Go to Your Mama: Mothers in Science Fiction

b66d58748dcbc67d0cded34fcf3c5f4dTLDR: It’s Jessica. Jessica is the coolest. Also Zamm, Agent of Vega. The Ripley picture is because there are no satisfactory images of The Lady Jessica.

Moms get the short end of the stick in fiction. Most of them just flat-out get killed in childbirth. Others are unceremoniously forgotten in the hero’s quest to Find Out About My Father, because….

Even if they survive, mothers tend to ignored by characters and story alike because they try to keep their kids from going on adventures, aka safe. (This is probably because mothers invest a hell of a lot of resources into their children and tend to want to collect a return on their investments.) Even if they are strong* characters in their own right/focus stories, once children get involved they tend to get pushed out of focus and not have a lot of impact on the plot or the protagonist. See: Padme Amidala. See also: every mother of a Disney Princess, ever.

* Emotionally resilient, self-motivatated, and, if a main character, actively plot-relevant (this is less important if it’s a side character.) Another important trait is: how cool are they?

Anyhow, when moms are recognized, they’re usually only counted when they assume an action role in the story–AKA, Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. This is primarily because most people are fake nerds and heretics. It’s also because people like to focus on the fact that Ripley and Sarah Connor’s strength, in-universe, to survive and fight comes from the presence of a child to protect. It ignores the deeper reason that having an external motivation for their actions makes them more active and therefore more interesting characters.

Think about it. Ripley without Newt is a PTSD-riddled civilian tagging along on a military mission. She’s cannon fodder. She’s toast. Without Newt, Ripley doesn’t take as dominant a part in the decision-making and doesn’t survive because Burke forces the issue and everyone gets eaten. With Newt, Ripley has the additional motivation of another person to consider and protect. Ripley has a focus to control and override her impulses to freeze up. Ripley has a strong motivation to get everyone out of there and not stop until they are. Without John Connor, Sarah is the perky blonde who gets killed by the indomitable serial killer. With John Connor (and the fate of the human species, too) as her responsibility, Sarah has a serious motivation and more importantly, she has a reason for doing plot-relevant things. A hero or heroine who does plot-relevant things is a hero/ine doing interesting things.  And not, say, bumbling around an apartment building at night and getting stabbed to death by a bad guy. That is uninteresting.

bef1d0932ad9e3cb8abd91862f572714That all being said, it took me over a month to write this post because I couldn’t think of very many others. No, of course there’s Cordelia Vorkosigan. There’s Amanda Morgan. There’s Scaramouche‘s Comtesse de Ploughastel, but that’s not science fiction, even honorarily. There’s Eden Perdicaris from The Wind and the Lion, and that’s….well, hey, that’s alternate history! It totally counts! There’s…. uh…. Galadriel, whhhhattt, she’s Arwen’s grandma, come on! But most of these characters’ stories don’t focus on the maternal or nurturing relationship between them and their children. That actually seems to be quite rare.

Cordelia Vorkosigan, although an extraordinarily strong protagonist, is not a major character after Miles comes along; she is more prominently a counselor to characters not her own biological son. Moreover, after Cordelia hands over the protagonist mantle to her son, she’s a fairly passive as far as plot-relevance goes. This doesn’t make her a weaker character, just a sidelined one, given that Miles’ focus is on military and political victories, while his mother has a complete disdain for the military and a distinctly apolitical/anti-political stance towards politics of the Barrayaran style. On the other hand, Ekaterin Vorkosigan nee Vorsoisson has a kid, has a close relationship with him, and is an active presence in her opening storylines. So she counts, even if her kid gets promptly sidelined in later books. And as far as action goes, counter-hijacking the doomsday weapon from a group of terrorists and smashing it into the ground until the rubble bounces is a pretty badass start to an awesome career of….being a loyal housewife and Countess and mother to a parcel of other Vorkosiganlings. Pwah. I guess there’s also Alys Vorpatril, but she kind of sucks.

Amanda Morgan is a borderline example, as the majority of her story-time is focused on the ruthless, pragmatic necessities of defending a planet against armed invasion; she has no time or attention for even the birth of her own grandchild. There are, however, hints of the past: she thinks on and deeply regrets the necessity of the strained, strict relationship she had with her own long-dead son….a son who, the text implies, was an unrecognized psychopath only just held to the right side of the law by his controlling mother’s iron will. (Is a good story, everyone should read.)

Family relationships in Tolkien stories aren’t given a huge amount of weight, and those that are are mostly paternal-focused. (Unless your name is Luthien Tinuviel.) That being said, mothers whose presence has a great impact on their children would include Morwen, Idril, Aredhel. And Luthien’s mother, Melian. And Erendis of Numenor, ouch. And Indis, I guess. Actually, come to think of it, Tolkien does do this quite a bit in The Silmarillion, although the narrative conventions and epic scope of that book keeps these relationships out of close focus.

So anyway, finally to the most triumphant example of my thesis: the Lady Jessica, of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Jessica is THE FREAKING COOLEST character in all of science fiction, and this is an opinion I have held since I was thirteen years old. Jessica makes Paul into the hero he is: what she has taught him makes him capable, perceptive, and able to use his powers when he comes into them. Jessica is instrumental to the plot both actively during their escape via the Voice, their initial manipulation of Liet Kynes, and then through the Missionaria Protectiva itself.–to the Bene Gesserit, it is their sister and agent who is the valuable one, not some half-grown boy of dubious potential. And yet through it all, Jessica is still vulnerable and sympathetic and cool. She is admired and respected by other characters, or through her actions and presence instills that respect in them. Also, she gets the last word (literally.)

In the same mould as Jessica is Delamber from Jack Vance’s The Faceless Man. Delamber is a distinctly more limited character than Jessica, as she is an indentured sex slave in a harshly misogynistic setting. She can only give general guidance to her son–but her warmth and courage prepares him for his heroic path throughout the next two books. As for emotional resilience: Mur/Gastel Etzwane is not her only child, and she refuses to attempt escape with him partly because she wishes to remain behind to protect her daughter; she also faces the loss of rank from “sex slave” to “work slave” and the attempted bullying of the priest-caste men with disdainful equanimity. As for plot relevance, the first book revolves around hero’s efforts to redeem her contract and rescue her (a time-honored SF plot, let us not forget.) Habits learned in the process drive him to eventually take on the responsibilities of leadership and protection for his world. There was no third book, shut up.

With a slight pivot to the least triumphant example: Empress Anais of The Braided Path by Chris Wooding. While this works technically–Anais is a major figure in the plot, is hugely motivated by her daughter and desire to protect her (daughter has magic, girls are not allowed to have magic. Magical girls, in particular, are not allowed to become Empresses. Magical girls are supposed to end up dead)–a) Anais does not interact very much with her daughter, b) Anais ends up dead. Also, c) these books weren’t very good.

My last and other triumphant example is that of Zamm, Agent of Vega (from The Truth About Cushgar) by James H. Schmitz. Zamm is an inverted example: she’s a mother who has lost her family. Zamm subsumes her grief and is firmly controlled by her intelligence and iron will. She uses her pain and longing as a weapon, against others–the (ice-cold manipulative spymaster) Third Co-Ordinator describes her as his “grand champion killer”–and against herself. Throughout the story, Zamm drives herself to look for more clues in her own mind and memories, even when this process could kill her or drive her insane. As for plot relevance, Zamm’s vendetta results in the Confederation winning an entire war…by accident.

And don’t ever try to go up against her with a pirate ship or a gun in your hand.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ve got. Thoughts?

Book Review: The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman

Well, as a dog returns to its vomit, so do I to this series. Thank God this seems to be the last one. I can’t think of another series written so poorly, by an author with such demonstrated and wasted potential, which I have wanted to like so badly. I mean, she was SO GOOD at writing Bleach fanfiction, surely that talent translates directly into the real world of real books with real covers9781984804815_p0_v1_s1200x630 and real sales, right?

Genevieve Cogman is not a good author of fantastic adventure. These books are ponderously slow, verbosely talky, amateurishly plotted, clunkily executed, and her characters have all the depth and warmth of ukiyo-e paintings, except without the craftsmanship or crisp elegance of design. And it’s really freaking depressing, because she had a bright, sciffian idea which would have made a really cool story if someone with actual abilities had written it, thought about it, and carried through with its possibilities.

That idea was this: incorporate fanfic versions of characters from other novels into this novel, using the justification that they are real people from other universes, recognizable because of their existence pan-dimensional Library. Think about it! Sherlock Holmes! Jareth from Labyrinth!….uh….some other characters from public domain literature! Like, like…uh….umm….the Disney Princesses!….I mean, not the Disney princess archetype, just a generic princess archetype that happens to not be under copyright. Um. How about a black guy being the police commissoner in pseudo-Victorian London?

At it’s core and base, this is supposed to be about book-stealing Librarian spy catburglars. Also secret identities, magical systems, and zeppelins. Also a horrifying and terrible villain driven mad by secrets from the depths of time and space and space-time and L-space. Also dragons. Where does it go wrong? And how can you possibly go wrong with dragons?

In so, so many different ways, but I’ll let my past reviews speak for themselves. This is the last book and the series plot, such as it is and believe me it is pretty damn weak, gets resolved.

So, anyhow, we eventually found out in The Dark Archive, that dread villain Alberich was Irene’s biological father. Or at least, his original body was. He’s an orb of chaos-infused energy bound to a moving corpse, now. Needless to say, this reveal was fucking obvious from BOOK ONE, but it still gets a full dramatic treatment in that book and into the next–this one.

Irene wants to do something about her father, preferably something that ends with his death. Also, worlds are disappearing. She has a series of conversations with people, and after about one third of the book has gone by, gets permission from the Library elders to covertly strike against Alberich. Also, worlds are disappearing. Another third of the book goes by, in which we learn that worlds have been disappearing, that Alberich is actually willing to talk terms with his daughter, and that The Library doesn’t want them to.

This is, we are led to suspect, because the Library doesn’t want people looking into the secrets of its founding. Also worlds are disappearing. How unfortunate, therefore, that during the past couple of books Irene has stumbled onto several stories concerning exactly that–stories of the founding of a mysterious library from both the Fae and Dragon point of view–and now, she finally finds out that there is also one from the human POV.

And it kind of matches what Alberich has been saying: that the Library is corrupted.

So a meeting is set up on a world that by no means has yet disappeared and absolutely has no reason to disappear and could not possibly be a trap by which inconvenient people who know too much are set up to disappear. Guess what happens then? No, go on, guess.

Anyhow, Alberich sacrifices what’s left of himself to break them free, and off they go again. Honestly, even with Alberich being as poorly-served as he has been throughout the series–and he was defeated by the heroine in every single book so far–he’s still kind of my favorite character from this series. I’ve always liked the villains who have, somewhere wayyyy far off in the distance, a noble cause or an ideal to aim at, but in the meanwhile don’t hesitate from saying, “let me be evil,” rolling up their sleeves, and getting to it. I also like family-as-villains (who doesn’t)–especially when they are willing to apply that selfsame philosophy to their family members, and willing to accept that turnabout is fair play. And, making your first appearance disguised in the skin of an enemy you have defeated and killed is kind of badass. Despite the fact that he was completely ineffective in each incarnation, Alberich himself is treated with enough dread and caution by the other characters that he still retains some inkling of menace–even when he’s just a walking burnt-out, dessicated corpse in a monk’s hood, which honestly takes some doing. Even the two-paragraph long summary of his fall to darkness and Irene’s mother’s escape, is more interesting and compelling than anything else in this entire damn book.

But anyway, with the series 95% done with and the person who has been the main villain of the series abruptly out of the way, we get introduced to the real evil behind the scenes. It’s as exactly as stupidly anticlimactic and frustrating as you might imagine. It’s defeated as easily as ever by Irene, and let me tell you how disappointed I was at that. I was even annoyed that Irene got a happy ending and her powers back.

How do you go wrong with such a provocative idea? Why bother to file the serial numbers off your Sherlock if you’re going to use him as a glorified doormat? Why pull Jareth off of dance-number duty without a long-standing sexual tension plot with the heroine (on the other hand, their relationship, such as it is, has the benefit of consistency.) Why make your dragons the epitome of stick-up-the-cloacaness and…actually, just why?

There are good aspects to this work. Beginning authors can read them and make careful notes about what not to do. (Hint: HAVING YOUR ADVENTURE FANTASY NOVEL BE ALMOST ENTIRELY DIALOGUE IS A BAD IDEA.) Struggling authors can find new strength in rage knowing that this garbage is getting edited and published instead of them. Readers can…read something else instead.

Rated: I really wanted to like these books! Goddamnit!

Readlist: The Shadow 1-3 – A Dark Legend Arises

So, somehow or other in 2017 I tried to read The Shadow pulp novels. Now, my initial criticisms are still valid: the books are very pulpy; the descriptions veer purple; the action is stodgy to today’s eye; and while Walter Gibson, alias Maxwell Grant, was still getting his feet under him, the result is highly uneven.

Still, there were elements and threads that stuck with me through each reading. The unforgettably atmospheric opening to the first novel and series as a whole, a hopeless man saved from destruction by what might as well be a mysterious force of nature itself and never mind that it turns out to be (sigh) Harry Vincent–the wicked creepy scene where Lamont Cranston talks to himself–the amusingly improbable setup of The Shadow’s personal radio broadcast station and ability to send stealthy messages by accenting certain words (it doesn’t help that a non-agent twigs to one message anyway)–the Shadow leaving the scene after surviving a ten-to-one battle, his form invisible, his presence shown only by splotches of blood–not to mention that the simple sheer charisma of the character itself.

In The Living Shadow, The Shadow himself is partly defined in this book by one of his major attributes in the series: his absolute mastery at the craft of disguise. He jumps from scene to scene, not to mention ethnicity to ethnicity, without incurring the slightest suspicion by other characters. That is, up until they end up on the wrong side of a minion dogpile while a dark figure exits, stage right, cackling sinisterly.

The other part, of course, is the fact that The Shadow is as new to the crooks of New York as he is to the reader, and boy do they get jumpy when they start to put two and two together and get  an unexplained black splotch on the floor as result. Half the fun of the first few / early books comes from watching the criminals get progressively more unnerved at perfectly ordinary GIANT SHADOWS STRETCHING LONG ARMS INTO THE ROOM AT NIGHT, and so forth.

Also, there’s Harry Vincent. Sigh. At least in the early books it’s understandable that a) he’s not very competent because he’s brand-new at this, b) The Shadow is hanging around near him to keep an eye on his newest agent’s progress and just incidentally rescue him repeatedly from danger that he walks blindly into. Like I said: the elements are all there, including competent and incompetent agents.

Speaking of competent agents, the proto-Rutledge Mann is Claude Fellows, also an insurance broker, also a social acquaintance of Lamont Cranston, rather more businesslike and distant. He doesn’t have any friendliness to the new agent; he’s taciturn and relays orders without comment or commendation. (Chubby Rutledge Mann is rather more sympathetic.) That’s cool and all, but I can’t shake the feeling that brand-new agents would be rather more effective aides to the cause if they were, y’know, actually trained and instructed on their duties rather than just dropped into the thick of things. Burbank also shows up; the dogged Joe Cardona is introduced; and Secret Service man Vic Marquette makes one of his ever-so-surprising appearances in the middle of nowhere, waving a badge and trying patiently to explain to some rather annoyed people that counterfeiting money isn’t allowed.

Re-reading these books–including the very first novel, The Living Shadow–it’s amazing how simultaneously full-on Shadowy and….not quite…they are at the same time. But by the second and third book–which I read back to back with book #78?, The Triple Trail, it’s clear that The Shadow himself sprang full-grown from Gibson’s brain; it just took a while for his author to catch up and craft a milieu to match.

Rated: still reading The Shadow send help

ReReview: The Shadow Laughs

Shadow_Laughs_Bantam[Back in the day (2017), I seem to have skipped over #2, The Eyes of the ShadowThe Shadow Laughs is the third book of the opening trilogy.]

This one starts out the gate strong. Frank Jarnow is admitted to the lodgings of the wealthy playboy Henry Windsor at precisely 8:00 pm. He states that he is not expected and will wait for his friend, as he has urgent business. Henry Windsor ambles in some time later. Unfortunately for Frank Jarnow’s urgent business, Windsor is stupid drunk, and in no condition to understand what Jarnow has to tell him about–

At which point Jarnow is shot. Windsor, horrified, naturally picks up the gun that was used to do it, and when the authorities come crashing in, is waving it around screaming that “You’ll be sorry for this, I’ll kill you all.”

The officer on scene, Harrison, considers this a slam-dunk case. Fortunately, Detective Griffiths is rather brighter than his compatriot, and notices the traces of a clever, daring, and cool-headed man who was able to enter the room, murder a man, and escape through the uproar without leaving a trace of himself besides a scrap of paper in the dead man’s hand with the letters “or” on it. V. mysterious, that.

Griffiths goes to the morgue to confirm his theory, carefully avoiding speaking to the nosy reporter who has also inveigled his way down there.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a reporter, and he puts Griffiths’ body on a trestle and walks out with a cool one-liner and disappears into the concrete jungle.

So far so good. And it gets better.

The scene switches over to Fellows (The Shadow’s information aggregator), who is tallying reports and thinking, a bit smugly, of how he now knows Lamont Cranston–whom he saw injured in the previous book–is The Shadow…when in walks Lamont Cranston, back from California. Cranston has a peculiar question to ask his friend: when was it that we last met? Because his valet seems to think he was recently injured, and that he had met with Fellows within the past few weeks–impossible, since Cranston had been in California for the past six months….

Fellows assumes that his loyalty is being tested, but….

Meanwhile, The Shadow is investigating both murders, reconstructs the crime, and profiles the culprit:

The murderer is five feet nine inches tall. Weighs approximately one hundred and sixty pounds. Wore black shoes, and a blue suit of rough cloth. Is right-handed. A crook of experience who can use a gun or a knife with equal facility.
Then these notations were added:
In appearance, the man is striking. Jarnow must have recognized him immediately. Yet he does not appear to be a crook; he is smooth, and convincing. Griffith did not suspect him.

….and exits, stage left, with a cackle.

At this point, the narrative takes a hard turn for the creepy when Lamont Cranston, millionaire playboy, wakes to find a dark figure at the foot of his bed–wearing his face.

The Shadow informs him that he has taken on the identity of Lamont Cranston, and it will be good for his health to take a long vacation in Europe….and if he chooses not, things will go very badly indeed for Lamont Cranston, millionaire playboy….

Brr. This scene is legitimately chilling, as The Shadow details the ways in which he controls the Lamont Cranston identity and can easily denounce the real man as an imposter.

Anyhow, there’s an interlude back in gangsterland, as a man named Reds Macklin hustles Spotter to find a man who is five foot nine, one hundred and sixty pounds, can use a gun or knife with equal facility, acts and talks like a gentleman, and is cool under pressure. Some way through the conversation, Spotter realizes that he isn’t actually speaking to the real Reds Macklin, and makes an escape. A haunting chuckle follows him out of the room….

Enter (sigh), Harry Vincent. Harry is kept busy for the rest of the book, hanging out with Henry Windsor’s brother, Blair; and is under the impression that he is to identify the man who killed Jarnow and is stalking Blair–which is either of two candidates who are Blair’s houseguests. As is usual with Harry Vincent, this plot is painfully boring and the incidents are prolonged by Harry’s ineptness. Suffice it to say that Blair is actually the bad guy and that (I think) this gang is also after the jewels that Bruce Whatshisface in the previous book had. Maybe. Or something. Isaac Coffran is involved but gets away; Henry Windsor is cleared when The Shadow forces a confession out of the dying murderer, and….well, the end. The Shadow knows, brah.

How is it all holding up?

The books are good enough entertainment when something is actually happening, or The Shadow doing something other than lurking, shadowy-ly, or eavesdropping. Also, there is an acute lack of Harry Vincent for the first half of the book, which is a major plus. Again, the writing is fairly beige and characterizations flat. That’s ok. This is a pulp novel, and an early entry, too.

What’s bad is that lack of action combined with the above; in the absence of characters, interesting dialogue, situations, epic scenery, or…I’m sorry to admit it, romance–there’s nothing to keep the reader (my!) interest in the story. It feels like nothing’s happening, and that what is happening is unimportant.

Aspiring authors take note. If in doubt at all, have someone burst in with an automatic in hand. Even better, have him shoot someone with it.

Rating: 2.5 counts of identity theft out of five.

Masterminds! Mastercrooks! Master fighters! And….Harry Vincent?!

So, similar to the discovery that no matter how mundane the word it, becomes, well, supercharged by the addition of the word “super” as a prefix, the same principle applies to “master-” (although it can also be two separate words.) Master fiends! Master fighter! Master detective, master sleuth! It’s adorable. Deny that you weren’t smiling when you pictured that. It gets better still when the context plays it entirely straightforwardly, from the devilishness of the fiends to the smarminess of the crooks, to the competence (supercompetence?) of the shadowy sleuth in question. Gibson wrote these books sincerely, with a love of the process, the characters, the excitement, that still never loses its craft–and steadily improves on itself, book by book.

Sidenote: if it kind of strains credulity nowadays that one guy with basic forensic knowledge and observational skills can tower over the entire police force…well, that’s because the early police departments, including and especially the New York City department, resisted using said techniques mightily. The first few forensic/toxicology experts basically had to fund themselves and were ignored by the cops for as long as it was possible to do so. We could also talk about the loose treatment of due process, exclusionary rules, and fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine…but definitely not in conjunction with pulp detective fiction mystery stories.  

Anyhow, the first 10-25ish books were good, not great. There is really something special about these books and this character, and the strength of that was enough to carry the series through some patches that read very, very roughly to the modern eye. Gibson (aka, “Maxwell Grant”) tended to hew very closely to the very pure pulp formula that Edgar Rice Burroughs perfected–in other words, there always has to be a damsel in distress needing to be rescued, and where there is no one else available for the job, Harry Vincent will do (sigh.)

Especially in the earlier books, the writing on the action scenes was really bad. That’s not surprising–it’s tough to do action really well; and there’s also the cultural expect….why the hell can I not spell that word…TIMES HAVE CHANGED, BASICALLY.  Well, so did Gibson. By the time we’d hit around #50, he’d improved on his work. The fistfights are still clunky, but the gunplay descriptions had improved and he’d put his focus on that.

Another Sidenote: The Shadow couldn’t fit into our modern day world very well….but he could very easily slip into just a slightly stylized version of it. Such as, say, the John Wick universe–one where there are master crooks, classy and not-so-classy dames, gat-swinging gorillas, old-school femme fatales, and sharp dressed mobsmen.–and where everyone avoids using cell phones or computers and prefers face-to-face meetings, typewriters, and paper filing systems. Oh, and in which there is plenty of room for word of mouth to spread tales of legendary and scary figures in a defined underworld mileu. 

Books 50-75 (or thereabouts) get visibly better. Somewhere around the late #60s, Gibson finally figured out that The Shadow’s agents are going to have to convincingly pull their own weight in order for the audience, or The Shadow himself to take them seriously. Nowhere is this more evident than in Crooks Go Straight, wherein The Shadow himself gets taken unaware by the actual villain, falls down a two-story death pit trap into the coal cellar (all brownstones come with those, dont’cha know), rendering him unconscious. The villain ties him up “expertly,” adding wire ties to the rope ones for extra security, shoves him in a box, piles another box on top of that one, and then makes a phone call to his mob buddies before leaving the house, whistling. Only Harry Vincent remains active and free to save the day! And with past evidence against him, it looks like a really, reallyreally long shot for The Shadow. 

But save the day Harry does, and it’s an amazing turn-around for a guy who literally got bashed on the head and carried away like a sack of potatoes….multiple times. One of the tricks Gibson may have figured out is that having one agent = plot progress when that agent screws up; two agents = plot progress as they talk to and play off each other, even if one of them does screw up and lose a tail in the process. So, besides the bump in quality of the writing, The Shadow’s agent’s being suddenly about 90% more competent than before plays a big part in my enjoyment of the books.

Gibson also remains a master plotter, both in the style of assembly and pacing, but in retaining creativity, suspense, and originality even after familiarity with the last 75 of these books should have made me wise to his formula. Gibson doesn’t stick to one single formula or plot; he cycles through maybe a dozen plot-slash-genre types, and once he’s settled on one, he deliberately tries to write it contrary to your expectations. For example, Murder Marsh features an old Gothic mansion, a tyrannical patriarch-slash-mad-scientist complete with beautiful daughter, a wild man of the carrying-fainted-maidens off over his shoulder type, and more. (Including Harry Vincent. Sigh.) But then, while the Gothic mansion turns into not an ornate death trap and people the mad scientist has a reason to dislike, vanish mysteriously, it turns out that said mad scientist is mostly only mildly obsessed; the love interest turns out to not be all he seems; and the wild man who kidnaps the unconscious damsel (who, we might point out, is the only one to raise the alarm on intruders in the house and the penultimate time, heads out with her .22 automatic and gets the drop on them) is actually the real heir of the gloomy old house on the marsh. There are also more red herrings than you’d normally expect to find in a barrel marked “DYED FISH,” but such is the price of originality.

Mind you, the downside to relentless red-herring/subverting the audience is that the climax of some books is filled with multiple characters and/or The Shadow carefully explaining what actually happened and who dun it or why not, but again, when it works, it works.

Anyhow, I’m out of time.

Rated: If the weed of crime bears bitter fruit, does the poisonous tree not apply to those who sowed it? 

Jawbreakers: G0d-King

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This pin-up scared the hell out of my three year old niece, I may add.

TLDR: I liked it, but comic books really aren’t my thing. 

So: as we may or may not all know, Jawbreakers is a comic book franchise created by Ya Boi Zack / Richard C. Meyer, and there was quite a bit of drama surrounding its initial publication. Short version: Ya Boi had an actual publisher lined up to print and publish the intro novel, Jawbreakers: Lost Souls, but due to enormous social media pressure by the SJW comics mafia, and potentially illegal interference by comic book writer Mark Waid, the publisher bowed out of the deal. Meyer turned to crowdfunding, and has been enormously successful ever since. I reviewed Jawbreakers: Lost Souls here. I thought it was almost excellent. 

The Jawbreakers (They’re superheroes who fight crime. By punching it in the face. Since they have super strength….geddit?) are an ex-superhero team now working as mercenaries in Africa. And it’s an interesting team of varied and colorful characters, from the mute ninja who lives for revenge against his own father, to the code-switching bulletproof black guy (“Kuffs! Get in front of the tank and shield it with your body!”) There’s also a blind priest, an ex-marine, and the tormented and grieving team lead/main hero, Silkworm. They are contacted by Autumn, a young superheroine whose team, The Millenials, has been treacherously murdered. She’s come to hire them, knowingly, to enact a suicide mission.

She wants them to save the city. She wants them to kill a being who has stolen himself the power of a god.

She’s also their leader’s estranged daughter.

Also, that godlike power? She wasn’t kidding. As soon as they set foot in New York, their weaponry turns to rose petals and drifts away.

Dun dun dun.

Book 2 develops the story a bit more….and kills off part of the team…revealing Mute Ninja Guy’s true (or are they?) colors, and setting the stage for the fight with G0d-King. Frankly, it’s been a while since I read this one (it was bundled in with my copy of Lost Souls, which currently resides at my parents’ house) and the only thing I remember is I didn’t like the artwork quite as much.

Book 3, which I finally had enough disposable income to buy, concludes the saga, with heroism, excitement, giant mechas, god-guns, ninjas!, pretty pictures, humor (Silkworm undercutting the villain’s villainous boast to his Lovecraftian masters is the most hilarious counter to a monologue ever played dead straight), and even a heartwarming conclusion. It….

It’s….great.

Except it’s really, really abrupt.

…see, the problem is, Meyer treats these characters as though they’re multi-year established characters that the audience is intimately familiar with, has followed through adventures, knows them, knows their adversaries–such as the ones that pop up for one panel, get punched in the face, and then limp off clutching their jaw and muttering–and understands all these nuances of the setting and plot without prior setup in-story. In this story. And this is a problem, because while these characters may have this rich history, it’s in Meyer’s head, not within the (admittedly, expanding, but I’ve only read Lost Souls and G0d-King) extant canon of stories.

The story hangs together fine, it’s logical and the characters are consistent. And the art was prettier in this one than in the second, so that was nice, because I actually slowed down and looked at it now and then.

So, yeah: my only problems with this book is that a) it’s not an actual book, it’s a comic book. If you wanted to be a real writer, why not write real books….but actually my real problem is: It’s very abrupt and there’s very little setup. This may be a comic book thing–but I get the feeling that mostly that it’s a “lack of gigantic backstory canon that is actually written down for audiences, Zack” thing.

Anyhow. Will I buy more Jawbreakers books? There’s a simple enthusiasm in this franchise that is very endearing. Like Correia at his best, you can sometimes hear Meyer giggling to himself as he writes out sound effects for action-comedy scenes.–or feel the lump in your throat at the serious ones. On the other hand, these things are expensive, they take about twenty minutes to read through (because I’m not some moron with no reading comprehension who has to look at pictures), and they’re not exactly infinitely re-readable. 

Rated: it was great, but comic books just aren’t my thing. 

Readlist: Supercrooks! Superfiends! Supersleuths! And also Harry Vincent (sigh)

shadow_magazine_vol_1_57So, I’m at #68 I think? These have covered the gamut from The Crime Circus to Gypsy Vengeance, The Garaucan Swindle and Murder Marsh. One of the things that keeps these stories fresh is that there’s a huge range in genre: Murder Marsh and others before it have a gothic melodrama tone (frequently livened up by the entrance, stage left, of leering gunmen) and modulated by the presence of a mad (or at least, extremely permanently peeved) scientist. Gypsy Vengeance features actually precious little vengeance but long-lost aristocrats reclaiming their property and the ever-favorite, jewelry. And The Garaucan Swindle covers malfeasance by big banking corporations working in conjunction with corrupt South American regimes. Not to mention the ever-present gangsters. 

Now, this isn’t to say that every single story is a 10. While all of them have been superbly readable, I couldn’t off the top of my head tell you what exactly Charg, Monster was about; and it took some thinking to recall that The Cobra wasn’t actually about some aspiring fakir with a literal cobra. (It’s about another guy who appears to be following The Shadow’s vigilante footsteps, but more vigorously, and our not-yet-clued-in Police Commissioner Weston thoroughly approves.) But the ones that do stand out, stand out like a mysterious blackened spot on the sidewalk of a darkened alley that ends in a perfect silhouette. 

I mean, what else can you say about books like The Crime Circus, in which The Shadow alias The Great Zoda performs a mind-reading act, Cliff Marsland becomes a carny, Vic what’s-his-name of the Secret Service is lurking as the Wild Man from Borneo, the high-wire girl being a long-lost secret heiress is mentioned as an easily-forgotten aside? (and while the bit about the reward for capture does get woven back into the plot, frankly the girl herself only exists as a character in order for the villains to have someone to kidnap at the end of Act 3.) It’s marvelous. There’s also a bit where The lurking Shadow decides to hide inside a tiger cage while pursuit goes past. WHILE THE TIGER IS STILL IN IT. FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN THAT HE WANTS TO GO HANG OUT IN A TIGER CAGE, APPARENTLY! 

Then there are just the moments that are pure bravura flourishes, as when in The Blue Sphinx, Cliff Marsland (having escaped the Iron Maiden which was prominently featured as a red herring) is about to get guillotined as due reward for being a sneak and a snitch. Of course a rescue is forthcoming, but while The Shadow is needed to cover the doorway, Clyde Burke has the honors. Clyde, having been held prisoner until just recently, is unarmed, so The Shadow snatches a poignard off a display table and throws it across the room into the wooden frame of the guillotine for Burke to use. How freaking cool is this guy? That’s how cool!

Admitedly there are books that are somewhat uneven, such as The Spoils of The Shadow, wherein we have a very strong antagonist and a compelling plot: Mark Tyrell, who has a plan to steal a million in jewels, and who decides to prefix his reign of knavery by meeting The Shadow face to…well, prosthesis…either to cut a deal or warn him off. Frankly, this is one of the best moments for The Shadow, as he spots an obvious trap, deploys his own agents and deftly disables the trap before even setting foot into the room with Tyrell, proceeds to scare Tyrell not completely stiff but almost witless, and then exits despite the strong objections of at least one gangster in the antechamber with a .45. The rest of the book keeps up this pace and tension, as Tyrell inexplicably manages to pull off the very thefts he boasted of, in the presence of New York’s elite and also of the keenly alert yet weirdly lackadaisical Lamont Cranston. Now, I consider the 10th-hour plot twist to be something of a cheat, and I’m always going to roll my eyes at elaborate booby traps, but the rest of the book was just magnificent. 

Why don’t we have intelligent heroes any more? (Please ignore Harry Vincent in the corner, it’s his job to get whacked on the head. We keep him around so that we don’t get brain damaged ourselves.) 

Anyhow, on a similar note, the status quo of New York City and our cast of superstalwarts actually doesn’t remain completely fixed. The Garaucan Swindle sees Commissioner Weston depart for South America in order to heroically….establish a police state in conjunction with a general who has executed a military coup and overthrown the civilian government….?

….point is, his replacement, Commissioner Barth, is incompetent enough that the audience is pretty certain to welcome Weston back with open arms.

The Shadow also finds need to expand his organization. Now, part of this is due to the unalloyed incompetence of Harry Vincent, but Cliff Marsland is honestly nearing the end of his useful lifespan as a lone wolf gun for hire of fame and repute whose companions and bosses keep inexplicably dying off in gun battles with The Shadow whilst he, Cliff, survives. And when the active part of your organization consists of (sigh) Harry Vincent and Cliff, you obviously need help.

So The Chinese Disks sees the activation of a handful of other agents: Hawkeye the spotter, Pietro the fruitcart man, Moe the taxicab man, and Jericho Druke, the big black guy. Additionally, there’s the trustworthy doctor, Dr. Rupert Sayre, who proves his usefulness and ability to hold his tongue several times when The Shadow has been less lucky or strangely incautious or simply ended up facing greater odds than he knew (those are, barring voice-activated murder robots) basically the only ways he gets hurt.) With the exception of Hawkeye, these men have something in common: their lives have been saved by The Shadow–and he is a man who can and will call in these debts for repayment. 

(Hawkeye is actually a reformed crook who associates with Slade Farrow, a sociologist who has the knack for setting crooks straight. He also gets called on by The Shadow periodically, but for less dangerous jobs than Marsland.)

Meanwhile (sigh) there’s Harry Vincent. At this point I just feel sorry for the guy. It’s not so much that he’s merely incompetent–it’s that whenever he appears, even as a point of view character, he never has any impact on the plot except negatively. Even when he’s been restored as the narrator of Murder on the Hill, the only thing he manages to do is a) drop his gun, which someone else picks up and uses to wing The Shadow, b) get knocked out and carried off [yes, we said carried off, the guy actually has to put him down and take a couple of breathers] by a third party who has done all the necessary detective work to figure out who the actual bad guy is and then explains it to Harry. Mind you, it was still a good book, in part due to said third party, a railroad detective of unclear intentions and dubious credentials, who keeps squabbling with the guy who runs the telegraph at the station–motivations also, it transpires, unknown. Gibson’s ability to write vivid one-off characters is another thing that keeps these stories fresh.

Anyhow, they’re really really, good is what I’m saying.

Rated: HAHAHAHAHAHAaaaaaa

Readlist: Harry Vincent, you had ONE JOB

85dca8303aefc105db3c1a3eb158a084A sinister force holds New York City’s elite in terror! A mysterious madman known as….The Black Falcon!….is kidnapping and holding millionaires for ransom across the city. He strikes at will, contemptuous of the hunches of NYPD ace, Detective Cardona, and the personal direction of Police Commissioner Weston. Even the chance intervention of celebrated world traveler and big-game hunter, Lamont Cranston, barely disrupts and does not even foil his dastardly abductions!

In fact, the menacing mind of the supercriminal is quick to grasp that Lamont Cranston is The Shadow! And thus, plans his most daring and most astounding coup yet–the kidnapping for ransom of…Lamont Cranston!

Caught, threatened by gunfire and with his guests’ lives at stake, the eccentric millionaire has no choice other than to go quietly! He is taken, like the other victims, to a remote hideaway. Of course, instant news of the capture is communicated to Burbank, but with their chief gone, who will direct his agents? All hope lies on the one man placed in readiness, the one man with the record of faithful service, the one free agent of The Shadow standing by: Harry Vincent! We, the readers, know of the dedication and prowess of men who serve The Shadow’s cause of justice! We know their selflessness, their expertise, their….

….Harry Vincent gets spotlighted and whacked with a sap within half a chapter of his appearance. Great job, Harry. Why does he even keep you around?

Rated: That Lamont Cranston’s a quiet sort of chap, isn’t he?

The Shadow Always Knows readlist

e6609d6c80ab74e5671a297a4c357b70-800 I’m still reading The Shadow pulp novels by Maxwell Grant (i.e., Walter B. Gibson). In fact, I just finished #35, The Silver Scourge, sometime last night. Tip about formatting .pdf files for Kindle–if they are simple .pdfs without illustrations or odd formatting, use Calibre or your program of choice to convert them to .txt. Kindles can handle .txt and the OCR seems to work quite well. 

Anyhow, in the absence of taking detailed notes, these books blend together. They’re fast-moving, simple, lightweight,  fairly standardized at this point, and thoroughly enjoyable. The casts in the initial books, as Gibson worked out his formula, were a little bit more varied–sometimes he would have guest stars dip in to serve as narrator–but he seems to mostly abandon this once he has the core crew of Burbank, Rutledge Mann, Clyde Burke, and Cliff Marsden. And (sigh) Harry Vincent. There’s also the dogged but marginally competent Inspector Cardona, his sidekicks Detective Klein and Sergeant Markham; there’s the bulldogged and marginally less competent Police Commissioner (Weston? Watson? Something like that.) Gibson did experiment with a couple of female characters, but without exception they have been extremely minor and (in the case of Cliff Marsland’s actual wife) quickly forgotten. Apparently, this didn’t actually hurt The Shadow Magazine’s sales with female readers, which may have reached about 30% of total audience. Impressive, and also: DUH, women read books for the hot guys, too.

There are a few set locations: the office door of B. Jonas (where chubby-faced Rutledge Mann, the intel guy, drops off envelops of newspaper clippings and notes written in vanishing bright blue ink). There’s The Shadow’s sanctum, which has gotten slightly filled out beyond the black void room it was originally. Lamont Cranston’s New Jersey mansion has also gone on display a few times. 

Of the cast, Burbank is the “quiet voiced” Mission Control who alone has the ability to directly contact The Shadow. Burbank is rather interestingly similar to his employer in that he has a remarkable, single-minded dedication to his job–sometimes staying on duty for days at a stretch–something which the author notes is going to be in some ways harder for a man who is literally locked inside a dark room, than for the men out in the field. Clyde Burke is a newspaper tabloid reporter who, fittingly, is introduced in one of the more over-the-top stories (The Death Tower), featuring a mad scientist and the threat of vivisection plus slow brain removal without anesthesia. Which, frankly, nobody these days would quibble about but….nevertheless The Shadow rescues him and (sigh) Harry Vincent anyway.

Slightly less incompetent purely because he’s supposed to have a reputation in gangland as a tough customer and a gat for hire, is square-jawed Cliff Marsland. Marsland served in France in WW1 (and possibly met The Shadow there, not that he knows it), and has done a stint in Sing Sing for another man’s crime (the wastrel brother of the girl he supposedly marries at the end of the book.) No one ever connects the dots with Cliff Marsland turning up for jobs and everyone he works with turning up dead, because, well, they all end up dead. 

And then there’s (sigh) Harry Vincent. Harry Vincent has a special place in the mythos, as he’s the most common point of view character and first agent we see The Shadow recruit: he’s pulled back from the brink of suicide and given a chance at life–life with honor, danger, adventure, courage, and also money. Thing is, this dude is so utterly useless it’s both laughable and infuriating. Yes, The Shadow’s agents are far less skilled, intelligent, capable, and cool than he is. But frankly, having Harry Vincent tail someone means that Harry Vincent is going to be spotted and whacked with a blackjack. Having Harry Vincent guard someone? That someone is as good as dead. Having Harry Vincent attempt to contact or pump someone for information? Generally means that Harry Vincent is going to get blackjacked, again, because DUDE. And, granted, the author isn’t on his side and is deliberately making him look less cool. But still. Sigh.

And then there’s the master of darkness who does ceaseless and fearless battle with the forces of evil: The Shadow himself. One of the cleverest parts of the pulps is that The Shadow genuinely is a mystery to the readers. He is not his main social identity, Lamont Cranston. Neither is he Henry Arnaud. His face is anything he wishes it to be–in early books it’s hinted he may be disfigured to the point of having no face. This is somewhat reinforced by future descriptions’ emphasis on the weirdly “masklike” and immobile cast of his features, and a scene of him donning a full-face prosthetic disguise. Small snippets of his backstory have trickled out–he served in Europe in World War One and knew Cliff Marsden; he was once a stowaway on board a German zeppelin with orders to destroy it (the zeppelin’s former captain gasps in horror at finding his ultra-secret craft was compromised); and his girasol ring was given him personally by one of the Romanoffs (but somehow also has a secret Chinese inscription underneath the gem, shrug.) He speaks multiple languages. He knows “jujutsu.”

The other part of what makes The Shadow is that he’s never less knowledgeable than the audience (although much more so than his agents.) He knows just about as much as the audience does, generally, because he’s secretly in the room when the crooks discuss things, or has Burbank listening in on a wire, or (sigh) Harry Vincent in the next diner booth over, eavesdropping. Admittedly, it sometimes does take some sort of logical contortion for him to deduce information that couldn’t otherwise have obtained–but the audience is more likely to forgive characters suddenly figuring things out which they, the readers, have known all along and which allows said characters to reach Point X in time for the climactic fight. So: good trick to make use of in, authors take note. 

The novels are fairly dramatic, but not entirely devoid of humor:

There’s a bit where The Shadow deduces that the crooks of the novel are going to need to kidnap some easy money to bankroll their fiendish experiments….which leads to Lamont Cranston throwing a lavish party and virtually waving fistfuls of money at the contact man while talking loudly about how rich and careless he is with his money and the control thereof, which, haha, is okay after all because he’s soooo rich. While standing in front of a conspicuous, open, man-sized crate. PST DID I MENTION I’M RICH?

And, there’s a bit where The Shadow has to dive into his car and make an ultra-quick change from “unkempt dockside bum” to “I own this car, officer, what seems to be the trouble?” The narrative notes that he was wearing the “immaculate” evening wear underneath the overalls (uh-huh, sure), and he’s in the process of kicking off the pants when the bobby comes over to investigate. The sequence is doubtless informed by Gibson’s background as a stage illusionist, but I still had to giggle when the pop-up top hat came on.

Anyhow, I’m out of time.

Rated: look, I’m in the process of converting books 37-57 to txt for my Kindle, what do you think?

Dune (2021) – Movie Review

dune-poster-06oct20Overall: incompetent.

The movie is able to evoke emotions, but not set up plot points. The movie attempts spectacle, but can’t handle larger than life characters or epic situations. It can’t handle even moderately-lifelike characters, either, but that’s equally the fault of the actors–but then why didn’t you cast better actors? The movie attempts to adapt the book faithfully, in parts, but every single scene that is lifted directly from the book was honestly, legitimately done better in the gonzo 1984 version. No, I mean for real, without exaggeration and/or nostalgia filters: the 1984 version did every single specific scene better, from the gom jabbar to Duke Leto’s death to Jessica and Paul reacting to the death! It’s…it’s so poorly done, wow.

That being said, I can count on one hand the scenes which this movie does well: an original scene where Duke Leto accepts the Emperor’s decree; Paul saying good-bye to Caladan; Paul and Jessica escaping from the Harkonnen thugs in the ornithopter; and Paul’s knife-fight with Jamis. Those are good. I will also give it props for the ornitopters, which are extremely neat; and there is also no random pug dog (for the good guys) or cat-milking (for the bad guys.) If you don’t know what either of those things are, count your blessings and stay away from the 1984 version. Just read the book.

chani-dune-2020Well, this movie sets its own distinctive stamp on the procedings immediately: it’s narrated by Chani, instead of by Irulan. Very original. Chani plus the background action gives a brief (although with all the slow-mo it seems longer) overview of the situation on Arrakis. All I’m thinking is that this is 3 minutes in including credits and I am not impressed.

We cut immediately to Paul waking up and this immediately reinforces how the slow-mo of the past three minutes could have been replaced with “Tell me of the waters of your homeworld, Usul,” setting the groundwork for Paul and Chani’s relationship, subtly worldbuilding Arrakis, and a) being less annoying, b) being more accurate to the book. Incidentally, if Liet-Kynes is Chani’s (now) mother, and she’s very black, why is Chani merely pale brown? Dude, I just continue and continue to not be impressed by this girl as Chani. Put her as Irulan if you must cast for brown skin somewhere in your movie. You need someone who is actually lean and tough-looking (like the actress cast as her mother!) as a Fremen girl. They also try wayyyyy too hard to make her a STRONK FEMALE CHARACTER. Hint: she was cool, clever, well-rounded, interesting, badass, and compelling in the books, without forced antagonism towards Paul.

But movies are different than books! Why should movies TRY to be accurate to the books? Because filmmakers are morons, making entertainment for morons, directed, written, staffed, acted, and produced by morons. Prose writers might not be much better, but lacking the crutches that visual media offer, are forced to put a little bit of thought into their works. Movies should hew closely to the books whenever possible in order to borrow the thoughtfulness, internal logic, and worldbuilding that the original authors provided.

dune-delay-rebecca-ferguson-2714968Goddamnit, at 3 minutes and 50 seconds into this movie I AM DETERMINED TO APPROACH IT WITH A NONHOSTILE ATTITUDE. I woke up this morning with a hankering to watch it, I am going to watch it. This looks like Jessica. Jessica is my favorite character in all of science fiction. Let’s see what happens. (Ok, promising, promising, they have the painting of the Old Duke hanging up in the dining room.)

Movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak. For instance: rescuing the spice miner crew –in the book, the rescue ship simply doesn’t show up, having been sabotaged or bought off already. Here, it fails on “one point of contact,” oh noes!….and then buggers off. Not even a direct sabotage or hostile attack, something which would give the Judge of the Change legitimate pause for thought and give Leto’s already-heroic rescue of the crew additional polish. It just…buggers off, and the fact that it’s SINGLE point of failure precipated the whole scene makes Leto attempting to call Liet-Kynes on this makes him come across as blustery and weak.

I have said before and will say again: modern movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak and their actions ineffectual, not to mention letting anybody have badass deaths. Yueh, having been a complete nonentity for the length of the movie, doesn’t even get the courtesy of his defiant last lines to the Baron, showing that he understands completely what he did buy for his Wanna. Duncan Idaho has to effectively come back from the dead in order to make his legendary last stand be effective, because Paul and Jessica JUST STAND THERE while he’s fighting TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE, MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT OF HIS FIGHTING TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE. Liet-Kynes almost manages to have a cool death, though it’s too rushed to have impact.

The director is largely to blame for most of the flatness of this movie. Yes, he’s good at slow-mo and there’s excellent set dressing and here and there he actually manages to inject sneak some color into the costumes (Jessica’s orange dress is so lonely and alone out there, it promptly goes away again and it looked bloody impractical anyway, but IT WAS THERE, wow!) What he’s not good at is, apparently, casting good actors; or drawing competent performances out of mediocre (looking at you, Timothee with two E’s) ones, or poor (looking at you, Zendaya) ones.

I’m not sold on this Jessica, or on her methods, but….Yeah, overall I’m not sold. She has an uncomfortable amount of chemistry with her on-screen son and it a) comes at the expense of her scenes with her actual husband, b) continues throughout the movie, c) IS CREEPY. She’s also far, far too emotional, for a noblewoman, a Duke’s consort, or a Bene Gesserit adept. However, I will say that (albeit with the copious help of ADR special effects on The Voice) she handles the escape scene excellently. This is how you adapt a scene from a novel: make it dynamic.

oscar-isaac-wollte-in-dune-ursprunglich-keinen-bart-haben-980x400-1 I am COMPLETELY unsold on Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto. A subplot of Paul wanting to accompany Duncan on the advance scouting mission has been added, which segues from characterizing Paul for the audience (and this makes him different from in the book, yes, and yes I know why, and yes I’ve already put my thoughts out about that) to providing more exposition for and characterization of Leto. And if you thought that a focus on Leto would showcase his arrogance, determination, family pride, or charisma, guess again.

Josh Brolin, whom I originally thought was Discount Kurt Russell, is….GURNEY HALLECK? The ugly, scarred minstrel guy with the big grin and bigger knives? Really? I always imagined him as blond. Jason Momoa, of course, playing SpaceArmor-Momoa, well, is playing SpaceArmor-Momoa. WITH A MAN BUN. The dude who plays Thufir Hawat drawls like some dude from Brooklyn and is utterly underwhelming. HEY THAT’S JIU CHENG THE GOD OF WAR AS DOCTOR YUEH! I guess it works to have Yueh be comparatively a younger, good-looking guy. Oh gods…was the spider-thing….? Thankfully, this movie glosses right along over that plot point.

Javier Bardem, someone has already noted, is riffing off Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin chieftain, and as such is miles ahead of everyone else in this movie.

Overall, the set dressing is great. It’s clean-looking, with just the kind of retrofuturism that works perfectly for this genre. But then you get little disruptive touches like…shiny beetle faceplates that just…don’t…work. Like: the ceremony of accepting the Emperor’s decree, spaceship landing, robed party walking down the ramp blah blah, all excellent scifi-y stuff. It’s immediately ruined by the shot of the robed people having giant curved opaque faceplates. It’s just off enough to throw you out of immersion.

The soundtrack is trash. I mean, like wow it’s trash. It’s legit just a collection of drones, tones and the occasional thump/bwaaaaa; it adds nothing to the scenes that it overlays. I am not exaggerating, these are scenes that are teetering on the edge of decent and could be elevated by better music.

So, it looks like many of the pure-spectacle scenes, and the majority of original-content scenes, are done well for a given value of “well done.” No one really knows how to do pure spectacle these days. Where this movie suffers is where it tries to take things from the book….because these are very poorly handled. Like, WOW the scene with Shadout Mapes and the crysknife was shot, acted, framed, choreographed, adapted terribly. Why not just make an epic scifi movie and say “inspired” by Dune? And then, also steal from a bunch of other scifi classics, like Foundation, The Star Kings, etc, mash them together and lay claim to the result? Instant success, I promise.

Misc:
– OK, I legit cracked up: Gurney Halleck starts quoting poetry when they first land on Arrakis, but the preceding shot makes it look like he’s cheating and looking up the words beforehand. AND THEN SOME GUY, NOT GURNEY, WALKS PAST WITH BAGPIPES.
– Oh boy, ok. We get another original scene, of Salusa Secondus and the Saudaukar rituals, which apparently involve Tuvan Throat Singing and human sacrifice.
– So anyway, about one hour and 15 minutes in, the Harkonnen/Saudaukar attack, and just to emphasize how much the Atreides were caught with their pants down, there’s the obligatory “men running across an open space with fire in the background and getting blown up occasionally” shot. WITH BAGPIPES.
– Ye gods.
This is SO DUMB. No wonder people make fun of space movies with swords and magic powers.
Ye gods.
– (Jason Momoa JasonMomoas around with his man-bun a bit.)
– OH MY GOD GO GO POWER RANGER PAUL WHAT THE HELL. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY???? SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?
– Ew. SERIOUSLY, EW. MOVIE GO BACK TO INCOMPETENTLY ADAPTING SCENES DIRECTLY FROM THE BOOK.
– Just read the book. Really, even though it’s long it’s worth it. It’s engrossing, exciting, and it has all these really cool ideas and characters that are so much more interesting in the book and your own head than in this movie.

Rated: Just read the book.