peteg's blog - noise

Ann Patchett: Bel Canto.

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Kindle. I've read a few of hers before, and Kate reckoned this was decent. As always Patchett can write, though that doesn't always add up to a story worth reading. Structurally we're in the same space as Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow: many upper class people are detained in the home of the country's Vice President by some revolutionaries from the jungle. The South Americans are drawn the best, or perhaps the American artist embodying opera, while the Russians and French are national caricatures. The Japanese salarymen fall in the middle. There didn't seem to be much feeling for the revolutionaries beyond lip service for the morality of their cause against a brutal regime. Stockholm syndrome (of course!) yields some odd coupling via some deft artifice; the excess of (transitive!) lurv is too narrowly drawn as a physical thing that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. The foreshadowing is excessive, with some of the setups repeated patronisingly close to the cash outs. One of her themes is that the skills people make money with are generally useless outside of our increasingly claustrophobic adult daycares. Another is the universal awesomeness of opera, which stood in need of as much justification at the end as the start, given this much dancing about architecture. The epilogue is confusing; when did all that happen?

Janet Maslin at the time. Goodreads has some thoughtful commentary.

John Brunner: Times Without Number.

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Kindle. And yet more thin Brunner. Time travel only sorta works when causality is given a wide berth. Brunner being Brunner we instead get an incoherent mess of sociological whatifery: the Spanish Armada wins, England is colonised, and time (but not space) travel devices are elementary to construct. The fashion is medieval, though the Inquisition has evolved. Structurally it's three novellas anchored by a bloke who just happens to be there; in more capable hands it may have lead to such innovations as Douglas Adams's infinite improbability drive. The ending is as pat and Planet of the Apes as it must be, but with a novel contention: any timeline that discovers time machines has no future.

Dirt Music

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It's been an age since I've seen an Australian film, which this isn't quite; Tim Winton's book provides the raw material for two foreign leads to swan about W.A., and while Kelly Macdonald is always good company I've got to wonder if they cast Garrett Hedlund only because Thor was unavailable. Their accents are challenging. Her cadence is Scots I'd say, her locutions corr-blimey Australian school girl, while Hedlund doesn’t try too hard with the little he is asked to say. Both disintegrate opposite Australian actors. David Wenham is as cold as ice, retaining barely a smidge of Gettin' Square. Aaron Pedersen is inexplicably clunky, nowhere close to those halcyon days of Wildside.

The story as shown here is a 1980s throwback, like The Club, from when Australia was on the cusp of a professionalism already souring under that old and relentlessly violent grasping. (I'd say that things have further soured into shameless mendicancy.) In those days the wife was allowed to bridle at the chauvinism but not do anything about it, which is reflected here in the cars having more personality than the leads; Hedlund's beat up old ute is straight out of Erskineville Kings, an altogether better rumination on the laconic Australian male, while Kelly Mac implausibly scores a classic and pristine lime-green Holden shagger from Pedersen's bush mechanic. "Peg leg" Dan Wyllie drives a troop carrier up the W.A. coastline, the dream of many a millennial. The music is also entirely retro: a country version of Song to the Siren, Paul Kelly's Dumb Things.

The two-track structure is not very effective as the foreshadowing gives an undertow of unearnt tragedy to the whole thing. I felt the visual style was derived from Breath, at least when we get past the excess internalism of hotels and living rooms to the where-the-bloody-hell-are-we tourism commercial (Sam Chiplin will never be out of a job). There's no real sense of the town despite it being a locus for the fisherpeople generationally. The ending is atrociously hokey. One might be tempted to blame director Gregor Jordan (Two Hands, Buffalo Soldiers) for some or all of these flaws until one remembers that the source story was not that strong, Georgie not that great a character, and that Winton's prose does more for W.A. than any camera can.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

John Brunner: The Astronauts Must Not Land.

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Kindle. More thin Brunner, with a very thin conceit stretched very thin over some druggy imaginings of alien physiologies. He made bank on his word count here with a lot of repetition at the macro level; the first-person sentences seem finer than usual, which is a bit of a waste. The spirit is (once again) Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End alloyed with some South American exoticism / essentialism. It ends in a damp squib. As idealisation is what I do (poorly), I don't think there's a lot to philosophise about: it's entirely instrumental.

John Brunner: The Wrong End of Time.

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Kindle. Another thin Brunner. It's basically a reworking of 2001 where instead of going to Jupiter or Saturn the characters go from one invented U.S. city to the Canadian border. There's the usual sociological preoccupations, and he's quite happy to take the U.S.S.R.'s side of the argument back in the day. It's difficult to see how he made bank with this sort of derivative crap. I similarly can't believe that anyone would spill so many words on it.

John Brunner: The World Swappers.

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Kindle. And yet still more thin Brunner. This one was briskly written with some motivations too opaque at times to grasp. Matter transmission! called the transfax of course. Oh my. A secret society (read Second Foundation) tries to broker peace with an immature alien society. As is often the case the scifi dressing is completely auxiliary; his main interest is on the sociology, and these days he'd probably be writing historical fiction.

John Brunner: The Day of the Star Cities (aka Age of Miracles).

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Kindle. And yet more thin Brunner, proving that I am now impervious to learning. This time around some aliens install transit lounges on Earth and blow up all the nukes. With that as a premise it logically follows that Mad Max is beyond Thunderdome, the mice-men are cowed but the rat-men are dreaming of the stars, and the Russkies invade. Yes that's right, the nukes were keeping the peace. The opening police procedural is a bit misleading; this is not a noir. As usual in this space the meek have superpowers, or in this case, a valuable lack of cognition. The centres themselves are psychedelic trippy trip machines, just like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Do speak up if you’ve seen any of this before.

Juan Cárdenas: Ornamental.

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Kindle. A pointer from Nathan Scott McNamara in the New York Times. A first-person Colombian drug chemist refines a substance from a flower that makes the ladies go wow; shades of State of Wonder? Realising that baldly stating this premise is not going to carry a book, we also get psychedelic prose, love triangles, and some very weak commentary on what I take to be Continental philosophy. Overall, an exercise in style mining overly familiar tropes and not for me.

Suspicion

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A jag via Roger Ebert's review of Rosemary's Baby. Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine. Thin gruel I feel: a playboy marries an upright/uptight/unworldly sprog of a General. He continues to be a playboy, as much as he can in black-and-white 1941. I often couldn't tell if the penny was dropping for Fontaine or she was foxing Grant. In the end it didn't matter much at all.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

First Cow

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On the Oregon Trail with director Kelly Reichardt and leads John Magaro and Orion Lee, the latter of whom we meet naked in the style of The Terminator. These guys form a complementary entrepreneurial pairing in this bucolic setting, and attempt to build their fortune on donuts. The cow gets her time in the frame but has less agency than I'd hoped: all blame attaches to the cat. It's slow and sometimes finds its mark; there's a touch of Dead Man in the foreshadowing, the aimlessness, the musical interludes, the canoe on the river. Also Ewen Bremner and Toby Jones.

A. O. Scott watched it so you don't have to.

John Brunner: Entry to Elsewhen.

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Kindle. More even shorter Brunner; I still haven't learnt. The drugs and conceits run thin here. I did enjoy the concluding No Other Gods But Me a bit, as a riff on Scientology perhaps, up to the butchered ending which was unusually poorly written. The first Host Age is a topical pandemic thing with a busted epistemology (we'll know how to travel in time but we'll forget most of medicine), and the second Lungfish is millennial discontent at being ejected from all they know. Not the worst of his I've read recently.

John Brunner: To Conquer Chaos.

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Kindle. More thin Brunner. You'd think I'd learn. Near as I can tell this is a mild yet wordy variant of Planet of the Apes: an artificial biological sapient goes insane and the humans regress technologically. There's little to redeem it as it goes nowhere for far too long. Brunner calls time on this fiasco before resolving many loose ends; for instance the girl does not get the boy, and the green stuff remains purely a plot device.

John Brunner: The Repairmen of Cyclops.

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Kindle. The last of what he must've hoped would be a much longer series. This is Soylent green refracted through the horror of involuntary parting out of bodies. There's a touch of USA-style coca-colonisation and the United Nation's smurfs. I just wish his characters weren't right all the time.

Ghostbusters II

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With Jacob and his kids. Bill Murray reels off some great face gags and lines. It's been a while since they've made a movie this silly and fun.

John Brunner: The Avengers of Carrig.

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Kindle. Goodreads told me that this was part of a series, somewhat related to the last one I read. It's mostly fantasy, a dragons-and-damsels sort of thing, and thin Brunner at its worst. A few twists (and not the paltry revelatory style) may have made it worth reading.

John Brunner: Polymath (aka Castaways' World).

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Kindle. More thin Brunner. Goodreads reckons this is more chop than the last one, and they're right. Here we're served a North Korea/South Korea setup (making me wonder if there's a plateau and a river there) that underpins a pioneering/disaster recovery superman plot. Brunner (as always) is more interested in social commentary than the scifi; the resource limitations he imposes are more for the sake of the story than plausible. For instance a star going supernova is surely not a matter of hours.

John Brunner: The Rites of Ohe.

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Kindle. More thin Brunner, and more mediocre. At best this is some thin criticism of staid cultures (Britain) and the futility of finding solutions in ancient, "god-obsessed", death-culture India (Buddhism). While there may be something in that the superficiality here grates. In other ways the converse of Asimov's Second Foundation, a failure to launch in spite of promise, is championed. The repetition does not improve things, and clearly Brunner was struggling to make bank.

Stan Parish: Love and Theft.

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Kindle. Sold by Adam Sternbergh's review in the New York Times. I don't usually read thrillers, and having finished I'd say this is solidly in the Oceans territory, including a femme crossover, where all women are beautiful and available and willing, and all men are handsome-ish and carry an MMA undertow. The writing is fine for these purposes, though he could have left out the common exotic (the finance son predictably, inevitably hooks up with the party DJ daughter) and the Spanish dialogue that adds little. We spend perhaps 80% of the story waiting for a production. The ultimate twists are disappointingly transparent. Locations are chosen seemingly at random. It did pass the time. Michael Mann to direct the movie, or maybe he already mostly did.

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On Jacob and Barb's advice I aimed for Diggers Beach and missed; I slavishly followed the directions of Google Maps which took me instead to Charlesworth Bay Beach. It's a beaut spot. The water was roughly 20C and the air perhaps 23C, sunny and warm with a light swell. The rocks are mostly obvious but there were some non obvious shin scrapers. I dried out on the sand after, then did a bit of work in the back of the troopy.

The Tenant

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A Polanski jag from Rosemary's Baby. It's a series of vignettes about poor neighbourly behavior in Paris, with some cheap and impenetrable psychological and occult twists. Polanski directs and leads, but to nowhere. Can't say I really got into it. Digging further into IMDB, I hadn't realised that Polanski had been directing for so long before this.

Roger Ebert was very unimpressed at the time. Vincent Canby. There does seem to be an excess of dubbing.