Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#600. The Cephalopod Coffehouse August 2013

Via our wonderful host the Armchair Squid, here's to the fourth month of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse!

I was going to include this at the end rather than the beginning, which is what I've done in the previous installments, but I figured why break with tradition, and the long list always seems to impress, and this one's long indeed, so here goes, what I read in August:
  • Star Trek Online - The Needs of the Many by Michael A. Martin
  • The Best American Comics 2007 edited by Chris Ware
  • Absolute Death by Neil Gaiman and various
  • CassaStorm by Alex J. Cavanaugh
  • Azlander: Second Nature by Gabriel Brunsdon
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack
  • Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison and Paul Chadwick
  • Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris by Grant Morrison and various
  • Doom Patrol: Down Paradise Way by Grant Morrison and various
  • Star Trek: Enterprise - The Good That Men Do by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin
  • Bayou Vol. 1 by Jeremy Love
  • Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley
  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley
  • Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley
  • Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham and various
  • The New Avengers Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Prophecy and Change edited by Marco Palmieri
  • Hellblazer: Rare Cuts by various
  • Gone to Amerikay by Derek McCulloch
  • Batman: No Man's Land Vol. 4 by Greg Rucka and various
  • Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes by Ed Brubaker and various
  • Manifesto by Anonymous
  • Zulu by Caryl Ferey
  • Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
 A large reason why the list is so large this month is because the move that is now days away that will affect much more of what hasn't already been affected by my formerly regular routines in recent months.  I had made a Good Reads goal of reading 75 books, and I wanted to hit that by the end of the month (I've eclipsed that, too, after stretching from the starting point of 50 earlier in the year) when I was still sure I could make regular and timely updates there.  Lots of graphic novels, obviously, as with past lists, but also a bunch of pictureless books, including intrepid ninja captain Alex Cavanaugh's forthcoming new book, which I won at said Good Reads.

I've said before that when I hit the Star Trek books, I'd talk about Star Trek books, and so here we are, I've finished that set, and I'm ready to talk.

I've fallen in love.  Not with Star Trek books in general, but Una McCormack.  She saved Star Trek books for me.  Chances are if you know much about Star Trek books at all, you still won't know the name Una McCormack off the top of your head.  She's not one of the marquee names, even though she should be.  She's awesome, she really is.

The Never-Ending Sacrifice begins almost like any other Star Trek book.  But it builds.  And builds.  It becomes unlike any other Star Trek book quickly enough.  It becomes simply a work of great literature.  The story is all about a Cardassian youth seen in a single episode from the second season of Deep Space Nine, appropriately entitled "Cardassians" (the really notable thing about the episode itself is that it's the first time we see the inimitable Garak since his first appearance, although it's not until later in that season that he becomes a true icon, in "The Wire"). 

This youth had become an orphan, and became stuck between worlds when he ended up being adopted by Bajorans.  The nefarious Gul Dukat uses him in a political ploy, sending him back to his Cardassian father, which mirrors a Next Generation episode that features the actor who was once in St. Elsewhere and would later become Dr. Quinn's son.  Anyway, McCormack brushes on the events of this episode, but really enters pretty quickly into her own story.

It's a lot about Cardassian politics at first, but mostly it's about damaged individuals, and being caught in the swoop of big events.  It's a true epic, completely breathtaking by the end.  It's brilliant.

And it ended up finally making clear to me that problem I always had with Star Trek books.  Most Star Trek books are written from a sense that really has nothing to do with Star Trek itself.  Star Trek, in its filmed incarnations, has always been an expansive look at the human condition.  Sure, there are a lot of wacky things that happen, and the term "technobabble" became especially informative at one point, but in the end, it was never about the starships, the gadgets, the aliens, any of that.  It was about trying survive in a universe that often seems to make it as hard as it can.  A world very much familiar to Star Trek viewers.

It was never "just" science fiction and space conflicts.  But that seems to be what most Star Trek books are about.  They try to ape certain aspects of the filmed experience.  Some of the books even read as if they want desperately to be a movie or an episode.  But even those never seem to get the point.  Even the Dominion War wasn't just about having a war for a couple of seasons.  For pete's sake, they played baseball on the holosuite during that arc!

What I mean to say is, McCormack brought an old world perspective to her book.  Star Trek was always a new world's perspective on the old world.  Most Star Trek books are strictly new world.  They lack any real substance (and sometimes are written fairly poorly besides).  They aren't really Star Trek at all, even if all the trappings are there.  In McCormack's hands, you don't even need to know too much about Cardassians or Deep Space Nine to see the outstanding appeal of her prose.

(And by the way, by complete happenstance, Prophecy and Change features her very first professional work.  I didn't plan that or add it in retroactively.)

After Never-Ending Sacrifice, I also got to enjoy Zulu, which was equally delightful.  I wish all books were as good as these, I really do. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#599. Fall 2013 at the Movies

I probably won't see the majority of these for years to come, but with the help of Entertainment Weekly, here's the slate of new movies that I hope to assimilate into my collective conscious, being released in the next four months:

  • Riddick (9/6) The third in a trilogy and Vin Diesel's big fat reward for the increasingly successful Fast & Furious franchise.
  • Parkland (9/20) Based on the days following the Kennedy assassination (which is marking its fiftieth anniversary this November, and if you can't remember the official date, just scroll through my Cephalopod Coffeehouse entries for the Stephen King book).  Stars, among others, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, and James Badge Dale, who was a standout in Flight, and is just waiting for everyone else to notice him.
  • Don Jon (9/27) Seems like this Joseph Gordon-Levitt directorial debut has been on the radar all year long, but this is the official release.  Another favorite actor, for sure.
  • Gravity (10/4) Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  In this instance, names like these are almost more important than the plot of the movie.  But it features astronauts, and that's always good, too.
  • Captain Phillips (10/11) Tom Hanks stars in this film version of the Somali pirate incident from 2009.
  •  Machete Kills (10/11) Robert Rodriguez has always been the pulp version of Quentin Tarantino (which was hugely appropriate when they jointly presented Grindhouse).  Here's the second of a theoretical trilogy.
  • 12 Years a Slave (10/18) Chiwetal Ejiofor may finally get everyone to notice him with this movie.
  • The Counselor (10/25) First original movie script from Cormac McCarthy, whose books have been adapted numerous times by Hollywood (including No Country for Old Men, a personal favorite), and directed by Ridley Scott (also a personal favorite).
  • Ender's Game (11/1) I've never read the book, but it'd be impossible to not know this movie's being released, what with all the controversy suddenly surrounding Orson Scott Card (who as far as I'm concerned is still perfectly acceptable as the following exclamation: Awesome Scott Card; and less you misunderstand, the acceptable alternative is Awesome Welles). 
  •  About Time (11/2) Seems to be Rachel McAdams revisting The Time Traveler's Wife territory.
  • Thor: The Dark World (11/8) There's always the chance I'll actually see this.
  •  The Wolf of Wall Street (11/15) Topical, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio in his latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese.
  • Her (11/20) I'm invested in the career of Joaquin Phoenix.  And it's directed by Spike Jonze, who's a consistently inventive dude.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (11/22) I'm invested but not hugely interested in these books/movies.  So here's the release of this one.
  • Grace of Monaco (11/27) Nicole Kidman playing Grace Kelly/Princess Grace.  A good combination.
  • Oldboy (11/27) Stars Josh Brolin (who's once again in ubiquitous mode this fall), and directed by Spike Lee, based on material that's already produced a film I've seen...referenced many times.
  • Out of the Furnace (12/6) Said to feature a standout performance from Christian Bale, plus Casey Affleck.  Who may yet turn out to be my favorite Affleck.
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (12/13) In which Peter Jackson reaches Evangeline Lilly and the return of Orlando Bloom.
  •  American Hustle (12/13) Great cast (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams), great director (David O. Russell).  Bad '70s hair.  All things to love.
  • The Monuments Men (12/18) George Clooney again, this time trying to retrieve art stolen by Nazis!  (He also directs this one.)
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (12/20) I've always been a pretty big fan of Will Ferrell, and this is one of his iconic characters (and apparently his personal favorite), so that's a given.
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (12/25) Glad to see Ben Stiller return as a leading man.  And director.
  • Jack Ryan (12/25) Chris Pine assumes another famous identity.
  • 47 Ronin (12/25) Keanu Reeves in a movie that he seems like he should definitely be in.
  • The Invisible Woman (12/25) What the Dickens!  Why, it's Ralph Fiennes, naturally!
  • Labor Day (12/25) Josh Brolin again, this time with Kate Winslet!
  •  Grudge Match (12/25) Jake LaMotta versus Rocky!  Otherwise known as Play it to the Bone with more famous actors, aging boxers played by Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro.  Could be fun!
  • Lone Survivor (12/27) Based on a book that was based on real events concerning a Navy SEAL who had nothing to do with the death of bin Laden.  But is perhaps even more worthy of a film!

Friday, August 09, 2013

#598. Monk in Maine

In about a month, I'll be living in Maine again.

I've been living in Colorado Springs for six years now, and before that Massachusetts for three, and before that, Maine, where I grew up and spent most of my college years as well.  Every time I move, that means all my stuff moves, too, and for someone who's a collector, that means "my stuff" translates roughly to all the things I've tended to talk about here (and my other mostly aborted blogs).  That means my collections of books, music, movies, and comic books.

We'll start with the last of those.  When I moved to Massachusetts, I initially left my comic books behind, only bringing them over later, comics I'd been collecting for years, although it wasn't until Massachusetts that I started doing so again.  A year back, I sold all those comics.  During the time since I've come up with a smaller collection of those, and yet I will be selling them again.  I've learned that no matter how much of a collector I can sometimes be, comics will always be one of the hardest things to justify keeping around.  If you read a lot of comics, like I've tended to, they begin to be that much harder to go back and reread.  (I'm not a collector who obsesses over future value.)  Instead I've become what I sometimes dreaded in the past, more of a reader of collected editions than individual issues.  Things change.  But that's something that I won't have to worry about moving this time.

Then there's music.  For me, music still exists on CD.  Yes, I am the Monkasaur.  All the hep kids transitioned to digital music back when people still thought it was perfectly okay to steal it (it never was), and then everyone else started to join them when it went mainstream (which is the reason why we now have tiny computer that do a lot of tricks but far less than actual computers).  But I still have my collection.  But it had to be thinned.  So I thinned it, and I was surprised that there were artists I'd devoted myself to collecting that I was okay with thinning, among other cuts.  Shows that I shouldn't have been collecting the way I'd been in the first place.  Unlike comics, I'll admit that about the music.

Same with the movie collection.  Yes, still in physical form, and never in Blu-ray (which the Great Recession exposed for what it really was, merely an expensive variant on its immediate predecessor).  Actually, I still had a good number of VHS editions.  "Had" because I don't have them anymore, even though there were a lot of movies I'd never replaced with DVD editions.  But I had plenty of DVDs.  Plenty.  And so I had to thin through them.  Some of them were movies that I wouldn't have parted with had I not forced myself into thinning the herd.  Some of them were exposed as movies I probably never really had to have in the first place.  Such is life.

Yet the biggest sacrifice was in the books.  I've been amassing books all my life.  I've eliminated selections from this pack in the past.  My pre-college library stuck around Maine for the most part, and I was fine with leaving most of those behind.  And yet I had a very big collection of books.  So many books that several years ago I instituted my Reading List to try and prioritize them.  I always figured I would get around to all of them in time.  And yet with books, this can get a little ridiculous.  I still hadn't read books I'd gotten ten years ago.  And I just kept collecting them.  Actually, as I was shedding books, I even eliminated some from the current Reading List, and even, beyond a few key books, I guess I abandoned even that, at least for the time being.

I quickly learned that selling to used books store is not a great way to make a profit.  These days it's hard to tell how much anyone values books.  In a blogging community like this one you can sometimes have a distorted view of something like that.  Now, I'm not talking about all the independent authors hawking their own books (even me), or the books of their friends.  I value the Cephalopod Coffeehouse these days because it's the rare public acknowledgment that people are really still reading, and not just supporting the latest popular release.  I'm all for bandwagons, don't get me wrong.  Otherwise history never remembers anything.  But I value discoveries of truly great works, too, and I don't think bandwagons always discover those.  I've discovered that a lot in my reading.  It's always possible that the greatness I see now but seems absent from anyone else's radar will be discovered by later generations.  Perhaps it's even likely.  And some future kid will hate reading what I treasure now.

I've discovered time and again that the books I thought would definitely stand out from the pack didn't live up to my expectations.  I think I learned that my discretion wasn't always as filled with discretion as I believed at the time.  That's why it was easy to shed so many of my books, and music, and movies, and even comic books.  (Although in comics, it's never a given that the best work will end up in collected editions, and that's something that still bothers me about some of the stuff I don't have anymore.)

As I prepare to move again, I do sometimes curse that I have anything to move at all.  Humans have a collector's mentality.  Some of us have reacted against this by saying we don't need anything, and that the best way to live is minimally.  But I see the true purpose of living as experiencing the very best there is to experience, and for me the best resides in the arts, in the entertainment that we're able to preserve.  And because few people seem to have the very same tastes, it's sometimes necessary to have personalized collections, and thus my dilemma.

In this streamlining effort, I'm learning more and more about what matters most to me.  I don't curse myself too harshly, because these things take time.  It's a whole process.  There aren't strictly delineated Points A and B, but many points, and if just one of them were missed, everything would be different now, and as far as what I've discovered, I'm pretty happy with what I've experienced so far.  I tell that to myself after every disappointment, by the way, no matter how screwed up my life can sometimes seem.  I think the worst anyone could say is that they can imagine their life as very different from what they already know.  There's a lot that we can't control, but we control more than we think.  If you try, you can find the best of even the worst life can throw at you. 

I've considered moving back to Maine quite a few times over the years.  And yet if it had ever been at any other point, everything would be different, and there's too much that I'd rather keep as it is, no matter how much I'd like to change, to even consider what might have been if I'd moved back at any other point.  I've been reducing what I have, but the accumulated experiences will never leave me.  And that's all that matters.


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