Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why Didn't Somebody Tell Me How Awesome This Was?!!

This week: Doctor Who

Ok, asking "why didn't somebody tell me how awesome this was" is a little unfair in the case of Doctor Who, because there are swarms of people on the internet who claim the awesomeness of this show. Fan clubs, societies, blogs, what have you. I guess I just didn't have so many friends who watched it and were like "omg you have to watch this right now!" Truth be told, even after I had heard all the great things about it I was really hesitant. Let me explain.

There is a reason why I primarily read comic books that have clearly defined, limited runs (Transmetropolitan, Sandman, Fables, Hellboy, and lately Y: The Last Man). I'm cool with starting at the bound graphic novel #1 and working my way through to like volume #10. There have been a few superhero comics I've read, but not that many. The reason behind this is mostly because I every time I pick up a superhero comic they reference events that happened in issues released like 10 years ago. Really? I'm supposed to keep track of all these ins and outs and who is whose son apparently? Anyway, so Doctor Who has been on TV for like a bajillion years and even though the most recent incarnation is only a few seasons old, I had this feeling like I couldn't just start watching in the middle because I'd have no idea what Daleks are or any of that other stuff. Would I need to start at the beginning beginning, like back in the 60s before I even started watching the recent version? I really had no idea how much back story I would miss. But, I decided to jump in head first and just deal with it.

Part of the problem, aside from the whole "Ack! 40 years of backstory" thing was that BBC America for whatever reason very rarely shows prior season Doctor Who in reruns. Similarly Syfy for whatever reason does not air it half as much as it shows old episodes of Stargate: Atlantis (which I've pretty much seen all of by now). Watching shows in syndication was the only way I ever saw most of the first 2 seasons of Buffy, for example (I only started at the 3rd season when it was on the air) and I really didn't know if I felt like renting disc by disc for every episode. Luckily for me they are all available on Netflix On Demand! Yay technology.

Despite the fact that I had all these concerns about backstory etc, I decided on a whim to begin with season 2. Why? Because David Tennant is just so freaking adorable, that's why. I want to poke his nose. Also, I had the misfortune of seeing Christopher Eccleston on Heroes first and was not particularly a fan. I'll have to go back and watch eventually because I missed out on a lot of stuff, but now that I've realized I only need a passing knowledge of things (easily found on Wikipedia) I'm a lot less intimidated. For example, in one episode a previous companion of the Doctor (Sarah Jane Smith) shows up, but I only had to Google her name to get all I needed to know to understand the rest of the episode. The rest is really explained in context. Anyway, not going to go for an episode by episode summary, but suffice it to say, the show is really great. Buffy is the perfect analogy for people who have never seen it before. Snarky pop culture references + pretty hilariously bad special effects + escapism. Having only seen the second season and 3 episodes of the third season I'm not sure if future episodes stay as lovely and frothy but I hope so. Even the "dark" episodes manage more humor than some of the broody 7th season of Buffy, for example, and it certainly takes itself less seriously than half the shows on Syfy.

What I like in particular is how much joy the Doctor gets from what is presumably his every day life. Early episodes of Buffy (again with the analogy) had Willow so exuberant over her newly found magical ability that even lifting a pencil in the air was special. By later episodes magic had become so commonplace that nobody stopped to think about how super neat everything was. The Doctor, on the other hand, has been around for eons and yet still gets this childlike glee from say, meeting Queen Victoria or discovering some new life form. Even in its darker moments, when characters are in genuine peril, things just seem more... I don't know... fun. While I always liked the Scoobies, I never actually wanted to live in Sunnydale, whereas I would hop aboard the TARDIS in a heartbeat even if I knew I would be doomed to live on a planet full of sentient squids for 5 years (this is not an actual episode of the show... I don't think. If it really is, then I'm pretty talented).

Science is played with fast and loose, which wasn't a problem for me. I don't really need scientific explanations for time travel or glorpy monsters. I enjoyed the way the show bounces around in time and space and you aren't in any one location for very long. Reminds me a bit of Star Trek: Next Generation, but again, since the Doctor doesn't have to be all impartial and rational he can totally just go up to a squishy looking guy and poke him in the head or something. Even though he is great and wonderful Time Lord and everything, I like the fact that there are things that he doesn't know or understand. Mysteries wouldn't be mysteries of the character was TOO powerful. The TARDIS itself has this tendancy to break down a lot, which reminded me a bit of Farscape. I like the old Fonzi kind of whack to the side of a conduit to make it work again. Oh... and have I mentioned how cute David Tennant is yet?

So yeah, I'm officially a complete fangirl for this show now. What do fans call themselves? Who-ites? Who-kins? Whatever. I'm not going to start writing my own fan fiction or anything nuts like that, and I know that joining so late in the game will never make me "one" of the folks who have been watching forever, but I think it is safe to say that I'm a cheerleader.

For those of you who HAVE watched the show, should I start watching Torchwood now? I'm not sure where "Torchwood" the show ties in with Doctor Who in terms of chronology. Like at the end of Season 2 you actually see the Torchwood Institute and all that, but it doesn't have any of the characters in it. I guess Captain Jack was in 1st season stuff I should probably watch, but do I need to see that first? Keep in mind this is coming from someone who first started watching Angel before she'd seen the first two seasons of Buffy.

Oh wait, I didn't even mention the best part! I watched all these episodes in the span of a week. I'm either very proud or very, very sad.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OLYMPIC FEVER!! Or... well... it's cold... so... not like hot fever... but... icy fever... like when you get chills when you are sick.

For some reason, even though I never watch sports on a regular basis, I get crazy insane whenever it is Olympics time. I literally tore through all 4 hours of the PBS Emma miniseries on Monday just to free up my DVR to tape moguls, snowboard cross and short track speed skating. No, really. I can't quite explain what it is about Olympic sports that captivates me more than, say, Major League Baseball. I think the international angle is pretty cool, it's true, but mostly I think what I like the most about it is that it only takes 2 weeks. In a two week span, I can totally pretend like I knew who Lindsey Vonn was before a month ago and root and cheer like everyone else when she wins gold. Also, races I totally understand. Look! That guy got to the finish line before the other guy! He wins! Yay that guy! OOOOH MAN! Did you SEE how that South Korean speed skater totally knocked that other guy over?! SNAP! Simple stuff. Figure skating, like gymnastics, I'm not a big fan of. I don't really understand this subjective "style" judging. Half pipe snowboard, on the other hand, is pretty awesome even though its judged on execution of certain tricks. Maybe it's just the outfits are better.

But by far of course, the best thing about a lot of Olympic sports is that they last about 5 minutes or less. My attention span is completely suited to watching this kind of excitement. I get this immediate satisfaction when people win or lose and I don't have to wait around for a few more hours to find out what happens. JUST WIN ALREADY! I've often wondered why we can't just reduce most NBA games to just the last 7 minutes. Anyway, because I don't particularly have any vested interest in any of the teams, I'm just happy to watch. Seriously. I don't even root exclusively for Team USA. Why should I, when the Germans are so much better at luging? How did I know the Germans are better at luging? Because some guy on TV told me yesterday.

Also, the mascots are wicked cute. I mean, look at these guys! I want to snuggle them to death.

I sometimes wish that the Olympics came on more than ever 2 years, but I have this sneaking suspicion that curling might not be as interesting if it came on prime time TV every Sunday night.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Things That I Read

This Week: The Gunslinger by Stephen King [audio read by George Guidall]

Grade: H for Huuuuuuuuh?

I have never read any Stephen King books before. There, now that's out of the way. Therefore, I really had absolutely no idea what to expect when I sat down to listen to this book. Based on the movie versions of many King books I've seen: Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, The Green Mile, The Shining, etc, I knew that King had sort of a dual personality; he can be both terrifying and also very lyrical and sad. The Gunslinger was something else entirely. It caught me completely off guard and made me actually think while I was listening, which was entirely unexpected. I consciously tried to avoid reviews or blurbs about this book before I started it, specifically because I wanted that element of surprise, and I'm very glad that I did. I am going to try my best to not reveal any major plot points in this review specifically for that reason, so I apologize now if this is too vague.

First thoughts when I start listening: Holy Cow! Ian McShane is reading this book! Oh... huh... its not Ian McShane. Weird... I wonder if Ian McShane is related to George Guidall. Is George Guidall a pseudonym for Ian McShane? No? Huh. Part of what made this book for me was the reading. The guy really really does sound like Ian McShane which made it work for me since I love Deadwood so much. When I went on the Freedom Trail tour in Boston our tour guide sounded EXACTLY like Paul Giamatti in John Adams so maybe these actors just purposefully put on voices that are approximations of other people. Who knows. Anyway, I definitely recommend listening to this book for a couple of reasons. First of all, the guy gets it just right with the voices, and second, its the kind of story that might be told over some whacked out post apocalyptic campfire, and just sounds better aloud. Anyway... on the review.

The Gunslinger is a post apocalyptic fantasy. I guess. The genre is really hard to pin down. Most of the book feels like a Western with a scifi bent, typical end of the world wanderings. Then there are elements of the story which are very traditional for high fantasy stories, specifically flashbacks to the gunslinger's childhood which takes place in a sort of pseudo-medieval castle where people use guns instead of swords. Last year I read Lamentation by Ken Scholes which is also sort of post apocalyptic, in that the bulk of the story takes place after this major city is destroyed and people are trying to pick up the pieces, etc. But that book made it very clear to the reader that you were reading about a fantasy-type place after a disaster. The Gunslinger on the other hand, throws in references to things in our own Earth's past mixed in with the fantasy stuff. Example: the "old tune" someone is playing on a piano is "Hey Jude." This was very disconcerting. Later on, the character of Jack is introduced, who is this boy who somehow ended up in this barren landscape. He can only vaguely remember his own past, but it seems almost identical to our own. This poses a lot of questions also. How did the world get from how it was in the gunslinger's childhood? How did the boy get there in the first place? Is there some kind of metaphor I'm missing? Are we in Hell/ Purgatory? I'm assuming that some of the answers come in the later volumes, but I can tell you that this book ends without any clear sense of what year it is, what sort of alternate reality these characters are living in, or what the heck everybody is doing.

But the thing I liked the most about this book was the uncertainty. Things genuinely surprised me because I had absolutely no idea where the story was going to go. A similar post apocalyptic story, like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, can only go so far in terms of its storytelling. Roving bands of marauders who kill people? Sure why not. Cannibalism, desolate landscapes, fragments of lost civilization? Naturally. Zombies? Ok, not in The Road, but certainly World War Z has done the whole zombie-pocalypse thing. But The Gunslinger includes all the traditional end of days tropes in addition to some seriously strange, mind bending fantasy. That means that at one moment characters can be walking along in the traditional desolate nothingness and come across a talking crow for some reason. Or, they could encounter people who have been raised from the dead or possessed by demons. That stuff is kinda odd. The moment I'm convinced that the story just takes place after the classic Christian apocalypse (i.e. The Stand), there's another flashback to Roland's childhood and I think "what! ok, this is so not normal Earth we are talking about." Oh, the gunslinger's name is Roland, by the way. You don't actually find out until the second disc on the audio, and I'm not sure what page that would be equivalent to in the actual book. I liked that off the bat. The story starts out and he is just "the gunslinger" like Clint Eastwood in Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Anyway, bottom line, this book is really really good. I hear that the version I listened to is the revised one, but I can't tell you how it differs from the original. Apparently The Gunslinger is the shortest of all the books in the series, which I'm actually happy about. The sparse language worked to jump me right into the story, but I couldn't help but wish there were more descriptions of things, more background information, more plot. Plot actually was the weakest thing in this story. Roland chases this Man in Black across the entire country for reasons that never make themselves clear. He wants to find this Dark Tower apparently, but why does he need the Man in Black to find it? Reading/ listening to this book is definitely like watching the first season of Lost. You have some of the major pieces in play, but you haven't even met Desmond or The Others yet. Remember when the Tailies came? Why the heck are there polar bears?! Looking back as Lost starts its final season, you take a lot of knowledge for granted, even as questions remain unanswered. That John Locke used to be in a wheelchair was such a revelation. Seeing the smoke monster for the first time was really crazy, not to mention the first time the gang jumped through time. I have a feeling that reading the Dark Tower series is going to be a similar experience for me. I really hope so. Oddly enough, there are some of the same themes, both science fictional and religious in both The Gunslinger and Lost, in particular the Man in Black himself, who is much like Jacob's nemesis/Other-Locke. I wonder if in reading/ listening to this series and watching the final season of Lost at the same time will give me any additional insight. Or maybe I'll just have twice as many WTF moments.

On to The Drawing of The Three

Afterword: Started listening to Drawing of the Three on audio and its a different guy who doesn't sound very good at all. I have a few other books on my plate right now, but I'll get around to reading it in actual book form soon.