I finally saw Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, and without so much as a spoiler alert I’ll say it mixes chem trails, John Galt the Social Darwinist, a wonderfully absurd school room scene, lots of ultra-violence, some fey aegyo, Tilda Swinton doing a creepy malevolent Ms. Marple the School Marm impersonation, and a nod to Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” all together to make a satisfyingly bleak action picture. Not to mention it has characters who are actually characters instead of character-shaped holes that set pieces go BOOM! around. (*cough* Pacific Rim *cough*)
Hopefully this talk about cutting twenty minutes from the picture’s US release to make it more “understandable” winds up being nothing more than horseshit. Unfortunately I doubt it, and the ending I saw won’t be the ending my friends see back in the USA.
A bumper month for laying about on the couch reading!
1. Mindplayers – Pat Cadigan
In 1955, EC Comics launched a comic called “Psychoanalysis”, and it was pretty much exactly what you’d expect for a comic called Psychoanalysis with a nameless doc talking to people laying on a couch. <i>Mindplayers</i> is sort of like that comic, except it’s SF from 1992, so the psychoanalysis is done via VR you access directly through your optic nerves after you remove your eyeballs. The book has more an episodic than a three-act or whatever structure. I suspect it might be a fix-up. It’s not a problem, but it’s the novel’s style and expectations should be set accordingly.
Also lots of eyeballs get removed and that takes a bit of getting used to.
2. The Glorious Ones – Francine Prose
The Glorious Ones are a troupe of actors made up of archetypes and each tells their story, parading forth their dreams and obsessions. It’s set in 17th century Italy but you wouldn’t know it from reading it. One of those books about stories and the power of stories, probably not for everyone, but a refreshing read just the same largely because it is short.
3. Yellow Black Radio Broke-Down – Ishmael Reed
A pulpy irreverent satire of America’s founding with voodoo priests, drag queen cattle ranchers, nymphomaniacs, beatnik presidents, and the pope – in other words something to offend everyone. Definitely worth tracking down.
4. Status Anxiety – Alain De Botton
I suppose there are some folks out there that object to De Botton’s “pop” philosophical style and shake their heads at his conclusions. I’m not one of those people.
5. Hong Kong – Jan Morris
A fascinating read. I definitely recommend it even though it took me a few months to make my way through it. Hong Kong’s history is depicted in alternating chapters of past and present (1989), and as it is I’m curious if and how Morris has expanded the book in recent years since China regained control of the colony. Morris writes in a Mandarin (in the Cyril Connolly sense), somewhat gossipy style; she seems to know everything about everyone, and in a lot of ways lives up to her description of a student of British Imperialism. In more than a few sections I was reminded of China Mieville’s Embassytown.
6. The Discovery of Witches – Matthew Hopkins
Matthew Hopkins was an infamous 17th century Witch-finder active during the English Civil War who took it upon himself to hunt for witches around the area of Norfolk, all for a modest fee of course. This pamphlet contains the transcript of Hopkins’ interrogation at the hands of magistrates hoping to understand his qualifications. It’s largely a question and answer tract on Hopkins’ witch finding methods and casually brings up torture, imps, and the differences between devil’s marks and hemorrhoids. All in all if the magistrates sought to intimidate Hopkins with their question, they failed, because he turned their questions around and made the whole case an advertisement for his abilities and services.
You can download a copy at Project Gutenberg.
7. and 8. Babel-17/Empire Star – Samuel R. Delany
Two fun reads that play with SF adventure stories and have a neat relationship with each other. In the Babel-17 universe all the characters reference Empire Star and it’s character Comet Jo as he’s sort of the Harry Potter of the future.
9. Elisha Barber – E. C. Ambrose
A historical thriller with magic, warfare, and buckets and buckets of bodily fluids. Elisha Barber can be an exhausting read where all the character spin on their heels and snarl breathlessly instead of speaking. That said, I dug it.
10. Nightside, the Long Sun – Gene Wolfe
I used to make this joke about how I wished more secondary world novels featured mundane details, like, and this was my go-to example, I wanted to see how people bought groceries. Well, I have now read that novel and I liked it.
The whole story takes place over two days in a massive hollowed out intergalactic generation ship where a slum priest learns his parish was sold to a crime boss. The priest decides to break into the boss’s house and talk to him. It’s the dullest heist ever, but it’s pretty great too. Then there’s an exorcism, but before that the priest eats some green tomatoes. Nightside, the Long Sun has to be the most mundane of all mundane SFF novels ever (actually no, that prize goes to China Mountain Zhang). It’s… something. Unfortunately it’s not a stand alone novel.