Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2001: A Space Odyssey

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Rock Hudson famously stormed out of a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, muttering "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?"

When I first saw the film in college I had a similar, but slightly different experience. I famously dozed off in the third act, snoring away in the college library. But if someone had invented a translator that took snores and fashioned them into words, it would have said, "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?"

I only sort of got it. Maybe if I'd managed to stay awake I would have understood better. When it came time to write my paper on the subject, I had to search the internet for other people's opinions about the film. I knew it had something to do with evolution, but it was such a stretch for me to figure out.

So I approached the reading of Arthur C. Clarke's book with a lot of wariness. I needn't have worried. This is an interesting book, and for those of you who despised the film like I did, it will transform your experience into something much more palatable.

The book, a commemorative edition published in time for the actual year of 2001, started with a prologue by Arthur C. Clarke. He recalls the writing of the book, which, I didn't realize, was written in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick as the film was being made. It wasn't done in the usual fashion of screen adaptations where an already produced text is adapted for the screen. Because of this, there are several variations between the book and the film, but all in all it's pretty much the same story.

The difference between the two is that the book actually explains things with exposition and dialogue and all that fun stuff, where the film just shows a picture of someone's face and plays classical music, and leaves you in the dark as to what was actually going on.

Now I admit, I'm not particularly intelligent. I'm not a boorish moron, but I'm not the smartest guy either. I've already related some of what I thought about the book to a friend at work, and he voiced the opinion that I was in fact stupid, and the film was completely clear and understandable to him. So maybe the rest of you reading this (as if anyone was) agree with him, and can't stand my simpleton stumblings. I'll be the first to admit that I'm surely an idiot.

But, if you are an idiot like me, and didn't get the film at all, check out the book. It's a pretty good read. Most of the story is vastly more interesting when there is a little more given to you to work with.

For example, I wanted to pull my hair out during the sequence that involved the man-apes and their prehistoric struggle to evolve. It was awful to sit through. In the book, however, it was my favorite part. I could probably have read an entire book about the man-apes and been satisfied with that.

The other parts are much more interesting as well. From the trip to Jupiter (which is actually to Saturn in the book, they bailed on Saturn in the film because the special effects crew couldn't make decent looking rings), to HAL9000's descent into madness, to (most of all) the end sequence where Dave Bowman takes his step forward in evolution, there is so much more to be understood and enjoyed.

Now, it's not a perfect book for sure. As is the way with many of the Sci-fi grand masters, there's a lot of slow moving sections where the story stops to discuss, analyze, and postulate on the science, or worse, to explain in exhaustive detail how some invention of theirs is supposed to work. But for the most part, it's a lot of fun, and it really served me well by taking a classic masterpiece in film, and making it accessible to me at last.

Up next: Well, I take a step in a different direction. I'm going to read Eoin Colfer's YA novel Artemis Fowl. Sometimes it's nice to eat dessert along with all those meat and potatoes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


I really enjoyed this one. I've become a bit of a connoisseur (is that the right word, probably not since I think it implies that I know a little something about it, which I don't) of juvenile and young adult fiction. It's got a lot to do with the fact that my kids have reached that age, and it also has a lot to do with the fact that juvenile and young adult fiction seems to be the stuff that is exploding the most in the consciousness of the public these days, probably due mostly to Harry Potter's eye opening success.

Recently, though, I've read a fair amount of juvenile and young adult fiction. I read to my kids when I put them to bed as often as I can manage, which sadly is something like once every two weeks or less. I've been getting the opportunity to read books that I never got around to reading myself when I was a kid. I never read a full novel until I was about fourteen or so, so I missed a lot of good stuff. Right now, me and the kids are working our way through The Mouse And The Motorcycle.

I listened to The Graveyard Book with the thought of whether my kids would like it or not. Writing a book for kids that's about ghosts, ghouls, witches and killers is asking for it really. My kids are a timid sort, but they're not alone in that category. There's a lot of scaredy-cat kids out there. I once thought my oldest son was a bit of a wimp, but I've met some serious, no holds barred wimps in my days as a dad, which have made me realize that my son is not as bad as I once thought.

The Graveyard Book has scary parts, but if you can handle a Harry Potter novel, then you can handle The Graveyard Book. It was enjoyable for me, from beginning to end. Like many juvenile books, it was more like a collection of short stories about the same character than an actual novel. We follow the adventures of Nobody Owens as he is raised by the denizens of a graveyard. The short story-like chapters, follow Bod, as he likes to be called, from childhood to almost adulthood. It's a very different format than what you get from most adult novels, but I liked it all the same.

My only gripes were these...(by the way, if you haven't read the book, I'd skip the gripes, because they are spoiler-ific, but I had to say them, when I say, "END OF SPOILERS" it's safe to read again).

1. Bod's ghost parents are just not important characters in the book. They aren't involved in much of anything. It was all about his guardian, Silas. When the end came, and Bod said goodbye to his mother in a scene that was supposed to be touching, it felt completely hollow to me. Who was this woman? His mother? I don't remember hearing much about her the whole book through. I felt about as much when Optimus Prime mourned the death of Jazz in the first Transformers crap-stravaganza.

2. I was very disappointed with the way Scarlett was written out of the book. After meeting her as a five-year old, and then bringing her back as a teenager, she suddenly and unceremoniously runs out, moves back to Glasgow and that's that. It was not at all satisfying. It would have been better not to bring her back at all, instead introducing some new female to play her part in the second part.

END OF SPOILERS

It's safe to read again, but I don't really have much more to say. I recommend this book. I liked it even better than the last Hugo-winning Neil Gaiman novel I read. Even adults, who aren't necessarily its target audience, would enjoy this book. So if you haven't read it yet, check it out. Get the audio book, by the way, Neil Gaiman reads it himself, and of all the author's I've ever heard reading their work, he is by far, and I really mean by far, the best. He gives professional audio book readers a run for their money.

Up next? Back to the hard SF. Arthur C. Clark's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I hope this is better than the film, or you may never hear my review of it, because I will have fallen asleep at the wheel of my car, crashed, and died. I fell asleep two separate times trying to watch the film, luckily I was parked on a couch for that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween IV

My favorite Pixar movie of all.This is my friend's kid. When I saw him come out in his costume, I had to get a picture and share it. The best part is the tail in the back. When he walks...or waddles as he tended to do in this bulky costume, the tail wiggled back and forth.

Sharkbait, ooh ha ha.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween III

My son came home the other night with a bag chock full of teeth-rotting candy. But you remember how it is, there's always that one house (or several), that take it upon themselves to save the children by handing out something more healthy. Sometimes it's a granola bar, sometimes it's worse.

This year, my son came home with the ultimate. One house he visited was handing out...

wait for it...

cans of pinto beans.I felt bad for my son, those cans are heavy, and they only get heavier as the night wears on. I probably would have ditched it if I were him, but he dutifully brought it home. I suppose it was worth the effort just to be able to prove to people that someone was actually handing that out.

Maybe soon, we'll include it in a pot of homemade chili. I can already smell the farts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween II

While trick-or-treating this Halloween, someone gave my kids each a cup of hot chocolate at one of the houses. Is this as strange and anachronistic to you as it is to me? I was a small child when the idea of giving out homemade treats to children became taboo. I'm willing to bet that there is no actual incidents of people poisoning treats for kids, but all the same, that's the fear that disallowed homemade treats for good. That and the possible razor blade (or something like that) in the caramel apple. But all the old ladies that were holding out on that have died. It hasn't been okay to give out homemade treats since 1987, maybe even earlier. But here we are in 2009, and there's someone still doing it? Weird, just weird.

It turns out that this kind of thing is in fact dangerous, too. Because my youngest daughter received her cup from this house, turned around and said, "Daddy, look, I got hot chocolate," and promptly fell down the cement stairs that led up to this house's front porch. She spilled the hot chocolate all over her costume, and banged her leg up pretty good too. She cried for several minutes, running her clown make-up all over her face, and the good folks that lived at that house had to fetch a band-aid to placate her. Trick-or-treating didn't last much longer after that either--her spirit had been broken by the fall.

Strangely, at the end of the night, as we were driving back to our house, my wife asked the kids what their favorite part of the night was, and sprinkled into the other two kids responses was my daughter saying her favorite part was falling down the stairs. Huh?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween

I've never been so scared on Halloween before. Without consulting me, my wife and my youngest daughter decided that this year she would dress as...a clown.

I'm afraid to wake up in the middle of the night tonight, and find her standing next to my bed in full make-up staring at me.

Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.