Griffin’s Egg is a novella that brings together a couple of themes and elements that are all connected to one overarching theme, the very wiring of our brains and how that is still determining all your actions to a degree that it’s unhealthy. At times the novella feels like a novel where all the fat has been cut out, it’s a little bit stuffed with things that happen, but due to that it never feels boring.
The whole story takes place on the moon, where small outposts have been established that are still semi-dependent on stuff coming from Earth. When global war breaks out on Earth, things become taut on the Moon too.
The novella isn’t really interested in established bad guys or providing an adventure story where the hero saves the day, but showcasing how many of your actions aren’t really controlled by rational considerations but by gut reactions that come from our old monkey wiring. The solution: rewiring the old monkey brain and getting into the transhuman business. Sadly, while we’ve seen nanotech remaking matter on the global and personal scale since the end of the 80ties in science fiction and the impact of uploading human minds since the middle of the 90ties, there’s only a scant body of work when it comes to rewiring humans minds, and most of that stuff only deals with it tangentially or in short story form.
The same is true for Griffin’s Egg, it’s not an in-depth look at the consequences of such a technology, but it is an in-depth depiction of the first step in that direction (which also takes place on the moon, which is quite neat). Which is interesting, since Swanwick’s novel Vacuum Flowers shows something like the final step in that regard, a future where the possibilities of mind rewiring have brought on some rather unfortunate side effects.
What’s still missing is some long fiction showing the transition phase. Be that as it may, back to the novella, which is some of the best and most ambitious stuff Swanwick has written. Which again shows the wide range of Swanwick’s fiction, he seems to be able to do everything, ranging from fun adventure fare to hard SF explorations of some wicked ideas.
This third Courntey Crumrin collection is just as enjoyable as the first two. This time Courtney is cast into the role of the unwilling hero, saving a bunch of kids whose parents are active magic users. Not unlike Courtney they are part of the magic world and thus Courtney at first thinks among them she might find a group of peers, unlike the mundane kids at her school. Which is where Courtney is quite wrong, as it seems that wherever she goes people shun her. This time she assumes the role that her uncle played for her in the first book, warning the others of the dangers of playing with magic.
As can be expected, her warnings fall on deaf ears and shit begins to happen. While the ending plays out as expected, Courtney saving the day and winning some new friends (following the template that was successfully subverted in the first series by seeing Courtney accepting solitude over assimilation), it’s still very nicely done, because it’s the logical follow-up to the development Courtney went through in the second volume and that culminated in her choosing to help others with her powers.
And just because she has gotten new friends, doesn’t mean she’s now completely adapted. After all, growing up often means mellowing without compromising who you are, which Courtney has done quite nicely so far.
The first Courtney Crumrin was one of those rare comics that paid heed to the true nature of kids and also slightly subverted the common template that such coming of age stories often offer. Instead of reclaiming her place among her peers, Courtney accepted being an outsider and the solitude that comes with it. This second Courtney Crumrin series is a consequent and excellent exploration of what happens next.
Accepting being an outsider and who you really are is all good, but just because the people around you have shunned you, doesn’t mean that complete isolation from them is really the best option of going on with things. Courtney has to learn the hard way that turning your back on the world can have it disadvantages too.
The first series was already great, but this follow-up is even better, showing a Courtney who is both cunning and yet deep down still a kid whose trying to find her way. I really like the way how Courtney and her uncle are contrasted. On one hand does Courtney molds herself after her uncle, one the other hand does she things her own way, trying to find a better balance between involvement in the community and her solitary urges.
Grown-ups easily forget how cruel and harsh kids can be, their own memories weathered by age. Courtney, the heroine of this series, leaves the big city to live with her parents at the home of her uncle, a mysterious and solitary old geezer. Whatever Courtney expects from her new environment, soon she realizes that she doesn’t fit in. Instead of trying to change herself, she becomes solitary herself. This probably would be the end of the tale, if she hadn’t found some spellbooks that are the property of her uncle. Intrigued she begins to explore the world of magic.
And that’s where the book comes back to the theme of kids and how they act. Not only are the other kids rather cruel at times, which is something you see often enough in kids fiction (and with the heroine rising above that and leading a ragtag groups of misfits to reclaim their place in the local social order). The difference to most stuff is that Courtney is not that much different in her dealings with other kids, she can be rather cruel herself. Early on another outcast from school is eaten by a goblin, but Courtney doesn’t show much remorse or agonizing about it.
And her experiments with magic aren’t to better anything, but first and foremost to help herself. Which doesn’t mean that Courtney is no sympathetic heroine, far from it. Her sometimes gruff behavior and the few moments of genuine emotional reaction show a kid whose coming to grips with certain facets of growing up as an outsider, but who at times also embraces who she is, warts and everything included. At the end of this first book Courtney has gained a rather good sense of her self and learned to live with who she is, even if that means being solitary and unpopular.
This reminds me very strongly of the early Discworld novels, who had a not too memorable plot, but very compelling writing and fun character interactions. It’s also very similar in that the setting, this time a carpet instead of a big disc, is very much a character in its own right, whose juxtaposition with other, more mundane settings (like our world or any other fantasy world on an Earth-like planet) is what draws the reader in and invites an extended stay.
It also makes me think of what could have been if this one would have been as successful as the early Discworld novels. Maybe in another history there’s a Terry Pratchett who is still writing Carpetworld books.
This hefty HC collects all the mini-series sporting combat-magician William Gravel. This is one of these Ellis projects that sees him just telling a story without trying to explore any deeper issues. The attitude of Gravel is similar to characters from pulp magazines like the Shadow, not much in the way of introspection or agonizing over the death of his enemies. Gravel is all for the shoot first, sort ‘em out later approach.
And to tell the truth, while I wouldn’t want all comics to be like that, this kind of unrestrained, often extremely gory violence can be very entertaining when you’re in the right mood for it. It’s also very nice to see a magician who completely avoids the Gandalf-template. Gravel is no frail old sage, he is a killing machine amplified by magic.
Two-Step is Ellis being silly and just having fun. Imagine a future London overfilled with absurd futuristic elements that in their conglomerated form seem like a weird twin to Ellis’s Transmetropolitan future. Whereupon the later, which was no more realistic than Two-Step is, tried to engage with some SF concepts in a serious way, the former just tries to pile evermore strange things upon one another just for the fun of it.
The two main characters and the antagonists are also essential Ellis, they feel less like characters with any depth, than caricatures of many of Ellis’s past characters that just follow the motions. All that said, despite the lack of any real substance, it’s actually fun and entertaining.
I’m a big fan of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, so a collaboration of the two should have been goodness squared. It’s about the coming Christian apocalypse, the final judgment, done as a comedy. All the pieces and bits you expect from Pratchett and Gaiman are there, if a little more from Pratchett than Gaiman, comedies being more his usual turf.
That said, it didn’t really work for me. Instead of complementing each other, it felt like the whole experiment had diluted each writer’s voice, making the outcome less distinct and more generic. There are the pieces from Pratchett where I would have been amused or marveled at his smart observations of human nature in other books, yet I didn’t here. Gaiman’s influence is less obvious, but noticeable in the writing and the rest of the book. But I wasn’t really enthralled. It’s a competent book, I guess, but none I’m too enthusiastic about.
This is a movie which I admire much more for it’s attempt to be somewhat more unique and different than most animated movies, than a movie that I like on its own, at least at the gut level. At the core we have a typical hero quest to defeat an evil Wizard (or in this case, an evil Sorceress), but the way there is quite a bit different than in most movies. The hero, Kirikou, is far to small to win the day with strength, so all he can do is using his mind (it’s actually sad that this is the exception in movies, not the norm). So Kirikou tries to find out the reason why the evil Sorceress is evil and what can be done about it.
Something that I haven’t mentioned so far is that it’s taking place in Africa, which is part of what makes it so unique. I thought the depictions of nature and the surroundings were absolutely amazing and gorgeous. But I admit I wasn’t completely at ease with the whole nakedness.
You easily forget how deeply ingrained it is in our culture to wear cloth everywhere and everytime and how a simple change like most people wearing far less or nothing at all (the kids) in everyday situations can make you uneasy. Obviously what makes me not like this movie on the gut level has nothing to do with quality and all with me reaching the limits of my cultural comfort zone.
With that said, the ending of the movie has a very neat twist that you won’t expect, but that was a welcome change from similarly styled vanquish the evil wizard stories. Overall, a different and yet not so different movie that illuminates a part of our world that hasn’t been depicted much in entertainment and is nicely done.
A NASA prove goes missing through a wormhole and some chimps are send after it, to deduce the effect of the wormhole on living tissue and brain for an eventual retrieval of the probe through humans. Space Chimps feels like all the computer animated movies you’ve seen in the last years, there’s hardly anything original about it.
That said, it’s entertaining, the dialog is snappy and shows some wit and you feel right at home with the characters. It just feels like I’ve seen every element a thousand times over, as if there’s a machine cranking out these computer animated movies, generating them following some algorithm that produces, if not good, at least watchable stuff that hits enough buttons to not completely fail as entertainment (snappy dialog [check], reluctant but ultimately willing hero [check], initially cold but finally willing heroine that likes hero [check], … [check], … [check] and so on). Which makes me feel like I have been successfully conditioned to like generic stuff like this.
The movie has actually some obvious bad elements, the alien planet is a testament to shitty world design and the second half of the movie is quite dumb too. There’s dangerous flauna and flora (everything wants to kill you) that doesn’t make a lick of sense from a biological viewpoint, Teletubby-like (more or less) sentient lifeforms with one grumpy version playing the role of the bad boy, using the human space probe to enslave all the other teletubby goblins and press them into working gangs, building a Las Vegas of his own. At least the first part of the movie, that takes place on Earth, doesn’t make you feel like watching something really stupid.