Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rehash: The Hobbit

I watched the movie Up recently and made some interesting observations comparable to the Hobbit. In heart both of the main characters are destined for adventure and discovery, but fall into a situation they did not particularly favor. As I mentioned in my first post, this is a common element in the stories told in many fantasy worlds. Initially they fall victim to their own destiny but in the end take more from it than they expected and become better people. Something I did not quite consider is the essence of "hero" and how these stories appeal to audiences of all ages. When Up came out, some people thought the nature of the film was a bit mature. Regardless, the movie holds appeal to children just as well as it does the older audience. The Hobbit to some, on the other hand, seemed to be somewhat of kid's story yet it was a sensation among adults. So what makes these stories appeal to such a variety of demographics? I would say two things: the heroic possibilities within someone who is not heroic in stature by any means and the capabilities of the beta male.

As I've grown up and watched tv and read comics, the heros I have come to know are all muscular men and women with go-to attitudes and a commanding presence. The appeal here is purely in the action and "superpowers" that these people possess. The characters are not necessarily ones we can emphasize with. As a kid the entertainment value is purely on the surface and as an adult... well most interest is lost with the exception of some die-hard fans. When we mature we see the absurdity in these types of heros and we begin to look for characters with depth. Bilbo Baggins is a character with depth. Tolkein was smart with how he designed his protagonist. To keep interest with the younger audience he made a short character with a certain cheerfulness that accentuates his naivety. Bilbo, although old, is not quite unlike a kid. However an adult reader can see into his character and see how exceptionally average he is. As the story unfolds, both mature and young minds can appreciate the world and enjoy the journey Bilbo is a part of. This is similar in Up with Carl.

Take into consideration the idea and appeal of the beta-male. In this society the beta-male is often referred to as the nice guy and that nice guys always finish last. The majority of society can emphasize with this character type due to the overall average attributes they possess. In The Hobbit, Bilbo fits this role. He's a standard individual who is typically caring and is put against antagonists who are alpha-males. His success over these people give a sense of hope to readers, both young and old, who especially find themselves to be of this archetype. Comparatively in Up we find Russell and Carl, both beta-males, pitted against the protagonist, an alpha-male, and overcome him. Pixar pushes the appeal to younger audiences with the addition of talking dogs. So literally we have a case of an alpha (the lead bad dog) and Dug caught in a battle of their own.

So there you have it, stories that appeals to any age even though some content may be too mature for younger audiences or an appeal that may seem too kid-oriented for older audiences. Novels such as The Hobbit are successful because of this. I hope to see more narratives with these ideals. I too feel I am a beta-male and enjoy a story in which this type of person overcomes the alpha.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an incredibly interesting piece of literature that takes a step outside of the box then takes another laughs at space outside of the box while it takes another step into a parallel dimension from which it gawks at the science fiction literature that preceded it. I do not mean to illustrate a degree of grandeur that places this piece of work on a pedestal or golden throne in the kingdom of books, but to merely state it has a certain degree of bizarreness that places it in its own category. Take from it what you will but from what I understand it is quite a large satirical stab at Earth culture. A macrocosmic comparison of the workings of a microcosmic Earth if you will. I would believe this was made quite obvious from the beginning by comparing the 'necessity' of destroying a man's home so a road can go through the town then suddenly the same must be done to Earth. This destruction that came 5 minutes premature and brought upon by the " bureaucracy" known as the Vogons. A stab at parliament and/or conservatives in general I'm sure.

    One of the best selling points of the book, for me anyways, is the absurdity in which everything is presented. What's great about it is that Douglas Adams uses quite compelling arguments for many of these absurdities that borderline probability. Well, maybe not quite so much "probable" but more believable at least. Adams' outlandish excuses for why something is the way it is just makes the book stronger. His probability drive, for example, is such a wild creation that pushes the boundaries of ones imagination that I cannot help but wonder if something could not exist. The fact that mice are a super intelligent inter-dimensional race and Earth is a giant computer is such a ridiculous notion that I can't help but question the true workings of the universe. How do things out there work? What is the Earth's role in the universe? Of course I would be a fool to forget the Babel fish. I find it quite amazing that such a small hapless fish can be the cause of the most and bloodiest wars ever since creation. Using it to prove God does not exist and making him 'poof' in a cloud of logic is quite wild. I cannot help but assume Douglas was making a comment on the relation between religion and war, but I tend to read too deep sometimes.

    Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy makes a farce of the universe before we even discover how it truly works and I love it! To humans it is such an awe-inspiring thing filled only with unknowns and beauty but to the rest of the universe it is like a large collection of neighborhoods where some neighbors hate each other, some like each other and the rest simply do not care. I would feel sorry for Arthur Dent if I weren't so jealous of him. The poor guy gets sent on a highly improbable journey through dimensions and time through the aid of amazing technology. Sure it's a lot to take in at once, but it would be so mind-blowingly awesome that I wish that this would happen to me. There's even time travel to the end of the universe available. You can wine and dine and literally enjoy the last few minutes of existence and be back to your own time without a problem. The fact one can do this pretty much desensitizes everyone to the end of all existence. What I mean is: since we can travel back and forth through time we essentially remove what we know as "time" and simply confine ourselves to merely existing in any given space at any given time. As a result, there is no 'end of the universe' since time is no longer is an issue, simultaneously eliminating the concept of "end". I love metaphysical arguments and theories so you can imagine I love this book.

    Unlike pretty much everything in the book, the big concept of knowing the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything" is not beyond Earth. We are in a constant battle of trying to figure out our roles and meanings if not on a mental level then at least physically. We go day-by-day trying to better ourselves but to what end? Deep Thought's answer of 42 is such an oddity that I wonder if there really is an answer at all. What I think Adams was trying to get at was that questions like this only lead to exponentially more questions and that we are better off with just one question. Some things are best left unexplained. I find it interesting that the "ultimate question" can only be found in the mind of Earth's inhabitants yet the rest of the universe ignores the insignificant little blue and green planet. In fact it gets bulldozed with little to no consideration for life. This goes to show the overall feeling of the universe: everyone is trying to change it but no matter what you do, it is too large to be really influenced one way or another. In this book it seems everyone is out to make fools of themselves in a desperate attempt to define their own place in the universe. With so much going on out there, I am not surprised the first words you see on the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is "DON'T PANIC".

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Dragon Storm Cometh

    Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts was quite a ride. Personally I enjoyed it and I think there are multiple factors that play into the appeal. Firstly I was unsure of what to expect when I saw it was only 55 minutes long. On average, the shorter the movie the less I enjoy it. I can't quite say why this is but I suspect it has something to do with the director, budget and overall story. Honestly, I was unaware this movie was on the selected watch list for this lit class. I picked this movie out on a whim the other week just to watch it out of sheer interest because of my ever-increasing need to see intriguing science fiction films.

    Overall the film played much like a storm. It was overall black and white, started with a rumble, got calm then BAM! the storm hit and the then died just as quick as it came. This was fitting for the film. I am sure the director knew the story was not deep and so to make it short was essentially a necessity. The pacing worked well and it did not bother me that it was slow for a lengthy time. I can appreciate this. It seemed to have a French Nouveau approach and reminded me a bit of Breathless. A considerable amount of time was spent in one place and it had a mundane a-day-in-the-life feel even though Dragon Eye Morisson's daily life was quite energetic. Chaos is the keyword. It's only logical that the story takes place in Tokyo, one of the most electrified cities in the world.

    Energy throughout and everywhere is an understatement. The shots added to this as well. Even from the first shot I felt as if I were reading a comic book or manga. The electric tower shots were actually quite nice and got me interested fairly quickly. The framing as well as the on screen text, narration and character actions seemed to be pulled right out of a comic. I suppose this is expected of Sogo Ishii considering his background and interests. I have not seen any of his other films but I would be interested in checking them out.

    The concept of becoming a super-charged individual and shooting lightning bolts to fight your enemies is not necessarily a new thing. Even William Wallace joked about shooting it out his 'arse' and there's also Raiden from Mortal Kombat who I could probably have gone without mentioning but I had to get my video game kick in somewhere... The point being that at least in this film there are some new approaches such as the necessity of an outlet for excess energy through playing his guitar. Without his guitar, he would become an uncontrollable violent slob who would need to punch something to satiate this loss of humanity. Well this isn't that far from any typical metal-head now that I think about it... I always enjoy a nice little satirical stab on occasion. Thunderbolt Buddha is just ridiculous. Being super-charged from an electrical tower and absorbing energy from shock-therapy treatments and emitting lightning is totally understandable and believable but a dude who wears a mask that covers half of his face and is half possessed is just silly. I love it. Anything that is bizzare is brain food to me. I say bring it on. I like to see that some directors can still step outside of the box on occasion and produce something that not only looks professional, but challenges audiences to accept something beyond reality on a ridiculous level.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Birth, or Get Eaten from the Inside Out

Bloodchild. This story was really quite... twisted. I don't mean to say this is necessarily a bad thing, as creating a deviant story can be captivating.

In typical science fiction fashion I was put in the middle of a reality that I did not understand and yet was expected to know. Immediately I was trying to put the pieces together but could not quite paint a mental picture of what was happening and who T'Gatoi was and what she/he/it looked like. I was unsure of where this story was headed. The line, "I lay against T'Gatoi's long, velvet underside, sipping from my egg now and then" made me weary and I thought, "Where is this going?". I am unsure if i continued reading because of my fancy for science fiction or because of my sheer curiosity of what kind of story will unfold. Eventually I finally put two and two together and realized the narrative behind this short story and it leaves a lot to the imagination. I am interested in learning more of this world and how the humans came across this planet and why they are part of a reserve. What happened with Earth? Where is the rest of the human race? Octavia stated herself that she is not a fan of writing short stories and that she is more of a novelist. As a result, the concepts that work as the architecture/framework for her short story Bloodchild could definitely be seen as content for a much longer or larger narrative. I have not read anything else she has written yet I assume the majority of her work has social criticism.

The major theme in this story would be pregnancy of course. In reading Bloodchild I concluded that she was attempting to visually represent the ordeal of child birth and the pains involved. Octavia has been quoted as calling herself a feminist and this shows. I find this particularly applicable because of the fact she removes men from their stereotypical place of power and brings them down a notch. On this alien world, everyone is dominated by its powerful inhabitants but most importantly, human males are the focus. They have become the "woman" in the sense they are weaker than the alien and they provide the womb for the alien race. Social archetypes and typical understanding of sexual roles in society have a completely different place in this story which makes the reader even more so displaced from the reality of it. Octavia grew up in a dominantly female household in a racially diverse and financially struggling neighborhood, so I cannot help but wonder if a great deal of her world was reflected in this story.

An interesting concept here is that for every birth, the male has to be literally ripped open. In our culture, a c-section is typically done only in the event there is complications. Is Octavia taking out some aggression on men through this? Perhaps she is just trying to paint a picture of how she feels about birth for the men who read her science fiction. She defends the position of using males by saying the alien race feels empathy for humans and want the women to continue procreation of the human race. Regardless of whether or not they feel sorry for humans, the obvious and most important reason for this is the fact they need humans to procreate themselves at a healthier rate.

Another major theme in Octavia's short story is growing up. According to sources (Wikipedia) she wrote the story simply to tell about male pregnancy and coming-of-age (and to conquer her fear of the botfly). What we see unfold in the story is something that Gan had never seen before and was terrified by. His exposure of this birth could be compared to the familiar situation of describing child birth to a girl. The idea of reaching adolescence and adulthood is stressful enough, but to explain to a boy that he will be responsible for giving birth is wild. To be eaten from the inside-out by a symbiotic being is not something I personally fancy, I can tell you that.

Stories of role reversal and breaking down the male's social place have always been interesting, whether it be a more straightforward and serious point of view like that in Bloodchild to a comedic take on it like the movie Junior.

I would like to write more on this once I gather my thoughts again...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Mind of Secrets and a Heroin Addicted Dolphin

    Johnny Mnemonic was an enjoyable read considering my fancy for cyberpunk stories and films. I have been a fan of Ghost in the Shell for some time now as well as Akira and the cinematic masterpiece: Blade Runner. Ever since diving into this genre years back with Akira I have enjoyed any chance I can get to obtain related material.

    I read the short story written by William Gibson for this week and thought it was a nice take on cyberpunk. I was a fan of how quickly Gibson set the tone for the piece and introduced the protagonist. The world took on its own unique look as soon as Johnny entered the Drome Bar. Body alterations were regarded with a sense of normality and even seemed mundane albeit quirky as with the twins guarding the door. Johnny clearly did not regard them with much indifference, aside from them being trained killers and exceptionally dangerous, considering they are regarded as "sisters" yet one was once male AND they are lovers. Stories like this estrange the reader and places them in a world that could possibly be seen as crude, vulgar, primal or perhaps downright abhorring to a degree that fans either really love it or would rather forget the sub-genre even exists. I make this assumption because my friends are quite black-and-white about the subject. I mention this because the story seems to follow a common denominator I have found in most cyberpunk stories, and that is exploitation of technology. Society in these times seem to have a "since now we can, we will" mentality. What I mean is; things such as body alterations to some individuals may be fantasy but are achievable in cyberpunk worlds. The divide between man and machine becomes such a small gap that, because of human nature, society could descend into the grungy, obsessive and advantageous state of being that allows these stories to be dark or even depraved.

    The concept behind the character Ralfi Face in some way reveals the idea of "individual" in the setting of the book. Since technology allows one-self to change their face so easily, a person cannot be known by appearance but perhaps by what they do and how they do it. Face alteration is made to be such an easy day-to-day thing akin to buying shoes by regarding Ralfi's current face as "the Christian White" and through his explanation of the details to such a job, implies it as a cookie-cutter thing. For all I know there could be hundreds of people walking around with similar faces in this strange world who all probably regard each other with a certain content comparable to two people seeing each other with the same shirt. From this part of the story and on, I consider Johnny's world to be a place where someone cannot be just one person but a part of a collective whole; instantaneously connected to anyone and anything. Gibson wasn't kidding when the Sprawl was described as "grey".

    In the story, Johnny is a data/info trafficker in a time of advanced technology. This scenario goes to show that the most important thing in his time and age is information, where words can still be the most powerful tool of persuasion. Johnny Mnemonic's cargo, as a result, is precious. For the right price, one could use Mnemonic as a "data whore" to get secrets from one place to another. I make this comparison because in my mind, Johnny is just that. People are using his body for personal gain at a price, so why not?

    I am also a fan of the societal hierarchy and city-scape as explained by Gibson in his fictional world. I must say the concept of the Sprawl is really cool. Mega-cities and domes that encase vast amounts of space is quite intriguing and the idea of placing a whole society of its own high above the city is appealing to me. The dredges, slums and underworlds of cyberpunk have always held a certain interest for me because of the intriguing characters that can originate from there. I find it interesting that the Lo Teks are high above the city rather than typically underground. I find it furthermore interesting that they should be called Lo Teks even though they still, in some way, are connected with advanced technology because of their altered bodies.

    I watched the movie adaptation of this short story and thought it was decent. Just as with any movie based on a written piece of fiction I found it lacking, but only because of the capacity of the human mind and the individual's ever-varying take on something that is read versus what is presented to us visually by someone else. It's amusing how Keanu Reeves played the lead in this movie and The Matrix as well. I would like to read more from William Gibson and the Sprawl Trilogy.

Monday, March 1, 2010

By the Way, You're the Son of a God

    Neil Gaiman's The Anansi Boys was an enjoyable novel. I am a fan of stories that mix modern reality with fantasy elements . It reminded me of a book I read when I was a kid called Kingdom for Sale, SOLD! by Terry Brooks. Both of these novels take a modern day individual who have ordinary lives and throws them into a new reality they were totally unaware of. This seems like an alternative way of taking the reader into another world and it works fairly well I would say. I have always been a fan of tall-tales and The Anansi Boys is a great new adaptation of one.
    I really enjoy the manner in which the story is told. I think I can see some influence from Tolkein in this. He delivers the story as a storyteller would: as if he were sitting in front of you presenting his own creative narrative spun around a modern urban setting. He would sidetrack from the main narrative and explain any details that the reader may not know about just in the manner Tolkein would. This appeals to me. I like being told a story versus simply reading words on a page that create a story.
    The imagery presented for the Gods' caves at the beginning and end of the world was quite imaginative. This was a new and imaginative vision for me, so it was refreshing to picture their caves and appearances in my mind. I thought maybe their home would be much grander than it was. I would imagine something such as an endless expanse of land with areas designed specifically for each type of animal God. However I can see the justification for what was given for the sake of continuing the story.
    On a random note, I was not a fan of Rosie as a person, but I do not hold any contempt for the writer because it helps the story. If she were truly in love with Charlie, I would feel she could see past the guise of Spider and see him for the imposter he was. This helps develop the connection, or lack-there-of, between Charlie and Rosie. This gives Charlie more of an opportunity to put his old life behind him and assume his rightful position his father once held as well as get a girl who actually loves him. The fact she cannot see past Spider's falsity helps to create the tension needed to separate Rosie and place Spider in a sticky situation one would expect him to fall into.
    The whole fiasco between Grahame Coats and Maeve Livingstone is a great device used in the book to link many things together. This was almost a whole story on its own that was interwoven with the main narrative and kept my interest throughout the book. Maeve's murder seemed to be chalked up to fate due to the fact she played a pivotal part in the finale and Anansi knew of her arrival. Her wandering ghost was a unique element to the story that really sells the tall-tale nature of the story. Her character was great. The fact she was essentially unaware, or rather, in denial of her own death at first and claims she has unfinished business was really cool.
    On the topic of appealing characters, I would say the the character I visioned as the grandest was the bird woman. If this book were to be adapted to film, her character would have an awesome screen presence. Her involvement with the Anansi bloodline and her ultimate role in the end was very compelling. Not to mention tiger's involvement with Grahame Coats. This incarnation of the tiger was definitely foreseeable as soon as Grahame committed his first murder and he goes on to say it felt good and primal.
    I would definitely recommend this to friends who are fans of this genre.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dust and the Aurora

    I am a fan of fantasy novels so naturally I found this book intriguing, but I personally do not think it was amazing. I cannot place this on the same level of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and other works I truly enjoy. I do not mean to say the book is not good though. I would have to say a respectable level of originality is present in the book and it was refreshing in that way. I enjoy how the protagonist is a young girl who actually wants to go head first into danger versus the typical hero who is essentially thrust into a situation they would rather not be a part of. This fact carries the book well since the main idea behind her character development is making mistakes and learning from them.
    The concept of daemons as souls is an interesting approach to creating an alternative universe. I can see how this raises some controversy with religious groups. The fact one's soul is physically manifested in a creature and that there are alternative universes would indeed raise some eyebrows. Personally I am not a fan of people who take a piece of fictional literature too serious and turn it on the author in a negative way. This goes the same for those who blame video games for any violent act done by a youth. Anyways...
     I think the alethiometer is a creative tool for adventure. This plays in part to the fact that this society seems to hold science on a higher pedestal than religion. Scholars are revered individuals who seem to pride themselves on the pursuit of knowledge and the sciences. The fact a scientific device can give you the truth to any question brings to light the whole issue of destiny versus free choice. Just the idea of being able to know who is doing what at any time leads me to believe there is no such thing as free choice in this particular universe. Personally I am not a fan of characters with too much power, however it is not like she is unstoppable or unbreakable. Characters like Dr.Manhattan from The Watchers is an example of a character with too much power and I dislike this.
     The characters in this book are great. I particularly like the polar bears and Iorek Byrnison. The section regarding Iorek and Ragnar is great. I found it interesting that the bear king wanted a daemon and was even tricked into believing Lyra was one. This raises a few questions. Firstly, why would a presumably intelligent being think that Lyra is a daemon? She is obviously human, and Ragnar has surely made acquaintances with other humans considering he knows about daemons. Which leads to my next question: Could a daemon take on the form of a human? I enjoy books that can rattle my brain like this. Anything with moral, ethic, existential or metaphysical quandaries and questions will immediately peak my interest.
     Ultimately I found this book to be an enjoyable source of entertainment that is not only fantastical but scientifically driven as well. I wish I had not seen the movie before reading the book so that I could have created my own imagery through my own imagination instead of already having some exposure to someone else's interpretation. If I have the time I would like to read the last two books. I would also like to see them made into movies.