Skip to content →

Category: Books

Game of Thrones has nothing to say about rape, continues to say it very badly & loudly

There are many choices that need to be made when adapting a book into a TV show or movie. Some things work on the page but not on the screen, and some things simply need to be cut for time. This goes quadruple for a series of books as massive as Game of Thrones – the sheer volume of characters and subplots would render any adaptation a confusing mess. For the most part, HBO’s Game of Thrones has made a lot of smart choices, paring down the cast of characters and streamlining some of the stories. We can quibble about what has or hasn’t worked – someone like Shae gets more character development, while poor Melisandre is stripped of her complexity – but we can agree that some changes are necessary.

Having said all that, it’s hard to imagine that someone would read George R.R. Martins’ books and come to the conclusion that the audience needs to see even more rape and cruelty.

Comments closed

Game of Thrones 2.4: Bad Boys

I’m not a terribly squeamish person when it comes to violence in my entertainment. I’ve seen a lot of Takashi Miike films, I’ve read American Psycho, and I enjoy some brutal violence and gushing blood when it’s presented the right way. I don’t think any behaviour or act is truly out of bounds in fiction, though its relevance or usefulness to any given story may be questionable. I’m a fan of chasing characters into trees and then throwing rocks at them – whether physical or emotional – because that’s where drama  and character development happen.

Comments closed

Game of Thrones’ Women Troubles

If you set your story in a medieval-style world, are you obligated to treat your female characters like crap?

This is the question Game of Thrones struggles with, both on page and on screen. Westeros is unquestionably a male-dominated world, but George R.R. Martin has created more intelligent and interesting female characters than the average fantasy author, and for the most part he manages to treat characters of all genders terribly at one point or another.


The Girl Who was More Interesting than Anyone Else in the Story

Early in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is introduced as a brilliant investigator. A consultant at a prestigious security firm, she turns routine background checks into exposes of corruption and depravity. She may be seriously anti-social, but she’s a whiz with a computer and fiercely tenacious when she finds a subject that interests her. Throw in her mysterious past and take-no-shit attitude, and the reader (or viewer) is quickly faced with a troubling question: Why should anyone care about Mikael Blomkvist?

(Amusing anecdote: I had to look up what his name was to write that sentence.)

Blomkvist, of course, is a crusading left-wing journalist in a book written by a crusading left-wing journalist, so that at least explains his presence in the story. But he only ever seems to serve two purposes in the book:

  1. He reminds the audience it’s important to be ethical;
  2. Women want to have sex with him.
Comments closed

If Nikolski had a face, I would punch it

I am a bad literary Canadian.

Of the hundreds of books in my apartment, a scant few were written by Canadian authors. Many of those I have are leftovers from a Canadian Literature course I took ten years ago, and another two are Margaret Atwood books I bought with the best of intentions but still relegated to the shelf unread.

I’m not sure why this is. Part of it is probably due to the Canadian publishing industry being fairly small. Part of it – and perhaps it’s unfair – is my impression that “Canadian Literature” often tends to feel like it’s about history, geography, and the overall experience of being Canadian.

It’s not personal. Maybe I’m just ignorant.

But Canada Reads comes along, and I think, okay, maybe I can give something a shot. And Nicolas Dickner’s Nikolski doesn’t seem like the traditional, stereotypical Canlit. The back cover promises “garbage-obsessed archaeologists, pirates … sea snakes, several very large tuna fish, an illiterate deep-sea diver, a Commodore 64…”

Really, it had me at Commodore 64. I was ready to engage with Canadian Literature. I was eager, even.
When I got to page nine, I wanted to throw the book across the room. I wanted to punch Nicolas Dickner in the face, or at least say unpleasant things about his mother.

Have you ever met someone and taken an instant, possibly irrational, dislike to them? Perhaps it’s the particular pitch of their voice, or the way they laugh, or maybe they say one single stupid thing when you first meet. They could be a perfectly lovely person, friendly and intelligent and interesting, but it doesn’t matter: You hate them anyway. You hate them every time you see them, and you want to stab yourself with a fork every time someone else appears to enjoy their company.

Nikolski is that guy. It may mean well and be a perfectly adequate book, but I will always hate it with a consuming passion.

The first chapter of Nikolski finds the narrator sorting his deceased mother’s belongings and coming across several old diaries. He learns the story of her move from Quebec to Vancouver and her attempts to learn English and start a new life. After five years, she found herself pregnant, and returned home.

My mother bought a train ticket to Montreal, and we crossed the continent in reverse, she curled up in her seat, me nestled in the depths of her uterus, an imperceptible comma in an as yet unwritten novel.

“An imperceptible comma in an as yet unwritten novel?”  Seriously?

It would be one thing if it were supposed to sound stupid. If the tone were overtly comedic, as opposed to merely quirky, I might have let it pass. But it’s not supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to be clever. It’s so adorably clever, you can’t help but be struck by how clever and adorable it is.

Look, I like clever. I even like adorable sometimes. If Oscar Wilde’s brain were to be cloned and implanted into a puppy, I would be all over it.

But cleverness always appears less clever when it is shouted boldly from the rooftops. It begins to grate when it is plastered on billboards. And it is insufferably agonizing when it launches its own cable television station.

Yes, I know it’s only one sentence. But it is a sentence that I truly loathe. I hate ascribing motivation to authors, but it feels so desperately calculated to appear intelligent and literary. Perhaps it’s not that deliberate, and it’s just a phrase Dickner liked beyond reason. But it’s still a linguistic baby that should have been smothered in the crib in a much earlier draft.

To be fair, it may not be Nicolas Dickner’s fault. He wrote Nikolski in French, and perhaps that sentence is less irritating in Dickner’s mother tongue. Maybe I really want to punch translator Lazer Lederhendler.

(I have conflicting feelings on this front. On the one hand, I really fucking hate that sentence. On the other, Lazer is a very cool name. He should be a character in Tron. )

Maybe I’m being silly. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’d enjoy Nikolski if I gave it a second chance.

But sometimes, you’ve got to trust your first impressions. And while I can admit that I probably shouldn’t follow through on my immediate reaction to Nikolski and go about punching authors and/or translators, there are some things you just can’t put behind you.

I’m sorry, Nikolski. We can never be friends.

One Comment

Margaret Atwood pisses me off

In general terms, I like Margaret Atwood. She’s not my favourite author by any stretch – I’ve only ever finished one of her books, the wonderful Handmaid’s Tale – but I respect an author who’s diverse, seemingly willing to write whatever she feels like without being bound in by audience expectations. The fact she’s a successful Canadian author is a nice bonus. The Longpen may be kind of weird, and she’s a bit odd in general, but I can respect that.

But sometimes, it appears she’s kind of a dick.

Take, for example, this interview in the Globe and Mail about her new novel, The Year of the Flood. The article describes the novel thusly:

In the post-apocalyptic future Toby inhabits, maggots are both food and medicine. Indeed they are one of the few wholly benign creatures left in a world teeming with the misbegotten results of genetic tinkering – Day-Glo sheep, pigs with human brain power and dangerous “liobams” created by a literal-minded religious cult determined to make the lion lie down with the lamb.

Survival is no metaphor in The Year of the Flood. It is the immediate priority of all humanity – at least the fraction that survives the flood in question, called “waterless” by the fictional cultists who predicted it. Atwood describes the event as something like a worldwide outbreak of the Ebola-Marburg virus, producing “a hemorrhagic, dissolve-from-the-inside kind of fever.”

And yet, the Globe points out, Atwood insists it’s not a science fiction novel.

“Science fiction takes place “somewhere in space, far, far away in a distant galaxy,” she explains. … But “speculative fiction” of the sort she writes deals strictly with things people can experience on Earth “without being stoned,” she says. “It has to be based on real technology, real science, real possibility.”

Now, I can appreciate the desire of an author to avoid a genre label. Write the book you want to write, and let others decide in which category it belongs. And I suppose I can even understand wanting to avoid being stuck in a genre ghetto – science fiction books seldom win major awards or rack up the huge sales of a “literary” novel.

But this is just silly. I understand when someone says they don’t consider Star Wars to be “science fiction”, as there’s very little science in it. But Atwood seems to be going off in a completely different direction – unless there’s no basis for the existence of other planets in “science”? One wonders what Atwood might think of Alastair Reynolds, who writes stories about adventures in far-off outer space that nonetheless have a very strong basis in science thanks to a career spent working for the European Space Agency. Instead, her definition of science fiction as “fiction in which things happen that are not possible today” would seem to rule out any associations with the Reynolds or Iain M Banks of the world, and set her books on the shelf next to Terminator.

Now, I can get behind a label like “speculative fiction”, since it’s much broader and open to more diverse interpretations. But when you get right down to it, to “speculate” merely means to engage in thought or reflection, which would seem to cover a great deal of fiction.

Atwood clearly doesn’t want to be restrained by labels, but she’s labelling herself with her outright rejection of labels. It’s one thing to call your book what you like, but entirely another to reject others’ descriptions of it, particularly when those descriptions make rather a good deal of sense.

One Comment

Other Things that are Awesome

A brief summary of things that have been awesome over the last few weeks. Not all of these things are fucking awesome, but they are nonetheless pretty darn cool.

  • The Complete Six Feet Under. I bought this after Christmas (I had a coupon – save $15 on a $250 box set! How could I afford not to buy it?), despite not having seen most of the series before. It’s such a great, twisted show with black humour and characters who are quite frequently entirely unlikeable. Everyone’s just so totally fucked up. Like real life, only moreso.
  • The Other Side: The final issue of Cameron Stewart & Jason Aaron’s Vietnam minseries came out last week, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, if “thoroughly enjoyed” can be applied to what is ultimately a dark and depressing story. It’s true that the themes and ideas have been done before, but while Aaron doesn’t have a lot that is truly new to say, he does say what he has to say very, very well. Cameron Stewart’s art is amazing – while the story holds its own, Stewart sells it completely with the perfect mix of black humour, reality, and horror. A surprisingly excellent book. Aaron’s other book, Scalped is showing some potential after two issues, but is not quite awesome just yet. Nonetheless, it’s something worth checking out; just go for The Other Side first.
  • Dinosaur Comics. Because it makes no sense whatsoever. My favourite webcomic, by leaps and bounds.
  • Curses, by Kevin Huizenga. My most-excellent girlfriend got me this for a Valentine’s gift, quite fortuitous since I kept meaning to buy it. Huizenga’s got a simple style – there’s a blurb on the back comparing him to Hergé, of Tintin fame – but his stories are quite dark and surreal, and have something of a modern, slightly more absured Kafka feel. I’m only halfway through the book, and it definitely requires re-reading, but so far it’s quite excellent.
  • Absolute New Frontier. I really should have written a full post about this by now, but let’s just say that it’s exactly as awesome as everyone has said. Darwyn Cooke’s look at the birth of DC’s Silver Age heroes is reverential of the era and characters without being mired in the past, a story full of conflict, betrayal, and cynicism that’s nonetheless rooted in the very best of the superhero genre: Heroism. It builds slowly, with a huge cast, but it all comes together beautifully. Along the way, there are many wonderful moments, both big and small. And the Absolute format is gorgeous: This is the way great comics are meant to be read.
  • Alastair Reynolds. Technically a person, not a thing, that is awesome, Reynolds writes big-time, hard-core sci-fi novels. (Having used up my reserve of hyphens in that sentence, there will be no more for the rest of this post.) I’ve just started Absolution Gap, the final volume of his trilogy (that’s really a quadrilogy) about what’s been causing all these extraterrestrial extinctions that keep being discovered. He occasionally gets too big: I got halfway through Redemption Arc and thought “My God, isn’t it over yet?” Not because it’s a bad book, but just out of sheer exhaustion. And sometimes he gets bogged down in the scientific details, but that’s probably to be expected: He is an actual scientist, after all. Still, an amazing author with a fantastic imagination and sense of scale. Revelation Space, the first volume in the series, can be a bit dry, so start with Chasm City: It’s part of the tapestry, but not entirely central to it (though there are parts of Redemption Arc that probably make no sense if you haven’t read it). Plenty of mystery and magic. Also, the standalone Pushing Ice is an entertaining read, even if the pacing gets a bit dicey in the latter half of the book.
Comments closed

Books in 2007

I don’t write about books here very much, though I’m going to try and change that. I suppose they take a lot more time, both to read and to process, than most comics and movies, and I’m very, very lazy much of the time. I also tend not to read a lot of new books – generally only my favourite authors, and even fewer than that lure me into buy a hardcover – and it feels kind of odd blogging about a book that came out two or three years ago. But whatever.

2007 already has three books I’ll be looking forward to, and will probably lure me into the bookstore soon after release:

  • Un Lun Dun, by China Mieville
  • Black Man, by Richard K. Morgan
  • Crooked Little Vein, by Warren Ellis
  • You Suck, by Chrisopher Moore. (a sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, from what I can gather)
  • English translation of After Dark, by Haruki Murakami.

Plus probably other stuff I haven’t even heard of, since I don’t pay huge attention to press and news from the literary world. Good reading ahead, and hopefully some relatively suck-free blogging)

Comments closed

I (heart) Warren Ellis

Why snark when others can do it for me? God bless Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, and Nextwave:
Nextwave Civil War

Comments closed

The Losers vol. 1 review

The Losers is the
best Hollywood summer blockbuster you’re never going to see at the local

It’s got explosions. 
It’s got gunfights.  It’s got
helicopters, airplanes, speedboats, oil tankers and armoured cars.  It’s got an eclectic cast of funny, cool and
clever characters.  It’s got daring
heists, ingenious escape plans and devious doublecrosses.  It’s The A-Team with a $200 million budget,
James Bond mixed with Ocean’s Eleven and The Usual Suspects.

You’re never going to see it on the big screen – at least,
not the way it’s meant to be seen – because there’s simply not a director in
Hollywood cool enough to pull it all off. 
Perhaps James Cameron could have made a good run at it before he became
obsessed with antiques at the bottom of the Atlantic.  Robert Rodriguez would have been a good
choice if he hadn’t made so many bad movies after Desperado.  If you could somehow combine the genes of
Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, you might just have
yourself a director who’s up to the job.

But really, why worry about the adaptation when can have the
real thing in your hands?  Writer Andy
Diggle and artist Jock have produced an action-packed spectacle that will draw
you in and have you pushing your copy on all your non-comics-reading friends
telling them they’re going to love it. 
And you’ll be right.

The Losers used to
be a special ops military unit doing dirty work for the CIA.  Cool-as-ice Clay is the leader; there’s also the
hyperkinetic techie and conman Jensen, all-purpose getaway man Pooch,
hard-nosed Roque and taciturn sniper Cougar. 
They’re a motley bunch – hence the name – but are damned good at doing
all the things people aren’t supposed to be good at.  Then something happened in Afghanistan – we
don’t learn what, or when – to make them re-think their allegiances.  This didn’t go over with their Agency bosses,
who tried to have them killed, and succeeded as far as the paperwork was

So now they’re officially dead, and if they show their faces
in the wrong places, they’ll be really officially dead.  They’re faced with a fairly daunting task:
Take revenge on the CIA and get their names off the “Death List”.  They have the advantage of being familiar
with many of the dirty tricks the CIA are involved in, and decide to turn them
to their advantage for both profit and blackmail. 

First up is stealing a package that’s being transported
under very heavy guard in an armoured car. 
That requires a helicopter, and walking into Crazy Al’s Discount
Helicopter’s just isn’t going to cut it. 
Diggle weaves the plot with the intricacies of a master craftsman,
giving us Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3 before finally telling us what it’s all
supposed to accomplish.  When he does,
you’re left shaking your head in amazement because it all makes perfect sense
and you wish you had the brains to plan a job like that, either in fiction or
in real life.

From there, it’s on to oil tankers, insurance offices,
computer hacking, illegal drugs and arms shipments and ruthless CIA
hit-squads.  Telekinesis is used to
escape a tricky situation (or is it?) and an innocent marlin falls victim to an
M-16 assault rifle.  There’s a place for
gasoline, magnets, a game of paintball and a catastrophically destructive MOAB
bomb.  The plot twists and turns like a
rattlesnake on acid as plans fall apart and are replaced instantaneously with
even more brilliant plans. 

The Losers are
joined in their schemes by Aisha, a veteran of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan
who’s working for the CIA.  Her
motivation for helping them is kept to herself, but there’s no question she’s a
handy to have around when you find yourself in a tight corner – as long as
she’s not just there to double cross the team when the moment is right.  She’s all business, but still provides one of
the book’s best comedic moments when she tells the super-suave and
ever-so-slightly egotistical Jensen about her hobbies.  Diggle’s got the knack for inserting clever
quips and repartee at all the right moments, fitting them in amongst the
automatic weapons fire but never detracting from the very serious fact that
people are occasionally being shot in the head.

The killer script is brought to life by artist Jock.  Now, before you even open the book, you
notice two great things about Jock. 
First, the covers are beautiful; they’re dynamic and distinctive,
playing nicely with Vertigo’s willingness to move the titles and logos
around.  Second, his name is Jock.  How cool is that?  Jim Lee, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr. and
John Cassady may all be jim-dandy artists, but their names aren’t even three
fifths as cool.  So Jock’s off to a great
start and he hasn’t even drawn a panel yet.

The panels in question live up to both Jock’s covers and his
name.  It appears moody and dark by
default, occasionally reminding one of Mike Mignola’s work.  But when the occasion calls for it – and
occasion calls so frequently it should have its own private line – Jock turns
in great action sequences.  People’s
insides splatter about just so when repeatedly punctured by automatic weapons
fire, and the full-page shot of Aisha with her grenade launcher will knock your
socks off – and that’s before you realize what she’s shooting it at.  Jock’s personalized all the characters a
great deal, and it’s obvious both he and Diggle have an affinity for
Jensen.  In the theoretical The Losers movie, Jensen would be the
guy who’s not quite the main character, but still manages to steal the
spotlight whenever he’s on screen. 
Jock’s weak points are few and far between; occasionally Roque &
Clay become indistinguishable when shadows or angles prevent the showing of
Roque’s scars.  And every now and then,
Jock seems to skip a panel, as though he and Diggle are so in synch that he
forgets everybody else hasn’t already read the script.

DC is giving The
quite a bit of support by producing a trade so soon after the
original issues were out. (Issue 6 was just released in November) This is a
book that deserves its proper place in the spotlight alongside such Vertigo
heavy-hitters like 100 Bullets, Y The Last Man and Fables.  It’s a safe bet that you’ve never read
anything quite like it in a comic book, and it’s probably just as safe to say
that many people have no idea a comic book can be so cool and exciting.  Buy a copy for yourself.  Loan it out to all your friends.  You’ll love it, they’ll love it, they’ll love
you for making them love it. 

And then, in a couple years, when Hollywood makes a watered-down,
lacklustre version with a big but wasted budget and casts Jennifer Lopez in the
role of an Afghan freedom fighter, you’ll be so much cooler and informed when
you tell people that it doesn’t even hold a candle to the original.

Comments closed