23 May 2011

Con, movie, book

I went to Gaylaxicon @ Outlantacon two weekends ago. A friend drove here from Boston, then we drove down to Atlanta together. The con is small, but it was fun, and I ate way too much in the consuite. Every other time I went up to get some food, there was cake or cookies or chocolate, and, well. I love those things. Saved me from spending much money, though. (The hotel's restaurant was good and delightfully inexpensive. A room service omelet was only $6.)

This weekend I went to a tai chi push hands workshop at one of my teachers' home. It's in a very rural area, and he's got this pavilion (looks like a carport for the roof with nice wood flooring and roll-down sides) set up. He's a former Marine, and one of his children is in the service, so his entire house is full of USMC and other military paraphernalia as well as Chinese and tai chi-related things. It's kind of surreal. Anyway, the workshop was cool, and there may be future Saturday seminars, but they tend to be in the morning, and Saturday mornings are bad for me, because that's when we go grocery shopping. (And from August-May, there's Bundesliga football...) So I may start going to the Monday night push hands class, since my Tuesday class is going on hiatus for summer.

I'm literary chair for a new convention here in Chapel Hill, and I have a guest of honor, which is exciting. Once she signs the contract (I'm not in charge of that end of things, just of figuring out whom to invite, panels, and the like) and it's on our website, I'll be sharing the heck out of it. I persuaded Ben to be on staff, too, and he's the comics/media chair. I'll promote more later :)

We went to see Thor Friday night. I enjoyed it! Lots of people have said they didn't like it, or were underwhelmed, or whatever, but I had a great time watching this piece of blond beefcake with a cheeky grin being hilarious alongside Natalie Portman and her cute assistant. Kenneth Branagh directed it, and he's known for his Shakespeare movies. If you view Thor as Shakespeare in modern English, the movie makes a lot more sense.

I've agreed to review a book for Bull Spec. It's Germline by TC McCarthy. It's dense and gritty, told by a protagonist who's not a very nice guy but you kind of like him anyway. If the cover shown there and the blurb on that blog post make it look like the kind of book you'd like, you probably will. I really like that cover. I'm looking forward to the second book, and I'm only halfway through the first!

I won't be able to post that review here, but I'll let you know when that issue of Bull Spec is available. Also, props to the author, because in the extras section at the back of the ARC, they ask who his favorite authors are, and he breaks it down by country, including Russia and Kazakhstan. I couldn't even name a Kazakh author if you asked, and my Russian knowledge is limited to the big 19th century guys, Nabokov, and Sergey Lukanyenko (Night Watch).

08 May 2011

Movie review: Hanna

After yesterday's review of something I didn't like, I'll talk about something I did like.

I'd heard a little bit about this movie about a girl (Saoirse Ronan) who was raised in remote Finland to be a super killer, because as soon as Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) finds out, she'll stop at nothing until Hanna's dead. It got some good reviews, but the thing that made me perk up was that the last act was set in Berlin, including a frantic chase through the Spreepark. (There's a set of photos here accompanying an article about punks in the GDR. It's an interesting article, but only in German.)

So. It could have been a gratuitously violent flick like Kick-ass (the one about the little potty-mouthed killer superhero(?) girl, which I never saw) or anything in Quentin Tarantino's repertoire. There was definitely violence, I won't lie. The fight scenes are interestingly choreographed and set to music by the Chemical Brothers. There's also some spinning, dizzying cinematography, and the first time it was OK, but the second time it kind of dragged on.

Hanna has lived in the forest with her father (Eric Bana) her whole life. She's never met another person than Erik Heller, or heard music, or used a computer, or seen a car. She encounters people for the first time, and she doesn't quite know how to react to them. The scenes where Hanna's trying to figure out how people work are a delight, because they're realistic.

It's a good movie, not for the squeamish, and worth catching before it leaves theaters.

07 May 2011

Overdue book review: Darkship Thieves

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A Hoyt. 2010, Baen Books

Back in March, I went to StellarCon and got some books for free at the Baen Roadshow. This was one of them.

The story opens with Athena Hera Sinistra, the daughter of a Patrician on a future Earth which has seen rule by not-so-benevolent genetically-engineered overlords, who were overthrown in a war and replaced by Patricians on quasi-seasteads. (Patri Friedman would be proud.) She's awakened from sleep by a thug who is intent on abducting her, and she escapes from him using "feminine wiles" (aka ripping her nightgown open down the front. I actually literally rolled my eyes there.)

She aims for the collectors, since she has friends among them. So, this future Earth has Magic Energy from these energy pods that grow around the planet, and people harvest them. Anyway, she has some friends there, and she aims the escape pod toward the vines. She runs into a darkship, piloted by a descendant of the escaped bio-lords. He is, of course, a fine specimen of the male figure.

This story is one part romance, one part mystery, one part political intrigue, and three parts paean to anarcho-individualism. When Athena and Kit return to Kit's home, she's shocked by the lack of traffic laws. Because OF COURSE everyone drives defensively, and they'll swerve out of the way of oncoming aircars at 50 mph. And never hit another aircar. I came very close to throwing the book across the room on more than one occasion because of the idiotically naive worldview set on Hoyt's pedestal.

Another thing that made me want to fling the book was a bit of full-blown Islamophobia. "By the mid-twenty-first century it was obvious that Europe was dying. There were other problems too. The last gasps of a religion that refused to integrate into modernity had caused a war..." (p 257).

Ironically enough, it's OK to be gay in Hoyt's future libertarian-idyllic world. Athena has a gay best friend (two, actually), and various people from Kit's colony are in same sex couples. It's not OK to be Muslim or to believe that there are no inherent intellectual gender differences, apparently. "In the twenty-first [century] people believed the zaniest things. That there are no gender differences in the human brain." (p 87) [Reality-based spoiler: there aren't. There are more differences between individual males or females than between the average male and female on the bell curve.]

The romance aspect wasn't believable for me. I know romance novels shove the heroine and hero together and suddenly magic happens, but I didn't really see Athena developing any feelings for Kit. I saw him making awkward romantic gestures to her (going on a picnic, for example), but her inner narration didn't give the impression that she liked him until all of a sudden.

The one positive I can pull from it is that Athena has no desire to have children, and this goes against romance tropes.

The book is written in first person, Athena's POV. I thought she was annoying, and there were things I figured out a hundred pages before they were revealed (the hinting from the doctor on Kit's colony, for example). Maybe not the exact specifics, but I twigged to the Big Secret WAY before Athena did. That's one of the drawbacks of first person POV. Some readers may be more intelligent than your MC.

The story is interesting, if rushed at times, and the ending isn't what I suspected it would be when I started reading it. However, I cannot recommend this book to other people without reservation for the right-wing agenda aspects listed above (that is, Islamophobia and anti-feminism).