Archive for May, 2011

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Shaftoe’s Rants: Down with Time Lords?

The Short Version: I don’t think Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat likes Time Lords.

The Long Version: Series writer and show runner Steven Moffat recently told the BBC that Doctor Who’s most iconic villains, the Daleks, won’t be making a screen appearance any time soon.

““We thought it was about time to give them a rest.”

Moffat does raise a bit of a valid point.  The cybernetic children of the planet Skaro are the most regularly defeated enemy in the Doctor Who universe.  However, to this Whovian, there seems to be a larger issue at hand.  In short, I don’t think that Mr. Moffat particularly cares for Time Lords or Time Lord mythology.

I know, it’s an odd accusation to make of a Doctor Who show runner but hear me out.

Since Moffat took over he’s seemingly done everything he can to distance The Doctor from his Time Lord roots.  Consider Moffat’s first episode with Matt Smith as The Doctor.  In The Eleventh Hour, The Doctor wrote off the Time War, the death of his species and the deaths of countless others as “a bad day”.  From that episode onward everything remotely complex gets written off as wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey or spacey-wasey.  Setting aside the fact that this is an oh-so-convenient way to toss causality out the window, it also kills any need for The Doctor to draw upon the wisdom that comes with being a 900-year-old time traveller.  Hell, even his foes don’t seem to care that The Doctor is a Time Lord.  Kindly note, I’m okay with ignoring The Doctor’s lineage when the bad guys are as Torchwood-esque as The Silence – stupid name great concept.

Perhaps this lack of Time Lord flavour is a response to an abundance of Tennant/Eccleston sad face whenever anybody brought up Time Lords or the Time War under Russell T. Davies’ tenure.  On the other hand, Moffat may not want to deal with more practical issue of Time Lord chapeaus which make Princess Beatrix’s head ornamentation seem tasteful.  With the notable exception of Neil Gaiman’s episode The Doctor’s Wife (which was fantastic because I think it was the first time we got to see Matt Smith as a Time Lord, not simply a madman with a blue box) Moffat and the other writers don’t really seem to care about the Doctor as Time Lord.

So how does all of this connect to the fact that the Daleks are going into the vault?  Quite simply, the Daleks and the Timelords are foils for each other.  You can’t have Daleks without Time Lords as each is an essential part of the other’s mythology.  Unless the next Dalek episode undoes the seemingly bona fide resurrection of the Daleks (Victory of the Daleks), an act which would once again make the Doctor a genocidal murderer – although I’m sure they would ethicy-wethicky their way out of any moral quagmire as not to scare the children (sigh) – the Time Lords must come back, in spirit if not in body, to balance the equation.  Given Moffat’s apparent disdain for things Time Lord, that seems unlikely.

Therefore, Moffat’s decision is not just about letting the Daleks rest.  It speaks to an apparent bracketing of his plot arcs from the larger Time Lord/Doctor Who mythology.  I for one like Time Lord mythology.  Consider that one of Matt Smith’s best performances as the Doctor was in Neil Gaiman’s episode.  For just a moment that story let Smith show the audience a little of the hurt that comes with being the last of your kind.  If we are being honest though, Suranne Jones (Idris) was so fantastic as to steal that episode and deposit it in her Swiss bank account.  Either way, Doctor Who needs more writing of that calibre.  Keep the Daleks and Time Lords on ice if we must, minimize references to Gallifrey if necessary, but remember that The Doctor has two hearts and occasionally letting him be a lonely alien won’t ruin the show.

Your thoughts?

Update:  Leave it to Steven Moffat to do exactly what I said he wasn’t going to do.  Ah well, at least I got in a good hat joke.  For fear of spoilers, I’ll skip the details on how Moffat stymied my theory.  It is enough to say that Time Lord mythology is a marginally relevant to the plot of A Good Man Goes to War. Still, I’m not willing to admit that I’m totally wrong on this point.  I’ll save the explanations for my upcoming podcast with Doctor Who scholar J. M. Frey.

 

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Podcast #7 An Interview with Matt Moore

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and Matt Moore.

Topics under discussion include: Matt’s Aurora nominated story, Touch the Sky, They Say, Matt’s fiction at large, the importance of small press publication, life as a panelist at genre conventions, why The Walking Dead is brilliant television and the pervasive nature of zombies in pop culture.

Head over to Matt’s blog for links to the stories mentioned in the podcast.

Any ChiZine Publications book that we mentioned can be found here.

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Game Review: Terraria

Summary Judgement:  If you dig deep enough and long enough, you might just find where this game has hidden all its fun.

Developed by: Re-Logic

Available on PC

Most days I find myself very supportive of indie video games.  I got onboard with Minecraft when it was in an early alpha release because I saw the value in a game that offered a sandbox experience akin to playing with lego.  When Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft, tweeted about an upcoming indie game called Terraria, I paid attention.  In its demo reel, Terraria seemed like a cross between Wonderboy, Metroid and Minecraft.  Terraria’s ten dollar price point also seemed like a great way to stop myself from running out and impulse buying L.A. Noire, at least for a little while longer.  After spending a few afternoons with this 2D side scrolling adventure/RPG/crafting game, I find myself rather disappointed.

For my taste, Terraria is way too cute.  While the game offers a decent character customization system, something Minecraft does not, all of the characters that I created reminded me of those terrifying fifteen minutes I spent playing Maple Story circa 2008. The in-game music, which consists of two songs, one for day and one for night, descended from whimsy to saccharine within half an hour of gameplay.  Even the level design oozes cuteness.  During the daytime, the only monsters I found were “slimes” of various colour.  Sorry, Re-Logic, but slime didn’t intimidate me in Dragon Warrior and it fails to impress in your game.  At night, the floating “demon eyes” are reasonably grotesque but their impact is offset by the Maple Story-esque zombies that shamble about the map.  The real tragedy occurs when elements of the game design start subverting a serious mood in favour of cuteness.  Case in point, I should feel just a little anxious when spelunking in a cavern.  The fact that my torches light areas behind the cave, not just my immediate surroundings, makes any cave dive feel way too safe.  Pair that with the happy daytime music and it’s a recipe for enough cuteness as to make me want a hit of insulin.

In addition to being too cute, Terraria is too slow.  It takes forever to dig anywhere in the game.  Even when I upgraded my copper pick axe (yes you dig through everything with a pick axe, not a shovel) to an iron pick axe I still found myself envious of the fun my cat was having as he chased his tail.  Since digging for rare materials quickly became an exercise in tedium, I found myself running along the surface of the 2D world in an attempt to find some easy access to crafting materials.  Half an hour later, I found a scant amount of iron but lots of clay, copper, sand and “slime” droppings.

Terraria’s crafting system is hardly any better than its mining.  Building a workbench allowed me to press a button and see a list of buildable objects.  A few more clicks produced a bunch of bricks and a forge.  Upon placing my forge I could push a button and see a list of even more potential creations.  My problem with this system is two-fold.  On the one hand, there’s no room for experimentation and discovery.  Half the fun of crafting in a game like Minecraft is experimenting to see what materials turn into other things.  Terraria puts it all out there, perhaps reflecting society’s need for instant gratification in their games.  The other issue is that it takes too many materials to build anything useful.  Due to the slowness of the game’s mining, hunting for iron or silver ore is an excruciating grind.  This grind is made all the more demoralizing due to the high cost of building anything.  It takes three iron ore blocks to make an iron ore brick.  Twelve of those bricks are needed for a pickaxe.  During my hours of play, I never found more than fifteen iron ore bricks in a single mineral vein.  Good luck trying to build a suit of armour at that rate.  If this game ever wants to win me back, it needs to balance crafting with the time investment it demands for mining.

From my perspective, the game’s biggest failing is its mediocre status as a creativity engine.  Terraria boasts the ability to create a world.  The game’s in-game guide told me that if I build some houses, other NPCs might move in.  Although I built three rather nice single-family homes, I’ve yet to see any new neighbours – see my previous point about the game being too damn slow.  Assuming that the huddled masses eventually appear at the doors to my gated community, I don’t like that I can only offer them two dimensional constructions.  I’ll admit that this is a bit of Minecraft prejudice coming through in my review, but I can only build so many 2D wireframes before it gets boring. 

But Shaftoe, you could build a house shaped like a rocket ship for the people.

Fair point.  However, a person of my limited artistic abilities likes it when he can build things in an actual 3D environment.  Making buildings look pretty in Terraria requires setting other blocks in the background to give the illusion of depth.  I couldn’t make something look 3D on paper when I was in the 7th grade and I still have a hard time with it now.  I’d rather build a Saturn V rocket in Minecraft than a rocket shaped outline in Terraria. One feels like an artistic endeavour, of sorts, the other is frustrating and pointless.

In the final assessment, I find myself wondering where this game will find its audience.  Creative types who have already discovered Minecraft aren’t likely to invest much time in Terraria. The game’s over the top cuteness will probably drive away hard core gamers.  Casual gamers will run screaming for the hills when they realize how long it will take them to build anything useful.  I thought about Terraria as a children’s game, but I’m not sure if they possess the attention span to deal with the game’s slow pacing.  For want of any real fun, or internal gratification that comes with building a cubist sailboat, I don’t know why anybody would want to play Terraria.

Overall Score: -2

 

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Television Review: Requiem for Stargate Universe

Summary Judgement: The final few episodes of Stargate Universe redeemed any mistakes that the series may have made while it was finding its footing.

It’s been a little more than a week since Destiny sailed off into the void.  While some people are glad to be rid of a show that significantly deviated from the spirit and tone of its predecessors, I am not.  SGU had the courage to try and be something unique within the Stargate franchise.  However, its demarcation from established Stargate norms, including archetypal characters and an overall lighthearted tone, invited some comparisons to Battlestar Galactica. Under that lens of analysis, SGU never really stood a chance.  To be successful, SGU needed more time to become its own show.  Instead, it died amid a wash of comparisons.

At this point, I don’t think I can contribute anything new to a discussion on the fate of SGU. When I asked Craig Engler, SVP SyFy Digital, why SGU got canned despite stronger critical reviews than the first two seasons of Star Trek: TNG he told me:

““The ratings were strong enough for them [CBS] to be able to make more [Star Trek], though. That’s the issue.”

PS: How cool is it that people are actually answering my questions?

When all is said and done, television is about ratings and SGU just wasn’t pulling in the numbers.

Despite its lacklustre ratings, SGU’s final episodes offered stories that were as creative as they were heart wrenching.  Rather than languishing in the sandbox of time travel tropes (as it did a bit in its first season), SGU’s later scripts eschewed the usual gimmicks of causality.  In doing so, the show managed to create an internal mythology deeper than anything ever seen within the franchise.  Awesome as Jack O’Neill maybe, I don’t recall him ever laying the foundation for an intergalactic civilization. Even the actors seemed to be at the absolute top of their game for the show’s final motions.  Due in no small part to higher quality scriptwriting, the most tertiary of characters found themselves rich with pathos.

Still, it would be naive to state that the show didn’t have its problems.  The first season of SGU was plagued with bad sex scenes, awkward relationships, recycled SG1/SGA fodder and a marked lack of direction.  That SGU was able to move beyond those problems makes its demise all the more poignant.  Therefore, in the tradition of a samurai whose death redeems his life, I would like to offer a death haiku for Stargate Universe.

A soul finds purpose

in winter’s silent vigil

alone to save hope

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Geek News: May 17 2011

Today in geek news, it’s a banner day for Canadian Science Fiction writers, a hopeful day for grown-up video games and a poignant day for space exploration.

Yesterday the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association announced the nominees for the 2011 Prix Aurora Awards.  The Auroras honour the best in Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy as voted by members of the CSFFA – a non-profit organization that offers free membership to all Canadians.  While I extend kudos to all those in contention for an Aurora, I’d like to offer my personal recognition – for the fifty-three cents that it is worth – to two nominees, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting at this year’s Ad Astra convention.

Matt Moore is up for Best English Short Story with his story Touch the Sky, They Say.

Marie Bilodeau is up for Best English Novel with her book Destiny’s Blood.

Spoiler Alert: One of these two writers has agreed to be on an upcoming podcast.

On behalf of myself and everybody else who makes The Page of Reviews possible, we wish both of you the best of luck.

The full list of Aurora nominees can be found here

In video games, today sees the launch of two highly anticipated titles, L.A. Noire by Rockstar Games and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings by CD Projekt.  Rockstar, best known for the Grand Theft Auto and the Red Dead franchises, brings its unique style of hard nosed gameplay to post WW2 Los Angles.  Players will assume the role of Cole Phelps an LAPD detective who finds himself caught up in a story of organized crime, sex and drugs.  L.A. Noire promises to deliver “a violent crime thriller that blends breathtaking action with true detective work to deliver an unprecedented interactive experience.”   Given the gritty nature of the game, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some group of concerned crackpots begin lambasting the game for every ill that society has to offer.  L.A. Noire is now available for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Meanwhile The Witcher 2 has been collecting its fair share of launch hype.  The game has already been hailed for its mature and non-linear story line, unabashed nudity and solid RPG elements.  This sophomore entry into a franchise that began in 2007 also boasts a deep branching dialogue system that will have significant impact on how the game unfolds.  Naturally, this style of gameplay has invited comparisons between Polish publisher CD Projekt and Edmonton’s BioWare, the studio that brought us such RPGs as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. One noticeable difference between the two companies is that CD Projekt will be offering all DLC for The Witcher 2 for free.  That’s right, gratis DLC for registered users.  I’ve got to admit that this game, and its progressive DLC model, have piqued my interest.  Also, it would be nice to use my PC for something other than marathon Starcraft 2 sessions and internet porn.

Finally, yesterday saw the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour.  Flying its 25th mission, the Endeavour is set to bring parts and technical staff to the deflector shield station on the third moon Endor said “up yours” to gravity one final time as it brought spare parts for a robot arm and an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station.  According to NASA, “The AMS-02 uses the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe and lead to the understanding of the universe’s origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter and measuring cosmic rays.”  In a related story, renowned Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking says that Heaven is a fairy story.

Levity aside, I can’t help but feel a collective loss for humanity as another one of our mighty shuttles prepares for life as a museum piece.  It’s well and good for NASA to plan new ships with greater lift capacity.  However, these plans are all talk until the new vehicles get built.  I fear that the short-term exigencies of life on this planet may end up precluding the long-term need for humanity to expand beyond our small world.  So on that sombre note, here’s the video of Endavour’s last launch.  Let’s all marvel at human ingenuity giving the finger to gravity.

That, prisoners of gravity, is your geek news for May 17, 2011.

Today’s Geek News is brought to you by Chris Noon Graphic Designs.  See what Chris can do for your business at www.chrisnoon.com

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Short Story Review: Breakaway, Backdown

Summary Judgement:  James Kelly de-romanticizes life in space with such skill as to make me thank the gods for gravity and magnetic fields.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that this story only qualifies as a story by the thinnest of margins.

Written by: James Patrick Kelly

Image from: NASA’s Ames Space Colony Art Gallery

Originally Published in Asimov’s Science Fiction

Republished in February’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine, James Kelly’s Breakaway, Backdown seems, at first, to be a rather pedestrian affair.  The story consists of one half of a conversation between Cleo, a would-be astronaut who “backs down” from a permanent commitment to life in space, and Jane, a girl working at a shoe boutique.  At no point in the story does Jane actually speak.  Readers must fill in her dialogue on their own as they read Cleo’s reactions to Jane’s rather obvious interrogatives.  This odd narrative construction leads me to my first question about the story: if a female character talks to another female character who never speaks back within the text, does the story pass the Bechdel Test?

For the moment, let us set aside the sociological issues and explore the potential advantages of such a unique writing style.  Forcing the reader to fill in the blank dialogue has the benefit of directly inserting said reader into Jane’s character.  There is an instant empathy for poor Jane as she has all of her naive thoughts on life in space summarily blown to smithereens.  The counter point to that benefit is that the story seems to presume that Jane, and by extension anybody reading the story, is ignorant of the science facts that Cleo dispenses.  While this approach might work for some, those familiar with “hard” science-fiction would be well advised to prepare for a sermon on the rigors of life outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Both the story’s style and content had me set to write it off as a thorough waste of time.  Then I found out that the story was originally published in 1996.  The story’s age forced me to reconsider my initial line of inquiry.  Make no mistake, I’m not backing down on the clumsy style.  This isn’t a story; it’s a preachy sermon.  However, the content within that lecture has more weight when its age comes into play.

Cleo lived in space for eighteen months before backing down from a life as a spacer.  In relating that story to Jane, she discusses some of the very real problems that humanity will have to endure when living in deep space: osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, clogged sinuses, nausea/space sickness and the very real dangers of leukemia from direct exposure to cosmic and solar radiation.  Cleo even manages to make sex sound tedious and underwhelming for want of gravity.

““Most hetero temps use some kind of a joystrap. It’s this wide circular elastic that fits around you and your partner.  Helps you stay coupled, okay? ”

Upon a first read through, none of these insights seemed particularly interesting to me.  I’ve read my fair share of Robert Heinlein, Kim Stanley Robinson and Issac Asimov thus I’m well aware that space is a nasty place that would probably kill me before it gives me a chance to have a roll in the holodeck with an open minded and uninhibited Orion slave girl.  But what about fifteen-year-old Adam?  What would he have thought if he read this story back in ‘96?  He wouldn’t scoff at James Kelly and say, “If we can go to Saturn then we can use gene therapy and advanced engineering to endure the rigors of space.”  No, fifteen-year-old Adam would have read this story and asked himself why nobody in the Babylon 5 universe seems to suffer from any of the above problems.  There’s no deflector shields a la Star Trek and a bunch of Earth Alliance starships have no artificial gravity.  Somehow, though, everybody is good and healthy in the Earth Alliance military.  For that reason, fifteen-year-old Adam would have been floored by the horrors of space travel as portrayed by Kelly.  Star Trek, B5, Blake’s 7, Space: Above and Beyond, Space 1999, Battlestar Galactica and other staples of my childhood never bothered to explore the real dangers of space.  They made it seem easy.  This story draws upon now established, then theoretical, science to prove that it will be hard.

Still, Heinlein, Robinson and Asimov were writing about the biology of space travel well before Kelly published his story.  Why then was it worthy of publication in the gold standard of sci-fi magazines?  In my estimation it has nothing to do with empowered females, implied lesbian liaisons or other elements better left to sociologists – all of which are present, all of which are notable but none of which seem particularly avant garde for ’96.  The strength of Kelly’s writing is that it manages to create a group of post-humans entities without resorting to the tropes of genetic engineering.  “Breakaways”, the subset of humanity that have committed to living and working in space, are the product of their environment. There are absolutely no references to re-sequencing genomes for these space people.  As a result, life among the void becomes a life of biological sacrifice.  These astronauts regularly cut away parts of themselves that serve no purpose in microgravity.  In some instances, “Breakaways” endure body modification surgery to make gravity-evolved limbs more useful in space, an opposable big toe for example.  This is a terrifying example of the post-homo sapien evolution that space exploration could precipitate.  Futurists may wrap themselves in a Gattaca-esque mythos of gene therapy when they dream of life among the stars, but the cold hard reality of Kelly’s vision should always be lurking in the background.

Veterans of hard science fiction literature will likely find nothing new in this story.  Despite its potentially condescending tone, the story remains unapologetic in the details that it offers.  Never before have I read such a clear vision of what the rigours of life in space could demand of us.  Even Heinlein and Robinson seem candy coated compared to the evolutionary crossroad that Kelly offers.

Click here to read Breakaway, Backdown for yourself.

Overall Score: +3

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Movie Review: I Spit On Your Grave

Summary Judgement:  If executed with more restraint and an ounce more psychological insight this film could have amounted to more than a story of rape-voyeurism and shallow revenge.

Starring: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, and Chad Lindberg

Directed by: Steven R. Monroe

As a follow-up to my Scream 4 review, I figured I would look over something from the “gore-fest” genre that I mentioned in my last post.  I Spit on Your Grave is a reboot of 1978 film of the same name directed by Meir Zarchi. I haven’t seen the original.  However, I imagine it must have been better than the 2010 release based on the unoriginality of the latter’s script and the probability that its acting couldn’t really be any worse.

The story centers around Jennifer (Sarah Butler), a successful young writer who is raped, beaten and left for dead while on a writing retreat in the woods.  Rising from the ashes of shame and abuse Jenny proceeds to dispense some Old Testament style justice. To me, this seems like a good recipe for a revenge film. Movies like Double Jeopardy, The Brave One, The Glass House and Kill Bill have readily demonstrated that female revenge/empowerment makes for a great movie. Though cathartic in its premise, I Spit on Your Grave isn’t nearly as successful in its implementation.

From my perspective, rape is a topic not to take lightly. A story that decides to centralize rape as its theme walks a tightrope between respect for the gravity of its subject material and how graphic to make the details therein.  Where a good storyteller understands that much can be shown on screen without showing much at all, Stephen Monroe seems to have put it all out there in an attempt to seem edgy.  His decision to give a large chunk of screen time to Jenny’s rape may have at least one toe over the line to biastophilia.

Not only is I Spit on Your Grave voyeuristic, it is unapologetic therein.  One of the rapists carries a camera to film everything that goes on around him.  This perverse cinema verite also becomes a suspense builder for later in the film.  Of course, no rape movie would be complete without excuses for scantily clad scenes of the intended rape victim. Viewers are bequeathed with scenes of Jenny going for a run in a workout outfit that isn’t much more than a sports bra and boy-shorts.  There’s also a moment where she is doing the dishes in her underwear.  It’s enough to make me wonder if Mr. Monroe isn’t saying something about female attire and sexual assault.

I Spit on Your Grave’s only redeeming qualities involve the means that bring about Jenny’s revenge. Without giving too much away, they are spiritual cousins of the infernal devices in the Saw franchise. It’s with a with a mix of anticipation and horror that viewers are exposed to Jenny’s twisted engineering. Still, I had a problem with the maniacal looks that darted from Jenny within the revenge scenes.  The writing loses some credibility for framing Jenny’s actions within the realm of insanity.

Ultimately, the heavy voyeurism, extended rape, brief revenge and the shadow of insanity that looms over Jenny’s character left me rather put off.  These elements lead me to believe the film is, at its core, nothing more than torture porn.  Had Jenny’s sanity not come into question the movie would have naturally defaulted to exploring a heightened need for justice and closure as a response to an unspeakable trauma.  Even eliminating some of the voyeurism and implying the rape rather than showing it would have added an artistic quality to the movie and ultimately made for a stronger story.

Overall Score: 0

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Shaftoe’s Rants: How I Met Your Mother: If it happened in the real world

The Short Version: This show wouldn’t work in the real world.

The Long Version: From time to time people ask me if I have ever watched “insert television program here”.  My answer is almost always the same: no, there’s a finite amount of time that I spend watching television every week and that show didn’t make the cut.  As a general guideline, only one new show makes it into the rotation each year.  Any other program requires references and space to get slotted in around something else I watch that has been cancelled or is ending its run.  A year ago I needed something to fill the void that Scrubs left in my television schedule.  After careful consideration, I narrowed the field down to two shows: The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Due in no small part to the fact that Sheldon annoys me more than words can convey, HIMYM won the day.

Despite the fact that HIMYM is to Gen Y what Friends was to Gen X, there is one fundamental problem with the show.  Sure, you can get around this problem with just a little bit of suspended disbelief, but I think it still merits a little exploration.  Rather than tell you about it, I’ll just show you the issue in question.

 

Click the image to enlarge.

 

 

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Book Review: Filaria

Summary Judgement:  With its rich environments and characters who ooze empathy, Filaria is as thoughtful as it is emotionally satisfying.

Written by: Brent Hayward

Published by: ChiZine Publications

Filaria is one of those rare novels that refuses easy classification.  Pegging it with one specific genre would undermine the ease with which Hayward brings together elements of sci-fi, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror and bio-punk.  Even calling the book a novel stands as a mild misrepresentation of what Hayward offers in Filaria. Rather than following one character through a beginning, middle and end of a narrative, Filaria reads more like four novellas woven into one large tapestry.  Although the four main characters cross paths with each other, their stories remain mostly isolated from each other.  Their only real connection is the world in which they live.

As mentioned, there are four central players within Filaria: Young Phister, Deidre, Tran So and Mereziah.  Then there is “the world”, which is quite honestly a character in its own right.  Phister lives in the bottom of the world.  Isolated from the world’s suns, Phister spends his days drinking acrid water and gumming down hallucinogenic moss.  Deidre is the privileged daughter of an orchard keeper at the top of the world.  Tran So lives in Hoffman City, a den of vice, inequity and religion, somewhere in the middle of the world.  Mereziah is an elevator operator/maintenance man in the great shaft that runs through the world.  One of the reasons why this novel works is because the catalyst for each of the main characters’ stories is something wholly normal, despite occurring in a very alien environment.

Phister leaves his hole in the ground because a girl who once kissed him has gone missing.  Deidre’s father sends her and her family away from home for reasons beyond her knowledge.  Due to the death of his infant son and an illness that his turned his wife into a shell of her former self, Tran So embarks on a journey to seek answers from the god of all gods.  On Mereziah’s hundredth birthday he decides to abandon his life of service to elevator occupants; before he dies, Mereziah wants to see the much fabled uppermost level of the world.

To wax in detail on these stories or the world in which they are set is to risk spoiling the novel for any would-be readers.  Sufficed to say, each of the narrative’s threads move the characters from their home level into other parts of the world.  At the same time, the environment of the world and plot are inextricably linked to each other.  Such nuanced writing has the benefit of rewarding readers with a story that unfolds quite organically.  Hayward’s narrative voice is exquisite in its ability to capture how people within their levels would perceive the details, both extraordinary and mundane, of everyday life.  Moreover, the characters emanate empathy in such a way as to render their back-story largely irrelevant.  It’s rare to find a novel that can paint such a vivid picture without resorting to clumsy infodumps or characters speaking about the obvious for the benefit of the reader.

Beyond the evident metaphors on class and economy that a reader can draw when exposed to a world where the people who live on the highest level have it the best, Filaria seems primarily concerned with exploring the things that trap us in our lives.  I might be skewing this review toward an English Lit paper, but motifs of love, (perhaps more accurately read as desire but I’ll leave that to individual readers to decide) religion, innocence and “capital P” Purpose permeate the novel.  Each of the characters embodies one of these motifs and the events of their lives orbit the same abstract ideas.  Yet in attempting to complete their respective quests, they are all freed of these things.  In my estimation, this unshackling of ontological burdens works out well for two out of the four characters.  The effect of these varied endings amounts to a grand resolution that is equally beautiful and tragic.

The only caution/criticism that I would offer toward this book is that it must be approached with the right attitude.  If an animated corpse as a playmate for a little girl or a fisherman catching a gene-hacked talking crab inspires a response along the lines of “What? That’s stupid!” Filaria is probably not the book for you.  In its opening chapter the book easily compares to a surreal nightmare along the lines of Naked Lunch (I’m thinking the movie with Peter Weller, not the book.  Although I hear the book is just as much of a head trip). However, as the stories progress an order emerges from the perceived insanity.  There’s no doubt that Filaria is a smart book; but it is also a book that expects its readers to display a little patience and intelligence.

Filaria is one of the best things that I have read this year.  Fans of genre lit would be doing themselves a grave disservice if they didn’t read this book.

Overall Score: +4.5

This review was brought to you by Chris Noon Graphic Designs.  See what Chris can do for your business at www.chrisnoon.com

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Geek News: May 5 2011

Today in geek news, Mr. Sulu has some things to say about the upcoming Akira movie, Ubisoft lays the foundation for some epic movie making, the SyFy channel does another stupid thing, Mortal Kombat’s web series doesn’t suck and the internet makes me feel strange feelings about mac and cheese.

First up, George Takei on Akira. On Monday, George Takei brought his fight against Hollywood whitewashing to Canada.  Appearing on CBC’s arts and culture program Q, George sneered at Warner Brothers for considering Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Pattinson and Justin Timberlake as candidates for the ethnically Japanese roles of Kaneda and Tetsuo.  Takei was quick to point out that Akira has a huge global following and relocating the movie from post-apocalypic “Neo-Tokyo” to New York and filling it with unaccented white actors will likely create the sort of flop that Paramount Pictures saw in The Last Airbender. With all due deference to Mr. Takei, that movie had bigger problems then its all white cast.

Takei also spoke on the larger issues of race within Hollywood casting decisions.  While proud of the strides made by Asian actors, notably his spiritual successor John Cho, Takei suggests that Hollywood is not offering ethnic Asians the leading roles that they deserve.

You can listen to full audio of the interview here.

 

Ubisoft, the video game publisher that brought you Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and the Silent Hunter series, is opening the doors on Ubisoft Motion Pictures.  Variety reports that the Paris based studio could be used to make film and television adaptations of Ubisoft’s properties.  Considering the fantastic job that Ubisoft did with Assassin’s Creed: Lineage, the 30 minute prequel movie to AC2, I think we can put this in the category of “good thing”.  Furthermore, we should all take a moment to thank Jerry Bruckheimer for ensuring that Ubisoft will retain creative control over any future game-to-movie adaptations.  If he hadn’t cocked up Prince of Persia with his white actors and pointless script then this may have never happened.

 

The SyFy channel released a trailer for their upcoming Red Faction movie, Red Faction Origins.  Inspired by THQ’s video game series of the same name, this movie will tell a story about a civil disagreement between Martian colonists, twenty-five years after they won independence from Earth.  Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the dumbest thing ever.  How the hell do you do an “origin” story twenty five years after the events that defined the Red Faction video games?  I would have liked to sit in on the production meeting where somebody said, “No thanks we don’t want to tell the story of Martian rebellion against Earth.  We’ll just assume that our target audience has played all three Red Faction games and is familiar enough with the back story that we can do something new.”  If SyFy had problems getting people to watch Caprica and Stargate Universe, I have to wonder what sort of ratings Red Faction Origins will pull in.

Red Faction Origins airs June 4th at 9PM on SyFy.  It stars Robert Patrick and a whole bunch of supporting cast from other shows including Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Universe and Torchwood.

Meanwhile, the internet continues to show us just how good television can be when networks aren’t total asshats.  Mortal Kombat: Legacy, released its fourth episode this week.  Written and directed by Kevin Tancharoen, a former choreographer for Madonna and Britney Spears, the web series examines the mythology surrounding the Mortal Kombat tournament and its most notable fighters.  The show’s rather impressive cast includes Star Trek’s Jeri Ryan, Battlestar Galactica’s Tahmoh Pinikett and Spawn himself, Michael Jai White.  In my editorial opinion, Mortal Kombat: Legacy boasts surprisingly good fight scenes and special effects as well as solid acting.  Moreover, the show feels like something that is self-contained, rather than a cheap promotion for the video game.  Good on Warner Brothers for embracing web television.

Mortal Kombat: Legacy airs directly on youtube.  Here’s the first episode for your viewing pleasure.

Finally, the web series Epic Meal Time has left me at a loss for words.  I don’t really know what to say other than I think this is the sort of stuff that Caligula would use as masturbation fodder.  I’ll let you watch the video and decide for yourself if humanity is worthy of expanding its reach beyond this planet.

That, such as it is, is your geek news for May 5, 2011.  I’ll be going to the gym to punish myself for the next two hours as that Epic Meal Time actually made me a little hungry.  Force be with you.

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