Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

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I received John and Jana’s A Rule is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy as a belated holiday gift ostensibly for my 5 year old daughter (but probably moreso intended for me). I missed it originally, but apparently this book caused a bit of tantrum among easily-outraged Tea Party types who equate anarchy with terrorism or liberalism or communism or whatever. Which is weird when you think about it (and forget that most Tea Party folks aren’t all that bright) because libertarianism is in several ways quite similar to anarchism (yes, the capitalism thing is a huge divide, but still).

Alternately, nearly everyone who isn’t a frothing Obama=Socialist, they’re-gonna-take-our-guns-and-ban-Jesus half wit seems to think the book is among the best kids’ books ever and uncritically lauds it. A quick scan of the reviews on Amazon (a great source of scientific data, I know) demonstrates a split response to the book between a bunch of 5s, absolutely no 4s, 3s, or 2s, and a couple of 1s from people who probably didn’t even read the book.

To say the critical response to the book is largely ideologically-driven would be too obvious, right?

Well, as a practical anarchist who has read more than a bit on anarchist theory over the years, I’m going to break with our esteemed Amazon reviewers (and the other glowing reviews or harsh condemnations I’ve read) and land pretty squarely in the middle on this book. I’d give it a 3/5 or C-plus.

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While I really need to be avoiding reading and focusing solely on writing my dissertation, I have a knack for picking up books that I feel I have to read right now. Here’s the ones that I picked up or arrived recently:

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I have various reasons for these selections: need to read before viewing movie/show (Life of Pi, A Game of Thrones), wanted to support a cool kickstarter that just happens to be right up my alley (Apocalypse Now), will pick up anything new by Le Guin (even if there isn’t much in those collections that is actually new), couldn’t resist a cool find at a St Vinnie’s (Judge Dredd: Annual from 1982), et cetera.

Yes, I probably should break down and get a tablet of some sort to cut down on the sheer physical volume of this stuff. There’s absolutely no reason I need a physical copy of A Game of Thrones. I’m just not there quite yet, and, honestly, a used paperback copy from my local bookstore is still cheaper than the Kindle version and it supports people I like at a business I want to stay in business.

I have instituted a new policy to prevent book hoarding, though. If I pick something up and haven’t read it within a year of getting it, I’m donating/selling/giving it away. Way too many unread “must reads” on my shelves.

 

I planned to outline and put together a comprehensive and long review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; however, it isn’t going to happen. Too damn busy with other things. So what follows are some short(-ish) and haphazard observations about the film.

Two things to get out of the way first:

1. I consider Tolkien’s The Hobbit one of the most influential books on my development as a reader. My father (a fantasy and SF guy) read it to me when I was 6-7; and I read it myself at 8 (and again a few years later, and again, and a few more times adding up to 7 or 8 total). Having reread it last month, however, I have few romantic, nostalgic illusions about it overall. It is, in a number of ways, a flawed book, and it doesn’t engage me anywhere near as much as an adult as it did when I was much younger. I’m still a fan, though. I would venture that those who grew up as kids loving the Harry Potter books (which I read the first 3 installments of before deciding not to go further) will feel similarly rereading those books ten or twenty years down the road.

2. What is below the cut will contain so-called spoilers of the film and all of the novel (not just the section the film covers).

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I compiled this for my own personal record-keeping, but thought I’d share.

I try to read at least one novel or story collection a week, and I aim to write at least a brief review for each (I rarely hit that goal, though, especially with my other reading/writing requirements). I’m probably omitting some books I’ve forgotten from this list because I started compiling it at the end of July,  and I’m not including kids’ books I read with my daughter or scholarly non-fiction/philosophy/etc. only people like me read (each of which would have a separate list if I had time to put it together).  This list is organized in a roughly chronological order of when read.  Books marked with an asterisk were re-reads.

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The initial trailer for the film adaptation (and I use this term loosely) of Max Brooks’ 2006 novel World War Z premiered last week. I’ll get to my take on it in a minute, but the most noticeable and interesting thing about the trailer’s release was the amount of negative backlash toward it from fans of the book. From what I saw on twitter, comments on the trailer’s youtube, and elsewhere, the level of discontent from fans was (is?) at levels I think of as usually reserved for older, or at least more, I dunno, “canonical” books and characters (Beowulf and certain adaptations of Alan Moore come immediately to mind).  Not that some genre fans don’t get all uppity about even the slightest changes made when their beloved, recent texts are translated to film, and often understandably so, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the level of ongoing hatred toward a film that, to be honest, looks like it could be quite good.

As someone who spends a lot of time reading and thinking about science fiction, post-apocalyptic stories, horror, and the like, and who is a fan of said genres, I understand being nitpicky about changes made and pointing out why they make sense or don’t. I am also a huge fan of Brooks’ novel, and have taught it in a college Intro to Fiction course with great success. I’m sympathetic to gripes about changes, but the people condemning the film entirely are going too far in a way that makes them look like foolish Star Wars dorks. Here’s why: There’s absolutely NO WAY you could create a faithful film adaptation of this book (as Arleigh over at Through the Shattered Lens rightly notes, this faithful version would need to be done as a serial on [cable] TV). It’s just not possible. Additionally, since the film began production and info about it started being leaked, fans of the novel who were paying attention have known about certain changes and should probably be resigned to a very different story than the one they loved.

So, to my mind, the bulk of loudmouth, purist fans trashing a film they haven’t seen are engaging in a kind self-important rhetoric without any real function beyond proving that they read it first and are “better” genre fans than those who are willing to say they’ll see the film with an open mind and may even like it.  They posture that they won’t even watch it but will spend hours online telling everyone else why it will be so awful.  They’re kind of like the kid back in school who knew everything about Star Wars or Harry Potter or whatever and who lived for being a genre pedant who talked down to you and ruined it for everyone else.  Such behavior is reactionary and dumb and fundamentally anti-fun.

That said, I would argue that the film version of World War Z, so far as the trailer lets on,does deviate significantly enough from the novel that it would be right, or at least in better faith, to retitle it something else with a sub-title explaining “inspired by Max Brooks’ World War Z” (an argument I’d also make, though more emphatically, for the poorly titled, Will Smith vehicle I am Legend).  Or, even better, let it slip into more fictional territory and say: “Based on the true accounts of the zombie war as told in Max Brooks’ World War Z.” To nitpick a bit, the title actually was already apparently changed to omit the subtitle “An Oral History of the Zombie War.” And I’m actually surprised that Brooks didn’t push for something like this given that the entire structure of the storytelling (ie, the multivocal, Studs Terkel-inspired, interview format) seems to have been replaced or sidelined in favor of a pretty standard action, hero’s p.o.v. format.  That and retaining the title as “new” for the possibility of doing it in the novel’s style via a serialized, episodic TV format down the road.  But I guess WWZ is a catchy title, so I won’t let this usage ruin my potential for enjoying the film they are actually making.

So, here’s the trailer.  A few thoughts on it vis-a-vis the novel after the cut:

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Illustration for Poe’s “Some Words with a Mummy”

A friend recently directed me to this post, which is a survey of 19th and early 20th century science fiction that came out of a conference discussion of the same (it actually extends a bit before and Victoria and after Edward, but categorizing based on monarchs’ names sounds legit and scholarly or whatever).  As someone who has studied and taught the history of the genre, I was interested in what the list compilers/panelists included.  It’s a solid list, to be sure.  And, as expected and acknowledged by the authors/participants, the list is dominated by a few usual suspects with pretty homogeneous backgrounds.  Partial list below the cut (the author, David Malki, has linked to online texts where available):

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I may have been a little late getting around to reading this series. But the prequel is set for release in a few weeks, and Fox is working on turning the first book into a film in the near future, so I guess my timing in finishing them actually turns out to be pretty good.

The Maze Runner books were published over a period of about 3 years, beginning in 2009 with The Maze Runner, then The Scorch Trials in 2010, and The Death Cure in 2011.  The series has been favorably compared to The Hunger Games trilogy, which I think is fair, and I bet most adults who liked Collins’s books will enjoy these as well.

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