Monthly Archives: September 2007

And Then I Read: Matheson and Finney

Having read Matheson’s I Am Legend, as discussed previous post, and fond of patterns and linkages and serendipidous discoveries of which book I *could* read next (especially, it seems, when it confounds thought-out plans of what I *should* be reading), and perhaps also in reaction to the rather challenging effort of reading (for review in Locus Magazine) the VanderMeer/VanderMeer-edited Best American Fantasy anthology the past couple weeks, I discovered additional 1950s novels that inspired classics films and which I had never read and which I had copies of on my shelves… (Reader, always assure your nonreading friends that you will get around to reading all your books someday). And so I then read Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers — which I’d never read despite having seen three of the four film adaptations — and then back to Matheson for The Incredible Shrinking Man. (Confounding the pattern in one dimension if not another, I also read the book version of David Gerrold’s The Martian Child, since that too is the basis for an upcoming film this fall.)

Quick reactions: I couldn’t help but notice similarities between Matheson’s protagonists. Both highly emotional, given to rages of frustration and self-deprecation, both frank (if not explicit, given the times) in acknowledging their frustrated needs for female companionship (the theme is expressed passingly in The Omega Man). Especially with Shrinking Man — the character’s emotionality is just another way in which I can only imagine Isaac Asimov, if he read the book, must have rolled his eyes; the scientific plausibility, and the main character’s emotional response, are both light years away from the Asimov approach.

And so then… I discovered I had this pint-sized paperback edition of an early Finney collection, The Third Level, on my shelves. (Reader…) And so I’m now about half way through that. The surprising recurrent theme here is — the longing for the simpler past. Expressed in stories written in the early ’50s, for the era of 1894! Some things, perhaps, never change.

Recent Movie Notes

First, a recommendation for a very limited release arthouse film called The Nines (IMDB entry), which opened Labor Day Weekend in LA and NY only, but got front-page reviews in both cities’ major newspapers and so attracted my attention. It’s a three-part film, directed and written by John August (who wrote the somewhat similarly structured 1999 film Go), starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa McCarthy (in extraordinary performances) in three inter-related stories about actors, screenwriters, and video-game designers whose lives tell or include the stories of the other stories, with a conclusion (of sorts) that amounts to the film being the most metaphysically religious SF film since 2001 — sorta, in a way; I don’t want to oversell it. It’s opening in Austin the end of this month, and I’ve alerted Locus Online‘s crack reviewing team Howard & Lawrence, but whether they get around to seeing it, or liking it, or actually submitting a review, I have no way of guaranteeing.

Second, I endorse the current release The Bourne Ultimatum, a dazzling spy thriller, one of those films that as you’re seeing it impresses you as being surely the best film of its type ever released, even if afterward you can’t quite piece together all the plot threads. (But at the time, every scene seems perfectly clear…)

And third, just today I saw David Cronenberg’s latest film, Eastern Promises, starring Viggo Mortensen (who also starred in Cronenberg’s previous film, The History of Violence) and Naomi Watts, in a complex and subtle (one or two excruciatingly violent scenes aside, including the much-discussed 4-minute knife fight in a Russian bath house with Viggo in the nude) drama about the Russian mafia in London and the hospital mid-wife who delivers the baby of one of its victims. The coolest part of seeing the film was seeing it at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood — a state-of-the-art multiplex with ushers, assigned seating, and *no commercials*, built around the famous Cinerama Dome — which seems to have become the prestige theater for new releases in LA. To wit– the lobby today had a display of costumes and props from the film, including Naomi’s motorcycle outfit and 3 versions of the prop diary whose translation is a key plot point.

Fourth, I was perusing the upcoming film schedule and noticed the Will Smith version of I Am Legend — whose trailer I’ve already seen at least once — based on a book I hadn’t read, and whose previous film versions I hadn’t seen. So… Did I have a copy of the book? Why, yes I did — a 1979 Berkley paperback, in fact, sitting on my shelves all these years, unread. So when I should have been reading other things this past week, or catching up on e-mail and posting updates the site, I read through Richard Matheson’s short novel, and finally understood what the title means. And then I Netflixed The Omega Man, the Charlton Heston “cult film” (according to various descriptions) based on the novel, from 1971, and watched that. I can only report the extraordinary lack of fidelity between the film and source novel (not that I was surprised), though the scenes at the beginning of Charlton screeching his cars through a deserted downtown LA were cool. After that, the film was unbearably cheesey, especially the the music, vaguely militaristic and recognizably pre-disco, overlaid at random, it seemed, regardless of the dramatic significance of any particular scene. About the white makeup and black hoods of the ‘family’, nothing need be said…

Except that I was impressed by Matheson’s original novel — which explicitly calls victims of the plague vampires, and goes to a considerable extent to rationalize the idea of vampires, the historical plagues that might be attributed to them, in scientific terms. Of course, none of that was evident in the 1971 film. I wonder what the Will Smith version will do…

Rambling as I watch the Emmys. But I should wrap up; there seems to be some breaking news…

Hugos Reaction

I’m generally pleased with the results of the Hugo Awards. (As it turned out, the results were out on the web before I could even check my e-mail, very early last Saturday morning.) Especially for Robert Reed, an exceptional and under-recognized author, in spite of his prolificity, for a story that happened to be my favorite in the category anyway. I did manage to finish reading not only all the Hugo nominated novels before the results were announced, but also all the stories in the short fiction categories, the last few of which I only read last week. Reed was my favorite novella; and McDonald my favorite novelette (though Ryman was close). I’m afraid I also liked Reed in the short story category, though I liked Tim Pratt’s story a lot too and am pleased to see him snatch the award from the obvious favorite Neil Gaiman (whose story I also liked). It was a decent ballot this year; the only fiction nomination that made my furrow my eyebrow being Mike Resnick’s novelette, which struck as a completely competent story that could have appeared in a 1950s issue of Galaxy Magazine. (Really, was there anything in it that couldn’t have been written 50 years ago?)

I’m gathering from a couple email tipsters that the Hugo boffins have submitted an amendment to establish the Best Website category as a permanent one, subject to some sort of constraint that eligible sites must archive contents in their original forms, so that voters can fairly judge the website etc etc. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out…

It’s been HOT here in Southern California, especially in my neck of the woods, that is Woodland Hills, which had the honor of being singled out in an article last week in the Los Angeles Times about micro-climates, how the temperature can be 75 F along the coast at Malibu, and fully 40 degrees higher (yes, that would be 115 F) just 12 miles north in… Woodland Hills. (But it’s — really, it is — a dry heat.)

Imminent Posts

I have updates to the website for the September issue of Locus Magazine ready to post, having compiled them over the past couple hours, and now wouldn’t you know it, the site itself seems to be down, as is http://www.hostingsupport.com/ (where I file complaints) and http://www.cihost.com/ itself, which also means I can’t download any e-mail (the last incoming was an hour ago).

Hopefully that will clear up soon — if my calculations are correct, the Hugo Awards will be announced very early in the morning on Saturday, my time, and I’m planning to post them as soon as I can find them, or anyone sends them to me.

Also, September banner ads on the homepage are ready to post. Blogger, host of this blog, is entirely separate and working just fine, enabling me to write this post…. If the problem with locusmag.com clears up soon enough, I may delete it…

Update 7:30 local time: connection issues cleared; new issue pages posted….