Readlist – The Durdane Duology and more

– The Durdane Trilogy (The Faceless Man, The Brave Free Men, The Asutra) – Jack Vance. This is a trilogy that really, really should have ended with the second book. Or at least, had a hard-handed editor crack down on Vance, who allowed his cynicism and (apparent) dislike of the main character invalidate that hero’s entire arc, work, and struggles.

Books 1 and 2 set up a subtle parallel between the main hero, Gastel Etzwane, and the two most prominent supporting leads: the mysterious and neutral Ifness, and the fraught Jerd Finnerack. When Etzwane is a young boy, fleeing from mortal danger, he encounters Ifness–who (bound by a strict policy of neutrality!) refuses to help. Later, when Etzwane encounters Ifness again as an adult, Ifness–ostensibly for reasons of sheer pragmatism but, potentially, also as a subconscious or semi-conscious atonement–makes Etzwane his accomplice and sets the reins of power in his hands, before exiting stage left in the fashion of mysterious mentors.

Meanwhile, when Etzwane was also a boy, he did a great harm to Jerd Finnerack, who was attempting to help him; and when he is able to, recruits Finnerack as his assistant…and sets the reins of power in his hands.

Etzwane is not particularly bitter against the man who harmed him, or at least can control the desire to act on his dislike; Finnerack is, and might–or might not. The conflict between the two grows throughout book 2 as they both increase their abilities–Finnerack more so than Etzwane, and Finnerack with decreasing stability. It is one of the driving sources of tension in Book 2, as our heroes  clash even while they are attempting to unify the planet and destroy the barbarian hordes of invaders. –with heroic, protagonistic success, but not without incident–

And then, Ifness comes back and takes over (the neutrality policy has changed! Now his actions are, it is revealed, motivated by a desire to embarass and displace his superiors), and Gastel Etzwane’s time, efforts, sacrifice, struggles, worries, plans, and battles are completely forgotten or negated; Jerd Finnerack is destroyed as a character with an almost cruel abruptness. Several fairly important plot threads are completely abandoned in order to make this work. Worse still, this is all done together with a bait-and-switch moment that was aggravating just on the surface of it.

Still, Book 2 provides an overall satisfactory conclusion to the problems of the world Durdane and its leadership, and the journey of the boy Mur, aka Gastel Etzwane, the musician who became its leader.

The way Book 3 ends makes me assume Vance was forced to write another chapter just for the sake of it, disliked the obligation, and decided to deliberately make the readers suffer. Here’s how: he takes a bunch of standard SF tropes and our hero…and then (with malicious intent!) applies “Except Now Reality Happens” to what should be very simple tropes. Planetary barbarians capture spaceship to rescue their womenfolk!….ship is recaptured after a brief siege because the barbarians can’t make it go anywhere, up down or around, and all survivors (did we mention they started killing each other after a week or so, including the named characters that were specifically pointed out as knowing the odds and the risks of a rescue mission and went for it anyway because they loved their daughters) are enslaved along with the girls. Again, it’s not in the content–it’s in the execution; and it’s in the denouement, which is infuriating all on its own without adding the additional insult that it does have.

Will you look at that, turns out I did have something to say about this book. I think it sucked.

As far as the good stuff goes: Books 1 and 2 for the most part are standard and I did like them: they have characters, character arcs, development, motives, and a plot that allows the characters to be proactive and effective. Book 1 Etzwane is largely motivated by trying to redeem his mother’s slave-indenture, making his mother one of the more prominent female characters in the pulp scifi galaxy. And she’s a rather good character as well. Might have to make a “mothers in SF” post one of these days. And I will say that that’s an OK cover to book 3. If only it had a good book to cover. Damnit.

– The Blue World – Jack Vance – See, Vance did know how to write pulp-action scifi. He just had to layer it in elaborate worldbuilding and add sly layers of humorous backstory. I read this one as a palate cleanser. (Literally: I stayed awake another two hours to read it, just to get The Asutra out of my head.)

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik – This one has definitely entered the rotation as one of my go-to relax reads, and I’m glad to say it’s held up on each repeat.

– The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett – “Vimes in Uberwald will be more amusing than an amorous armadillo in a bowling alley.”

Small town libraries

Are pretty awesome, even if sometimes they operate by odd rules. Turns out, my library card for Town A Library is not accepted in Town B Library, twenty miles away in the same state and county. However, my card for County XZ library–one hundred and fifty miles distant as the car drives–is.

(“Skaith?”
“Yeah.”
“Riders?”
“Yeah.”
Of?”
“Yup.”
“Huh. There you are.”)

Or would be, if I’d gotten it renewed before, y’know, moving three hours away.

On the other hand, since I’ve just gotten my brand-new Kindle fired up and loaded, it’s probably for the best. Even though I’ve wanted to read Tarzan Alive since I was eleven years old.

On the gripping hand, paperbacks were 0.25$.

  • Son of the White Wolf – Robert E Howard
  • Solomon Kane: The Hills of the Dead
  • The Moon of Skulls

And, changing genres (to donate to a homeschool group I know of, which will probably thank me profusely and then ignore them because kids these days):

  • Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Anne of the Island
  • Anne of Avonlea (helpfully degunked by the nice lady. Well, 90% degunked)
  • Anne of Windy Poplars

derriere variations

“Turtle, you better haul ass.”

“I feel like I should be above this.”*

“Right, because [S] is a dumb-butt who can’t shovel six inches of crap out of his cages before he takes photos of them.”

“You mean like a FOIA? Those things are a pain in the butt, Dr. C.”
“So is [R]!”
“….that is not a very good person.”

“So for [M], should I take _ as bodyguard?”
“You need to take someone, because [M] is a shit-ass.”

*direct quote included because I feel if you say this out loud in an angry mutter when you have been caught red-handed in a malfeasance you are, and should regard yourself as, a jackass.

DNF Movie Review – Occupation: Rainfall (2020)

Operation-Rainfall-600x873 TLDR: it starts of really quite well, and then it lost me about thirty minutes in, just about when the plot killed any good will I had towards an action-heavy, low-cringe opening.

So.

The blurb–and the opening voiceover narration–tells me that this movie is set two years after an alien invasion struck Earth in two waves, first by a drone bombardment from orbit, then by actual invasion. The invasion was thwarted, as these tend to be, by a “handful” of brave men and women rather than, y’know, the combined might of the world’s militaries; but the second wave is proving harder to deal with.

Right off the bat, this movie gets on my right side, because it gets straight into the business of us watching a handful of “brave men and women” fighting aliens…like, right into it, and it’s got things I like, like air support, and helicopters, and radio chatter, and lasers, and less than seven minutes in someone says the mission is a go, which is always fun. (pause here to note that someone, presumably our hero, flips off an alien with a grenade pull-ring on his finger. HAH.) With one very brief exception, there has been no exposition so far and actually, as of ten minutes, no cringe.

But that may change. Oh, and it’s also set in Australia.

There are also some aliens who don’t want the war to continue, and are helping, supplying, or fighting with the humans. They aren’t very well regarded by the humans who have lost friends and family members to, y’know, alien warfare.

There is also a hot Asian chick and a slightly less hot Australian chick who flies a fighter jet. Both of them show rather more cleavage than is professional in an apocalyptic military situation. I mean….are uniform dress codes really going to go that far downhill after the apocalypse? The guys aren’t going around shirtless. They seem to be in decent order. Odd and also, come to think of it, universal in the lower class of post-apocalyptic movie. Terminator (the good one) did not have this–the soldier girl was wearing pretty much an identical uniform to Kyle. Hm. Mad Max (the second one) didn’t have this, either. The Warrior Woman wore the same kind of cobbled-up hockey pads as the guys. Uh…The Blood of Heroes (that movie with Rutger Hauer, you know. The one I haven’t actually watched yet)–that one didn’t have excess cleavage, either, but it was about professional touring athletes, not soldiers. Well, semi-pro. Well. Kinda.

Anyhow.

So! At the briefing, the squadron leader guy (who is less handsome than the flipping-off-aliens guy and therefore less a) important, b) heroic) is in favor of evacuating Sydney along with all civilians. Some older guy with an indescribable accent points out that they’re still finding civilians. Also, something something, send a ground recon, any volunteers? (Hot Soldier Guy volunteers. I have a feeling he prepared for this role by watching Black Rifle Coffee Company videos, because he’s got that exact attitude and beard.) The other person going along is one of the alien defectors, and they’re riding space horses. What, were regular horses too expensive to film? Were ATVs too expensive to film? Sheesh.

Y’know, now I want to see a movie with the heroes riding tactical side-by-sides into battle.

Black Coffee Soldier Guy continues to act with consummate unprofessionalism towards his alien ally, but never mind, the evac is beginning and jets go vroom and doors go slam, and it’s actually very exciting until it stops happening one brief montage later, hmph. The unprofessionalism continues when the civilian Grays–females and juveniles–are also left behind/refused to be let on the transports, despite Hot Asian Chick speaking up for them.

Anyway, Sydney goes boom.

OK, honestly, I’m bored at this point and don’t really know or like any of the characters except Gary the Alien (Lawrence Makoare, AKA Lurtz, Gothmog, and the Witch King of Angmar). Not that they’re poorly written!–everyone so far is pretty distinct. But they are unlikable.

This movie needed to strip down, go bare-bones on the plot, go small-scale. Take us minute-by-minute on the evacuation. Go house to house rescuing the civilians. Show our heroes going down to the last bullet. Or something like that. That’s how it kind of started out, and being down at the ground level is an interesting and new perspective on an alien invasion (Battle: Los Angeles the only other example I personally could name), without pretending that your heroes are going to make a massive difference in the outcome of the war all on their own–but acknowledging that they can make a difference by saving some lives right here, right now. A ragtag band of brave men and women successfully getting a convoy of refugees out of a warzone? That’s interesting. Saving the entire world and winning the war at one cunning stroke? Dude…it’s been done before and it was boring and unconvincing every single time after the first.

Yeah, and at this point I wandered off.

the invisible hand is making a significant gesture

The pet business has been booming for the last year. More people have been buying pets, particularly dogs (at hugely inflated prices….seriously, I paid less for my car than some people are charging for certain brachycephalic, crop-tailed, wheezy, snotty, bowlegged, cherry-eye and skin-infection-prone breeds which shall remain, nonetheless, nameless. I don’t care if they’ve allegedly got tons of personality, they suck as dogs.), more people have been adopting dogs, and more people have been entering the pet business.

Intelligent people knew that the market was going to balance out again eventually, and, sure enough, The Hill reports that the process is now starting. First-time pet owners are starting to return animals to shelters….at an impressively high rate.

Owners returning their pets has risen 82.6 percent since 2020, though it has dropped 12.5 percent compared to 2019, which may reflect the coinciding adoption surge, according to Best Friends Animal Society.

The surrendering of these dogs coincides with cities and states easing and lifting coronavirus restrictions as more and more of the population becomes vaccinated, allowing these owners to return to work, go out to socialize more often and even take trips.

Personally, I think we’re spaying and neutering the majority of healthy individuals of the wrong species. 

Frazetta Friday – Nerse edition

I am informed this is entitled “Young Doctor” and it’s by Norman Rockwell. All together now: aww!

I’m feeling a bit under the weather (spent yesterday either asleep or watching spectacularly bad romantic dramas) and posting may be light for a while. Also, I did something to Brave and it insists on deleting my login information every time I close the browser. I’m getting annoyed but one should not make important decisions while feverish. Like uninstalling and installing a new browser in a fit of pique.

Oops.

Risen (2016) Movie (incompleat) Review

risen-2016
That’s a weirdly coy smirk now that I see it closer.

In two sentences, my review is: “the idea is a lot better than the execution,” and, “charmingly low-budget.” Oh, and, “they didn’t lean into the concept hard enough.” That’s three. Also, I didn’t actually finish this movie, because….I had a strong feeling it wasn’t going to get any better.

Well, the good, first off: Joseph Fiennes is a very good actor, with a very good almost-Roman look, and when he commits to mumbling a dramatic monologue about what, exactly, happens to crucified bodies to horrify a far-too-chipper-Nazarean into cooperating, he’s the next thing to electrifying. (Or when he experimentally prays to Yahweh and promises to erect temples and establish Games in His honor if He will Just. Stop. Helping. Them, hehhhhh.) Unfortunately, no one else is anywhere near this level, and it’s jarring.

Now, when you have a decent script but sub-par actors (especially with a period drama), there are several options. One of them is to go completely tongue in cheek, and play up the campiness. That wouldn’t really work here, because I, like many others, have watched selected clips from Life of Brian on Youtube, and kept waiting for the Romans to manhandle the prisoners, quite woughly. (They were actually quite considerate of civil rights in their interrogations, oddly enough.) Another one is to tone down the attempts at drama and have everyone be as matter-of-fact and serious as your everyday police procedural. Most actors can manage this. And then there’s the straight-up, serious attempts at drama–which is great if and only if you have a script that is decently epic, actors who can sell portentious dialogue, a director who can emphasize the correct emotions at the correct time, and, let’s face it, a high enough budget. Dancing girls are optional but by God they really do help. What absolutely does not work is having not very good actors try to sell not very good (but terribly dramatic) dialogue. And, outside of Fiennes, that’s what they’ve got.

(Oh, hey, apparently this also stars the former Draco Malfoy, Tom Felton. Huh.)

As far as low-budget charm, well…I mean, even in the absence of dancing girls and the far more egregious lack of shirtless beefcakey dudes fighting wabid animals, you can’t go all that far wrong with sword-and-sandals. You just can’t. So the sets are fine and the costumes look more than adequate and unfortunately are more than adequate.

As for not having faith in their own ideas, the elephant in the snowline is this: scriptwriters* just have no idea how to write characters with faith; characters grappling with crises of faith; or characters who have just been overwhelmed by the miraculous intervention of new beliefs. Generally what they do is just say something on the lines of “he stares in wonder at the miraculous intervention.” Well, Joesph Fiennes is a very good actor, but you can only do so much by staring at things.

*(Kevin Reynolds is credited as screenwriter for The Count of Monte Cristo. Ye gods that’s a terrible thing to have on your resume. 2002 Monte Cristo is literally only watchable because of Jim Caviezel in frilly shirts. Paul Aiello has two credits to his name, neither of which I recognized. Not a good sign.)

What was the idea that I though was so brilliant and which almost, in flashes, showed promise of actually making this movie work? Treating it like a modern-day police procedural. Treating it like a hard-edged murder mystery. Or even, maybe–just maybe–letting the characters have space to breathe, become fleshed out, help us become immersed in their world and their mysteries and their problems..

If nothing else, it’ll make us wonder what they’re staring at this time.

Rated: Meh.