John Wick – A Movie Review

Keanu Reeves is a bizarre phenomenon. He’s been making movies since the mid-eighties and is 54 years old.  Yet I think of him as basically Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  It’s the same halting voice and basic appearance.  In the interim he has starred in a number of money making movies, most notably The Matrix.  And he has become an action movie hero.  The John Wick movies are the latest extension of this venture.

I watched John Wick probably a year after it was in the theaters.  The premise was of course ridiculous.  John is your basic retired uber-hitman.  He gave up his hum-drum nine to five life of garroting and mangling the enemies of his New York Russian Mafia Crime Lord to live a peaceful idyllic life in his spectacular suburban estate with his beautiful but short-lived wife.  She dies of cancer shortly before the movie’s start but is thoughtful enough to have a puppy delivered to John near the opening scene.  So, you get it, dead wife reaches beyond the grave and bestows gift of love to retired hitman?  Memory of dead wife and gift she left him is most important thing in his life.  Check.  Also, loves vintage sports cars and ’69 Mustang is second most important thing in his life.  Check.  The set up.  Check.

Somehow, completely coincidentally and without knowing who he’s dealing with, the son of John Wick’s crime lord ex-boss accidentally victimizes the now retired hitman and starts a vendetta by stealing his car and killing his dog.  Well I guess it could have been more blatant.  He might have gone for the trifecta and castrated Wick while he was at it.

After this the film embarks on an odyssey of shooting, stabbing and punching pleasure.  You’d think after the first couple of dozen gangsters are dispatched that it would start to get boring and repetitive.  But the hyper-kinetic fight scenes are strangely fascinating.  It was as if you were watching one of those loops they include with a first-person shooter game that show how someone who has memorized the game can dispatch all the enemies one by one in incredible speed and precision.  It’s the extension of the concept seen at the end of the Matrix where Neo has gotten the hang of his abilities and is fighting Agent Smith with one hand held behind his back, parrying every punch without even looking because his reflexes are an order of magnitude faster than his opponent’s.

Anyway, this goes on for the balance of the movie.  The Russian Crime Lord is kind of entertaining and we are introduced to the Continental Hotel and Club that caters to hitmen and forbids them to kill each other on its grounds under penalty of membership termination (which coincidentally includes death).  It’s lots of fun and there are gold coins and lots of automatic weapons and views of iconic Manhattan locations.

By the end of the movie, at least John’s absorbed a lot of damage from fighting the dozens of hit men who stand between him and the Crime Lord that needs killing.  So, you know it wasn’t easy.  And he finds a new dog.  So, balance is restored to the universe and John Wick can go back into a peaceful retirement since everyone is dead.

So, what’s my opinion?  Was it good.  Well, obviously, it has to be compared by the standards of the genre it belongs in.  It’s an action adventure.  It’s almost a comic book movie.  From that perspective, it’s highly successful.  It’s as full of action as it’s possible to imagine.  The fight choreography is meticulous and the cinematography is highly effective.  And he’s only killing bad guys.  He’s the strong silent man bringing down vengeance on his enemies.  He’s the modern-day Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood but without the occasional complete sentence.

I liked it.  Admittedly it’s a guilty pleasure.  Basically, it’s an atavistic response to injustice.  Take justice into your own hands and clean house.  Scratch the veneer and we’re still just cavemen.  Sure, we’ve got indoor plumbing and 401K plans but the mindless primitive lurks right below the surface.  Once you recognize that, you can jump right in and enjoy John Wick for what it is.  High Octane Revenge.

John Wick 2 – A Movie Review

Watching All Three Extended Versions of the Lord of the Rings Movies in One Weekend – Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this review, it really isn’t advisable to watch all three extended versions back to back.  However, that is probably the best way to judge the entire series as a unified work.  And that is why I wrote this post.  I wanted to judge the entire work.

I’ll start with the things that I think Peter Jackson got wrong.  I’ll follow with what he did very well.

The Elves.

As I stated earlier, Galadriel and Celeborn are awful.  Some kind of other-worldly or ethereal quality is being portrayed that just comes off as weird.  I do not believe it matches the intent of the books at all.  In the book, when Galadriel talks to Frodo about taking the Ring she does give him the image of herself amplified to some terrible queen.  But at the end she shrinks back down and assumes a normal form and speech pattern.

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”

In the book, in her dealings with Frodo, Galadriel displays a totally normal human personality.  In the movie, many of the elves, but Galadriel especially, are these weird non-human things.  This is a failing.  Galadriel is a major character.  Her kinship to Arwen and friendship with Aragorn are important points.  If elves are not human in their emotional make-up then the love of Aragorn and Arwen makes very little sense.

Luckily, Legolas is given a human personality.  His differences are portrayed as largely super-human physical abilities.  His banter with Gimli and his good-natured behavior toward most of the characters strikes the viewer as completely natural and not as some inhuman personality.  At most he displays a sort of noblesse oblige.  Which considering his greater age is completely reasonable.

The Siege of Minas Tirith

Several problems crop up here.  One I’ve mentioned, is the characterization of Denethor.  He is portrayed as a base individual.  In the scene where Faramir was forced by his father to attack the orc army on the Pelennor Fields we are forced to watch Denethor eat a meal of grape tomatoes and chicken.  His inability to keep the food from dribbling onto his chin and the noises he makes eating are obviously meant to give us the impression that he is a slob.  His cowardice during the initial attack and Gandalf’s cavalier assault on the Steward’s person is completely at odds with the book.  Denethor is a noble and honorable individual.  The misfortune to his sons and the disheartening images he has seen in the Palantir have driven him to despair.  But he is not the evil character that the movie portrays.

The other major problem of the Siege is the meeting of Gandalf and the Witch King.  In the book, they meet at the point where the Gate has been breached with Grond.  At this point they are face to face and the Witch King taunts saying that the moment belongs to him.  At this point the Horns of the Rohirrim are heard and the duel is interrupted.  In the movie, the meeting is not at the gate but during the ongoing retreat upward in the city.  And in fact, the Witch King shatters Gandalf’s staff, much the way Gandalf did to Saruman’s staff.  This seems to be too much.  I could see Gandalf overwhelmed by thousands of orcs and Trolls with the Winged Nazgul providing aerial reinforcement.  But if Gandalf the Grey could destroy a Balrog, how could a Ringwraith, even one who was perhaps super-charged with Sauron’s spirit during the attack so easily take him down now that he was Gandalf the White?  Seems wrong.

And finally, the scene between Eowyn and the Witch King.  The scene is still very, very good.  But it should have more exactly followed the book’s lead.  It should have been from Merry’s point of view.  And Eowyn, should have revealed herself as a woman before the fight and in exactly the words printed.  The dramatic force of the scene was perfect in the book.  But the scene is still very good.

Frodo and Sam

This is the most difficult fault to describe.  Sam for the most part seems fairly close to the intent of the book.  He’s a simple village boy caught up in the chaos.  Frodo is some kind of invalid from start to finish.  It’s not at all apparent why he is a reasonable ring bearer.  It seems altogether more reasonable to have given the Ring to Sam.  Granted Frodo’s personality is not completely at odds with the portrayal in the book.  Frodo is always a problematic personality.  But I believe this tendency has been brought much too far.  There’s not much more that can be said other than I think it harms that aspect of the story severely.

Alright, I’ve laid the bad stuff on you first.  So now I’ll tell you what I did like.

Aragorn

The portrayal of Aragorn is just about perfect.  He is a kingly man who also has the common touch.  He interacts with the other characters and always improves the scene.  He displays humor, mercy, gallantry, wisdom and each when it is needed.  All of this and yet he always appears human and in the moment.  He isn’t a superman.  He’s a hero.

Boromir and Faramir

I believe in the scene where Faramir is remembering the day when Boromir recaptured Osgiliath, I think the movie outdoes the book.  Boromir and Faramir are shown as brothers in the best sense of the word.  Their good qualities as men and soldiers are on display.  We get a scene that defines both characters and their relationship.  Unfortunately, this was outside the scope of the book.  Kudos to Jackson for inventing it.  And here it can be seen how the danger of the ring is thrust on Boromir who, as a man of action is least able to resist it.  The type of man who would see it as a solution to the enemy at Gondor’s gate.  It is an explanation for why he was both a good man and tempted by the Ring.

And the other great scene for Boromir is of course, his defense of the hobbits against the Uruk-hai.  You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel admiration and sorrow watching Boromir battle on as each arrow pierces his body.  It is perhaps, the best acting scene anyone gets in the movie.  Then his dying speech with Aragorn is equally poignant.  He shows his love of his people and nobility toward his rival Aragorn.  It’s a fantastic sequence.

The Ride of the Rohirrim

This in my mind is the high point of the movie.  When Theoden’s army overlooks the apparent destruction of Minas Tirith and he leads the stirring charge against the enemy’s main force it is electric.  And after they break the siege and see the Haradrim and the elephants approaching it is stirring and finally when the Witch King smashes Theoden and Snowmane to the ground we get Eowyn’s moment.  I have stated that the book’s portrayal is better.  It is.  But the movie version is still great.  And although Theoden’s farewell to Eowyn isn’t in the book it is still very affecting and natural.

The Black Gate

This scene differs in several particulars from the book.  The killing of the Mouth of Sauron is notable but not critical.  In general, I would say it was very well done.  And in one particular it exceeded the book.  Aragorn’s rallying speech to his troops before the battle is stirring.  And does not occur in the book.  The other effect that the movie added over the book was the sight of Barad-dur in the background and the line of sight to it allowing Sauron to call to Aragorn right before he started the battle charge.

 

Conclusion

So there is the bad and the good.  Over all, any real fan of the Lord of the Rings has to recognize Jackson’s movies as a great achievement that brings most of Tolkien’s wonderful story to life.  Maybe someday the story will be done again and improved on.  But what we have is a great work and something to be enjoyed.

Watching All Three Extended Versions of the Lord of the Rings Movies in One Weekend – Part 1

 

As I mentioned last week, my two older grandsons (grammar school and middle school vintage) stayed over last Saturday to watch the trilogy in one sitting. We were gonna sit back and relax and be catered to by their grandmother (Camera Girl) while the War of the Ring unfolded on the big flat screen.

First observation, that’s a hell of a lot of movie watching time. Even breaking it up for snacks, bathroom breaks and meals, that’s a long time.  Even young people started to show the strain of sitting there and watching this epic.  It’s a solid eleven hours of Tolkienian viewing.  At one point I started to lose consciousness and was forced to splash cold water on my face (a la Sam Gamgee in Ithilien) and down a mug of strong coffee.  I think the roughest stretch was the Ents.  Their slow monotonous voices lulled me into a stupor.  But with caffeine and sugar we were able to persevere and win our way through.

Alright, how did the movies do on representing the main characters? Aragorn is excellent.  Boromir and Faramir are very, very good.  Theoden starts out a little weak but finishes off very strong.  The Charge of the Rohirrim is one of, if not the high point of the movie.  Eowyn and Eomer are very good.  I especially liked Eowyn’s Dirge for her cousin Theodred.  I read afterward that it was sung in Old English.  I found it a very stirring lament without even understanding a word of it.  Eowyn’s attraction to Aragorn was handled extremely well.  It was neither exaggerated nor played down.  It worked.  Gandalf was mostly very well done.  Only a few scenes weren’t spot on and those were still fine.  Legolas and Gimli were played for laughs quite a bit.  Maybe sometimes that was overdone.  But the characters were enjoyable and added a good deal to the action.  The overuse of Arwen (e.g., substituting her for Glorfindel in the Ride to the River) was sometimes annoying but the love story between her and Aragorn was on the whole a positive element of the plot.  Elrond was pretty good.  Galadriel and Celeborn were awful.  Treebeard was pretty good.  Denethor was a travesty.  They turned him into a crass vindictive petty man.  He was not that in the story.  Sam was good.  So were Merry and Pippin.  Saruman was pretty good.  But the substitution of his death at Orthanc to the Scouring of the Shire was disappointing.

And then there’s Frodo. Frodo was way too lame.  My recollection from reading the books is that his behavior was weak and subdued, especially after the Ring began to get a grip on him.  But in the movie he’s in a constant state of stupefied depression.  With the exception of the scene in Moria where he gets skewered fighting the Troll he is practically a basket case most of the time.  Also the scene of Frodo waking up in Minas Tirith after being rescued by the Eagles is embarrassing to watch.  The rest of the Hobbits and the Fellowship are reasonably emotional at the meeting but the expressions that Sam and Frodo exhibit when Sam enters the room are down-right creepy.  Granted the hobbits are somewhat childlike in their demeanor and behavior, but this bordered on feminine.  Not good.

In the next part of this review I’ll go into what I thought worked well in the movies and what didn’t.

Anime and Me – Part 1 -Ghost in the Shell 2.0

I had heard that Firefly might have been based on an anime series called Cowboy Bebop.  So being a fan I rented it.  And as I noted elsewhere, I tend to agree that Whedon borrowed many thematic and visual elements from Cowboy Bebop.  This being the case I was intrigued by the idea that I might be missing a whole undiscovered land of creative stuff.  I decided to try something else that was recommended by people who had liked Cowboy Bebop.  I rented Ghost in the Shell 2.0.

I’ll put down my impressions and explain my preferences.  First off, the beginning of the story is an introduction to the protagonist.  She is a woman who for obvious reasons is mostly topless.  This while she is jumping off buildings and murdering bad guys with her bare hands.  She’s a cyborg who works for a government agency (I think).  After this intro, there is an about 10-minute sequence of very intricate graphics of the heroine being assembled from molecular components all the way up to her synthetic skin being applied.  So basically 10 minutes of naked girl.

After that we go through the plot and meet her co-workers who are also mostly cyborgs and follow them as they track down bad people and fight them with guns and cyborg fists.  There are all kinds of factions inside and outside the government agencies that are involved in the story line and I’m not really sure who I was supposed to be rooting for.  By the end of the movie all the main characters have been smashed and or dismembered pretty thoroughly but since they can be sent back to the factory for demand and periodic maintenance I guess it’s all in a day’s work for your friendly neighborhood cyborg spy.

I guess I haven’t been subtle enough to leave you guessing which way my thumb is pointing.  This was not a winner.  Pretty girl with no clothes on is not a bad thing.  But to what purpose?  The graphics are well done and the action is occasionally interesting.  But I didn’t care about the characters or the plot at all.  I think it was the flatness of the characters and the lack of humor.  This is in contrast to Cowboy Bebop which includes lots of humor.  Granted some of it is silly and not all of it seems relevant to the story line sometimes, but a certain style builds up which on the whole works pretty well.  And the characters have some personality.  You find yourself sorting out your favorites and enjoying the silly interactions that the crew go through together.  Sometimes it’s closer to Gilligan’s Island than The Odyssey but it has charm.

I will read some more reviews and see if any other anime movies sound like fun.  But so far it looks like Cowboy Bebop has no cousins I want to meet.  If anyone has any suggestions please leave them in the comments and I’ll give it a shot.  But for now the jury is still out.

21SEP2017 Update

So today is the last full day of summer.  Gahhh!  The horror begins soon so it’s time to have fun while we can.  Saturday I’ll have my two older grandsons over for a Lord of the Rings marathon.  I think the extended version comes to about eleven hours.  Breaking it up with grilled cheese sandwiches for them and corned beef and swiss for me, it will be a full day.  Dinner will be another fan favorite spaghetti and meat balls.  Camera Girl will do the cooking but abstain from the cinema.  She’s a Tolkien agnostic, heaven help her.

As anyone who faithfully reads my reviews knows I consider Justified the most consistently well written and actualized tv drama I’ve ever seen.  I have a theory that it’s because the source material is much better than that of the typical (or even superior) tv-show.  So, I’m putting it to the test.

Right now, I’m reading Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens novels and short stories.  I read the short story “Fire in the Hole” that was the basis for the first episode of Justified.  The other stories in the collection (of the same name) were all very good too.  Leonard has an enormous reputation as one of the most popular crime writers.  And he has had over twenty of his books made into movies (not counting the tv series Justified).  Based on all that I figure I’ll find out what all the hype is about.  So, I want to see how I like his stuff.  So far, I’m impressed.

The political scene continues to boil like the spaghetti pot I’ll be involved with on Saturday.  Trump continues to engage all important events in his typical iconic and bombastic style.  Of course, you’d have to be made of stone not to be nervous about all the various balls in the air.  But I’ve learned to give Trump some time to get things done in his own way.  After all he is herding particularly annoying cats (and rats).  The right-wing folks are going through some growing pains on the various sites.  Hopefully it’ll sort itself out sooner than later.  I take a sort of neutral position on these things and wait to see how things are settled.

On the photography front I’ve added the ability to embed photos in the comments so go ahead if something in a post inspires a photo of your own.  The plug-in that makes this possible has the following instructions:

This plugin embeds image links in comments with the img tag so the images are visible in your comment timeline.

Image formats supported:

  1. .jpg
  2. .gif
  3. .png

 

I’m not an expert on this computer stuff so I’ll do my best to get things to work but have patience if there are problems.

On the review front, I’m going to write something on my recent toe-dip into anime.  In addition to my recent viewing of Cowboy Bebop I watched Ghost in the Shell 2.0.  I’ll share my thoughts.

Other film ideas, I rented the second John Wick film and I’ll put together my thoughts on both films after watching it, maybe this weekend.

I haven’t decided what sf&f book to read next.  Suggestions are always welcome.

Orion’s Cold Fire – The Origin Story

Now, you’re gonna have to bear with me for a bit.  This will be a rambling seemingly incoherent rant.  But I’ll try by the end to bring it back to the point.

 

Over the course of the last few years I have become aware of the range of “philosophies” and personalities that exists on the right wing.  I do not have an exhaustive knowledge of all the players, nor do I want or need to.  I think it would be fair to say these personalities run the gamut from extremely sober to raving lunatic.  And over the course of the last few years this has given me reason to pause and consider how or if I fit in with this spectrum of individuals.  Surprisingly, I have learned that not all the serious individuals are right and not all of the nuts are wrong.  Now, that doesn’t make it easy to commune with the lunatics.  In fact, most of the time you probably shouldn’t.  Lunatics tend to the mercurial and don’t always play well with others.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear what they are saying.  And by the same token, the sober guys may be charming and polite individuals but listening to them may be counter-productive.  Especially if they are extremely clever.  Sophistry can be highly entertaining and unfortunately also highly deceptive.  To my mind that is kind of how we got where we are now.  Cheerleaders for supposedly conservative ideas convinced a lot of people that the Bushes and John McCain and Mitt Romney knew what the word conservative means.  That was sophistry.

 

So, the people you agree with logically aren’t the same as the people you enjoy listening to.  What that means is that you tend to have to compartmentalize your relationships.  Some people you can discuss your political beliefs with easily and other people you can’t.  Some people are fun to discuss zombie movies with and others only want to discuss the actual apocalypse.  It’s not the most comfortable arrangement imaginable.  It’s sometimes annoying.  And it’s the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future.  Trying to avoid this reality will lead to trouble.  For example, suppose you have a good friend who likes the same sports you do.  The two of you can go to a ball game anytime and sit up in the stands and talk all day about Joe Dokes’ batting average or who the best relief pitcher is.  It’s great.  But if you try discussing politics with him you’ll end up in a shouting match and probably won’t want to get together for months.  Very not great.  And alternatively, you might know someone either in real life or on the web who you agree with politically almost completely.  The two of you can discuss politics and even cooperate on political action and other projects.  A mutually beneficial relationship.  But otherwise you have nothing in common.  You like country music he’s a gangsta rap enthusiast.  You like science fiction he reads books on playing golf.  Absolutely no common ground.  What about these two scenarios?

What about them?  There’s nothing wrong with either one.  They reflect the reality of the world around us.  You accept that division.

 

Now, of course, the best case scenario is when both spheres align.  Now you can talk about baseball and the revolution at the same time.  Better still, you can start a fantasy baseball league for right wingers!  And for something like baseball or hockey or NASCAR you might do quite well lining up people who fit both sides of the equation.  No problem!

 

But what if your interest is photography or science fiction?  Now it’s not so easy.  If you happen to be a photographer and also happen to not be a left winger you’re probably aware that the majority of photographers both professional and amateur skew pretty hard left.  As with a lot of the “creative” professions these people seem to be steeped in a bohemian, urban culture that is extremely hostile to right-wing values and individuals.  When I first got interested in photography I experienced this hostility over and over at a number of photography websites.  It was both on a subliminal level and also on a purposeful, even confrontational basis.  Whenever anything in the news offended the denizens of these sites it inevitably was dragged through the forum pages in the most strident and challenging terms.  Basically, it was a public challenge to deny the libel being foisted.  And interestingly if you succeeded in presenting a logical argument that was too convincing, the powers that be on the site were very likely to step in and either erase your posts (or force you to erase them) or ban you from the site altogether.  To say this was a sorry state of affairs would be an understatement.  The only way to coexist (what a loaded word) in such an environment would be to keep your mouth shut and ignore these virtue-signaling spasms.  You can only imagine how much fun that would be.  But there was no other way.  Eventually I found one website that had a policy that I found commendable.  They specifically forbade divisive discussions that involved non-photographic topics.  So, no political, racial, religious or ethnic discussions were allowed to drift into an argument.  It could be a little restrictive but it totally avoided the type of nonsense I was discussing above.  Interestingly, I could still tell which individuals would be the worst offenders if it was allowed.  They were always the ones being censured by the moderators.  And it never was anyone on the right being stopped.  Always rabid leftists.  You could tell they thought it was highly unfair that they were not allowed to lecture us all on the topic of the day.  I have to confess I took a good deal of delight in posting complaints against the worst offenders whenever I could.  But it was still only a grudging allowance of what was obviously a despised minority opinion.  I believe the site owner was a right-wing guy who found that, to avoid alienating the lefties, the best he could do was try to avoid all flash points.  He knew that the demographics were against him and he settled for this uneasy truce.  I still have great respect for the way he maintained that arrangement.  It was the best environment that existed for right-wing photographers that I ever found.

Another of my interests is (or was and now is again) science fiction and fantasy stories.  Growing up in the nineteen sixties and seventies I can remember finding all the classic books by the Golden Age authors and just eating that stuff up.  And there was all kinds of range to the quality of the stories.  Some were great and some were pretty bad.  And even as a kid I knew that.  And yet, I could still enjoy even the bad ones because at least they were of a kind.  They involved science and adventure and space flight and alien creatures and time travel and inter-dimensional mumbo-jumbo and especially cover art involving scantily clad green-skinned women.  Who could ask for anything more?  But as time passed and it moved into the late seventies something started to change.  Fantasy books weren’t about orcs and dwarves.  They were about nature spirits fighting back against modern western civilization to protect Mother Gaia.  And science fiction wasn’t about humans exploring the galaxy but sexually confused individuals exploring their various orifices.  And along with all these “improvements” was the overarching message that the most important problem that science fiction and fantasy needed to solve was how can we make books that no straight white men would want to read?

And I’ll be the first to admit they succeeded with a vengeance.  For a few years I still picked up new books and gave them a try.  But without a doubt something bad had happened.  It was like all the nit-wits who had made the sixties into a stinking hippie nightmare went off and got MFA’s and started writing sf&f.  And worse still they had taken over the publishing houses and the awards ceremonies and only allowed their own kind of stories to make it to the bookstore shelves.  Well, eventually I stopped trying and gave up on the genres.  I figured it was me.  I was no longer a child and I had to put away childish things.  But a few years ago, I read about the Sad Puppies.  I think the link was at PJ Media.  After reading about the Hugo Awards and the way nominations were only handed out to those who fit the club and wrote only right-think it all clicked.  I read all I could about the Puppies and started picking up some of their books.  And they were good!  Of course, not everything was great.  Some was just okay.  But all of it was recognizable as sf&f.  And there was a community of people who believed in writing stories and not social justice agit-prop.  And they had websites where like-minded individuals could talk and discuss writing and stuff they liked without having to get approval from the better sort.  And I heard them talk about what it used to be like before the Puppy movement, how everyone had to kowtow to the better sort and if you wanted to get ahead you had to like the right sort of stories and hold the right kind of ideas.  And how even if you went through this kabuki act you still had to wait your turn and if you had the wrong plumbing and skin tone chances were you wouldn’t ever get a shot at the brass ring.

But what really sounded familiar was how everyone had to hate the same things.  There was an orthodoxy and if you didn’t hate George Bush and the military and straight white men, then you were cast out.  And that I recognized.  It was the same group-think I had seen on the photography sites.  These were the same people.  The Artists.

And it got me thinking.  If the Puppies could do it for sf&f why couldn’t I make a photography site where right-wing opinion wasn’t something you had to hide.  Now I wasn’t looking for some kind of gated community where only right-wing right think was allowed.  But a place where I wouldn’t have to hear a two minute hate every time Donald Trump’s name was in the news.

So that’s kind of my whole reason for making this site in a nutshell ( a very long 1900 word nutshell).  I wanted this site to allow me to discuss right-wing issues both seriously and with a little humor.  That’s for all those folks who agree with me politically but don’t speak my language on hobbies.

And for those who happen to also have an interest in either sf&f or photography it’s a place where I could talk about those things.  And other general things like tv and movies and other culture topics with like-minded people.  So, if any of those things interest you stop by and have a look and leave a comment.

And finally after the revolution when I am elevated to the highest circles of the new order, hopefully in the movie version of my life story I’ll be played by Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin will play Camera Girl.  And they really should include “Angel in the Morning” in the soundtrack but absolutely nothing by Wham!  They really suck.

See I told you I’d bring it all back in the end.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 3 – Conclusion

Whispers from The Abyss – Part 2

 

So, I’ll sum it all up.

Are you an H. P. Lovecraft fan?  Then for you, “Whispers from the Abyss” is a no-brainer.  It’s a cornucopia of Lovecraftian themes and inhuman doom.  You are bound to enjoy the majority of the stories and probably find some writers whose work you’ll want to check out.  And for those of you who buy books made of paper instead of electrons, I’ll say that the paperback book was a high-quality item with very nice cover art and excellent readability.

For you Lovecraft agnostics it’s a judgement call.  There is a mixture of styles and as a fellow agnostic I was happy to find a few stories that I thought were very good.  And there were a number that didn’t work for me.  And that make sense.  Without the Lovecraft bias the authors are fighting an uphill battle to get my sympathy.  And I would say there is a generational thing going on.  Any time the author includes even the smallest left-wing jibe, whether it’s an anti-religion or anti-male remark it jars me right out of the story.  So, I’m probably not the target audience for several of these stories.  So that needs to be taken into consideration if you have similar inhibitions.  But if not then you’ll probably be fine with the material in all these tales.

I’ll close by saying if you’re a horror fan and especially if you’re a Lovecraft fan I think you’ll enjoy this book.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 2

Whispers from The Abyss – Part 1

Taking up where I left off, I’ll discuss some of the longer works in the anthology.  I arbitrarily divided the works as those eight or more pages long and those shorter.  First up, “Secrets in Storage” by Tim Pratt and Greg Van Eekhout.  It’s a straightforward tale of a man who looks in a mysterious box.  The set-up is up to the minute Americana.  A man spends his whole nest egg on the contents of a storage locker.  He goes with a hunch and of course exhibits more guts than brains when he reacts to an impossible scenario by literally climbing into the paradox.  I like the ending.  It reminds me of the ending of Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.  Only instead of no mirrors, no boxes or pools.  It’s a refreshing change of pace.

Next is “The Substance in the Sound” by W. B. Stickel.”  This is also a simple tale but well told and the details of the characters and the harbor environment is interesting.  The tie-in to the mythos is not the conventional one and allows some added surprise.  As a New England resident it’s always interesting when the stories return to Lovecraft’s old stomping grounds.

My favorite long story is The Jar of Aten-Hor. By Kat Rocha.  It is a story linking back to the Egyptian religious customs surrounding death.  The description of the funerary artifact around which the story revolves is very vividly described. As with some of Lovecraft’s best imagery it calls out for a visual representation.  But the description is detailed enough to bring it to the mind’s eye.  The protagonist at each turn is provided an avenue of escape and each time she believes that she is deciding her own fate but by the end of the story it is evident that she was the one being manipulated.  Although Egypt wasn’t the most frequent focus of Lovecraft’s mythic sources he did borrow from it for some of his Old Ones names.  I remember reading a description of the pyramids that Lovecraft wrote for some event of Harry Houdini’s.  It was entitled “Under the Pyramids.”  It was one of the better things Lovecraft ever wrote.  It’s nice to see a story that links Lovecraft back to a rich source of highly relevant mythic material.  The inexplicable changing images on the jar provide the link to show the change going on in the protagonist.  Her fascination with the jar grows past a professional interest until finally it becomes an obsession.  The story is well crafted and full of interesting details.  If only Lovecraft himself had been as careful with his writing.  Then I wouldn’t have to make so much fun of him.

In my final post I’ll sum up my thoughts on Whispers from the Abyss and I’ll even throw in some more abuse of Lovecraft at no extra charge.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 1

 

Anyone with a comprehensive knowledge of this blog knows that I have a love/hate relationship with the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

Why No Love for the Craft of Howard Phillips? – Part 1- The Whisperer in the Darkness

Space Opera (High and Low)

On the one hand, some of his stories are, in my opinion, terribly written.  The action and narration are painful to read and sometimes seem like parody.  On the other hand, some of the images he presents possess the potency of an archetypal nightmare.  I feel that he had an extremely powerful imagination but for whatever reason lacked or neglected to use the writing techniques needed for good story-telling.  For this reason, I continue to circle around Lovecraft’s works.  Aggravated by the reality but fascinated by the potential.

So, I just finished the stories in this anthology.  I read them over the course of yesterday and today.  That’s twenty-eight stories inspired by the writings of Lovecraft.  By any protocol currently in place that is dangerously north of the recommended median safe dosage.  And what I found is consistent with both what I know about Lovecraft and what I know about anthologies.  Let’s look at the categories.

Case 1:  Assume you are a rabid Lovecraft fanatic.  Then by definition you’ll love this anthology.  It’s chock full of Lovecraftian bug juice.  You’re not gonna find a stronger dose of the real thing.  But even you, the grand master of the Lovecraft Day Parade will enjoy certain stories more than others.  Stands to reason.  Because even though the stories have the main attraction it’s there in different dosages and also it is flavored with the other ingredients.  Suppose you are a rabid right wing Lovecraftian and you hit upon a story that includes some feminist story elements or sentiments.  Then that would decrease your enjoyment.  Or suppose you’re a Cthulhu Mythos purist and a story contains some element that you see as heretical, say humor or some science that disagrees with your vision of the saga.  This also would be a negative.

Case 2:  You’re a Lovecraft agnostic.  You don’t hate or love him.  Then each story is taken on its merits.  And so, even more powerfully than in Case 1 your own spectrum of preferences come into play and by definition you will have a much lower average score for each story since it won’t start out on the Lovecraftian plateau.

Case 3:  You despise Lovecraft.  Well, in that case you’d have to be reading this collection out of some kind of masochistic impulse.  Because even if the story characteristics agreed with your other requirements for good fiction, the Lovecraftian elements would be a constant irritant.  Chances are a much smaller subset would be acceptable.  These would be stories that have all the other personal qualifications going for them to offset the anti-Lovecraft bias.

As previously stated, I fall into the second category.  The story will work or not based on how well the elements resonate with my tastes.  And since I’m an old geezer brought up in the paleolithic era I respond well to regressive, patriarchal, hetero-cis-normative, Europhilic, western pro-American themes extremely well.  All other influences lower the enjoyment quotient to some degree.  By definition, anything written after 1957 is going to suffer from a certain deviation from this baseline point of view.  End of truth in advertising disclaimer.

So let’s get started.  The story that best represents the nightmare quality that I think is the most powerful part of the Lovecraft experience is also one of the shortest pieces in the anthology.  I’ve always thought that parents’ emotional bond to their children is the strongest point of attack for horror writers.  In his story “When We Change,” Mason Ian Bundschuh identifies what can be truly horrific about humans being forced into a meat grinder.  Forcing people to make unthinkable choices is the very essence of tragedy and horror.

Interestingly, another of my favorites is a parody, a Lovecraftian farce.  James Brogden’s “The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” was very good.  It falls into the British tradition of Wodehouse, Fawlty Towers, The Office and anything else that juxtaposes the English desire for propriety and normalcy against the actual absurdity of real life. I definitely was smiling during my read of this story.  It aligns very nicely with my own sense of humor.

In the next installment of this article I’ll give my ideas on some of the larger stories.

A Rambling Wreck – Book 2 of The Hidden Truth Series – A Science Fiction Book Review

Hans G. Schantz is the author of the “The Hidden Truth” series and based on the bio at the end of the book some sort of a genius.  He’s a PhD in theoretical physics and a high-tech inventor of radio frequency gadgets (e.g., near field electromagnetic ranging).   Suffice it to say he doesn’t need to use a macguffin in any of his stories to fake a scientific plot line.  So, it’s kind of ironic that the first chapter is named “Whatever Happened to Angus MacGuffin.”

I picked up this second volume of the series without having read the first because the premise caught my fancy.  The protagonist, Peter is a college freshman at Georgia Tech who is digging up information on a shadowy organization called the Civic Circle which seems like some kind of combination of the Illuminati and villains from a Bond movie.  They murdered his parents for getting in the way of an operation being carried out to hide the Civic Circle’s involvement in an assassination campaign.  This campaign was meant to prevent the leading minds in electromagnetic field theory from discovering a secret that would give its wielder enormous power.

Now imagine that plot line embedded in a story that includes a freshman pick-up artist, social justice warriors on campus, a Chinese demigod, a 17th century nuclear energy program and a freshman trying to keep his grade point average high enough to keep his scholarship money intact.

It’s sort of like what might happen if one of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes (say Kip from Have Spacesuit Will Travel) was thrust into the modern era and was forced to use “SJWs Always Lie” as his freshman orientation guide while battling the Black Hats.

The book combines an elaborate puzzle involving an ancient Chinese philosophical text that seems also to be a clue to the secret knowledge that the Civic Circle is protecting.  There’s a rationale involving historical figures from the early days of electromagnetic field theory to explain how this secret hasn’t been discovered by the physicists of today.  There are all kinds of geeky fun throughout the plot.

One other interesting note.  This is an alternate history world where President Gore was killed in the 9-11-2001 terror attacks.  So, they must have completely missed out on the joys of climate change.

The action moves along and the various plot elements reach their crescendo in a nicely coordinated climax.  Secrets are revealed.  The damsel in distress is saved and the hero moves up the ladder of experience and prepares for his next foray against the powers of darkness.

I thought the book was good.  I should probably go back now and read the first volume (but once you cheat it’s always tough to do that).  But I look forward to next installment.  Hopefully in it Donald Trump will be given super powers and a license to kill.