Saturday, June 1, 2013

On After Earth's Scientology Bonafides and What Classic Science Fiction Books Would You Add to Io9's "Must Read" List?

A drive-by on two movies that you may (or may not) want to see:

After Earth was acceptable. And yes, it is a Scientology dream.

Does the influence of Scientology make After Earth a piss poor movie? No. The Master is a great film. Bowfinger, which skewers Scientology is also an impressive comedy--and so very, very, very smart and underrated.

After Earth is beautiful: the movie's failing is its overly deliberate narrative and message. 

I do not mind being propagandized; I do mind having it spoon fed and forced on me.

As a qualifier, my feelings towards After Earth are influenced by how I was forced to listen to the two older black folks--Lord help our people--who were drunk and fighting over the amount of butter put on their snuck in bag of popcorn. 

Now You See Me, my second viewing of the night, was a movie in love with its obvious twists and crowd pleasing surprises. 

Harry Houdini would have mocked the "magic" in the the movie. Regular folks will enjoy being catered to, and made to feel smarter than they actually are, by the obviously telegraphed twists and surprises.

In all, Now You See Me is the girlfriend or partner who tells you that you are a great lover even when one is mediocre.

The website Io9 is always a useful resource. Consequently, I was curious as to their thoughts about After Earth.

I largely agreed with their read of the movie.

In Io9's sidebar for that review, there was a link to the following question: which classic science fiction novel still holds up today?

Two thoughts.

First, Io9's readers included A Canticle for Leibowitz on this list. I have tried to read this book several times and just do not "get" it. I am stuck on page 100 or so. If you can, please offer up some advice for how I should approach--and finish--what is supposed to be a master work.

Two, there are few works of speculative fiction by writers of color on that list. In addition to including those voices on any "must read" list, what books would you add to Io9's suggestions on the essentials of science fiction writing?


carolannie said...

Patternmaster, by Octavia Butler. I found most of their choices predictable, shallow and trite.

Scopedog said...

BABEL 17 by Sam Delany. I would also add two books by Sakyo Komatsu, who passed away in 2011: JAPAN SINKS, from 1973 (translated into English in 1976 and 1995), and VIRUS: THE DAY OF RESURRECTION from 1964 (translated into English in 2012). Both of them are well-written disaster novels as well as powerful social commentaries.

Komatsu was Japanese and not many of his works have been translated into English, but it's sad to see that the i09 list seemed limited to only Western/American SF works.

And just for the hell of it, Hideyuki Kikuchi's VAMPIRE HUNTER D, which was first published 30 years ago this year. A crackling great gumbo of a novel, packing in science fiction, dark fantasy, gothic horror, action, vampires, and the influence of the movie SHANE. An atypical vampire novel that's spawned a continuing series (thankfully, most of the novels have been translated into English and other languages).

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chauncey devega said...

My sci-fi veggies :) If you made a ten must read sci fi list what would be on it?

chauncey devega said...

Vampire Hunter D was a book? Or are you talking about a manga that was adapted to other formats?

JGrey said...

This is the end for Will Smith.

all i hear about this movie is nepotism this and nepotism that. It looks like those white folks caught Will Smith red-handed, smuggling his very own contraband, in plain sight.

Joke aside, there has been a very disturbing trend of disapointing sci fi movies as of late. I thought this year would be full of awesome with Oblivion and into darkness.. but so far.. no cookies.. there is still hope with Outer Rim with Idris. I'm just gonna settle with a mecha movie.

Double cross double fingers.

JGrey said...

Pacific Rim , actually

Lee Viola said...

"Leibowitz" was fine when it was a novella that read like a long Jewish joke. Stretching it out into a (pretentious) Catholic-based novel was a mistake, IMHO. It's overrated, like Dick's "Man in the High Castle," which I don't think Dick even completed, Hugo or not. Check out Dick's "Ubik," "Martian Time Slip," and his early short stories.

U.K. LeGuin may be "the white Octavia Butler." Her Sci-Fi is exceptional; her focus on race sharp. Her anarchist exploration, "The Dispossessed," though not perfect, is worth reading.

Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End" is exceptional.

JG Ballard's short stories are essential, as is "Crash," the only novel I've mentioned thus far that's been filmed.

I could go on...

Magda Kamenev said...

Funny you mention "Man in the High Castle". Just finished reading it this weekend, and needed help processing the abrupt ending (Wikipedia helped immensely, as did venting to a friend). Glad I read it, might read it again, might not recommend it to someone unless they really dig Dick/works centered around reality and agency (themes Dick was obsessed with in what seems to be most of his writing).

Magda Kamenev said...

Thanks for all the movie stuff, Mr. DeVega. Concise but plenty to chew on.

Even before I heard about the Scientology influence, I hadn't planned to see the film. But I find the discussion about it fascinating. Perhaps because I grew up near Hollywood (and the 'public' home of Scientology truly is Hollywood) ...

As for Now You See Me, I saw the trailer for it during Iron Man 3 and thought, "This can't possibly be as smart as it wants us to think it is, but it could be a nice romp with some fun acting." And really, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson & Morgan Freedman in the same movie? Count me in with some hot popcorn, light on the butter.

As for A Canticle for Leibowitz -- I adored the first part of the novel, felt the middle part was boggy, and sped through the last part, which felt more like a coda to the second. I suppose the question is - is there anything you like in the 1st 100 pages. Because as I've learned from repeatedly trying to appreciate Anne Rice - not all books are for all people and life's too short and there's too many books to force yourself through books you just can't grok. No one will take away your nerd card for not reading X, Y, or Z.

Magda Kamenev said...

I can't recommend much personally on the writers of colour front - I tend more towards short stories and anthologies of same.

But, here's some recommendations from the commentariat of Angry Black Woman:

Tor did a similar list:

(Both seem to be reactions to a particular controversy over the lack of author diversity in a particular anthology.)

I loved Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents, but I'm afraid to read Kindred. Because Louis CK is why ...

Lee Viola said...

I honestly think the abrupt ending was the sound of his alimony becoming due. I haven't explored the actual reasons why, but the non-ending destroyed the novel for me. He wrote so many fine works; it's a shame this is his "Big One," along with his "schizoid crap" like "Valis," which is an author in search of medication.

Magda Kamenev said...

My friends posited that PKD had other social engagements that caused the non-end ending. I blamed the voices in his head insisting that he stop.

That said, Uncle Wikipedia cites several interviews that he did saying that he planned a sequel, but he really didn't want to steep himself in Nazi history all over again, and a couple of attempts ended up as unrelated works.

The continuity whore in me wants a sequel and an elegant ending. But the novel and its vague ruminations about the hideous destruction of most/all of Africa ... I pretty much cringed through most of the novel.

And a sequel would likely have to focus on what happened in the states where the Nazis took over ... including the South. *shudder*

Lee Viola said...

Thanks for the update. Perhaps, as a son of German immigrants, the novel made him very self-conscious?

I'm not sure where - I'm old and senile and addicted to Internets - but some of his early-60's novels contained liberal hymns to "socialist" Israel and its Kibbutz system, material that would be very dated now.

Any idea if his early unpublished non-Sci Fi novels, which featured mixed-race relationships, were bad or perceived as bad because of his material?

Lee Viola said...

Interesting. I agree with you re Heinlein. I've never understood that cult: 1960s Leftists worshipping a military-right Libertarian. Heinlein = "Billy Jack" schizoid thought: "An armed society is a civilized society." Mad.

I worked on some of Barnes' stuff. Found him insufferable, self-righteous, and uncooperative. So he may be good, but he makes me wince.

"Flowers" was a nice novella; still remember the film on it, "Charlie."

Check out "The Man from Primrose Lane," (Picador) by James Renner before they ruin it at the cineplex. Amazing work of mystery/horror/sci-fi.

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