Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Star Trek-related ramblings

There's been a lot of hype and fuss about Manny Coto and the fourth season of Enterprise. It's possible that fans will give the show another chance. I thought the Xindi arc wasn't bad, and I'm optimistic about this season based on what Coto's been saying in interviews. But... we have to start the season dealing with the turd in the punchbowl, the out-of-nowhere alien Nazi cliffhanger ending to last season. All of which means that the season premiere didn't do much for me and I'll be glad when this arc is over so we can see whether Coto can deliver. If anyone did tune in for the first time in a year or two based on the buzz, I can only wonder what they'd make of the season premiere, and whether they're likely to stick with the show.

I'm reading a Star Trek book. First one in some time now. Yes, now that I finally have all the books in the A Time to... series, I've started reading. I'm maybe 50 pages into the first one and John Vornholt's writing is not making me very happy. This is not finely honed and polished prose. This is not something that reads like the work of a seasoned professional who's written some books I've enjoyed. If anything, it reads like the work of someone who's been writing a lot of YA novels and carries over some of that writing style into his non-YA stuff. There's also some dialogue that just sounds completely awful when read aloud. Geordi says something like, "Finally there are some new models of them." Read it out loud. Doesn't exactly flow naturally, does it? Or is it just me? There are also scenes that suggest we're supposed to be following a certain character's point of view instead of an omniscient third person narrator, but which character's POV we're seeing is hard to identify.

And for Pete's sake stop calling Data "the android" all the time instead of just calling him Data. We know he's an android. Picard isn't always being called "the bald human." I also have my doubts about the skiffy parts of the story. Vornholt's Gemworld duology was pure fantasy buried in technobabble, setting new records for scientific implausibility in Star Trek, and the vortex of damaged ships isn't look much more convincing than that. But it's early days yet.

Want actual news? Well, you've already seen the Star Trek manga news at Newsarama, right? Information about stories and some art samples. Intriguing.

Other stuff

Still trying to figure out what I thought of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I liked it, some of it I liked very much indeed, but I'm not sure I ever really connected with it as much as I expected. I think Clarke's deliberately old-fashioned prose distances the reader a little too much. A more modern style might have drawn me in more.

Still, there's no denying that there's a lot of inventiveness and some interesting characters, plus enough worldbuilding to make me willing to read more set in that fictional universe. Preferably something a little shorter, though, with a bit more emphasis on plot and character. Strange was a bit too much of a cipher and Norrell too one-dimensional.

(According to the bio on her site, Susanna Clarke lives with the British SF novelist Colin Greenland. Who knew? I've got a couple of his books.)

James Ellroy's Destination: Morgue! is a mess. There are some reprinted magazine articles, too many of which rehash ground he covered at length (and with better writing) in his nonfiction book My Dark Places. And the three-part novella that rounds out the book is a weird joke of some kind. If you think Ellroy is a deranged cop-loving right wing nutbar who's read way too many lurid true crime magazines from the 1950s, well, imagine the kind of imitation Ellroy wish-fulfiment fantasy fanfic you might get from a deranged racist nutbar cop wannabe who thinks Ellroy's the cat's pyjamas. Then take it another three or four notches further over the top. The magazine articles suffer from Ellroy's annoying recent obsession with short, punchy, alliterative and repetitive prose. The fiction is kind of fun but completely preposterous. A commie terrorist yells "Viva gay marriage! Viva national public television!" A thwarted terrorist plot results in 15,000 Arab American terrorists getting tossed into prison. It's as if Ellroy read some of his more negative reviews and thought, Oh, yeah? Wait'll you read this! It's vulgar, stupid, racist, and too over the top to be taken as anything but satire. Not that I'm sure I know what he's satirizing. I just know he can't be serious.

We rented a couple movies this weekend. I Capture the Castle, based on the Dodie Smith novel, was quite good, in no small part due to Romola Garai's performance as Cassandra Mortmain, but it was more depressing than the book. The novel is presented as the diary entries of a teenaged girl living in genteel poverty in an old English castle with a somewhat eccentric family. Her father's a novelist whose first book was a sensation and a literary masterwork, but he hasn't been able to write anything in twelve years. Her stepmother's an artistic type who isn't a heck of a lot older than the kids she finds herself dealing with. There's more humour in the book, which is well worth reading. The romantic entanglements that the movie centres on are very much a part of the book, of course, but they're described more richly and completely in the novel. You don't get enough of Cassandra's voice in the movie.

Mansfield Park, loosely based on a Jane Austen novel I haven't read, was also pretty decent. The director/writer, Patricia Rozema, made a period costume drama with some vaguely subversive modern touches (a hint of lesbianism here, a flash of nudity there, some condemnation of the slave trade over there). As is usually the case, there's a good cast of mostly British actors, many familiar from other movies, all giving good performances. It's not a must-see but anyone who enjoys historical movies and doesn't mind an occasional detour away from a G rating might enjoy it. It's certainly more enjoyable than the recent Vanity Fair movie, based on Thackeray and also directed by a woman who wanted to subvert expectations a little. Vanity Fair was let down by either a script that didn't draw a sufficiently clear and consistent picture of the main character or a poor performance by Reese Witherspoon. I'm inclined to think both.

(Now playing: Frank Sinatra, "Why Try to Change Me Now?," No One Cares.)


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