Thursday, October 31

Quick Hits!

Sometimes I read or watch things quicker than I have time – or motivation, or perhaps even focus – to set down in a full blog post. Nothing against whatever those items are. I feel a compulsion to gratuitously share my thoughts on virtually everything, but sometimes get backed up, and I don't want this to turn into a barrage of short posts. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Anyway, hence the periodic “Quick Hits.”

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from iPhone Kindle app
A State of Disobedience (2003) by Tom Kratman

I've been meaning to blog this novel ever since I proceeded to it directly out of his Caliphate last month, but never got around to it. I reserve the right to come back to it with a more thorough review some time in the future, because I'm thinking I'll eventually read it again. Get past the somewhat contrived opening setting up the Texas Rebellion of ca. 2010 (as best I can figure it), as well as the very transparent identity of the utterly wacko and caricaturishly evil US President “Willie Rottemayer,” and it settles into what I think is a fair depiction of how such a valiant but ultimately outnumbered and outgunned attempt at secession from the rapidly socializing, increasingly morally repugnant and anti-Christian United States would likely proceed. Although it was written a decade ago, and in no way foresaw the explosion onto the political landscape of Barack Obama, just how much cultural, political, and social developments in the succeeding decade (really, mostly in the past five years) do seem to be have been foretold sent chills down my spine as I read. As much as Caliphate did [link], this book struck me as a prophetic wake-up call in the guise of a very compelling and exciting story.  As I titled my review, it seems "Frighteningly Plausible."

Arrow (The CW Television Network)

Although I was repulsed by the premier episode of this Green Arrow comic-book hero TV series last year and immediately struck it from my watch-list, I kept hearing via the Internet all kinds of buzz how good it was. So, over the summer, as news leaked that forensic criminologist Barry Allen would be introduced and developed via a “back-door pilot” to launch a second DC Comics live-action series featuring the Flash, I decided I would give it another try. So I did a little reading on-line to get the context before watching the summer repeats of the final two-part story for the first season, and then had that context elaborated further via a really well-done season one recap episode prior to the debut of the second season a few weeks back. And I found that the first episode last year did not do the series justice at all. Yes, it is considerably different from any previous version of DC comic-book canon for the character (does such a thing even exist anymore given how many times DC has blown up their own continuity in the incessant and increasingly frequent retcons and reboots?), but on its own terms the series is pretty good. In fact, the single most objectionable feature of that long-ago premier episode, Oliver Queen's merciless – murderous – willingness to kill for no more heroic reason than that “No one can know who I am!” has been turned on its head as the basis for real growth in his character as the death of his best friend (who rejected his methods as “murder”) has steeled in him a resolve to avoid killing no matter what the provocation or how easy a solution it might be in a given situation. It's making for some surprisingly interesting storytelling beneath the surface veneer of a “comic book TV show.”

One thing I am enjoying is that there seem to be far more “Easter Eggs” and incorporation of the vast wealth of DC Comics lore than I realized, from “Arrowization” (this series' equivalent of “Smallvillization”) of major villains, many of them not traditionally assocated with Green Arrow, to the dropping of names such as “Kirby.” Which latter probably seems more a gratuitous invoking of one of the big names from comics overall than it really is, given that during the 1950s Jack Kirby actually did draw Green Arrow.

And now the latest rumor hits, seeming to confirm (assuming it is more than a rumor) what has been suspected and hoped, that the DC live-action universe currently appearing on the CW is the same as that depicted in the new DC motion-picture universe – supposedly Man of Steel II (which I still hope will be called World's Finest, although it's a name that probably doesn't resonate with non comics fans) will end with a scene including both (Green) Arrow and the Flash [link].

A final thought: What's Ollie doing pining over Laurel when he's got Felicity close at hand?Felicity is so much hotter, even made up as kind of the nerd-girl super-geek!

... or ...

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (ABC TV Network)

So far at least not pretending to be much more than what it is, a “comic book TV show,” this perhaps the most anticipated of all new TV series for this season has unfortunately failed to impress me very much. It's not bad, don't get me wrong. And I don't see myself dropping it anytime soon. But the hopes for the distinctive and offbeat flavor generally brought to the table by Joss Whedon – the spark that animated Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and most especially Firefly – have just not been fulfilled. I it was in the Avengers movie itself, and hopefully will come through into the sequel, but here … not so much. Frankly, of the characters making up the ensemble, the agents themselves, only Coulson really grabs me. Sometimes Skye as well. The others? – meh. And the (so far, at least) overly episodic stories aren't in and of themselves bringing me back week after week. It's more the hope that something special is going to develop, and the hope that we're going to see more glimpses of the wider Marvel Universe than we have so far, that have kept me. As well as the fear that the failure of this show, given just how much it was anticipated and how favorable the climate seems to have been for it to be well-received riding on the coattails of one of the biggest and maybe even surprising motion picture hits in my memory, would poison the well for any new comic-book themed show in the foreseeable future. But it's a bad sign that having missed an episode a couple weeks ago, I so far have not felt any compulsion to go back and view it and at this point doubt I will. I do not have the feeling that I missed much.

It surprises the heck out of me that of the two, Arrow and SHIELD, it's the former that I look forward to more even if I am more a DC fan than a Marvel fan. Green Arrow himself is a character I can take or leave in the comics, however.

Screen Shot 
from iPhone Kindle app
Enoch Primordial (Chronicles of the Nephilim, The Lost Book Two, 2012) by Brian Godawa

Oddly enough, even though this is the second published and indeed listed as “The Lost Book Two” of the series, it's a prequel to Noah Primeval. Although I gave rather – perhaps overly – effusive praise to that first book a couple of years ago [link], for some reason I could not really get into this one. In fact, it took me several tries to read through it. I simply lost interest the first couple of attempts. A large part of my apathy is the writing style. Most of the time it is quite straightforward, yes, pretty much like reading the ingredients of a bottle of water. And maybe the affected, somewhat stilted voice given to epic fantasy characters set thousands of years in the past is unrealistic, it seems to me, at least, more appropriate than the all too faux contemporary, “hip” style Godawa uses in this series. I understand he's trying to make these distant characters seem “real” to a modern audience, but it just jarred in this quasi-historical/Biblical fantasy novel. Maybe it would work better for a reader with less exposure to the tropes and style of epic historical fantasy. And the incessant and increasingly cloying nicknames and endearments thrown back and forth by Enoch's son Methuselah and his wife Edna became downright cloying. “Poozelahbunnybunch”?

This book sets the remote background for Noah Primeval by focussing on Enoch and Methuselah, similarly bringing in a number of other characters from the primordial, antediluvian world recounted in the earliest chapters of Genesis. Like Noah Primeval, it retells and greatly expands on the sketchy narrative found in Scripture, which it takes at face value as a literal account, to create what purports to be a Tolkien-esque epic fantasy tale of high adventure by blending in and reconciling – rationalizing in terms of that literal, factual reading of Genesis – a great deal of related Ancient Near Eastern mythology and legend. To repeat myself from my long-ago review of Noah Primeval, at least on a certain level this is a book – series – I wish I had written. I just wish it were written in a style more fitting to the subject.

Regarding the series as a whole, as well, I must mention one thing that Godawa conveys very well – the sense that these long primeval ages described in the early chapters of Genesis were just as event-filled as later ages. It's something easy to forget, I think, especially given how sketchy is the description we have received. If the dates that can be interpreted and the ages associated with individuals given in this part of the Bible is meant to be taken literally (as Godawa does, being part of the very conceit of this series), those extended lifetimes would have been filled with enough events for several of what we consider “lifetimes.” And it is truly staggering to consider (as I never really had – or rather only rarely had, being aware that a frequent identification is made between Melchizedek the priest-king of Salem and Shem the son of Noah) that Adam and Eve would have lived long enough to see countless multitudes born in the several generations that were born during their lifetimes.
Given comparably extended periods of childbearing age for women, doing simple math demonstrates that “population explosion” is far too mild a phrase! Although it would explain the teeming populations that existed across the face of the Earth so quickly, in only a few hundred years.

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from iPhone Kindle app
Gilgamesh Immortal (Chronicles of the Nephilim, Book Three, 2012) by Brian Godawa

Luckily, Enoch Primordial picked up enough in the latter half to carry me through to the end and beyond, into the third book in the series.  Because, for whatever reason, I enjoyed this novel considerably more than I did Enoch. Perhaps it is the sheer audacity of turning the focus away from an adapted and expanded Biblical character to the hero of what is most likely the world's very first literary epic. The earliest portions of the Bible were committed to writing only perhaps as early as 1200 to 1000 BC; fragments of what ultimately became The Epic of Gilgamesh appeared roughly a thousand years before that. For the most part, of course, this novel follows the “final” version of the Epic, from sometime after 1000 BC as found in the Assyrian ruins at Nineveh in the library of Tiglath-Pileser III in the 8th century, with the overall narrative thread of the Nephilim series advanced by the alignment of Ut-Napishtim, the “Mesopotamian Noah,” with the now quite elderly Noah from Book One, as well as the Mesopotamian gods with Godawa's own fallen angelic “rebel Sons of God called Watchers” (p. 2). And, at the very end, Gilgamesh himself takes the new name by which he purportedly appears in the Bible – cleverly hinted at in his first appearance in this novel as a “mighty hunter.”

A fascinating aspect of this story is how, arrogant though he is in the beginning, Gilgamesh for most of the tale is a very sympathetic and extremely likeable character, who even attempts, under the influence of the once beastly but thoroughly noble Enkidu, to reform his life and rule with justice – but who in the end defies expected literary convention to foresake the good and embrace his fundamentally evil Nephilim heritage. Watching Gilgamesh's transformation in the later sections of this book, is like watching a train wreck. I was really pulling for him, but I guess kind of like the Nephilim brothers who threw in with Enoch and his band of “Giant Killers” and were for a time the most sympathetically written characters in that prequel novel, true moral reformation on the part of the Nephilim does not fit by their very nature into Godawa's theology.

There are actually a couple of other items I had in mind to include here, but I'm ready to put this blog entry to bed so they will have to wait.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

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