Feb 10 2010

The Windup Girl

Today, I finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 sci-fi novel, “The Windup Girl“. Bacigalupi (who I’d never heard of before I picked-up this book) is an up and coming sci-fi author with a penchant for environmental issues. He’s been nominated four times for a Hugo award (not for this one… yet) and receives rave reviews on Amazon, LibraryThing, etc. I decided to give him a try and now that I have, I’m not really sure what all the buzz is about.

The book plods along for the first 300 pages, following half-a-dozen characters as they struggle with cultural, economical, and political intrigues in post-Expansion Thailand. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that the world has been ravaged by rising sea levels, climate change, exhaustion of fossil fuels, and a number of pandemics stemming from agricultural genetic engineering. Most world governments have collapsed leaving power in the hands of the agri-corps, which hold the remaining population in thrall with the controlled supply of sterile gene-ripped crop strains. None of this is explained in the book; it’s up to the reader to infer these things from the conversations and thoughts of the book’s characters. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the book, the writing…

OMG is it dry! Everything is written in short clips of present tense. Maybe the book was supposed to be emotionless? I really don’t know. Maybe I’ve been reading too much 19th century writing to appreciate this style. It was hard to tap into the emotions of the characters, the unfolding conflict… The story itself is interesting enough, maybe even compelling to some degree (for the last 60 pages or so). I would have preferred that more be explained from the outset, so I could understand what was being said, characters’ motivations, &c. Instead, I was obliged to push through a number of story lines with I wasn’t particularly interested in, in order to figure out what was going on. I wasn’t even sure why the windup girl (see title) was anything but a secondary character until the story’s end. Maybe I should have read an earlier novelette of Bacigalupi’s (i.e., “The Calorie Man”) but there was no indication that this was a sequel. *sigh* Would it be so hard to have a short glossary (for all the Thai terms and phrases), perhaps a time line or prologue explaining some of the history leading to the present state of things? I guess so. Is that considered trite in serious science fiction? *shrug*

In the end, after pushing myself to finish it, I just didn’t care. I’m left with a story with some good ideas mired in a writing style that was simply frustrating.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.”

3 out of 5


Oct 4 2009

Zombieland

Zombie GrrlThis weekend we went to the opening night of “Zombieland”. Let me say at the beginning, that I thought this movie was going to suck after seeing the trailers.

My impression afterward was different. Very different. The movie seemed to be a cross between “Shaun of the Dead” ,  “Natural Born Killers”, and “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, three movies that I like a great deal. The movie centers around two unlikely companions named Columbus and Tallahassee. Both have survived the zombie plague apocalypse in their own way. Columbus has found survival-success creating and following a strict list of rules (some of which are the source for long running gags throughout). Tallahassee has found survival-success in more traditional zombie-flick fashion, aka guns blazing. The movie follows their travels, the people and zombies they meet, their successes and their failures. It’s sort of like a Crosby and Hope road-movie but with lots and lots of gore.

If your mind can’t find entertainment sandwiched between horror, gore, and comedy, then this movie probably isn’t for you. As for me, I enjoyed it, though it never seemed to rise to the level of the movies that inspired it. Not surprising, I guess.Woody Harrelson does an okay job, revisiting (to some degree) his role of Mickey in “Natural Born Killers”. Jesse Eisenberg carries the movie well enough for a straight-man sidekick. Emma Stone does okay… but I miss Juliette Lewis *sigh*. And Abigail Breslin proves that she’s more than just “Little Miss Sunshine”.

All-in-all, an enjoyable flick that is good to see on the large screen!

“Rule Number 4, Double Tap”

4 out of 5


Sep 19 2009

9

9Spoilers!

As this is the first Lounge Monkey movie review, let’s get this straight from the beginning. There are spoilers. There will always be spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers! If you don’t want to know anything about the movie itself, go to Rotten Tomatoes, look at the Tomatometer and decide whether you want to see the movie based on that. If you’ve already seen the movie and want to talk about its content, read and post here.

Last night we went to the theater and watched an interesting little computer animated movie titled “9“. The movie revolves around a collection of little sack-people as they attempt to carve out a safe haven in an alternative post-apocalyptic world, circa 1939. The creators of 9 did something that I always feel is risky, combining science with magic. Sometimes it works but most of the time, it doesn’t. I enjoyed watching the small army of para-mechanical homunculi running around fighting against the Soulless Monster-Machines of Science. I was willing to believe a scientist could have resorted to the teachings of Paracelsus once science was turned against him! Why not? I liked the contrast with  Frankenstein, who studied alchemy before entering medical school (not the other way around). In fact, I liked most of what I saw, until the end… The end left me feeling a little empty.

Leaving the theater, I thought of numerous ways the creators could have ended it–but I don’t get a say in these things, except for here… *sigh* I also think they should have developed the scientist more… and made each of the homunculi an aspect of his personality rather than just a collection of standard archetypes (e.g., entrenched patriarch, big dumb fighter, crazy clairvoyant guy, girl-power adventuress, rebellious thinker).  A small complaint, but I think it would have added some depth to the film. Do animations need depth? *shrug*

My last point has to do with what comes afterward. At the ending the remaining heroes stand victorious above a desolate world. There is hope! There is promise! But they are sexless (unless they’re hiding some other things inside those zippers)… Ah well. Hope they know how to build more…

“I’m not sure. But this world is ours now. It’s what we make of it.”

3.5 out of 5