Friday, April 24, 2009

Children of Time Awards

I had an e-mail that one of my stories, "1900" about the First Doctor, Steven, and Vicki, had been nominated for the Children of Time Awards. I wish I had known about this website sooner, as nominations for Round 3 are just about to close. I quickly laid all other work aside (which I shouldn't have done!) so I could nominate my favorite pieces from A Teaspoon and an Open Mind. I also self-nominated two of my stories, "Making It Stranger" for the cross over category, and "Once Is Never Enough," for Third Doctor stories. I will let you know when voting starts, but please, if you have time, go nominate some more stories in the First Doctor category--if there aren't enough nominated the nominees carry over to the next round (and when I looked there were 3 nominees).

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the bridges of madison county

Let’s get this straight. I don’t read the authors advertised in the back of this book: Maeve Binchy, Diana Gabaldon, Rosie Thomas. I was lent The Bridges of Madison County by my friend Nasim who said the book changed her life. She said she was at a crossroads in her life and the book taught her about “being able to love someone even if you’re not with them.” So I assume, from the trajectory of the book, that she chose responsibility over passion. Books like Tess of the D’Urbervilles and, more relevant to this discussion, Sister Carrie show that traditionally women who’ve gone from the straight and narrow have had tragic ends. Francesca Johnson doesn’t end tragically but in a way that makes the book all the more poignant. I’ll admit it to you: I really liked the book and it almost made me cry. If that makes me a sentimental sap then so be it.

I think a good argument could be made that the book is an adherent to a new school of Naturalism. I studied this short-lived genre in a fair bit of detail during two courses in my undergrad degree, so when I say that I at least hope I know what I’m talking about. Because the book is so short, the situation so mundane, it would require the tone of Naturalism—where every detail is reported (with general neutrality) in order to form a picture rather than add incidents to a narrative plot. Because BoMC is a romance, it can’t be purely Naturalistic as it dives headlong into describing tender and romantic acts between the protagonists in a clearly biased way. There isn’t a surplus of adjectives, but every object or observance is recorded.

Perhaps you have to be a in a certain mood to appreciate the book as well, for the description to cross over from the Naturalistic to the sensual. Francesca Johnson is reawakening from a deep sleep of comfort and quietness when Robert Kincaid shows her detail and sensuality of a life she has missed since she left Naples during the War. Her hand lay quietly upon him. She could feel the muscle running from his neck along his shoulder, just back of his collarbone. She was looking down on the thick gray hair, neatly parted. Saw how it drifted over his collar. Perhaps I would have found the book’s unrelenting sentimentality mawkish were my own personal circumstances at the moment not receptive. It’s hard to say. I did find the descriptions surprisingly bordering on the erotic, so much so that I began to wonder if it was a safe book to bring to work!

One last component of the book is its indictment for the Age of Technology (the book is set in 1965 and Robert Kincaid considers himself “the last cowboy”). “We’re giving up free range, getting organized, feathering our emotions. Efficiency and effectiveness and all those other pieces of intellectual artifice.” It’s also a searing condemnation of the simple ways of the farm folk of Iowa (or anywhere like Madison County, really), that it can snuff out the will to live for people like Francesca or force her to choose the responsibility to her husband and children rather than to one-in-a-lifetime love. Poets were not welcome here. The people of Madison County liked to say, compseating for their own self-imposed sense of cultural inferiority, ‘This is a good place to raise kids.’ And she always felt like responding, ‘But is it a good place to raise adults?’

Even though the book’s length and internal devices should make it unfilmable, one isn’t surprised to know of its being brought to the screen due to the frame story that sucks the reader in, kicking and screaming. Like Leroux, Waller is at pains to acquaint us with the veracity of the story, that he heard it from Francesca’s children who gave him her notebooks, some photographs and copies of National Geographic, in order that he could piece together the narrative. So just a few devices in this fashion give us a feeling of timelessness. For a work of such short length, Waller’s clearly worked everything out. Do I feel it has a calculated tug on the emotions, rather than genuine feeling? Possibly. But it worked, didn’t it?

Monday, April 20, 2009

robin hood vol.7 x 2

“I have simply chosen another battleground.”

I did watch episode 2, by the way, “Cause and Effect,” but I didn’t have my notebook with me so I didn’t write any notes. I’ll try to be a bit more brief and forthright about episodes 3 and 4. “Lost in Translation” was written by Ryan Craig and hinges on a fascinating idea, bringing the ideas of the Reformation and Henry VIII’s innovations of the Tudor era, into the 12th century. Craig has done his research, so at least there is a pretension to actual events that might have swirled around in people’s heads in the 1190s.

Though the Sheriff has just pawned Gisborne off on King John’s men, he’s still in deep trouble. “My advice is this: please him.” Nevertheless, as usual, the dastardly Sheriff isn’t taking this one sitting down—he’s found the Abbot of Kirklees’ “explosive little nugget hidden away” and will spend the episode exploiting it until the Abbot has done his bidding. This bidding is to excommunicate Robin & co. for having stolen from the Church (which they didn’t do). They are “deemed unclean and must be wiped away” as per the edicts of Celestine III (which means this could be set no later than 1198 since that Pope died that year). Naturally one points a finger at Allan, but this time he’s not responsible.

I think Tuck has been a very strong addition to this season. He is perceptive and passionate. “The people fear and love the Church in equal measure.” Because the Abbot was “one of the finest scholars of his generation,” for him to turn on Robin guarantees that “there is something more precious than truth” involved. Now, with all this fairly intellectual talk, was it really necessary for Tuck to climb up to confront the Abbot through a privy hole?

Kate is the villager who was introduced last episode as a dose of much-needed estrogen. In this episode she wishes to trust Robin & co. but her mother says “they’re heretics now . . . we’ll hang. We have to protect ourselves now.” Tuck escapes only to confront the Abbot again, finding out that the precious secret is a translation of the Bible into English that has been the Abbot’s life’s work. It’s an ambitious project for both him and the series, a fascinating what-if? into history. Nevertheless, the Abbot allows Tuck to be captured, and the Sheriff has torture in mind. “You start off, I’ll harmonize,” quips Tuck. The Sheriff isn’t pleased with the hired help, though: “You are more useless than Gisborne.” Burn.

Much has taken a shine to Kate (in fact everybody’s got a thing for her except Little John) but is rebuffed. “Nothing will ever happen between us.” (What happened to the servant-girl in Bonchurch? I thought she was waiting for Much?) Robin is impressed about the Abbot’s plan to translate the Bible (well, he would be; he’s read the Koran so he said in series 1). Little John thinks it’s “blasphemy!” Allan wonders “is that allowed?”

The Sheriff has decided, in order to get popular support and root out Robin once and for all, he will give them a relic that is tangible. The Abbot finds his plan “heinous.” “I know—poetic irony, isn’t it?” Waves of Ladyhawke in all but music flit through the Sheriff’s presentation of “the hand of St Luke” to the Nottingham congregation, while the Abbot lets this lie fly and therefore condemns Robin & co. to burning at the stake.
As ever, the episode is made up completely of escapes, recaptures, plotted deaths and tortures that don’t happen. But that is the nature of the game. Kate proves her true mettle by trying to help Robin & co. escape (her best shot is handing Robin an arrowhead while she shouts a bit too dramatically, “heretics, devils, I trusted you!”, but I suppose there’s some irony in that). Finally the Abbot comes clean, declaring the Sheriff what we all know him to be—“the spawn of Satan!!”

Sins of the Father” by Holly Philips feels somewhat authentic in its production values, but storywise it feels a bit ho-hum. What I do like about Kate is that while Marian got to be model for some alternate universe’s version of what medieval women wore, Kate’s outfits are more toned down, less cumbersome, and fit the historical precedent (basically, though her makeup is certainly not medieval!). She takes center stage yet again as some marauding mongrel named Rufus goes to Locksley Village and grabs Kate because she dares to stand up to him. It’s all a bit Edith in “The Time Meddler” for Kate—“I won’t make you suffer for disrespecting me,” Rufus says with an evil, lecherous glint in his eye. “You will make me smile.” The Sheriff at least appreciates Rufus; “you make Gisborne look all warm and snuggly.” When Kate is asked to dance for Rufus’ entertainment, I felt sure he was going to whip out some red-hot slippers à la 10th Kingdom. But in fact he had plain old lechery on his mind. I liked Kate’s response, though. “Dancing is pretty basic.”

Rufus decided to tear down Kate’s mother’s entire pottery shop, kiln and all, so this is why Much concludes “I think Locksley’s on fire.” Robin, interestingly, asks, “Where’s Gisborne?” Tracing Rufus, the gang burst in just as Kate’s about to stab him in the ribs when he tries something on her. “I was doing fine on my own!” Rufus expounds his world view: “Charity is pointless. I don’t get kicked around.” They escape with Kate, nevertheless. She has to then leave her home in order that her family doesn’t suffer retaliation (like we couldn’t see that coming). “Thank you all for ruining everything.” Allan’s legendary nonchalance complements Kate’s bristly sarcasm. “I’m wounded.” “She thinks I’m legendary,” says Much. It’s interesting that John bonds best with the two young women characters we’ve had on the show. Is he a father figure? “You’re not on your own, Kate.”

The Sheriff is considering sending men to Northumberland for money. Rufus is happy to do this for him, having a hidden agenda of his own. A spectacular fight is followed by Kate and Allan getting kidnapped by Rufus (and son, whose name is Edmund) and held in the butcher shop that once belonged to Rufus’ father. “Damn, damn, damn!” Kate explodes. “You’re not exactly easy on the eyes,” says Allan, somehow channelling 1940s screwball comedy. Capturing Edmund, Tuck tries to make the medieval man think for himself instead of being his father’s pawn. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t loyalty to one’s parents be considered one of the highest of virtues? “Honor thy mother and father”—yes? “He’s always tried to bully you.” Interesting that Tuck calls Rufus “violent and manipulative” when Tuck is those things, too, just not at the same time.

“Beneath this harsh surface is just more harsh surface,” announces the Sheriff on finding ALL his henchmen gone. Rufus, meanwhile, in the butcher’s shop is clearly into S/M as he chains Allan and Kate unnecessarily from the ceiling and its about to commence the torture/execution when Robin & co. burst in with the news. “He allowed his father to die for a crime he committed.” Oopsies. Rufus has been pursuing revenge on the Sheriff when he should really be dealing with the crimes of his own conscience, ie “the sins of the father.” Much more entertaining is when the Sheriff shouts, out of habit we assume, “get after them!” and is punched in the face by Robin.

Rufus dies, Edmund goes off into the sunset we hope a better man, and Kate thinks, “Yeah, if you guys wanted me around . . .” “Kate, I want you to stay,” says Robin. So stay she does, igniting passion wherever she goes.

Gisborne back next week, hallelujah.

Friday, April 3, 2009

batman: nine lives

Batman: Nine Lives

Another superb Batman comic to restore my faith in the genre. This is an Elseworlds production which, as it says,
In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings
and put into strange times and places—some that have existed,
and others that can’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t exist.
The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar
as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow.

Nine Lives is wonderfully styled by Michael Lark. It not only brings Batman back to its roots in the ‘40s as a sort of hardboiled detective story from the point of view of the “pretty boy” private eye Grayson. It doesn’t shirk from making huge leaps from the source material. The idea that Selina Kyle is sleeping with the Robin character, Bruce Wayne, the Penguin, the Riddler character, and even the Joker simultaneously boggles and might shock pedants. Bruce Wayne is a bit seedy (though Batman’s morality isn’t questioned), Mister Freeze is the Penguin’s bodyguard, Harvey Dent is a corrupt lawyer (never allowed to be the White Knight), and because it’s Elseworlds, beloved characters can be killed off (and are). Because the story is told from the point of view of Grayson the detective, there are some moments for reflection. “That night, I began to appreciate Wayne’s misanthropy. To him everyone was an enemy of one kind or another.”

But really, my review can’t convey the style of the art and the cleverness of Dean Motter’s writing. Read it; love it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

robin hood and stuff vol. 7x1

After a madcap attempt to catch up with series 1 and 2, I am back to Robin Hood in real time. Series 3 will be Jonas Armstrong’s last, and speculation abounds as to how the show will continue without its hero. My money is still on the concept that Guy of Gisborne will somehow switch sides and take over the mantle (a spin on the Robin of Sherwood idea where Jason Connery replaced Michael Praed) but that could just be wishful thinking.

This first episode is almost paint-by-numbers. There are the patriotic speeches, torture, escape, recapture, execution, running around Sherwood Forest, etc. What it’s missing is highly significant: Djaq, Will, and Marian. Because of this, a ton of rapid-fire exposition is required almost as soon as we hit the ground running. (I vaguely wondered in the interval how Robin et al—not to mention the Sheriff and Gisborne—were going to get back from the Holy Land—such a loveably ludicrous storyline! Fan fic once again rushes forward in my brain to fill the gap, as Robin & co. have “just arrived” after having “travelled for months.”)

While no one seems to have come back from the Holy Land with a tan, Robin has gained a middle-aged haircut and Kevin Costner’s costume. He is filled with vengeful rage that neither John, Much (“you leech, you’re pathetic”) nor Allan (“once a traitor, always a traitor”) can restrain. “I don’t need you anymore! Robin Hood is dead!” The Armstrong Robin has always been cocky, righteous, self-absorbed but he was always the one cautioning shell-shocked Crusaders toward moderation. On the warpath for Gisborne’s blood without Marian’s conscience and caution to hold him back. Damn, I miss Marian already.

I wondered why Gisborne was spending his first scene taking a daytime nap, but all becomes clear later. Guy has just come from a Renaissance Faire and, in contrast to Robin’s haircut, his hair is really long. The new look is marginally more historically accurate (just as I wrote a fan fic about how he gained his pleather coat, I shall have to write one about where it went). Despite the fact he later seems very happy to die, Guy picks a novel approach to halting Robin’s sure intent to kill by hoisting a little girl over his shoulder and threatening to drop her off a cliff (!). The dramatic crux of this story has always been the love triangle—both men wanted the same thing, and neither get the girl. So they are essentially still at loggerheads. “You forced me to kill her—she should have been mine!” “She was my wife!” The little girl is saved but Guy throws Robin off the cliff (and the subtext careens out of control as the male/male touchy feely aspect of this show defies belief).

“I reckon he’s gone for good,” says Allan matter-of-factly. Guy seems to believe utterly in his triumph, and as usual it’s Much who suffers the most. “We’ve got to think about the living now.” So Allan and John are off to rescue Much. Even the Sheriff appears a bit subdued in this episode, going through the motions (he’s lost his best sparring partners, Edward and Marian). Prince John (o.s.) is going to be “passing on the hurt” after the Sheriff’s ignominious bungling of Richard’s assassination. If the Sheriff doesn’t shape up, “he’ll be obliged to let you go” (one of several present-day references that elicit a chuckle).

Fortunately the showrunners have thought a good deal about who and what should fill the gaps left over from last season and come up with Friar Tuck (at last). He’s molded like a Brother Cadfael, a wily old fox with fighting ability and Crusader experience, a deep belief in justice for the poor of England, and passion to do whatever it takes. He sees Robin not only as a figurehead but a bringer of real social change and an illustration of the Gospel. The show’s depiction of Christianity has been dubious at best, so a good character with genuine belief (right at home with the Shepherd Book) is a genius touch.

Tuck also seems to have a strange power over the tormented Gisborne that I don’t quite get. “Lost something, my friend?” he asks, turning up out of nowhere. “WHAT?!” screams Gisborne. Marian’s death has certainly not left him any more humane, telling his soldiers to “rip [the gold] from their filthy mouths.” What kind of fabulous dentistry do the peasants of Locksley have?! It’s Richard Armitage shouty-acting at its best. Tuck uses this as example to Robin of why he is still needed, why he should put his petty need for vengeance to one side and continued to fight injustice. “Their backs [are] broken, their hope shattered.” “I’ve got nothing else to give.” It is Tuck’s prerogative to prevent Robin from killing.

Poor Much suffers torture and execution; John has a “talent for stating the obvious,” while Allan’s “blaggin’” skills are primarily useless. Guy is still trying to get some beauty sleep. He’s an insomniac extraordinaire, lashed into fever “demons.” “How can I find peace?” Why he trusts Tuck I don’t know—his last experience with the faux Abbess should have taught him a little more caution. Knowing Robin will risk his life to rescue his friends, Tuck isn’t above some top-level manipulation to achieving his ends (with the help of some advanced astronomy courtesy of Ladyhawke). “God’s gift from the stars.”

I’m glad to see that the people’s adulation of Robin extends to giant fire hazards in the middle of Sherwood Forest and voodoo dolls. :-P At least Robin has the humility to say, “I don’t deserve it.” I don’t know any medieval folklore traditions that would have it that good God-fearing folk became stars when they die, as Robin alleges his father said; perhaps his father was watching Last of the Mohicans when he gave this adage to his son.

As Much, John, and Allan are about to be killed by firing squad (catapult-sized arrows) Tuck intervenes with a firecracker and some hocus pocus. If the Doctor won’t save you, Robin surely will. The Sheriff shrieks “You incompetent fool!” at Guy who has obviously not killed Robin by throwing him over a cliff. Robin seems prepared to do vengeance, with a knife against Guy’s throat. “Do it, end it!” “You want this?” “I live in hell.” “Then stay there!” He escapes with a slash on his cheek and the certainty to appear on our screens next week. (I confess I spend most of Robin Hood waiting for scenes in which Guy shows up.)

“You pathetic, misery-ridden mess,” the Sheriff taunts Guy. “I’ve discovered that I don’t like you,” he replies. The Sheriff is pleased that he’s developed some “spine,” and as usual they go on to plot and plunder. Robin is back to his cheerful self and Tuck is in the gang that now numbers 5 again. Next week we’re gaining another female gang member. Give me more Sir Guy, I say!