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Tweets from 2015-08-16 to 2015-08-22

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Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is a literary, level-headed look at life after the apocalypse.  It’s not a comet, nor a zombie plague, but a simple especially-lethal influenza.  Imagine 1918, but far, far worse.  St. John Mandel tells the story of several people, all united by their common acquaintance with one man who dies at the beginning of the novel.  It’s a solid character study with a compelling through-line and expertly-crafted people.  Reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Colson Whitehead’s Year One.  It’s literary apocalypse, and very compelling.

A few thoughts:

  • The novel imagines the apocalypse in much less horrific terms than many of the books that I read, but it’s all the more chilling for that.  The common struggle for survival puts us way back into the dark ages, at least for a time, and people find both the good and the bad in themselves.
  • The mix of present-day and future storylines also works well, giving depth to the future with excursions into the past.  St. John Mandel even works out an effective way to tie the younger characters (born after the flu) into the older storylines.
  • My only complaint is that the novel gets a bit too cleanly tied up in the end.  It’s fair to say that the story is being told in a way designed to wrap up when the narrative demands it, but it feels like there’s an awful lot of coincidence at work in the final shakedown.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Dickens did it, after all), but it feels a little too on-the-nose.

Also, I’d like to read the (fictional) comic book from which the novel’s title is taken.

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Film review: As Above, So So

As Above So Below PosterAs Above So Below

This film follows a group of renegade explorers as they dive into the Paris catacombs looking for buried Alchemist treasure.  It’s a creepy movie that plays on the extraordinary claustrophobia of underground spaces, and makes excellent use of the first-person camera genre (though it never proposes the means by which the audience came to see this footage).  A few thoughts:

  • I wish screenwriters would look up the name of another Alchemist.  Nicholas Flammel is probably sitting somewhere right now scowling at the way he gets brought up over and over again.
  • The first hour of this ninety-minute movie was great.  It had a growing sense of dread and creepiness that really works well.  The last thirty minutes, not as much.
  • The film’s best points are its great use of the first person cameras.  The limited view we get is excellent, and makes for a frightening experience as we try to understand what the people are seeing behind the person whose camera we’re using.
  • The spiritual component of the film is interesting too — the idea that the movie makes the alchemist’s philosophy a key component of the story is great.  There are some moments that are downright weird, but you come to understand why they happened the way they did.  That said, the film isn’t as precise about the nature of the metaphysical haunting stuff as I’d like it to be.  When they propose a ‘system’ for how things work, it feels to me like they should really work that way.
  • This film reminded me a lot of The Descent, another excellent ‘trapped underground’ movie with an even weirder ending.  (In 2007, here’s what I wrote about The Descent: “A surprisingly enjoyable horror movie that became startlingly LESS scary when the monsters showed up.  Disasterous spelunking and solid character development don’t need hungry Gollums to spice things up.  I haven’t felt such claustrophobia while watching a film since DAS BOOT.”)  Both films figured out how to make being in an enclosed space scary, but didn’t figure out that they could leave out the creepy supernatural stuff.  Being underground is scary enough.

Ultimately, As Above So Below is a fine B movie with a creepy premise and solid execution.  It doesn’t really stick the landing, but you’ll enjoy the fall.

Here’s a trailer you can watch if you want to spoil literally every key plot point.

I inadvertently took June off from blogging

It’s been a busy month around here, working on writing projects and creative projects and, well, work.  In all that time, I’ve just fallen off the blogging train.  Sorry about that!

Quick updates:

Not much reading this month.  I read Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.  It was good.

Plenty of gaming.  It was my birthday this month, which became a gameapalooza, and should keep me sated for a while.  Here are the games I got, along with my impressions of them:

  • Gates of Arkham expansion for Elder Sign.  Wicked hard, but fun so far.
  • Titanic the board game.  Haven’t played it yet.  Looks like it will likely be fun as a novelty more than as a game to play a lot.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.  Funny game that will be great in a big group.
  • A Netrunner expansion.  Haven’t had a chance to dig into that yet.
  • Galaxy Trucker.  Really fun so far — looking forward to more plays of this.
  • Agricola.  I can’t wait to try this one.
  • Cthulhu’s Vault, a kickstarter that showed up right around my birthday.  A storytelling game that looks cool.

Wow.  Lots of great gaming ahead.  I’ll try to get back to blogging more regularly.

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