Monthly Archives: June 2011

Diamond and Keegan

I just finished up John Keegan’s A History of Warfare. Reading that book has given me a new outlook when it comes to thinking about war. And earlier this year, I read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. That book proved useful in trying to formulate an intellectual basis for my world building. Basically, what I’m saying is that these two books are proving to be very important research tools when it comes to my world creation.

And Keegan points out one important aspect to my Bas-Lag Reading Project posts. I am wrong in my critique of Mieville’s usage of the small naval battle in The Scar. What I failed to remember is that Bas-Lag, and New Crobuzon, exist within two rough “historical” frameworks. Technologically, and to a degree culturally, New Crobuzon is fantastically steampunk. But fantastic is the key because politically Bas-Lag is largely pre-state or city state in development terms. While Victorian Britain could produce tens or hundreds of ships, New Crobuzon, despite its power, probably lacks the resources to exceed the Athenian or Carthaginian navies. Add to that the fact that iron clads are far more expensive to build than simple galleys. So New Crobuzon having only a fleet totaling around fifty is believable (plus I don’t remember another naval power threatening the city save for Suroch and Armada).

Moving back to A History of Warfare, I personally enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone wanting to broaden their horizons when it comes to military matters. Now, Keegan does spend a lot of the book focusing on the West and the West’s military encounters with the East. But Keegan navigates the situation well. His understanding of medieval Islamic motives and tactics (and sustained focus on the early Arabs, the Mamelukes, and Turks) make for some of the most interesting reading. Where I wish he had spent more time is in East Asia. China appears irregularly (and then mostly in relation to others, like the steppe peoples, Arabs, and Westerners) and Japan’s few mentions leave out much of the samurai martial culture.

But still, A History of Warfare is highly useful when it comes to thinking about the history of war and creating one’s own forms of warfare in speculative fiction. I mean, I have some interesting ideas about mounted knights and warrior wizards.

Moving on to Guns, Germs, and Steel, it has been a few months since I read that book, so my take may be rusty. Diamond has a reputation in some scholarly circles for being “Eurocentric” and a big part of Guns, Germs, and Steel  goes to trying to explain why Europe or European culture has achieved dominance over the past five hundred years. His explanation is geography. What foods can grow where, the easy accessibility of trade goods and ideas from distant civilizations are all key components of his thesis. And the thesis, that geography plays an important role in how cultures develop, is potentially a key in the world building arsenal. But the critique of Diamond, especially in the past few years, is valid on many fronts.

Inspiration is key, whether it is sourced in the genre, philosophy, history, or whatever. My own tastes tend to the academic when it comes to research, but in the end, use whatever works.

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Three Reviews

I have three reviews to get through: 1. The Green Hornet 2. Nights in Villjamur and 3. Firefly.

The Green Hornet (2011, dir. Michel Gondry) is a disappointment to say the least. The movie itself is okay, if you ignore the plot holes or plot idiocies (take you pick).

What most crystalizes the problems in this movie is Seth Rogen. He simply fails at portraying Britt Reid. What he plays is a gregarious buffoon pretending to be a hero. Yes, by the end of the movie, he gets over his daddy issues and becomes a much better super hero. But having to go through an hour and thirty five minutes of Rogen’s roaring juvenile antics is too much.

The bright point of the film is Jay Chou, who does a good job as Kato. While the character has to be goofy to match the silliness of the film, I think that Chou manages to hint at the absurdities within the film.

The plot itself is rather tiresome, though it does not rehash the murdered parent casus that many super heroes go through, but wait, it does! The sudden reveal is interesting, but should have come earlier. But then, there wouldn’t be the joke.

The saving grace of the film is really the action sequences, the thrill and comedy of explosions and fighting. One can almost forgive the  film its flaws because of the action sequences. But almost.

And the racial, class, and homoerotic tensions between Reid and Kato make for at times funny, troubling, and annoying moments. Kato really should have beaten the crap out of Reid given all of the indignities that he had to endure. And don’t even get me started on the “not-a-gay” joke that peppers the film.

In the end, The Green Hornet, is ultimately a forgettable blockbuster.

Nights in Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton is honestly even more disappointing than The Green Hornet. I had been looking forward to reading this book, and am bitterly disappointed at how it turns out. Newton attempts to marry the New Weird style of China Mieville’s Bas-Lag with a more traditional epic narrative. In this way, elements of Nights in Villjamur  are reminiscent of Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains. But Nights lacks both Mieville’s imagination and the raw emotional power of Morgan’s grittiness. Instead, what you have is a rather standard epic fantasy.

I will admit that part of the reason I wanted to read the novel is because of the inclusion of a gay protagonist (although not the lead) named Brynd. His story is done rather well, and I can agree that he is one of two well realized characters (the other being Randur). But the rest of the cast are rather dull.

The plot is confused and varied. Where Newton fails, I think, is that he does not have a clear focus, despite the fact that all of the plot lines are connected. Perhaps that could be because the over all plot is so over used. Who hasn’t seen an evil chancellor plot to overthrow the legitimate royal family? And in this case, did he really need to? There is such a thing as the Glorious Revolution. . .

The world itself is well done, the approaching Ice Age is an interesting concept, and the design of Villjamur the city is interesting. Pity the world is hampered by the plot.

Firefly, Joss Whedon’s cult classic, is an amazing series. The marriage of the western with space opera, of action with light comedy, is very well managed, although for some, perhaps off putting. I have come to admire this series greatly. However, I am not certain that it could have maintained itself had it had more of a chance.

My problem is the film Serenity. While the film is great in its own right, there are numerous problems that do not quite connect with the series itself. Simon and River are integrated into the crew, but in the film, their place is more tenuous. It really does not connect well, I think. However, does the film really indicate how the series (had it continued) would progress? I don’t know.

Anyway, the acting is generally pretty good, by science fiction television standards. Summer Glau’s one liners are well delivered, Gina Torres is amazing, and Jewel Stait is delightful.

There is not much bad I can say about the series. Watching it over the past week has been a delight.

That’s three reviews down. I am still disappointed about Nights in Villjamur, but I may come back to it later. Don’t know if my opinion will change however.  My next post will cover Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and maybe John Keegan’s A History of Warfare. 

Taking the Russ Pledge

The big dust up in the science fiction and fantasy community this week was Nicola Griffith’s Russ Pledge. Named in honor of Joanna Russ, the pledge is designed to foster increased focus on women writers in speculative fiction. Basically, try to read more works by women and discuss those women writers on whatever social media you use.

The point is to confront one’s own bias as regards women writers. Now, the pledge can (and should) be expanded to encompass other minority or dispriveleged writers. Looking at my own readings, I know that I need to try harder in reading women writers (other than Arakawa) as well as others.
For me, it is important to try and expand one’s own literary palette. Do I like all of the works I’ve read? No. I tried to read N.K. Jemisin and found her work too stylized at the cost of the story she tries to tell, and Catherynne M. Valente is at times great and at times disappointing. Conversely, I enjoy Tanith Lee’s work and of course Arakawa. But I’ve made the commitment to try and improve my reading. That is all that can be asked.

Next time: My thoughts on Mark Charan Newton’s Nights in Villjamur and what my research entails.

For Those Looking for Derawkk. . .

He can be found at http://www.derawkk.wordpress.com.

 

 

Update

As you can see, we’ve changed the layout of the blog. Having the same format was getting boring, and we felt that a redesign was in order.

Also, my brother/ cowriter is going to be a guest blogger with occasional posts. He may also be starting his own blog. If and when he does, I’ll announce it here.

Thank you for your continued readership.

Mourning Incompletion: Musings Again

I won’t be doing a review of China Mieville’s Embassytown in the coming days. I tried to get into it over the weekend and just couldn’t keep my eyes opened. This is a major disappointment for me as I am a Mieville fan. I’m sure I’ll finish it in a few months (then again, I still haven’t finished The City and the City yet).

I also tried to get into Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo and found myself bored and underwhelmed. I’m not a fan of Mythpunk or Fablepunk or Fairypunk or whatever you want to call it. It just doesn’t work for me.

My brother/ occasional cowriter suggested I do a post on E3, but changed his mind because I am more of a Playstation fan than anything else. (Of course, I’m really only interested in DCU Online and a few other games).

I’m about to takle Mark Charan Newton’s Nights in Villjamur and after that Mieville’s Iron Council. This will probably be the last bit of fiction I read for a while as I go into research mode. I may have some thoughts on that, by the way.

I’m also toying with the idea of redesigning this site. But I don’t know yet.

Anyway, that’s it for now.

Random Musings

The following is a random string of musings, enjoy:

Yu Yu Hakusho: What Happened?

I had been planning for a while to get some of my thoughts on Yu Yu Hakusho posted. I had wanted to wait until I had finished reading the Black Chapter arc. A few days ago, I finished volume seventeen (which concluded the arc). I enjoyed that conclusion very much. But the final arc of the series (as I read volumes eighteen and nineteen too) left a bad taste in my mouth.

I understand that Black Chapter was intended to conclude the series, but the editors wanted to keep the series going for another two volumes (or longer). Unfortunately, the Makai Unification Tournament arc is rushed, ill characterized, and poorly executed. There is a fair amount of excellent art work to be viewed within the concluding volumes, but that does not make up for the fact that the story itself is poorly executed. The whole series ends with a dud whereas the series would have had a better conclusion with Black Chapter (which has even better epilogue chapters, if you ask me).

Anyway, really disappointed with how Yu Yu Hakusho ends.

One Piece

I read the top selling manga lists this morning over at Anime News Network. I am rather shocked and thrilled with some of the results. I am glad that Naruto and Fairy Tail are doing well. I am rather shocked that Bleach is declining (although I’ve heard this is a steady trend since Aizen’s defeat).

What I am shocked about is the immense popularity that One Piece has in Japan. Beating Naruto by twenty million volumes? What? I don’t get it.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast extolling the virtues of One Piece and remained unconvinced. I had read a few chapters before (and watched the anime years ago) and really did not like it. I just don’t understand the appeal. To each, one’s own taste then.

China Mieville

Coming soon will be a review of China Mieville’s latest novel, Embassytown. And a few weeks later, look for my final Bas-Lag series as I look at Iron Council. Pity there aren’t more Bas-Lag novels. . .