead book. Because this is I think the most political the series has ever been. Not to mention, and this will be a spoiler, so in the unlikely event you are worried about that, skip to the next paragraph: not only did nobody die to a zombie attack in the book, but I’m pretty sure this is the first book where that’s true. I may be wrong, but it’s for sure the first book where it stands out.

Anyway, the political thing. I mean that both in terms of the treacherous political waters that are being navigated, and in terms of how in your face actual political stances are. Which is… maybe less true than I think.

See, the people we know in their many local-to-Virginia/DC communities are now in discussions and mutual goodwill tours with a much larger, much more stable community to the west, called the Commonwealth. And it’s not exactly bold to come out against the idea that people are to be frozen in their social status for the foreseeable future / but really the rest of their lives. At the same time, coming out against a police state is… well, it at least shouldn’t be a bold position either, but hi, 2019!

I guess it’s good to see Kirkman actually reinventing the series a little bit after all, because, well. The same plotline for the fourth time in a row would be a bit much.

NOTE: I have not ruled out that this will become the same plotline in a row for the fourth time.

The Ruin of Kings

This was a strange experience.

First, the fact that I got into a new fantasy series on release day of book one. Who does that?? Nobody, is who. But I have a friend whose business is book stuff (recapping mostly), and I read the first quarter or so of the book online via her recaps, and it was enough to make me want the book after all. So, I am a fool and here we are.

Second, the way I read it. Which was very slowly, for no compelling reason. The last handful of chapters, in which everything is rushing towards climax and upturning everything you thought you knew? That should have been a voracious two hours instead of the two weeks it was in fact. When I say I’m just not good at reading anymore, I think what I mean is that my job is draining too much out of me, and that it actually has nothing to do with reading. At least I’m still soldiering on, instead of becoming, at this late date, a wildly different person than I have ever before been. Slow is good enough, I guess?

That was a lot of words that were largely not about The Ruin of Kings, so I guess I need to shift gears.

The first thing to understand… no, I already covered that. Book one of a projected five book series, and it was released a couple of months ago, maybe? So, you are warned. The first non-warning thing to understand is that this is quite a bit more intricate than the average. Part one is told in a series of disjointed parallel flashbacks, and it lasts for 90 percent of the book. Then, part two goes completely off the rails, which I am going to deem not a spoiler because if an epic fantasy doesn’t go off the rails in the last few chapters of the first book, that is what would be a spoiler to mention. I mean, really now.

The second thing to understand is that the reliability of the narration is highly questionable. I already know that the book benefits from a reread to go back and untangle truth from falsehood from error, and I’m willing to bet that this will be true again after subsequent books in the series. Maybe not, as it’s… well, I’m not sure what stand-alone even means in this context. There is obviously more story to tell, and it is equally obvious that the central conundrum of the series has barely been scratched, and at best mostly revealed instead of just partially. (Or in error. As you can see. I’m not sure yet.) But at the same time, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion after a satisfactory arc, both for the principle characters and for the principle events. So I was going to say that it’s fairly stand-alone, and this could result in the final outcome being trustworthy and not to be rewritten in the future. But I honestly expect my perspective to shift more rather than less.

Anyway. It’s a good book, and it’s separately a well-constructed plot, about which I remain interested right now, and would probably read the next book immediately if I had it. It is not so good that I would willingly encourage anyone to read it knowing that it isn’t finished. (There are maybe two books that I would, and maybe only the one, so that’s not really a knock against this. It’s just mean to make someone read a story that might never end, or might outlive its author.)

If you do read it, though, Leigh’s reread is still going. So that’s cool.