Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best of 2008

Best Books:
1. Baltimore by Mike Mignola and
2. The Terror by Dan Simmons
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
4. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
5. Fitzpatrick's War by Theodore Judson
6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volumes I & II: Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
6. Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
7. Cosmopolis by Don DeLilo
8. The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
9. Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan
10. Mars Needs Moms! by Berkely Breathed

1. Dark Knight
2. Wall-E
3. Iron Man
4. Hellboy II
5. The Fountain
6. The Fall
7. Stardust
8. Cloverfield
9. Bolt
10. The Incredible Hulk

Save Me From Myself - Brian "Head" Welch
The Black Halo - Kamelot
XV - King's X
Lost Horizons - Abney Park

"Beautiful Things" - Andain
"Empty Walls" - Serj Tankian
"Welcome Home" - Coheed and Cambria
"Home" - Brian "Head" Welch
"Hold Me In Your Arms" - The Trews
"I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" - Scissor Sisters
"Pray" - King's X
"In This Twilight" - Nine Inch Nails
"Where We Are" - Neverending White Lights & Rob Dickinson
"Frei Zu Sein" - In Extremo

Nine Inch Nails - Edmonton, AB
King's X - Houston, TX
Seven Devil Fix, Edmonton, AB
Abney Park, Sunnyvale, CA

Dacy's birth
Convocation/Completing and Defending my M.A. thesis
California Steampunk Convention
Vacationing in Katy, TX in May

Let Downs
The number of movies I was looking forward to that got bumped to 2009: specifically, the new Harry Potter not being released at Christmas!
Having to stall on writing Magik Beans
Seeing "The Orphanage" and "The Mist"
The end of Seven Devil Fix
The end of the Gathering

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gotthammer's Star Wars

Here's my Gotthammer Christmas present to everyone. My version of Star Wars: A New Hope, done in old-school space opera style, with a little Steampunk thrown in for good measure (I'm working on some papers for my PhD work right now concerning the Steampunk Star Wars art, so I have this on the brain). I won't be changing much about the plot for this first film, except that Biggs, Wedge, and Porkins are the stormtroopers who come aboard the Falcon on the Death Star (remember how Biggs said he'd go off to join the Empire, learn how to be a pilot, and then jump ship as soon as he could? Well...this is the 'soon as he could.') They would assist in the rescue of Princess Leia and escape from the Death Star.

In casting, I've gone out of my way to redress some of the caucasian ethnocentricity of Lucas's originals. If you were black in the originals, you were a marginal character, and in Lando's case, a traitor. If you were asian, you alien. This isn't about being PC, it's about making the Rebellion reflect in reality what it purports to in concept, as well as being the sort of people who would oppose an Empire made up of people with British accents.

Han Solo: Will Smith - he's got the cocky action hero down pat, and it will make for a very cool scene in my version of Empire when Han introduces Leia to Lando, as played by...Jada Pinkett Smith. "That's Lando?"takes on a whole new meaning. Let's face it, a lover scorned would turn Solo over to the Empire. But I digress: Will Smith is one of the best leading men in Hollywood, and while it worked for Lucas to use nobodies the first time around, if I had a chance to remake the series, I'd do it with big names like Smith. Hey, if you're going to pipedream, you might as well pipedream big.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Pierce Brosnan - his British accent ties him to the power structures of the past, but his beard and long hair tell us he's badass. James Bond with a lightsaber, baby.

Luke Skywalker: Johnny Nguyen - sure, he's a lot older than Hamill was for the original New Hope, but I was pondering the idea of an older Luke, who actually wanted to stay on Tattooine. This is a guy who didn't want to get involved in the Rebellion, but has no choice when the war finally comes to him. He's a farmboy who likes the farm, and racing that T-16 Skyhopper and his landspeeder. Who knows, maybe he does pod-racing, which would foreshadow the Death Star battle. In addition, Johnny is a kickass stuntman, so he can handle the physical side of the role.

Princess Leia: Lara Dutta (if she'd even agree - she turned down roles in both the Matrix sequels). I want an Indian in this role because India represents one of the areas of the world the British Empire occupied, but never crushed. The entire twins idea was superfluous. It added nothing to the original trilogy save to defuse the ostensible love triangle potential between Han, Luke, and Leia. It would take nothing away to remove it, so I'm going to. It avoids the need to give her Force powers, which being Luke's twin demands in the films, not just in the sequel novels. To underscore her agency as a strong female lead (which Lucas started out with and then seemed to completely abandon), I would also have her escape on her own before Luke, Han, and Chewbacca show up, just to underscore her plucky bravado even more.

Grand Moff Tarkin: Bill Nighy - we've loved him as a villain in both Pirates of the Caribbean and Underworld, plus he's got the right accent for the Empire.

Chewbacca: Lawrence Makoare - the most kickass big guy in show business as far as I'm concerned, who is long overdue for playing a hero, after having played three of the villains in Lord of the Rings.

C3P0: Anthony Daniels - the man still needs work, right?

R2D2: No actor required, really. No, really.

Darth Vader: It really doesn't matter too much who is in the costume, so long as they're tall. And let's face it, Hayden Christiansen being in the suit at the end of Ep. 3 proved even that premise wrong. But for the voice, given his performance as the Firelord on Avatar: the Last Airbender, I
think it would be really cool if Mark Hamill voiced Vader.

Biggs Darklighter: Ryan Reynolds
Wedge: Owen Wilson
Porkins: Jack Black
Okay, maybe this is a really bad idea, but I think there's some good potential for a subplot with these three, who go away to join the Empire with the hope of jumping ship and joining the Rebellion. Trouble is, once they get assigned to the Death Star, jumping ship is impossible, given that any planet the Death Star gets close to which even smells like it's part of the Rebel Alliance gets blasted! I think there's potential for webisodes leading up to the major release with this.

I want Greg Broadmore of Weta Workshop to do the design work for the film, based upon his excellent Rayguns series.

Who to direct? Why, Guillermo del Toro, of course!
Just as soon as he's done the Hobbit. Or so he tells me...

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Coordinates of Comparison 2009

Here's the poster I did for the 3rd annual Comparative Literature conference at the University of Alberta. Aside from a few minor changes, this is the final version. It's one of the first pieces of media I've ever done which utilized solely my own photography.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Review: The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan 8/10

Darrell Sweet's crappy cover of the Great Hunt

Anyone familiar with Gotthammer knows that the past 5 years have been busy ones for me, and that the site always suffers when the coursework is dense. Regular guests here also know that I have determined to re-read (which means listen to the audio books) all eleven installments of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series in preparation for the release of the final book in September of 2009. I lost out on October entirely, as my I-pod was co-opted by audio books for my classes. When I finished Anil's Ghost two weeks ago, I realized I'd run out of school related audiobooks for the time being, and that I could finally listen to something I wanted to for my commutes (not that my selection of texts this semester has been onerous. With any luck, I'll blog about them over Christmas break). Like comfort food, I returned to the Wheel of Time series, picking up in mid-read (listen) of the second book, The Great Hunt.

A warning to the neophytes: these reviews are full of spoilers, and are really intended as ruminations for other fans of Wheel of Time.

Cover to Part one of the Youth Edition of the Great Hunt.

Whereas Eye of the World has one of my favorite openings and what I deem an uneven final quarter, The Great Hunt starts out clunky and uneven (which is where it loses points), but finds its stride somewhere around the middle of the novel, after Rand has reclaimed the Horn of Valere and Egwene and Nynaeve are firmly ensconced in the White Tower. At this point, the narrative takes off, maintaining suspense and tension both within the chapters as well as the overall story arc, a method Jordan will perfect over the next few books. It is the basis for why I suggest that Wheel of Time would make a great television series, as the chapters are often of an episodic nature, containing conflict and resolution as well as unresolved tension in encapsulated installments. Furthermore, the Jordan formula mirrors television seasons in the way the climactic scenes both bring closure to the current novel, while leaving enough open-ended aspects to keep readers eagerly anticipating more.

Jordan has stated in an interview with that one of his goals with the series was to explore how realistic self-interest would figure into the heroic epic fantasy. Jordan develops this theme throughout The Great Hunt, laying groundwork for the three male protagonists dislike for the larger-than-life roles they will be playing in their own story by the middle of the series. It finds its apogee in this book in the scene where Rand begs Thom Merrilyn to accompany him further on his adventures. Thom's refusal is based on his acceptance of a rather domestic possible future, an entirely self-serving basis for his rejection of the heroic quest. With consummate balance however, Jordan writes Ingtar's death in the reverse of Thom's decision; his earlier self-interested motivations are what drive him to a classic fantasy trope, the flawed hero's redemption through self-sacrifice. His final moments are evocative of the Spartan 300's defensive gambit combined with the tragic hamartia of Boromir: "One man holding fifty at a narrow passage. Not a bad way to die. Songs have been made about less" (653).

What is most fascinating about a return to the beginnings of the series after having made one's way through the completed works to date, is the vast scope of Jordan's vision. It is difficult to know without access to Jordan's notes how much he knew of the narrative arc, but it is safe to say that contrary to his critics, he has never wasted time on inconsequential characters. Nearly every time a character steps into a scene and Jordan gives a lengthy, detailed description, I'm recognizing them. Many characters who will play pivotal roles in the later novels are introduced, and developed in The Great Hunt. We meet nobles from the great houses of Cairhienen who will be Rand's allies and antagonists in future volumes, see relationships which begin in animosity which will someday turn to amour, and understand Min's viewings better than she can. I am more aware in the re-reading of how monstrous the Seanchan seem to be, made all the more poignant by the knowledge of how very human some of them will be rendered in the later novels. One can also see the youthful, hopeful Rand slipping away, and the cold, calculating man he will have become by the end of book five beginning to emerge. In fact, if the first book is characterized by the phrase "in the stories," then The Great Hunt is characterized by the phrase, "we aren't the same anymore," a thought that passes through the minds of the three men from the Two Rivers on several occasions.

My theory that Egwene and Nynaeve are also ta'veren is also strengthened in this novel. Even as Rand is Forrest Gumping his way into Daes Damar, the Machievallian Game of Houses, Egwene finds herself the roommate of Elayne, heir to the throne of Andor, while Nynaeve's testing results in her doing things no other Aes Sedai has done before. The idea of ta'veren is an explanation for the contrivance of this small group from the same geographical area all having exceptional abilities, and its absence in explaining the women seems conspicuous. One wonders if it is not Jordan who overlooked the ta'veren nature of the women, but just the characters in the novel, given that the worldview regarding ta'veren seems to be that only men can be such.

I also continue to be amazed by how satisfying the idea of ta'veren, and by extension, the weaving of the Wheel as secondary world philosophy explaining why the Emond's Fielders are not only exceptional, but attract exceptional people to them, ultimately proves to be. It addresses the vast scope of the series as a weaver would a fabric - the integration of the weave into the pattern is not arbitrary, but transparently contrived, and is a justified contrivance. The ontological stability of the secondary world Jordan has created rests upon this weaving. Again, detractors would state that he never completes the weaves, but without having read the finished work (now having passed to another weaver's hands to find conclusion) none of us can state this with impunity. Most fantasy novels create such deus ex machina to explain the extraordinary amount of coincidence these narrative necessitate, but few do it in as self-reflexive and in regards to narrative, satisfying fashion. Beyond the contrived ontology, a conversation between Thom and Rand underscores the goal of Jordan's project concerning the instability of truth over distances, be they geographical or temporal. When Rand asks Thom about the Karaethon Cycle, Thom's response reads like literary theory: "The Old Tongue has music in it...Translations don't have the same sound, unless they're in High Chant, and sometimes that changes meanings even more than most translations" (386). One could write an essay on literary theory regarding Jordan's ontological loom. It's something I bat about in my head as I listen to the books this time around (Phil, maybe this should be your M.A. thesis?).

Casting call merited some new possibilities, keeping in mind I am positing a hypothetical television series, not movie: While I know this will likely be controversial, I think Eva Longoria Parker would make a decent Moirane, based on her height and ability to play a woman with stubbornly adversarial inclinations who is, nonetheless, physically attractive. I think Parker also has a certain ageless quality to her features requisite for the Aes Sedai characters.
And I've decided on a Thom Merrilyn. I would cast Richard Roxburgh, who proved as the Duke in Moulin Rouge! and Dracula in Van Helsing he possesses the diverse vocal dynamic for delivering those bardic moments; can dance; and under duress, could likely sing. As for juggling, when you've got the option for a cutaway edit, you can be made to look like you're doing just about anything. I think he's old enough to age with makeup believably, but young enough that the physical demands of the part wouldn't require a double aside from stunt work. His facial features would work as Thom, given a set of long mustaches.

One final word on the television idea: The season finale would of course involve the battle between Rand and the false Ba'alzamon as well as the women's escape, but I would frame the entire episode with intercut scenes of people telling the rumors of what happened at the battle. For example, I would show Child Byar reporting that Perrin was responsible for the double-cross, and then cut to a scene involving Perrin, or show a person in a pub talking about how Rand had appeared in the sky, and then cut to Rand fighting "Ba'alzamon".

NOTE: I did a calculation of how many listening hours it will actually take me to get through all 12 books, including prequel, before the release of The Memory of Light in September. The total time required to listen to the series is approximately 345 hours. I have all the confidence in the world that when the final installment is added, it will easily require one hour of reading out loud daily to complete the entire series. As a result, given my current course-load (I'm going into another semester of 3 full time courses, while teaching not 3, but now 4 classes), I won't reach my goal. However, rest assured that given how much I'm enjoying taking the journey back through the books leading up to the finale, I'll keep posting these reflections regularly in the year to come.

All images except covers by Seamus Gallagher, the best WoT artist ever.