Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Ian Watson, Miracle Visitors (1978)


Or, Ian Watson, Critical Thoughts Part II (Part I is here).

Well, Miracle Visitors is superb. The story seems simple enough: comely young Michael Peacocke is abducted by a sexy alien in a glowing UFO over the Yorkshire Moors as a schoolboy; he recovers the memory of this encounter only later, under hypnosis by John Deacon, a scientist working with a ‘Consciousness Research Group’ at the ‘University of Granton’. Deacon becomes convinced that he has developed a new explanation for the larger UFO phenomenon, as a new mode of human consciousness rather than as actual alien spaceships from other stars; and investigating further he himself starts to see unidentified objects—a flying monster, a glowing ball of light that visits his house and decapitates his pet dog, and various other things. Deacon, Peacocke and an ex-USAF pilot called Shriver who specialises in hunting UFOs find themselves following an increasingly complicated extraterrestrial spoor: Peacocke’s girlfriend Suzie sees devils, and is harassed by some fairly incompetent Men in Black; Deacon is mysteriously transported to Egypt, where he meets a holy man; Peacocke himself is approached by bizarre-looking herbivorous aliens from Cassiopeia, who tell him that Deacon’s theories are right, UFO’s are a kind of materialised collective hallucination, or perhaps an emanation from the spiritus mundi, but that they—the Gebraudi—are not manifestations, and are rather actual EBEs, come to warn Earth of the terrible danger we are in, of which the UFO’s are a symptom. The plot and concepts involved get more complicatedly origami-folded as the book goes on—a genuinely impressive achievement, in terms of the structuring and pacing of the whole, I thought, since Watson never loses control of it. The complete novel demonstrates amazing aesthetic and conceptual coherence, despite being built around an ontology that is deliberately incoherent; repeatedly lurching adjustments of our sense of what is constituted by ‘reality’ à-la-Philip Dick, though Watson is a much better writer of English prose than PKD.

I haven’t read Ken McLeod’s Foundation article on the novel; but can only agree with him that “it's a puzzle why that novel fell off the radar”. It is a stone cold masterpiece. The thing I loved most about it, immediately upon finishing it, was the way it so boldly upended one of the major currents of SF as a mode of art—the move from uncertainty to knowledge, the problem that is solved, the engineer who draws the threads of the unknown and plaits them neatly into the Solved and the Certain. None of that shit. This is a novel that pounces upon the salient of the UFO experience in contemporary culture—its radical insolubility, the melty-crumbly nature of all the evidence deployed to back up the characters’ whacky stories.

Although, looking at it from another angle, it's not so hard to see why the novel has fallen off the radar. It denies SF fandom of many of the satisfactions many of them go to SF for. Plus UFO stories are infra dig as far as many SF bods are concerned. Certainly, many people just didn't like the book. For instance Nick Whyte (not an individual whose opinion I would carelessly discard) really hated it: “I thought this was a really silly book. Watson presents us with standard aliens out of UFO lore, combined with Jung's theory of UFO's (thus having his cake and eating it) and an Egyptian order of followers of Rūmī, and seems to take it all quite seriously and uncritically … Really one to avoid.” Now, I think this asssessment wrongheaded, but not because I disagree with its terms—on the contrary, I agree, this is a book centrally fascainted by the ‘silly’, and if Watson takes UFO lore ‘seriously’ he does so precisely in terms of its ‘silliness’.

The point, I'd say, is this: this is a novel that takes the uncertainty of the UFO experience not only as experientially radical (which I think is right) but as ontologically radical too. As Watson’s Sheikh Muradi puts it: ‘the bridge of science is supported by ninety-nine legs, which is enough for almost perfect stability—for practical purposes. There should still be another leg. Or perhaps there are already nine hundred and ninety-nine legs. There should still be another … the miracle leg, which is outside explanation.’ [93] For Muradi, this integral supercession is incarnated as an individual called ‘Khidr’—an actual, Qu'ranic Islamic individual, of course, but also a major character in the novel, actually. But the book also renders this in terms of the physics, or metaphysics, of the cosmos. It is a sort of material incompleteness theorem: ‘scientists of the very large must leave out the very tiny. Scientists of the very tiny must leave out the force that holds the stars together. This is necessary to reality. It isn’t a mere temporary shortcoming. If the whole world was known, it would cease to be’ [94]. At the novel’s end a key character is granted a vision of the nature of reality, the spatio-temporal cosmos spun out of and disappearing into the timeless non-spatial void. How does this universe sustain itself? ‘’By the split of subject from object, or observer from observed—which brought about cause and effect, and natural laws. By the indeterminacy of fundamental events. By the inaccessibility of light-years: whereby light, which allowed observation, at the same time denied it. … How did it rejoin the Void? By the very same process. For al these inaccessibilities caused a fierce suction towards ever higher patterns of organisation.’ [200-01] Watson posits the cosmos as ‘an immense simulation, of itself by itself’; I’ve come across this idea in other places, but I don’t know how many predate Miracle Visitors. On the other hand, the reason why ‘miracles’ are a needful part of this process made me wonder if the Wachowski brothers knew this novel; the two Matrix sequels play a similar conceptual game, the notion that the matrix simulation only maintains its coherence as a flawed, unbalanced equation, Canoe Reeves’ ‘the One’ being the miraculous, physical sum of the remainder of that flaw. Watson’s novel suggests that without radically inexplicable events, his titular ‘miracles’, the universe would ‘simulate itself perfectly’ and accordingly would ‘cease to be’.

I liked this very much; it strikes me as both ingenious and deep. More: the Wachowskis render their derived version of this idea in terms of kung-fu and superhero logics (the ‘excess’ that Canoe’s ‘the one’ manifests frankly supernatural abilities, what with his fists of steel and superman shenanigans). Watson reaches for a different idiom: Romanticism. This struck me as both classier, and more effective—connecting the novel to the philosophical debates of the Romantic Sublime both conceptually and formally. Peacocke’s initial UFO encounter includes various details and names from William Blake’s prophetic poetry, and the epigraph to the novel is quoted from The Four Zoas:
aghast the Children of Man
Stood on the infinite Earth & saw these visions in the air,
But many stood silent, & busied in their families.
And many said, "We see no Visions in the darksom air.
"Measure the course of that sulphur orb that lights the darksom day;
"Set stations on this breeding Earth & let us buy & sell." (1: 121-29)

Mighty was the draught of Voidness to draw Existence in. (II. 11-18)
These relate on the level of content to the things that happen in the novel, but also point to a carefully worked-through formal structure (four key characters embodying different flavours of ‘zoaic’ life, a broadly four-part narrative structure). And there are lots of specific echoes and allusions and quotations, that point in particular, and appropriately enough, to fragmentary Romanticism. Here’s a chunk of Keats’s incomplete Hyperion:
He enter’d, but he enter’d full of wrath;
His flaming robes stream’d out beyond his heels,
And gave a roar, as if of earthly fire,
That scar’d away the meek ethereal Hours
And made their dove-wings tremble. On he flared,
From stately nave to nave, from vault to vault,
Through bowers of fragrant and enwreathed light,
And diamond-paved lustrous long arcades,
Until he reach’d the great main cupola;
This also has parallels in Watson’s book, from the larger storyline—the flaring journey of a space car to the moon, to meet aliens in their brilliant cupola—to little touches: that ‘on he flared’a—the last words of Keats’s incomplete revision “The Fall of Hyperion”—are alluded to not once (the end of chapter 13 is the single sentence paragraph: ‘on she fled’, 90) but twice (‘On sped the Thunderbird’, 111). I know the Romantic period pretty well, and I spotted scores and scores of echoes and allusions like this as I read; a systematic study would surely identify many more. The point, though, is that Watson is reconfiguring the ‘sublime’ excess of Romantic poetry, formally and conceptually, as science fiction; plugging the roots of the genre (to be found, according to one, popular critical narrative, in Romantic popular-sublime Gothicism) into contemporary cultural manifestations of precisely an ontological inherent fragmentariness or incompletion. It’s refreshing. UFO narratives have long been infra dig as far as mainstream SF culture goes; perhaps because the phenomenon is so resistant to the satisfactions of scientifically rigorous closure. Watson very niftily makes a virtue of this necessity, captures the flavour of UFO cultural weirdness and harnesses it to some brilliant thought experimenting.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Hugos 2011

Isn’t it nice when our friends do well? Naturally we are pleased when friends are—to take one example—nominated for major genre awards. It’s feel-good for us, and egoboo for them! That’s win-win! There’s a pleasantly self-reinforcing aspect to this too. People tend to vote for their friends—because of course you vote for your friends (they’re your friends!) and also because just because these people are my friends doesn’t mean they don’t write excellent SF and also because ‘well, in all honesty, there are only so many days in the year, there’s far more stuff published than I could ever read, and when it comes to prioritising what I’m going to get to it’s only natural the top of my tbr pile will be taken up with stuff my friends and people I like wrote. If this means that stuff by my friends is disproportionately represented in my personal “best of” listing, hey, I’m not going to apologise for that!' So the shortlist is announced, and everybody is really pleased to see so many friends shortlisted ("Way too many friends on the ballot to shout out to all, but congratulations everyone"; "So many friends up for Hugos … that I don't know which way to turn first to send congratulations!"; "... gonna shut up now, I know and love most of the folks on this list..."). It makes us feel good, and obviously it makes the nominees feel good, and even people who know neither will surely tap-into the feel-good vibe, or else they must be some kind of Grinch-monster-misanthrope. And the neat part is that the wash of feel-good created by the announcement of the shortlist generates a sense of rightness. Everyone, or at least everyone that matters, agrees that this is a good list. It really must be be a good list; since everyone feels so good about it.

There is one problem with this, I suppose (though I feel rather dog-in-the-manger even mentioning it). The problem is its unlikeliness, in terms of statistical probability. Think objectively and ask ourselves: what are the odds that the greatest literary, critical, and visual artists of our generation also just happen to be a bunch of our friends? Of course, it’s possible; but how probable is it? Naturally, and on the other hand: think how flattering it would be to our self-esteem if we happened to be friends with all the greatest literary, critical, and visual artists of our generation! Wouldn’t that be cool? Or should I say, isn’t that cool? Excellent!

So here we are. Some years the Hugo nominees are a bunch of mostly mediocre novels, stories and films. Some years the prize picks higher calibre works—last year’s shortlist, for instance, was pretty good. This year, as it goes, I have not read all the nominated works and so, can’t make value judgements about the quality of the shortlist. Maybe Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It actually is the best critical engagement with genre published anywhere in the world in 2010. Maybe Cryoburn (fans’ snap-judgments on amazon include: ‘the return of Miles, but not at his best’; ‘Not the best in the series to date’; ‘Bujold's fourteenth Miles Vorkosigan novel. Hmm…’) really is the greatest non-realist novel published anywhere on the planet last year. I can’t say. And, actually, now that I have stepped away from the notion that the Hugos exist to celebrate the best in global SF, and instead see them a much happier, friendlier exercise in in-group reinforcement, I find I don’t especially care either. Congratulations to all the nominees!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Ian Watson, The Very Slow Time Machine (1979)


Google search on this title (surely Watson's most famous short story) and the top hit is this Everything Is Nice post, wherein Martin Lewis praises the piece as a time-travel story that, unusually for the sub-genre, 'isn't redundant'. Then he wonders what happened to Watson; and various people pitch-in (myself included) in the comments, airing various theories. The upshot: Watson is a very good writer who's not as well known as he ought to be.

Anyway: this is his first-published collection of short fiction. I picked it up, along with the novel Miracle Visitors (1978), second hand, though for more than the 27p (see the Woolworth's sticker on the front there? Remember Woolworths?) at which it was originally retailed. I enjoyed reading it very much, although the stories have a strange, rather abrupt, jejune quality to them. Actually, no: jejune is too pejorative a term. I'm trying to put my finger on a particular quality, or flavour, this collection has. Many of these pieces read as ideas or images oriented in the direction of stories, surprisingly potent and memorable but without conventional follow-through. A couple of the pieces have the shape of more standard-issue stories; which is to say, characters, narrative, premise, build-up, climax and so on. But, oddly, those are the less satisfying ones (the Aztec-sacrifice-in-dystopian-urban-future yarn 'Thy Blood Like Milk'; the love-story-in-spaceship-orbiting-black-hole stroll, 'The Event Horizon'). Not that they're bad, exactly; but that SFF is hardly undersupplied with such fare, and that Watson's particular, often extraordinary imagination works at its best less linearly, less kinetically, than this. On the cover, there, is a Guardian blurb praising Watson for his 'fiendish ingeniousness'. I value ingeniousness in a writer very much, and don't mind a spot of fiendishness either; and Watson certainly blends both very neatly.

Some examples. 'Our Loves So Truly Meridional' (which first appeared in Science Fiction Monthly, 1974) is set after the mysterious appearance on Earth of 'the glassy Catastrophe Barriers' which divide the whole planet into areas as 'neat as the segments of an orange' along the meridional lines. The story itself is set in that portion that runs from south to north pole including a good quantity of eastern Africa, and bits of Europe and England ('sliced through Greenwich, with the East End of London included in our powerful Conglomeration as a useless backwater town.' Since the barriers are translucent ('not actual glass. Though it looks like glass and feels like it. Some forcefield they say') it is possible to 'read signs held up by the other side' and 'speak in sign language'. Accordingly, our narrator (Obi Nzekwu, a teacher from Eastern Nigeria) knows about the rest of England:
London itself in total decay, and the rest of the country a surly dicatatorship obsessed with tilling the land. What else do they have in their segment? A few French fields, most of Spain, the poverty of Morocco, Mali, the Sahara ... along with a knob of Brazil.
It's a splendid concept, ingeniously batty and fun to inhabit imaginatively (better than some of the premises upon which whole novels are based today, I'd say). But Watson, if you'll excuse my French, pisses it away in a ten-page squib about a trek to the north pole. 'The Girl Who Was Art' (Ambit, 1976) imagines a dozen or more brilliant performance art notions for its central character, Tadanori Yokoo, several of which would still make a splash on the avant garde art scene today, were some enterprising performance artist to give them a go (my favorite: The Gratitude of Aeschylus, in which the performer is naked except for a sealed diving helmet on her head and a breathing tube running between her legs: 'the spectator sees the pipe as entering my vagina, is supposed to believe I'm breathing out of my own womb -- the ultimate self-sufficiency', although in fact it is taped to the small of her back). But there's no story here; just a few vignettes, and a grouse about passing artistic fads. The Floydily titled 'My Soul Swims In A Goldfish Bowl' (1978) is another neat idea: a man with a persistent cough eventually hawks up something 'rotund, the size of a thumbnail ... phlegm alive.' This living, vermiform creature is, it seems, the narrator's soul; and he keeps it in a bowl of water. There's no story, though (his wife comments on events in a detached manner; at a dinner party one of his friends tries to feed it an olive); and the result is an impressive fragment, like Oxymandias's legs. It stays in the mind, though it goes nowhere. But then maybe that's the point: a sytlish offset fragmentariness as governing aesthetic. We might want to argue that that suits SF particularly well.

Then there's the celebrated title story -- a time machine appears 'at exactly midday 1 December 1985 in an unoccupied space at the National Physical Laboratory' (the device is pictured on the cover, there, under the 27p sticker). Its sole occupant, travelling backwards in time one hour per hour, is crazy and disshevelled in 1985 and grows less so as the years go on. This is a lovely notion, and the story itself is a pretty gripping read, because Watson is able not only to hold off the explanation of what this strange device is and means, but also to pay off the mystery in a striking, not unsatisfying way. But it's not really a story; it is [spoiler] a cool idea about a unusual time machine, linked to a completely different but also cool notion about a strange messianic traveller/visitor. The thing is this: saying 'it's not really a story' is not intended as dispraise, though. Any fool can write a story, after all. Watson, despite appearing to write conventional SF shorts, actually does something uniquely angular and creatively-dislocating with the form. Deceptive, clever, thought-provoking. Fiendishly ingenious, even.

John Clute and Peter Nicholls, in the SFE, talk of 'his sometimes difficult fiction' (that's good! 'difficult fiction' is good!):
As a whole, his work engages vociferously in battles against oppression – cognitive or political – while at the same time presenting a sense that reality, so far as humanity is concerned, is subjective and partial, created too narrowly through our perception of it. The generation of fuller realities – though incessantly adumbrated by methods ranging from drugs through linguistic disciplines, focused meditation, radical changes in education from childhood up, and a kind of enhanced awareness of other perceptual possibilities – is never complete, never fully successful. Humans are too little, and too much, for reality. Watson is perhaps the most impressive synthesizer in modern sf; and (it may be) the least deluded.
There's plenty of evidence of the battle against oppression, something which perhaps had slightly more bite in the 1970s than it does in a 21st-century where it is more of the ideological default (Watson's unrestrained approach to sexual explicitness may also have figured more effectively in the 70s than today). But I'm not sure this entry quite captures what is so distinctive about Watson's writing; the likeable perversity, an imaginative oddness and metaphorical perceptiveness. The smarts.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (2011)


I saw pale kings, and mid-West life,
Pale IRS men, death-pale were they all;
All crying --"Dave Foster Wallace, dead,
Hath thee in thrall."

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Tim Powers, Declare (2000)

I thought this was originally released in 2001, but Powers' own site says there was a small press edition in 2000. Good to see the Clarke Award carrying the flag for the cutting edge of new writing by nominating it for the 2011 prize. ('Technically eligible', of course; that's undeniable. Not sure focussing on technical eligibility entirely groks the spirit of the award, myself; but other may disagree).

So what do we have here? An overlong, over-researched 10,000m-steeplechase of a novel: lots of twentieth-century espionage and deadly toing-and-froing in a dozen countries, all of which is slowly revealed to be actually to do with various djinns and angels, supernatural beings of awesome power and ever more awesome over-familiarity-from-a-thousand-other-books. Our hero is Andrew Hale, English spy, counter spy and counter-counter spy. He's a plastic mannequin rather than a character, but I daresay that doesn't especially matter. There's lots of pseudo-political and comic-book spy adventure stuff that bears no relation to reality, except in the paranoid schizophrenic sense of 'relation to reality' (not so much realpolitik as surrealpolitik, aha, hur-hur. Hah). Then there's some rather mannered spiritual-mystical stuff. Ho hum.

Much of this is pretty entertaining, though the novel is too diffusely written for much of its length. The first half is the best, when the supernatural goings-on behind the sub Le Carré shenanigans are hinted at suggestively rather than crudely thrown in our faces; Powers manages to pull together a quite well orchestrated combination of tension and dread. It goes downhill sharply in the second half, since the central premise is (whisper it) enormously silly, and the more we see of the actual djinns and angels the harder it gets for Powers to disguise this ludicrousness. But the whole thing is written in an efficient if workmanlike prose, and there's oodles and oodles of research on display. The research rather overrides the novel in many places, actually. But you learn a lot about WWII and the Cold War and Europe and the Near East and the Bible and Kim Philby and many other things.

At core Declare is a conspiracy-theory novel, and as such it left me feeling much more negative than positive. Actually, I've come to a belated realisation about conspiracy theories. The belatedness of this is nobody's fault but mine; and is, moreover, an artefact of my age. When I was growing up, conspiracy theorising was mostly associted with the counter-culture: hippies and wierdoes, Forteans of various stripes, anti-establishment personalities for whom 'establishment' and 'conspiratorially tyrannical behaviour' were pretty much synonyms. Such conspiracy theorists might be loonies, but at least they sought (to quote a noted twentieth-century poet) to fight the power, fight the powers that be. Accordingly even in their batshittier incarnations they managed, just about, to be on the side of the angels.

But conspiracy theories have not been like this for a generation. At some point in the late 80s or early 90s conspiracy theory switched ideological allegience (the case is more complicated and involved than this suggests, of course; but to thumbnail sketch it). It has something to do with the way right-wing US and UK political parties shed their associations with the traditions and heirarchies of power, and convinced large numbers of the working class to support them: the liberal left were now, implicitly or explicitly, aligned with the Powers-That-Be. I still don't quite know how this trick was pulled off, but it was. Clever, in a diabolical sort of way.

So nowadays the poster boy for conspiracy theories and secret histories of the world and gubbins of that sort is Glenn Beck -- in his TV studio drawing arrows on diagrams linking various things in a grotesque, simplifying and ideologically loaded way that would be risible if it weren't watched, and believed-in, by millions. Run down Wikipedia's handy 'list of conspiracy theories' (I particularly like their disclaimer at the top: 'actual conspiracies, such as the conspiracy to assassinate U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, do not fall under this heading'). Here the dominant flavour is distinctly right-wing: New World Order; Federal Reserve System; the many 9/11 conspiracy theories; the 'Clinton Body Count'; Barack Obama birth conspiracy theories; the 'Eurabia' conspiracy theory ('journalist Oriana Fallaci proposed a conspiracy hatched between a cadre of French elites within the EEC and the Arab League in the mid-1970s to form a strategic alliance against the United States and Israel'); 'La Reconquista' ('...a popular conspiracy myth that Hispanics, especially Mexicans, are massively immigrating, often through illegal immigration, in order to repopulate and take over the Southwestern United States') and more nutty Biblical Fundamentalist conspiracy theories than you could shake a stick at. I'm not, of course, suggesting that there were no right-wing loony conspiracy theories before the 1980s, or that left wing loony conspiracy theories have entirely dried up today. But I am, I suppose, suggesting that the cultural valence of 'The Conspiracy Theory' has changed. It's the shift from Robert Anton Wilson in the early 1970s writing creatively crazy SF novels and agitating for Basic Income Guarantees -- to Milton Willian Cooper in the 1990s, banging on about 'the one-world, Luciferian Totalitarian socialist government' and insisting 'we always know, we always know, which is the right way to go.' That Wilson died in his bed surrounded by friends whilst poking gentle fun at George W Bush, whereas Cooper died after paranoically fleeing an arrest warrant for tax evasion, shot by the police after he had shot one of the arresting officers in the head -- well, I suppose that strikes me as characteristic, in a mournful sort of way. Declare is a very violent book too; violent in a kind of morally-careless way. That's the genre, you'll say: yes, I know, it is. I'm less convinced than I used to be, though, that saying so is an ethical get-out-of-jail-free-card.

The thing about conspiracy theories is that they render the world into a more interesting and more significant place than, actually, it is. Significance is the gold standard of these things, of course; and the idea that the world is mostly ordinary people muddling along in entirely mundane ways is anathema to them. Now, significance is perhaps an end in itself; or perhaps it is handled instrumentally as a justification of acting badly. There was a nice line on Crooked Timber a few days ago (via Kieran Healy): 'J.K. Galbraith remarked that conservatism was engaged in a long search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.' Or maybe it is an ideological circle-squaring exercise: 'when socialists and liberals are in power, and the world is shitty, we blame the socialists and liberals; but when conservatives sweep to power, as they did across the west in the eighties and noughties, and the world is still shitty, we blame ... a secret cabal, the power behind the power, demons, conspiracies, anyone but us!' I'm not sure. Declare is an ingenious book, but ingenious in a fundamentally credulous, even a gullible way. It's not just that the fact Ankh, Ankara, Anchor and Angora sweaters are etymological related is interesting; it is that this fact means something profound and supernatural. Amongst the several things this book is saying are (for instance) that Communism is a fanatical quasi-religious cult for which its followers are actively eager to die; and that events recounted in the Bible (specifically Genesis) are literally true. To which I say: hmmm.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Zack Synder (dir) Sucker Punch (2011)

In the little-read supplement to the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Marx elaborated his understanding that visual culture worked according to a less bathetic logic than political society: 'all great popular visual representational events appear, so to speak, twice: the first time as farce, the second time as tragedy'. And so, here we are. Sucker Punch is entirely shaped by a conceptual muddle that was once the occasion for laughter but which has now assumed a depressingly serious-minded cultural ubiquity.

In 1984's This Is Spinal Tap, Bobbi Fleckmann (played by Fran Drescher) deplores the original cover art of Tap's Smell the Glove album: 'a greased, naked woman on all fours with a dawg collar around her neck and a leash, and a man's arm extended out holding on to the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it...' This, she says, quite rightly, is sexist. Nigel Tufnel's retort is: 'what's wrong with being sexy?'

Once played for laughs, the elision of these two terms is now a simple fact of cultural life. Perhaps we are all, secretly, too afraid of being labelled prudes to challenge it. Certainly, 'sexy' has become so widely accepted as a nexus of worth and value in itself that it has all but crowded out 'sexist' as a conceptual category, shoving it off to a metaphorical Hyperborea where joyless puritanical feminists of both genders tut and cross their arms. It is not good that this has happened. More, in fact: we ought to consider it a necessary and vital discursive undertaking to prise apart the po-faced blurring of 'sexy' and 'sexist', and to remind ourselves how corrosive and destructive the latter attitude is. Sucker Punch thinks it is being anti-sexist precisely by being 'sexy'. In fact, of course, it is neither. The film is both miserably reactionary and limiting in terms of its representation of womanhood; and it is about as sexy as a sheaf of brown manilla envelopes. If only we could go back to a time where confusing sexy and sexist was supposed to be funny.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Greatest Doctor Who Tie-in Image Ever


Today's Who trivia: the Third Doctor had the head of Jon Pertwee, but the hands of a much larger Afro-Caribbean man. And he liked cake.

He really liked cake.

Click to embiggen. This is the back cover of Sarah Charles's Baking Your Cake & Eating It: 100 Baking Recipes (Co-op Books 1973).

Friday, 1 April 2011

Joanthan Liebesman (dir), Battle LA (2011)


My review of Battle: LA is over on Strange Horizons now. In sum: 'So, yes, my preening, effete European liberal view is that this is not a good movie. Some of the design work is pretty cool—both the aliens themselves and their various craft—and very occasional moments of tension or excitement can be found within the relentless hammerdrill monotony ... But one explosion is very much like another, and ten thousand rifle rounds slamming into metal alien war machinery is nine thousand, nine hundred and twenty too many for dramatic effectiveness. Speaking roughly.'

I did think of making mock of the film's almost literally blah titular acronym, 'BLA'. But then I remembered that my next novel will have precisely this acronym. Which made me realise what a dignified and effective acronym it is, actually.