I find it a bit strange to contemplate writing any kind of book review for something that’s considered part of the Bible by Catholics and Orthodox Christians, so I’ll just write down a few thoughts about it. But the fact is that I’ve wanted to read these books for a number of years, and it seemed like a good collection to add to my 13 for ‘13 list.
It’s a King James Version, so that made it a bit cumbersome to read, and it’s done in the KJV format where each verse is its own paragraph, which makes it require a lot of page turns to finish even one chapter.
However, since I’d finished my yearly Bible reading in November, sliding in the Deuterocanonical books worked out pretty well, just taking five chapters a day or so.
As I mentioned above, the Old Testament canon is somewhat disputed, with Catholics and Orthodox Christians taking an extra eight books in theirs, while Protestants and most Jewish groups exclude them. Technically, “Apocrypha” refers more to an appendix of the King James Bible, which included the Deuterocanonical (second canon) books and a few other books and fragments of books.
The actual Deuterocanonicals include additions to some of the existing Old Testament books, including extra material in Ezra, Esther and Daniel, as well as other historical books including Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees, plus some additional Wisdom literature and prophetic works.
Luther considered the books to be non-inspired but edifying and included them in an appendix of his 1534 Bible. Though to be fair, Luther also rejected several New Testament books including Revelation, Hebrews, James and Jude.
I personally enjoyed the books of Maccabees, as they record a bit of history not covered in the Old Testament (also, the events surrounding the origins of Hanukkah), and both the books of Wisdom and Sirach had some intriguing bits. And hands down, my favorite bit of KJV-ish was this from Wisdom:
For they that keep holiness holily shall be judged holy.
That’s a whole lot of holy!
In terms of theology, there’s not much that sticks out as novel, with a couple of exceptions. For instance, the Bible is pretty silent on the matter of man’s inherent immortality (critical to the Eternal Torment view of Hell and yet notably absent from the actual text). But there’s this in the Deuterocanon:
For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.
So that’s pretty clear. But again, not in the Protestant Bible. Another bit of seemingly Catholic doctrine is supported here:
2 Maccabbees 12:44
For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.
Prayers for the dead. Potentially supporting the notion of prayers for the righteous dead that their passage through Purgatory will be swift. Again, not something Protestants would generally hold to.
One of the bits I found really interesting was the Prayer of Manasseh, which fills in (though in an apocryphal way) the repentance of King Manasseh, which isn’t even hinted at in 2 Kings but is clear in 2 Chronicles.
Overall, I’m glad I read this collection, and I’m sure I’ll give it all a look some other time, though I’ll look for a more modern version so I don’t have to contend with the language quite so much.
I’ve got two more reviews pending to finish out last year, including the last entry on my 13 for ‘13 list, which also happened to be the last book I read, and the review book I was sent. I’ll get those up in the next week or so.
As I do every year, I've assembled here (adding three or four titles at a time) my complete list of books read in 2013. I still don't count audiobooks, even though some consider them a perfectly acceptable form of reading. I don't. (Though I enjoy them regularly.) So this is all either on my NOOK or in print.
Actually, the NOOK vs. Print thing is really getting quite one-sided. I read seven books in print this year. Everything else was either purchased (or free) from the NOOK Store, or from Library2Go. I’m really a e-reader now.
It was another down year for me, and I wonder if this is the new normal. I’m barely even reading my age anymore. But that may be because I’m getting older. Nah, can’t be that.
On a positive note, I managed (barely) to finish my 13 for '13 reading list.
- Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, by Michael Ruhlman. NOOK Store. One of the must-have cookbooks in existence. Seriously. Get it.
- The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood, by David R. Montgomery. Library. Terrific primer on geology and how it reveals ancient catastrophes and doesn’t provide much evidence for Noah’s flood. At least not a global one.
- The Racketeer, by John Grisham. Library. A bit of a comeback here for Mr. Grisham.
- Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, by Rachel Held Evans. NOOK Store. Terrific and thought-provoking. An honest look at questioning faith and coming to embrace the questions.
- Wild Pitches, by Dirk Hayhurst. NOOK Store. Deleted scenes from Out of My League. Great stuff!
- A Short History of the World, by Christopher Lascelles. NOOK Store. A terrific high-level overview of World History.
- So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel, by Nick Hurwitch and Phil Hornshaw. NOOK Store. Altogether entertaining and quite adequate if not superb.
- Impulse, by Steven Gould. NOOK Store. The Jumper series has been entirely enjoyable.
- Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes. NOOK Store. An excellent primer on why we should get our carbs from vegetables, not grains.
- Out of this World: All the Cool Things You Wanted to Know About Space, by Clive Gifford. NOOK Store. This was a free title and quite enjoyable primer on astronomy.
- Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card. From my personal library. I read this one to the Swimmer Dude. Excellent as usual.
- The Gate Thief, by Orson Scott Card. NOOK Store. A nice follow-up to The Lost Gate.
- Farside, by Ben Bova. NOOK Store. Another cheap one, and enjoyable enough as a brain-rester.
- The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkein. NOOK Store. Still kinda boring after all these years. Yeah, I said it!
- The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, by Lierre Keith. Library. Shocking, riveting, and validating. Good stuff.
- Storm Front, by Jim Butcher. Library2Go. Very enjoyable. Now I've got a new series to burn through.
- Blindness, by Jose Saramago. NOOK Store. Every bit as good as the first time I read it.
- The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next, by Lee Smolin. NOOK Store. Ugh. Very good for a bit, then painfully boring for a bit more. Overall, tough to recommend.
- Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher. Library2Go. Quite enjoyable once again. I’ll pick up more at some point.
- Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn. NOOK Store. Ah, remembrances of days gone by, before Lucas screwed everything up.
- Wool Omnibus Edition, by Hugh Howey. NOOK Store. One of the best things I read this year.
- Earth Afire, by Orson Scott Card. Library. Up and down a bit, but the up parts were quite enjoyable.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney. Silly and light, perfect for my son, who by the way has read all of them now. (No review for this one.)
- The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson. Library2Go. A friend nagged me for years to read this one. Glad I did. Incredible book, though I’m still a bit mystified by it.
- Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It), by Brian Jones. NOOK Store. Cheap, but not worth it. One of my least favorite reads. Does not make a good case for Eternal Hell. Not that I’d want him to, but I expected more.
- Death Trap: Robot Wars, Book One, by Sigmund Brouwer. NOOK Store. Another cheap one I used as a read-aloud. Gotta savor those.
- Inferno, by Dan Brown. Library2Go. I wasn’t in a big hurry to read this, but it was actually back to vintage Dan Brown, which isn’t great but is at least entertaining.
- Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, by Paul A. Offit. Library. Chilling, given how similar the current anti-vax movement is to its earlier versions, and it’s every bit as responsible for death now as it was then.
- Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel. NOOK Store. I’d been meaning to read this for a long time, and it’s the sort of thing I love: history of science as told as the history of the people doing science.
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. Library2Go. Short and sweet, and not quite what I expected.
- Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph, by Dennis Prager. NOOK Store. A good primer on what American values are and where they come from.
- Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz. NOOK Store. It’s getting to be one of my favorite books. (Review from last year.)
- Farewell to the Master, by Henry Bates. Read online. Very different from The Day The Earth Stood Still, and not in a uniformly positive way. Still, worth reading.
- The Bible: English Standard Version. NOOK Store. A classic, of course. Finished right around my birthday.
- The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch, by Thomas Thwaites. NOOK Store. In my wheelhouse again, what with popular science and all that.
- Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle. Library. A re-read for me, and every bit as enjoyable as the first time.
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber. Library2Go. Brief but charming and hilarious.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. NOOK Store. Not quite my cup of tea, but enjoyable enough. I don’t see myself continuing the series.
- The Apocrypha: Or Deuterocanonical Books of the Bible. NOOK Store. Quite interesting in places, but not something I’ll be reading every year with my other Bible reading.
- The Simplified Guide: Paul's Letters to the Churches, by David Hazelton. Review copy. I'll get a review up in the next few days, but this is an excellent resource for a small-group study of the Pauline Epistles.
- Nascence: 17 Failed Stories and What They Taught Me, by Tobias Buckell. Received as a gift. At times it was irritating to read fairly bad stories, but as the book progressed, the stories improved and I found I could understand why they improved. Good stuff.
I’m not sure when I first watched a Danny Kaye movie, but I’ve seen The Court Jester, The Kid from Brooklyn, Wonder Man, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty approximately sixty-eleven times each. I can pretty much recite all four movies on command, and though they’re very different films, they’re all very much Danny Kaye movies. That is, awesome.
I remember hearing that Jim Carrey or Jack Black was in line to star in a remake of the classic 1947 film, and the prospect frightened me quite a bit. So when I saw that Ben Stiller was going to be starring in a remake, I was skeptical. Until I saw the trailer. And read the story.
The thing is, the 1947 movie is a very rough adaptation of basically the name of the main character and the basic premise of a repressed man who lives a very adventurous life in his daydreams. But that’s about it, with the exception of the repeated sound “tapoketa-poketa-poketa” from the daydreams. (Well, okay, one of the dream sequences was lifted straight from the story.)
But the Walter Mitty in the story is married (and henpecked), whereas Danny Kaye’s Mitty is kind of a loser who lives with his mother, works for an overbearing boss who steals his ideas, and pretty much just slides by while dreaming of bigger things. It’s done to hilarious effect in the movie, with Kaye’s singing and physical comedy in full bloom. I can’t recommend the movie highly enough. I think everyone should watch it.
But since I knew that the new movie was another loose adaptation of the story rather than a remake of the classic film, I was able to appreciate it for what it is: A really solid and inspiring family film. In short, I loved it. It’s quite terrific.
Ben Stiller not only stars in the film, but also directed it, and I’m really impressed with some of the decisions he made. The opening credits are done in a clever way, and the opening scene is quiet but effective in introducing Mitty without ever resorting to, well, anything but visuals.
The scene transitions are clever, and the shot composition is done with a sort of photographic quality, which makes sense given that Mitty is a “Negative Assets Manager,” meaning he handles incoming photos for Life Magazine.
If there’s a fault with the movie, it’s probably that the mustachioed (and bearded) villain is perhaps a bit of a cardboard cutout, but on the other hand, who hasn’t worked for that kind of prick? He’s a typical corporate raider type who doesn’t understand the history of his company, yada-yada-yada, but it doesn’t really matter. The story isn’t really about a clash between Mitty and Beard Guy. It’s about Mitty doing something. And he does.
I realize I’m raving a bit, but I’m just extremely impressed with the film. I love the original. I love the new.
Also, the story is worth a read, because it’s pretty hilarious, especially if you’re a fan of the original film. It’s also extremely short and could easily be read in ten minutes or so. I found it in several collections of short stories at my library, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. So go find it! And watch the new movie! And the old one!
(BTW, I wrote this up because I was looking through my end of the year “Everything I Read” list and realized I hadn’t reviewed the short story. And that just could not stand.)
(Edit: somehow I missed Wool on my fiction list. That’s a no-brainer!)
Though the field is smaller this year than normal (Down ten books from my old average. Stupid Words With Friends, distracting me all the time!), here’s a list of the best things I read this year (titles linked to my review of each):
Favorite Reads, Non-Fiction:
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes. Just a great resource about how counting calories isn’t a good way to lose weight and keep it off, and how the way we eat affects our bodies. Turns the logic of the energy imbalance idea on its head: Whatever makes us fat makes us overeat, and not the other way around. Highly recommended.
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, by Michael Ruhlman. Quite simply an invaluable resource for any home cook. Why can I make pancakes and biscuits without a recipe? Because Ruhlman taught me the ratio. Now if those only weren’t part of the “Why” from the previous title…(there are plenty of non-carb ratios, though).
Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, by Paul A. Offit. Science! No place for wimps! Offit traces the history of the anti-vax movement and shows that the same discredited arguments keep on showing up despite the whole science thing.
The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, by Lierre Keith. Another indispensible resource. People turn to vegetarianism out of concerns for health, animal welfare, and the environment. Lierre Keith carefully explains why the vegetarian diet fails on all three counts, and it all comes down to one thing: agriculture.
The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood, by David R. Montgomery. Science! It works! No, not all cultures have a record of a global flood. Yes, many local floods have happened, but Noah’s flood doesn’t explain fossilized sea life on mountaintops. Science does. Great stuff and a terrific primer on geology, and again one of those things where the old discredited arguments keep coming back up.
Honorable Mention: Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, by Rachel Held Evans
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Favorite Reads, Fiction:
Wool Omnibus, by Hugh Howey. Just a terrific science fiction, post apocalyptic feat of awesomeness. Characters you get to meet and enjoy and identify with, an intriguing premise, and a great payoff. What more could you ask for?
Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle. Such a fun read, especially if you’re at all a fan of the movies. And if you are, there’s something different here, because none of the films have really adapted the ending.
Blindness, by Jose Saramago. Yes, all right, I get it. I recommended this one in 2009. Fine! But again, I re-read it and loved it again. Happy? No? Door’s on the right!
Inferno, by Dan Brown and The Racketeer, by John Grisham. I know. Two books on one line, but they’re grouped for a reason. These titles are books by authors who had generally been disappointing me lately but were totally worth reading. So if you haven’t been thrilled with Grisham or Brown lately, you may consider picking up one of these. But it was obviously a down year for fiction.
Honorable Mention: The Diamond Age, or a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, by Neil Stephenson.
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Next up, I’ll pull together a list of everything I read this year and further lament that there aren’t more titles on the list.
Woo! Another 13 for ‘13 title off my list! Now if I can just finish the other two before next Wednesday! (I probably can’t.)
I picked this one up when it was cheeep from the NOOK Store and added it to my list mostly because my fellow middle-sibling had read and enjoyed it. The first book in the Millenium Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is, at its best, a gripping and exciting mystery with some truly harrowing sequences.
Unfortunately, it’s only at its best for about half of the book. Still, having been warned that the first half is pretty slow, I was prepared for it and actually enjoyed it for the most part. Just not all of it.
My main problem with the book is that for a book called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it does a pretty poor job establishing said girl as the protagonist. Instead, it kind of hangs around with a dual protagonist thing I found completely unnecessary. To expand this further, I’ll have to delve a bit into spoilers, but I’ll use a light touch.
The ostensible main character who is neither girl nor tattooed is Mikael Blomkvist, the recently discredited editor of Millenium magazine. He’s been convicted (or is convicted shortly into the book, I don’t remember) of libel and sentenced to a short term in “gaol” (evidently an olde term for jail, for some reason used when the book was translated from Swedish). Mikael receives an intriguing summons by a wealthy businessman (Henrik Vanger) who asks him to, in exchange for a large sum of money, investigate a very cold case of apparent murder in the Vanger family.
So this is where I gripe. I can’t see any reason why Mikael should be in this book. In fact, I think that removing him and the whole reference to the Wennerstrom (libel) case from the book might have improved it substantially. When I mentioned that I enjoyed the slower parts of the book, they were detailing the history of the Vanger family and business. I dug that stuff. But any time any mention was made of Wennerstrom, I actually started getting mad. I could not and still cannot see what that case had to do with anything.
Probably there’s a connection to future books, but that’s pretty much exactly my point: it didn’t drive the narrative of this one. Yes, it provided an opportunity to get Lizbeth Salander into the book, but I’d argue that Lizbeth could very well have been hired by Vanger in the first place. (Though the climax of the book would have had to change a bit.)
Lizbeth herself, both girl and tattooed, is by far the most compelling character in the book, and the real shame is that she had to share the narrative with Mikael, who just isn’t that interesting. In fact, he’s kind of too perfect, whereas Lizbeth is interesting and twisted. I also didn’t like that the book almost turned her all girly at the end, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that it didn’t seem to fit.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the book. It’s at times exciting, horrifying, and satisfying, but it’s a bit frustrating in places. I’ll give it a middling thumbs up, but I’ve definitely read better thrillers. Also, I should mention that there’s some pretty graphic scenes of sexual violence, so it’s definitely not for kids. Adult language, too.
Next up, it’s a definite change of pace with my review of the Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament!!! Talk about grinding the gears.
Actually, I’ll be pulling together a couple of end-of-the-year lists this week, including my Big List of Books from 2013 and a post about my favorites and maybe not-so-favorites. I don’t anticipate making a 14 for ‘14 list, though. I can’t take the pressure. Nobody tells me what to read, even if it’s me!
Straw poll here: How many of you knew Planet of the Apes was a book? Okay, how many knew Bridge on the River Kwai was also a book? And lastly, that the two books were written by the same French dude? I’m imagining most people go 0-for-3 on these, and I was in the same camp before finding Planet of the Apes at the dearly departed Books By Rail capsule library way back when I was taking MAX to work. I read it, loved it, and vowed to go back and pick it up again sometime.
Since my running buddies and I had that hare-brained idea about starting a podcast in which we’d discuss classic sci-fi films based on earlier works, I knew Planet of the Apes had to be near the top of the list. Film viewing still pending, but we’ve all read and had a running conversation about it. (See what I did there?)
If you haven’t seen the film, let me just ask if you’ve been living under a rock or something. Seriously. It’s a classic, and despite the now dated ape makeup (for which the film won an Oscar, BTW), the movie holds up pretty well. It’s a great story that makes you think, and that’s really all I ask for in a movie. (Sometimes I don’t ask for even that much. I’m looking at you, Pacific Rim!)
The original book differs from the movie in several respects, the first of those being that it was written in French. However, as I don’t read French and have a stubborn reluctance to learn any language that doesn’t pronounce a third of its alphabet, I’ve now read it twice in English.
The second thing is, well, a Spoiler. Big time. So move on if you intend to read the book. (Capsule review: It’s a terrific book. Go read it.)
Still here? Okay, so do you remember how at the end of the film, Taylor realizes he’s been on Earth the whole time? Yeah, that doesn’t happen at all in the book. Instead, Ulysse Merou (French for Taylor, I’m pretty sure) travels to a planet in the Betelgeuse system which is inhabited by sentient apes and mute, feral humans. After being captured, he struggles, as in the film, to show his intelligence and communicate with Doctor Zira, who takes a special interest in him.
But instead of a wounded larynx being a barrier to communication as it is in the film, Merou must learn the simian tongue. (Because beings on other worlds don’t speak English!!) As he masters the language, he explains to Zira about his journey from Earth and asks for her help in gaining his liberty.
So in broad strokes, the story is the same as the film, but with major details being different.
A third difference from the film is that the novel is set in a “message in a bottle” format, Merou’s story having been found by spacefarers some time after the events of the book. I’m not a huge fan of such a structure, but given the payoff, I can appreciate it here. (I won’t spoil that.)
There’s an expedient used in the story that I have real problems with, and here I’m getting into BIG SPOILERS. As in the film, Cornelius and Zira become aware of a history to their world that seems to indicate that apes became the dominant species only after the fall of a previous civilization. Much of the data we get about the transition between eras comes from a strange episode involving some kind of collective unconscious or racial memory of the feral humans Zira experiments on. My big problem with this expedient is that it could just as easily have been filled in by making reference to archaeological finds which had already been introduced as a concept.
I also question two other key ideas: first, that apes are capable of speech but simply lack the will to speak, and second, that humans would quickly go feral if placed in a feral environment. (Adult humans, BTW.)
Still, I love the book, and I’m glad neither the original nor the remake film completely adapted the ending of the book, though the remake film came closer to it.
Actually, I think the original film is an excellent adaptation given the constraints put upon the screenwriters. Yes, Taylor should have realized that if you land on a planet where apes speak English, it’s probably Earth, but the viewer is supposed to allow that perhaps he’s just learned the tongue of the apes, which is presented as the Queen’s English. Whatever.
The themes of the book and movie are similar: man’s inhumanity to man, man’s belief that he is unassailably the Big Man on Campus, and the dangers of Official Science (or Official Faith) being mistaken for science itself. It definitely gives a guy something to talk about with his running buddies.
I’m looking forward to watching the original film and remake as part of our Pavement Pounders Podcast viewing party, and we may even throw in the more recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes for good measure (and somewhat better science).
That’s all for now. I’m still working through my last three 13 for ‘13 titles, and I promise I’ll eventually finish The Simplified Guide.
I suppose I should take it as ironic that after lecturing my son over and over about saving documents early and often, I should have Windows unexpectedly reboot about the time I finished writing up my review for this book.
Seriously? No autosave backup or anything? Wow. Good thing I don’t get paid for this. And also, Windows Live Writer kinds sucks.
The Toaster Project is one of those perfect collisions between book genres I enjoy: popular science and “quest” books. Thomas Thwaites decided that he’d build a toaster from raw materials. Now, this doesn’t mean he’d head down to Home Depot and Radio Shack, collect parts and assemble them. It doesn’t even mean he’d go a step further and get raw metals and hammer or extrude them into the shapes and purposes he’d need.
The book divides easily into chapters dedicated to the acquisition and refinement of the main raw materials, bookended by chapters on planning the project and assembling the toaster. It’s not a lengthy book, and it features a load of cool pictures of his various failures and successes, so it’s the kind of thing one could knock out in a weekend. Guess how I know that?
As interesting as the various chapters are, I especially liked his exploration of the meaning of the project, and how the many conveniences we have today come at a greater cost than the price we pay for them. So a ten-dollar toaster costs ten bucks, but also may result in pollution from copper mines and plastic processing. It’s an excellent thing to keep in mind, particularly when heading into the Shopping season.
My wife has always objected to Birthday Party gift bags with “stuff and junk” from the Dollar Store in them, and now we have a more salient argument against them: The enjoyment of the junk can’t possibly make up for the actual negative impact those bits and bobs cause, both in their manufacture and (inevitable) disposal.
This was another title from my 13 for ‘13 list, which is now down to three: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Nascence, and The Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books of the Bible. Not sure which I’ll finish first, and then there’s the issue of finishing the review copy I was sent for The Simplified Guide: Paul’s Letters to the Churches.
So naturally, I picked up Planet of the Apes. (Pick it up and read along with me…it’s really good. This is my second time reading it and the second title on our lame-brained Podcast plans. Aaand since I didn’t post this last week, I’ve finished it. Did you finish?)
Another week, another couple of ways to avoid reading anything on my 13 for ‘13 list or the book that was sent to me to review.
So this week I read Odd Thomas for the third time, and it’s still every bit as awesome. Hey, one of my running buddies hadn’t read it, and we couldn’t very well tell him to read it and not read it ourselves, right? (Now we have to wait for him to finish it. Move it, Jimmy!!!)
The three of us have a harebrained idea to launch a podcast, despite not having particularly awesome speaking voices, any knowledge of what it takes to actually create a podcast, or really any clue what we’re doing. But this is ‘Merica, so we’re forging ahead with our plans.
Okay, the idea was mine, because I’m addicted to podcasts. And nobody is quite covering an area of interest to me: cheesy old science fiction movies. Now it’s true that the “Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas” podcast covers exactly that topic, but they didn’t cover it the way I hoped they would. For instance, when they did an excellent episode about Colossus: The Forbin Project, no one on the panel had read the book it’s adapted from, Colossus. So that’s what I want to do. Cover it. All of it.
(KAMN seems to have gone off the air, too. Bummer. Great show.)
I want to read the book/story and watch every major adaptation of it. So in the case of today’s review, I read Farewell to the Master, by Harry Bates. Which was adapted into the very classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and the less classic, wait for it, The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008).
I don’t actually know if we’re going to pull off a podcast. But we’re totally gonna watch the movies. Maybe I’ll write something up in collaboration with the other pavement pounders. Oooh, good name:
The Pavement Pounders Podcast
I’d previously thought Running Our Mouths would work. Running, see? Because this is the kind of stuff we’d talk about while running. Also theology and food. And all other topics. But mostly nerdy topics.
I also totally need a catchphrase or two, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s signoff “keep looking up” on StarTalk Radio. Any ideas? Maybe, “As always, we remind you that some books and movies are like some runs: better when they’re over.” Nope. That’s crap. Please help me. Full credit will be given, and your contribution could be heard by ones of people the world over!
And now I’m 400 words in and haven’t really discussed the book. Well, it’s not a book. It’s not even a novella. It’s a short story. But it’s an ePub I side-loaded into my NOOK, so that means it counts toward my (terribly disappointing) Book Total for the year.
The reason I wanted to delve into the sources for adapted sci-fi movies is that often times, the movies leave a bunch of great material out. Planet of the Apes, for instance, completely changes the premise and ending of the book, and it’s a great book. Somebody needs to tell the world about these things! I can do that, with the able help of my running buddies.
Interestingly, the most memorable scene in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is only referred to in passing in the book, as a reminiscence of the main character, Cliff Sutherland, a “picture reporter.” I guess that means photographer in the future. And the story is set in the far future, in which humanity has colonized other worlds in our solar system.
This would be surprising to anyone having viewed either film, because both are Message Movies. The first adaptation was a plea for nuclear disarmament, set during the Cold War, while the second was a Save the Planet (TM) movie, set during times when we fear climate change more than basically anything.
If Farewell to the Master is a Message Story, the message is too cunning to be divined. It’s just a bit of a mystery. Where did Klaatu come from? Why is Gnut (not Gort) standing perfectly still on the same spot and in the same position he was in when Klaatu was shot months ago (yeah, the shooting is there)? And why doesn’t anyone say “Klaatu barada nikto?” Better yet, why not have someone sing it to the tune of “Mele Kalikimaka?” Oh, right. Book. I’ll have to perform that song on the podcast. Aaaanyway…
Sutherland, having photographed the arrival of the visitors (not in a spaceship, but a spacetime traveler ship), and also having striven (strived?) to get better shots of the menacing robot, has noticed something: Gnut does move. But only by comparing his photos does he come to this awareness.
And here we have one of those wonderful features of classic science fiction: inability to predict things we now take for granted. Slan had a similar issue, predicting mutated humans and wonderful new technology, but not radar. Here, it’s ray guns and flying cars and space colonization, but no video surveillance or digital photography. Nobody but an intrepid reporter could have figured this out!
I kid, but the story is actually interesting, and there’s the tiniest mystery at the end that I won’t spoil, but don’t get your hopes up for a grand soliloquy from Klaatu about why the aliens visited. It’s never mentioned. Seriously.
Having seen both film adaptations, I can say that both are good adaptations, though the second essentially adapts the first film rather than going back to the source. So it’s more of a reboot. How can I say either is a good adaptation if they stray so far from the story? Well, in this case there just really isn’t much story there. The screenwriters imagined what motive could bring aliens here and kept the nature of the aliens mostly intact. I dig it.
One quick thing here: perhaps you noticed the image I linked above shows the cover of Slan, which I reviewed a couple of years ago. That’s an image of the cover of Astounding! that contained both Slan and Farewell to the Master. I’ve never seen an adaptation of Slan, but I’ve seen two of the latter story, so top-billing doesn’t mean everything, I guess.
And that’ll do for this week’s avoidance behavior. Now I’ll go read something I’m supposed to read. Probably. After a game or two of Words With Friends.
Another week, another 13 for ‘13 title off my list. Woo! Maybe next year I won’t save five books for the last couple of months. (Probably still will. More like six or seven.)
I’d call myself politically conservative, leaning libertarian, though I seem to be getting more moderate as I age. I pretty much think the government should be as small as possible, though I’m also essentially blasé about our government and have little hope of getting past a place where 50% of the country thinks the current president is the best ever and the other half thinks he’s nothing short of the antichrist. Until the next election, when the new guy comes in and the cycle is repeated, only with the opinions reversed.
I used to listen to talk radio a fair bit, but I always preferred shows that featured more than one point of view. One of the things that drives me crazy about any talk show, from either side of the aisle, is when the other side isn’t engaged at all. Which is why I like Dennis Prager, even though I haven’t listened to his show in a couple of years (podcasts took over). Prager is conservative but brings on guests who eloquently articulate another position, then lets his audience decide who was more persuasive. As he says frequently, he prefers clarity to agreement.
One topic I recall him discussing was the importance of American values, and what he termed “The American Trinity”: Liberty, In God We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum. In his book Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Survive, Prager puts American values up against the two main competing value systems: Leftism and Islamism. He presents the distinctives of each view and tries to articulate where Leftism and Islamism fall short and American values win. Or should win.
Prager has some insider knowledge of Leftism, having been raised liberal and having studied the Soviet Union extensively in university. He rightly points out that Communism was a terrible evil and was responsible for more suffering than any other system ever conceived, and yet Communism doesn’t get nearly such a bad rap as Nazism, another of the 20th Century’s Big Bads.
The case against Leftism is the longest in the book, and there’s no way I can do it justice here. Suffice it to say that essentially Leftism wants to make America look more like Europe, and that wouldn’t be a good thing. Read the book if you want Prager’s reasoning. I picked this one up for a couple of bucks on the NOOK Daily Find last year, and I may go back and re-read the section on Leftism in the near future. (I actually read that section earlier this year and only recently picked it back up.)
I don’t think anyone needs to know why Islamism is a threat to the world, though it’s worth pointing out that Prager doesn’t indict Islam, but only the virulent strain of that system as expressed in the Taliban and other militant groups.
When I first picked up the book, I thought the title was implying that the world would end unless it adopted American values, and while there’s an element of that, the emphasis is more that the world needs the values to survive instead of disappearing from the court of opinion. All in all, it’s an excellent book. I’d be curious to see how someone to my political left would view it. Probably not as positively. But that’s the way things are, I guess.
Rather than trying to articulate much about American values here, I’ll just link to a beautifully done video in which Prager himself explains The American Trinity:
I don’t have anything else particularly close to being finished, though I’ve started a re-read of Odd Thomas because it’s been like a year since I’ve read it and it’s awesome. Plus my running buddies wanted to do a read/discuss of it. And I’ve got a review copy of a book I really should finish. And Steve Gregg’s All You Want to Know About Hell finally came out for NOOK. I’ve read the introduction, and although it looks extremely awesome, I may just leave it for next year’s list.
So anyhow, it’s unlikely you’ll see another book review from me for a week or two. Try to go on living.
Given how many times I’ve read Ender’s Game and how much I love it, it’s probably impossible that a film adaptation could have lived up to everything I would’ve liked to have seen. However, I’d distilled my list of demands down to basically three:
- Don’t suck
- Have cool effects
- Leave at least a glimmer of hope that Speaker for the Dead could get made
We’ll call it three for three. If you liked the book, you’ll probably be okay with the movie. I liked it. World’s shortest movie review!
As I said, there’s no way this movie was going to live up to my mental image of what it could be. It’s not a complicated story, but so much of it is in Ender’s head that getting it onto the screen was a tall order. The book takes Ender from being six to maybe thirteen. How are you going to do that in a two hour movie? You aren’t.
Instead, the timeline has to be shortened. EVERYTHING has to be accelerated. I found myself reading the minds of the screenwriters, and I generally approved of the way they handled things given the choices they made. And while I still maintain that it should have been a six-hour miniseries instead of a two-hour feature film, it worked reasonably well as a feature film.
By the way, SPOILER ALERT! If you’ve read the book but haven’t seen the movie, you’re probably safe unless you want to go in without any info. In which case, why’d you click through?
Still with me? If you went into this film hoping to see all of Ender’s development from launchy to soldier to commander, you’ll be bummed. The movie accelerates the pace to the point that Ender seems to only have a couple of battles in Salamander, skips over Rat altogether, and gets his own command without really showing anything of how he trained Dragon. The only battle we see Dragon engage in is the infamous Two Armies battle. It doesn’t come after the fight with Bonzo, and this is the main weak point of the adaptation. But I’ll return to that. Instead, Salamander is one of the two armies, and the battle includes Bonzo’s blunder of laying out his forces on the wall above Ender’s gate. And that was actually okay with me.
Command School is also quite accelerated, with only a couple of battles shown. Which is a shame, because the Command School simulator was the single best thing in the movie. A close second would be the Battle Room, which was also pretty stinking cool.
I actually liked the decision to have the MD device a ship rather than a standard weapon, because I think it worked in the drama of the final battle scene. And here again, the final battle was awesome. But I do wish we’d seen more of the space battles.
And now we get into the Major Spoiler section of my recap/review thingy here. Seriously, major spoilers.
I loved the live Hive Queen. I loved that she was there, I loved the effects used to create her, and I admired the way they got Ender to her. See, one of the difficult things about adapting Ender’s Game was likely that the story ends and then continues, in much the way The Lord of the Rings does. Ender wins the final battle, then travels to the Formic worlds, finds the Hive Queen, writes The Hive Queen and the Hegemon, and skips off to find a world for the Hive Queen. How, exactly, do you put that on film?
I fully expected the movie to end without Ender finding the Hive Queen’s cocoon. Because getting him to the colony world where he finds the Giant’s Corpse just looked impossible. So when the filmmakers decided to alter the Mind Game sequences and have the Formics communicating with Ender, it totally worked. And besides, it’s basically canonical, though turned around somewhat. In the book, the Formics reach out to Ender through the game, see the world of the Mind Game, and create a recognizable scene from it on the colony world. In the film, they project an image into the game that he recognizes on the Command School outpost. It’s not perfect, but it works.
Again, I loved the scene between Ender and the Queen. It was the most emotionally effective scene in the film for me.
The cast did a reasonable job, kids included. I liked the kid who played Bonzo, even though he was a foot shorter than Asa Butterfield. As for Mr. Butterfield, I found his performance a bit uneven, mostly very good, but there were a few scenes that looked mailed in. The scenes he needed to nail, he nailed (all the scenes with Bonzo rocked). But a couple of others I think the director just went, “We’ll go with it.”
Harrison Ford has done better work, but I found him quite acceptable as Graff, and I liked the choice of having Viola Davis as Major Anderson. Ben Kingsley had kind of a questionable Kiwi accent which I found unnecessary since the book establishes that only the French retain their stuffy accents. (Actually, I might be overthinking that one. Argue with me if you think I’m wrong.)
So again, I enjoyed the movie. I’ll give it a recommendation, though I figure I’ll prefer the new Thor movie. Also, I still prefer the book. Duh.
Now, a bit of griping.
First, and most importantly, the book focuses on Ender’s suffering. His army goes through a punishing schedule, and then it gets worse for Ender at Command School. The movie just doesn’t show any of that. And with the compressed schedule, there’s no way it could. So we’ll let that go. I guess.
However, the fight with Bonzo should have come before the Battle with Two Armies. Yes, I get that the movie was presenting that as the final straw for Bonzo. But the whole reason for Ender going for the enemy gate in the battle against two armies is that he stops caring about the game. And that’s mirrored in the Final Battle.
(I guess when I really think about it, the way the movie did it actually worked, but it was one thing I would have done differently.)
But I have real gripes about the ansible. Graff’s justification for traveling to the outpost world for Command School was that it got them close enough for Faster than Light communication? Umm…what? How far, exactly, did you travel? At some point in the movie, there was a display that showed the fleet’s arrival at the Formic system in like 28 days. And the Fleet had been traveling for something like thirty years. How far did you go?
I console myself on this one by convincing myself that Graff was telling untruths. Yeah, that’s it.
In reality, traveling to that outpost planet was made necessary because the screenwriters needed Ender on a planet the Formics had been on. But since the book establishes that the Formics had been on Eros, there’s no actual reason for it except to have the big rock formation thing from the Mind Game. The only thing that rescued this for me was that excellent scene with the Hive Queen, who was more compelling than many a Hollywood starlet these days.
I think I’d like to see the movie again so I’m not watching it as such a fan of the book. Having consumed the book a dozen or so times, fragments of complete dialogues from the book would have me comparing the film to the book and finding it wanting. And yet I appreciated some of the lines pulled directly from the book. I’m so conflicted!
If you recall, my #3 requirement for the movie was that they leave open the possibility of a Speaker for the Dead film. Even more than Ender’s Game, I don’t want to see a lousy adaptation of that book, but I also want to see it as a movie. And I want to voice one of the piggies. Seriously.
This movie just barely allows for Speaker for the Dead, but it’s still a bit of an uphill battle to get there from here. Maybe I’ll do a post about how to do it. Yeah, that could be good.