March Medialogging
By Dwip April 7, 2014, 12:46 am Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

So this one took a while longer than I expected it to. Most of that can be blamed on my medialogger program taking months longer than I expected (I’m typing this in a beta version right now – almost done, I hope!), the other big part is that I’ve been essentially catatonic and/or binge gaming for most of the year thus far. So we’re off to a bit of a slow start. Bigger things are coming, but if you’ve been wonder where I’ve been, that’s the deal. Coding, gaming, or sleeping. I hope to return to slightly more regular programming soon.

YTD stats:

March: : 4 books; 4 fiction (1,450 p.) / 3 videos; 1 movies (2.6 h.); 2 TV seasons (15.2 h.)

Year to Date: 4 books; 4 fiction (1,450 p.) / 3 videos; 1 movies (2.6 h.); 2 TV seasons (15.2 h.)

Details for March after the jump.

01/31/2014 Myke Cole, Shadow Ops: Breach Zone (2014 Ace Kindle edition, 384 pages – Personal collection, 2014)

As I said of these last year when Fortress Frontier came out, these aren’t wildly deep books, sort of Blackhawk Down meets superheroes as one review puts it, but as Cole himself says in his intro, you do kind of hit a point in all of this where you kind of wonder about the real world intersection. How would we suddenly react to people able to do what these people do, especially in our post-9/11 world? Would it look like something out of Enemy of the State? Dunno, but interesting to think about.

One does also sort of wonder, here at the end of the trilogy, at what happens next in this world that Cole has created. Not bad for a new author, I think.

03/03/2014 Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom (2006 HarperCollins trade paperback, 333 pages – Personal collection, 2007)

I hope you like Vikings, because we’re going to be reading this series for a while in preparation for the latest book. In fact, I’m just going to call it right now, this is probably going to be a very fiction-heavy year because I’ve got a bunch of series coming due about now.

At any rate, The Last Kingdom and its successors are the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon raised by Danes who very conveniently is at the forefront of every major event of the age. Cornwell tends to write very battle-driven glory of killing guys in shield walls manly man stuff, which we’ll come back to a bit later.

For the moment, I want to talk a bit about writing style. The genius of this book is that it’s framed basically as old Uhtred sitting at a fire telling you stories about back in the day. The tone tends to be conversational, very “no shit there I was” and pretty action-packed. In some other stories, this might devolve into Mary Sue-ism – we know Uhtred lives through the entire thing, and the very first line of the book pretty much tells you he’s going to take the land, kill his enemies, and win.

What saves Uhtred from being Uhtred Sue is that the devil’s in the details. There are a lot of twists and turns in these things, lots of things happen that you wouldn’t expect to happen, and older Uhtred is pretty honest about admitting his motivations for doing things and admitting when his younger self was acting like an idiot, which his younger self does frequently in these early books.

Basically I’m a huge fan.

03/09/2014 Steven Moffat, et al., Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part One (2012 BBC DVD, 222 minutes, 5 episodes – Corvallis Public Library)

We’re kind of coming in at the end here on this whole Doctor Who thing, which is unfortunate, since I imagine I could say quite a lot of things about earlier seasons. Put shortly, David Tennant remains the best of the Doctors, though Matt Smith gave an increasingly good go at it and Rory and Amy were great companions. Writing was a bit shaky in the later seasons, but it’s ultimately a pretty watchable if not always memorable sort of show filled with humor and drama and excitement and all that.

And then we come to the first half of the 7th season.

I guess this isn’t quite the worst train wreck I’ve ever watched (season 6 of Highlander wins all possible prizes there), but the best I can say of these 6 episodes is that they’re a lot like watching somebody write bad Doctor Who fanfic. Classic villains return in boring, lackluster ways (angels should be…scary, right?), and plot arcs that used to be, well, arcs over multiple episodes and entire seasons get shuffled off over the course of an episode or so.

Writing this a few minutes after finishing The Angels Take Manhattan, all I can think is “You guys wrote off some of the best characters like this? And replaced them with your go-to Mary Sue character, River Song?” If I actually had any kind of emotional investment in this show, I’d probably walk away at this point.

That said, there’s an episode featuring dinosaurs on a spaceship. An episode that, I must note, makes no damn sense at all, but since it has dinosaurs on a spaceship I must forgive everything.

03/14/2014 Glen Mazzara, et al., The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season (2013 AMC DVD, 688 minutes, 16 episodes – Corvallis Public Library)

I’ve discussed in the past my affection for The Walking Dead as a comic series and video game, somewhat despite my general antipathy towards zombie horror as a genre. It should probably come as no surprise, then, that I’m also something of a fan of the show as well, despite or maybe even because of the liberties it takes with what the comics did.

For instance, while much of the fandom seems to hate Season 2 with a passion, I greatly enjoyed it because of the fleshing out it gave to Shane, who I felt was tragically wasted in the comics as I think Kirkman himself somewhat agrees.

Which brings us to Season 3, which took some fairly dramatic characterization liberties over the comics to rather mixed success.

First, they completely changed the character of the Governor, I think very much for the better. In the comics he was essentially a cartoon supervillain, never more than a step or two away from tying somebody to some railroad tracks ahead of the next approaching train of walkers. The show Governor is an affable and charming yet brooding sort of guy, and while he goes heavily off his meds towards the end of the season, the whole town of evil concept is much more well done here than the comics ever managed.

That said, I remain puzzled by what they decided to do to Andrea’s character. She’s had a very interesting character arc in the comics and is one of the best characters, a trajectory she seemed on track to continue on until this season, where she apparently takes a whole crate of crazy pills and hooks up with the Governor to the ultimate detriment of both her character and the show.

I get where they were trying to go with that particular move, trying to show how seductive the Governor and his town were, but they drag it out well beyond the sell by date when even Andrea should have realized that strange things were afoot at the Circle K.

Still the best season yet, and I’m excited for the point at which I can sit down and watch Season 4.

03/18/2014 Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman (2005 HarperCollins mass market paperback, 416 pages – Personal collection, 2009)

After praising this series so thoroughly in the last book, I have to admit that this one was a bit of a slump, and I’m not entirely sure why. Things happen here that should be fraught and tense and full of a massive sense of danger. Wessex has fallen! Doom is at hand! And maybe it’s because I’ve read far, far past this point by now, but the whole thing just seems a little flat.

It probably doesn’t help that Uhtred is off doing random things in random places with random people who don’t really come back into the story at all after this book with a couple of exceptions. That’s frankly a bit odd, because one of the things Cornwell is very good at in this series is having Uhtred drop a random line about something that foreshadows developments two or three books later, and while that happens here there are entire plot arcs that we seemingly never hear from again.

Fortunately I have a lot more to say about the next one.

03/31/2014 Bernard Cornwell, Lords of the North (2007 HarperCollins trade paperback, 317 pages – Personal collection, 2009)

Where the first book was a coming of age tale, and the second one tried to go Empire Strikes Back and missed the mark, this is the one where the series really hits its stride. A lot of recurring characters show up here, and this is definitely the “epic quest” book of the series, wherein Uhtred rights wrongs, deals with injustices, roots out evil, avenges half the people who need avenging, and generally kicks ass up one side of the street and down the other. It’s a rousing, exciting read.

It’s also kind of a change of pace, because by this point in the story it should be apparent to you that Uhtred’s an anti-hero at best. He’s an arrogant jackass half the time, he’s done a good share of rape, pillage, and plunder, and in some sense you have to wonder why you’re even rooting for this guy in the first place.

For instance, it must be hard for feminists to read these things, because not only is Uhtred on his…fourth? love interest in three books, one of whom he randomly murdered a guy to get, there’s a charming little scene where in the course of trying to find some guys, Uhtred and company visit a farm, are told there’s a gang rape going on in the barn, and nobody has the slightest word to say about it. That and a few others like it ought to make you think a bit. Ain’t nobody King Arthur in this story (although you should read Cornwell’s Arthur books as they’re very very good).

It ought to be said that it’s not just Uhtred that’s not particularly heroic most of the time – everybody else doesn’t look so hot either. King Alfred the Great is a pious but cunning weakling, half the Danes are bloodthirsty killers, and this series is especially savage to the Christians. Are you a priest or a monk? Chances are you’re a money-grubbing parasite who probably breaks one of the seven sins every day plus Sunday, and who probably has a special fondness for false relics.

Of course, I find this all fairly true to the period and to people in general. This is a pretty fallen world here in the Viking age, and while there are a few genuinely good people in these stories (some even Christians!), whole lot of sinners to be found too.

03/31/2014 Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood (2007 Paramount DVD, 158 minutes – Corvallis Public Library)

So I’m back in my hotel room with John Coltrane and the love supreme
In the next room I hear some woman scream out that her lover’s
Turning off, turning on the television.
And I can’t tell the difference between ABC news, Hill Street Blues
And a preacher on the old time gospel hour
Stealing money from the sick and the old
Well the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister

— U2, Bullet the Blue Sky

I confess that I’m really not entirely sure what to say about this movie. On the one hand, it’s got Daniel Day-Lewis in it, who apart from being one of the best actors of all time gives a completely riveting performance as an oil prospecter in the turn of the century West. More than a little crazy, more than a little crazy good, alternately amoral and kind, he ultimately faces off against Eli Sunday, a corrupt small town preacher, who gets to be the reason for the quote up top there.

Where I think the whole thing goes off the rails is that while the conflicts and oil business wheeling and dealing are all fascinating, the movie is trying to be a morality play, and because it’s a morality play things start happening mid-film that don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense but serve to Make a Point. This sort of thing can be done well, but I’m not entirely sure a two and a half hour movie is the place to do them – a narrative arc that might work in a TV show or a book is heavily compressed here and ultimately makes very little sense and loses much of its impact.

Maybe better to watch the first half of this and then go watch Mad Men for a better illustration of what they were going for, perhaps.

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