Monthly Archives: June 2013

Margaret Atwood, heartbreaker

I just finished The Year of the Flood and am eagerly awaiting third book in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake-verse, MaddAdam.

Or sort of eagerly awaiting it. I found myself, the closer I crept to the end of The Year of the Flood, reading slower and slower. Not because the material was in some way significantly getting more dense or that I was cringing at how it might wrap up, but simply because I didn’t want it to end. As I closed in on the final pages, I increasingly realized that once I finished The Year of the Flood, I only had one more book left before that world would be wrapped up in a tidy bow and completed. Just one more book in this wild-yet-possible future of Atwood’s creation.

As a fan, that’s the double-edged sword. You want more Star Wars, but then you get Phantom Menace and cringe. You love OutKast and think they’ll never do better than Stankonia, but if OutKast hadn’t evolved, then years later they wouldn’t have blown your mind with Speakerboxxx/Love Below. You read about Oryx, Crake, Snowman, Ren, Amanda, Adam One and all of the others, and you just want to read more about the world of the Waterless Flood.

That other sharp, gleaming edge … if you bind a mind and imagination like Atwood’s solely to that fictional existence, what is the opportunity cost? As much as I love Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood, and as much as I expect to love MaddAdam, my favorites from Atwood’s catalogue are still The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin. The world of the Waterless Flood is not enough. I need to see where else Atwood’s mind will roam. I want to know what else Atwood can do, what new characters she will create, what unique ways she will develop to attack and undermine a global politico-corporate system that oppresses so many. Atwood unbound is the Atwood I want to read.

So I will cherish MaddAdam, and drag out those last hundred or so pages, as long as I can. And then I’ll eagerly await whatever other offerings Atwood chooses to bestow upon her readers.

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I have a hard time believing I’m going to read a better review of Kanye’s new joint than this one.

“Imma keep it all the way real wit yall…the way this shit started had me wishin for the days of unnecessary Mr West skits.”

Both hilarious and insightful.

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Short-story showdown: Poe vs. Dick

OK, so it isn’t much of a showdown. It’s hard to compare the two. Edgar Allan Poe was a borderline unemployable alcoholic and the father of the American Gothic literary tradition. Philip K. Dick may be the greatest sci-fi writer of all time, unappreciated for most of his life because his ideas were so visionary that it was near impossible for his potential audience to grasp what he was trying to get at.

The reason I link them is I recently polished off a collection of Poe short stories, then headed right into a Dick collection. The contrast was stark, to say the least, and I found myself appreciating them for entirely different reasons. Poe finds a universal theme and dives in neck-deep, such as the guilt and paranoia of The Tell-Tale Heart or how revenge can pervert even the most proper of people in The Cask of Amontillado. Dick, on the other hand, gets some way-out “what if?”, and then races from start to finish, often creating an action film on paper in less than 10 pages. What if a spacecraft filled with paranoid schizophrenics crash on an uninhabited planet (Shell Game)? What if the world is taken over by Luddite anarchists, and the only civilization is led by a robot (The Last of the Masters)? What happens when a guy thinks with his penis, only the object of his affection isn’t a human, but an alien (Strange Eden)?

With Poe, I did find myself disappointed on occasion. The Tell-Tale Heart is entirely too short, much shorter than I remember it being when I first read it as a kid. The kind of guilt and fear that plagues the main character needs a little time to develop, and whether it was Poe’s own limitations (alcohol and poverty), the technological limitations (no typewriter or iPad) or the word count imposed by print publications of the time, that doesn’t happen. The protagonist kills, buries the body under the house, the police show up, and he confesses, pretty much that quickly. It lasts as long as the pre-opening credit intro of a Law and Order episode. With The Balloon-Hoax, I was completely flummoxed. Yes, it was a bigger world then, and the idea of traveling across the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon was new and exciting to people of the time. But it’s not a novel (Around the World in 80 Days) or exciting story. A group of guys go to take a balloon trip in Europe, decide to try a cross-Atlantic trip and it works. There’s no suspense, no real problems to overcome, nothing of that sort. Hoax is almost the anti-Poe when it comes to suspense. Don’t get me started on Poe’s overlong and completely unnecessary whist aside in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. But my biggest disappointment may be The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Poe’s only novel. It really left me wanting for more long-form work from him. Pym is Heart of Darkness on acid, the only chance we get to see Poe’s imagination play out in a fairly epic manner.

When it came to Dick, my only disappointment is that he didn’t write more novels. I’d have loved to see stories like Last of the Masters, To Serve the Master, etc., fleshed out. There’s a reason so many of Dick’s shorts – We’ll Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Second Variety (Screamers), The Minority Report (movie of the same name) – have ended up as films. In the short form, Dick has to sacrifice some detail and development, although rarely with detriment to the story itself. On screen, filmmakers have been given the opportunity to flesh out Dick’s bare-bones tales, showing that there is plenty there to work with.

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