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I caught the science fiction/fantasy bug as a child on books largely published before Star Wars and Indiana Jones changed everything. Dystopia was a big thing then, the horrific technological apocalypses of John Christopher, the fantasy of Lloyd Alexander which involved stuffing bodies in cauldrons and Susan Cooper where protagonists risked being swept away by old forces. Fisk's A Rag, A Bone, A Hank of Hair, stands out as well.

So when I read that some of the authors on my to-read list were published in short-story form doing young adult dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, I just had to dive in. As with most anthologies, this collection is a mixed bag of stories and themes. Datlow and Windling make it clear in the introduction that they're mixing dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, the former characterized by social systems gone wrong, the latter inclusive of technological and ecological disasters. (The two can often be found in the same work.)

The collection includes some gems. "The Great Game at the End of the World" by Matthew Kressel mixes the absurd with the horrific. "The Easthound" by Nalo Hopkinson was most chilling for me, an unusual werewolf apocalypse. "Valedictorian" by N. K. Jemisin builds tension around school anxiety. Sarah Rees Brennan successfully merges technological and fantasy dystopia in "Faint Heart."

Then, there are competent but less thrilling stories. "You Won't Feel a Thing" by Garth Nix was too tied in with earlier novel work to stand on its own. Revis's "The Other Elder" is a tease for Across the Universe . Yolen--another writer of my youth who delivered surprisingly dark science fantasy--drew me to the book, but is included via a one-page poem.

The stories are generally dark, but usually without being graphic or explicit. Violence is a big part of many worlds, sexual assault less so. Many stories touch on teen and young adult sexuality, including gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters. Many of them are political to varying degrees.

Overall, After provides a good collection of progressive dystopian and apocalyptic SF&F. The included fiction stands up well with its more "adult" contemporaries. The worst stories are interesting, the best are page-turners. The diversity of stories includes ecological cyberpunk, zombie horror, space opera, pandemic, and metaphysical horror.

cbrachyrhynchos: (Get Fuzzy)

Just some thoughts about bringing Beowulf to the big screen.

Beowulf is one of those texts that is especially hard to translate into the modern day. The original story imported into sixth-century England from Denmark, tells the story of the hero Beowulf, as he defeats Grendel, and Grendel's Mother. These actions make him king of the Geats, and in the final act of the saga, he fights a dragon only to be slain himself. This attempt to modernize the story uses the same motion-capture technology that was used in Lord of the Rings to make Gollum one of the most engaging characters of the series. But it's the scriptwriting innovations that make Beowulf stand or fall.

cut for spoilers )

dumb luck

Sep. 18th, 2007 08:59 pm
cbrachyrhynchos: (blue baby)
Just hours after I finish reading Twilight Watch someone steals from the box while I'm at work.

They probably need it more than me.
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)

I sort of trashed this series in my previous posts, but now I come 'round to praising it.

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I got a half-day off today, so I ended up kicking the tires on some old games that I'm thinking about buying. Given that I'm a cheap as heck and buy from the bargain shelf. My Mac was the "low end" offering when I bought it three years ago. But hey, if Go can survive 2,000 years, why not an RPG? I also talk about A Tale in the Desert

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It's been a while since I read this one, and I'm overdue for blogging about it. I saw the movie adaptation of Nightwatch a while ago, and somehow though the quirks of the local library system ended up getting the second book in the series first.

Just like Harry Potter or the Dark is Rising, Lukyanenko's world is inhabited by the forces of Light and Darkness. Unlike those other urban fantasies, the forces of Light and Dark responded to the horrors of WWII by engaging in a strict truce. The first novel, Nightwatch, is told from the point of view of the light other Anton, who is drafted from a computer programming job to hunt vampires and stop an explosive vortex of bad energy. Daywatch flips the formula on its ear by telling the story from the point of view of the dark others.

The narrative consists of three interconnected stories. In the first story, Alisa, a dark witch and lover of the head of the Moscow day watch, sacrifices all of her powers in an apparently trivial battle. She is sent to the Young Pioneer camp on the shores of the Black Sea to feed on the nightmares of children. While human for the first time in years, she falls in love with another camp counselor, with tragic results. The first story is, in my opinion, one of the best bits of urban fantasy ever written, and fully establishes Alisa as a character, and the ideology of the day watch.

The second and third stories are a bit less fleshed-out in my opinion. In the second story, Vitaliy, a dark mage with no understanding of his past is driven towards a destiny that he can't understand. In the third story, Anton, the hero of Nightwatch, and Edgar, a dark mage, both come to realize that they've been played as pawns in a larger plot by their leaders. Over and over again Lukyanenko returns to the metaphor of a chess game. Modern chess games are known for their protracted stalemates and positional moves for tiny advantages. Both the light and the dark seek to create ways to permanently shift the balance of power, and they are not afraid to sacrifice their own people to do it. The third story establishes the Inquisition, a group of others that enforces the truce between light and dark, as motivated by a fear of the consequences of open warfare between the two. A representative of the Inquisition tells Anton, "You obey out of fear, we obey out of horror."

But I think that one of the strengths of Lukyanenko's vision in these books is that he's actually thought though the scenario and the kinds of diplomatic detente that would be involved in having actual occult magical societies living in our midst. He effectively light and dark as foils for exploding the traditional fantasy view of good and evil. The light may be grounded in good intentions, but are manipulative in their actions. The dark espouse freedom, but end up pushing an "every man for himself" philosophy. Although some of the discussion suffers a bit from expository dialog, it is overall a good read.
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MI-5, has nothing to do with the with the other "MI" franchise with the increasingly crazy Tom Cruise. You could call it the BBC answer to 24 and CSI.

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cbrachyrhynchos: (blue baby)
Honestly, the anime that is really entertaining to me comes from the off-beat concepts. Yeah, the traditional formula of talk, talk, talk, repressed sexuality, talk, talk, GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING GIANT MONSTERS, ironic ending, end credit, goes a long way. But now and then you have something different. Teen angels with dented halos. Or rubbish collectors in space. The latter is the premise of Planetes. The trailer:

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For those of you who are sick of Potter Mania, I review Scar Night by Alan Campbell, and Neverwhere on video.

To some degree it's not fair to compare the two. While dark gothic fantasy has its roots in Lovecraft and Stoker, Neil Gaiman can be credited with inspiring much of its current revival. And the structure of the two is very much similar.

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