Jan 27 2010

All My Sins Remembered

Whenever I was sick enough to stay home from school, my mom would make me stay in bed all day. I used to take that opportunity to read through a pile of torn-up old 60s era comic books my uncle had left for us. Since that time, sick days (when I haven’t been delirious with fever) have been perfect for reading. Today was no different. After three days of fever, cold sweats, sleeplessness, coughing, sneezing, congestion, and chest aches, I started and finished Joe Haldeman‘s 1977 book “All My Sins Remembered“. This happens to be the second Haldeman book I’ve read within the last year, the first being “The Forever War”. Both books struck the same chord in that having finished them, I had no clear idea how I feel about them. I liked them both, and yet…

“All My Sins Remembered” is about a self-avowed “Anglo-Buddhist” named Otto McGavin who is programmed to be a secret agent and undergoes a lifetime of multiple personality overlays and physical alterations for a secret organization known only as TBII (the initials are never explained). The book covers three of his life’s 35 missions and the terrible things his programming has enabled him to do. We’ve read (or more likely “seen”) plenty of stories about implanted memories and talents: 1969’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (Dick), 1987’s “When Gravity Fails” (Effinger), 1999’s “The Matrix” (Wachowski(s)), etc. All told, this one doesn’t stand out too far from the crowd. The story explores how the main character deals with the suppression of his own personality at the expense of his repeated missions, but you seldom get a sense of the underlying struggle (until the end). This is probably because parts of the book first appeared separately in Sci-Fi magazines in 1971, 1974, and 1977. While the alien worlds, cultures, and antagonists are interesting throughout, I wanted to care more about the main character. Upon finishing, I was left with an interesting story filled with interesting ideas tied together with a good ending and wondering why it wasn’t enough.

“Cold-blooded murderer of children, for hire. Well, maybe he had a good side. Kind to snakes or something.”

3.5 out of 5


Jan 1 2010

Avatar

AvatarWhen I was a kid, my father took us to see a movie called “Star Wars” (1977).  This was before it was renamed “…A New Hope” and re-imagined (Han shot first!) as part of a larger work. I remember being awestruck by the movie’s effects, everything from the light-sabers to the first time the rebel fighters opened their wings. Great movie. Years later, I had a similar experience with “Toy Story” (1995) and was amazed at what could be done with computer animation. Another great movie. Last Saturday, we went to see James Cameron’s new 3D movie “Avatar” (it’s funny how I can’t find time to write this stuff while on vacation). Here again is another benchmark movie. While Avatar does not deliver on the 3D holographic immersion long dreamed-of by movie-goers (it has always been just 10 years away), it is a definite step in the right direction.

Equipped with clunky polarized glasses, the audience is treated to the Roger Dean-esque 3D bioluminescent world of Pandora and its New Age eco-sensitive Blue Man Group aboriginals, the Na’vi. The parallels between the Na’vi and American Indians cannot be a mistake. Here we have a 10-foot extraterrestrial race that embodies everything that modern-day Indians tell us about themselves: one with the land, peaceful co-existence between tribes, etc. None of which is true, but it makes for good storytelling. The movie opens with a human corporation preparing to open Pandora’s Box by mining Na’vi sacred sites for a material dubbed Unobtanium (lame, lame, lame). The stone-age natives know something is up, but don’t realize the full breadth of their troubles until the Na’vi avatar of Sam Worthington (i.e., Jake Sully) shows them the light, wins the heart of Pocahontas (i.e., Neytiri), and leads the rebellion against the evil Earthers (all of which can be gleaned from the trailers). Comparisons of Avatar to “Dances With Wolves” (1990) are not off-the-mark. Despite its damning thematic proximity to the spirit of Kevin Costner, the movie is actually worth seeing (if only for the effects).

“Just relax and let your mind go blank. That shouldn’t be too hard for you.” – Dr. Grace Augustine to Jake Sully

4 out of 5