29 February 2012

The Yellow Needle




23 February 2012

Books: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (1934)



I don’t normally read these types of nior-type mysteries, but I had always been intrigued by Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man because I’ve always enjoyed the movie (and kind of looking out for Johnny Depp’s remake in the near future).  Oddly, the book reads like a classic black & white movie with its speakeasies, its gangsters and its dames in distress.  However, it’s also a great book to read for all of its archaic dialogue, the old-school way the cops must do to solve the murder mystery –after all, back in 1932 it was done the old way.

The twist and turning plot involves Nick Charles, a retired detective and Nora, his wife, a dynamic duo who don't let a page go by without having a cocktail. Charles is dragged back into the business when a friend disappears and might be involved in a murder. The friend, Clyde Wynant (the eponymous "thin man"), has suddenly vanished just after his former girlfriend, Julia Wolf, was found dead. Wynant quickly becomes the prime suspect, but his daughter Dorothy can't believe he did it. She convinces Nick to take the case much to the amusement of his socialite wife. The detective stumbles off to find clues, and manages to piece things together through intensive investigation. 

I was a bit surprised, however, how all the twists and turns got boiled down in the final few pages. It is not that I wanted to figure out whodunit, but I would have loved the idea of Nick to make some connections along the way, instead of everything being explained in the last few pages like it’s some exaggerated version of Clue!

Disney to bring 'The Night Stalker' to the screen; Johnny Depp to star


While I hate the idea that once again movie studios are remaking or rebooting past property instead of offering newer, more original product, I got to say I’m intrigued with the idea of Disney hiring Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World director Edgar Wright to helm a big screen version of the classic 1970s TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker that would star the versatile Johnny Depp. 

While I realize Depp does have his distractors (and I’m oh so curious on what he did in the new Dark Shadows movie), he can really bring quirky characters to life. And with Wright, who is just as quirky as Depp, the idea of trying to redo what failed before (ABC’s reboot which was dead on arrival a few years ago) might work, given a bit a freedom from Disney -who’ll want a PG13 version.  

The Night Stalker debuted in 1972 as an ABC made-for-television movie and centered on Carl Kolchak (the much missed Darren McGavin), as a crime reporter who tracks a serial killer who happens to be a vampire. The movie was the highest rated one ABC had ever aired at the time, and so a year later they broadcasted a sequel, The Night Strangler, which was just as equally popular. After a failed attempt at a third movie, the alphabet network instead ordered a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, that debuted in fall of 1974. Sadly, now stuck on a lower TV budget and a weekly schedule grind, the scripts suffered from too much “monster of the week” syndrome due to the quick decision to convert it into a series (ironically, the network would do the same damage to Battlestar Galactica a few years later), and ratings suffered, despite ABC giving it a full season pick-up. The elements of the third proposed TV-movie were then incorporated into the series. The show was officially cancelled after 20 episodes, leaving three scripts never produced. 

But like a lot of short-lived shows produced in the 1960s and 1970s with science fiction/fantasy/horror themes, The Night Stalker found life in syndication. And through that, the show influenced many writers after words, including The X Files creator Chris Carter, who has spoken at length how had The Night Stalker never been made, The X Files probably would have never been given a chance. For McGavin, it became his signature role, along with playing the Old Man in the holiday classic A Christmas Story, despite decades of work prior to these two roles. Anyways, no writer has been attached as of yet, but I would hope that both Depp and Wright work to create a homage to the original series without selling out to commercialization –which is sadly what I’m beginning to think Dark Shadows is doing.

22 February 2012

Beauty and the Beast becomes 2012's 'newest' go to projects


With at least two TV projects and a motion picture based in and around the premise of Beauty and the Beast, I’m curious on what’s the obsession with doing more projects based on the same material. Part of it, of course, comes from idea that this French Fairy Tale’s story is public domain. Another comes from the cynical idea that movie studios and TV networks have little to offer in creativity and fear risk and losing any money that might enrage their shareholders.  Thus, we are stuck with one retread after another.

And granted, technology does advance every generation, so that enables these studios to adapt the same story again and again with foreknowledge that in the end, this new technology is what drive the eyes of the viewers to the TV screen or the silver screen.

But for me, that is not enough reasons to see it.

I’ve still not seen Avatar, and while people agree that James Cameron’s film is FernGully or Dances with Wolves, that the technical aspects -the 3D, the CGI- would make up for the paint-by-number script. I disagree, as to me the effects of any movie or TV show should never become a crutch for bad writing. Cameron counted on his audience realizing they were seeing a story done before, but that you would be so impressed with the visual aspect, you would ignore the shortcomings of said script. 

Both ABC and NBC debuted fantasy shows this past fall based on classic (and, more importantly, free) fairy tales. The alphabet network’s Once Upon a Time has been more successful than the Peacock’s Grimm, though with the fortunes of that network running below (sometimes) cable networks, Grimm is one of its more successful shows this season.

With the demise of Desperate Housewives in May, ABC is looking for something to help lead into or out of Once Upon a Time next fall. They’ve decided to go with a re-imaged version of Beauty and the Beast. The new fantasy version is about an embattled princess discovers an unlikely connection with a mysterious beast, the newly (and so, only announced member) casted Chris Egan. Meanwhile, rival mini-network The CW is retooling the old CBS series that once starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Pearlman. That 1987-90 series has a cult following even to this day. The CW’s version will change the premise a bit, become more of a procedural cop show than the original version, which focused on the underworld of New York and Hamilton’s character of Catherine fighting for their right to exist. Kristin Kreuk, who was Lana Lang on the old WB’s Smalleville, has been cast in The CW’s pilot. 

Meanwhile, director Christopher Gans (Silent Hill) is directing a French financed version of the classic fairy tale, which begins production in the fall. 

In the end, what has become clear is the studios for both TV and motion picture production see little risk in producing property done a million times before –and property they already own. The risk these days is, essentially, to do something that might actually take time to grow. Of course, I don’t buy into the notion that only premium cable networks like HBO, Starz and Showtime can produce quality comedies and dramas. Granted these cable channels have given creators more leeway, allowing stories to grow in a more organic way, but that should not be used as a barometer as what should be green-lite and what will never see the light of day.

Perhaps with the broadcast networks becoming dinosaurs in the new Media Millennium have to do is produce shows like some of the successful ones on basic cable. Maybe 13 episode seasons are more reasonable, even practicable in the sense that the “filler” and “bottle” episodes can be done away with, in favor of thirteen strong episodes. And while episodic TV is expensive –especially the start-up costs- those fears can be, perhaps, waylaid by the idea that like AMC’s Mad Men, The Killing, The Walking Dead, SyFy’s Warehouse 13 and Being Human, USA’s White Collar, Psych and Burn Notice among many others, have been successful in part to due to their 13 or so episode seasons. 

Granted, ratings on cable are measured differently. One of the biggest advantages is the ability of multiple airings. Still, with the broadcast networks relying on an antiquated, fully dysfunctional ratings system –the Nielsons- it’s a wonder that they’ve not just dropped all their scripted shows in favor of game shows and fake reality programming. 

Buying new property is always risky, but so is getting up every day. The broadcast networks, who once controlled America’s viewing audience, have decided to give up on everything to basic and premium cable channels. They no longer want to fight for viewers by offering them something new, and perhaps, original. They’ve settled for second or third best because the bottom-line has become more important than entertaining me, or anyone else, who puts more importance in writing and character driven shows than programming that is all plot driven and punch lines.

21 February 2012

Judas Kiss: Behind the Scenes

 Making movies is all hurry up and wait. Richard Harmon, Timo Descamps and PA Rhys Cooper try to occupy some of the down time.
 This is what Rhys was drawing on Richard's script.
Watching Timo and Richard race each other are Rick Pike, J.T. Tepnapa, Second Assistant Camera Cynthia Lin and PA Rhys Cooper. Also, in the background is Costume Designer Anthony Tran and Executive Producer Steven Parker

Judas Kiss: Behind the Scenes


Beyond the extensive filming in the Guggenhiem Hall on the campus of Washington University, the Judas Kiss production also used the William H. Gates Hall, which is the campus area for law, for many inside and outside scenes. One of the great things about filming on location is that sometimes you stumble upon some great architecture to film next too, and when scouting the campus, the production team realized that these domes could be magical. The domes are skylights that are located above the law library, which is in the lower levels of the Hall. While they look impressive during the day, it was at night that they became awesome. Director J.T. Tepnapa, along with DP David Berry, used these glass towers to their advantage, giving those night shoots a mysterious glow for Danny and his confrontation with his Dad as well as the realization that Zachary Wells and him are at some junction between time and space.

20 February 2012

Moving into the future


Here’s the thing: The right-wing conservative believes American’s should be the ones who vote for gay marriage, not the “activist judges.” Think back to the general presidential election of 2000. Without the Electoral College, George W. Bush would have never been elected president, because the popular vote, the will of the people, would have swept Al Gore into office. The GOP defended the College for doing what it should do, whether that was good or bad is not up for debate. 

Here’s the thing, I believe they should if only because the people make irrational, emotional decisions based on little regard for reality. Seriously, has anyone seen who votes for whom on American Idol? It’s a popularity game show designed not for the talented folks of the world, but about people who can be packaged, labeled and sold to an American audience who are awash in mediocrity. This is why no one on that show has had a sustainable career outside certain niche markets, which is as it should be. It's a microcosm of why sometimes the will of the people need to be trumped by a judicial decree.

As a nation, we’ve moved on from our simple beginnings, we’ve evolved because nature, time and tide moved us forward whether we like it or not (some will argue we’ve moved too fast, but who decides that?). The 20th Century alone showed a world that moved from the most basic car, Model T, to men walking on the moon; to space probes hunting the origins of the universe when that century started people still believed there was nothing beyond this little marble of a world. We also went from being tethered to our phones (and computers) to ones where it (almost) matters not where you are. We’ve moved forward, because we had people who knew that the key to growth lies not in the past, but in the unknown future. 

I understand that gay marriage undermines certain religious views. The question remains why we’ve let these views color how a state, a country, a world manages its people. I’ve no doubt religion is a good idea, offers light when darkness surrounds the soul of the people, but it should remain a personal thing, kept out of politics, kept out of secular laws of this nation. 

Ah yes, the second most dirty word the conservatives think is destroying America, secularism (liberal is another word, but it’s basically the same meaning to them). 

The way I see it, we’ve always have been somewhat secular nation, but because the religion was able to suppress people, use blackmail and ignorance of the nation to prop up its views, the few forward thinking people were kept out, called heretics because their views went against state policy. But as fast as we’ve moved from horse and buggy to supersonic airplanes, those forward thinking people have moved from the fringe to center stage, which has scared a lot of religious people who’ve had it good for generations. Their power base is breaking apart like the nation’s infrastructure, and it frightens them because they only solution they can up with is increase the fear factor. Yes, conservatism has always played on fear, but it also thrives on lies and dishonesty. Conservatism hasn’t given us anything we didn’t have and it wants to take away our freedoms, because they’ve not given us any sort of stable social order, or a peaceful home life, or a respect for law and order. 

We’re at the crossroads now, and whether we survive as a nation is up to a handful of people who think by accident of birth and circumstance, they were meant to rule the world and those who did not agree would suffer. They need to be swept aside to move forward for we are a species who cannot abide stagnation. Change has always been at the heart of what we are. 

I can see that our Founding Fathers never thought beyond their own lives, though, leaving complex issues like this in the hands of future generations. As a people we never look for what’s in front of us, mostly because it scares us. Living in the past makes us happy, because it does not require much thought; we’ve always done it this way, we should always then do it this way. It’s backwards thinking and it’s destructive, because as a nation we would never have evolved beyond our puritanical roots had not some stood up and said “what if.”

Is 200 years too short of time? Should we sit and debate a simple issue as this for another 200? Should we go through committee after committee because a bunch of religious folks who feel their power slipping through their fingers like sand can’t get over an “ick” factor? 

It’s all fun and games to claim that the only reason we live is to reproduce, but the fact is that as species, we are living longer and longer than when this nation (alone) was founded.  Problems these Founding Fathers could never think of, like the huge population growth that has happened even in my lifetime (I’ll be 50 in September, and the population has grown more in those 50 than the previous 50), are creating new problems that require new solutions. So be it the evolutionary aspect of said species or a healthier lifestyle or a combination of both, mathematically this planet will not be able to sustain us all if we don’t figure out a logical solution to this problem. But today’s leaders don’t want to worry about the future, they’ll let the next, next, next generation deal with it. And that, my friends is stupid. 

I believe in gay marriage because of what it stands for: it brings two people together to form one and bring up (if they choose) another generation. Marriage is good, and to stop a man from marrying another man, or a woman marrying another woman is ridiculous. We all want to be loved, and have people see that love. And we can reproduce, be it a surrogate or adoption, so we just do it differently. Is that so wrong? And the fallacy that people will want to marry dogs, cats, cows, buildings if gay people are allowed to wed is nothing but the empty rhetoric of a defeated dictatorship. It’s smoke and mirrors to cover up bigotry and hate, one the most ruthless traits of the human race. 

And I believe the solutions lies in science and not prayer, I believe that as a nation, we’ll solve these problems only if we retain logic, compassion and a soul. It’s become clear that the conservative movement is on the wrong side of history, and I think deep down they know it. And I suppose like any good fighter, they’ll battle until both sides are hurt, wounded, and dead perhaps. They’ve made it clear they want no accommodation from me or anyone who opposes their backwards view.

19 February 2012

Judas Kiss on Netflix

Our last week of production was when we filmed all the night scenes. While preparing for a confrontation scene between his on screen Dad and Zachary, actor Richard Harmon prepares for the emotional sequence by listening to his music. This is one of my favorite pictures I took during the three-week shoot. Mr. Harmon is an intense young man, brilliantly gifted, yet sensitive, outgoing and deeply grounded.  

Judas Kiss is now available for viewing off of Netflix. Here's a chance to see all the actors shine, including Charlie David, Timo Descamps, Julia Morizawa, Rebecca Rund and Sean Paul Lockhart.

Please add it to your queue and take a ride!


Man with Two Shadows




16 February 2012

John Carter to flop?

It was back in May of last year when Dark Horizons broke the name change, with no explanation from Disney as to why John Carter of Mars was dropped. But some had speculated that Carter's name change was enforced to distance the film from 2011’s poorly performing Mars Needs Moms –though even that seems stretching it, especially since today’s audiences have really short attention spans.

Now, Deadline is reporting that Disney’s $250 million production of John Carter is tracking soft, meaning the film –despite some expensive marketing on the Super Bowl- could be a huge expensive flop for the Mouse House. And part of the problem seems to stem that the wider audience –beyond the sci fi geeks who’ve been reading Edgar Rice Burroughs books for decades- have no idea what this film is about. Most of the trailers and TV spots seem to concentrate on the visual aspect of the movie –where most of the films budget went too obviously- but the biggest problem lies in the title. The movie is based on Princess of Mars, the first book in Burroughs 11 volume Barsoom series, and I can understand why Disney chose to rename it John Carter of Mars –don’t want to confuse those little girls and their mothers thinking Disney is coming out with a new princess. But somewhere along the way, the film became just John Carter, which is just plain, dull and has no hook. Is it about the Noah Wylie character in ER?

As a matter of fact, another article on Deadline points out one MT Carney, who was –until early January- President of Worldwide Marketing at Walt Disney Studios. One source told Deadline that it was Carney’s idea to drop the “Of Mars” from the title of John Carter. The source told Deadline that “It’s based on a big geek book. You are taking a piece of very well-known classic source material and taking the marketing hook out of it. It’s like putting it through the deflavorizer. It’s like a perfect microcosm of what went wrong.”

So if the movie does indeed fail, they have a scapegoat.

Then there is Taylor Kitsch, who seemed cast mostly for his looks, than a leading man bent on carrying a big, very expensive film. I have no issues with Taylor Kitsch, as he is handsome, but he does not scream leading man. And sadly, had Disney cast Taylor Lautner, you would’ve gotten the same performance, I think.  Anyways, in the books, Carter also spends good time almost naked, while in the movie Kitsch is basically just shirtless. So one sees how Disney is attempting to woo potential female audiences into what is surely a male dominated demographic. Which is how most films are made anyways, but the point being that instead a potentially strong, even well-known actor, Disney went with a man known more his male model good-looks than acting ability.

Also 2012 also marks the centennial of Burrough’s John Carter character, having appeared in serialized form beginning in 1912. Now while the John Carter books have a huge following, the character has been eclipsed by Burrough’s other creation, Tarzan; which is something Disney can’t market with, or chooses not to.

Beyond the potential scapegoating of MT Carney, I feel sorry for director Andrew Stanton, who helmed Disney/Pixar films Wall-E and Finding Nemo, who makes his live action directorial debut with this film. Unlike Brad Bird, who made The Incredibles at Pixar, and was handed a well know franchise that was Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol for his live-action debut, Stanton has been given a riskier, more potentially problematic film in John Carter. They’ve spent $250 million already, with rumors running its cost close to $300 million. The film will have to make $700 million before Disney can have a franchise.  I’m hoping Stanton can survive what could be the biggest flop of 2012.

15 February 2012

Books: Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby (2009)


Mead Fegley is a solitary 15-year-old prodigy who flees his oppressive, well-meaning family for the wilds of a prestigious university in Chicago. There he immediately places out of entry-level courses and immerses himself in higher mathematics, joining forces with an ancient, mysterious professor in an attempt to conquer the Riemann Hypothesis, a problem that has been baffling mathematicians since the mid-19th century. They fail, but in the process Mead begins to know his family and himself and to overcome the barriers that have separated him from others.

Structured like a thriller –it begins as Mead is fleeing his school in Chicago- we then are treated to tale that goes back in forth between the present and the past and what would eventually back to the reason why Mead left.  This might have been a good idea at first, this jumping backwards and then forwards, but it causes the story to run hot and cold at times.  Also Jacoby doesn’t date the book at first, and you sort of assume that it’s set somewhere in the late 1950’s –a lot of the talk, the ideals of growing up in small town America. But then she reveals the age of one professor –and a subplot involving the  Cray X-MP computer - and then you realize it’s set in the late 1980’s. 

But Mead Fegley is a fully realized character and you cannot help but like him, despite some of his social awkwardness. I’m assuming this first novel by the author is semi-autobiographical, but then we seem many times so called geniuses have difficulty dealing with everyday life. Plus, his mother seems like a stereotypical Asian mother pushing her only male child to brink of insanity by convincing him that all that is important in life is doing perfectly in school – nothing but A’s is good enough for her. Called the six-legged creature by Mead (for how she would sit on chair in his room and sort of judge him), she tries, I’m guessing, to be the good mother, but  she comes off as an ambitious, sad women whose life did not turn out the way she wanted, so she’s making her son pay for it. 

Not what I call a bad debut, Life After Genius, but a good read and a sort-of-hero to root for.

Bent-Con 2012

The third Bent-Con is happening in Los Angeles this December. Please go to web site for updates.
If you love comic books, Graphic Novel, Cosplay, art, movies and guest panels that deal with LGBT themes come join us for a weekend of fun. Bent-Con, like Comic Con, only gayer.

14 February 2012

Judas Kiss: Behind the Scenes

 Richard Harmon and Charlie David during the January 2011 pick-up shots
 A close-up of the board that adorns young Danny's dorm room
A rogues gallery, from l to r: Production Assistant Mark Meseroll, Make-up Artist Tonya Carlson-Jolly, Production Assistant Rhys Cooper, Sean Paul Lockhart and Visual Effects designer Joël Bellucci

13 February 2012

Box of Tricks

Judas Kiss: Behind the Scenes

 Sean Paul Lockhart, Genevieve Buechner, Timo Descamps
 Genevieve Buechner, Timo Descamps and a blurry Richard Harmon
Wonder if anyone noticed that both Zachary (Charlie David) and Danny's (Richard Harmon) dorm room were the exact same location? All it took was a re-dress and different camera angles to complete the illusion. BTW, normal dorm rooms are tiny, but a larger space was needed so crew and cast could fit in. When not in use, this large space is actually the lounge area.

11 February 2012

Judas Kiss: Behind the Scenes

Visual Effects Designer Joël Belucci

 Timo Descamps, Make-up Artist Anne Sellery, Costume Designer Anthony Tran

 Richard Harmon
Note the shoes: They were designed by his girlfriend, fellow actress Genevieve Buechner

10 February 2012

Espirit De Corps

Media tidbits


Two more writers have been confirmed for season seven of Doctor Who, joining the previously announced Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and John Fay. First up is Being Human (UK) creator Toby Whithouse, whose previous episodes include School Reunion, Vampires of Venice, and The God Complex. The second writer is Chris Chibnall, who wrote the underrated David Tennant episode 42. There might be another writer or two who still hasn't been announced, possibly including Gareth Roberts, who might end up writing a third Craig Owens episode with James Corden, something that has been rumored a few times.

Terry O’Quinn has snagged a 2 episode appearance on TNT’s Falling Skies. The big hit from last summer returns with further alien aggression. O’Quinn will guest star in the final two episodes of the season.

20Th Century Fox has set July 26, 2013 for the release of The Wolverine, the sequel to 2009’s X Men Origins: Wolverine. While a boxoffice hit, the first movie generated a lot of criticism for its story, and cheap CGI effects. Returning actor Hugh Jackman (who also will produce) has said the script is stronger and the effects will be improved. It's still believed that the movie, which is directed by 3:10 to Yuma's James Mangold, is a loose adaptation of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's Japan-set 1982 comic miniseries.

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment has optioned out Anne Rice’s The Tale of the Body Thief. Lee Patterson, who wrote the screenplay for Snatched, is working on the script. 

Syfy has picked up their version of Being Human for a third season. Also at Syfy, the cable net is developing a series version of the 2010 supernatural thriller Legion, which starred Paul Bettany. The feature’s director/co-writer Scott Stewart is set to direct and executive produce the TV adaptation, which will be written by Vaun Wilmott (Sons of Anarchy).

Jessica Lange, who has won almost every acting award for her role on Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story, will return when the series comes back next year, though probably not playing the same character. The main cast from season one, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and Taissa Farmiga will not return however, Murphy added. The shows storyline is being kept under wraps. Only thing that seems confirmed is where it will be set, which is somewhere on the East Coast. Whether it will film there is a big question as well.

With FOX announcing the end of House after 8 seasons, and new show Alcatraz holding its own, could this mean the expensive, but ratings challenged Terra Nova could be back next season? The latest series from Steven Spielberg’s apparently limitless Idea Brain Machine struggled in the ratings for its 13 episode run this fall. It was also criticized by fans and reviewers for being dull 80% of the time and only got interesting when the dinosaurs showed up, and then they were bad CGI ones at that. The show is, in all fairness, designed as a family show like the broadcast networks used to see in the 1960s (Lost in Space, Land of the Giants). But while many see the series potential, its execution has been horrendous. Given a second season, the writers and producers (who’ve acknowledged some of its weaknesses) would hope to change that perception to show that it can be “family” orientated, plus make it watchable for a larger demographic that will be needed to make the show a financial hit as well.  

With 2 potential versions of Beauty and the Beast heading to TV in fall (though, logically either one of the two won’t make it. As different as they may be, one a re-telling of the original fairy tale set in the medieval past, and one a reboot of the late 1980s CBS series now set in a post 9/11 New York, the odds of both making it are pretty astronomical. The question is, which network will fold first), word has come of a big screen version to be helmed by Silent Hill director Christopher Gans is on the way as well. The director is teaming up with the production companies Eskwad and Pathe for the project, which would make it the first French production of that particular French fairy tale since Jean Cocteau directed one back in 1946. Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Ocean's Twelve) and Lea Seydoux (Midnight in Paris, Robin Hood) are set to star. Filming begins in October.

Space: 1999, the British produced sci-fi series that starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain and was syndicated in the States and ran for 2 seasons is being re-booted by the producers who brought us the failed rebooted V. HDFilms president Jace Hall (who brought us the new V) claims that Space: 2099 will feature familiar themes taken from the original. "We are indeed re-imagining the franchise and bringing something new and relevant to today's audiences," said Hall. "I feel strongly that some of the overall tones set by the original Space: 1999 television show represents an exciting platform to explore possibilities."

09 February 2012

All Done with Mirrors

Books: How Evan Broke His Head and Other Stories by Garth Stein (2004)


Garth Stein had a huge hit with his third novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. While I’ve not read it, I remember while working for Borders how many people bought this book, especially women, who seemed to love the idea about a novel told by the perspective of a dog. Somehow, for reasons I can’t remember, I bought Stein’s second novel How Evan Broke His Head and Other Stories. Maybe I thought it was humorous, maybe it was because the premise sounded interesting, or maybe I bought it because someone else recommended to me. Or, in the end, maybe I bought it because I want to understand an authors who become popular; that I want to read their earlier stuff, the ones before they became famous.

I know it's odd, but I usually enjoy a TV show, a movie or a book before anyone else discovers it and becomes huge. Reading, unlike other media, gives me a chance to find something only a handful of people read, not the general masses. I like discovering new authors, and will usually take a risk more on them, than say taking a risky job or going to a gay bar by myself. I think, perhaps, I can control the book better than I control other aspects of my life.

Anyways.

Evan Wallace is the son of a wealthy Seattle heart surgeon. When he was 12, he chivalrously substituted for his kid brother in a game of chicken and was hit by a car; his injuries resulted in epilepsy. At 17, his girlfriend, Tracy, became pregnant, had their baby, but then left town with her family, freezing Evan out. He went on to become a guitarist, with one big hit. Now, as the story opens, Evan is 31, Tracy is dead from a car accident, and he’s attending her funeral in Walla Walla, an uninvited guest who sees his son, Dean, for the first time.

What follows is an adventure in parenting for Evan, who appears to be more damaged than Dean, who while not having everything, somehow is more adult than his father. I enjoyed the book, and it’s a fast read, but you do get frustrated with Evan. He blames his parents for most of his later in life failures –and his parents appear to be logical, calculated people who put status and positions above emotions and love. Yet, like many of us, who really is to fault for our own personal failures? It’s not until the end that Evan fully understands he’s still –on an emotional level- a 14 year-old just like his son. But the reader got that idea a long time ago.

In between we see Evan make up one lie after another to cover his own short comings as a guitarist, as a lover to Mica (who for some reason has fallen in love with Evan despite the fact she seems out of his league) and as a father to Dean. At some point, it becomes too much, and the book collapses under some its weighty issues.

There is some biting humor, some family dysfunction which appeals to me (I can't figure out why I enjoy those types of books) and it's a good read, but flawed. Will it make me want to read his first and third novels? Probably not, but you never know.

07 February 2012

The Big Thinker

Books: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (2011)

In Robopocalypse (one of the last remaining ARC’s I got before Borders closed) author Daniel H. Wilson borrows heavily from other concepts, in particular The Terminator’s Skynet analogy and tries to breathe some life into the not so new idea that computers will one day take us humans over. As a screenplay –Steven Spielberg will helm a theatrical version due in 2013- the story could work. I’ve read many novels the seem to written as a screenplay (a lot of the early John Grisham novels and while I’ve never read one, I’m understanding the James Patterson “written” novels do the same), but as a novel, it falters in one of the biggest blunders, no characterization.

I can forgive Wilson from cribbing Westworld, The Terminator, Asimov’s I, Robot and countless other novels and short stories and TV shows like The Simpsons (Homer attacked by an ice cube maker anyone?) that have computers becoming sentient (even Futurama gave cars personalities), but in the end, I still want to feel for the characters, their motivations and how human they can be when confronted by a superior force. True, I sense that we humans will become barbaric if tomorrow we lost all the things that we communicate with, but we already know this. While writing emotions can be hard to portray in TV and movies –it can slow a story down, some will say- in a novel form, this still works. And a creative author can build emotion and action and create a wonderful book.

Anyways, the gist of this novel is that an AI gains sentience and manages to lead our technology — cars, phones, computers, and more — to revolt. While Wilson does not dwell on how’s and why’s –how this AI could bypass all the protocols these devices have and make them work together is never explored (and whether that’s good or bad depends on how you approach the novel. Again, it reads more like a screenplay, where those complex ideas are generally skipped over to maintain the action) –there is some shred of believability here, as companies like Apple are working on Operating Systems that will synchronize devices and shared information.

As the novel progresses, the humans begin a revolt of their own, and a war begins. But the AI is also portrayed as low-end of the gene pool brother of Skynet and HAL. It makes some very obvious mistakes, and dooms itself because of it.

While not trying to discount the possibility of Wilson’s theory, because I’m not that smart, the book fails to make you care for anyone. It’s full of clichés, has no depth and makes you yearn for the days of Michael Crighton, who while never the best at creating characters, still brought some life to ones he did bring to the page. My biggest issue comes with the multiple-narrator structure, which seems pretentious at best, but more distracting than anything, really (while this style is becoming more routine these days in a lot of popular novels, it can only work when the reader can get some connection from the characters, otherwise it becomes an excuse for the author not explore them any deeper than a puddle). Because of this structure, the book can never gel, as it moves in leaps to get to the next action sequence.

In the end, this is a screenplay written as a novel, and Wilson is not the next Crighton or Phillip K. Dick –I don’t think Wilson possesses that profound imagination that Dick was capable of. It’s a tedious read, but if you’re looking for something that does not task the brain, the book and next year’s movie version, makes this the for you.