Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Wild Sheep Chase; REDO!!!

My first impression of A Wild Sheep Chase was that I had found a novel that for the time, perfectly encapsulated my mood and general outlook on the world. At the time of my reading A Wild Sheep Chase, I was just trying to make it day by day, taking things as they came by. It seemed as though extraordinary events would pass me by, I would have altercations with these instances, and then we would part ways. It was a very pleasant surprise then, when I delved into Murukami’s introspective, poetic noir.

Much of Western media celebrates fantastic people and ideas. Television tells me that my life is only meaningful if I risk death on a daily basis, and I have a supermodel for a wife. Murukami appears to jump in the opposite direction. From the Wild Sheep Chase, we may know only nullity. Even when confronted with explosions and intrigue and death threats, the characters that inhabit Murukami’s world are unfazed; they appear to acknowledge that mundane and fantastical are congruent. In the end of the day, one could say the only truth is existence. We go on, day by day, accepting events as they present themselves to us.

As I read A Wild Sheep Chase, I found myself simply wanting to sit down, have a cigarette, and enjoy Murukami’s prose. I enjoyed his syntax just as much as I enjoyed his subject matter; by highlighting an eclectic array of uneventful occurrences, Murukami essential wrote about nothing. That he would choose such meaningless subject to focus his beautiful and introspective writing style upon, is a fact that I find very interesting.

The method by which Murukami executed his novel aside, I found the central motifs of the story fascinating. It would appear that above all else, Murkami chose to discuss mundanity. This book fell under the topic of J horror. I believe that what is intended by this is that the real horror of life is not monsters or serial killers, but mundanity. The notion of being slaughtered by a deranged psychopath may send shivers down your spine, but is ultimately exciting, and therefore meaningful. The idea of living an average life, however, and dying within leaving the slightest impact on the world…. Now isn’t that a terrifying concept?


To put it as bluntly as possible, I find people stupid, shockingly stupid, even. Imagine my joy as I watched Idiocracy, and found a slightly exaggerated view of humanity’s idiocy. The star of this Mike Judge film isn’t Luke Wilson or even Maya Rudolph; in my opinion the star of the movie is simply stupidity. If the movie was reduced simply to 90 minutes of stupid people doing stupid things, the film would be somewhat less substantial, but I doubt it would lose much of it’s appeal.

The most substantial aspect of this film that I enjoyed was the premise of the film. The general idea that humanity will continually grow less and less intelligent due to the decreasing continuation of smart genes is a rather pessimistic outlook, and yet it is one that I have very little difficulty believing. In my own experiences I have seen time and time again that the people who should never be allowed to pass on their genes, or raise children for that matter, are the first to have kids.

Aside from this one premise, the rest of the movie is really just speculation as to what the future generations of bumbling Americans will be like. This speculation is what gives the movie most of it’s appeal in my opinion. The film’s dystopian future isn’t completely unlike any other novel or film’s; we see giant corporations, mountains of trash, and the deterioration of society. These are all elements that have been noted countless times in other movies. What makes Idiocracy different is that the focus of the film isn’t dreariness through oppression, but dreariness through stupidity.

One aspect of the film’s vision of the future I found particularly interesting and humorous was the ways in which certain corporations and businesses evolved. Gatorade turns into Brawndo, the largest company in the world. Starbucks and most eateries turn into brothels; we are unsure whether these establishments are catered towards sex, food, or both. Culture, art, science, and in fact most aspects of civilized life shift their focus towards sex, or scatological humor. The sad thought, is that I have to note that I don’t feel as though modern day America is very far off…

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Prior to the release of the film adaptation of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I had read the complete series of the Hitchhiker books. I loved the first book, and continued reading the series, much to my disappointment. I felt like as the series progressed the books became less and less structured. The conclusion of the final book (the abrupt destruction of earth without buildup or resolution), felt very tacked on, I got the impression that it was Douglas Adams means of sloppily tying together the series.

My gripes with the final installments of the series aside, I enjoyed the first Hitchhiker’s. The novel oozes with cynicism and sarcasm, a trait that I’m not entirely sure the film version successfully captured. The impression I felt when reading the book was that Douglas was trying to convey his frustration with humanity. We see throughout the book that the sole surviving human, Arthur Dent, is seen as the most ignorant and incompetent being in the universe. Earth itself, is seen as utterly insignificant, as The Guide to the Galaxy; the universe’s accepted encyclopedia on everything, pages Earth as “Mostly harmless”.

I found the relentless sarcasm really enjoying to read. The book’s main purpose it seems, is to poke fun of humans and to try to make its views realize the possible folly of our illusions on grandeur.

Aside from poking fun at humanity, to book devotes much of its effort to satirizing philosophy. Much of the book is centered on the question and answer of the meaning of life, and arguably human concept. We are introduced to a race of life that has developed the technology to find this answered, and to their dismay, they find that it is 42. The result is that they devote their attention to finding the question of the meaning of life. I find Adam’s usage of philosophy in this book cuts both ways; he seams to be both asking genuine philosophical questions, and at the same time criticizing the conventions of philosophy.

Aside from asking questions of philosophy and satirizing humanity, Adams also amuses his readers by presenting a multitude of new races, creatures, planets and objects, all with fantastical and funny elements.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ender's Game

I first read Ender’s Game around the age of 11. It remains to this day one of my favorite books. For a multitude of reasons, Enders Game was exactly what I wanted to read as a young boy. I talked to many of my friends who had encountered this book in their youths, and collectively we agreed that this book serves as a right of passage for boys who would want to advance into the level of adulthood.

What made this book so exciting to read in my earlier years wasn’t the space battles, or the menacing aliens, or the futuristic battles of laser tag. It was the fact that the protagonist wasn’t an older, role model esque character whom I would aspire to emulate, but was instead just a kid. Ender provided not an idol of something I wanted to be when I grew up, but instead an example of an intelligent, resourceful kid, who could empower me in ways that no overly muscular “He Man” or “GI Joe” character could. Card achieved this effect by portraying children as just as relevant, if not more so than adults. Throughout the book, we see time and time again that children are the real force in the book; adults may seem to manipulate and control the youths, but in the end it is the kids that hold power. This is reinforced when children save humanity. Ultimately, Ender showed me as a kid an example of children embodying genius and compassion. Ender made me feel like greatness and adventure can be obtained through intelligence and fortitude, and to some extend influenced who I am to this date.

Re reading Enders Game, I find myself both reminiscing upon the story as I read it in my younger years, and also finding new attractions in its pages. One of this book’s main components that I still enjoy to this day is its discussion on games, and their relevance the youths. As the title would suggest, games are a very important occurrence in the book; from these games we learn of Ender’s morality and intellect, we see him grow and be tested, and finally end a war. The prevalence of games and their importance to the story makes me reflect upon games in the real world; their effects and relevance to society. Aside from an escape and form of entertainment, I feel as though to some extent, games test our morality and aptitude, much as they did in Ender’s game. Based upon what a gamer chooses to play, and what decisions he makes in his gaming experience, much can be learned of a person. Much like in the game, furthermore, I feel like technology is starting to blur the lines between fiction and reality. The best example I can bring up is a modern first person sim, grand theft auto 4. I am by no means squeamish in regards to blood or violence, I’ve been brought up with violent media my entire life. When I played this game, however, for the first time, I was frightened by the realism. For the first time in my life, as I pulled the trigger of a sawn of shotgun, dispatching an innocent pedestrian, I felt the nausea and panic that can only be associated with guilt. I have to wonder that in the future, when advances in graphics plateau, games will become so close to reality that destroying life in virtual reality can be seen as crime or sin, and not entertainment.

Troll Bridge

Troll Bridge defied my expectations. I clicked its link on the spec lit resource page anticipating a fantasy story. I’ve never been particularly fond of the fantasy genre to be honest, I don’t see the appeal of reading literature focused on unimaginative make believe creatures. I’ve fantasy story or film I’ve encountered has more or less rehashed the same story with the same classes of creatures. Elves and dwarves and goblins and trolls clash or form alliances. In the end, I’m rarely surprised by a work of fantasy; the stories all feel a bit formulaic.

Troll Bridge, however, seems to satirize the convention of fantasy. While it satirizes fantasy elements, it also utilizes fantasy to communicate themes complete unnasociated with the genre. The major theme prevalent in Toll Bridge is the notion that the world is constantly in flux, and when we age we may not recognize the land of tomorrow.

Terry Pratchett tells the story of a Hero, and his talking horse, and a Troll. I was expecting a formulaic battle between the heroic humanoid and the evil Troll, but thankfully Pratchett took this story in a new direction. We learn that the Troll is not evil, but down on his luck, working a dead end job with a wife who does not support him and a son that doesn’t respect his traditions. Instead of clashing with the hero, the troll is excited that Cohen the Barbarian (a pun of Conan the Barbarian perhaps?) would choose him to slaughter. The Troll quickly realizes, that the hero no longer slays trolls to make the world a safer place, but instead robs them of their treasure to sustain himself.

As both the hero and troll realize the way that times have changed, the two halt their confrontation to conversate on the state of the modern world. We find out that the old ways by which the hero and troll still live are antiquated, and the land of magic and danger is being commercialized. It’s a sad realization for both, the two characters lament on the loss of tradition. The story concludes with the hero, much closer to death than youth, pays the Troll for the whereabouts of several other creatures who have abandoned and bastardized their heritage. We are left with a sentiment of steadfast determination as the aging hero sets off to slay a few more trolls, not due to their threat to humanity, but for their threat to tradition.

The Devil Plant

The Devil Plant was short, and twisted; two things that I rather enjoy in a short story. This tale is one of revenge and foliage. Lyle Wilson has taken the timeless tale of violent retribution, and added a relatively contemporary twist; the concept of violent, almost anthropomorphized plant. This idea was made famous in the 1960’s film The Little Shop of Horrors. The two stories are remarkably similar, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that The Little Shop of Horrors is either based upon, or a parody of The Devil Plant. In both the short story and the b-movie, the protagonist allows an almost sentient plant to feed upon human flesh. The main differences between the two are that in Devil Plant, the tree isn’t exactly sentient; his consumption of human flesh is less of a conscious decision and more of an impulse or reaction.

I enjoyed this short story. Aside from being the forerunner of the man eating plant idea, this story also delvers a compelling tale of revenge. The protagonist is beset upon at every turn by his childhood friend, Silvela. The two are supposed to be friends, and yet we see Silvela commit numerous atrocities towards the main character for his own personal gain. Twice Silvela uses his genius to befriend the establishment that our protagonist owe his allegiance to, and then profits at the expense of this establishment, getting away without any notice by incriminating the protagonist. If this isn’t enraging enough, after destroying the protagonist’s career and reputation in two different continents, Silvela proceeds to follow our hero to Australia, and steal the love of his life from him. I was genuinely angered that Silvela, a man who is supposed to be our hero’s friend, would apparently go out of his way to seek out the protagonist, and ruin his life wherever he travels. By the end of Devil plant, I desperately want to see Silvela brought to some form of justice. This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed this story so much; there is a great back story that establishes a simple but powerful relationship between the two characters. We then get the buildup wherein we know Silvela will soon meet his demise. Finally, the viewer (and protagonist), may enjoy the gruesome death of the unscrupulous Silvela

Dark City

I found Dark City a rather memorable film. The movies paranoid, dark mood had me intrigued and on edge for the entire film. Dark City had a completely distinct feeling to me, one that I felt did a great job to accentuate the movie’s themes and characters. Throughout the film, we are left with the notion that something isn’t right in this world. In the beginning, we aren’t told explicitly that there is something sinister happening underneath it all, but we still have the feeling that everything is a touch off kilter. As the movie progresses, we learn with the main protagonist the truth of the dark city; that this land of perpetual night is nothing more than an experiment orchestrated by a dying alien race. We find out that the main form of control the aliens possess over their lab rats is that their memories and therefore identities are swapped out daily; the result is that no one is an individual, ever man and woman in the city is a part of a part of a collective, ever-changing identity. What is interesting about this is that the aliens, in their pursuit to pin down the human soul, have turned humanity into a dumbed down version of themselves; everyone is a part of a collective hive mind, yet they may only access the memories allocated to them from the larger pool.

One aspect of this film I found enjoyable was certain individual’s dawning realization that something is horribly wrong in the city. We see several characters confronted with the notion that what they know to be truths are lies. These moments of confrontation where a character sees that everything they believe is deceit are some of the most gut wrenching aspects of the film. When the protagonist is trying to convince a detective of the nature of the world, he unleashes upon him a single paradigm shattering question “Have you ever seen the sun?”. The detective is forced to acknowledge that in this land of perpetual night, the only memories of sun he has are distant, fake recollections. I found it fascinating, in turn, that the way this film conveyed these fake memories was to show fleeting indistinct flashback, accompanied by a disturbing, alien sound que. We understand that what we are witnessing is a memory flashback, but we sense that something isn’t right with this recollection.