Cultural round up: April and May

So yes, I have been quite slack. But I will try and make up for that now. And to start, some fun links. Here is the wonderful Lego on Hoth sequence, which manages to be both poignant and funny, as well as clever. Here are some random Star Wars mash-ups, just for fun. For the Quentin Tarantino lovers amongst us, some thoughts on how his worlds fit together, and what that means for the meta world of his movies. And last for this month, an entertaining look at how self-hating genre fans make things worse for themselves.

Now for the things I have been doing…

BOOKS

Lia Weston The Fortunes of Ruby White I was half way through the first chapter of this and dreading the effort it was going to take to finish it. It was all a bit too trite and straining to be funny but not quite making it. However, pleasingly, it became more engaging as it went along, and I actually finished it fairly quickly. It is an entertaining enough read, and certainly not taxing, but that being said, it was still a bit all over the shop with tone and approach and motivations. Without wanting to be too spoilery, there are things that the book didn’t seem to have quite worked out – was it all a con, or did people actually have powers; was Ruby doing something sensible and logical, or was she being manipulated? To me these things seemed quite confused and not in a mysterious and intriguing way, but rather more like the author was trying to have it both ways. I think taking a firmer decision about these kinds of things and being clear would have actually made a much stronger story. There was also a lot of coyness about some sex related issues – implications of things happening which lent rather a darker tone to the book, and perhaps because of this it was really ambiguous in an annoying sort of way. Mostly I think the book needed a really good editor who could have sorted things out and pushed the book in a clearer direction. A light-hearted comedy probably doesn’t need all these dark implications of prostitution and forced sex, but a darker book probably needs to be actually more explicit. This was a first novel for Weston, and while it would seem to indicate some potential at writing romantic comedy type chick lit, perhaps a bit of tougher editing next time might bring that out a little more.

Raymond E Feist At the Gates of Darkness Sometimes I think I should just stop reading Feist before I destroy all my affection for Magician and the memory of finding it a revelation when I first read it in my early teens. I think the persisting is that I might find some of that magic again, and it is true that a couple of books over the last few years have shown some sparks of it. But not this one. It isn’t a terrible book, it is just not that interesting. Some of the odd inconsistencies bothered me too – Pug can destroy building and build bridges between worlds, but he can’t do the magic to make himself invisible? I also think that the book spent most of its time setting the scene for future adventures (which I am not entirely committed to reading) and therefore was just a bit dull and expositionary. And while I really like the fact that much of the book focuses on Sandreena a powerful woman fighter, I’d like it a bit more if she didn’t spend so much time being moony about someone who treated her badly romantically. On the up side, this was short and easily read, so I didn’t need to spend too much time being irritated.

Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger’s Child This was a beautiful book to read – lovely writing, interesting and detailed characters, all with their own flaws, and a shifting perspective which allows one to see a rounded story. The prime story it seems to tell is the one of the history of homosexuality over the last century in the UK in a microcosm of the interactions of different gay men to a particular locus – a minor poet killed in World War I. It is also a story of privilege and money and the literary world and most importantly of memory and rembering, demonstrating the idea that we remember and reframe the past in a way which is most useful to us at the time. The sustaining stories within the novel are enough to get one past the disjointed nature of the narrative and the fact that some of the mos interesting parts of the story occur off-stage. The nature of a narrative which explores the challenges of memory and remembering and our own perspectives on the world means that at times there are unsatisfying gaps in explanations of characters and their motivations, but I think that needs to be embraced. The intense descriptions of the vignettes of story in each section of the book do however leave one feeling surprisingly close to the characters, and hide how little we actually see of their lives.

MUSIC

Groovin The Moo Canberra University The day didn’t start too cold but certainly ended up that way – the Old Person in my wondered how all the young women (and a few young men) in the minimal clothes would cope. But enough of my motherly concern about the cold.  The line up for the day was quite mixed, and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect early in the day. We started with Hermitude who were pretty awesome even for someone like me who doesn’t mind their style of electronica-come-hip hop (whatever the technical term may be) but wouldn’t call it my first choice in music. There were a few stand outs over the rest of the day. Parkway Drive confirmed for me that death metal is really not my thing, especially song after song of it. The Hillto Hoods had the audience on their side and were generally good, except that they totally over-played the sing a line and then stop approach. Once worked, twice was a bit ho-hum but when they were doing it for the fourth or fifth time it really made them seem like a one-trick pony performance wise. And then there was Andrew WK. My goodness. He was entirely freaky – and pretty much seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. We could only watch in fascination. The two stand outs for me were Public Enemy and the Kaiser Chiefs.

I have wanted to see Public Enemy for more years than I can count and they didn’t disappoint. They have ther performance and the music and still conveyed the energy and politics that has always been part of their music. They really are a posse – with the dudes on the stage who don’t seem to have a role other than some random crowd encouragement still seem to be a part of the whole. It was worth the cold to hear them, and they did play all the songs one hoped. At the end also they made a strong statement about tolerance and inclusivity.

The Kaiser Chiefs were also excellent – great stage show and again playing all the songs one wanted to hear. Lots of energy and an impressive display of barely missing a beat while spinning upside in the side show ride next to the stage. It seemed that some of the crowd had retreated to the tent for Digitalism (and warmth) but I thought that the Kaiser Chief were absolutely worth the frozen feet.

MOVIES

The Avengers Let me start by saying that, while this is a good super hero movie, it is still a super hero movie. Certainly not a genre buster or a radical interpretation of the notion of superheroes or anything like that. Fortuntely, I quite like superhero movies, and I like Joss Whedon’s writing, so over all this was a pleasant couple of hours. There are some definite highlights – Robert Downey Jr is in an acting class of his own in the film, possibly helped by the fact that he gets most of the best lines. If Iron Man was missing, this would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner also got some of the good line action, and Banner and Stark together were a great combination. I also found the self awareness of Captain America about his potential lameness quite good. In less impressive things, the story arc was just a touch too predictable, though I did wonder whether this was a deliberate Whedon ploy to make the most super hero-est of all super hero movies. I also found the destruction of New York just a tad distasteful – I know it has been ten years and all, but the relish with which is all got destroyed just made me feel a touch uneasy. Anyway, worth the time and money for those who like a super hero.

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100 sci fi women #49: Cordelia Chase

I just heard Joss Whedon on the radio referring to the cancellation of Firefly, as the worst thing that had happened in his career. We feel that pain Joss. And so I am inspired to choose another Whedon woman for the list – but not from Firefly, as we only just had Kaylee.

And so, to…

Cordelia Chase Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel

Cordelia does not seem like an obvious choice for this list. When we first meet her she is vacuous and self centred and really doesn’t care about anyone or anything much other than herself and her social status. But the great thing about a character like Cordelia is that, when you start from a low base, and when you have a lot of series over which to do it, you can grow and change and learn and become someone quite different. And Cordelia certainly does that. Cordelia gets chased and stabbed and possessed and gives birth to a demon spawn and is impoverished and gets visions which slowly kill her becomes an angel and, well, you name it, she endures it. Cordelia may be self centred, but she isn’t really vacuous – even from the beginning she could sometimes be more insightful and practical, and more sarcastic, than the others. She is willing to fight when it is necessary and, as time goes by, she becomes stronger and more capable, and less self centred. Cordelia understands how the social world works, what the forces are at play, and has a keen insight into human nature, which she usually utilises to increase her popularity and status. She also has fewer false allusions about people – she understands how the world of utilitarian friendships operate. But she is a person of deep emotion as we see in her reaction to Xander’s betrayal of her. Working with Angel in Los Angeles Cordelia grows further. She develops close relationships with her colleagues, the ghost who lives in her apartment and the Grossalug to whom she has been promised. In fact, the scenes of Dennis the ghost’s sorrow about Cordelia are remarkably touching. When Cordelia gains the ability to have visions and to help people, she embraces it and is unwilling to give it up, despite the pain and suffering it ultimately causes her. What makes Cordelia an exceptional woman is her change and growth, and of course her fabulous sense of fashion.

Cordelia: “Why is it always virgin women who have to do the sacrificing?”

Wesley: “For purity, I suppose.”

Cordelia: “This has nothing to do with purity. This is all about dominance, buddy. I can bet if someone ordered a male body part for a religious ceremony, the world would be atheist like that.”


100 Sci Fi women #15: Dana Scully

Before we get to today’s entry, I wanted to mention two new lists which are quite entertaining is the Buffy-Joss Whedon space. We have the Top Ten Buffy episodes which is quite entertaining and then the Top 5 Reasons It Sucks Being a Joss Fan, which can make one a bit squirmy. Although I do love the first entry – He Will Slaughter Everything That Makes You Happy Inside. Please Joss, just stop that!

Dana Scully X-Files

 

Dana_Scully_closeup_with_glassesI always loved Scully. Mulder I found annoying, even though the logic of the show was that you really did have to “believe.” But sensible, practical, logical Scully always appealed to me a lot more. She was both a crack investigator and a medical doctor who didn’t flinch in the face of mangled bodies and horrible autopsies. What she did flinch at was Mulder’s weird theories, and even though he was often proved right, let’s face it, who wouldn’t have been with her? Her cool intelligence and sensible approach meant that she would accept the bizarre when proven, but she trusted to facts and reason.  She was also a positive depiction of a single mother and a professional woman, who was both attractive and, more importantly, highly intelligence. It was also Scully’s intelligence that was most important, not her looks.