30.08.2009

What is a right thing to do?

I have finally seen a “Watchmen” movie – an adaptation of a comic book under a same title created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Prior to that I had also a dubious pleasure of watching Inglorious Basterds created by Quentin Tarantino. I feel this way. Both Watchmen and Basterds are very intense visual experiences. Both are action movies that are more dialogue heavy than one could expect from action flicks. The first movie deals with the problem what world would be like if costumed heroes would really exists? It also deals with the main scare of the cold war epoch – the threat of nuclear annihilation. This motif is mirroring the one presented in “V for Vendetta”, a comic book that describes Nazi-like regime in the world after the nuclear apocalypse. Fortunately, this bleak possibility seems to have disappeared from our consciousness, which perhaps blunts the impact of the “Watchmen” story. In “V for Vendetta” movie adaptation the source of threat is more modern – terrorism and disproportionate response to it. In “Watchmen” the producers stayed true to the original. I think that the chief reason that I was moved by the movie was that characters were so believable. It really is a depiction of the world that could exist. The heroes we follow are not black and white characters we are used to see in this type of summer block busters. What sort of superhero murders his pregnant former lover only because he does not need her “service” anymore? Is he then really a scumbag that we should not feel any pity for? Perhaps he is a tragic figure – a patriot who was able to fulfill an American dream? What about the only “true” superhero – dr. Manhattan? His personality is a consequence of his godlike skills. Does he feel something anymore? Isn't it ironic that his existence warrants the peace, yet at the same time it increases tension between the superpowers?Is Rorschach – the self-rightous crime fighter representing the ultimate justice or just a crazy hateful man that should be stopped at any cost?
During the movie I literally felt hairs on my back rising – the scenes with dr Manhattan and Rorschach were intense. A lot of violence is depicted in the movie. I do not enjoy it particularly – that is one of my gripes with Tarantino. Nevertheless, I felt that in “Watchmen” violence was not in a focus. It served a goal – to shed more light on the characters. Interestingly, the most violent hero was also the most tragic – Rorschach. As for the others – dr Manhattan's deeds felt like acts of god or a nature. There was something primeval in the scene where he single-handedly wins Vietnam war. Manhattan is not human any more – it just causes awe and reverence.
I cannot comment much on the way the movie was shot, on quality of special effects or character portrayal by actors. I do not like to do that because I am not trained nor interested in criticizing art of movie making. I am more interested in the story and characters than in movie craftsmanship. I can just say that “Watchmen” did not seem to be particularly lacking on the technical side of things – not when compared to other blockbusters. As for actors - I could not care less who actually portrayed them but I was very impressed by both Rorschach – especially in unmasked form and dr. Manhattan. The latter mainly for an excellent depiction of an entity that is not human anymore.
I think that people that look for pure entertainment are going to be a little bit disappointed. The intrigue may be a bit hard to follow and there is a lot of talking. If you like interesting story and morally ambiguous characters you may find it really absorbing. After seeing “Watchmen” I feel very much like after “V for Vendetta” - left questioning the choices made by characters in a face of a plausible crisis.
Now let's talk a bit about the “Misspeled Bastards” - or slightly more correctly “Inglourious Basterds“. Yes, I admit I liked “Pulp Fiction” quite a lot. On the other hand, I was not to thrilled by “Kill Bill”. Well what I expected? There seems to be a rule that seeing violence against zombies and movie-type Nazis is ok. I was never to concerned with fate of German soldiers in “Dirty Dozen” or “Where eagles dare”. On the other hand “Saving private Rayan” left me with the sense of horror, depicting war in such a realistic manner. I expected that “Basterds” will go into the first category and I was not far off. There were great scenes in this movie – full of suspense, so that I felt like I was sitting on a needles. I was moved by the interrogation of French farmer by evil gestapo officer Landa. I think that scene in the bar with British agent blowing up his cover by having wrong accent was great. Then there were scenes with Basterds – a Jewish commandos. These were just plain horrible. I know that this was a movie about movies and not history but still sheer stupidity of these scenes was making me cringe. Hej - I started to feel bad about poor Germans. No small feat in a movie about evil Nazis! I cannot fathom why the director went for such a total “revenge fantasy” instead of making a more believable history? At a risk of making a serious spoiler I will say – come on! Killing Hitler in the cinema? It reminds me a first rule of well behaved time traveler - “Do not go to kill Hitler”. And another one - “The first time everyone tries”. Well in this movie nowhere there is a mention of the fact that this is an alternative history. It is more like a bedtime fantasy – “if I was a badass hero and I could kill Hitler - I would totally do that!”.
I guess that my criticism comes from the fact that I am much more into books than into movies. Perhaps the movie is a game of a postmodernist - what obscure movie are we ripping off right now? I would say then that “Shrek” did it much better and the plot was way, way over this lose connection of stupid scenes that is called a movie. Perhaps if I was American I would enjoy myself knowing that my country kick ass. Maybe if I would be a Jew I would feel some sort of katharsis. Unfortunately, I am a Pole that lived in a small village next to a monument erected in memory of dozens of peasants that were burned alive because of resistance offered by partisans to the Germans. It is hard to enjoy this sort of story knowing that in reality killing one German would mean death of many innocent persons – shot, hanged or burned. I would not like to be in a skin of a officer deciding about execution of German officer. I firmly believe that this movie would be much better if it was based in slightest on history. Contemplate this or this. I am sure that there are many more examples.

22.08.2009

Honor Harrington for president!

I have just finished reading the fourth book in “Honorverse” series by David Weber. It is entitled “Field of Dishonor” and takes place directly in the aftermath of the “Short victorious war”. I have a special place in my heart for Harrington series. I am fully aware that it will never take a place in the SF hall of fame and Weber's creation is far below the pinnacles of Science Fiction literature such as works of William Gibson's, Neil Stephenson, Asimov, Heinlein et cetera. Yet, I feel such a sheer joy and excitement while reading about brave captain's exploits that I cannot stop myself from picking up consecutive books in the series. The whole cycle tells a story of Honor Harrington, a woman serving in Royal Manticoran Navy as a captain of space warships. She is a larger than life figure – a genius strategist, brave leader, loved by her soldiers, an honest person among scheming politicos and admirals. In a way she reminds me Paul Atreides from Frank Herbert's “Dune” - there is no way such a virtuous person could possibly exists, yet if she did people would sacrifice a lot for her – as they do in these books. She opposes villainous, colorful enemies such as Pavel Young – corrupt nobleman that disregards other humans as toys to be played with and discarded when used, as well as numerous enemies of her kingdom's archenemy – The People's Republic of Haven. The setting is rich in both political intrigue and spectacular battles, full of interesting characters and societies. It is not exactly my favorite type of science fiction – it does not deal with social consequences of technological development. It does, on the other hand, use few scientifically impossible concepts to create a believable basis for a setting and then rigorously sticks to it. So yeah, FTL works, and the drives have a weird side effect that enables return to XVIII-XIX century naval tactics to the cosmic field of battle – but this scientific impossibility is a small price to pay for such a nifty setting. It is a series that will be a pure pleasure for people interested in military, less so for the rest of people. I myself was never particularly interested in war stories but I cannot help but enjoy adventures of Harrington. As a side effect – Harrington's seems to me to be the most awesome female character I ever read about – in the “She kicks ass on the massive scale” sense of awesome, so I guess it makes me a bit less of a male chauvinistic pig with every book I read, which can only be a good thing.
If you are not afraid of high adventure in space – read David Weber!

05.08.2009

SFFiH numer 25 - recenzja

Staram się nadrabiać zaległości w czytaniu SFFiH. Idzie mi to jak po grudzie. Na półkach piętrzą się stosy nieprzeczytanych książek, na dysku czekają rozliczne pdf-y z naukowymi pracami, z którymi powinienem był się zapoznać przed miesiącami. Do tego internet kusi ciekawymi newsami, filmami itp. Mimo wszystko od czasu do czasu sięgam na półkę po kolejny numer SFFiH, aby nacieszyć się polskimi opowiadaniami.
Ostatnio dotarłem do numeru 25 z listopada 2007. Jak tak dalej pójdzie, to na bieżąco będę czytał to czasopismo na emeryturze.
W tym numerze spodobała mi się „Infernalizacja” Piotra Patykiewicza – przynajmniej jej pierwsza część. Zapowiadało się na prawdę na niezły horror. Szkoda, że końcówka zmieniła się w dziwaczny szpiegowsko/anty-islamski paszkwil. Rozumiem, że autor chciał uzasadnić wydarzenia, jakie zaszły w wykreowanym świecie, ale powstało dziwactwo. Podobał mi się pomysł żony głównego bohatera gotującej mu piekło – ale co w tym wszystkim robiły służby specjalne? Dziwne i trochę rozczarowujące. Czytało się jednak dobrze, dawało do myślenia i pierwsza część wciągnęła mnie niepomiernie, więc z zainteresowaniem przeczytam kolejne produkcje tego autora.
„Zdarzenie na Kaiser-Re” Andrzeja Miszczaka – dobre, krótkie opowiadanie SF. Czekam na więcej.
„Stara Gwardia” Dawida Juraszka nie wzbudziła we mnie specjalnego entuzjazmu. Bardzo lubię opowiadania o Xiao Longu, z pewnością sięgnę po „Białego Tygrysa”, ale tekst o Cairenie był rozczarowujący. Może to zbyt ostro powiedziane – przeczytałem opowiadanie z zainteresowaniem, widzę potencjał na dalszy ciekawy rozwój bohatera i świata przedstawionego. To, co mnie zawiodło w tym tekście to kompletny brak realizmu dotyczący pułapek w grobowcu Cesarza, który jakoby został pochowany w nim przed tysiącami lat. Czytając tekst fantasy oczekuję, że twórca nie będzie mnie zmuszał do zawieszania niewiary ponad miarę. Zrozumiem magię, czy smoki, zrozumiem poruszające się terakotowe rzeźby – dobry pomysł do konwencji. Ale komnata ze strzałami przebijającymi się przez kamień, które następnie powracają do „magazynków” celem powtórnego wykorzystania – powiem kolokwialnie „bez jaj”. Nie chcę zrzędzić, sam nie mam się czym pochwalić, ale jako czytelnik proszę pisarza o nie utrudnianie mi cieszenia się jego skądinąd świetną twórczością.
Na konie mój ulubieniec z tego numeru - „Struktura” Wojciecha Piechoty. Dobre opowiadanie hard science fiction w stylu klasycznym – to znaczy nie „zabili go i uciekł”, ale historia o poznaniu nieznanego. Jestem biologiem, który interesuje się komputerami i wiele razy zastanawiałem się nad problemami przedstawionymi przez autora. Za takie teksty cenię gatunek science fiction. Może przydałoby się trochę przemocy i brutalności oraz głębszych interakcji pomiędzy postaciami, ale nie ma co zrzędzić – gratuluję dobrej roboty.

02.08.2009

Origin of Species

After much struggle I have finished reading "Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin. It took me over a month to go through ~360 pages of the text. True - I read mainly while commuting but still I feel a bit ashamed that I needed so much time and effort to go through a book that started modern life science. In my defense I will say that I am much worse biologist than Darwin was - I know a lot about how a cell work, how the DNA carries out genetic information but I suck when it comes to systematics, botany or zoology. On the other hand, Darwin lacked the knowledge of genetics so his arguments regarding heredity where hard to follow - with understanding of genes things became much simpler.
I feel a deep respect to this book and the man who wrote it. Although it was dry at places and sometimes plain boring, I admire the simple well presented arguments for the theory of modification with descent, as Darwin called theory of evolution. If not for my lack of knowledge, that must have been obvious for a well educated person from that era, this book is popular science plain and simple. Much different from the way scientific works are written nowadays.
Now I need to give a try to the "The Voyage of the Beagle". Before I will do that I need some downtime - I am going to read Wolves of Calla by Stephen King.