RSS

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Avatar: the Legend of Korra: a Promising New Adventure

It is a mistake to judge an artistic production by the target audience. The past decade or so has seen an accelerated erosion of the Western perception of cartoons as something meant only for kids. I suspect that this is partly driven by the fact that it’s the people of my generation in early adulthood at this time. We grew up at a time when several memorable animated productions were on the air. Gargoyles, Beast Wars and the animated series of Batman, Spiderman and X-Men represented stories targeted to the 10-12 demographic but also accessible to older audiences with universal themes, characters of depth and some fairly edgy subject matter.

A new generation of viewers in the 00s have had the chance to enjoy a wave of cartoons that have a similar calibre. Noted among them are X-Men: Evolution, Transformers Animated, and Avatar: the Last Airbender, about which more anon.

This past week Nickelodeon premiered their new series, the Legend of Korra, which takes place in the same universe as the abovementioned Avatar. Taking place 70 years after the events of that series, we meet Korra of the Southern Water Tribe, an element-bending prodigy and the new Avatar – the sole master of all four elements, charged to keep peace and maintain balance in the world. As opposed to her predecessor, Aang, the upbeat, carefree and playful child of The Last Airbender, Korra is a hot-tempered, headstrong and bold teenager, eager to fulfill her duty as Avatar. She’s also built like a feminine adolescent tank.

In the decades between the original series and Legend of Korra, the world of Avatar has blossomed into its own version of the Industrial Revolution, the early stirrings of which we saw in the Fire Nation in the first series. The setting is Republic City, founded as a capital/United Nations HQ for the united world that Aang and company forged in the wake of events in the first series. Far from the mostly rural, semi-medieval character of the first series, here is a city with early cars, ocean liners, zeppelins, mechanical clocks and radio broadcasting reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s more urban films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle.

As of the start of the series, Korra has handily mastered the bending (telekinetic martial art) of Water (her native element) Fire and Earth, and has only to master Air. Her Airbending teacher is none other than one Tenzin, son of Aang. However his attentions are divided between the young Avatar and the political situation in Republic City, where a movement against all bending artists is brewing, branding them as enemies who use their powers to oppress non-benders.

Korra follows Tenzin to Republic City to pursue her training. Being very much a country kid in the big city, Korra has some trouble adjusting, including riding through the streets on her giant polar bear-dog, wrecking a street in a fight with gangsters and fishing illegally in a park. She finally connects with Tenzin and begins her Airbending training. Tenzin proves to be a too strict and dry for her temperament, and she seeks out her own, as it were, extracurricular training, entering the competitive bending circuit alongside a star team on their way to the championships. Korra reconciles with Tenzin after a breakthrough in her Airbending technique, and begins on the road to being a fully realized Avatar.

I was nervous at the idea of a sequel series to Avatar. The story was so solid and well-told that it was hard at first to imagine anything additional not being a dangerous amount of fluff.

However, two episodes in to the new series, I think we’re off to a good start. Tenzin’s cartoonishly stiff demeanour juxtaposed against his rowdy children seemed like a bit of a dumb gag at first but one can see the continuity of character from happy-go-lucky Aang to his contrary son. The test will be in seeing him move above and beyond being a simple straight man.

I was also worried that the benders vs. anti-benders conflict could easily be mishandled and become too black-and-white. Given what bender characters in the first series achieved, there was a risk of their opponents look like ingrates and jerks, a la the Friends of Humanity in X-Men. Again, this is dealt with in that you can genuinely see where the anti-bending lobby is coming from: the police (elite metalbenders led by the daughter of a certain Toph Bei Fong) are virtually unassailable on the one hand, and benders seem to run the organized crime scene in the city on the other. The ideals of the mystical past clashing with the new order of an industrial society looks set up to be a theme that works well at different age levels.

On a related note, one of the things that always gave the Avatar-verse a lot of its veracity for me was its sense of history. If you know anything about Asian history, then the clash of industrial and agrarian cultures in warfare you saw in the war with the Fire Nation will look an awful lot like the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars in the early 20th Century. Likewise, a rapidly modernised society threatened with revolution against the ‘old guard’ reminds one of the fall of the Imperial family in China and the eventual rise of Communism.

In short, the world of the Avatar feels that much more real because there are forces at work that could, and have, really work in real history.

On the character front, there just enough nods to the old series to tickle the affections of fans without confusing newcomers. Although the part where Katara’s granddaughter asks her to tell the story of Zuko’s mother only to be interrupted by her chatty little sister was just cruel in my opinion. Seeing Katara as grandmother and then Aang and Toph immortalized as statues tugs at the heartstrings.

On to our leading lady. The writers of Avatar have rightly been widely praised for their deep, believable heroines and villainesses. Legend of Korra is in a good place to ride the wave started by the Hunger Games in promoting a heroine front-and-centre. More interesting still is the fact that, as an adolescent tomboy (versus Toph who was still prepubescent) Korra is drawn as having a relatively masculine figure (hence the feminine adolescent tank remark above) breaking interesting ground in terms of body types for protagonist women and girls being something other than waifish or stereotypically sexy (which would be a little weird anyway, seeing as she’s a teen, but Avatar’s smut followers, bless ‘em, seldom let that stand in the way).

So after a certain amount of nail-biting on the part of this Avatar: the Last Airbender fan, Legend of Korra seems to be well underway to upholding the high standards of storytelling, world-building and characterization set by the original. Its upcoming challenges will be mainly in the vein of keeping continuity with the themes and history of its predecessor balanced with telling its own story. Still, Team Avatar haven’t failed us yet, so I’m looking forward to following this new adventure.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Television

 

Tags: , , , ,

Hunger Games: Really More of a Peckish Pastime

When I was in high school, my slightly underdeveloped instinct for teenage rebellion manifested through a fascination with dystopia literature. Kicked off nicely with being assigned John Wyndham’s the Chrysalids, I worked my way through the great classics: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451.

In addition to that, Young Adult Literature, the place where we went to meet the dark side of our society, yielded such gems as Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Lois Lowry’s the Giver and Gathering Blue, and Monica Hughes’ the Story Box and the Other Place. All are fine tales of young people rising up to defy totalitarian regimes, often projections of the injustices festering in modern life, our worst aspects carried to extremes and resulting in insidious and darkly nuanced societies.

It was with this fine tradition in mind that I cocked an ear to the buzz and sought out Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

This trilogy is hot property at the public library with young readers and the movie recently broke opening weekend records at the box office. As a female heroine, the main character seems to be breaking new ground in people’s preconceptions of girl heroes only being of interest to girl audiences.

Taking place an indeterminate distance into a future where human civilization collapsed, the story features Katniss Everdeen, from District 12 of the nation of Panem. She volunteers, in place of her little sister, as a ‘tribute’ in the annual Hunger Games. In it, a girl and boy between 12 and 18 from each of the 12 districts are selected by lot, hailed like reality TV stars, trained in combat and survival and then sent into an arena. There, under the constant vigil of cameras, they fight each other to the death for the amusement of the masses. 24 go in, 1 comes out.

The first novel, the Hunger Games, introduces Katniss and her life in the impoverished District 12 as she enters the 74th Hunger Games alongside Peeta, the baker’s son who has loved Katniss from afar for years. Together they enter the pre-Game ceremonies and then the arena, and Katniss has to struggle to survive, forge alliances and friendships, and confront the sadistic Capitol through the instrument of their tyranny.

The second novel, Catching Fire, sees Katniss trying to adjust to life now that she is a ‘victor,’ only to discover that the Capitol’s ruthless exploitation of her has not ended. She tries to play the role expected of her, but finds that her performance in the arena has inspired the downtrodden people of Panem to rebel. Thrown once again into the arena as part of the ‘Quarter Quell,’ an extra special version of the Hunger Games held every 25 years, she and Peeta once again have to watch each other’s backs as they try to make it through the Games while still working against the will of the Capitol and the cruel President Snow.

Finally, Mockingjay, the third novel, finds Katniss and her friends, family and allies in the keeping of the optimistic but autocratic rebel forces, and the districts are now in a state of open warfare. Katniss continues in her constant struggle to balance protecting her loved ones with doing her part and keeping from simply becoming a tool of the rebel leaders.

If I had to describe the series in one word, it would be ‘suspenseful.; From first to last I was kept wondering what would happen next to Katniss and the other characters. Watching these kids fall one by one was heartbreaking, and a general air of man’s inhumanity to man hung over the whole experience. I have to say it was also rather refreshing to see a dystopian future where the human element is the sole indicator. The landscapes seem fertile and vibrant, rather than a run-down urban hell pit like in Fahrenheit 451 or a bleak wasteland like the Chrysalids.There’s a real sense that the biggest threat to the people is themselves, rather than circumstance. Moreover the entire scenario has a charming familiarity for me since it’s the same cloth a lot of classic Doctor Who and Star Trek episodes were cut from.

As much as I enjoyed the first book, the suspense factor is really the main thing it has going for it. Character development is flat; Katniss is not a noticeably different person at the end from who she was as the beginning. Collins seems to be in such a rush to get to the suspenseful and dramatic bits that she skips a lot of the development and groundwork, breaking the cardinal rule of ‘show, don’t tell,’ dulling a lot of intense moments and turning Katniss into an exposition dispenser in the process.

This improves in the second book, as Katniss starts contending with some serious questions about her identity vis a vis the rebellion, and other characters get more thoroughly fleshed out. All this is capped off with the same suspense and a rather clever ending.

That takes us as far as the first two books right there. I feel that Mockingjay, the third and final installment, needs to be treated independently. Mockingjay is to put it bluntly, terrible. With the rebellion fully underway, Collins and her editors themselves seem to be rebelling against the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. Three chapters went by before I got to read anything that wasn’t Katniss’ internal monologue about what had been happening, what her life was like now, and who the new players were. God forbid I could actually meet any of them.

A new secondary villain is introduced and given seemingly less than a dozen lines of spoken dialogue! There are lots of intense, touching and interesting scenes, but they feel like stitched-on patches that don’t carry any weight in the rest of the story

We get so deluged in new characters and shown so little of who they are, that I neither could keep adequate track of them, nor bring myself to care very much. Katniss , meanwhile, is continually going through what Tropers call a ‘Trauma Conga Line’ that caused me to reach angst saturation way before she was done, and left me numb before the climax was anywhere in sight.

A common criticism often levelled is the focus in the latter two books on Katniss’ love triangle with Peeta and her best friend Gale, which gets a little soap-opera-like as the story goes along. Personally I didn’t mind it, and the way Katniss and Peeta form a team seemed like a sound progression to a relationship, but the reason I didn’t mind it was chiefly because it gets handled in the same dry way as most other aspects of the story, so that I can neither be invested in or annoyed by it all that much. It also gives birth to the interesting but out-of-place and strange Deadly Hallows-esque epilogue.

However, Mockingjay’s frankly careless handling of storytelling apart, I enjoyed the series, and the first book in particular, despite these flaws. The movie was actually very successful in compensating for the ‘show don’t tell’ issues, as a film necessarily does, and I’d go so far as to call it better than the book, a rare event.

But book or film, the franchise for me will be dangerously set back by one major problem, and that’s the villains. If you can remember all the way back to the start of this post, I mentioned that I’m a self-styled connoisseur of the dystopia genre. Consider Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Party gets inside your head, manipulating you to Love Big Brother, or the Giver, where a society has bought peace and tranquility in exchange for callousness and ignorance.

In the Hunger Games, I theorized going in that the biggest danger of the society would be that the masses were sold on the spectacle but detached from the consequences of the Games. I assumed they were a device to distract and indoctrinate the masses, a little like Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate. I also imagined that Katniss’ resentment of the regime would grow out of what she and her fellows endured in the Hunger Games.

But instead the Games is only really entertainment for the Party people, the Districts are compelled to participate out of spite, and everybody knows that. Katniss’ slow character growth is due in large part to the fact that she already hated the Capitol, making the Games seem like her going through the motions instead of on a real journey. The nation’s name ‘Panem’ is from the Latin for ‘Bread’ as in ‘Bread and Circuses’ but the thing is that the Roman elite used B&C to keep the masses docile and distracted while they were really being exploited and subjugated. In Panem, the Hunger Games are used to rub the Districts’ faces in the fact that they’re exploited and subjugated.

Launched from that premise, in both the books and the movie, the Capitol and President Snow’s behaviour becomes increasingly sadistic, vindictive and suicidally stupid. The victors – particularly Katniss, despite her being a rebel figurehead – are relentlessly bullied and tormented by the villains. District 12 seems less like a real, if poor, community and more like a slightly posh concentration camp, and they’re kept in that state that for no apparent reason. The existence of a rebellion is not remotely surprising, nor does the enemy come across as anything but brutes. Dystopia villains are scary because of their ability to get inside your head, and President Snow, despite attempts to depict him as a smooth plotter, doesn’t appear to have anything in his head. Even accepting that such shameless despots have really existed, none of them held a regime together for anything like 75 years.

I feel that the series overall could have achieved true greatness except for the cartoonish villains and the abovementioned excess of telling over showing. More study of the concept of ‘Bread and Circuses’ and the psychology behind it, which has been crucial to Dystopia literature’s entire history, and more time taken for characterization and world-building would have created something really amazing.

The first book at least is fun and intense, the movie is breathtaking, and I’m pleased by the revolution Katniss is sparking in real life. I just wish they’d put her in a better story…

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Book

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wandering in the Cold: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

In general, I believe in experiencing the original version of something before indulging in remakes. There are exceptions; the Bourne films are, by all accounts, far more penetrable and interesting than Ludlum’s novels. I made sure I rented the original Swedish version of Let the Right One In, not the American remake, but then again I didn’t read the book because I’ve read synopses and would like to continue to sleep at night…

Okay, this is getting a little sidetracked. But to segue via the Swedish connection, I broke that rule yet again when fate dropped the English-language version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in my lap.

From this I elected not to watch the original ever because if I assume the pattern holds true that European films allow a lot more leeway than Hollywood when it comes to explicit content, then this version was quite enough for me.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features Mikael, played well if somewhat inexplicably by Daniel Craig. Mikael is a journalist who has recently been made a fool of publicly after being sued for all he’s worth by a billionaire. Keen to get out of the limelight for a while, he accepts an offer from an aging business magnate played by Christopher Plummer (a man I believe to be incapable of giving a bad performance). The magnate’s niece disappeared, presumed murdered 40 years ago and he has been trying ever since to sort out whom in his large, rich and fractious family might have had a hand in her demise. Mikael, he says, might turn his investigative mind to finding something he has missed all this time.

In a related matter, Plummer’s character chose Mikael after receiving a shockingly detailed and informed report on his character and work from Lisbeth, played by Rooney Mara. Lisbeth is a master of computer hacking and used that to compile a report on Mikael. She is also a ward of the state; dysfunctional in numerous ways, in no way helped by the fact that she is repeatedly and (very) graphically raped by her social worker, who blackmails her into it by promising money and favourable progress reports.

Mikael ends up getting her to join him as a research assistant as together they track down the killer, and Lisbeth forms both a sexual and emotional bond with Mikael.

I admit I had high expectations of this movie. The trailers made it look like an intense whodunit thriller with disguises and shadowy clues and things. For all the pathos and build-up, however, the movie was a big disappointment. The mystery itself involves a series of dreary interviews and squinting at photographs ending in a serial killer twist worthy of a workaday CSI episode. This is interrupted every so often so we can watch Lisbeth getting victimized with no sense of plot momentum at all. All of the master-of-disguise intrigue is within the space of one montage that has no bearing on the mystery. Mikael and Lisbeth both figure out the mystery independently of one another, spoiling the character dynamic since it wasn’t the synthesis of skills that cinched the deal.

Lisbeth meanwhile never confides in Mikael, she’s already turned the tables on her social worker (in a spectacularly sadistic and poetic way) before she even meets Mikael, and they go their separate ways at the end. Lisbeth’s character development fizzles and neither of them is noticeably different at one end of the story or the other. The fact that she’s the title character is just weird. I thought she was going to be the focus of the mystery, a suspect or potential victim, or maybe a vigilante or secret agent of some sort. In fact she gets less screen time than Craig does, is his research assistant, and on the occasions when she wasn’t wearing baggy deadbeat Goth clothes, I couldn’t even tell which of her selection of tattoos was the titular one. 

I’m not saying there are bad performances, quite the opposite. Lisbeth is not easily forgotten but the script in which she exists comes across as the writers periodically forgetting what kind of movie they were making and so the story arc just sort of bounces around. I’m told that the book was the first in a trilogy. I don’t know if they plan to adapt the rest of it, but they needed to put a bit more effort into making me give a toss.

It’s hard to like it anyway since not only did the English speaking world feel the need to do their own version of it, but rather than transfer it to America, use American characters and culture (as in the above case of Let the Right One In) they kept the setting, plot and characters pretty much the same and just used English-speaking actors.

This insular quality of the Anglophonic film industry is a whole essay unto itself, but between the shallowness of the adaptation and dreary, meandering plot, I fail to see why this movie would make any sort of a bang. Don’t bother is my advice.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Movie

 

Tags: , , , ,

Sucker Punch – A New Cult Classic

The leading ladies of Sucker Punch. Left to Right: Blondie, Amber, Baby Doll, Sweet Pea and Rocket.

Those who know me could be forgiven for thinking that I’m little obsessed with talking about the movie ‘Sucker Punch,’ but it would appear that, for some opaque reason, people who watched this film and enjoyed it consists of me, and like 3 other people. Against us stands approximately 70 percent of the professional film critics and roughly the entire internet, a state of affairs which is so difficult to reconcile with the actual movie that I saw earlier this week that I feel I must speak out.

Also I am sort of an obsessive-compulsive personality, but anyway…

Following his successful and all-round sublime adaptations of Frank Miller’s ‘300’ and Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ Zack Snyder seems to have finally gotten a shot at doing a project that’s his very own from the ground up, hence ‘Sucker Punch,’ production, direction and writing credits all being to himself this time.

‘Sucker Punch’ features ‘Baby Doll,’ a young and deceptively naïve woman in the 1960s condemned by her wicked stepfather to a mental asylum to clear his path to her late mother’s fortune. Not alone in being falsely committed, Baby Doll begins organizing an escape plan which she filters through layers of fantastical scenarios as a coping mechanism for herself and as an opportunity to watch women in battle armour and miniskirts slice through legions of steampunk Germans, robots and magic mecha-samurai for the rest of us.

The multiple layers of internal fantasy Baby Doll experiences are radically different from one another, rather like the dream layers from ‘Inception’ only more so, with one layer representing the archetypal players of her overall situation, and numerous others to represent her overcoming specific obstacles that stand between her and her ultimate goal. One consequence of this is the movie’s trailers were pretty incoherent, which led me to conclude that it was going to be some kind of brainless explodey, whiz-bang, fanservice-heavy action flick. I strolled into the Cineplex looking forward to this the same way I look forward to a large slice of fudge cake or a fireworks show.

The only obvious hypothesis I can conceive regarding the overwhelming negative reception of this film is that people walked into it expecting just that experience and then got upset to discover that Snyder had actually intended us to use our brains, and that this movie actually has a plot, morals and intellectual subtext, and an intense emotional arc that…well, that sucker-punched me.

A lot of people seem to be criticizing it as a ‘hot chicks in skirts shooting stuff for the arousal of male moviegoers’ pretentiously shallow film, a new generation of sexploitation flicks. Possibly I’m just a prissy idiot but I cannot for the life of me fathom how they worked that out. The degradation and sexualization of women is vilified at every turn and the mini-skirts and guns sequences, apart from being a nod to the anime films Snyder was evidently inspired by, come across as Baby Doll reclaiming herself from the aforementioned exploiters – exhibition as empowerment, as it were. And really, as fanservice, a short skirt and anime sailor suit is about as scandalous as Charlotte Bronte’s Sunday best compared to Queen Gorgo of Sparta’s ‘Designer eveningwear for the woman who never sneezes’ outfit in ‘300.’

That, admittedly, is at least somewhat subjective, and there are some people (particularly among my otherwise-beloved feminist blogosphere) who will see non-sexist intent disguised as sexist intent as proof of sexist intent and so on ad infinitum, but I see empowering characters and themes in this scenario. It also resonates with me personally since Baby Doll’s use of fantasy filters for her predicament is eerily similar to how I cope with stressful times and situations myself. Personally, I prefer a rapier to a katana, though. But I digress…

If I were going to criticize it for anything (other than having a title that’s really awkward to say more than once or twice) I’d say it was (to put it mildly) a touch derivative, but having said that it derives from the best: In the course of one movie I picked up a range of delectable flavours reminiscent of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (a deliberate homage on Snyder’s part), ‘Inception,’ ‘Chicago,’ ‘Sailor Moon’ (yes I have watched Sailor Moon. Shut up. I was eight.), ‘the Lord of the Rings,’ and ‘the Matrix.’ It’s probably a question of where you, personally, draw the line between ‘homage’ and ‘rip-off.’

If you could wrap your mind around the plot of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Inception,’ or, hell, ‘the Italian Job’ and are the least bit capable of willing suspension of disbelief, then the potential is there for you to enjoy this movie, but you have to go into it ready to think. As mentioned earlier, it is really intense in places (oddly enough those places aren’t the fantasy-action sequences a lot of the time), thoughtful and exhilarating. I also mentioned ‘intellectual subtext,’ and I will admit that I’m not sure how much sense I made of it my first go round, but I am sanguine that this is a genuinely intelligent movie with an underlying positive message and pretty decent applicability.

So go see it. We’re all getting lonely here in the internet, so get a move on!

“You have all the weapons you need…now fight!”

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Movie

 

Tags: , , ,

Retro Review: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

 

The maiden voyage of David Weber’s space opera series featuring officer and gentlewoman Honor Harrington of the Royal Manticoran Navy is the science fiction counterpart to military-career-novel series in the tradition of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, and in particular C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower saga.Forester is obviously the most prominent influence here – Honor’s initials being the first clue. Her characterization also owes a fair bit to Hornblower; they share a strict sense of duty, a chronic conflict between doing the logical thing and doing the right thing, a tendency to be the victim of higher-up officers who have assorted unjust reasons to hate her guts, and a diverse array of self-esteem issues.

Harrington definitely comes across as an over-idealized character. I can just about sense Weber desperately trying to contrive some flaws to make her more realistic – as it is her biggest ‘flaws’ are that she’s not very good at astro-navigation, some rather minor and shallow body image issues, and that she hates the sound of her own laugh. This is most obvious with Honor but not exclusive to her: Horace Harkness and Alistair McKeon’s characters are the only ones who really demonstrate any ability to be good people with unpleasant qualities. Although the Havenite officers do get some limited portrayal as just-doing-their-job, merely amoral people. Other than that, you basically have your pick of positive, if sometimes snarky or short-fused characters like Honor, Hamish Alexander or Dame Estelle, or unscrupulous, egotistical, spiteful over-the-top gutter trash you love to hate like Admiral Hemphill, Doctor Suchon or Pavel Young.

Having said that, when the plot really gets rolling I can’t help but get pulled in. Weber and Cornwell share a skill at being even-handed in characterizing their secondary characters, with the result that when it’s time to take HMS Fearless into battle, I do sit on edge waiting to see where the hammer falls. This isn’t like Star Trek, where secondary characters might as well be introduced as, “This is Lieutenant So-and-So. They’ll be dying in our climactic battle today.” You have no idea who is going to die, and every death does feel like a punch in the stomach – especially since we also spend some time with the POV of the medical officer doing triage, so even the ones who weren’t killed outright by the last missile might or might not still make it.

Credit has to go to Weber in the area of world-building. This vision of how the future could play out is not at all hard to believe (I particularly like the fact that the Star Kingdom’s monarchs started out as commercial entrepreneurs, showing the continuity from what we are now to what we’ve become in the series), and for my money he’s done a really nice job of reconciling a classic style of ship-to-ship combat with the speeds, distances and physics of outer space, and he didn’t make up anything he didn’t have to. The random suddenness and gruesomeness of casualties in the climactic battle is genuinely horrifying, and gets a massive emotional payoff when the battle is over. Related to my remarks above, one benefit of Honor’s self-castigation is that through her, the human cost of space combat really hits home, where in other stories ‘one third of the crew lost’ would be merely a statistic.

I also like the moral about the tightrope of ethical relations with less-advanced civilizations – which, moreover, dodges the eternal defect of Star Trek planets all apparently being represented by the same half-dozen people in the same town, whatever their level of development. The fact that the aliens are less advanced than humans and actually look genuinely alien is merely icing on the science fiction cake.

In general, then, I like On Basilisk Station. The characters are pretty much pure archetype and the prose are a little on the purple side, but the setting is magnificent, the action is thrilling, the story has classic themes, and the melodramatic style and character arcs are the kind of pulp-fiction indulgence that everyone needs once in a while.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Book

 

Tags: , , ,