September means back down to earth

September 1, 2015

Welcome to September, everyone!

If you’ve kept up reading this blog for more than a few years, you know what September means: it’s time for my 12th annual Science Fiction Free September. Back in September 2004, I decided that I spent too much of my reading time with science fiction, so I declared a month-long moratorium on the genre, and instead used the time for something I might not read otherwise: classic literature, nonfiction, maybe just even a bunch of books I had started but never got around to finishing. (This year to date I’ve read three SF novels—about half what I’ve read in nonfiction. As the years go by the SFFS has either outlived or fulfilled its purpose, but I keep it up anyway, just for fun!)

This year, my big September reading project will be themed around the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. My primary objective is to complete a very long book that I have had for a number of years, but never gotten farther in than, perhaps, one-tenth. This book is the blockbuster history of Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by CBS war correspondent William L. Shirer. This is a popular history rather than an academic one. Shirer was present in Berlin from the Nazis’ coming to power to the first year of WWII, when he left after he heard that the Gestapo was trumping up espionage charges against him.

I actually started two days ago, since my last book finished up conveniently on Saturday night (Dolores Claiborne, the latest in my read-all-the-way-through-Stephen-King project). By page count, I am now 2% of the way in, and if I can figure out how to HTML-ize a progress bar, I’ll add it to the sidebar.

At ths time I have no secondary objectives, but there’s no shortage of unread books in my collection, so I’m sure I’ll work something out.

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Friday in the wild: October 3, 2014

October 3, 2014

I haven’t done a Friday in the Wild for a few weeks, so while it might look like I’m playing catch-up, it is in fact a doozy of a week. Lots of interesting stuff to share. So, without further ado:

Come Reason posted this about the rise in relativism in Christian youth:

This kind of thinking is how tyranny is born. If one cannot tell another his actions are evil, then they will continue until those that would dare to oppose immorality are themselves labelled as immoral. . . . And now, the kids we send to college hold not the belief that they cannot stand their moral ground, but that they should not stand their moral ground, because to do so is itself an immoral act!

[Read The Epidemic of Relativism Among Christian Youth]

Woe unto anyone who declares woe unto anyone.

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Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight

September 25, 2014

In Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, child protagonist Danny Torrence is now in his 40s and goes by “Dan.” Traumatized by the events of The Shining and self-medicating to suppress his psychic abilities, Dan is now an alcoholic. When he drifts into a New Hampshire town, he quits drinking, joins AA, and lands a job in a hospice. He becomes known as “Doctor Sleep” because his psychic “shine” (re-emerged since he gave up alcohol) enables him to comfort and ease the passage of terminal patients.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Abra Stone, born shortly before 9/11, has manifested a shine of her own that is possibly even more powerful than Dan’s. As she grows up, the two of them share a psychic bond. Abra unintentionally has a vision of the ritual murder of a boy in Iowa by the “True Knot,” a band of vampire-like roamers who feed of the psychic “steam” given off by those who die in pain. This brings her to the attention of the True, who realize they could feed off her for a very long time.

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s works in order, but I decided to let Doctor Sleep jump the queue, as I mentioned earlier this month. I’m glad I did. (I should make a general policy of reading King’s new novels while playing catch-up with the older ones.) King has called this novel a “return to balls-to-the-wall, keep-the-lights-on horror,” but I’m not sure if I found it to be that, exactly. The Shining was pretty much a straight-up ghost story-cum-psychological thriller. King’s work since about the mid-1990s has been as much fantasy as horror, and Doctor Sleep seems to fit that mould pretty well.

Actually, the horror-fantasy and the very weird antagonists make this novel feel like it was conceived by Clive Barker before it was written by Stephen King. But it was fun to read nonetheless. Apart from the ongoing Dark Tower series, sequels by King are few and far between, so it was interesting to read what had happened to one of his earliest, most engaging characters.

By the way, this is the first time that a Stephen King cover has made me jump. I only noticed today what was in the background behind the text.

Sure, it’s less than a week till the end of the month, but Science Fiction-Free September moves apace. On deck: In Cold Blood.


Friday in the wild: July 25, 2014

July 25, 2014

Like or hate Matt Walsh’s opinions, you have to commend his rhetorical skills. His latest, about the impending release of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, was a joy to read from start to finish.

My favourite part:

Today, someone on Facebook quoted a line from the novel:

“Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose, I breathe.”

I thought this was a joke, so I looked it up.

Nope. Not a joke. Completely real. That line actually appears in a best selling piece of literature. That line was written by someone masquerading as an author, approved by someone masquerading as an editor, published by someone masquerading as a publisher, and then consumed by millions of people masquerading as literate.

I found some other excerpts that are almost as bad/good:

“That’s the bottom line. I want to be with him. My inner goddess sighs with relief.”

“Her curiosity oozes through the phone.”

“My scalp prickles as adrenaline and fury lance through my body, all my worst fears realized.”

“My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot.”

This is some very, very stupid material. It reads like a thesaurus procreated with a script from a soft core porn and then the baby fell into a vat of Lifetime Channel DVDs. My inner goddess is rolling her eyes, my inner brain is hurting.

[Read To the Women of America: 4 Reasons to Hate 50 Shades of Grey]

I think her inner goddess needs to take a leak.

I later learned—and was frankly unsurprised—that Fifty Shades of Grey began its life as a work of erotic Twilight fan fiction. It certainly seems tacky enough. In fact, judging by Matt’s excerpts, even though erotic fiction isn’t my cup of tea, I suspect that I owe it to myself (and my medulla oblongata) to read at least the first book just for the sheer amusement value that Bulwer-Lyttonesque doggerel can offer. I can’t imagine that it’s Minnow Trap, but it comes close.


Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

June 25, 2013

I can’t believe that it’s been seven years since I first discovered the fiction of Richard Matheson, via the short story collection Duel (which I reviewed at the time). As I said back then:

Matheson seems to be almost unheard of these days, but in addition to “Duel,” many of his novels have been adapted for film: A Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and The Shrinking Man, to name three. After reading Duel, I’m convinced to try out some of his longer fiction. But if you’re looking for a good collection of tight short stories by an author you probably haven’t read before, you can’t go wrong with this book.

Richard Matheson passed away on Sunday at the age of 97.

His influence is arguably out of proportion to his name recognition, but if you’ve watched a lot of science-fiction or horror television or movies, you’ve probably seen something he wrote, which includes:

  • the screenplay for Duel, Stephen Spielberg’s first feature-length film (and the short story on which it was based);
  • the classic Twilight Zone episodes “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Little Girl Lost,” as well as the episode “Steel” based on his short story of the same name (as was the 2011 movie Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman); and
  • the novel I am Legend, which has been adapted three times for the movies, as The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, and I am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith;

Science fiction and horror literature has lost another of its greatest authors. The Golden Age continues to slowly diminish.


F5: Look! Up in the sky!

February 22, 2013

I’ve always been a big fan of comic books, which is kind of paradoxical, because I read relatively few of them (maybe a couple of dozen, tops) as a child, and my knowledge of comic-book superheroes came more from Saturday-morning cartoons than the pages of Action Comics or The Amazing Spider-Man. On the other hand, I did read a fair number of the kinds of comics that were published as books rather than magazines—such as Tintin or Asterix&mdash (both of which I also read in the original French in high school, as a way to improve my French comprehension)—and I got interested in graphic novels while I was in university.

Comic books were marketed to people of my age back when I was 10 or 11, and they are still marketed to people of my age today—that is to people who grew up reading them when I was young. The maturity and complexity of the stories has also increased proportionately. No matter where you go, they’re still age-appropriate! (And even if they weren’t, I’ve never been ashamed of reading well-written juvenile fiction, anyway.)

So, to close off this year’s installment of F5, here are:

My Four Favourite . . . Comic Book Superheroes

  • Superman: The hands-down winner. But you’ve already probably figured that out from my regular Saturday posts. Superman is the prototypical superhero: the first, for example, to wear a fancy costume (modeled after a circus strongman’s outfit) instead of the trenchcoat and mask worn by the other mystery men of the day. In fact, I actually prefer the Golden Age Superman somewhat, when his abilities were nowhere near the godlike powers he needs today to save the world from cosmic foes. There was a time when he beat up hoods instead of Darkseid.
  • Firestorm: A nuclear accident fused teenage jock Ronnie Raymond and nuclear physicist Martin Stein into a single entity, who is capable of re-organizing matter at the atomic level. Because Professor Stein was unconscious during the accident, he can only provide advice while Ronnie controls Firestorm’s body. The high point of the series was the dialogue between them; humour was a major component of the comic despite its full title of The Fury of Firestorm. Different characters have joined or left the Firestorm persona as the comic series developed; I preferred the original lineup of Ronnie and Stein, though the current “New 52” team of Ronnie and Jason Rusch does have its moments. When I first read Firestorm back in the early 1980s, he didn’t have a monthly title of his own: he was, in fact, the B story in . . .
  • The Flash: As a kid, the Scarlet Speedster was always my favourite “guest” superhero on The Super Friends. The Barry Allen version of the Flash is arguably the first superhero of the Silver Age, coming on the scene in the late 1950s. As a general rule, my favourite incarnation of any given hero is the one from the Silver Age (Superman excepted), and that’s certainly true in this case, too. However, give Barry the costume of Jay Garrick’s Golden-Age Flash, and you’d really have something.
  • Iron Man: Yes, although clearly I prefer DC superheroes, there is one Marvel character on the list: Tony Stark, billionaire playboy and genius inventor, who fights crime in a high-tech armour suit. I was almost entirely unfamiliar with Iron Man prior to the 2008 movie, which has since become one of my favourite superhero films. I’m looking forward to this year’s Iron Man 3 if only because Shell-Head finally squares off against the most significant rogue in his gallery: the Mandarin.

And that is that for another February of Fridays. Until next year, we return to the blog’s usual fare of stupid criminals, drunk moose, and monkeys. Heh.


F5 #2: Bond. James Bond.

February 9, 2013

I first discovered James Bond in grade 8, sometime in 1983–84. My first experience with Ian Fleming’s quintessential Britisy superspy was an airing of Moonraker on TV. (Throughout the 1980s, ABC seemed to have a monopoly on broadcasting Bond films in prime-time, and showed one every couple of months.) Not very long afterward, I hit up the public library for Ian Fleming’s novel. I was surprised—but not at all disappointed—to discover that Fleming’s 1955 novel was quite a different animal from its 1979 filmed counterpart, which resembled it in name only.

The result, however, was that I fell in love with both Fleming’s series of novels and the movies made from them. So, as my second instalment of this year’s F5 series, and in light of the 50th anniversary movie Skyfall‘s release on home video this week, I present:

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