Posts tagged fantasy
I posit that Glee is a fantasy television series, in that it can be fruitfully evaluated using a focus on its non-mimetic narrative style to both comment on the traditions of the musical genre (especially the Hollywood Musical) but also in discussing “Music as Magic” and the way that said magic can be transformative, liberating, and revelatory.
From the ubiquitous piano player — “He’s always just around” to the fact that in Glee, seemingly everyone can instantly learn arrangements and choreagraphy and the elaborate fantasy sequences which bleed in and out of the diegesis, we have what could be described by some as Slipstream, some as Urban Fantasy, and possibly even Magical Realism (though less so on that one, given what I see as a lack of a definitive tie to the fairly culturally-specific tradition of Magical Realism).
Why does this matter?
1) If Glee is a fantasy series, then the places/times when it diverts from realism can be seen not as a violation of believability inspiring a rolling of the eyes, but a demonstration of the times when life is not enough and extra-normal storytelling is required. This brings back my beloved Etienne Decroux quote:
“One must have something to say. Art is first of all a complaint. One who is happy with things as they are has no business being on the stage.” — Etienne Decroux
And to paraphrase my former professor John Schmor, Musicals are a complaint that life should be more marvelous — why don’t we just burst into song when mere speech can no longer contain our emotional intensity?
2) It allows Glee to be more easily analyzed in the context of other SF/F musicals such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More With Feeling,” Fringe’s “Brown Betty” and so on.
3) It allows the use of the scholarship regarding the metaphors of the Fantastic to be applied t the series. It also enables scholars to bring to bear Samuel R. Delany’s notion of SF/F as a literature that allows for the “literalization of the metaphor” — music is soul-healing, music is empowering, music enables people to express themselves in ways they had previously/traditionally not been able.
These are merely preliminary thoughts. Look for more in time, as I believe this approach is the one which allows me to most effectively analyze the series.
China Mieville has been one of my favorite authors for a number of years now. As the figurehead/poster boy for the New Weird, many writers have rallied around Mieville and followed in his footsteps or taken jabs at him. The New Weird was a big deal in the literary end of the SF/F community for several years, and is less popular now, but continues with bits here and there. I’m invested in the New Weird personally, given that I’m about to start shopping a New Weird novel to agents/publishers.
Mieville’s immediate previous novel (The City & The City) was less loudly New Weird and more urban fantasy/crime, but with Kraken, Mieville’s uncontainable imagination and penchant for the grotesque returns in full force.
Kraken starts with unsupecting Billy Harrow, an employee at the Darwin Centre in London who worked extensively with a deceased giant squid. Which means that when the squid (giant container and all) disappears without a trace, people come knocking on his door, including the Cult-crimes-response squad of the police as well as a pair of assassins. In keeping with the well-trod Urban Fantasy structure, Harrow gets pulled into the world of secret London, with all the knackers and movers and shakers behind the scenes.
Mieville’s secondary ideas are better than most any writer in the business, from the Chaos Nazis to Londonmancers (ala Jack Hawksmoor of The Authority) and police-esque ghost constructs summoned up by using tapes of old police procedurals. Mieville has a great facility with these details, great to small, that make the setting breathe and feel endlessly and messily lived-in.
Billy Harrow spends most of the novel on the run as warring factions, including an Animate Tattoo gang-boss, the eternally-neutral Londonmancers, and a Kraken-worshiping cult (which venerated Harrow’s specimen as a God, or at least, a Demi-God) forces move and converge to bring about/avert the apocalypse. Of course, anyone who wants an apocalypse works to make sure that it’s their apocalypse that comes about. No one wants to sideline in another group’s End Times.
The novel shifts easily between perspectives, bringing in other POV characters to convey the story and weave the weird tapestry that is Kraken‘s London. Mieville’s familiarity with/love of London and all its (weird) reality comes through clearly, helping contextualize the incredible craziness that he layers throughout the rest of the book.
Mieville’s language is very advanced, and sometimes challenging. It’s more accessible than in Perdido Street Station, but more obscure than in The City & The City. The baroque language is consistent, however, and usually well-contextualized. It’s just not a novel to hand to an average 15-year-old (an exceptional reader of a 15-year-old may be just fine, however) and it’s not the book to go to for a casual read. The book demands your attention, but if you give it, the book rewards you with unparalleled imagination, strong pacing, and chilling creepiness. (Goss and Subby are, for my buck, one of the creepiest henchmen duos ever).
Disclaimer: this review was written based on my experience reading an ARC, so keep that in mind in case the final version displays any differences.
Dreamworks’ latest offering is one of their best.
How to Train Your Dragon focuses on the story of a Viking named Hiccup, who is scrawny, clumsy, and not at all possessimg the traditional Viking virtues of strength, battle-lust and a horn-laden hat (we can see here that this movie’s traditional viking is one of the Looney Toons tradition).
Hiccup is instead, an engineer, and a smith’s apprentice. He yearns to impress the lovely Astrid, a fierce young lady Viking. His clumsiness and odd sensibilities instead make him both a laughing stock and somewhat of a menace to his village.
This is a problem because his village is already plagued by dragons. In this world, there are dozens of varieties of dragons, from fat and ponderous pests to the fierce Nightmare and the seldom-seen and never-killed Night Fury.
Hiccup disobeys orders and runs out in the middle of a raid, deploying his latest invention, a net-throwing device. He manages to hit and bring down a Night Fury, but no one believes him.
Hiccup later finds the Fury, but cannot bring himself to kill the dragon, discovering that it is as terrified of him as he is of it.
Instead, the two begin a friendship. The night fury’s tail was maimed in the raid, so it is incapable of escaping the mountain lake glade where it crashed. Hiccup designs a prostetic wing-fan for the dragon, whom he names Toothless.
Hiccup is enroled in dragon training by his father (the Viking chief Stoic the Stout, voiced by Gerard “Sparta!!!” Butler. Hiccup uses the knowledge gained about dragons from Toothless to excell to the amazement of all.
Later on, Hiccup must choose between his dream of being a might warrior and his friendship with Toothless. The film ends in a great action sequence and finishes up with a good lesson and a cute conclusion.
Aside from positing dragons as not the bad guys, there isn’t a great deal of originality in the film, but it doesn’t matter. The characters are likable and relatable, the dragon species neatly distinguished, and the story confidently told. It’s accessible for kids but compelling enough for an adult audience. It’s as delightful as Kung-Fu Panda, if not a gut-bustingly funny for lack of Jack Black.
An early favorite for one of the best films of the year and a likely best Animated Feature contender, How to Train Your Dragon is great for all ages and very much worth seeing in theatres. The 3D is used somewhat sparingly, mostly for dragon action, and decently done, though I’d say not essential for enjoying the film.
Since the book is coming out in about a month (May 26th), I’ll go ahead and post my review, based on an Advance Reader’s Edition.
Liminality, interstitially, hybridity. Whatever you call it, it’s one of China Mieville’s biggest leitmotifs, and in The City and the City, it is that hybridity and liminality which provides the speculative question and driving narrative force of the novel. Beszel and Ul Qoma are doppelganger cities, existing in the same space in vaguely-defined eastern Europe, but they are not one city, but two. Crossing between the crosshatched cities is ontological 1984-style offense called Breach. Beszel keeps to Beszel, Ul Qoma to Ul Qoma. And in rare cases, when people or things cross between the two interlinked cities, Breach occurs, summoning Boogeymen to reinforce the urban apartheid.
Investigator Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad finds himself working the murder case of an anonymous woman, a Fulana Detail as they are called in the city of Beszel. As he digs into the case, the details of her life and her death tie Investigator Borlu into the intricate history and politics of the doppelganger cities.
Mieville’s experience as an academic and an economist student of international law come to the forefront in The City and the City, as the book follows Borlu through the world of academia, rendered with the petty politicking, insularity and competition that shows he’s lived it. In addition politics of national identity and an awareness of international economic, cultural, and political maneuvering elevate the novel above the mundanity of Yet Another Homicide Procedural.
Because The City and the City is in fact a crime procedural, drawing just as much on the literary tradition of Raymond Chandler as Phillip K. Dick or George Orwell. The hybridity of the novel extends to the level of genre as well. From a genre standpoint, it combines Urban Fantasy, Dystopian SF, and Noir Crime Procedurals. Just as his Bas-Lag works Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council served as the lightning rod pieces of the New Weird movement, combining Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and Pulp aesthetics, The City and the City freely combines ideas and genre modes to produce its own mélange. It’s clearly a work of speculative fiction, but in a larger genre sense, belonging in the company of noir detectives. It’s a work of urban speculative fiction that has more in common with works like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files than some of the work of his New Weird contemporaries K.J. Bishop or Jeff VanderMeer.
While Mieville’s work has been sometimes criticized for being unfocused, or overbearing in its use of language, The City and the City shows Mieville pushing himself in craft of language as well as in genre. The work still shows Mieville’s loving attention to culture, to the organic nature of cities and their lives, and world-building in general. However, the fact that Beszel and Ul Qoma exist in our world means that the strangeness exists in contrast to a more familiar baseline. Here, Mieville’s prose is more transparent and accessible, akin to in his YA Un Lun Dun, but clearly adult in its content and execution. The novel is paced more aggressively than many of his works, only occasionally lingering a beat too long on a cultural/historical/economic note before returning to the action.
The interconnected nature of the cities suffuses the entire world of The City and the City, it is stitched into the worldview of the inhabitants of both cities, a double-think that is not recent but the result of many years of history, dating back to centuries before as a result of the Cleavage, an event which either split the cities apart or brought them together, depending on which historian you asked, and if they were being watched at the time.
Since Beszel and Ul Qoma exist in the same space, anyone who lives in either city must learn an intricate process of seeing and unseeing. A person in Beszel must be able to see what goes on in their city, but they must also unsee what happens in Ul Qoma. A driver must unsee the Ul Qoman car coming right at her, but will still swerve to get out of its way. Unseeing is meant to be unconscious, keeping the other city in the peripherary, just aware enough to stay safe, while never fully acknowledging the other city, maintaining the metaphysical distinction between the cities. Children must learn to see and unsee as they grow up, learn to identify and distinguish an Ul Qoman design from a Besz one, unsee certain color shades reserved for one city and not the other, and more. Immigrants and visitors are subject to a several-week acculturation course, wherein the distinctions are ground into their head, and a respect and understanding for Breach instilled in them.
Breach is the big-brother-like mysterious entity/organization which polices the places in the city which are crosshatched, fully extant in both cities, where the boundaries are weaker – a careless person walking down a crosshatched street could walk in from Beszel and walk out Ul Qoma, committing Breach. People in the two cities are always self-editing, self-aware of their own perceptions, asking “Should I be seeing that person, or unseeing them?” The categorical doubt of perception, the internalization of the panopticon of Breach, shows Mieville’s critical theory background making itself known in the work itself, calling upon the dystopian mode of literature.
The City and the City is similar to Mieville’s other works in his inventive and generative combination of genres (the New Weird is alive and well, but always changing, always evolving), but distinct from Mieville’s other works in several other ways, most notable being the lack of a clear socialist bent and a lack of focus on the aesthetic of the grotesque.
The City and the City still manifests aspects of the New Weird, but in a different inflection. The novel is just one of the countless ways to approach and implement the ideas and conventions that have been connected by writers and critics. It crosses over with ideas that Mieville has considered in his shorter works, most notably his novella The Tain and the title story of his short-story collection, Looking for Jake. Familiar, contemporary cities made strange through inexplicable metaphysical change, a sense of searching and longing, the quest for understanding resisted by the city itself.
On the other hand, the book shies away from the explicit arguments for/discussions of socialism which are prevalent in his Bas-Lag works, most notably Iron Council. The protagonists’ critique of the governmental systems of Beszel and Ul Qoma are not on matters of economics, capitalism vs. socialism, but on the ideological insistence on a violently-maintained distinction between the cities, as well as the commonplace distaste for red-tape and bureaucracy (what you’d expect to see in any procedural crime work).
The aesthetic of the grotesque, so present and central in many of his works, another of the signature aspects of Mieville’s style, is mostly absent in The City and the City. There are no Remade, no slake-moths or impossible bodies, no Cacotopic Stains. The city crossover takes some of those ideas at a different angle, but it is never depicted in the loving and disgustingly provocative language that accompanies Mieville’s use of the grotesque.
The City and the City is much more akin to the kinds of speculative fictions that posit one novum, one distinction between the world of the story and our own, then explores the possibilities and results of that change. Rather than a wholly-foreign world like Bas-Lag or the weird Mirror-London of Un Lun Dun, The City and the City takes the Beszel/Ul Qoma duality and runs with it, using Investigator Borlu as its agent to dig into the connections and overlaps between the city as part of his investigation into his Fulana Detail.
Accessible to readers familiar with mystery but not fantasy, or vice a versa, The City and the City is a departure for Mieville, but a welcome one. He carries lessons learned from his earlier works and provides a tightly-paced novel which is easily read as a crime procedural, a work of metaphysical archaeology, political commentary, an urban fantasy, and more. Mieville fans who yearn for his socialist argumentation and inventive use of the aesthetic mode of the abject and the grotesque may not be as pleased, but Mieville’s lush use of language and detailed world-building maintain much of what we have grown to know and expect of Mieville. I hope that he continues his trend of branching out and expanding his range, applying his critical eye and skill to many combinations of genres for many different audiences.
The City and the City by China Mieville will be released on May 26th by Del Rey.
Coraline is adapted from the Hugo-winning Neil Gaiman novella (illustrated by Dave McKean) and directed by Henry Selick, who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is advertised as the first stop-motion film created for 3-D.
The voice acting is strong, meshing well with the character modeling chosen for the film version. The film makes a few changes from the novella, most notably in adding a companion character for Coraline, Wybie Lovat. Wybie provides some exposition that contextualizes the events at the house, and is part of the film adaptation’s efforts to flesh out the story into a shapen and scope that fits the medium and the time (111 minutes).
If you don’t know the novella, here’s a short synopsis:
Coraline Jones is an inquisitive, curious explorer of a nine year old girl. She and her family have moved into an apartment in an old house in the country, but is ignored by her parents, who are both writers. In the film, her parents are up against a deadline, which accounts for their distaction.
After exploring the house and the environs, she finds, inside the house, a door to nowhere. The door leads to a mirror of her apartment, but with her ‘Other Mother,’ who looks the same except for black buttons as her eyes. As Coraline’s visits to the world of the Other Mother continue, the wonderous turns to the delightfully creepy, as Selick and his team build on Gaiman’s surrealist vision to deliver a story that is tight, symbolicaly rich but never confusing.
To speak more about the voice talent — Dakota Fanning gives the right balance of youth, curiosity and spunk for Coraline, Teri Hatcher plays from distracted to warm to terrifying as the Mother/Other Mother, and John Hodgeman puts in a great supporting performance as the Father/Other Father.
Coraline is one of a sadly few film adaptations of novels/textual works where the adaptation both adds to the original work while doing justice to its source material. Selick’s film Coraline gives a visual/auditory experience which enriches the textual experience of Gaiman (and McKean, if you have the illustrations)’s novella. A viewer can easily appreciate the film version without having read the book, as did my sister.
The film is currently playing in 3-D for a limited time, and I highly recommend that everyone take the chance to see it in 3-D. Unlike “Chuck vs. The Third Dimension,” Coraline makes striking use of the 3-D technology, enhancing critical emotional moments and providing texture for the film. The 3-D provides a depth of field, makes the high-emotion moments ‘pop,’ and creates an overall more visceral experience.
Young Reader fiction has the distinct advantage of trending towards short. This facilitates marathon-style reading, which is one of the great literary pleasures. The speed at which I breezed through the novel is also a testament to the book’s readability.
The Lightning Thief arrived in 2005, and is the first in an ongoing series (three books in the series are available already, with the fourth arriving in May of 2009.
The series’ hero is Perseus “Percy” Jackson, a 12-year old son of an Olympian God (the identity of said god is revealed in the book, but does constitute a notable spoiler) who joins other Half-God children at a camp/training ground for demigod children. His heroic companions (because that’s how heroes roll) are Grover Underwood (no relation), an earnest but clumsy satyr, and Annabeth Chase, brainiac daughter of Athena. Percy is impetuous (a good plot device, and explained as being part of his divine heritage), but he is also fiercely loyal to his mother, which provides much of the other motivation for Percy’s actions in the book.
Riordan shows a great faculty for bringing the Greek myths to life in new ways, re-casting the Furies, Medusa, Procrustes, and more into a contemporary context. He has a decent excuse for moving the pantheon to America, and provides the best sourcebooks/inspiration for White Wolf’s Scion that I’ve seen so far.
The whole book has the feel of Bronze Age, 21st century-style. Young readers coming to the book with only a vague background in classics will be able to learn the history through an accessible lens, as Riordan gives various mythological figures’ original stories to contrast their contemporary incarnations. Riordan’s re-interpretations are clever, if not brilliant, and there’s a great sense of fun to the whole book which goes hand-in-hand with Percy’s age and the old saying that the real Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.
It’s a quick read, and if you’re a Classics Geek at all, it’s certainly worth your (short) time. I’m looking forward to the later books, but there’s a Mieville ARC on my counter that demands my attention.