Faster and more Intense

Carrie Fisher began her last book with a run down of some of the significant events of 1976 — the year the filming of Star Wars began (and never really ended) — and she mentioned that, “as always, a lot of accomplished and famous people died.” Nowadays the same things are going on, “only faster and more intensely.”

That line was almost the only direction George Lucas gave to the original cast, almost, he did also give Carrie the judgement that there was no underwear in space (Jabba’s palace was another matter). These anecdotes and more are being passed about at lightspeed on the Internet with Carrie Fisher’s death causing anguish and tributes from all over the place.

Now her mother, Singing in the Rain star Debbie Reynolds, has died of a stroke. A tragedy compounded, is there something in the air? 2016 is being continuously lamented on Facebook, Twitter, and all the platforms that make up the vast catalogue of connectivity. But it is sadly likely that these miseries will only intensify, and overwhelm the most dedicated obituarist. 

A bitter thought! I reason that with the post-war generation moving to the geriatric zone, and even the most stalwart members of the pre-war generation feeling the terminal tug of time, the daily harvest of notables will continue. In short: more are becoming less much faster. 

So many people have written touchingly about The Princess Leia, and about the other recent dead as well, I’ve wondered if it’s all a bit trite, a tad false, the bite of celebrity culture. This whole bearing of the soul online thing. However, Facebook is collegial, and the fact that people can genuinely feel sorrow and grief at the expiry of someone they only knew of, but not knew properly, is a testament to what is good in people. 

Then of course there is the bad, the hounding of Steve Martin for a ‘sexist’ tribute to Carey on Twitter, comes to my mind (because I only just read about it and have the patience of a caffeinated seagull). This sums up the idiocy of the twitter trolls rather well. Martin wrote: 

“When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well”

That tweet has since been deleted. Trolls will be trolls even if they don’t quite know it for themselves. They condemned Martin for putting the sex symbol before the actual person. How dare he mention that he found Carrie Fisher an incomparable beauty in the context of him (Steve Martin) being a young man. And his nerve in praising her wit and intelligence afterwards, as if the dimensions of someone’s personality become more apparent as you get to know them. My, my, how awful. 
(If my point in the above paragraph is unclear, please read it again while imagining the sound of every eye in the galaxy rolling about)

I can’t bear my soul any further, and who cares, right? Carrie Fisher is as alive to me today as she ever was, and yet stunningly not at the same time. I’m reading her book The Princess Diarist (based on journals she kept during the 1976 shoot) and it’s very good. Wittily written with no regrets, a final tribute to the franchise she is indelibly part of, that immortalised those hair buns and that metal bikini. Now, as she said herself, she has drowned in moonlight–strangled by her own bra. 

All I want to say right now, instead of tripping over a long, unwieldy tribute to Carrie Fisher, is that she’s an indispensable ingredient to something that continues to dominate the lives of those like me (child-adults who never really grew up and share our clichéd existence with legions online and nobody present). Take away Leia and what are we left with? Just boys with blasters and sabers. Jedi without the force. Add Carrie Fisher and we have Star Wars. Farewell your highness, so sorry about the bra!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

Yesterday I had a compulsion to go to Unity Books and buy The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I had seen the movie years ago, and in spite of the poor reaction to it by someone important to me at the time, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am not sure where the urgency came from, it was just like the compulsion to get Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and read it before sunrise. Or the earlier time I read Lolita. When these forces arrive in my head they must be obeyed. And so at ten to four this morning I finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 

My impressions are raw, and I have to trust any skill I have to write this in a coherent manner. As in most books the words are not merely downloaded by the eyes, but recited aloud by an inner narrator. In this case the narrator was Charlie, the central character, who was played by Logan Lerman in the film and it was his voice in my ear from start to end. I guess this means he did a good job in the film, because I never imagined Charlie as anyone else. Truth be told I imagined the characters in the book as exactly the same as their movie counterparts, and have come out of the book even more confident of my impressions of the film.

But what of the guts of the book. I suppose I am waffling on. The structure is simple, and the story is told through a series of chronological letters over the first year of Charlie’s high school life that he writes to someone anonymous who is never revealed. Nothing complex and I am grateful for that. The myriad of thoughts and feelings that cross an adolescent’s consciousness in every moment need a solid anchorage of some sort. I think too that the book is not meant to be read piecemeal. Each letter functions as a piece of something larger, but they are not chapters. Instead the story is broken into four parts, and as far as the flow of it goes I would advise one to read it all in a single sitting (which I did and now can barely lift my arms because I am so tired and read so slow) or in four sittings. Stopping between letters is not ideal because you might miss the contrast between them. How in a single month Charlie can go from desperately lonely, to irate with someone, to suicidally depressed, to extremely happy, to infinite. On that last I refer to the classic scene in the movie where Sam (whom Charlie is in love with) played by Emma Watson stands up on the back of a pickup truck while her step brother drives through a tunnel and Charlie sits in the passenger seat. David Bowie’s Heroes is blasting out of the car speakers and Charlie feels a sense of belonging he’s never felt before. In the book the scene is very similar except that the song isn’t Heroes. I am glad they changed it for the movie for reasons I trust you already know.

The chronicle of Charlie’s year contains moments in common with me, and undoubtedly since we were all in the passage of youth once. Some still yearn for it, some try to forget it, and some barely made it out alive. There were girls at my school like Sam, and there were boys like Patrick, and I (and most people went on to study arts) felt similar to Charlie in the sense that thinking was synonymous with living. That is his challenge with Sam, ultimately she tells him that she doesn’t want to be anyone’s crush because she can’t feel what someone else feels if they lock it away to themselves. Of course he has other challenges as well, but what is vital is that he cannot begin to deal with them until he has dealt with this.

His connection with his English teacher Bill (played by Paul Rudd in the film) is particularly touching, as a new teacher finds and tends to the gifted mind of his pupil. It is not a coercive relationship, nor does Bill attempt to mould Charlie’s mind. Instead he acts as the waterer of seeds that are already there, and the succession of books he gives to Charlie become a structure for him amid emotional turmoil. I hope there are real teachers like this, and that if you found and benefitted from one that it was good. I did not, but a literary awakening can occur at any point in life, it is never too late.

What is rather sad to note is just how much stress and demand the US education system puts on kids. The fact that they must apply for as many universities as possible and have back-up “safety schools” in case they get rejected. I have seen the process of applying close-up and it isn’t pretty. For any American’s reading this I am almost afraid to tell you that I applied for one university at the end of high school and was guaranteed a place because I had passed university entrance requirements that were rather straightforward. No ridiculous amounts of homework (I refused to do most homework on principle), no extra-curricular activities for the sole reason of filling up an admission letter. Why the American system puts so much pressure on people at their most vulnerable time of life is a question I’d like to see answered.

In a quiet sort of way that leads me to the more controversial parts of the book. Controversial because some schools banned the book on the basis that its content might be too mature for adolescents, who shouldn’t know about the horrible damage done to a significant proportion of them, and should not ask awkward questions about sex, and homosexuality, and rape, and other abuse. Better that the kids learn what is taboo and put walls in their minds. Truly the land of the free. Charlie has been abused as a younger boy by a person very close to him. He has repressed this, and the effects of such repression permeate his life and experiences. He overcomes that and recognises the causes and the nature of these things. That the abuser was themselves abused, and their own parents were too. In recognising the cycle and going through the breakdown it causes he ends the cycle. He still loves the (long deceased) abuser, and he loves Sam (who was abused as child too) and he loves Patrick (whom he saved from five jocks Patrick was fighting for calling him a faggot), and he loves his sister who called him a pervert and told him not to tell when her boyfriend hit her.   

All of this echoes like musical notes in our lives. I use the plural on the basis that I am certain there are common struggles and elements in everyone’s lives that are built on in this book. The desire to be seen by someone else, and vindicated. The desire to be happy, and the willingness to be unhappy if it means that someone you love can be happy. I am sorry if my thoughts do not make sense. I decided it would be better to get this out while still in the wake of the story than try something more cerebral when the water settles. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly to anyone (especially if you are at high school). If a book is too much I recommend the movie also. Since it was directed by the book’s author Stephen Chbosky it has to be immune from the usual crap people claim about the quality of adaptations, and disagreements over interpretation.

With that I rest.

Seeking Sylvia

On a Sunday last month I was possessed by an odd compulsion that I should read Sylvia Plath. The source of this notion can be traced to an idle morbid state of mind. Not a specific train of thought, just a collection of impulses. The result was that I went to Unity Books in the afternoon and bought a copy of Plath’s pothsumous poetry collection called Ariel, and her only novel The Bell Jar.

I finished the latter before bedtime. It was written in the fall of 1962 during Plath’s remarkable burst of creativity which is comparable to Keats great year a century before, or even Van Gogh’s artistic outpouring of 1889-90. Like Van Gogh, Sylvia’s creative pinnacle was swiftly followed by her death. In the early hours of February 11, 1963, not even a month after The Bell Jar was published (under a pseudonym) Sylvia Plath committed suicide by gassing herself in the oven of the kitchen in her London apartment.

Many things led to that and snowballed until Path was unable to cope. She had a history of depression and serious suicide attempts in the past. Her marriage had recently broken down, and she was raising two small children on her own during the coldest winter in London for at least sixty years. Also, her novel had not been received well in her native America. That must have been quite a blow to her. The result was her suicide. She was thirty years old.

That is what is remembered of her now; she is a tragic figure, a shadow of Virginia Woolf or something. A line in pop culture to be remembered at a pub quiz night. But read her and she steps out of those shadows. Watch her walk along side you, her prose so much more accessible than her poetry that she has been acclaimed for. I have read enough Virginia Woolf to know that no matter how much I read and gain knowledge, she will always be several steps ahead, and it will be all I can do to simply catch up. Sylvia Plath is the writer that hold your hand.

I realise this is sentimental, and one’s reaction to literature depends greatly on one’s particular experiences. If I may say so I think Plath is more relevant now than ever when the very illness that choked the life from her preys upon many millions today. Look her up if you are so inclined, and let me know what you think.






On most people’s bookshelves is a series of works large or small that are unread. Oh we flicked through them at the bookstore, or had them on an ambitious reading list we managed only the first two or three titles of. They are the books that we feel good for possessing. At any time we may take one down and consume it like an exotic food, but if not it furneshes our homes with the badge of higher education. That is one underrated reason why the printed book will weather the erosive power of ebooks and digital media. A thousand books on your ipad is as nourishing to the eye as ice is to the stomach. It cannot compete with a creaking shelf of books–some loved, many neglected–or an intentionally disordered stack on the desk.

The point I am labouring towards with all the speed of a fossil, is that I finished reading one of these books last week. Weary though I am from the effort (I was up till 3.30am on a fecking work night), I cannot resist making an attempt at some rough analysis of the work. It was the best novel by Vladamir Nobokov, and as the more cultured among you will have by now guessed, it was Lolita. Martin Amis wrote that Lolita leaves the reader feeling scandalised, and in awe. I certainly agree with his assessment, and regard with awe the fact that Lolita was published in the 1950s to much controversy, and is still controversial today. It is the story of a heterosexual paedophile who falls in love with a twelve year old girl. People say with bitter contempt (towards other people I will describe in a moment) that it is not a love story. I respectfully disagree. It is a love story AND many other things as well. It is heavy with lust and rape, and the hideous disregard of anyone else’s point of view. But Humbert Humbert (the pseudonym of the main character whose writings from prison forms the basis of the novel (it is from his point of view))  desperately loves Dolly Haze, his stepdaughter, his Lolita.

So we enter the mind of the paedophile. Described in detail are his attractions, obsessions, anxieties, and plans. It is uncomfortable and hypnotic, the way the book demands you to read on and on while it quietly erodes your ignorance of the darkest affairs. For example, the point is made clearly that Dolores Haze at twelve years old has a precocious knowledge about sexual matters. She has experiences and desires, quite independent of Humbert, which is more than parents want to believe of their children. As much as adults want to enforce a stark line between the age of consent, and therefore the age at which it is seemly to objectify people and grant them sexual connotations, the condition before that age is supposed to be one of wholesome, unadulterated fun. Innocent childhood insulated from the odious winds of depraved adulthood. But we know that there is no such stark line. It’s screaming absence makes it’s illusion more potent and desirable. It is also the mark of a persons independence. When they have the right to administrate their pleasure they are across a bridge that collapses behind them. On the other side are parents, forever now removed from certain power.

Humbert is a tyrant. He denies Dolly her right to make decisions, and at the same time traps her with the knowledge that he’s all she has. Her mother is gone (not directly his doing, but he considered it a gift from fate) and she is dependant. He abuses her in the worst way, and he knows it. He is ashamed of it. He even goes as far to say that if he were a judge he would sentence himself to thirty-five years in prison for rape. But he never pretends to be other than what he is, and strives for all his raping and abusing to be a good father. He tries to get Dolores an adequate education, knowing that she is highly intelligent. He attempts to craft a world where she can live as normally and happily as possible, while his pleasure is indulged and maintained.

Where did this come from? The book has a curiously contemporary view of nature verses nurture. Humbert falls in love with a girl when he was a child. She loved him too, and they sole glances and caresses behind the backs of their respective families. This childhood romance fused with the girl dying soon after and thereby remaining forever a child, calibrated the sordid machine which produced the paedophile Humbert. Freudian to its core, all the neurosis and patterns of behaviour have their root in childhood experience. I have never found a comparable work (note that I haven’t looked) which lays bare the mind of a paedophile in such a detailed and arresting way.

This is a love story (as well as an abuse story) because Humbert is hopelessly in love with Lolita. He tries to convince her to be with him after her nymphet qualities have expired (nymphet being a girl 8-14 with a certain graceful and immature body, it is Humbert’s preferred term for the objects who obsess him), because it is love rather than lust that is his ultimate motivator. At first Lolita has her own desires for him too. This is not a strictly active-passive relationship, and throughout their time together Lolita manipulates Humbert, and uses it finally to terminate their torrid relationship. She escapes through an intermediary, and thus does not take power for herself. The vintage of the 1950s sticks heavily to this point, as Lolita is last shown heavily pregnant, drawing on the disgraceful, dispirited Humbert for money. Sex, childbearing, and annoyance. That is the condition of women in Lolita.So on the one hand it is radical in its portrayal of children being sexually active on their own (as well as with Humbert), and on the other hand is locked in the chauvinism and sexism of the middle twentieth century. The hands meet in applause for a book thoroughly worth reading, as well as having on the shelf.

Nabokov was not a native English speaker, and regarded this as a limitation on his work in English. In my experience brilliant writing spills from the pens of those not born with that particular vernacular uttered around their cot. Salman Rushdie is often lauded for his writing (he is from Mumbai), although I find his books overwritten and heavily pregnant with pretence. He had a tough time getting his finest work to print, and movie adaptations have made alterations to avoid the more shocking aspects (increasing Lolita’s age for example, which seems to defeat the whole idea of the book). But no matter what people say in hostility about it, Lolita is a fine work of fiction. Well worth staying up to half-past three in the morning to finish it.

Library of Souls

This is tragic. Not the actual story of Library of Soulsbut that it is the last in the Peculiar Children trilogy by author Ransom Riggs. Hopefully not the last of series as a whole, but more on that later.

In 2013 a dear friend lent me her copy of the first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and it caught and held me in the odd embrace only to be found in fantasy. I will stick with calling it fantasy by the way, rather than getting completely muddled by the ridiculous number of terms that make up the catalogue of literary genres.

This is not really a review of the book, but rather a collection of my back and forth thoughts about it. I would say it is an extended musing, but that would be self-aggrandising in a time when everything coughed up on the internet is a ‘musing’; most not very amusing. Alright, that’s enough for puns.

So then, lets talk literature I suppose the Peculiar books are ‘Speculative Fiction’, which is a term I found this morning and seems an unnecessary umbrella for a whole bunch of other genres, but is unhelpfully tautological. Like describing a piece of fruit as both firm and squishy. What is fiction if not speculative? Or I might put it another way; what is speculative fiction if not the fiction that is worth reading? Insofar as that rule stands — since I learned the term this morning we mustn’t get too attached to my theory — Ransom Riggs’ Peculiar Children series is worth cracking open if you come across it.

To start with he–Ransom Rigs–collected old photos from flea markets and pawnshops and upon the suggestion of his publisher used the most eerie ones to create a story. They are scattered throughout all three Peculiar Children books and help visualise a scene, or a character, or some other part of the plot. Most do not carry any digital enhancement, and although they complement the story and formed the narrative building blocks that the author used, the result is not a picture book.

Embarrassingly I have not written about the other two books, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and Hollow City (see below).

I refer you a short and worthy keyboard smattering from Lara’s book club which gives a brief review of the first book.

In profiles, articles, and promotional kipple; Ransom Riggs–and his work–tends to be described as quirky, and creepy. These words are becoming clichés (quirky being a particular favourite these days) as general descriptions people go to desperate lengths to have ascribed to themselves, but maybe because of that they are important. Perhaps that is what twists the knife in the guts of linguists. A word can be both subversive and honest. Over-used and yet describing what tries to be unique, to stand apart. What is in fact peculiar.

Now that segways back rather well to the book in question. Like its predecessors it targets a part of you that stands apart, that doesn’t fit, that is frightened and bored of the world. Isolation, alienation, and a yearning for vindication (ignore that last one if you like, I was searching for another ‘ion’ word) these are common notions in adolescence (I won’t trust anyone who disagrees), which don’t necessarily fade away with time.

So this is number three in a trilogy, and so far Ransom Riggs has not said whether he will add to the series. I would hazard a guess at Library of Souls being the last outing of Jacob Portman, at least as the point-of-view character. The series opens and closes with a pleasing symmetry, I would not fancy it being spoiled by the lined being picked up again.

The last book of the Peculiar universe? Unlikely. Oh, what a happy thought! Assuming there are good vernacular photographs left to guide the story. Human’s have such a penchant for pictures that makes me feel secure that Ransom Riggs still has plenty in his (or his friends) collections.

For those that for some horrible reason are affected by a dislike of reading (I speak to whoever knows someone thus afflicted, since those actually concerned would gnaw on asphalt before getting near a blog) Tim Burton is directing the film adaptation to the first book. It comes out next year, and I am cautious about it as one might expect. I’ll save those thoughts for another post.

The Ables by Jeremy Scott

From Nashville, Tennessee; Jeremy Scott, the author of The Ables, is also the co-creator of popular website and YouTube channel CinemaSins. Best known for the nitpicking comedy videos Everything wrong with [insert movie title here]. The success of the channel and the website (on which one can buy merchandise like CinemaSins mugs and t-shirts (you know, if you feel the need)) has meant that Scott has been able to spend more time writing. The result is The Ables, which he self-published earlier this year (2015) via Clovercroft Publishing.

The Ables is a tale about a group of twelve year-olds with superpowers. They also have significant disabilities. On the surface their impairments hinder their superpowers, even causing them to be canceled out entirely. However, through trust and the close friendships that connect a group in a way that only seems possible in the awful adolescent years at school, the characters do incredible things.

I was told of the book by a good friend who wanted to get my perspective on the portrayal of young people with disabilities. That strums a few chords with my life and current work, so this is one area where if i can’t claim expertise, I can claim experience. I’ve also wanted superpowers since I was about three (who hasn’t?) so was intrigued to find and read this book.

Firstly, this is not some kind of sop story, nor is it a weak expression of the sympathy and hope an in-experienced, non-disabled author. Let me explain. If it was the latter then I would expect to come across the trite message, ‘disabled people can do anything!’ That message can be attractive, especially to someone young who discovers they have a disability, as I was. But it is a mirage, a lie to cloak ones-self with when cold reality starts to bite. It bites anyway, and the cloak is as useless as the proverbial emperors clothes.

Because there are limits to everything one can do, whether disabled or not, one has to probe deeper. People’s aspirations often have little to do with physical or mental power. Having friends. Feeling loved, and accepted by your friends and family. Being truly comfortable as yourself. These are much more important than being able to walk well, or at all, and being able to see. I think Jeremy Scott has grasped the edges of this point. Friendship and trust are what truly counts in The Ables. Although the superpowers somewhat overshadow the disabilities, which are static impairments. They don’t charge requiring the characters to adapting differently as the story goes along. More on that later.

His story begins with the discovery by a young man of a superpower he’d never known about. This cleverly and rather pleasingly inverts the experience I mentioned before, about being a teenager and learning you have a disability. Watching your horizon disappear behind a cloud. That is an experience many  people have had, are having right now, and will have in the future. Getting past it is important, but through inverting the experience Jeremy Scott starts with possibility and aspiration.

I am deliberately edging around the narrative by not mentioning any specifics, but I will say that this protagonist is placed in a school for superhero kids, where he is crestfallen to realise that he’s in the ‘special’ education class with other disabled kids. Yes, disabled people have the same fears and anxieties as anyone else, the desire to fit in only being exacerbated by the intolerance of the powerful in society, whether school boards or bullies (is their a difference?).

Strength, as you would suspect lies in numbers. The group of disabled kids with  their array of powers and impairments calls themselves ‘The Ables’, after a mythical superhero group that saved the world in centuries past. They have to work hard together to compete with their peers, for what good is telekinesis if one is blind? If one’s wheelchair bound but sighted friend is telepathic, then seeing becomes a matter of communication and trust. I really don’t want to spill anymore details of the novel here, so if my disjointed rambling is appealing to your curiosity, then please get your hands on a copy of The Ables and satisfy yourself.

Non-physical disabilities: intellectual, learning, developmental, mental — buried in jargon and euphemism are the actual people with such disabilities (note that ‘people’ comes first), who are not prominent earlier in the book, become more important later n. On reason is that Scott allows his characters to be nervous and slow about including the down syndrome kid with unknown powers in the group. The relationship develops over time. In a period when intolerance is condemned and acceptance demanded at the first, it is refreshing to see it as more of a journey. People’s value can’t really be measured in a paragraph or a page. It requires chapters.

One criticism I will make is that for the co-creator of a YouTube series that makes it’s living by nitpicking the sins of movies, Scott was guilty of a bit of sloppiness in this regard himself. In the book a character that is plainly said to have one arm is referred to later as having “his hands on his knees”. A sin certainly but one that is easily forgivable. After all this book was self-published, which might explain the occasional editorial lapse. It’s not enough to harm the story.

An absence I did feel quite keenly was the idea of a progressive disability. They are not uncommon, and I have one myself. I am not merely disappointed in that for my own sake, but because it would have been an interesting narrative turn to see a character with a changing condition, and to see what bearing that has on their superpower. Does it become mire useful or less? Obviously it would depend on the power, and perhaps Scott will write a sequel and consider that. However, this is not ultimately a book about disability, but about friendship and coming of age. It’s good to bear that in mind

I haven’t mentioned the primary antagonist, or gone into the subversion of the Messiah theme. You will have to forgive me but I have grown tired and sincerely hope that you will read the book. Come on now, it’s 364 pages — not a time by any means.

In sum The Ables is an entertaining and sustaining read. It is more dramatic and emotionally sophisticated than I assumed it would be, and a fairly good insight into the character of disabled people. Superhero’s or not, Jeremy Scott treats them as people.

The Ables is available at amazon.

Check out the trailers for the book below!

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I have wanted to read this book for a long time, and not just to understand it’s absurd title. Philip K. Dick is considered one of the most influential science fiction writers today, some 33 years after his death. The films Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly were based on his works, and his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is perhaps most famous of all. It is the basis for Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner.

The book and the film are very different. Bounty hunters and Androids in the book are called Blade-Runners and Replicants respectively in the film. The book is character driven, it goes into a religion of empathy known as mercerism which the film completely leaves out — and for good reason. The film is visually stunning, a neo-noir (think of films inspired by the 1940s-50s detective genre) where the primary character (a bounty hunter or blade-runner) is changed from being a driven cop with a wife who becomes cynical, to a solo, hard-boiled ex-blade-runner brought back for one last assignment. From the start Harrison Ford is the classic Humphrey Bogart, whereas the character may be heading that way at the end of the book.

The book also stresses the importance of genuine animals. How in the post-apocalyptic world where everything is dying, to own a genuine animal is to posses the highest status symbol possible. Rick Deckard once owned a genuine sheep, but it died and he can’t face telling people that the sheep he has now is electric. Fake animals have been built with disease circuits installed, so when they have a mechanical fault or start to break down they manifest physical symptoms of organic disease. But still, an electric animal is worthless next to a real one. Earth is inhabited by people who either cannot leave for colonies on Mars and else ware because they failed to meet the physical or IQ standards, and are branded specials and occupy a low and poverty stricken existence, or people who chose not to leave.

To try to induce people to leave the governments around the world pledged to give every colonist an Android, to be their personal servant or slave. On Earth the Androids are strictly banned, and the bounty hunters identify and ‘retire’ any found in their jurisdictions. Rick’s jurisdiction is San Francisco, and eight of the latest and smartest Androids — the nexus-6 — are at large. The senior bounty hunter retired two before being critically injured, and his list is passed to Rick. At last, a chance to make a lot of money and buy a genuine animal! Those that have seen Blade Runner will recognise the first part of the premise.

Despite their differences both the book and film are about what is real and what is not, and about empathy. Does an electric sheep think that it is real? If it’s behaviour is the same, should it be worth less? Can you fall in love with an Android? Is dialling for ‘peace and contentment’ on the mood organ a genuine emotion if it actually makes you feel that way? As the dust and assorted trash (‘kipple’ as it is known as in the book) spreads into all parts of the earth, organic forms of life are choked while the artificial claims superiority.

Blade Runner shot copy

A motif that was not the same in the book as in the film is the four year lifespan of the Androids. Their motivation in the film is survival, to remove that limit. In the book the limit exists but is almost a banality. The Androids don’t seem to even think about it. Yet in the film it gives the basis for much of the depth, and sets up the famous climactic scene with Rutger Hauer on the rooftop in the rain. For this reason I think the film drives its point a little more forcefully, and certainly more memorably.

Blade Runner shot2

The Androids, led by Roy Batty (Rutger’s character above in the film) yearn for acceptance, perhaps the nexus-6 feels more human than Android because they are so advanced. “More human than human is our motto”, as their creator says in the film. Their victory in the book is showing mercerism to be false, that it was created by hollywood, the human capacity for empathy — the last thing that makes them ‘superior’ — is a lie.

Even with the differences between the book and the film, they complement each other as parts of Philip K. Dick’s strange universe. I felt unable to let go of the novel until finishing it, which in this case is not so hard since it is just 200 pages long. Like all science fiction, the novel tells more about the time it written rather than actually predicting what the future will be like. The influence is clearly the nuclear paranoia and space race of the 60s. Philip K. Dick was not a prophet. But unlike some of it’s contemporaries Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is not imprisoned in it’s time; it is surprisingly easy to read now. For us today, separating the real from the false has never been a more vital exercise.

There I shall stop and thank you thoroughly for making it to the end of my post. With my new found sense of empathy I understand the difficulty of reading a blog that goes on and on. Or maybe you have lost interest and I am mistaken. In that case I must be an android — excuse me while I retire.





If I Stay (review)

In the early months of the year I had just finished a massive Victorian novel by George Elliot. I needed something easy to chew through in a day, so I picked If I Stay by Gayle Forman. As most American novels marketed to teenage girls and (I suspect more so) their mothers, It is short, formulaic, and allows clichés to run wild. Much easier to communicate an idea to someone if you use the most well worn examples. Two exceptional musicians, one a future rock-star, the other a superb concert cellist, but falling in love… It could be nauseating, except that it isn’t.

I really enjoyed the book, so much so that I postponed writing this review until I had seen the movie. So this is in fact a review of both, how lucky you are! The book was written in 2009, the film was released in 2014 and starred Chloë Grace Moretz.

Both complement each other, and both are unrelenting tear jerkers. I apologise if the flow of this piece is a little strained, I don’t want to get particular about dividing evenly between the book and the film. I read the book in January, and saw the film last night. So I will concentrate more on the film.

Both focus on the critical point (mild spoiler alert); how do you live after your family has been killed and your own life hangs in the balance? When your will to live is the only thing keeping you alive, how do you stay when your world is gone? This is the purpose of the book and the film, and they both handled it with grace.

The difference between the two is merely the translation of the written word into visuals. Sometimes the movie is more natural in conveying things — like teen romance — and sometimes the events in the book have more raw power. When you are forced to imagine the broken body of a father with no reference beyond your own experience, the face you put to the body gives the scene more emotional depth than cinema could ever achieve.

Chloë Grace Moretz is the best actress of her age. I do not doubt that, and I am willing to debate those who think otherwise. She plays Mia, the talented cellist who has applied to Julliard, and who has to choose life without  her family, or death without everything else. A problem I had going into the film was that it was set amid the cloudy backdrop of the pacific north west. I feared a Twilight influence in the romance, and was ecstatic when I found this not to be true.

The romance is dealt with honestly, portraying the desperate intensity of young love without belittling it. It neither makes it so suffocatingly strong that the doey faces of the protagonists are burned into your mind. And, the relationship of the ex-rocker parents is a source of comic relief, and refreshing realism.

What really impressed me was the supporting cast. Apart from Moretz, no-one is familiar, although most are superb acting veterans. When Hollywood tones itself down, and lets the lights of the indie-film community shine without the A-list stars, the result is all the more triumphant.

The film is a tear jerker as I have said, and for me the scene (mild spoiler alert) in which Mia’s grandfather tells her how much she means to him, and that she has permission to go if she wants to, that scene had the tears rolling down my cheeks. How does America have such acting talent and not use it at every opportunity? I may have to rewatch several scenes as an emotional catharsis.Even Alfred Hitchcock said a reason to see some movies is to have a good cry.

Ultimately the book and the film are so complementary that images from the film on the new book covers seems absolutely right. I urge you to see or read either, and stop for a few hours to consider what is of value in your life. If you ever had to ask the question, would you stay?