Saturday, August 22, 2009

This ain't your daddy's western

I haven't ever read a western novel before but I can see one a mile away if you hand me the text. What makes No Country For Old Men so excellent is that it's not your typical western. Hell, it's not even categorized as one. There are no cowboys, no horse back riding through history. No 'how the west was won' theme. There are no stereotypes, no iconic characters and what not. If you were to read it, though - oh, you'd know what you had in your hands.

It's hidden around poetic paragraphs, sullen words. But it's there. You have yourself a western novel. You have the good guy and you have the bad guy, the desperado and the woman in distress. You have the horses and you have your shoot outs. Your rangers and your sheriffs and your outlaws.

But you won't find the novel in the western section at your local bookstore. Clearly, Llewelyn Moss, Anton Chigurh and Sheriff Bell don't have a place in the conventional western shelf. Their harrowing tale of a society changing before their very eyes deserves a place with the literary works of the greats. Because that's where author Cormac McCarthy belongs, amongst the greats.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Palahniuk left me choking on description, but gagging on lack of originality

"What a twist--" it's the constant joke on Robot Chicken, referring to writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. The ol' Hollywood Twist, the O. Henry tale. Writer's have been doing it for ages, haven't they? And we enjoy reading a novel, a short story - or watching a movie - that features such a twist; it keeps us on our toes.

The search for the elusive good book lead me to Chuck Palahniuk who has gain a fan base undoubtedly because of his novel (an its adaptation) Fight Club. Tumblr users are always ranting and raving, praising him for his originality and his ability to play the twist - oh, so you think you know the truth, well here it is buddy - GOTCHA! You didn't see it comin' did you, asshole? - but Tumblr has been wrong before.

Maybe my problem is I read the wrong book. Rather than reading the Holy Bible of Palahniuk, I instead picked up a used copy of Choke. The book revolves around the story of Victor Mancini, a sex addict, a scam artist who chokes in upscale restaurants, allowing himself to be saved by other patrons who will then feel responsible for him and inevitably sending him checks and birthday cards. His mother is slowly dying in a mental ward at St. Anthony's, while his best friend fills his house up with useless rocks in order to keep from masturbating. All in all, Victor Mancini's a pretty unlovable guy, a real asshole - someone you go up to in the streets and punch. When Dr. Paige Marshall enters his life, however, things take a turn and Victor Mancini is thrown into a world that's unfamiliar as the truth about his origins start to leak out from his mother's diary.

Unlike the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story of Fight Club, Choke is a tour de force of a shitty character. Though I suppose that's Palahniuk's thing. While I've never read the book, I have seen the movie Fight Club and was let down by all the hype that surrounded the film. A predictable ending, unlovable, pathetic characters - the only thing that made it worth while is Ed Norton's acting.

But Choke is of a different thread. There's really no lessons learned and the obvious is stated the moment I leafed through chapter three. I've never seen the movie, but surely if I watch it now, I have a feeling that I'll be just as disappointed with it as I was with Fight Club.

However, the ride wasn't all that bad. While the plot and the "mind twisting" ending was all too predictable (I won't give out spoilers because I hate doing so) Palahniuk does have the key of description and he does so beautifully. Whether it's Nico bringing "her big white ass almost to the top of my dog and bans herself down. Up and then down. Riding her guts tight around the length of me," or how "[t]hey wanted Emily Dickinson naked in high heels with one foot on the floor and the other up on her desk, bent over and running a quill pen up the crack of her butt," the description was done with an in-your-face, punk-rock style.

Nothing too gritty for Palahniuk, it seems. So I'm torn: Is this a good book or a bad one? It's neither, really. It's just a book worth the read.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Sentinel

"The next time you see the full moon high in the south, look carefully at its right-hand edge and let your eye travel upward along the curve of the disk. Round about two o'clock you will notice a small, dark oval: anyone with normal eyesight can find it quite easily," begins the short story "The Sentinel," which inspired Arthur C. Clarke to write the masterpiece - later adapted to the motion picture classic of the same name - 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What started as a typical lunar mission led one man to climb a plateau only to discover a relic left behind during Earth's infancy.

Written in a fashion that can only be produce by a master like Arthur C. Clarke, it's no wonder why this story launched an incredible series of overwhelming imagination that will surpass even the time line of the novels. Originally published in 10 Story Fantasy, the short story was left "in limbo for more than a decade, until Stanley Kubrick contacted me in the spring of 1964 and asked if I had any ideas for the "proverbial" (i.e. , still nonexistent) "good science movie.""

The short story can be found in the pages of The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. Or read it for free here.

3001: A Space Plot Hole

After spending 1000 years asleep - though presumed dead by his former shipmate and those in charge of his odyssey - Frank Poole wakes up in a strange new world - errm, time. How much has the human race changed in the last 1000 years? Quite a bit, but they're still awestruck by the large monolith that inhabits the Jupiter/Lucifer moon, Europa. Not to mention the two - wait, there was two monoliths on earth?! - that they have on Earth. So begins the final odyssey in the pages of 3001.

Poole is more than ready to return back to the planet where he met his doom, in hopes that the entity that Dave Bowman has become will greet him. It is after their 1000 year reunion that Bowman reveals to Frank the truth behind the monoliths uncovered on the moon and in Africa, something that threatens the human race.

Where does this take us? Well, down another path of space exploration that only Arthur C. Clarke can take us. However, the finale falls short of its predecessors - with the kind exclusion of 2061. While it's not a complete disaster, it does leave plot holes open that leaves readers scratching their hands in wonder. The one that strikes me the most is the complete clash with the ending of 2010, which flashes forward to the year 20,001. If the events were to take place in linear time, then Clarke screwed it up himself.

However, like he explain to us in 2010 and 2061, he repeats himself in the Valediction essay at the end of 3001: "Just as 2010: Odyssey Two was not a direct sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so this book is not a linear sequel to 2010. They must all be considered as variations on the same theme, involving many of the same characters and situations, but not necessarily happening in the same universe." Just like the last two sequels, the final odyssey is far from linear to 2061 in the sense that we learned that Heywood Floyd was also taken apart (much in the same sense that Bowman and Hal - now called Halman in the pages of 3001 - were taken apart, leaving behind just their consciousness. However, Floyd only graces the pages on this final chapter through video recordings and topics of conversation. Otherwise, he is completely left out of the mix.

It's hard to judge the book as a sequel as the author takes the case that it's not linear and shouldn't be read as such. Clarke still possess the power of creating a future - a world - where it all seems possible to us 1000 years in the past, something he never failed to provide to us in the series, even though 2061 seemed to flop miserably. It's a power, I hope, that graces his other novels (which I plan to read in the future). A power very little writers of the genre possess.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2061: A Space Blunder

I'm slightly crestfallen with this sequel to 2001 and 2010. It starts off with Heywood Floyd, a man who is 103 years old, passing an physical exam in order to ride aboard the spaceship Universe which will rendezvous with Halley's Comet. Meanwhile, his grandson Chris (named after his father who was just a child in 2010), is aboard the sister ship, Galaxy. When the second ship is hijacked, the crew and passengers of Universe rush out to the Lucifer system to rescue Galaxy which has landed on the forbidden planet of Europa.

Much things have changed in the last 50 years since the new sun was created, one that leaves you wondering if evolution can take place that quickly.

Unlike with the previous parts, Arthur C. Clarke seemed to have lost his edge. Before I was glued to my seat, turning page after page of the novel. It was only through the sheer fact that I promised myself that I'd read all parts to the Space Odyssey series that I continued onward (I have 3001 sitting on my desk as we speak, looking straight up at me as if mocking me profusely).

The entity that was once Dave Bowman and the consciousness that was once Hal, the computer from the ship Discovery, only present themselves at the end of the novel, which was a good decision. How much more of that pair can we possibly take? However, Heywood Floyd is also split in two, which is as much as a spoiler as you'll get from me.

I understand greatly that the character could not be used again in a later sequel, what he was doing here was puzzling enough but that plot hole was quickly sealed with the fact that he spent the last years of his life in space and suspended animation.

There were even parts of the book that felt like bad humor, such as the whole Beatles reference. Okay, I understand that the Beatles may not be so popular in the last half of this century - and that's a possibility I hope not to live to see.

The writing also seems like something poured over the weekend with a large amount of coffee - though I'd imagine that would be greatly disorganized and this at least followed some structure. Nevertheless, my faith in Arthur C. Clarke will not die with a bad sequel. The fact that he has proven to write two pieces that I instantly fell in love with is proof enough for me that the man has some talent. Let's just hope for my sake that his final chapter of the Space Odyssey series goes over well.

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