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Books in August

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Well, with FantAsia behind me and Autumn barely glimpsed ahead, August is a fine time for reading! (Okay, okay, every month is a fine one for reading, I know!) So without further ado:

A Dying Fall, by Elly Griffiths.Collapse )

The Outcast Dead, by Elly Griffiths.Collapse )

Zeus is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure, by Michael G. Munz.Collapse )

Angelica's Smile, by Andrea Camilleri.Collapse )

The Devil's Making: A Victorian Detective Mystery, by Sean Haldane.Collapse )

The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny.Collapse )

And now it's time to prepare for reading in the Fall - the trees around here are just starting to turn, so you know it's coming....

Falling Into Worlds

As I finished Louise Penny's The Long Way Home, her latest in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, I found myself thinking about reading. I don't know how others experience reading, only how I do, and really the way I read is, I fall into the world of the story. Doesn't matter if it's a short story, a novel, a trilogy, a series - if the author creates the world for me, I'm in that world for the duration of the story. Of course, not all authors write worlds I accept or believe, and actually there are only a few who write worlds so convincingly real that I fall into them. But I'm not too surprised to realize that a fair number of those worlds are ones that the authors revisit, in series or trilogies or joined short-story lengths, because of course the more you fall into the world, the more those individuals who populate the world become real. So it's not too surprising that my favourite books in recent years are stories in continued worlds - from GRRM's Westeros to Donna Leon's Venice to Aaronovitch's Rivers of London to Penny's Three Pines, among at least a dozen others.

But this goes back a long way, I realize - as far back as the Black Beauty books which I read as a 6-year-old in Cornwall, to the 6-volume Mallory Towers books where I couldn't decide if I wanted to be Darrell or Alicia, to Narnia and of course, the ultimate, Tolkien. They were all real worlds to me, still are when I re-read them, and I fall into them easily and gladly and with a great sense of homecoming when I do re-read.

I took a good three days to read Penny's latest, a story I'd waited a year to read and one I wanted, simultaneously, to gobble down in one big gulp and to extend and delay and consume morsel by morsel, so as not to let it go down too fast. Funny that the metaphors in both images are of food, but then the written word is my mind-food and always has been.

Sometimes I think falling into these worlds is a retreat, a cop-out for living in my own life's real world. Other times I think that my real world is, at least partially, my reading worlds. And let's not get started on my dreams, which are way more interesting, novelistic, and coherently and cohesively their own world, than my waking life. Most of the time, I just wish I could write like that.

Quote of the Day

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Reading a mini-interview with Jeff ("The Big Lebowski") Bridges in Time this evening, I was tickled by a quote from his website (I have no idea if this is his own thought or taken from somewhere else, but no matter):

After ecstasy, the laundry.

There is not a woman alive on the planet who doesn't know what that means on as many levels as you like; there are, I think, few men who understand its essence. Jeff in this Time interview notes in trying to explain the quote: "To me, enlightenment is just the beginning." And carries on from there.

End of an Era

I received the sad news last night that my old boss in San Francisco, Dr. B., has died. It wasn't surprising, as he was 91 years old and in frail physical health (his mind, thank the Goddess, was still as sharp and intact as ever), but it's sad news anyway. Oddly, I had just Googled him the day before I got this news, just wondering if anything was going on with him. I'm bad about keeping in touch with people when I'm in another city (or country) - actually, I'm bad at it with people in the same city - but that doesn't mean that I don't think about people I know, I do that all the time, and that's why I Googled him.

I did freelance work for Dr. B from something like 1987 until a few years ago, when he effectively retired. It was Dr. B, indeed, who allowed me to work in Quebec, given that I don't have French to any degree that would permit me to work in that language - he hated change, so when I moved he asked me to continue doing the typing/editing work for him that I'd been doing for years already. We carried on the work via email and FedEx, and it worked out really well for about 15 years after I moved here, which is quite an impressive run really.

When we'd go back to SF for a family visit, we'd usually try to see Dr. B (and his wife, Herma, and his PA, Ellen) as well - I think the last time we managed to do so was around 2009 or 2010, because his health didn't really permit him to go out socially very much, but I always managed to send him a combined b-day/Christmas card (his b-day was a couple of days before Christmas, must have been a pain growing up!) and to include a newsletter letting him know how our year had gone. It's sad to think I won't be doing that anymore, sigh.

He will be missed.
One of my favourite films from FantAsia 2013 was "Thermae Romae," a goofy Japanese film set in ancient Rome and featuring bath builder Lucius (Hiroshi Abe) who finds himself in modern-day Japan from time to time, where he discovers new public bath designs and a young girl Mami (Aya Ueto) who wants to draw manga and is very drawn to him. So when I saw there was a "Thermae Romae II" showing up at FantAsia in 2014, starring the same actors in the same roles, well, I had to see it of course! And it was just as goofy as the first one. Once again, Lucius is called upon to create new public baths, at the behest of Emperor Hadrianus (Masachika Ichimura), but this time he's asked to do so in the belief that public baths will make Rome a peaceful country that no longer is fighting multiple wars in distant lands. But the Senate wants the wars to continue - after all, they profit mightily from them - and so they conspire to have Lucius killed by ex-soldiers turned bandits. But they reckoned without the single-mindedness of our hero, and his peculiar ability to suddenly be transported to modern-day Japan, with all the advantages that brings to him (not to mention Mami)....

This is definitely a sequel, but one that doesn't require the audience to have seen the first film (in fact, I heard several people in line stating that they hadn't seen the first one, but the premise was such that they couldn't miss seeing the second). There are a few moments shown from the first film, mostly Mami having flashbacks of those events, but they weren't needed to enjoy the second one on its own merits. There's a lot of humour and a bit of pathos, and some romance too. And I had forgotten that Lucius' travels into the future were accompanied by an apparently necessary baritone opera singer, on some hill somewhere, singing "Pagliacci" - the final touch to make this just that much more absurd, and enjoyable! A fitting end to FantAsia for us this year indeed!

FantAsia 14: Black Butler (Japan, 2014)

After witnessing the murder of her parents, Shiori Genpo sells her soul to a demon, Sebastian, in return for his help in avenging their deaths. Since only boys can inherit the large company her family owned, she quickly assumes the identity of a boy, Kiyoharu, pretending to be her father's illegitimate son, and grows up in the magnificent grounds of her family estate, aided by her now-butler, Sebastian, a rather clumsy maid and other household help; as Kiyoharu, she takes on the family title of Count and is the head of the family's toy business empire by the age of 17. But she has never given up her search for the killer of her parents. In her other role, as a "guard dog of the Queen" (who rules the Western world), she is investigating a series of mysterious deaths-by-sudden-mummification. With Sebastian's help, she narrows the search to an invitation-only night club, but when she herself receives such an invitation, more than her own life might be on the line....

This is apparently based on a famous manga, also called Black Butler, which has received a number of treatments in the past, but this is the first big-screen, big-budget version. I'm not familiar with the manga, so I can't say whether the film is faithful to its source material, but as a film, it stands up well on its own. There's lots of action (both martial arts style and gun play), some very funny moments and, at the end, a quite reasonable set-up for a sequel. I don't know how well it's done in Japan, but at Montreal's Fantasia Festival, it was definitely a crowd-pleaser!

Books in July

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Ah, the hot lazy days of July - well, hot indeed, but not lazy for me as the annual FantAsia Film Fest runs for much of the month. Still, that just means more time standing in line, reading....

The Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fiction, edited by Mike Ashley.Collapse )

Night Life of the Gods, by Thorne Smith.Collapse )

The Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar.Collapse )

Requiem for a Princess, by Ruth M. Arthur.Collapse )
A Candle in Her Room, by Ruth M. Arthur.Collapse )

The Dog Park Club, by Cynthia Robinson.Collapse )

The Barbary Dogs, by Cynthia Robinson.Collapse )

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-first Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois.Collapse )

Yikes, I almost completely forgot to post this - well, doing so on August 1 isn't too late, I guess {g}!
Terrible things happen in Dulce's house in 1981; such terrible things that she has been in prison ever since. In 2011, now an old woman, Dulce is the beneficiary of a boon from the Venezuelan government - she is allowed to leave the prison, but she must remain on house arrest (complete with armed guards outside 24/7), in the very house where those terrible events occurred. And now it seems that they are about to occur again, and again, and again....

I don't want to say much at all about this film because its power comes from its unexpected twists and turns and things we, the audience, never saw coming. I don't like scary movies much because, well, I don't like being scared - and this one definitely scared me, there were at least half a dozen times when I jumped in my seat (and perhaps screamed a little)! But I ended up really loving this film, in part because of the way it unfolds and in part because of the very fine acting, by Ruddy Rodriguez as Dolce especially, but also including Gonzalo Cubero as her husband Juan Jose, Rosmel Bustamente as her son Leo and (the very handsome) Hector Mercado as the local priest. My only quibble has to do with the fact that all the rooms in the house are always kept locked, whether family members are in them or not; I didn't quite understand that. But if you're looking for a very classy "supernatural thriller," you wouldn't go wrong by choosing to search this one out; truly excellent!

FantAsia 12: To Be Takei (USA, 2014)

George Takei (pronounced as in "toupee," as George points out) is best known in North American culture as Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the original "Star Trek" television series from the 1960s and the numerous later films. This documentary traces his life from his childhood years spent in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII, through his struggles as a Japanese-American actor trying to get work, his signature role as Sulu, subsequent work in politics and with the Los Angeles transit company, and finally into his activism as a gay man fighting for marriage equality. Throughout the film, he comes across as optimistic, humble and friendly. It is clear that he depends on his long-term partner and now husband Brad, and that their relationship is central to both their lives, but he also talks candidly about being closeted for many decades, primarily so that he could continue to work. He regrets having taken stereotypical Japanese roles in a couple of Jerry Lewis films, but he is also proud of the fact that his characterization of Sulu encouraged younger Asian actors to keep trying to find acting work (many current Asian actors point to George as being their first role model in television and film).

The only sour note in the film comes from William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, who insists several times that he and George had no personal relationship and even that Kirk and Sulu had no personal relationship in the TV show and films; and of course he claims to have received no invitation to George and Brad's wedding, which is not true. The biggest surprise to me was Howard Stern, a radio shock-jock who generally seems like just a super-annoying person but who talks with, and about, George with obvious affection.

As a document showcasing what Hollywood was like for non-white actors between the 1950s and modern times, there could have been a bit more information. But as a document describing the life, career and personal arc of an individual who has lived an interesting life in interesting times, this is stellar.

FantAsia 11: The Creeping Garden (UK, 2013)

This film is almost impossible to describe, it being a documentary about, of all things, slime mold. A remarkably versatile organism that sometimes behaves like a fungus, sometimes like an animal, and sometimes like a plant, this mold moves (in very slow motion) and absorbs decayed materials in forests and other places. It has no internal organs and certainly no brain, but its cells work cooperatively to find the most efficient way to achieve its goals (which consist primarily of finding food sources). Scientists and artists in the UK and elsewhere are beginning to examine these organisms, finding intricate patterns of "behaviour" that could find expression in such diverse fields as art, music, computer science and even things like city planning and the best routes out of a building in case of fire. I can't say that I understood the scientific underpinnings of such ideas, but the film was nothing if not trippy to look at, and it proves once again that our world is both larger and stranger than most of us know.



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