A trip down memory lane - or three

A young and brilliant1. online friend of mine has recently been paying me the rather high complement of dipping into the archives of my Livejournal, and recently reminded me of a review I wrote back in 2004 of Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume One. To frankly toot my own horn, it's an excellent essay and so I am very grateful to her for reminding me of its existence. That it includes some reminiscences of my paternal grandfather makes it of even more interest to me (and, just possibly, to at least some of you). Click here to read the full 1,600 word review. ____


1. Yes, yes, I know, it may sound as if I am returning flattery with flattery, but I have been reading her journal with a great deal of interest since she was something like 15 years old and so I don't hesitate to use the word. Also, it's not a word I throw around with reckless abandon. Back to top.

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Cinememe: Fifteen Most Memorable Movies

I was going to post an up-date explaining what's going on with the store (electrician's coming in on Tuesday, after which we'll really be able to start building!) and how I don't have a life worth blogging about — then I decided not to blog about them. Meanwhile, Sooguy has provided me with inspiration in another form. To whit, a meme — click the "Read More" button if you're interested in which movies pique this viewers fancies.

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The New Space Opera 2 reviewed

The New Space Opera 2

Opera or string quartet?

A review by Geoffrey Dow

"The true heart of science fiction has always been the space-opera story; the thrilling adventure tale of powerful rocket ships, dashing heroes, and far frontiers — stories of immense scope and scale, color and action, taking us to the ultimate limits of both time and space [...]"
— From the introduction to The New Space Opera 2)

There really is no such a genre as "science fiction". Unlike whodunnits or romances, SF1. is a genre more by marketing fiat than by standard tropes or formulae2.; there is no fixed plot, character-arc or even place or time required to define a work of science fiction as science fiction. Indeed, such a definition has been a matter of debate within the field for decades and I'm certainly not going to essay my own here.

How about space opera, then? That term too has a long and controversial history and for a long time it was used mostly as a pejorative, to indicate stories that were, essentially, mindless action-oriented adventures not to be taken seriously by anyone much over the mental age of 14. (Think Star Wars: wonderful to look at but dumber than a shuttle-load of trans-dimensional circuit-breakers.)

The "new space opera" then, presumably includes the "thrilling adventures" and "far frontiers" quoted above, but with the addition of more sophisticated characterizations and technological and political backgrounds.

If only The New Space Opera 2 had lived up to those introductory words, or to its excellent predecessor (The New Space Opera) this would have been an easy review for me to write. As it stands, the volume contains few thrills, frontiers that feel about as far as a trip to the end of the subway line, and socio-political speculation springing right out of 15th century Europe or even 1st century Rome.

With only a very few exceptions, in The New Space Opera 2, the "sense of wonder" for which science fiction — and especially space opera — is famous is pretty much absent. If The New Space Opera 2 tells us anything about the field in general, it suggests one that sees our future as one constricted by centuries-old political structures, threatened by eternal warfare and, perhaps paradoxically, one in which space travel is about as comfortable — and about as interesting — as a series of rides on space-going subway cars.

Half-way through my first read of this substantial anthology (Neal Asher's "Shell Game"), I felt as if the editors had opted for adventure in subway cars, whether or not that particular train was heading to the ends of time and space. Unlike the first volume in this series, which I thought a very good representation of the varieties of "new space opera"3., The New Space Opera 2 feels less like a celebration of the far horizons to which SF can take a reader than it does a repudiation of same.

Not that it's all bad, of course.

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Hard Candy is a hard ride

Hard Candy is hard viewing — as it should be

Hard candy poster
Hard Candy
Written by Brian Nelson
Directed by David Slade

Ellen Page
Patrick Wilson
Released April 14, 2006

Hardy Candy opens with an angled shot of a computer screen, where a flirtatious on-line chat is taking place between Lensman319 and Thonggrrrl14. Before long, we learn that the former is 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) and the latter, 14 year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page. After a brief on-screen exchange and as the camera moves ever-closer to the screen, Hayley types,

          "okay, let's do it
          hook up i mean"

and the viewer knows they're in for some kind of ugly ride.

The camera cuts to a close of a piece of cake being bitten into with a fork and we hear Hayley moaning with (almost) an orgasmic pleasure. When at last we see her face, she looks oh so young — and her lower lip is dirtied with chocolate.

Jeff approaches from behind, asks her name and Hayley, embarrassed, says she'd hoped to seem more sophisticated when they met. She asks if he wants some cake and he says yes, then cleans her lip with his thumb.

Page plays Hayley perfectly. Struggling for sophistication beyond her years, a little nervous, maybe even a little scared, but determined not to make a fool of herself.

Despite our knowledge that Kohlver is a 30 year-old man who has been knowingly flirting with that very young girl, Wilson makes him charming, even sympathetic. Maybe he's not a predator, maybe we're simply about to witness the blossoming of an unusual friendship, a la the under-rated 1999 Sarah Polley vehicle Guinevere, an age-gap relationship psycho-drama.

But this is not that kind of movie. No, it's a thriller (I prefer the old-school term, suspense, but that seems to have gone by the way-side) and I give little away by saying so.

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Oh hell ... More intellectual courage in defence of freedom of speech

Pinched from http://www.humanevents.com/images/islm_cartoon_7.jpg

I'd really rather not promote the moral idiot Christopher Hitchens, an "intellectual" who shamefully broke with his own alleged principles when George W. Bush decided it would be fun and profitable to invade Iraq, but when he's right, he's right.

See, Yale University Press is publishing a book called Cartoons That Shook the World, which "tells the story of the lurid and preplanned campaign of 'protest' and boycott that was orchestrated in late 2005 after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran a competition for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed." As you may recall, lives were lost during the subsequent riots and, while the subject was covered extensively in the Western press, the vast majority of our newspapers and magazines refused to permit their readers to actuall see what the fuss was about (if anyone's interested, my own reaction shortly thereafter is online here).

Nearly four years later, that short-sighted moral and intellectual pusillanimity is still going strong. Hitchens writes,

So here's another depressing thing: Neither the "experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies" who were allegedly consulted, nor the spokespeople for the press of one of our leading universities, understand the meaning of the plain and common and useful word instigate. If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it's a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself fomented it. If it's a murder, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it. There is no other usage given for the word in any dictionary, with the possible exception of the word provoke, which does have a passive connotation. After all, there are people who argue that women who won't wear the veil have "provoked" those who rape or disfigure them … and now Yale has adopted that "logic" as its own.

The full article is online at Slate.com (though it's interesting to note that, while Hitchens proivides a link to the cartoons, none of them appear alongside the article itself).

A problem with permissions, or is Slate refusing to practice what Hitchens is preaching?

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