WoB Talk

November 13, 2016

Review: Claudia Gray’s A Million Worlds with You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 9:01 pm

A Million Worlds with You (Firebird, #3)A Million Worlds with You by Claudia Gray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Million Worlds with You closes out Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. I gave each of the previous works 3 stars and have been bouncing between 3 and 4 on this one. I’d say 3.5 would be fair. Bits of the novel work extremely well, while other bits are still bothering me. All in all, the final book in the series constitutes a fairly strong conclusion.

Dimension-hopping “perfect traveller” Marguerite Caine here picks up exactly where she left off in the cliffhanger of the second novel: trapped in her own body, which has been stolen by “Wicked,” the worst of the alternate Marguerites. However, Wicked’s visit is a brief one because Paul apparently has Marguerite-Sensing Superpowers and can identify any Marguerite in any body (sigh). Wicked escapes on a wild journey across the dimensions, with Marguerite on her tail. The plot is oddly video-game-like; Marguerite must continually hop into versions of herself that Wicked has recently set up to be killed, figure out the traps, and save herself and often other people from death. Wicked’s scheme is both vengeful and purposeful, as the more Marguerites she murders, the less chance Marguerite and her allies have of saving the dimensions Wicked’s grief-stricken parents are trying to destroy in their “Monkey’s Paw”-like quest to put their dead daughter Josie back together again. (Side note: I’ve got to admit I’m disappointed that Gray never mentions “The Monkey’s Paw,” even obliquely. The Josie plot is pure W. W. Jacobs.)

The tour of the dimensions continues to be fascinating. Though most of the dimensions aren’t that different from Marguerite’s own, her alternate selves frequently find themselves in wildly divergent situations. As well, some of the dimensions are different enough to provide great set pieces. I won’t give anything away, but there’s one dimension in particular that allows Marguerite to…well…really get to know herself. A lot of the time, the difference is made by whatever field Marguerite’s scientist parents decided to go into in a given dimension. Marguerite, who is becoming increasingly comfortable as an interdimensional traveller, seems endlessly fascinated by the new worlds even as she struggles to save them.

However, she is also discovering the costs of her travels. This element is one of the book’s strongest. The previous volumes have Marguerite beginning to realise how much damage she may be doing, but the lesson is driven home here as the Marguerites start to die and even the ones who survive may find their lives irrevocably altered. Wicked also demonstrates to Marguerite that her own good intentions have the potential to be twisted out of shape, as does her artistic gift. Marguerite’s ultimate antagonist here is not Wyatt Conley, the villain who pops up throughout the previous books but who barely appears in this one; it’s instead a damaged version of herself. Her coming of age is tied inextricably to her ability to know and understand her own worst self.

As with the other books, one of the weak links is Marguerite’s love life. It’s increasingly hard to care about her relationship with Paul. There are points where Paul’s stony refusal to admit that he may not always be broken as a result of his “splintering” experience works, but a lot of the time, he may as well just be announcing that he’s drawing out the suspense so the love plot doesn’t conclude too soon. The romance is often a distraction from the more interesting things going on, to the extent that it’s a relief whenever Marguerite jumps away on her own. It also makes me grit my teeth a bit to see an eighteen-year-old character so extremely convinced that she will be with the same man forever and ever, but maybe that’s just me.

Yet the love plot is often less distracting here that it is in the other books; it is not what almost drove me down to three stars again. This time, the biggest problem is that Gray seems to have lost track of her own story. There are a lot of inconsistencies, starting with the method Wicked’s cronies use to destroy dimensions (didn’t the characters in the last book say they hadn’t quite figured that out yet?). Many of the inconsistencies constitute spoilers, so I won’t get any more specific, but while I was reading, there were several points at which I thought, “But…!” The ending also seems a bit rushed, with plot points tumbling over each other and characters changing their behaviour for the sake of what seems like plot convenience rather than genuine development.

In the end, the Firebird trilogy is somewhat uneven but worth reading. Marguerite develops as a character over the course of the trilogy, especially in the final book, and her adventure is exciting and imaginatively described. I’m still not a huge fan of the love triangle, but the closer focus on Wicked in A Million Worlds with You almost makes up for it.

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November 6, 2016

Review: Kasie West’s P.S. I Like You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 10:53 pm

P.S. I Like YouP.S. I Like You by Kasie West

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me just start by saying this is not my kind of book.

I don’t really care for romances. If a novel that belongs to some other genre has a romance in it, I’m okay with it as long as it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t stop the actual story dead in its tracks. My ideal romance subplot would probably be the relationship between Sam Vimes and Lady Sibyl in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! All the romance beats are there, but the lovers, if they can be called that, are a down-on-his-luck drunken policeman and a large, cheerful spinster devoted to training pet swamp dragons. There is nothing not awesome about that romance.

YA non-SF romances, on the other hand, are just not written for me. They weren’t even written for me when I was thirteen. However, I subscribed to the monthly OwlCrate box this summer. OwlCrate is devoted to YA fiction, which works for me because I’m interested in the genre, and when I bought the subscription in August, I thought I was too late for the August box and was aiming for the September box, which contained a book that looked intriguing. However, I was just in time for the August box. It featured P.S. I Like You, which has a pink spine and a cutesy title and a jarring cover featuring two real teenagers who basically look like the worst people in the world. I had nightmares about this kind of book when I was ten.

Since I’ve made a bet with myself that I’ll read and review all the OwlCrate books, I must start with this one, even though the September and October books are much more my sort of thing, as is the pending November book. Ah well.

Rules of the review: I write this in full recognition of the fact that this book is not for me. I’ll try to be relatively objective.

The novel follows high-school junior Lily Abbott, a young hipster who wants to be a songwriter, though she hasn’t yet gathered up the courage to show anyone her lyrics. She has a large, noisy, artistic family that is living paycheque to paycheque, though there’s no sign anyone else at her high school isn’t well off. She has a crush on a senior named Lucas and a vendetta against her best friend Isabel’s former boyfriend, Cade. One day, in Chemistry (which she hates), she scribbles some lyrics from one of her favourite songs on her desk, and someone replies. She and the mysterious other student begin exchanging letters they wedge under their shared desk. The story then progresses as a mild mystery: who is the letter writer? Which boy is Lily slowly falling for? Will her family ever leave her alone for two seconds so she can finish a song for a songwriting contest? Why is Lucas so cute? Why is Cade so annoying?

For what it is, the novel is…well…all right. Lily is a pretty engaging narrator, though she indulges in a fair amount of self-pitying whining. Her family is quite fun. I want to know more about her mom and dad’s bizarre jewelry-making rivalry, and I think everyone should have a blind pumpkin-pie-tasting contest at Thanksgiving. I do find that the minor characters are pretty sketchily drawn. Lily’s sister Ashley gets a bit of a personality, but her two little brothers, whom she calls Thing One and Thing Two, are considerably less defined than the actual Thing One and Thing Two. Isabel’s boyfriend has almost nothing to do, and the boyfriend’s friend David seems to exist for no particular reason; he vanishes quietly once he’s expended his plot-related usefulness.

I won’t give away the identity of the letter writer, but it didn’t surprise me even a little bit. I guessed it immediately. West’s red herrings are a little transparent. The romance works best when Lily and her admirer are still exchanging letters; the letters do genuinely sound as if they were written by a couple of slightly pretentious teenagers. Once the two meet, however, the story just keeps going and going and going and going, even though there’s not much of a point. The whole thing is a little predictable and not particularly memorable. It is nice that when Lily finds herself in a pickle, she’s saved not by her True Love but by her siblings.

While I would rather focus my wish-fulfilment fantasies on trips to magical lands populated by monsters, not on That Cute Boy I Like, I’m sure a lot of kids will enjoy this book. The three stars are for them. I doubt I’ll ever read it again, but I did binge the last third, so I guess that’s something.

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October 29, 2016

Review: Claudia Gray’s Ten Thousand Skies Above You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 1:22 pm

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird, #2)Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ten Thousand Skies Above You is the second book in Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. It continues the story of Marguerite Caine’s adventures through a myriad of parallel dimensions. Last time, she was seeking revenge for her father’s murder; now she’s out to rescue her boyfriend, Paul, who has been torn into four separate pieces by the shadowy corporation blackmailing Marguerite into working for it. As she strives to find the splinters of Paul while also trying to avoid helping the Triad Corporation, Marguerite must also struggle with the personal consequences–on both her life and the lives of her other selves–of interfering in the workings of the multiverse.

As with the first volume, A Thousand Pieces of You, Volume 2 is a slightly frustrating mixture of amazing world building and dreary love triangle. Gray’s treatment of the multiverse continues to be fascinating. Some of the worlds Marguerite visits are very similar to ours (in fact, by implication, one is ours; Marguerite herself seems to hail from a closely related but not-quite-identical world), whereas others are either more or less advanced or have been sent off in bizarre directions by important historical events. This time around, Marguerite visits a world that is, technologically and culturally speaking, stuck in the Middle Ages; a world in which the United States is involved in a war on American soil; a world very like her own in which she gets mixed up with the Russian mob; a technologically advanced world in which nations have been replaced by constantly warring corporations; and our own world (probably), which is recognisable because it has iPhones in it. She also revisits one of her favourite worlds from Volume 1, though that doesn’t turn out quite as she expects it to. Gray continues her ruminations on souls and destiny and whether or not alternate selves are all the same person, and it all gets very interesting when Marguerite leaps into a version of herself who is…well, let’s just call her “not a very nice person” and leave it at that. It’s interesting stuff. Every new world offers new possibilities, some exciting, some kind of horrifying.

However, eighteen-year-old Marguerite is a bit obsessed with Paul and the whole idea of the two of them being in love forever in every universe. I understand. Eighteen-year-olds are often intense about these things. That’s fine. It’s just that every time the love angle comes up, the plot stops dead. It becomes a chore to grind through Marguerite’s agonised thoughts about whether every Paul is the same and whether she’s really in love with her friend Theo in one of the worlds and whether she really should be in love with Theo and whether it means anything that Theo is in love with her and whether Paul is her fate after all and OH MY GOD, MARGUERITE, JUST STOP. When I read the bit where one of the Pauls called her “insecure,” I nearly applauded. It’s great that Marguerite’s got real flaws, but this particular flaw makes her seem awfully whiny and clingy at times. It’s hard not to cringe when she meets a new Paul and repeats over and over again that she’s sure she’s safe with him because he always protects her. Protect yourself, kid. I know you can.

The story is heading into tangled-conspiracy-theory territory in advance of the final book, which comes out in a few days. It seems promising. However, a new wrinkle in the love plot has been introduced, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get through Volume 3 without screaming in impatience. I do realise this is partly just my own aversion to love stories rearing its problematic head. However, take, in comparison, another Claudia Gray book, the Star Wars tie-in novel Lost Stars. It’s also a love story. It could even accurately be called a Romeo-and-Juliet story, possibly one of the most cliched types of love story around. However, in that one, the flawed, likable characters transcend the love plot. The love story is always there, but it doesn’t stop the flow of the narrative or impede the world building. Character development is not entirely tied to who is in love with whom and/or who is separated from whom. The love plot is absolutely important to the story as a whole, but it doesn’t take anything away from that story. Give me something like that, and I’ll stop complaining about all the gooshy love.

I would characterise Ten Thousand Skies Above You as see-sawing between two stars and four. It’s effectively a four-star novel into which a two-star alternative self from another dimension has leaped.

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September 28, 2016

Review: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 9:28 pm

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelA Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I should say that Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (the original 1962 novel) is one of the books that has most profoundly shaped my own writing, as well as my approach to literature. It’s not a perfect book–L’Engle was right at the beginning of her career when she wrote it, and it shows–but Meg Murry remains one of my favourite protagonists. I can’t tell you what a revelation it was for me as an awkward twelve-year-old girl when I picked up this book and saw a character who was just as stubborn, angry, tearful, and unfair as I often was. Meg isn’t sweet or pretty; she can be kind and compassionate, but not without a struggle. She’s real. And when she goes to fight IT the first time, the gift she’s given by Mrs. Whatsit is her faults. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the simple but profound lesson that passage taught me: that strong characters are not necessarily strong people, and that apparent weakness can be far more interesting than obvious strength.

I picked up the graphic version of the novel because I’d heard good things, but I was still worried, not because it was a comic–I am happy to defend comics to the death–but because it was an adaptation. I know the 2003 television-movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time didn’t turn out all that well. I also sort of felt that the story didn’t particularly need to be a comic. However, I tried it anyway because why not? At the very least, it seemed like an intriguing project to explore.

For the most part, the adaptation works well. L’Engle’s text is dialogue-heavy, and most of the words used in the comic are taken verbatim from the novel. One choice the adapter, Hope Larson, makes is to turn some of the narration into text boxes containing Meg’s first-person perspective. A few of these bits are taken from first-person thoughts Meg has in the novel; others shift the third-person commentary into the first person. The technique both works and doesn’t. It does allow Meg some of the interiority the comic-book format takes away from her, but it’s a bit inconsistent, disappearing and then popping back up again at random. The text boxes are most prevalent when Meg is alone, which makes sense, but when other characters are in play, Meg sometimes seems to fade into the background.

Luckily, Larson’s evocative drawings are especially effective when it comes to Meg’s expressions. She also differentiates well between the characters, with Meg’s pinched little face standing in stark contrast to Calvin’s teenage awkwardness and Charles Wallace’s big-eyed, cherubic intelligence. Meg’s black eye becomes a character in and of itself; when it is healed by Aunt Beast, the reader almost misses it. The designs of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which are also distinctive and full of personality. Perhaps the oddest thing about how the characters are drawn is that many of them seem to smile at inappropriate moments, but even these weird little smiles eventually become endearing and stand in contrast to Charles Wallace’s borderline evil smile when he’s under the control of IT.

The evil-Charles-Wallace segment alone is worth the price of admission. Larson takes her adorable Charles Wallace design and shifts his expression just enough that the angelic becomes demonic. The scenes in which IT is controlling Charles Wallace are, if possible, even harder to read here than they are in the original.

The graphic format sometimes works very nicely. At other times, the story seems choppy and abrupt, with Meg’s switch from screaming anger to smiling acceptance when she is being asked to go back for Charles Wallace alone being a particularly glaring example. The ending seems even more sudden here than it does in the original. However, all in all, Larson does a good job of letting L’Engle’s dialogue tell the story as she fills in the narration with images. The choice to use only the colour blue as shading gives the images a spooky feel that complements the mysteries of the plot.

While I don’t think this adaptation will be replacing L’Engle’s novel any time soon, and while I’m not entirely convinced that someone reading it before the novel will be able to follow everything that’s going on, the graphic retelling makes a good companion piece to the novel. It doesn’t really give us anything new, but it nonetheless offers a pleasing visualisation of an iconic work.

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September 24, 2016

Review: Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 8:03 am

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1)A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up A Thousand Pieces of You because of its intriguing premise: most particularly, because the idea of a girl hopping from dimension to dimension to avenge the murder of her father sounded full of yummy sci-fi goodness. I still love the world of this novel and the vast potential inherent in the idea of interdimensional travel. However, the good old love triangle at the story’s heart weakens what could otherwise be a solid narrative with a great female protagonist.

The novel follows Marguerite Caine, the artist daughter of two brilliant scientists, as she joins one of her parents’ grad students, Theo, on his quest to catch the murderer of Marguerite’s father. They are chasing another grad student, Paul, who has apparently cut Dr. Caine’s brakes and sent his car into the water, then absconded with a piece of technology that allows him to leap into alternate-dimension versions of himself. Marguerite and Theo use the only two other versions of this technology in existence to follow, and Marguerite finds herself living the lives of a variety of other Marguerites, some of whose situations differ radically from hers (one is a Russian princess, and yes, there’s a perfectly rational explanation for this). As she and Theo follow Paul from world to world, Marguerite begins to realise that the situation is not quite what it seems and that Paul may not, in fact, be her enemy after all.

The best aspects of the novel involve the exploration of the alternate dimensions. Gray’s many-worlds model has a built-in acknowledgement of what one character calls the possibility of “fate”; in other words, while the worlds may deviate quite widely from each other in some respects, the same people do tend to exist in all of them (as wildly unlikely as it may seem that exactly the same sperm would penetrate exactly the same egg even when the parents of the child are coming together in extremely different places, situations, and circumstances). The world in which Marguerite is Russian is especially fascinating, as its technology has lagged behind that of Marguerite’s own world, and everything is very nineteenth century, even while many of the people who exist in our twenty-first-century still exist there (for instance, Bill Clinton is around, wearing mutton chops, apparently). The first world Marguerite visits is also intriguing because it is more advanced than Marguerite’s and thus allows Gray to play with some inventive technological innovations.

Another strong aspect of the novel is Marguerite’s own musings–and eventual deepening confusion–about identity and relationships. In the various dimensions, she inhabits the bodies of Marguerites who both are and are not her. In one of them, she has an experience that, as she acknowledges later, the “real” Marguerite should have had herself; it’s an experience she can never have again. Even before Marguerite begins considering the ethics of what she’s doing, the reader may feel uncomfortable watching her make certain essential decisions that have the potential to profoundly affect the Marguerites whose lives Marguerite is borrowing. The strongest segments of the novel revolve around Marguerite coming to grips with the consequences of her actions. Her interactions with the various versions of her family are also well handled. In some dimensions, her father is alive, and Marguerite is put in the position of having to spend time with someone she loves and she knows is, in her world, dead. In other worlds, her mother is dead. Her sister sometimes exists and sometimes does not, and once, she gains three entirely different siblings instead. Loss itself takes on a variety of dimensions through Marguerite’s dimension-hopping adventure.

However, the love story is intrusive to the point of being overwhelming. Love stories in general do not make me leap to my feet in joy, but I can accept a good love story that has a reason to exist and moves the plot along. While it’s certainly possible to argue that the love plot in A Thousand Pieces of You is really the main point, it acts to weaken, not strengthen, Marguerite as a character. She seems to accept as a matter of course that the big strong men need to be there to protect her. Even when she’s at the point of the story where she finally realises exactly what’s going on, there’s a helplessness about Marguerite. She gets quite a few nice moments of agency throughout the novel, and she’s at her best when she’s alone and forced to rely only on herself, but whenever one of the guys turns up, she tends to defer to him. While this could absolutely be part of her character growth–an element she must recognise and eventually overcome–it actually seems to become more acute as the story progresses.

As well, the triangular shape of the plot is such a well-tread path that even with its various twists and turns, the story becomes rather predictable. Let’s just say (without giving anything essential away) that I was pretty sure what was up with certain characters long before the shocking truth was revealed, simply because that was how the love triangle demanded the story should go. There’s one small surprise that is pretty neat, but otherwise, everything pans out as expected. The mundanity of the love story detracts from the stronger world building and also, more harmfully, from Marguerite’s growth as a character. When she’s going all gooshy about being protected and looked after by someone who treats her like a fragile, breakable doll, she has less time to ruminate on consequences.

In the end, I’m happy enough with this book to pick up the sequel (and likely the third volume when it’s released in November), but I’m very much hoping that sequel will give Marguerite more of a chance to shine. Her character still feels incomplete: promising, but too bound up in being an object of desire to become an agency-driven subject.

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September 20, 2016

Review: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 8:34 am

Children of Earth and SkyChildren of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s books since I was thirteen or so. I’ve made my way through all of them, including his volume of poetry. Lately, however, I’ve had a harder time getting into the stories. For me, the pinnacle of Kay’s work is The Lions of Al-Rassan, in which he captures beautifully the idea of a war in which there is no right–and no wrong–side. Nothing since has quite measured up.

Children of Earth and Sky is, like many of Kay’s books, set in his not-quite-real parallel universe, which contains many historical similarities to our own world without being absolutely bound by actual history. The novels also contain some magic, though often only hints of it. This particular volume is farther forward in the history of this world than Kay has ever gone, taking place in the otherworldly equivalent of the Renaissance. Its setting covers much the same ground as the Sarantine Mosaic novels, though the works are set nearly a millennium apart.

This is where the first problem arises. I know Kay likes to build in little connections between his novels, and there’s nothing wrong with that, or at least not until the references start taking up nearly as much time as the narrative, and not always for much of a purpose. It’s nice to know what’s become of Crispin’s work and some of the places he visited, but a lot of this stuff seems to be here simply so people who have read the Sarantium books can go, “Hey…I remember that!” After a while, it begins to read as a little self-indulgent.

The characters here are also a bit more sparsely sketched out than they could be. Kay tends to go into great detail when he creates his characters, and the novel starts out promisingly, but the characters never truly grow beyond their own broad types. There are only so many times the narrator can tell us a character is “very young” (the narrator seems fixated on everybody’s youth) before we start wishing for less harping on age and more attention to character development. None of the characters does anything particularly surprising. They’re all smarter than the average bear and have a tendency to get out of scrapes by saying or doing exactly the right thing at the right moment (when they make mistakes, the narrator chimes in with, “It was a mistake,” or something similar). They’re also all the very best at everything. Danica is the best fighter, Marin the most clever merchant, Pero the greatest artist (eventually), Leonora the best [spoilers, but believe me, she’s the best at it]. No one is incompetent at anything. Consequently, even though the characters are quite far apart in their situations, stations, and occupations, they have a certain sameness. It doesn’t help that Danica and Leonora, the only two important point-of-view women, are both young, beautiful, and blonde.

Kay’s treatment of women sometimes bothers me, though certainly not always. Jehane of The Lions of Al-Rassan is, despite being stuck in a be-cursed love triangle, a well-written character with both strengths and flaws. Other female characters who manage to transcend the radiant beauty Kay almost always gives them (with one or two exceptions) do also pop up from time to time. However, many of these women are defined mostly by their sexuality. The argument that women’s power in a patriarchal society is often a manipulative one that works largely through sexual favours is, well, problematic to start with, but even if we accept it as true, we run up against the problem that in this particular story, the two major female characters are an exemplary warrior and a woman who eventually gains a type of power that has little, if not nothing, to do with sex. Why, then, the continual emphasis on these characters sleeping with various people (even, sometimes, having to sleep with various people)? If the same attention were paid to the sexual exploits of every male character, fine, but it’s really not. When Pero is forced into a sexual encounter, it’s framed as an uncomfortable and backward situation; when the same thing happens to both Danica and Leonora, we get to accept that as the way things are (plus justified because the men are kind). While both women are strong people, they’re not particularly strong characters because they’re both two-dimensional and seem to exist mostly for the male characters, even as they go around accomplishing extraordinary things of their own volition.

To be fair, most of the characters are weak here. I know I keep coming back to the characters, but the problem is that this novel is less character driven than it thinks it is. Things happen because the plot tells them to, especially where Damaz is concerned. Towards the end, the story becomes more and more abstract, with the narrator pulling right back from the characters and reciting what will happen to them years or even decades in the future. Kay does like to have these pulling-back moments, where he examines context and wider consequences, but he uses the technique so often here, especially later on, that he simultaneously yanks us out of the story and telegraphs the plot with lots and lots and lots of heavy-handed foreshadowing. I’d rather not be told point blank that X is meaningful.

That said, I did find the novel hard to put down once I was well into it. I read the second half all in one day while I should have been doing about twelve other things. Even if the novel as a whole is a bit disjointed and predictable, it contains some great set pieces, such as the last stand of a tiny band of raiders against a massive army or Pero’s conversations with the terrifying khalif he is painting (it would actually have been nice to have more of the latter). Danica’s dead grandfather is also pretty amazing. There’s plenty here to like, despite the problems.

I’ll continue to read Kay’s novels, but I’m still waiting for the next The Lions of Al-Rassan. As long as the characters continue to be broadly drawn and predictable, and as long as Kay continues his gradual slide back towards the sentimentality that characterised his early novels, I’m not sure I’ll get it.

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August 10, 2016

Person of Interest (TV): Review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 4:15 pm

Person of Interest image

Sometimes, you just sort of miss an entire television series, then hear about it slightly after it has concluded from two different sources and decide to try it out. Person of Interest (CBS, 2011-2016) escaped my attention entirely until I came across an article calling it “essential science fiction television.” Shortly afterward, my friend Kevin asked me if I’d seen it. It looked intriguing, so I gave it a try.

Person of Interest is certainly essential science fiction television. It’s a well-written, character-driven show that starts out (as many shows do) as a relatively standard procedural before evolving into something much more challenging. In the process, it presents and develops a number of complex ideas about artificial intelligence and its implications. The show combines good storytelling with thought-provoking content in a way that is sometimes difficult to find on television but is a good example of how effective television can be as a medium.

In its first season, as many have observed, the show is already good, though still relatively ordinary. Its premise is the comfortable old people-with-a-secret-weapon-fight-crime-from-the-sidelines one that governs so many procedurals, not to mention so many superhero narratives. In fact, in its first season, POI is a superhero story in all but name, with ex-CIA operative John Reese recruited by mysterious billionaire Harold Finch to prevent crimes before they happen. The preventative nature of Reese and Finch’s work is the show’s first twist; the second is that Finch is getting his information about these potential future crimes from an AI of his own invention he calls only “the Machine.” He and a partner made the Machine for the US government, which uses it to prevent terrorist attacks. However, as it monitors everyone everywhere, it also detects “irrelevant” future crimes involving (as the narration at the beginning of every episode puts it) “ordinary people.” The government dismisses these people. Finch, who has, unbeknownst to the government, retained access to the Machine, does not. The Machine provides him with only their social security numbers, not indicating whether the “person of interest” is a potential victim or a potential perpetrator. Reese and Finch must help or stop the people of interest while avoiding the attention of a corrupt police department and, more particularly, Detective Joss Carter, one of the few good cops remaining. They also often call on the reluctant help of dirty cop Lionel Fusco, whom Reese has blackmailed into being his inside man.

The first season is, again, already solid, but with every subsequent season, things get more interesting. Carter eventually joins the team, and Fusco begins what will be a long journey to redemption and true investment in his new role of helping people; in the meantime, new players turn up, such as assassin/computer genius Samantha “Root” Groves, seemingly sociopathic Agent Sameen Shaw (who deals with the relevant numbers until she is betrayed by her employer), and an adorable attack dog named Bear with whom every character falls instantly in love. Characters who start off as antagonists end up drawn into the team, which becomes an intriguing collection of broken people fighting in frustrating secrecy to save the world. However, it’s the introduction of a rival AI, Samaritan, that truly tips the show over from “good procedural” to “holy crap, this is some great science fiction.” The Machine, coached by the compassionate Finch, has picked up morality along the way; Samaritan, with no such coaching, sees humanity as something to be “saved” through control, not compassion. POI gradually becomes a meditation on the nature of humanity and morality, control and free will, love and sacrifice, all wrapped up in a suspenseful TV-friendly package.

In my opinion, the best episode is Season 4’s “If–Then–Else,” which I won’t describe because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. It’s one of those television episodes — like, for instance, House, MD‘s “Three Stories,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “The Body,” and Doctor Who‘s “Blink” — that is simply a work of art in and of itself, an episode that is, plot-, theme-, and character-wise, a perfect storm of narrative effectiveness. Other episodes contain similarly powerful material, but “If–Then–Else” is fantastic from beginning to end.

If you haven’t come across this show yet but are interested in AI-themed stories that play with post-9/11 paranoia and its consequences, Person of Interest is worth trying out. One of its greatest strengths is also one of its greatest seeming contradictions: it tells the story of an AI far more intelligent than any human being by focusing not directly on the Machine itself but on the flawed humans it is working so hard to save without ever having been given a voice of its own.

August 2, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Rehearsal Script): Spoiler-Free Review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 9:44 pm

I have some thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but I’m going to organise them into two documents, one without spoilers and the other with lots and lots of spoilers. If you haven’t read the script or seen the play, this spoiler-free review is for you. If you have, go find the spoilery document, in which I go into a lot more detail.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverOn July 31, 2016, the “special rehearsal edition script” of the dramatic production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which debuted in London on July 30, was released. A milder version of the excitement attending the releases of the previous Potter books played out, with people attending midnight releases and staying up all night to tear through the book (I was not one of those people, but mostly because I was out of the country on release day). There are, however, some differences this time around, and they’re worth taking into account.

Cursed Child is not a new J. K. Rowling book. Her name is prominent on the cover, but it appears under the much smaller words “based on an original new story by” and is followed by the names of her collaborators, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. The script’s playwright is, in fact, Jack Thorne (Tiffany directed the play).

Not everyone agrees that Rowling’s writing is stellar, but her storytelling style is imbued with a kind of magic that is lacking here. Yes, the format is very different; this is a play script, not a novel, and therefore, we mostly stay out of the characters’ heads, though we get glimpses of their thoughts via stage directions. We’re used, as readers of the Harry Potter books, to spending most of our time with Harry Potter; here, on the other hand, there seem to be at least three protagonists, and the most engaging of them isn’t a Potter at all. The script is not as polished as it could be, which makes a certain amount of sense, though as an English scholar, I’m a little less forgiving than many will be. Scripts do get published. It is not impossible to edit them. Good playwrights are amazing writers. Thorne’s script seems only so-so as a work of literature, and some of the lines are cringeworthy. I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary, for instance, for the characters to speak the moral of the story aloud. For that matter, I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary for the moral of the story to be so obvious.

I won’t go into too much detail regarding the plot, as there are a lot of potential spoilers looming here, but to take you a few pages in (i.e., about as far as you would get in five minutes or so of reading): we pick up exactly where the novels left off, with Harry’s middle child, Albus, about to start his first year at Hogwarts. He is anxious he’ll be sorted into Slytherin, and Harry tries to reassure him by pointing out that the Sorting Hat gives everyone a choice. On the train, Albus and his cousin Rose — Hermione and Ron’s daughter, who is barely in the play and seems little more than a carbon copy of Hermione — look for a compartment to sit in and come across Scorpius Malfoy, Draco’s son. This is a neat scene because Scorpius is such a great character: smart, anxious, funny, and sensitive to the social difficulties involved in his making friends with Harry Potter’s son. I would gladly spend a whole novel with Scorpius. How absolutely wonderful would a series of book revolving around Draco Malfoy’s son be? How amazing would it be to see Draco as a struggling father striving to come to terms with a child both brighter and kinder than he ever was? There’s almost endless potential here.

The problem is that Albus is not nearly as likable. Shy child Albus is quickly swept away as the play takes us forward, brief scene by brief scene, to Albus and Scorpius’s fourth year at Hogwarts, by which point Albus has become a sulky, self-righteous little brat. Harry isn’t behaving very well either; the two of them constantly misunderstand each other. Harry pulls away from Albus because he’s not as easy to connect with as his two other children, and Albus despises Harry because he’s constantly in Harry’s shadow and sees himself as a disappointment. I know the play was written considerably before The Force Awakens came out, but it’s sometimes difficult not to see young Albus Potter as having a lot in common with young Ben Solo.

Complications ensue, a villain emerges, friendships are tested, and members of both generations must go through some painful experiences, all in service of repairing (with luck) the rift between father and son. It’s a comfortable sort of plot, and there are some twists and turns along the way, but few of them feel unexpected to me. My favourite sequence still seems rather too familiar because I’ve seen this sort of thing before in other stories of the same type (sorry for the vagueness, but I’m attempting to steer clear of spoilers here). That bit, notably, focuses on Scorpius, not Albus.

Another problem is one that carries over from the novels, though it becomes even more noticeable in the play: where are the female characters? Rose seems at first to be important, but she quickly disappears. Ginny and Hermione both have their roles to play, but Ginny is there mostly to chide Harry gently for his lousy relationship with Albus, while Hermione is more or less a plot device. The emotional focus is on the Harry/Albus and Draco/Scorpius pairs. That’s great. Father-son stories are nice, as are stories of friendship. However, the Harry Potter stories famously focus on three friends: Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They are equals in the friendship, and they go through their adventures together. Rose, here, appears to allow the playwright to replicate the triangular friendship of the older generation, but Rose herself is deprived of characterisation and agency and treated mostly as an object of desire. The other female character who could be seen as replacing her as the third angle of the triangle, Delphi, is the Repressive Love Interest Who Comes Between the True Friendship of the Male Leads. By the end of the play, it’s apparent that all the characters who matter as characters are male.

It is entirely possible this all works better on stage. Perhaps some of the awkward dialogue has been dropped or smoothed out. The special effects are probably amazing; the descriptions of them in the stage directions are certainly enticing. If the actor who plays Scorpius is worthy of the material he’s been given, that character is going to be wonderful to watch. I would love to see how the production manages spells, transformations, owls, and the Sorting Hat, not to mention the terrifying scene involving the Trolley Witch of the Hogwarts Express. I’m just not sure all the pyrotechnics will be enough to save the play. It’s got potential. The idea of Harry Potter’s and Draco Malfoy’s sons becoming friends is just begging to be played around with. However, when I’m reading through the script and am constantly being distracted because I’m reminded of things I’ve seen in The Force Awakens, the Very Potter Musical trilogy, and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s a distinct possibility the story itself may need work.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Rehearsal Script): Absolutely-Filled-With-Spoilers Review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 9:40 pm

 

I have some thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but I’m going to organise them into two documents, one without spoilers and the other with lots and lots of spoilers. If you haven’t read the script or seen the play, the spoiler-free review is for you. If you have, you’re in the right place; this spoilery document goes into a lot more detail.

LET ME JUST REPEAT THAT ONE MORE TIME: HERE BE SPOILERS. IF YOU ARE STILL READING BUT HAVE NOT YET FINISHED THE SCRIPT OR SEEN THE PLAY, STAAAWWWP. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_Cover

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a stage play that debuted in London on July 30, 2016. The “special rehearsal edition script” was released one day later. This is not exactly normal for plays. Of course, the who Cursed Child phenomenon is not exactly normal for plays. However, play scripts do frequently appear in book form, so I’ll be applying the same standards to this one that I would to any other. It should be noted that the producers of this book seem to have been attempting to dodge these standards via the “special rehearsal edition script” label, which tells us we are obliged to be forgiving, as this is just a “rehearsal edition.” Granted, so is every other play published ever, but whatever.

J. K. Rowling’s name is the biggest one on the cover, but Rowling herself is simply billed as one of the three people who produced the “original story” on which the play is “based.” Of the other two, John Tiffany is the play’s director and Jack Thorne its playwright. Rowling’s signature humour and mystery-style plotting are not in evidence here. There’s some humour, and perhaps it works better on the stage, but it falls a bit flat on the page. The plotting is quite transparent. It’s possible to figure out what’s going on very early on. After that, most of the story plays out in a fairly predictable way.

The basic premise has some promise. As in the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we get young Albus Severus Potter, Harry and Ginny’s middle child, about to head off for his first year at Hogwarts. On the train, he and his cousin Rose, Ron and Hermione’s daughter, run into lonely Scorpius Malfoy, already an outcast before he even sets foot in Hogwarts. Rose quickly makes herself scarce; Albus, intrigued by this bright, sensitive boy, stays. The idea of Harry Potter’s son making friends with Draco Malfoy’s son is an intriguing one, especially in light of Scorpius being an instantly likable character. The whole situation becomes even more interesting when Albus is unexpectedly sorted into Slytherin. There’s your central conflict right there, and it’s virtually stuffed with potential.

However, the play skims briefly over the next four years, during which time Albus apparently undergoes a personality transplant. By his second year, he hates his father, is no longer on speaking terms with Rose, sees Hogwarts as a place of punishment, and has basically turned into Kylo Ren. Yes, this script would have been solidified long before the release of The Force Awakens, so this can’t be anything but an unfortunate coincidence, but it’s hard not to notice that we’ve once again got a famous-father-has-a-son-he-doesn’t-understand-and-drives-him-to-the-dark-side-via-neglect story here. True, Albus doesn’t go full Dark Side, but he’s unnecessarily nasty. Harry isn’t going to win any Father of the Year medals either. Neither of them is easy to identify with. Harry, in particular, makes some incredibly boneheaded decisions (including, at one point, bullying Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts, into spying on Albus and forcibly separating him from Scorpius). Harry Potter may not be one of the world’s great thinkers, but he should assumedly have developed some common sense by the age of forty.

The main crisis of the story involves Amos Diggory’s desire for the Ministry of Magic to use a Time-Turner it has recovered from a Voldemort loyalist to save his son Cedric’s life. Albus overhears the conversation and decides to stick it to his father by dragging Scorpius off to steal the Time-Turner from the office of the Minister for Magic, Hermione Granger. They then team up with Delphi Diggory, Amos’s twenty-something niece, who has a plan for saving Cedric. As you can see, all the characters appear to have taken stupid pills at some point. The brightest of them all is Scorpius, who keeps pointing out how many things can go wrong in a time-travel story. No one ever listens to Scorpius.

The problems with the script are, at this point, multiplying like crazy. The raid on Hermione’s office leads to a pointless and profoundly icky scene in which Albus, all Polyjuiced up to look like Ron, maintains his cover by kissing his Aunt Hermione on the lips (twice) and talking about having babies with her. The time travel probably looks amazing on stage, and perhaps that helps distract viewers from the fact that it violates all the time-travel rules laid out in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Suddenly switching time-travel models because it’s convenient to do so is up there with giving a character a personality transplant because it works for the plot…which, incidentally, happens here too. The mucking about with time causes some changes. On the first go, they’re relatively mild (compared to what happens on the second go, at least), but they involve accidentally breaking Ron and Hermione up. Apparently, the two turn into entirely different people when they’re not together. When Ron marries Padma Patil instead, he loses his love for jokes and becomes a whipped husband (har har har). Hermione, on the other hand, transforms into a truly horrible person. Not only does she not become Minister for Magic, she ends up an embittered, cruel Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who out-Snapes Snape to a ridiculous degree. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: all she needs is love! Sadly, this is not the play’s only fun misogyny, but it will do for now.

The trip to the past also erases Rose and her brother Hugo from existence, which Scorpius (still the one character who deserves to survive all this and go on to star in a seven-book series of his own and my God, I want to see a Scorpius Malfoy and the I Don’t Even Care Because Anything With Scorpius in It Will Be Awesome novel) points out, but it doesn’t really seem to register with Albus, who is all, “Cedric is still dead. Let’s go back and try again!” The second attempt is the best because it erases Albus from existence by causing a chain of events that ends in the death of Harry Potter at the Battle of Hogwarts and the triumph of Voldemort. Scorpius finds himself alone in a hellscape in which he is worshipped by the other evil Hogwarts students for his cruelty and his sudden proficiency at Quidditch. Luckily, Scorpius has kept his old personality, and he quickly finds the only person at this new appalling Hogwarts, in which students torture Muggle-borns in the dungeons and forget to wipe the blood off their shoes afterwards, he can trust: Professor Snape.

Hurrah for Snape, but you may be noticing something else by now: this story is dark. It’s unrelentingly dark. Dark can be good, but this much darkness in a Harry Potter story needs some comic relief that doesn’t fall flat, and there’s not much here. Snape provides a bit by being generally awesome and teaming up with post-apocalyptic versions of Hermione and Ron to try and fail to save the world, and frankly, this alternate-Hogwarts section of the play is its strongest part, partly because the mix of darkness and humour almost works here and partly because Scorpius is a much more appealing protagonist than Albus.

However, even this strong portion of the story has its problems. Chief among them is the fact that the eventual culmination of the sequence involves Snape, Hermione, and Ron sacrificing themselves so Scorpius can return the world to normal. I know I’ve seen this sort of thing more than once before in time-travel narratives, and it’s bugging me that I can’t think exactly where, with the exception of the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which Cordelia ensures that Buffy never comes to Sunnydale and turns the town into the same kind of hellscape we get here, only with vampires. In fact, this part of the play follows that episode almost scene by scene, right down to the death of the character who causes the rift in the first place and the sacrifices of several important characters so that the hellscape can be erased. I know I’ve seen the trope elsewhere too. Oh, wait, here’s one: X-Men: Days of Future Past. The idea of killing off one’s protagonists gruesomely in one reality so they can restore another one has, in fact, been done. A lot. I like it, but there are too many echoes here.

Another problem with the play can probably be blamed on sloppiness. Scorpius mentions several times that the Cedric Diggory of this dark reality is a Death Eater, but we never actually see him get this information anywhere. Cedric never appears at Evil Hogwarts. Scorpius seems to have picked up the information offstage. Perhaps this problem is the result of a cut scene, but it’s quite jarring and should have been noticed by an editor.

Once Scorpius has saved the day, he sadly takes the same stupid pills as everybody else and holds on to the Time-Turner instead of giving it to the damn grown-ups, thus setting off the final part of the plot: the revelation that Delphi Diggory is actually the daughter of Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, and she’s mighty pissed that Scorpius destroyed her nice hellscape. Creating that hellscape has, of course, been her intent all along.

I don’t even know where to start with this bit. For one thing, I guessed who Delphi was and what she wanted way before I should have. Thorne doesn’t seem to be able to handle red herrings with Rowling’s skill. Having a female villain is a nice idea, but Voldemort’s daughter? Really? That sticks us right back in the “morality is inherited” box from which the play seems to be striving to escape by sticking a Potter in Slytherin and making a Malfoy delightful. Delphi’s villainy also highlights that fun misogyny again, not because women shouldn’t be villains — scheme away, evil women — but because she’s basically the only major female character who has the potential to be more than a plot device. Aside from Delphi, Hermione is the most prominent, but she’s at the mercy of the plot and well outside the story’s emotional core. Rose at first promises to provide the third angle of a triangle that will mirror the Harry-Ron-Hermione relationship, but she has almost nothing to do and eventually vanishes entirely, except as the object of Scorpius’s desire. Ginny has a decent-sized role, but she seems to exist entirely to encourage Harry to connect with his son. We never actually see her interacting with Albus. Minerva McGonagall has little to do besides scold, and Dolores Umbridge gets only a mercifully brief cameo. Delphi is so obviously the villain in large part because she immediately becomes the repressive force who threatens to divide true friends Albus and Scorpius. There’s nothing to like about her and thus no feeling of betrayal when she reveals her true intent. By the end of the story, our attention is all on the Harry/Albus and Draco/Scorpius pairs. This is a story of male relationships. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it would be nice if the women were more than window dressing and plot machinery. Hell…I don’t think the play even passes the Bechdel test, despite its several female characters.

Incidentally, one thing that does strike me about Albus’s friendship with Scorpius is that it plays out almost like a romance. I would be very surprised if there weren’t already some Albus/Scorpius slash fiction in existence. For a while, I genuinely thought the play might go in that direction. It ultimately provides a coda in which the playwright makes it very, very clear that Scorpius is really into girls, damn it (a cringeworthy line for you: “And yes, logic would dictate I should be pursuing Polly–or allowing her to pursue me–she’s a notorious beauty, after all–but a Rose is a Rose”) and does a wink, wink, nudge, nudge sort of thing about Albus’s attraction to older women (ha ha ha…it’s hilarious that a woman in her twenties took advantage of a fourteen-year-old boy!). So no same-sex relationship for us, despite all the hugging.

Eventually, father-son bonding saves the day, and everybody gets to go home. The climax involves both Harry’s generation and Albus’s, which is nice, but there are way too many characters, some of whom are clearly on stage just because we would miss Hermione, Ron, and Ginny if they had been left behind. Even Draco and Scorpius are more or less shoved aside during the final confrontation. One of the things Albus learns during the play is that not everything is about him, but the climax more or less contradicts that. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Thorne, you don’t need to have your characters state your moral out loud. Holy moly.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate this play with the fire of a thousand suns. There are some good elements. Harry’s confrontations with Draco often work well, and the reappearance of Snape is both amusing and touching. I’m sure the special effects are astounding. Scorpius Malfoy is the friend of my heart and needs to go on more adventures in which he quietly and logically saves the world while Albus indulges in emo sulking in the background. But the whole enterprise is uneven. In the end, the play just isn’t very well written.

May 20, 2016

In Which I Give Students Advice About Their Midterms but the Whole Document Gets Away From Me a Bit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 2:45 pm

Every once in a while, you set out to write an e-mail to your students, expecting it will be a pretty ordinary e-mail full of sober advice about midterm preparation and analysis. Then this happens.

Hello, everyone. This is really just a repeat of what we discussed on Tuesday, but I thought I’d put it in an e-mail for the visual learners. I’m not sure how it turned into a comedy routine, but perhaps it will be slightly more interesting to read that way.

How do I get an amazing mark on the short-answer questions?

Well, first, you need to define the terms. That shouldn’t take you too long. A solid definition will earn you 4/10.

That’s not very much. What if I make my definition really, really complicated?

Still 4/10, I’m afraid. The definition is just the first thing you need. Next, you must relate the definition to one of our course works.

So I say Term X means [whatever], and it appears in the Grimms’ “Cinderella” in [this way].

Yep. Thank you for mentioning which “Cinderella” you’re discussing, by the way. It’s essential that you differentiate between stories with similar or identical titles. Also, congratulations: you now have 6/10.

That’s still pretty low. What am I doing wrong?

Nothing. You’re missing an element.

What if I add another example of how Term X is used in “Cinderella”? Or in another story, even?

Still 6/10.

WHYYYYYY?

You’re piling on the evidence, but you’re not doing anything with it.

Oh, okay. So I need to say why it’s significant that Term X is being used in “Cinderella” in this particular way?

Exactly. You need your “so what?” element. Don’t just list evidence; tell me why it’s important.

So then I should explain why Term X’s use in “Cinderella” means that all fairy tales use Term X like this?

Nope. Just because Term X has this effect in one story doesn’t mean it will have exactly the same effect in all stories. You can draw on your knowledge of Term X’s general effect, but make sure you concentrate on the specific effect on the one story you’re actually discussing.

Will that get me 10/10?

It depends on the quality of your “so what?”. A weak (but present) “so what?” may earn you 6.5 or 7. A stronger one will raise your mark to 7.5, 8, or 8.5. A super-amazing, “Gosh-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that-myself” “so what?” will earn you a 9, 9.5, or 10.

Does this mean it’s possible to get 100% on the essay portion?

No. English profs are notoriously cruel and don’t give 100% on essays because no essay can ever be perfect. Uuuuunnnnllllliiiiimmmmiiiiited poooooweeeeer.

That’s going to count as this e-mail’s Star Wars reference, right? I can relax now?

No. That reference was taken from a movie I refuse to admit exists.

What about the essay portion?

Actually, the same basic rules apply to the essay portion. The whole idea is to find one specific aspect of the works to discuss and approach it from a number of connected angles, not to list a bunch of evidence and go, “See?”.

It’s a comparison, though. Don’t I just concentrate on pointing out the similarities between the two works?

With a comparison, the most useful approach is generally to find the differences within the similarity. Listing similarities is going to lead you to leave out more specific details, as it will be in the specific details that the works differ. Instead, find one interesting specific similarity, then look at how the two authors treat this element in different ways, taking the stories in different directions, to different effect.

That’s really complicated. My brain hurts, and I’m worried you’re going to spring another Star Wars reference on me.

Hush. The first one didn’t count. It’s not as complicated as it seems. Think of it like this: A New Hope and The Force Awakens

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Now who’s making Star Wars references? A New Hope and The Force Awakens follow very similar plot trajectories, to the extent that some people regard the latter as a rip off of the former. In addition, both Luke and Rey can be seen as “destined” heroes, shoved into their journeys by cosmic forces instead of choosing to take those journeys. However, the differences in the villains–with Darth Vader (in the first movie only; we’re not taking about Empire or Jedi Vader) as a distant, menacing figure who never has a physical confrontation with Luke and Kylo Ren as a more fallible, less controlled antagonist whose confrontation with Rey sees the two of them actually entering each other’s minds–sends the two heroes off on different trajectories. Luke’s path is a black-and-white one, an obvious struggle against obvious evil, whereas Rey is drawn into a more personal fight in which the fate of the galaxy is dwarfed by the pain of one particular family.

Well, that was unnecessarily long

I could have made it longer. At any rate, I started with a similarity, found one important difference, and examined the implications. The rest of my essay will drill down these implications.

This is an in-class paper, and I’m not Shakespeare.

I’ll be marking it as an in-class paper. I still need one excellent idea taken as far as possible.

I guess that makes sense.

Of course it does, non-existent student I have invented solely for the purpose of this e-mail. Do you have any other questions?

Probably, but I’ll only remember them once the midterm is over.

That’s the spirit.

I’d better go off and read those handouts you keep mentioning to us now. They’re in the “Useful Documents” folder on D2L, aren’t they?

It’s as if you can read my mind.

Thank you for answering my unexpectedly convenient questions.

You’re welcome. May the Force be with you.

Just stop.

I don’t think I can.

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