Archive for February, 2017

I loved this book.  I’m a little older than the audience that would get a hard nostalgia hit from the smart, accurate invocation of being a geeky outsider teen in 1980s American suburbia, but not by much, and unlike other recent books that have riffed on the rich stew of pre-dawn-Internet pop culture  tropes (8-bit games, MacGyver, Vanna White, The Breakfast Club, Hall and Oates, to name a few), Fortress weaves them into a story about friendship, the anguish of adolescence, and the virtues of being a freak that should  accessible to anyone.  The story is told simply, conversationally, from a first-person narrator.  The language is plain but perfectly matched to the unfolding story.  The evocation of time and place is pitch perfect and, by the time we were done, I felt like I knew the characters.  This was a really satisfying read and I burned through it way too quickly.

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Every now and then you read something that renews your gratitude that there are these things called books that other humans create and that, via the stories they tell, they can illuminate and transform your perception of your own arc and in so doing, affirm that loss and redemption both are threads within the fabric that binds us all together.

My Sunshine Away takes place in 1980’s Baton Rouge.  The pace and language invoke syrupy, languid summers and a sense of deep mysteries hidden just out of sight.  The story begins with a horrible crime and explores the enduring impact it has on the people involved, most notably the victim and the narrator, a teenage boy.

I don’t think it serves the book or its potential readership to further unpack the plot except to say that it’s a coming-of-age story that reaches for deep truth, sad and wise and hopeful, more meditation than mystery.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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I really wanted to see what Hollywood did with the “colony starship” trope, a genre staple.  The previews looked promising, as did the high-octane cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Laurence Fishburne).  I  should have known better.  There will be spoilers ahead but I promise you:  nothing will ruin your experience of this movie more than actually seeing it.  The starship Avalon, its cargo of 5000+ ensconced in cold sleep, encounters a cloud of dust and rocks in deep interstellar space some 30 years into its 120 year journey. The ship’s defense systems deal with most of the debris, but a large rock gets through and the ship suffers some damage.  Implausibly, one of the thousands of suspended animation pods malfunctions, awakening Jim (Pratt), a mid-level techie.  The ship has plenty of amenities and we sit through endless filler scenes of Jim playing basketball, exploring the creepy-shiny Mariott future, and hanging out with an android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), who is a little reminiscent of Lloyd from The Shining with none of the edge and menace.  Of course, Jim gets lonely, grows a scraggly beard, and becomes obsessed with one of the sleeping colonists, Aurora (Lawrence). He figures out how to revive her and, after talking  it over with  Arthur, decides to go ahead with it.

Okay, I thought, I might as well just get up and leave now.  The movie is basically over.  They’re going to try and normalize this horrific violation via the enduring mythology that romantic love can emerge from a raw, brutal exercise of sexist authority if only the right circumstances allow it to flourish.  But, for me, this was such an amoral act, so deeply pathological and wrong, that there was nothing the mechanics of plot could do to make it okay.  You just can’t go back from there.

I didn’t leave, but my instinct was spot on.  He wakes her up, lies to her, fucks her …  the story machine is a goddamn power shovel at this point, digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole.  When she finds out what actually happened, she’s kinda mad!  At one point, she is kicking the shit out of him and reaches for a huge-ass garden implement which surely would have crushed his skull but she sets it down after some deliberation, a huge disappointment.  Then a bunch of other things happen, but it hardly matters.  The ship’s systems are deteriorating.  A crew member, Gus (Fishburne), gets awakened so he can explain some stuff and die.  Aurora’s still mad but she and Jim have to work together to figure out how to fix the failing ship.  Shit gets gnarly and he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her and the ship, which is supposed to redeem his dark, obsessive idealization and objectification of her, his deception, his rape.  (It doesn’t).  The ultimate sacrifice turns out to be not so ultimate since she was able to revive him in the Autodoc.  He figures out how to tweak it to support her (but only her) returning to cold sleep for the rest of the voyage, but she says, no, it’s really okay that you ruined my life and turned me into a fuck doll.  I love you!  They live happily ever after.

This movie fails on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin, but its failure as science fiction is worth underscoring, since that’s the package it’s wrapped in. At its best, SF uses its rich, evolving heritage of tropes to entertain us, to enlighten us, to explore questions about who we are as individuals, as a patchwork of cultures, as a species: where we come from, where we are, where we’re going.  Passengers uses SF’nal eye candy as window dressing to frame a deeply creepy idealization of romantic love that seeks to normalize misogyny and rape.  If you like that sort of thing, check it out.

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