Sunday, March 23, 2008

What I'm Reading and Watching

I'm taking this week to review some books and movies I've seen or read recently. They all seem to have some sort of a mythological slant.

INTO THE GREEN, Charles de Lint, Tor Books 1993

De Lint is a writer of fantasy, a musician and a Celtic folklorist who tells stories set the Green Isles; very like, but not quite, Celtic Ireland. His people's, places' and gods' names may not be authentic but they sound right. A lot of the lore isn't authentic either but it feels like it could be. The heroine, Angharad, is witch, tinker and harpist. She is Summerborn, gifted by the gods of the Green with the Summerblood's magic. In her time the green is losing its power as belief in magic fades, part of Angharad's task is to remind people of the old ways. As lovely as all this sounds, de Lint is also adept at creating nastiness to oppose his characters. Witch-finders, who sell witches' fingerbones (after all, the magic lies in their fingers when they wave them to cast spells or pluck harp strings), street urchins who think they can sell Angharad to a "hussyhouse," and the glascrow - a sinister puzzle box that seeks to corrupt and destroy the Summerblood and the Green. Her task isn't easy; her witchy powers are weak as belief ebbs, her ally Lammond may have dark motives of his own and Tom Naghatty is crippled not so much by a lost eye and a lamed leg as by self-doubt and recriminations. The novel is a wonderful tale of the power of belief ... in magic, in mystery and in yourself, that leaves me itching to read one of de Lint's modern day urban fantasies.

DAN DARE #1-3, Garth Ennis, Virgin Comics 2007-8

Virgin is the comics publisher that produces a fine line of comics by artists and writers from India: THE SADHU, DEVI, SNAKEWOMAN. They've expanded to include more Western based comics. Dan Dare has been an icon of British boys' comic papers since 1950. Dan and his buddy Digby saved the Earth from menaces like the evil Mekon time and again. The new series by writer Garth Ennis picks up a retired Dan Dare who is still a legend in the Space Fleet, living on an asteroid hologrammed to look like a British country estate. The Mekon is invading again and Dare's services are needed. Matters on Earth have deteriorated, the Prime Minister seems to be in league with the Mekon, the Space Fleet is vastly outnumbered and outgunned and many of its officers are only concerned for their careers with no taste for fighting. By the end of issue 3, Dare's people find themselves in a pretty hopeless situation defending colonists on the ground from an overwhelming enemy force. The bleak outlook has taken some criticism from old fans, but I am enjoying it. I'm usually first to gripe when writers try to make classic heroes darker and grimmer. I think that the assassination of JFK and events like Vietnam, Watergate and 9-11 have led us to believe that good guys die young, heroes can't be trusted and you have to be meaner than the bad guys to survive, and our myths and stories are being twisted to reflect that. That means that heroes can't do good just because it's right, they have to be obsessed or otherwise put themselves first. Heroes commit acts that are out of character and morally wrong (like Wonder Woman killing and the Justice League "lobotomizing" villains). But in this case, Dan Dare remains the hero he always was. He deals with the new climate cooly (as when he tells officers who want to abandon the colony to leave their uniforms behind because they are no longer members of Space Fleet) and faces the odds as they come. I like seeing how his leadership inspires younger officers to a heroism that we can all of us own. It's a good example of the quote from Joss Whedon's ANGEL:

"Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and cruel, but that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, or what we've done, or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be. To show it what it can be."

JUMPER, Regency Films/20th Century Fox, 2008

JUMPER is a well done SF action movie. Like most good science fiction it takes a single premise and runs with it. In this case it is the classic SF idea that extreme danger can cause the mind to do the impossible to escape. This isn't new to science fiction; Alfred Bester used in THE STARS MY DESTINATION in 1953, and it's based on urban legends of the mother who lifted a car to save her trapped child. JUMPER gives it some new twists. David, the hero, is drowning when he suddenly teleports himself into the public library - along with a lot of water. When he jumps in, there is a small whoosh: the kinetic energy that you would use up in walking is released in one burst, and the air that was in the spot he materialized in is displaced. Jumpers can also teleport what they're touching or the vehicles they're in - which makes for a really wild car chase scene. David discovery that he is more than he knew reflects the ancient King Arthur/Luke Skywalker myth, but he never quite becomes a hero. He robs banks without opening doors and lives his own lifestyle visiting places like Paris, Rome and Egypt in a single day. But he's not a villain; he was still a kid with a kid's sense of morality when his power set him apart from everybody else on the planet. Well, almost everybody: there have been other jumpers, and a quasi-religious organization has been formed to hunt and kill them. "Only God should have the power to be everywhere at once." The Paladins have weapons that can prevent jumpers from jumping, and if you think Samuel L Jackson makes a scary good guy, he makes a really scary bad guy. I've heard that the book by Stephen Gould the movie is based on is very different; David is the only jumper. I'll probably read the book and review it later.

REAPER, CW Network, Tuesday 9/8c pm, 2007-8

Sam is a young man who works two jobs - as a stocker at the Tool Shed and as the Devil's bounty hunter. It's not his fault, his parents were tricked into selling his services, if not his soul, to the Devil before he was born, but it does give a new take on the Arthur/Skywalker legend. He's still basically a hero: he collects evil souls who have escaped from Hell (with super powers, to go on killing sprees on Earth). Ray Wise gives the best performance of the Devil ever, smooth and seemingly caring but just as slimy and oily as you'd expect. All the cast give great performances, especially Tyler Sabine as Sam's ultimate slacker pal Bert "Sock" Wysocki, and there are plenty of mysteries to keep us coming back. Is the Get Out of Hell Free card real or one of the Devil's tricks? What was on the page that Sam's dad tore out of his contract and burned? Is the new girl in Sam's life really the Devil's daughter? Loveable characters (yes, even the Devil), comedy, action subplots and the supernatural should have made this series a runaway hit. I'm surprised how few people have heard of it.