The coming Monkey Apocalypse

In the past few months, I’ve become more and more convinced that one of Avery’s children’s books is actually a missing apocalyptic text, revealing to us the end of the world, in rhythmic rhyme.

If you aren’t familiar with Al Perkin’s Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, check it out in the kids section of your local bookstore.  You’ll come away quaking in terror.

Page 1:

Innocent enough

We begin with our simian cousin, discovering his genetic gift, the opposable thumb.  He immediately begins using that thumb to stir up trouble.  Throughout the book, he gathers his hordes, steals treasure from the countryside, and unites all the sub-species of primates by teaching them drum playing, violin playing, and all sorts of mischief.

By the end of the book, he has amassed a terrifying army of monkeys, which come seething down out of the mountains to tear civilization to shreds.

A seething horde of monkeys surging across the landscape

Johnny Cash, ruminating on the Book of Revelation, described this very scene:

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.
One hundred million angels singin’.
Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum.
Voices callin’, voices cryin’. Some are born an’ some are dyin’.
It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come.

They’re smiling now, but it’s because their blood is up.  Just look at the last page, immediately following the riotous chaos of the Monkey Army on the mountain:

The drum beat of the coming apocalypse

Tell me that one monkey, ominously smiling and beating his rhythm on the drum, doesn’t scare the bejeebus out of you.

No Graves As Yet

No Graves As Yetby Anne Perry; narrated by Michael Page

This murder/espionage mystery was moderately enjoyable, with good characterization and an intricate plot.  At the same time, it wasn’t amazing, and it’s a bit dubious to call it a “Novel of World War I.”  A few small comments:

  • The book features prominent use of a car-disabling weapon called “caltrops,” a word that I knew from a card game I worked on with some friends.
  • I figured out the mystery pretty early, and waited an awfully long time while Joseph (the main character) caught up with me.
  • The arch villain’s identity is never revealed. 🙁
  • The book does an excellent job of capturing the tension and strange atmosphere at work in pre-War England.  The absurdity of the escalating war over the assassinated Archduke becomes quite clear.

Michael Page’s narration worked very well.  I particularly liked the voice he did for Joseph’s younger brother and spy, Michael.  Very raspy and gruff.

The Will to Read

So I finally finished Random Acts of Senseless Violence, which is excellent and terrifying.  It sits next to 1984, for me, as a dark, wholly plausible view of the future we may face.  THANKS, John.

Aside from the value the book itself holds, though, it was also a real testament to my Will to Read.  Because I found the subject of the book (urban breakdown and near apocalypse) terrifying and the narrator of the book (a 12 year old girl) heartbreaking, it took a lot of effort to pick up the book each time I went to read it.  I think it took me over four months to get through the 260-odd pages.  I think I would have had a similar experience had I tried to read (instead of listen) The Road.

I finally finished Womack’s book because I had a long day of travel ahead of me (on Friday) and I committed to only reading Random Acts.
The only other time I can remember struggling as much with a book that I didn’t have to read (for assignment or research) was with The Magus.  That one took me nearly a year.

As a reward to myself, I’m rereading Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age.  Mmmmmm, nanotechnological goodness.

A Clash of Kings

By George R. R. Martin

The Song of Fire and Ice continues in a bloody, vicious way.  While the first book took a while to grab me, the second pulled me along at a riotous clip.  Dark events haunt the novel, with wars tearing families apart and sending them scattering.  The end of the novel is heartbreaking, and feels much like The Empire Strikes Back to me.

Spoilers below the fold. Continue reading A Clash of Kings

The Great Influenza

by John M. Barry; Narrated by Scott Brick

Stuff I learned:

  • World War I saw sauerkraut renamed “Victory Cabbage” or “Liberty Cabbage.”
  • Another pandemic of influenza is “probable” or “likely” in the near future.
  • The biggest hinderance to public health in pandemics is government cover-ups; when officials and journalists lie about the severity and nature of the disease, they kill people.  Good thing we’ve got a very open, up-front administration. :O

In short, influenza is frickin scary.

A Perfect Storm of Apocalypses

Inadvertently, I found myself reading/ listening/ watching four apocalypse stories simultaneously. This catastrophe of sad stories occurred because I avoid sad stories. When I’m reading something grim that I don’t want to quit reading, I just slow down and read other things simultaneously. It had to happen that eventually I’d be reading one grim thing slowly and pick up another to avoid the first. This is one of those cases.

EDIT: (2008-01-01) When I first wrote this post, I included a photo called “Road to the Sea” from flickr.  I thought the photo was posted with a creative commons license, but the license on the photo now says “All rights reserved” so I’ve taken it down.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack

John Walter recommended this book to me, and I’m excited to read it. At the same time, I’m terrified. Urban apocalypse scares me most of all, and this entire book, an epistolary novel written from the perspective of a young-teen girl, drips with it. It also features what 1970s horror movie makers knew was the worst thing: dread. We know bad things are coming–epidemics, continuous rioting, economic strife–but Womack keeps pushing them back a little further. At least Octavia Butler, in The Parable of the Sower, got the collapse of society started with haste. This book, not so much. (This is the only one of the four I haven’t finished now.)
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

My father-in-law insisted I should read this as an audiobook, since the narrator (Tom Stechschulte) does a fantastic job. I didn’t know it was a father-and-son road book about a post-apocalyptic landscape. Talk about dread: the characters shamble from one horror to another, running for their lives from cannibals and murderers. McCarthy makes a scavanged tin of peaches seem like heaven on earth, but I’m still quaking from the bit about the people being kept in the storm cellar as food.

Monster Island by David Wellington

Perhaps zombie novels don’t fit the same seriousness as the two books above, but this one is still creepy. The need to have the zombies be more than zombies makes sense. I’ll have to write something more sustained about why zombie novels can’t just be zombie films in novel form; at least the good ones can’t. The short answer is that zombies are a visual monster. They tap into the uncanny, and that fear works best as a visual, not language-based, one. The human-and-yet-not-human shape of the zombies, along with their dead eyes and lumbering walk, make them frightening. In books, this doesn’t translate the same way, and action becomes the way one interacts with them.

Thus, zombie novelists must come up with something else for the zombies to do. Some make it funny (Al’s All Fright Diner, The Stupidest Angel), some make it large scale (World War Z), and some give the zombies an unheimlich intelligence (Cell, Monster Island). My favorite twist with Wellington’s book was his decision to have the zombie epidemic be something other than a virus. That way, pigeons, horses, and mummies can all rise from the dead as well.

Children of Men

Good God! Why do all the beautiful movies (save Searching for Bobby Fischer) have to be do damn heartwrenching. There I sat, watching Cuaron’s brilliant film in my living room, my muscles clenched with tension, my stomach seizing. The moment arrives when Ki passes through a crowd with her baby and everyone stops shooting to listen to the baby cry. Then, as the baby’s crying died out I heard Avery crying in her bedroom. Scared the bejeezus out of me. And I think I over-comforted her, at that.

So having seen the film now, why did I think Ben Kingsley was in it?

Mayflower

Mayflower
Mayflower

A Story of Courage, Community, and War
By Nathaniel Philbrick; Narrated by George Guidall

I assumed the standard story about the pilgrims being lovey-dovey with the Indians was bogus, but I didn’t realize just how bogus.

Philbrick does an excellent job of showing just how thoroughly the second generation of Plymouth citizens forgot about the debt they owed the Native Americans and proceeded to kill, maim, steal from, and enslave their neighbors.  The war that occurred some 50 years after the Plymouth settlement began wiped out a huge percentage of the population — about 8% of the English and nearly HALF of the Native Americans.

A couple shamefacts for ya:

  • Many Indians, seen as too dangerous to keep around, were enslaved and sold to plantation owners in the Carribbean.
  • In their first winter, the pilgrims stole corn from the storehouses of a native village and dug up graves to plunder from the dead.
  • A large community of converts to Christianity, called the “Praying Indians” were hustled off to an internment camp for a significant portion of King Phillip’s War, as the English were suspicious they would turn traitor.

Despite those interesting nuggets, I learned very little about buckled hats.

The 300 Spartans

The 300 Spartans
Meh.

Watching this film made me reflect mostly on how far we’ve come in filming action sequences. While the politics of the film and the characters work as well or better than 300, the landscape seems far less believable than the sheer cliff-faces of the newer film. It’s unclear why the vast numbers can’t just use the full width of the pass, rather than only the strictly-flat ground.

On the plus side, though, there were no axe-arm guys.

On City Heat

Jenny and I watched the 1980’s “comedy” noir film City Heat last night — I’d rather not explain the circumstances that led us to that low end — and afterward watched the theatrical trailer. I’ve long thought trailers leave too little to the imagination, but this b movie entry reminds me just how far we’ve come. The trailer compiles all the most fisticuff-filled moments from the film, resulting in 2 minutes of manly 1980s-era punching.

City Heat

In revisiting these films, I can’t help but ponder the shift of fighting styles that has occurred in action films during the last 25 years or so. It seems like the straightforward shoot and punch methods of Clint, Charles Bronson, Sly Stallone and their ilk have been largely erased in favor of lithe tumblers who bounce around the room as they fight and shoot. One could suggest that the change comes from shifting tastes or the rise in the global action film market (and the influence of Eastern fighting and filmmaking) or the adoption of new technologies for filmmaking. These are all reasonable answers, but I wonder how the political and technological landscape influences the shift in fighting styles.

Paul Virilio suggested, in War and Cinema, that the cinematic eye co-evolved with the technological apparatus of modern warfare, and that the two feed off one another. It seems that the technological advances spurred by the home computer boom appear simultaneously in cinematic action scenes. The stand-up-and-fight approach of City Heat morphs into the leap-and-tumble combat of The Matrix at the same time that the American military complex becomes more and more technologically snazzy and its enemies more decentralized.

The straightforwardness of the action scenes in City Heat was both quaint and a drag. The film had little interest in creating suspense in its fights–but there was little attempt to make these fights snazzy either. I see no difference in the shootouts of City Heat or Magnum, P.I. The trailer summed the goals of the film nicely: “Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in City Heat. On the tough streets of 1933 New York, Clint is a tough flatfoot and Burt is a wise-cracking PI. [Two minutes of brawling.] Need we say more?”