Sunday, January 14, 2018

Two Strange Movies

So, thanks to Lana, I recently watched two movies that I would never have seen on my own. I liked one of them quite a lot and one not so much, but I'm glad Lana urged me out of my comfort zone on these.

Movie 1: The Lobster, 2015. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Wiesz. This is an absolutely absurd film about an SF dystopia. If you want to know the details of the plot, you can find it on Wikipedia. I won't repeat it. Basically, in the world of this movie, it is unacceptable to be single. Single people are taken to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a partner, or they will be turned into an animal. They get to chose the animal, and Collin Farrell's character choses a lobster.

Farrell doesn't really want to become a lobster, though, so he strives to find a relationship. For a relationship to work in this world, it requires that the two individuals share some trait. One couple gets together because they both have nose bleeds, for example (although the man is faking it).

Farrell's character tries to start a relationship with a very cruel woman but cannot carry off faking his own cruelty. He flees the hotel and runs into a bunch of "loners" in the woods. Farrell's character is short sighted and he meets a loner woman (Weisz) who is also short sighted. However, the loners will not allow relationships so they have to hide their attraction to each other.

Throughout the whole movie, every character's dialogue and actions are delivered almost entirely deadpan. This adds to the absurdity of the situation. As with most artsy movies, the ending is left open-ended. I have to say, though, that I enjoyed this movie and was particularly interested in the dystopian world it envisions. I wouldn't mind reading a book that gave more detail about the world but apparently there isn't one.

Movie 2: Melancholia, 2011. Directed by Lars Von Trier. Stars Kirsten Dunst and Keifer Sutherland, among many other fairly big names. This is really a movie about depression. The big metaphor in the film is of a rogue planet named "Melancholia," which has entered our solar system and is supposed to swing close past earth. However, the first part of the movie barely touches on the planet.

Dunst's character is Justine. The movie starts on her wedding day. She and her husband are late to their wedding reception, but at first everything seems wonderful and they seem much in love. Gradually, the reception becomes a train wreck as Justine's depression comes fully into play. Her father is a dilettante and lush, her mother a vicious hag. Her sister, Claire, has some anxiety issues of her own but is generally trying to keep things together. Claire's husband, John (Sutherland) doesn't have much tolerance for Justine or her mother, but does have genuine affection for his wife and son. If you want to know more details of the plot you can find it here.

Although the acting is good, I found the first part of the movie to be pretty boring. I didn't really like any of the characters, particularly Justine. I sympathized with her depression initially, but when she began to behave in deliberately cruel ways I lost that sympathy.

The second half of the movie focuses more on Claire, Justine's sister, but it also brings to the forefront the plot with the planet Melancholia. Claire has heard that the planet will crash into Earth, while her husband, John, insists that it will only pass close by. This was interesting to me, and the visuals of Melancholia growing in the sky were great. My next couple of paragraphs are going to reveal the ending, so if you don't want spoilers you shouldn't read on. However, the beginning of the movie essentially reveals the ending anyway in a slow motion series of beautiful, digitally produced artistic images.

It turns out that John is wrong. The planet is going to crash into Earth. John cannot handle this and kills himself, abandoning his wife and child. This seemed completely out of character to me. Claire is left, panic stricken, to take care of her son. Justine is also there and now the movie tries to make Justine into the strong one. It doesn't work because Justine continues to exhibit cruelty and her solution to dealing with the impending destruction of earth is lie to the child about a "magic cave" that they can build to save them. The very end shows Justine, Claire, and the boy inside a haphazard construction of cut poles as Melancholia hits Earth.

Although I don't consider the time spent watching this movie to be a waste, as is sometimes the case with movies, I definitely did not like the movie. I thought it was well filmed and well acted but it was way too long, tried to make heroes of characters who were not heroes and tried to make cowards of characters who were not cowards. In a movie, or a book, the viewer or reader has to get to know the characters. It's a delicate thing to keep those characters true to the way they've been developed while still presenting new sides to them, but it is crucial. This movie didn't quite achieve that, in my opinion.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Year's Beginning: 2018

If you talk of 2017 now, you have to tell it like a ghost story. That year is dead, though I'm not sure it's buried. 2018 is fresh and vigorous, still feeling its sap rising. But life is like a gothic novel. The roots of the new grow out of the sins of the past. Nothing that "is" can escape the chains of what "was." And the older you get, the more "was" there is to deal with. The challenge, I guess, is to let the old inform the new without warping it.

I'm old enough now to have seen quite a few children grow up. I've seen them come into the world much like the new year, vigorous, curious, innocent. The innocence always goes. But some maintain their vigor and curiosity long after others have lost theirs. I wonder, were their childhoods less warping than those others? Did their roots start in a field free of sin, or relatively so, at least? Or do they have some inner strength, biologically given perhaps, that those others do not?

On a quiet day at work, with little to distract my thoughts, this is the kind of thing my mind turns to. Although my innocence is gone and my vigor diminished, it would seem that my curiosity has survive--although it has taken a morbid turn. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year's End: 2017

2017! An unusual year for me. It started off pretty good, got better, got bad for a while, then picked up again. At the moment I’m feeling pretty good. I sure hope that rolls over into 2018. I don’t live a terribly exciting life. One big surprise was being named as an influence by the new mayor of New Orleans. That was nice. I was also featured a couple of times in the local paper and nice things were said about my writing. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big year for sales of my books, although I didn’t do much to push it this year. I also did not submit as much as I usually do.

On the writing front itself, I did finish The Scarred One, a western novella/novel that I started working on a couple of years ago. I also self published a print version of my western collection, Killing Trail, under the pseudonym Tyler Boone. In October, Cold in the Light, my first published novel, went out of print. I went through it and did a fairly minor rewrite, and will be submitting it and The Scarred One for potential publication in 2018. I’ve also got a novella called “The Razored Land” that I want to submit next year. Finally, I wrote a lot of poetry this year, far more than has been typical of me in the past.

This marks the 5th year that I’ve been keeping a word count on my production. I wrote a little more than 50,000 words of fiction and nonfiction intended for publication. That’s about the same as last year. It’s up from 2015, when I did about 44,000, but down from 2013 and 2014, with 80,000 and over 100,000 respectively. I’d like to shoot for 100,000 next year, but that seems unlikely since in the spring I’m going to be teaching introductory psychology, which I haven’t taught in 20 years. That means quite a bit more work for me.

Word count is actually pretty misleading for me, anyway. For example, I spent a couple of weeks revising Cold in the Light but actually took out words from its original count. How do I figure that into a word count? Also, I don’t count wordage from my blog posts or my journal, since those are not intended for publication. My journal for 2017, which does include my blog posts, is around 40,000 words. That’s down from years past.

Besides writing, everyone here knows I’m also a big reader. I mark my “year in books” from one birthday to the next, but Goodreads, of course, does it by calendar year. According to Goodreads, I read 69 books in 2017, 17,720 pages, at an average of 257 pages per book. The shortest book I read was Goodnight Moon, a kid’s story, at 32 pages. The longest was the SF book, Earth, by David Brin, at 704 pages. My average rating across all those book was 3.5 stars. The most popular book I read was The Girl on the Train, reviewed by over 200,000 people. The least popular was reviewed by 0 folks other than me, and that was Incredible Football Feats, which was published in 1974.

Some of my favorite reads for 2017: My Grandmother Danced, by Eve Brouwer, a wonderful novel told in poetic form. I also loved Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, a poetry/prose chapbook by Bruce Boston and Robert Frazier. My favorite YA book was The Summer of Moonlight Secrets by Danette Haworth, although I also much enjoyed Lad: A Dog, by Albert Terhune. My favorite writing related book was Bestseller Metrics by Elaine Ash. A really fine, and uniquely written, fantasy novel that I enjoyed was Helen’s Daimones by S. E. Lindberg. A great short horror novel that I read was Dark Hours, by Sidney Williams.

I got back into Dean Koontz in 2017, after a couple of years away, and enjoyed his Frankenstein series. I very much enjoyed Ravenheart and Stormrider by David Gemmell. I loved me some Ed Gorman westerns. Perhaps my least favorite read of the year was Big Lobo, A Nevada Jim Western.

I don’t make resolutions anymore. There are certain things I will try to do. I will try to read and write as much as I can without ignoring my wife and son and other important folks in my world, and without losing my job. I’ll try to eat good food but not quite as much. I’ll try for plenty of naps and walks in nature. I’ll try to be a good person to the best of my abilities. Hope you all have a great 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

For the Love of Negatives

If you think people don't respond more strongly to negatives than to positives, then here's an example. In 2008, I reviewed Hubert Selby Jr's. Requiem for a Dream (the novel) on Goodreads. I didn't like it and made my feelings clear. The book is, in my opinion, all telling with almost no showing, and pretentious on top of that. Selby considered himself above the need to put individual character’s dialogue in separate paragraphs, and preferred such constructions as “Im” and “youre” over “I’m and “you’re.” I’m sure he did these things on purpose, and that makes it far worse to me. But certainly, if people like that sort of thing then have at it. As they say, it’s no skin off my nose.

Interestingly, though, I am "still" getting comments on that review, here at the end of 2017. I got one today. Overall, it has garnered 52 comments, many of them supportive of my views but plenty that responded with personal insults against my intelligence. In contrast, my review of Robert E. Howard's "Sowers of the Thunder," one of my favorite books, has gotten one like and no comments. My review of “The Snow Leopard,” by Peter Matthiessen, which ‘is’ my favorite book, has also gotten one like and no comments.

What is that old saw about which wolf lives, the good one or the bad one? The answer is, the one you feed. I don’t believe we have to avoid negative statements or negative reviews. Folks should make clear if they don’t like something, and why. But I also believe we need to promote what we find good and worthy. That’s why I’ve been doing blog posts about my “favorite” books in various genres—not the worst books in those genres.

What do you love?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Forgotten Books Friday: Hawk of the Wilderness

Hawk of the Wilderness, by William L. Chester. Ace Books, 1935, 287 pages.

Hawk of the Wilderness is virtually a pastiche of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It features a white family exploring to the north who end up wrecked in a wild land called Nato'wa, a volcanically warmed land above the arctic circle. They are taken in by Indians, who it is suggested in the book are the ancestors of North America's Native Americans. The husband and wife are killed and their baby adopted by an Indian woman, although he ends up fleeing the tribe and living in the wilderness for many years with bears. He becomes known as Kioga, The Snow Hawk. Eventually, another exploration party arrives and Kioga meets Beth, a white woman. The two fall in love with each other but many things happen to keep them apart.

I would have loved this book when I was in my teens but I'm no longer that naïve reader. There are a number of issues with it that weakened my enjoyment. First, the good thing is that it's very well written and full of wonderful description. There is a lot of action and adventure. The problem is that there's virtually no overall plot. The majority of the book is given over to Kioga's growing up and developing his skills, and this continues at great length until I, at least, grew bored with it. The book is almost 300 pages and should probably have been less than 200. There's a reason why ERB's books tended to be short. Only in the last third to a quarter of the book, after the arrival of the other white explorers, did an overall storyline emerge. It was too late to truly salvage the novel. The plot is what creates narrative drive and there's just not enough plot here.

The ending did have the kind of nice melancholy feeling that leaves you wondering what happened next. Chester did not leave his readers wondering for long. There are three more books in this series, Kioga of the Wilderness, One Against a Wilderness, and Kioga of the Unknown Land. The first one is over 300 pages long, which makes me wary. The other two are shorter. I may try the second book in the series at some point but not right away.

Overall, I gave the book only 2 of 5 stars. I still consider it worth a read, however.

More links to forgotten books over at "Pattinase"

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bill Crider Day

There’s this guy named Bill Crider. You may have heard of him. He’s written a few books.
Well, a whole lot of books

Twenty yeas ago I would only have known Bill through his writing. I still haven’t met him personally. But because of the internet, particularly blogging and facebook, I’ve gotten to know him. Twenty years ago my judgement on Bill would have been: “Solid writer, always entertaining, with a great sense of character and an ability to capture the human qualities of the characters in his stories.” My judgment of Bill today includes that, but much more.

Through the time I’ve know Bill Crider online, he’s suffered through the loss of loved ones and has struggled with severe health issues of his own. He’s up against it now, with those same issues, but I’ve never seen him feel sorry for himself. His basic good humor always shines through. And he has always been the kind of man to give of himself to help others, both fellow writers and plain old fellow human beings.

My favorite book by Bill is Texas Vigilante. It’s a sequel to Outrage at Blanco, which introduced the character Ellie Taine. In “Vigilante,” Ellie is back on the justice trail, looking for the man who has kidnapped the daughter of a friend. I wouldn’t want Ellie on my trail if I were a criminal; I’d want her there if I needed rescuing. A very strong character.

I admire Bill Crider as a writer; I admire him much more as a man. I hope a miracle is in the offing for him. Today, particularly, I'm thinking of him. And wishing him the best. Bill is the best of us. No doubt about that. 

For more about Bill Crider Day, check out Patti Abbott's Blog.