Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

I’ve let this concept slide for a while, so it’s time to get back on track.  I’m going to try to shift my focus to include more bloggers, small websites, and positions I disagree with from now on.

“Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power” – David Graeber (guest post at De Dicto 10/28/2012)

I’m a fan of David Graeber as a critic of capitalism; as a critic of film and pop culture, however, I’m much more ambivalent.  This is his take on The Dark Knight Rises (and superheroes in general) vis-a-vis the Occupy movement.  The main problem with the essay is that it starts out with cliched and at times incorrect or overstated claims about the superhero genre. To put it bluntly, Graeber comes across as someone who is not well-read enough in the existing criticism of superheroes to be writing about them.  Because of this, I’m guessing this essay will lose (or enrage) most comic fans and critics early on as he seems to be appropriating something without studying it thoroughly, and doing so in order to make a point about one specific film that he could have made without such overgeneralizations.  That said, the concluding arguments about how The Dark Knight Rises ends are worth pushing through to the end and considering.

“The Myth of Meritocracy” – Christopher Powell (The Practical Theorist 11/14/2012)

Powell is one of those relatively rare, practicing academics whose public writing is written clearly, with a minimum of jargon, and without arrogance.  He often deals with difficult theory but doesn’t try to make concepts harder than they need to be.  I’m a big fan of that.  In this essay he lays out the structural inequalities that affect student academic success.  Upon reading it, the points he makes seem so obvious that you tend to just nod your head like you knew this all along, which you probably did even if you never articulated it clearly.

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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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A friend recently published a smart review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go.   You should go read it.  Her review and questions, along with my less-than-clear recollection of various aspects of the book, led me to revisit it this weekend, and what follows are some loosely-organized critical thoughts on the book.

Everything after this assumes the reader has read the book, which has a major plot element withheld in the beginning chapters.  This thing is probably better left unknown if you are reading it for the first time, so don’t read this if you are planning on picking it up.  Also, what follows will  not be a proper review with any attempt at synopsis or the like, so don’t expect that you’ll follow if you haven’t read it.

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The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

To reiterate what I said in the first part of this post . . .

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Part 2: Huxley’s Brave New World and the Not-so-primitive “Savage”

Like Zamyatin (who he claimed to have not read), Huxley builds his dystopian world off of the examples of H.G. Wells’s utopian fiction.  Likewise, he situates in a world of what seem to be mutually exclusive binary categories.  And again, a central question is the distinction between the civilized (manifested in the World State, its logic of stability, and its citizens) and the primitive (ostensibly all that is necessarily eliminated from the World State).

Within this context of exclusion as definition, the spacial location of the primitive is the Reservation at Malpais (the bulk of which is seen in Chapters 7 and 8).  However, the primitive and uncivilized is also usually read as embodied in the character of John “the Savage,” a young man born (in the old-fashioned way) on the Reservation of parents from the World State.  He becomes the primary protagonist of the novel’s second half when he is brought  to civilization (the World State’s London), and the central conflicts in the book are illustrated most extensively through his dialogue with World Controller Mustapha Mond (in Chapters 16 and 17).

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The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

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I had an awesome streak of reading excellent books and seeing pretty good films for a couple months.  Which is, in part, why the last few weeks have been pretty disappointing in these same departments.  Each of the following are things I had high hopes for but didn’t end up feeling very satisfied with, written up pretty briefly and without major plot spoilers.

Among Others – Jo Walton

This book has won or been nominated for a ton of major fantasy and science fiction awards, and I’ve seen a lot of glowing reviews online.  I went in pretty much blind, assuming by the hype that it would be, at least, something I’d feel I should have read.  After finishing it, however, I have to say I’m pretty unimpressed and found it mostly forgettable and mediocre.

Among Others is told from the first-person, diary-style point-of-view of Morwenna (Mor), a Welsh teenager who sees fairies and is convinced in the reality of magic.   Mor also happens to be disabled, which seems to be a thing in YA lit recently (I don’t have anything insightful to add on this, but I’m sure it is  worth thinking about).  The novel uses the frame of the boarding house story and focuses on typical teenage themes, albeit in the framework of a world with hidden magic going on (from the protagonist’s p.o.v. anyway).

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Michael Fassbender as David.  David’s not a real boy.

Thoughts on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (5 Days Later)

While I avoided reading any actual reviews of the film prior to seeing it, the general tenor of fan response seemed nearly unavoidable online.  People Science fiction fans seemed disappointed to one degree or another, and some were even calling the film terrible.  I tried not to let this affect me.  After all, the bulk of Scott’s work is solid; I trust him more than overzealous, nitpicky fanboys.  Alien and Blade Runner  both remain in my top 20 films (not genre films, films).   The trailer was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and the film’s general concept is awesome (more ancient alien astronaut progenitor movies, please!).  Yet, when I saw it Saturday, as the film closed, I felt a bit underwhelmed.  The ideas, acting, and visuals (3D was actually good?) were all great, but something was off about how I responded to it.  I ventured online to read what people wrote about it and found less indecisiveness there–Prometheus seems to be divisive for viewers, especially genre fans willing to post opinions, and people with strong opinions were sounding off in typical hyperbolic and embarrassing fashion (do note that the film is garnering largely positive, if not overly enthusiastic, reviews from  mainstream media/critics).  The tendency seems to be that one must take a pro or con side in a discussion of a film if the original poster has a strong opinion one way or the other; this usually leads to crappy, uninformative dialogue.

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