Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

Interesting cover of the Iggy anthem.  Almost too clean and restrained, but oddly appealing.

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Friday, March 30

3:00 – 4:15 Apple Pie, Rayguns, and Galactic Overlords

Salon B/C

Tropes encode vast bits of narrative, bringing up memories of other things we’ve read and seen and relieving the author of some of the burden of exposition. How does this work? Where do tropes come from? What is their lifecycle? (That is, how do they segue from cognitive triggers and narrative support elements to tedious vehicles for cliché?) Can we catalog tropes? What is the, uh, scope of a trope? (Sorry.) Do scopes map nicely to subgenres?

Moderator: Daniel Starr

Panelists: Naamen Tilahun, Daniel Marcus, Valerie Frankel

At 8 PM, there is something called ConTention, which I gather is a gloves-off genre argument mosh pit.  I’m inclined to show up and raise the old Cold Equations dust-up.  Is it a sad cautionary  tale about the immutability of  physical law on the harsh frontier, or a misogynist sham that uses pseudo-science and bogus sentimentality to rationalize the murder of innocence?  Or I might just go home after my panel and watch Tivoed American Idol.

Saturday, March 31

I will be around in the evening, most likely at Karaoke in Salon B/C after 9:30 PM.

Sunday, April 1

1:30 – 2:45 PM, Readings: Daniel Marcus, David Levine, Chaz Brenchley

Santa Rosa

At some point I will be also signing books at the Other Change of Hobbit tables but I’m not sure when.

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I was more than a little dismayed at the buildup to this.  There seemed to be no cohesion to the promotional campaign, no connection to the source material.  Still, I had to check it out, hoping that the movie would not be as bad as the marketing portended.  I inhaled all of ERB when I was a kid — Tarzan, Pellucidar, even the forgettable Venus books.  But my favorite of the whole hackneyed, stilted, racist Burroughs catalog was the John Carter adventures on Barsoom. Their delerious abandonment of logic and focused devotion to spectacle  formed the core of how I experience genre and how I view tropes in my own writing.  They were lame and dumb in many ways, but they had a coherent center, a grammar of images, a freakish integrity that few series have equaled.

I was relieved to find that John Carter of Hollywood didn’t suck much.  Plenty of gosh-wow eye candy, a clear fondness for the source material that wasn’t entirely killed by Disnification, and a nice performance by Kitsch.  I wish I could say his name without a snide chuckle. You’d think the Powers in charge of a quarter-billion dollar budget for a glam-sodden fantasy epic would find a leading dude with a name other than Kitsch. Convenient for the merchandising, I suppose — item and category!  But why do The Onion’s heavy lifting for them? And I couldn’t look at the guy without picturing some newly unemployed studio exec mumbling into his beer: “We wanted Depp but we blew out our budget on SFX.”  Still, he did a fine job and he looks pretty good in weird, skimpy Mars gear. More than good, actually — he looks like he walked right out of a Frazetta painting.  Not that Dejah Thoris seemed to notice or care.  Carter had more onscreen chemistry with his Mars-dog than he did with the Princess.

It’s really easy to snark out at this movie — there is plenty of low-hanging fruit.  But, bottom line, I had a pretty good time. It did resonate, albeit weakly, with the many hours I spent as a kid geeking out with the Ballantine paperbacks with the cheesy lurid covers while normal kids were out playing baseball.  So what if it bore an uncomfortable resemblance at times to The Phantom Menace? At least it didn’t have that horrible child; Carter’s worst moments were better than Phantom’s best.

Maybe it’s time to let the Burroughs catalog slide into the dustbin of history. Kids coming up today have their own escapist destinations, and unlike some older folks, I don’t think mine are any better than theirs.  They’re just mine. Barsoom is mine.  I lived there, for a time, in three hour chunks on weekend afternoons and late nights after the rest of my family was sound asleep.  It’s part of who I am, and doomed, bloated, and goofy as this movie was, it knew me.

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Courtesy of John Shirley.  Thanks, John.

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Starring Dean Stockwell and Carrie Fisher! And hoards of others!

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Terry Bisson’s new novel, a 60’s coming-of-age story told through a slight alternate history warp, is poignant, smart, wise, funny — a tremendous read, beautifully written, by one of our best. Highly recommended.

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Thanks, Graham 🙂  It’s hard to imagine anything by The Pixies not rendered loud enough to make your ears bleed, but Sunday Girl pulls it off.  An astonishing cover of a great song.

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Usually, these annual best-of lists are pretty predictable, but io9’s take on the year’s best has some nice surprises.

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REAMDE, by Neal Stephenson

Not exactly a review, but a few thoughts on this book at about the halfway point.  I kind of lost my enthusiasm for Stephenson’s work sometime after The Diamond Age.  I really wanted to like The Baroque Cycle, as I’ve always been interested in the Newton-Liebniz dustup over the invention of calculus, for its time a Microsoft-vs-Apple-scale intellectual property dispute, but I got stuck in the weeds.  Stephenson is an acute observer and a diligent researcher, but he often comes dangerously close to the “I’ve suffered for my art, now it’s your turn” narrative anti-pattern.  He’s a one-thing-after-another kind of writer, a meticulous sequencer, kind of like a Nicholson Baker with a plot plug-in, and if you like that sort of writing, great.

REAMDE suffers a little from that level of obsessive detail, but for me, it is his most accessible work since The Diamond Age.  He’s wrapped a Spy-vs-Spy plot and some great characters around MMOG’s and other 21st Century detritus and the result is a great ride, liberally salted with insightful cultural observations.

Highly recommended.

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Happy Birthday, Jimi


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