Sigh. Here we go again. Last month, a routine check at our local vet clinic revealed that Jelly had a mast cell tumor that would have to be removed. Given their advanced ages, and the fact that they are pugs, surgery always worries me as much as whatever it is they are being treated for. But despite being 16, Jelly came through with flying colors and the surgery was a complete success. Tomorrow, it’s 11 year old Bubba’s turn. Akemi noticed a lump near his ear last week and I didn’t think anything of it at first. It was significantly tinier and harder than the one I discovered on Jelly. Still, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have it checked out and so, yesterday, we brought him in and had a sample taken. And, this morning, we got the results. Another mast cell tumor. He goes in for surgery first thing tomorrow morning.
This one was a lot of fun – despite all the gobbledegook. Whenever the conversation turned to the gate bridge, Akemi’s eyes seemed to glaze over. But they were bright and alert for all of the McKay-Keller moments. “Some part is very boring, talk about global warming. But I laughed a couple of times. I found funny. And I liked the romantic scenes.”
Note for the costume department from Akemi: “Didn’t like Jewel’s dress and boots.”
She loved the Carl Binder Memorial Theatre but wondered why Carl got the honours and not, say, Brad or Robert who no doubt wondered: “Why my name is not on the theatre?”
On the burgeoning romance: “I liked the fact McKay and Jewel loveoo loveoo.”
But she wasn’t a fan of the practical ice effects: “Looks fake.”
On the moment where McKay sweeps up a wet and freezing Keller, gets her to safety, and then the two exchange a kiss: “Titanic!”
If you live in the Vancouver area, check out the video and maybe help identify this sorry excuse for a human being.
Capsule reviews of all the books I read last month…
Blood Kinby Steve Rasnic Tem
A southern gothic tale that alternates between the 1930′s and the present day. It tells the parallel stories of a women and her grandson and their respective battles against supernatural forces in the southern Appalachians, all related to a mysterious crate buried deep in the kudzu-infested grounds of their family property. Moody and effectively atmospheric but, at times, slow-moving and disjointed. It starts strong, lags in the middle, and then culminates in an explosion of frenzied horror.
In the Miso Soupby Ryu Murakami
A young man who specializes in guiding foreigners on red light tours of Tokyo begins to suspect that there may be more to his latest client than meets the eye. Is this strange American merely eccentric, or could he be the serial killer responsible for some recent gruesome murders? As the mystery builds and our protagonist is drawn inexorably deeper, things begin to take a turn for the bizarre. Incredibly engaging and unnerving – until the sudden and inexplicable supernatural twist late in the hitherto grounded book. That’s when the wheels come off.
The Barrowby Mark Smythe
A rousing fantasy actioner in the spirit of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series. Violence, humor, and colourful characters abound in this tale of a group of unlikely heroes on a quest for a fabled sword. It’s a gritty, lively adventure and a hell of a fun read, but my enjoyment was seriously hampered by some explicit sex scenes that, quite frankly, read like submissions to Letters to Penthouse.
Vampires in the Lemon Groveby Karen Russell
As is often the case with collections, this one is a mixed bag – but there’s no denying the inventiveness of the strange stories contained herein. Like the tale of the reformed vampires who have retired to the Italian countryside where the juice of fresh lemons slakes their thirst for blood. Or the one about about the exploited mutant female workers of a Japanese silk factory. Or the one about the young boys who discover a scarecrow that eerily resembles someone they used to bully… Recommended for those who appreciate inspired, slice-of-life narratives (and, FYI, “slice-of-life” is writer code for “doesn’t have an ending”).
The Walking Dead (volume 20)by Robert Kirkman
“All Out War”, Part 1. Well, “Preamble to All Out War” would probably be more accurate. Rick and co. and their newfound allies take the fight to Negan’s doorstep. And things get ugly – with the promise of still uglier things to come. Darker, deeper, and, frankly, better than the television series.
Harbourby John Ajvide Lindqvist
Two years after the mysterious disappearance of his six year old daughter, a man returns to his family home on a remote island – and discovers the community hides a dark secret. Chilling, at times unnerving, the novel is somewhat reminiscent of Stephen King’s grounded small-town horror. Unique in certain respects but, overall, not quite enough to set it apart in a very crowded field. Still, an above-average horror read.
The Glass Castleby Jeanette Walls
The book opens with our narrator, Jeannette, on her way to a New York City function, when her cab stops beside a homeless women rooting through the trash. Upon closer scrutiny, Jeannette realizes that homeless woman is, in fact, her mother. And so begins one of the most amazing books I’ve read in recent memory. The blurb on the back of the jacket does it an enormous disservice, painting it as a bleak autobiographical account of woman growing up in an abusive family. It’s actually quite touching, uplifting – and incredibly funny, reminiscent of David Sedaris at his very darkest. One of my Top 10 books of all time. Go read it!
Peter Panzerfaust (volume 1)by Kurtis J. Wiebe
It’s Peter Pan in WWII as Peter leads a group of young orphans from Calais to Paris. Complicating matters for them = nazis! No magic but certain aspects of the story stretch credulity.
The Circleby David Eggers
Our young heroine lands a job working for The Circle, a cutting edge internet company that is Google, Facebook, and Yahoo rolled into one. Before she knows it, she is at the forefront of a wave of technological advancements that will revolutionize social interaction. But at what price? A smart, scary book that explores the potentially insidious consequences of our increasingly “connected” lives. It takes a while to get going and the big “surprise reveal” at book’s end isn’t all that surprising at all, but it nevertheless delivers a powerful message on our increasing willingness to relinquish privacy and freedom in exchange for convenience.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselvesby Karen Joy Fowler
Inspired by an experiment in the 1930′s in which a husband and wife research team raised a baby chimp in their home as a member of their family, this novel offers a fictional account of a similar experiment run some sixty years later – and its heartbreaking effects on those involved. Our narrator is Rosemary, a woman who reflects back on her childhood, growing up with a human brother and chimpanzee sister – until the dark day her sister, Fern, was taken away. The loss of their beloved family members has far-reaching consequences for all of them. Some fifteen years later, Rosemary reflects back on her time with Fern and tries to learn the truth about her sister’s fate. It’s rare I read a truly great book, even rarer for me to read two back to back, but that’s exactly what happened. Right after reading Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, I picked up this book – and was equally bowled over. Humorous and poignant. A wonderful book.
Ack-Ack Macaqueby Gareth Powell
A monkey of another kind is the titular hero of this alt history romp that features a royal conspiracy, nuclear-powered airships, VR ninja nazis, and poachable portable souls. It’s silly fast-paced fun, but the sloppy villains and a maudlin love story really throw a wrench into the works.
I approached the re-watch of this episode with some trepidation, not because I was worried that Akemi wouldn’t like it but because I feared that I wouldn’t. After all, I’d been reviewing my episodes in particular with very critical eyes and, to be honest, I’m a lot less happy with the results now than I was years ago. Back in the day, this one had been a personal favorites, so I was curious as to how it would survive the test of time. As it turned out – quite well. Of all of the episodes I wrote for the last two Stargate incarnations (SGA and SGU), this one ranks as one of my faves. It still holds up. And it was especially satisfying watching this with Akemi who, despite English being her second language, greatly enjoyed it. In fact, she declared it: “My favorite of your episodes. ” High praise indeed. She loved the humor, the quick pacing, and was delighted by the unexpected twists – especially the final one in which it is revealed that McKay had been fooled all along as well…
Ever-appreciative of the trademark Stargate humor – and a certain Robert Picardo: “I find many funny scenes. Especially with Bob.”
On the admittedly talky reveal: “That scene was difficult but cool. I like it.”
On when her suspicions were first raised that maybe something was up – and Kolya’s punching prowess: “I was wondering. Bad guy punching him thirty times and he’s still alive. Just scratches. Not losing teeth. Guy is not good at punching people.”
On another red flag: “I thought too expensive for Sheppard without hand for rest of series. Not like old man on Walking Dead. Major character. DingDingding! Price go so high.”
Picking up a selection of home made marshmallows at Archimallows pop-up stand.
Birthday lunch at Bel Cafe. Banh Mi for me.
And spicy chicken salad and a matcha latte for Akemi.
And some hazelnut dragees to go. I’m a sucker for those complimentary samples.
New running shoes, a.k.a. new chew toys for Lulu.
Then, over to Main Street to check out the Candy Meister truck.
And, of course, her favorites – and the reason we chase this truck around town – the handmade marshmallows.
An afternoon walk/roll with the dogs.
Doggy bath time.
Sushi dinner at Miku Restaurant
Drinks. For her, some sort of Yuzi liquor.
For me, the sake sampler.
And the “lotus root salad” that was served, completely devoid of lotus roots. When I asked about this, I was informed that they were out. Really? On the bright side, our sushi was served with the expected fish.
And, instead of birthday cake, Akemi opted for birthday gelato at Bella Gelateria. Yes, it’s that good!
Another Carl Binder-san spectacular. I loved this episode even more on repeat viewing. It’s got action, humor, and high-stakes developments with all of our characters in play (even Zelenka, Lorne, and Amelia Banks). Fast-paced fun!
And Akemi agreed. She laughed out loud a couple of times, jumped at others, and seemed just as anxious as Teyla when she was in hiding with her baby. The night time establishers of the city all lit up never fail to amaze, and the “really cool fighting scenes” in this one wowed her as well, especially the final showdown at the top of the tower (Again, thanks to Mark Savela and our VFX crew and James Bamford and our stunts crew). Her only quibble with this episode: “I’m so sad I didn’t see any scenes with Jewel. Where’s Jewel?” I dunno. Night off?
She was at her most animated when Sheppard almost tumbles off the tower and is left dangling: “Now Mike Dopud can take over team!”
When Teyla approaches Michael hanging on by his fingertips: “Kick him off.”
And when she does just that: “What?! He isn’t really dead, is he?” And when I informed her that, yes, he was: “Wow. Michael die. Are you sure? Who will they fight?” No one! The last six episodes of the final season will feature scenes of them sitting around, talking about their feelings.
And a closing observation as the end credits started to roll: “Sheppard never die, ne? Don’t you think so? Why not?”
It will follow in the rich tradition of Basic Instinct 2, Blues Brothers 2000, Escape from L.A, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights – as sequels that were released after over a decade had passed since the original graced the big screen. Here are some notable others…
The Evening Star, sequel to Terms of Endearment, released 13 years later.
The Two Jakes, sequel to Chinatown, released 16 years later.
An American Werewolf in Paris, sequel to An American Werewolf in London, released 16 years later.
The Rage: Carrie II, sequel to Carrie, released 22 years later.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, sequel to Wall Street, released 22 years later.
Psycho II, sequel to Psycho, released 22 years later.
The Odd Couple II, sequel to The Odd Couple, released 29 years later.
And here are some sequels either rumoured to be in the works, in production, or coming soon to a theater near you…
Bad Santa 2 (11 years later)
Beetlejuice 2 (16 years later)
Blade Runner 2 (22 years later)
Dumb and Dumber To (20 years later)
Goonies 2 (29 years later)
Independence Day 2 (18 years later)
Rounders 2 (26 years later)
Shakespeare in Love 2 (16 years later)
Top Gun 2 (28 years later)
Trainspotting 2 (18 years later)
Triplets (sequel to Twin – 26 years later)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2 (26 years later)
Zoolander 2 (13 years later)
Which one are you looking forward to the least?
The afore-mentioned lists got me thinking about some of the great movies that REALLY need sequels. Dear Hollywood, if they’re not already in the works, might I suggest:
The Sixth Sense 2: The Seventh Sense
Apocalypse Now 2: I Love the Smell of Napalm at Night Too!
Forrest Gump 2: Still Running
Casablanca 2: Play It Again, Sam
Better Off Dead 2: I Want my Two Dollars! Plus Interest! Which Would Now Make it About Two Fifty!
A Few Good Men: You Couldn’t Handle the Truth So We Apportioned it over Two Movies
Titanic 2: My Heart Still Going On
On the Waterfront 2: The Contender
Taxi Driver 2: Are You STILL Talkin’ to Me?
Field of Dreams 2: If You Produce It, They Will Come
Gone With the Wind: Tomorrow is Another Movie
Citizen Kane 2: Charlie and Rosebud, the Early Years
Clip show alert! Clip show alert! Alas, the notion of the money-saver was completely lost on Akemi who, partway through Inquisition, turned to me, brow furrowed and remarked: “Just replaying parts of episodes we’ve already seen.” Well, yes. That’s the point of the clip show, the high point of any season. It’s a very special episode that, in its short run time, manages to pack in all of the very best of what has come before. It’s like a bowlful of only the red skittles. That have passed, undigested through the alimentary canal of an Asian palm civet cat.
Apparently, they don’t do that sort of thing in Japan.
Surprisingly, however, this episode went over quite well, owing to the fact that many of these repeat clips were actually new to Akemi who missed seasons 2 through 4. Plenty of “oohs” and “aaahs” throughout those amazing space battles.
“Toby!” she called when actor Thobias Slezak – and occasional guest to our home during the football season – showed up on screen. Although it was, I thought, a sizeable enough appearance, she was somewhat disappointed: “Toby’s part is very small again [a reference to his turn as the doomed Peter in SGU's Visitation]. Too small!”
And a minor quibble for the prop department. She hated the glasses Woolsey and Sheppard were drinking whisky out of at episode’s end because we own those very same glasses and it shattered the illusion: “Same glass as you are drinking almond milk out of.”
Overall, even though she had a hard time following (and I had an equally hard time explaining): “I liked it. I was happy to see so much computer graphics. I liked the fact it summarized everything because I missed so many episodes.” And, she’s up to date!
Last night, I met up with my foodie friend – Nicole, Lan, and Missy – for a little culinary tour of Chinatown. Nicole, our guide on this trek, had us hopping from one place to the next, covering four different places in which we sampled about a dozen different dishes…
Fellow foodies: Nicole, Lan, and Missy.
We met at The Pie Shoppe, a tiny place that offers a variety of pies both sweet and savory. On this night, only half an hour away from closing, they were out of savory options so we settled for (and by settled, I mean devoured) two of the sweet pies: apple-rhubarb and chocolate pecan. I can’t fairly judge a fruit pie without ice cream so I won’t weigh in on the apple-rhubarb, but that chocolate-pecan pie was outstanding on its own. I was tempted to try the salted honey pie but Nicole had to remind me to pace myself. This, after all, was a marathon.
A plethora of pies
From there, we headed one block over to a place called Oyster Express that offered about a dozen varieties of oysters on the shell in addition to a number of other menu items. But, come on! The place is called Oyster Express! So we ordered two dozen assorted raw oysters. They were all excellent. Akemi, who had to beg off because she was feeling under the weather, would have loved it.
On the half shell at Oyster Express
One block over and two blocks down, we hit Besties, a restaurant specializing in sausages.
With by besties at Besties
We ordered a number of items and shared. Among them:
The sausage slider
Asparagus with hollandaise. Oh, and an egg!
For me, the highlight of this stop was the venison and blueberry sausage (that, for some reason, I failed to snap). They were out of the intriguing sounding Butter Chicken sausage, so I’ll definitely have to make a return visit.
From there, it was one block over, three blocks up (through the downtown east side’s more colourful area), and around the corner to the Dunleavy Snack Bar. At this point, Lan was tapped out and declared himself stuffed. BUT that didn’t stop him from having some of the bimbimbap – and later, finishing it off when the waiter asked/threatened to take the plate away…
Pork belly and Korean chicken steamed buns. I was hoping the chicken would be spicier, like they serve at that Korean restaurant in Shinjuku where the chicken is so spicy they serve it with a side order of surgical gloves so that you don’t burn your fingers while eating.
We didn’t order dessert, but only because we’d already had some at the start of our tour.
Thanks to Nicole for organizing and Lan and Missy batting clean-up on those fries and rice.
Continuing our discussion of our April Book of the Month Club selection - Annihilation:
vanderworld.com writes: “I wouldn’t normally comment, but…the next two novels are about 100,000 words each, which complicates things, and are *completely separate novels* in their own right, that interlock with Annihilation…they do not pick up the story right after the events in Annihilation. Annihilation is itself a self-contained short novel. Among other considerations FSG weighed in their approach to publishing the trilogy that weren’t at all cynical.”
Answer: Well, you’re in a better position to know so I stand corrected. Still, this first book is surprisingly short and the speedy release of subsequent volumes atypical of any series I’ve ever read. It will be interesting to see how this experiment fares.
skua writes: “The Arkady and Boris Strugatsky´s Roadside Picnic (Tarkovski´s Stalker) sensation at the first stages let me in.”
Answer: Yes, it certainly was reminiscent of Stalker as well with its foray into an uncharted alien landscape where the rules of physics – and logic – no longer apply. Great movie. Perhaps time for a re-watch.
JeffW writes: ” I found the pacing in Annihilation to be slow and ultimately unsatisfying.”
Answer: I didn’t mind the pacing. I was so caught up in the story that the slow build really worked for me. It was like one of those horror movies of old where the meat of the narrative is in the suspense rather than the visceral payoff.
Duptiang writes: “Was the protagonist her whole self or a replacement like what was often explored in the SG series a DNA replacement, replicator conversion?”
Answer: Interesting question. She seemed to retain a certain part of herself as evidenced by the introspective passages in her journal. And yet, there’s the hint that she is losing a part of herself as well. When her husband mysteriously returns from his expedition, she points out that it’s as if a part of him is missing. He’s not quite the same person…
Duptiang writes: “How did the files get into the Light house, and why was she succumbing to the brightness?”
Answer: My guesses would be – 1) the lighthouse keeper (human or otherwise) and 2) any human being will succumb to Area X following extended exposure to the environment. Of course, these are just guesses. Are the answers to come?
whoviantrish writes: “The protagonist is smart, decent, down-to-earth, flawed and brave. She’s easy to like.”
Answer: I found the narrative approach very interesting. It allowed us to get to know our protagonist but, on the other hand, never allowed us to know or in any way connect with the other characters.
sparrow_hawk writes: ” The prose is lovely and evocative and conveys the sense of weird other-worldliness quite well.”
Answer: Agreed. He’s a terrific writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed his previous books.
sparrow_hawk writes: “Why are teams still being sent in? What is done to them before they go in? What is happening to The Biologist and has it happened to others before her? Why the heck is everyone so depersonalized and isolated? “
Answer: In my mind, these first two questions are the ones that really need to be answered. Don’t get me wrong. I too would like an answer (or, failing that, some solid hints) regarding the fate of the biologist and how Area X is influencing its visitors, but I’m willing to cut its enigmatic, alien-centered answers some slack. In the case of the expeditions, I’m in a less forgiving mood since there are real people behind these seemingly illogical decision. As someone else already pointed out, if so many teams have already gone missing, why are expeditions still being sent into Area X? What, if anything, is being gained?
Jenny Horn writes: “The premise reminded me some of Michael Grant’s series and King’s Under the Dome as well as LOST, but had none of the payoff. “
Answer: I’ll have to reserve judgement on payoffs until I’ve completed the trilogy, but you present some very interesting examples. I didn’t make it through the entire Lost run but my friends who did were VERY disappointed with the finale. As for Under the Dome – I read it and, while I thought the premise was great and the narrative fairly engaging, I found the ending hugely disappointing. Sometimes, payoffs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
astrumprota writes: “I guess the antagonist is whoever sends in the missions with nothing but lies. If they want to be successful understanding Area X or stopping its encroachment, why not give them all the information possible, and dispense with having one person, who becomes insane, use hypnotic suggestion on the others? I don’t see an end to the failures.”
Answer: And that fairly encapsulates my biggest bump with the book. Given all of the previous failed missions, why not better prepare future teams? Why not arm them with better resources? This is hinted at early on (ie. the limits to what they can bring, the fact that much of their equipment is outdated, etc.) but these are questions that need to be answered in time.
cat4444 writes: “Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t find that I was invested in what happened to the characters due to the detached manner in which the story was told.”
Answer: Yes, I had a problem with that too – and the fact that no one had a name It was always “the psychologist”, “the anthropologist”, “the surveyor”. I eventually accepted the conceit – until, at one point, a character is referred to as “the anthropologist” in dialogue. Surely when speaking to each other, I thought, they would use their first names. But then, upon further consideration, I realized that this entire narrative is an extended journal entry written by our protagonist, so she is essentially offering a tweaked account of her experience. It’s a reminder that our narrator is human and, perhaps, not to be trusted.
cat4444 writes: “The psychologist obviously knew more about what was happening than the other members of the expedition and was surreptitiously in control through the hypnotic triggers implanted in the other members’ minds. But how much did she really know?”
Answer: Again, I really hope we get the answers to these types of questions, those related to the Southern Reach organization and the reasoning behind some of their seemingly illogical decisions.
cat4444 writes: “The biologist’s observations suggest that they’re being changed. Some become the mossy pillars, but the diary suggests that others are changed into the very wildlife that Area X is rife with and that they may retain some semblance of who and what they were before they were changed.”
Answer: Yep. And remember her encounter with the dolphin possessed of an uncomfortably familiar gaze?
cat4444 writes: “Is this the 12th expedition to enter from a particular point, the others having entered from somewhere else?”
Answer: Another interesting point is the suggestion that they must pass through some sort of alien portal to cross the boundary from their reality to Area X.
cat4444 writes: “Who or what is the Crawler and what is the purpose of the words on the “Tower” wall? “
Answer: Are those messages a disordered attempt at communication by the Crawler who perhaps makes use of the jumbled memories of those Area X it has absorbed in order to reach out to new visitors?
Line Noise writes: “Clearly Area X affects the mental and physical state of those who enter it. It modifies a person’s perceptions inducing hallucinations and wild emotions. As a result we can’t even trust the biologist’s record of events.”
Answer: Yes, alluded to this earlier, the fact that we could well be dealing with an untrustworthy narrator, one infected by alien consciousness.
2cats writes: “The writer’s style was lovely in places, highly descriptive and inventive, which I do like. I believe this was my first Vandermeer novel and I would read others in the future, when in a mind-bending mood “
Quick! Get cast your votes for June’s Book of the Month Club selection! It’s a tight race and the polls close this weekend:
And continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…
Well, this one did NOT go over well. In fact, it probably ranks as Akemi’s least favorite Stargate episode to date – partly because she found it so gosh darn confusing (“So complicated this episode!”), but mainly due to the “everything but the kitchen sink” plot (“A little too much thing going on for me.”). The word “cliche” also came up quite a few times.
When the countdown clock counts up to 100% in the nick of time: “So cliche.”
On their way back to the jumper, they encounter one more hidden alien to complicate matters: “So cliche.”
When the Daedalus is being attacked by enemy ships and all hope seems lost: “Atlantis will save them.” And then, when Atlantis does save them: “So cliche.”
For some reason, she really fixated on the team discovering their own dead bodies. She HATED that shot. When I asked her why, she explained that unlike the sequence in SGU’s Twin Destinies in which Rush encounters an alternate version of himself, she felt there was no point to their discovery here – outside of the VFX department showing off. I pointed out that the reason this discovery raises the stakes since alternate versions of themselves were in this exact same predicament and failed. She grudgingly accepted this explanation and then, seemingly unconvinced: “So not showing off the computer graphic skills?”
This episode’s single highlight: “I like him [Ronon]. Hansamu.”
A potential highlight, quickly quashed, came when the ship finds itself beside the red giant. “Now they can recharge!” Uh, sorry. Wrong Stargate series.
And she continues to be impressed by David Hewlett’s ability to deliver seemingly endless dialogue: “Don’t you think handsome guy’s sentences are very short and McKay’s are very long? Not fair. I can’t believe he can remember every single sentence.”
All in all however, Akemi found this episode tiresome despite (because of?) the seemingly endless obstacles the team encounters: “Like after drinking scotch or smoking pot, I have huge ideas and put them all into one script. I’m a crazy genius and this is chance to write every crazy idea I’ve ever had in this episode! I need something to make sense to make everything like this happen. I know – a ship! Alien attack! Now very close to sun! Super hot!” You get the idea.
Next up: Ghost in the Machine. Nothing like a Carl Binder joint to get us all back on track!
A team of four women are are set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory. All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience. Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…
This book is admittedly weird but, surprisingly, actually the most grounded of author Jeff VanderMeer’s considerably weirder body of work. It’s a seemingly straightforward tale rooted in science and exploration that, slowly but surely, veers into the dreaded unknown. No mushroom people or squid-like creatures plague the pages of this book which, nevertheless, possesses an undercurrent of simmering horror reminiscent of Lovecraft. It also reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves with its slow burn mounting sense of foreboding. Or, for more t.v.-centered readers, it feels like a deeper, more nuanced, intellectually-provocative version of Lost.
As we bounce back and forth between the present and the past, gaining insight through our protagonist’s journal entries – a narrative device that, unlike most first person accounts, offers no assurances regarding the fate of our narrator – the secrets of Area X open up to us, offering glimpses but no real answers. Though if the answers ultimately do come, one can’t help but wonder: Will we be able to understand them or will we, like our narrator in one of the book’s most brilliant passages, be so overcome by its otherworldly nature that we’ll be incapable of processing the truth?
Regardless of where we end up, Annihilationis a hell of a ride. VanderMeer does a masterful job of gradually immersing us in this uncanny environment, every eerie encounter and bewildering find drawing us in ever further until, by the time our protagonist makes her final descent into “the tower”, we find ourselves equally ensnared, unable to turn back and unsee what we have witnessed, unlearn what we’ve been told. With the reminder that the tiny microcosms that thrive under our noses, taken for granted and largely ignored, may hold the key to some vaster enigma far beyond our imaginings, can we ever look at them the same way again? Our reality is teeming with potential alien incursions and the Devil may well be in the details.
I’m a big fan of Jeff VanderMeer and liked this book a lot. What kept me from loving this book is the fact that, despite being a self-contained chapter of a larger work, it’s incomplete. Granted, the second and third volumes of the Southern Reach Trilogy will follow in fairly quick succession (book #2 comes out in May and book #3 in September), but I don’t understand why all three weren’t simply released as a single volume. Okay, scratch that. I understand why. It’s more lucrative for the publisher. Still, it’s annoying, especially given that I’m in the process of reading another book, The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, that clocks in at a hefty 1100 pages. And those oversized pages hold twice the print of a regular page so the final tally is closer to 2200! And yet HarperCollins felt the need to make this a trilogy?
Overall, an engaging and enjoyable read. I look forward to the second book, Authority, with equal measures eagerness, curiosity, and annoyance.
Yes, this one was mine and, upon review, I think it takes a while to get going. But, once they’re in the wraith lab – What fun!
Akemi liked the episode – less for the story itself and more for the surprise highlights like…the shocking reveal of actor Mark Dacascos in the tease: “Wha! Chairman!” And she was downright delighted with his performance: “I’ve never heard the Chairman talk so much.” In truth, Mark is a lot more soft-spoken the chatty Tyre. Also a lot more laid-back. And much less likely to ambush you in deserted forest.
Another highlight for Akemi was dog-related = Woolsey’s emotional reflection on his beloved yorkie, lost in the divorce.
And, of course, the sword fight at episode’s end (compliments of longtime Atlantis stunt coordinator James “Bam Bam” Bamford) mightily impressed.
On the flipside, she was saddened by Tyre’s death (“Very sad because I liked the chairman”), found some of the dim lighting in certain scenes annoying (“I couldn’t see very well the getting old getting young parts!”), and had a difficult time understanding what was going on at first (“Chotto confusing because I skipped so many episodes. My fault.”).
Ultimately, Tyre reminded Akemi of another character in another Stargate series: “Chairman remind me of Chef’s [Lou Diamond Phillip's] character a bit. Gets brainwashed, now clear but pretending to be brainwashed. Chef stole idea from Chairman.” Doubtful, but an interesting take nevertheless.
Plug in your top-loading VCR’s and put your video cassette on standby. Tonight, we watch: The Daedalus Variations!
Cast your vote for our June Book of the Month Club pick! We’ve got a nice, wide-ranging selection this month:
COLDBROOK by Tim Lebbon
Coldbrook is a secret laboratory located deep in Appalachian Mountains. Its scientists had achieved the impossible: a gateway to a new world. Theirs was to be the greatest discovery in the history of mankind, but they had no idea what they were about to unleash.
With their breakthrough comes disease and now it is out and ravaging the human population. The only hope is a cure and the only cure is genetic resistance: an uninfected person amongst the billions dead.
In the chaos of destruction there is only one person that can save the human race. But will they find her in time?
THE DRAGON BUSINESS by Kevin J. Anderson
King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking a unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory… Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.
Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.
EVENING’S EMPIRES by Paul McAuley
In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future.
He’s going to get it back.
LAGOON by Nnedi Okrafor
When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.
SCHRODER by Amity Gaige (paperback release in the U.K.)
Attending a New England summer camp, young Eric Schroder-a first-generation East German immigrant-adopts the last name Kennedy to more easily fit in, a fateful white lie that will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course.
SCHRODER relates the story of Eric’s urgent escape years later to Lake Champlain, Vermont, with his six-year-old daughter, Meadow, in an attempt to outrun the authorities amid a heated custody battle with his wife, who will soon discover that her husband is not who he says he is. From a correctional facility, Eric surveys the course of his life to understand-and maybe even explain-his behavior: the painful separation from his mother in childhood; a harrowing escape to America with his taciturn father; a romance that withered under a shadow of lies; and his proudest moments and greatest regrets as a flawed but loving father.
Finish up Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation! Our discussion begins tomorrow!
Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch…
Akemi is right back at it, into the franchise and enjoying the series. Although SGU still ranks as her favorite, she has a greater appreciation for Stargate: Atlantis and its much-improved visual effects. Also, I think she kind of missed McKay.
Of course, as always there was much praise for the job of VFX Supervisor Mark Savela and his team. Whenever we an establisher of Atlantis, especially at night, it’s always: “Wow!” or “Beautiful!” or “Two moons!”.
She didn’t get caught up in the whole Beckett vs. Keller debate because, by this point in the series, they’re both present and acting members of the expedition. She likes them both but offered the following comment on Keller: “Everybody would love to have such a beautiful doctor.” Maybe. “Too bad she doesn’t have a doctor’s outfit.” I guess.
Still not feeling the love for Sheppard 22 episodes in. She finds his loose cannon attitude annoying (“Why Sheppard is always so arrogant? He should listen to older people.”) and, I suspect, very unJapanese. After Beckett informs Sheppard that the shoot could kill him: “This is second chance for him to die so that handsome guy can become leader.” Alas, another missed opportunity.
On the other hand, when Ronon gets choked out by the tendrils and collapses, she was genuinely concerned: “Oh, I hope he’s alright?”
“What about Sheppard?”I asked. “He got skewered by a tendril. Do you hope he’s alright.”
Later, she bumped on his amazing healing abilities: “Why sometimes he recovering very magically quickly and sometimes very slow? Because he is typical superhero?”
Another favorite character of Akemi’s is none other than Radek Zelenka. She practically squealed with excitement when he came onscreen like he was an adorable puppy doing something unbelievably cute. She finds him very convincing: “I can’t believe he is actor. Looks like real authentic geek!” Ah, the magic of television.
Overall, a solid episode in her estimation but: “I liked yesterday’s episode more.”
A reminder to all that our book club reconvenes this Monday (April 7th) for a discussion on our April BOTMC pick: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.
You can always check this blog’s right sidebar for info on our upcoming Book of the Month club reads (including our May selection: The Rich and the Dead by Liv Spector).
Last night marked the resumption of our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch or, in my girlfriend Akemi’s case, First Watch. Her thoughts on the season premiere: Search and Rescue…
First and foremost, she was mightily impressed by the visual effects that, in her estimation, have come a long way since the show’s first season. Plenty of oohs and aahs during the space battle, and also plenty of praise for the design and construction of the hive ship interior.
Speaking of the wraith, she missed them in this episode: “I’m kind of missing old-fashioned wraith, both good hair and bad hair wraith.” I assured her that we’d be seeing them – and their memorable locks – real soon.
One of the reasons she so looked forward to the show’s fifth season was to check out Robert Picardo in action who she has gotten to know over the course of his occasional Vancouver visits. When he appeared in the opening credits: “Nice to see Bob.”. Then, halfway through the Woolsey-less episode: “Where’s Bob?”. And then, after his late appearance in the episode’s closing scene: Yay Bob!”.
Even though she only got to know Carter over the course of this one episode, Akemi quite liked her and was sorry to see her go.
When the episode opened and we saw Sheppard and Ronon trapped in the rubble, she predicted Sheppard would die and that Ronon (“He’s is so handsome!”) would take over as team leader. When that didn’t happen, she was genuinely disappointed. Nevertheless, it looks like Sheppard may be growing on her. Sort of: “I don’t hate Sheppard as much as I used to. But hard to say after only one episode.”
She called bullshit on Sheppard’s ability to walk around so soon after his injury and then, when Sheppard disobeys Carter’s order in order to take part in the rescue op: “Don’t be so arrogant. Follow boss’s orders!”.
As usual, McKay was a highlight, especially the birth scene with Teyla that actually had her laughing out loud at times. “He is typical nervous father,”she said.
All in all, an episode with plenty of highlights and surprisingly no lowlights so far as Akemi was concerned: “I’m very excited to see Jewel. Very excited to see Bob. And handsome big guy.”
Quick! Dust off those DVD’s! Our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch resumes tonight with the season 5 premiere: Search and Rescue!
Wait! What?! What happened to season 2 through 4?! Well, Akemi has expressed a desire to skip ahead to the season “with Bob [Picardo] and the Chairman [Mark Dacascos]!”. She admit there may be a few discrepancies between the last episode she watched (the season one finale) and tonight’s episode, but she feels confident that I can catch her up. If any of you are in Akemi’s position, allow me to offer you the following VERY SPOILERISH summary of what you missed:
Weir was kidnapped by these aliens called Asurans who are essentially human-form replicators (that are essentially sentient murderous self-forming Lego creatures),
Dr. Beckett was killed by an exploding tumour but was mysteriously rediscovered alive, a little over a year later, as a prisoner of Michael, a human-wraith hybrid who was the result of an experiment by the Atlantis gang and is now a sworn enemy of our heroes except for Teyla and her baby. And, oh yeah, Teyla had a baby but the father wasn’t Sheppard (as you’d probably assume) but Kanaan. Kanaan, I said. Teyla’s secret Athosian lover. Of course you never heard of him. He was a secret lover.
The new Chief Medical Officer that took over for Beckett, Jennifer Keller, has really hit it off with McKay.
As a result of getting partially fed-upon by a wraith, lieutenant Ford receives a dose of a strange enzyme that masw him super strong AND super crazy. He fles Atlantis, became a renegade wraith hunter, and got blown up (?) on a wraith hive ship.
The team encountered a super strong NOT crazy renegade hunter called Ronon and he joined the team.
Colonel Samantha Carter took over command of the Atlantis expedition after Weir’s disappearance.
Atlantis had to leave its original world, travel through space, and has now settled on a completely different planet that looks exactly the same as the old one.
Also, Earth built ships capable of reaching Atlantis in two weeks and have been making supply runs to the Pegasus Galaxy. For a while there, it was possible to travel back and forth between Stargate Command and Atlantis using something called a gate bridge (literally, a bridge made out of gates) but that was destroyed last season. Sorry. You just missed it. But trust me. It was really cool.
The following characters were introduced and died between the season 1 finale and the season 5 premiere: Dr Monroe, Dr. Lindstrom, Dr. Collins, Ronon’s former commander Kell, Ella a female wraith and her human step-father Zaddik, Walker, Stevens, some tardy Aurorans (Ancients), some of Ford’s equally strong and crazy friends, a guy called Kanayo, an old Athosian called Charin taking with her her recipe for turtleroot soup, Griffin, Otho, the Lord Protector, Phoebus, Thalan, innumerable wraith, miscellaneous Atlantis personnel, Genii, and sundry off-worlders.
Wait! That’s just season 2! Well, just take that number, triple it, and you should have a rough estimate of the interim body count.
Anything else? Let’s see. Oh yeah, Sheppard has an ex-wife, McKay a sister, and Atlantis a new (and not so trustworthy) BFF who happens to be a wraith named Todd.
Did I miss anything? If so, feel free to post it in the comments section of this blog.