First of all, my apologies for being somewhat absent these last few weeks, but ’tis a busy time in the life of your Mr. Harvey of late. But I have torn myself away from such distractions to take some welcome time to talk of science and fiction, film and book, and more.
First, I too must bid farewell to Ray Bradbury. As a child I was enraptured and frightened by The Martian Chronicles (oh the nightmares that lurk within those pages, oh the wonder!), chilled by the world that had turned it’s back on the written word in Fahrenheit 451, and shivered to the threatening promises of Something Wicked This Way Comes’ Mr. Dark.
If you’re noticing a trend there, you’re right to. Bradbury’s darker works were my favorites because, and I think you’ll agree with me, ultimately his work was about hope. When Mankind went to Mars, we brought our flaws and our monsters, inner and out, with us, but in the end, a dead world has Martians again, as we escape the dying Earth. When the circus comes to town, trailing nightmares and death, a father’s love for his son, and for life itself, turns away the darkness.
As a writer myself, I find that as I grow older, the influence of Ray Bradbury’s writing is felt more and more on my own. To me, a good story is the most important thing. All the special effects in the world can’t hide a bad story. Good stories often mean great characters, something Bradbury excelled at. Yes, it’s true, much of his attitude towards the media and technology of the modern age was dismissive, and for all the futuristic settings of many of his stories, it could be argued that he looked back in nostalgia at a simpler time. No matter. He was a hell of a writer.
On to movies! I have some capsule reviews for you here, some new, some not so much.
Ok, the elephant in the room: Prometheus. Oh, I’m so torn on this film. If you’ve read Mr. Smith’s review, you know what flaws he saw, and to some degree I agree with him on much of it. Ultimately, I think the film runs into three major problems.
- First, there is a huge, let’s say that again, HUGE amount of really dumb decisions taking place in this film, with characters basically behaving in suicidal ways over and over. We can start with opening a spacesuit before air analysis has been completed, move on to treating the freaking alien life form like it’s a domesticated pet, and of course, end with running in a straight line when a giant spaceship is falling on you. There’s also a very curious attitude towards space exploration in general. The film is set in the not too distant future, yet many of the characters, our archeologists in particular, act as if traipsing across the galaxy ain’t no big thing. Marshall-Green’s Holloway is a particularly bad character in all these respects, and having known a few archeologists, he’s kind of a crap one.
- Second, and this is a good/bad thing actually, it’s designed to be vague. Interview after interview with Scott and the writers indicate that the unanswered questions are intentional, and will be addressed in the sequels. I’m all for unanswered questions. I really am! I like ambiguity in storytelling, I like it when the writers don’t hit me over the head with explanations, and trust me to follow along. However, a film has to stand on its own, because sequels are NOT guaranteed. They just aren’t. Look at John Carter. Here, Scott has given us a film that is about big questions, and pretty much answers none of them.
- Third. It’s basically Alien. With “gods”. Beat for beat, the story structure is Alien.
But here’s the thing… I want to see the sequel. Naomi Raplace was excellent, Michael Fassbinder more so. I want to see what happens next. I want to find out the story of the Engineers, and what’s up with their relationship to humanity. Prometheus is a flawed film, and I want to see the next part of it. C’mon. I’ll take a bad Ridley Scott film over any Michael Bay movie.
What next… ah yes, a book review. This is tough. I spent 15 years in the book world, both used and retail. In my Borders Books days, one of my jobs as a manager was to deal with local authors, and that meant reading a massive pile of self-published books. Many of them, well, many of them were really bad. I always gave my honest opinion to the authors, because that was my job, but I never enjoyed having to tell someone thier baby was ugly. Unfortunately, one of the books that made it to our Mr. Hunt’s hands and then to mine, is one I cannot recommend. Regby Dornick: The Chilling Warning is the first book in a series by British author Garth Tuxford, and based on this, I regret to say I won’t be picking up the later books.
This story, set in 2089, takes the reader through page after page of the daily life of Petrey Jonesy, a geologist, and therein lies the problem. We get Jonesy’s entire life story, in detail, in what reads more like a memoir and travelogue than a science fiction novel. We get details of his business life, his family, and while initially it doesn’t come across as terribly important, the tragedy of losing his uncle in a mining accident. It takes a while, but eventually, after we have explored Jonesy’s trip to India and his falling in love, we find that all has been done to reopen the mine that claimed his uncle and try to determine what caused the cave-in. What they find when they reopen the mine is the key mystery of the story, and the point where the book becomes something resembling a science fiction novel.
Unfortunately, that point comes at page 133 of the books’ 261. The titular Regby Dornick doesn’t make an appearance until page 218, and when he does, well, the rest would be spoilers, wouldn’t it? I will say that what is revealed is based on theories that involve a mysterious planet that has a more or less impossible orbit, popularized by Zecharia Sitchin. I’ll admit to a certain bias towards the Sitchin school of thought, as it basically ignores science and history, but I’ve enjoyed books about Atlantis, and I don’t believe it ever existed, so that’s not the issue here. The issue is that the drama of the story starts half-way thru the book, then promptly stalls as our hero and his friends take a month to prepare for a conflict that seems to wait for them. Oddly enough, Tuxford’s writing style isn’t bad, and I found it easy enough, although it isn’t particularly gripping. Ultimately the book is need of the attention of a good copy-editor and a stronger story, because as it stands, Regby Dornick is an example of the kind of story that only ends up self-published. I wish Mr. Tuxford success, but I just can’t recommend his book.
I’ve watched both Mirror Mirror and Snow White and The Huntsman… did neither studio realize that the most interesting character in both films is the Evil Queen? Shouldn’t they have cast really strong young women as Snow White to be something of a credible counterpart to Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron?
Ah well. Both films are pretty. Which isn’t necessarily a compliment.
Have any of you caught the new Canadian series Continuum? Interesting concept: In the not too distant future, corporations have taken over the world, with pretty much everyone answering to them in pretty much every way. When of group of terrorists, fighting to restore freedom and democracy to the world, start blowing up buildings, the ringleaders are captured and sentenced to death. As their final seconds approach, they escape back in time to our present day, accidentally bringing a police officer back with them. Conflict ensues.
The interesting thing here is the seeming contrast of our “hero”, Protector Kiera Cameron, who is fighting to ensure her future comes to pass, corporate masters and all, with our “villains”, who are fighting to have freedom from that pretty grim future. It’s not the greatest of series so far, but they are exploring some really interesting grey areas here, and that can make for good viewing.
And it’s got a great genre cast! Rachel Nichols, who has appeared in Alias, Star Trek and GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is our lead, with William P. Davis, Lexa Doig and Tony Amendola in principal roles. Those would be the Cigarette Smoking Man, the personification of the starship Andromeda and Bra’tac by the way, and if you don’t recognize those names, get thee to thy Netflix. If for the cast alone, it’s worth checking out.
That’s all for me tonight… I’ll be back with more soon.
Be seeing you.