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.

The Shadow Knows Readlist

So I’ve been working my way through The Shadow pulp novels (#s16-25 on this batch) all by Maxwell Grant AKA Walter B. Gibson. I’m not 100% sure what triggered this binge, because the last time I tried (back in 2017), I bounced off hard.

As far as each individual story goes, there’s not much to review. Crimes are committed; viewpoint narrator–sometimes one of The Shadow’s agents, such as (sigh) Harry Vincent the eternally distressed dude, sometimes the dogged detective Joe Cardona, sometimes just a random passer-by who gets involved–investigates or gets dragged along in the excitement. There are very few female characters: these are boy books, adventures and gunfights only! Sometimes it’s the criminals who spot a vague shape on the floor that drifts away when they look closer, sometimes it’s the narrator; but there’s always a weird onlooker who is never himself seen, often emitting a weird whispered laugh at moments when laughter is definitely not called for. The Shadow’s agents / POV characters tend to do the legwork of the story, while The Shadow does the heavy detecting, daring rescues, and both guns-blazing attacks in the teeth of gangdom/crime cults/etc. There is often a mastermind or a behind-the-scenes higher level boss to the street-level crimes, but he as well as his minions receive their comeuppance either at the hands of the police, The Shadow, or, in their terror and guilt, themselves.

They’re top-notch pulp fiction: easy come, easy go. I couldn’t really tell you any of the details of any of the past ones.  There was one about, uh, a pseudo-oriental crime cult, and there were a bunch of inheritance murders, and then there was one with this mad inventor (who was being manipulated by his financial backer guys) who had this automatic threatening letter mailing device thingy, and then there was the one last night, which had another oriental crime cult and opium smuggling. The current one is causing me immense amusement inasmuch as it’s about breaking up a ring of extortionist psychic mediums…and The Shadow keeps breaking up seances by showing up and cackling, which scares everyone including the phony psychics.

Needless to say, The Shadow is handled in a way that preserves the mystique of the character, shows how powerful and dangerous he is, and maintains his cool bravura. There is never more than a glimpse of The Shadow: usually, all that the “narrator” sees of him is his outline–tall, thin, in a black cloak and slouch hat–or his hands and girasol ring when he’s working at his desk. Even when he is injured, tired, or wounded–which is rare, since his usual role is to swoop in when his agents are in danger–there is never a sense of vulnerability to this guy. In fact, on the rare occasions when we do get close in to The Shadow, he just gets creepier. So far, too, it doesn’t even seem like the author is cheating to make him enter and escape the situations he does, either. It makes perfect sense that The Shadow can slip in and out of an ambush by every gat wielder in town when he’s just barely been forewarned of their presence by his own habit of being stealthy, creepy, and cautious. Or that he’s got his own man in place ahead of time to cover his escape. Or that he’s able to take advantage of confusion and panic and plunge through the midst of the gangsters, dual automatics blazing.

One of my problems back in the day was that the action was terribly, terribly written. A dozen-plus books in, it’s definitely better, which is to say, there’s comparatively more of it and it’s less clunky. This is not to say that it’s great. But it’s at this point readable.

Some of the descriptions are bang-on bone chilling. And there are of course some standout scenes–the wicked creepy part in an early book where Lamont Cranston, playboy millionaire, returns home unexpectedly, wakes to find a man with his own face in his own room, and is in no uncertain terms told that he can leave town again or be denounced as an imposter by the real Lamont Cranston.

And then there’s the part where the Burmese crime cult is going to imprison the drugged damsel of the novel in the sacred silver casket, for ever hail Kali amen!….only to find that The Shadow has snuck in and is waiting inside it instead, presumably solely for the sake of scaring the hell out of everybody with the dramatic reveal. (To make things even better, once that reveal is over, he takes a seat on the high priest’s ornate throne while menacing everybody with his dual automatics and, of course, laughs.)

But….well…whenever The Shadow is “gliding soundlessly” or “flitting eerily” down a hallway or across a room I keep imagining him walking on tip-toes and that just kind of ruins it all.

Rated: MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Show me what you love

(Alucard is watching Adventure Time in his room)
(TV suddenly explodes as Luke enters.)

Alucard: That was a 70-inch… plasma screen TV. (smacks his lips and inhales deeply) So… how can I help you?
Luke: You must be the great Alucard…
Alucard: ‘Suup.
Luke: I’ve heard quite a lot about you.
Alucard: Oh, really?
Luke: The nightwalker…who glides through oceans of blood… beyond human, a monster whose power radiates with a darkness that casts a shadow on darkness itself—
Alucard: Oh, you dirty bitch! Work the shaft!
Luke: …Excuse you?
Alucard: Oh, I’m sorry, I like the dirty talk when someone’s sucking my dick.
Luke: Perhaps I should just skip to my point. My name is Luke Valentine.
Alucard: And I’m Carmen Sandiego. Guess where I am.
Luke: I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you here.
Alucard: Oh, so am I, and I’m failing, and I’m sorry for that. It’s just that I’m so agitated, because this blond little shit just strolled into my room, destroyed my 70-inch plasma TV, and is trying to impress me like I’m his alcoholic father.
(Both draw and point their guns at each other’s heads from point-blank range)
Alucard: Be a sport and grab Daddy another beer, would you?

I’m also highly partial to:
Alucard: Get that bitch a cannon! Bitches love cannons!
And,
Alucard: BITCH I EAT PEOPLE!
And, 
TV Announcer: The terrorist duo inside is comprised of a young British woman and some Ozzy Osbourne-looking motherfucker
seras_with_dead_bernadotteBut the thing that, at the end of the day, makes this show actually kind of worth it (I mean…arguably….) is the fact that, aside from being completely consistent with the characters’….somewhat exaggerated….personalities for shits and giggles throughout, it still knows when to sober up and take matters seriously. So when our big-tittied police girl has lost her arm, her eyes, her love interest, her duty post, and almost her sanity–not to mention that Nazi vampires have overrun London, and the Catholic Church, Mexican Inquisition, and the Salvation Army decided to “kill them all and let God sort them out”–we get a scene that is very genuine, emotional, and meaningful. 
Alucard: Listen to me, Draculina! You are so much stronger than you let yourself be!
Seras: (sobbing) ‘Ow do you know?!
Alucard: Because behind those eyes, I saw something I lost long ago: the will to live. Now, stop running from who you are. Confront it! Embrace it! And go for its fucking throat. Like a REAL FUCKING VAMPIRE!
Honestly, I hate secret government organizations that hunt supernatural threats, I hate vampires, and I hate sexy vampires….but thing is, so does everyone in this show, including the secret government organization and the sexy vampires. Put that together with oodles of stylized violence, fancy costumes, drama, melodrama, angst, blacked-out silhouettes with glowing/reflective eyes, guns, violence, more violence, no seriously the amount of anime gorn is what kept me from watching either the original or the abridged series for the longest time–you can’t get better than this. And I mean either the original, which plays things absolutely seriously, or…y’know, this version, which doesn’t.
 
Rated:
Anderson: Time the fuck out! If we’re doing this — and WE ARE DOING THIS — I’m not gonna come swinging at DRACULA! I’M KILLING ALUCARD!
Dracula: You do know that it’s just my name spelled–
alexander_anderson2c_monster_of_god

Shadow of the Conqueror – Shad Brooks – QuikReview

shadow-of-the-conquerorEnthusiastic, imaginative, and inept. 

It’s a first novel, and it has the clawmarks of one: big ideas; enthusiastic, imaginative but vague worldbuilding; exposition delivered mostly through dialogue; characterization delivered mostly through dialogue; action described mostly through dialogue; and unnecessary dialogue pointing out themes and moral implications that have already been made obvious by basic narration or other dialogue strings

There are also several structural failures: the main hero-buddy duo just doesn’t work (although the secondary one does, mostly). What’s worse for the book as a whole, none of the humor is quite as funny as it wants to be; the book itself could have excused a multitude of faults with a strong infusion of black, self-aware humor.

Continue reading “Shadow of the Conqueror – Shad Brooks – QuikReview”

Poetry Corner – My Last Duchess

THAT'S my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
Will 't please you to sit and look at her? I said 
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read 
Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 
The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 
But to my self they turned (since none puts by 
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 
How such a glance came there; so, not the first 
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not 
Her husband's presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, ``Her mantle laps 
Over my lady's wrist too much,'' or ``Paint 
Must never hope to reproduce the faint 
Half-flush that dies along her throat:'' such stuff 
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 
For calling up that spot of joy. She had 
A heart--how shall I say?--too soon made glad, 
Too easily impressed: she liked whate'er 
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 
Sir, 't was all one! My favor at her breast, 
The bough of cherries some officious fool 
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 
She rode with round the terrace--all and each 
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good! but thanked 
Somehow,--I know not how--as if she ranked 
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame 
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 
In speech--(which I have not)--to make your will 
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ``Just this 
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 
Or there exceed the mark''--and if she let 
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, 
--E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose 
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, 
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without 
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet 
The company below, then. I repeat, 
The Count your master's known munificence 
Is ample warrant that no just pretence 
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go 
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


- Robert Browning

Movies with My Mother and Aunt and Uncles) – Maverick (1994)

poster-780REPOST REVIEW

“You’re taking notes? On what?”

“Something’s gonna crawl out of that bag…I guess.”
“Oh, it’s a snake.”
“OH. MY. GOSH.”
“Awww, lookit the li’l snake.”

“OK, I’m liking the scenery.”

“Mel Gibson? Thirty years ago? Ten years ago?”
“Thirty.”
“The man is old now!”
“He is not old…”

“Teehee, he’s on the donkey?”
“I’m surprised it’s going where he wants it to go.”
“Oh, it went.”

“He gave THEM the dollar?”
“And the mule.”

“Jody?”
“Yep.”

“They’re watching all the money he’s bringing.”
“A whole bunch of crooks.”
“I wonder when the hour is up, what then?…Ooo, she’s giving signs. Look, she’s giving signs.”

“Uh oh…uh oh….UH OH!” (my aunt).

“Is that the guy?”
“John Wesley Hardin?”
“What did he say his name was/”
“Maverick.”
“No, the gun guy.’
“Johnny.”
“Oh, it was him.”

“Uh oh!” (my mother)

“Should we–you should tell them what happens!”
“No.”
“No.”
“No!”

“Why did he tell the boys they could shoot him?”
“Cause he didn’t like getting beat up.”
“But the whole thing was staged!”
“NNnnghph!”
“SORRY. Was that part of it?”
“…Yes.”

“Jody’s in love!”
“….but…”
“I thought she was married?”

“Ok, that was something. She got him already?”
” ‘May I’…what?”

“She’s so good.”
“Jody Foster is so good!”

“She took his wallet again!”

“Uh oh!”
“A real bank robbery! Heh!”

“He had a thousand!”

“He took the dollar!”

“Crook!”
“They gave him more?”
“Probably. Here’s your 17, 30, 8…”
“He ripped them off!”

“Uh oh!” (my uncle).

“The thief and the old guy! Did you hear that? This is funny!”

“Oh boy.” (my mother).

“Uh oh.” (my aunt.)
“He’s dead!”

“For real-for real?”

“She in his wallet again!”

“…that saved a wretch like me?”
“Are you singing?”
“No.”
“No.”

“Rrr! Heheheh.”

“Bet you a dollar she’s stealing.”

“That is SO DUMB.”

“She took it? She stole the money?!”

“Did he call the horse Ollie?”

“Is that the same guy?”

“James Coburn! That’s James Coburn!”
“Oh! That’s him, I couldn’t remember his name!”

“That’s Denver Pyle.”
“Whoever that is.”
“…he was Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazzard?”
“He’s gonna jump!”

“He’s all outa money.”
” ‘But I was so close!’ ”

“This thing is a setup.”
“Which thing?”
“What?”
“Which thing?”
“This thing. This whole thing.”
“….why would you say that.”
“It’s a setup.”

“What’s she want from him now?…oh.”
….
“He’s as bad as she is, he’s hiding his stuff.”
“She’s just gonna reach over and take it. With her skinny hands.”

“Uh oh.”

“That was Waylon Jennings!”
“Who?”
“The singer!”
“But who?”
“The guy they just threw overboard, who is a singer who was just singing the song just now!”

“Who did that?”
“Either her or James Coburn. James Coburn looks like a crook.”

“Four more bongs…one…”

“Uh oh!”
“HEY!”
“Is that the dealer cheating?”
“The dealer is dealing for the Indian-looking guy.”
“He’s dealing off the bottom.”

“A full house?”
“Looks like.”

“UH OH!”
“CHEATER!”

“With your Pappy nonsense again? Pappy says it’s an ace!”

“Look at those big blues…”

“He tricked him!”

“All these people supposed to have no guns, where’d that gun come from? Everybody’s got guns!”

“Uh oh!” (my aunt.)
“Uh oh!” (my mother.)

“It’s a little put-put boat!”

“Uh oh!”

“Something’s behind all this, I know it.”
“It’s her and James Coburn!”

“It’s a shame those dresses don’t come back in our time period.”
“They too much.”
“They’re beautiful!”

“He’s counting the money?”

“TOLD YOU!”

“OH. MY. GOSH.”

“The man won the money fair and square! Why you gonna take it from him?”

“Uh oh.”
“Gonna drown him?”

“What! What! Oh my gosh!”
“That’s his FATHER?”
“Did you see that?”

“Uh oh!”

“OH MY GOSH IT”S THE GIRL!”

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.”

Readlist

the-tale-of-genji-4– The Tale of Genji (the public domain translation via Project Gutenberg) is unexpectedly engrossing and readable. 

– Alternating between Judith Herrin’s Byzantium and (sigh) Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass

– Watching: the 1957 Noir-Western Man in the Shadow with Orson Welles and Jeff Chandler. (Also starring Leo Gordon as, what else, burly bad guy who beats people up.)