It’s hard to know what to say about Looper without sounding like a sycophant. I hate time travel stories, have with a passion for years, and probably will continue doing so for the most part—just ask Dave—but I can’t bring myself to even dislike Looper a little, despite it being supersaturated with the worst time travel tropes and inconsistencies. Why is it so good? It’s almost good in spite of Bruce Willis, who has a habit of ruining movies in his old age by sleepwalking through his acting responsibilities, but who is here somehow inspired to pull out his A-game. I think we can thank director Rian Johnson for that.
Johnson was not particularly well known before Looper, but his earlier films Brick and The Brothers Bloom were somewhat more than mere cult classics. Brick (2005) featured a younger Joseph Gordon-Levitt—who is cast as the Young Joe to Willis’s Old Joe in Looper—as a highschooler who plays noir detective in his free time. The Brothers Bloom (2008) told the story of a pair of fraternal confidence men. Both films are filled to the brim with, well, life, for lack of a better term. At times during Bloom you feel like the modern world has been taken over by the spirit of Homeric Greece, all sun and exuberance and love for every single character in the story, even the despicable ones.
The basic story of Looper is set up sufficiently well in the trailer, and I feel no need to repeat it here. The story does not quite unfold in usual three-act or “dramatic arc” structure, but neither does it make a (heh) loop. It’s more of a spiral, or a peeling onion with a fascinating revelation in every layer, some of which may, yes, make you cry. But not if you’re manly. Just saying.
Gordon-Levitt’s makeup job and method imitation of Willis is uncanny, even if the fact that it is makeup is too often apparent. Willis has a lot to play with, and makes some interesting choices regarding how the same person may change over the course of thirty years. Emily Blunt as the sort of love interest Sara probably has more acting chops than many of the other actors, and isn’t afraid to use them. Garret Dillahunt is cast in a role that, for so many reasons, hearkens back to his stint on The Sarah Connor Chronicles as a Terminator. Jeff Daniels shows up to collect his paycheck on schedule. The very young Pierce Gagnon has a surprisingly meaty part for such a young boy, and I suppose it’s a testament to Johnson’s directing abilities that he can do so much with him.
Did it bother me to see more confusing time travel logic than Timecop? Certainly. Was I bemused that Kansas will be growing a major metroplex within thirty years? Absolutely. But do you know why I didn’t care? Because Rian Johnson knows that if you cast Bruce Willis in a movie, there has to be at least one scene where he goes batshit crazy and singlehandedly shoots every last bad guy with a small armament of guns.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Charles Dee’s blog Potato Weather.
The Topps Company is best known for their annual sports trading cards which they have produced since 1938. But they have always maintained other lines ranging from current events to historical themes to novelties. They had dabbled in science fiction before when in the early 1960’s they decided it was time to do a series loosely based on H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds. Their initial title for the series was Attack from Space, but they wisely scrapped that for the more headline worthy Mars Attacks.
They went into production with the highly regarded pulp illustrator Wally Wood as artist, but they felt his designs were too restrained for what they wanted. They brought in Bob Powell who had illustrated their Civil War series. He gave them what they wanted, lurid scenes of mass destruction balanced against more intimate human/alien encounters. He modeled his Martians on the giant-brained creature from the Jack Arnold film This Island Earth, and he set them about alternately bombarding the great centers of human population and hunting down survivors in devastated suburbs and the blasted countryside.
Management at Topps became concerned as soon as they saw early samples of the final artwork. Too violent and too sexy was their judgment. Hemlines came down and necklines rose. Aliens and the giant insects they created could die as horribly as the artists wanted, but humans transformed into flaming skeletons were a problem. The breaking point came in a scene where an alien — the heartless, inhuman bastard — blasted a boy’s dog with his heat ray. The dog absolutely could not be shown as a flaming skeleton. For some reason repainting Rover with a full coat of fur, albeit flaming fur, passed muster.
Management was right to be worried. As soon as the first pack of five cards hit the news stands, complaints began coming in. The whole thing was too violent for kids and too suggestive for the general public. The artists began painting out some of the blood in the not yet released packs, but a call from a district attorney in Connecticut brought production to a halt. The series would be prosecuted as unfit for children.
Artists experimented with toning the whole thing down, a process that largely involved replacing female victims with men. This made for inadvertently bizarre images, since the new drawings did not receive new titles. “Prize Captive” depicted an alien abducting what looks to be a teenage boy. The man stolen from his bed in “The Beast and the Beauty” could be that same boy’s father. What does this say about Martian sexual proclivities? But these cards never went into production, nor did the series ever see national distribution.
Instead it became legendary. The cards have always been on the collector’s market, but Tim Burton’s not very good film from 1996 gave rise to a new level of interest. A copy of card number one, “The Invasion Begins,” sold at auction for $80,000. Topp’s had sold off the original artwork in the 1970’s for what I am sure at the time seemed like a good amount of money. Currently on E-Bay, a prototype of the unused Attack from Space packaging has been marked down to a mere $188,000. A set of cards — missing 39 cards! — is $11,000.
The new Mars Attacks book from Topps presents a brief history of the cards, facsimiles of the original 55 along with the story line, some original drawings, and more current artwork created for recent spin-offs. It is a worthy 50th anniversary celebration. I especially like Card 13, “Watching from Mars.” Martians kick back with red martinis and watch the destruction of the U.S. capitol on a large-screen TV. Pitchers of that red martini mixture show up later in a 1990’s image of a Martian/human wet t-shirt contest. Where is that Connecticut D.A. when you need him?
Daniel Roy (triseult), has contributed over 30 reviews to WWEnd including this, his third, for the GMRC. Daniel is living his dream of travelling the world and you can read about some of his adventures on his blog Mango Blue.
Tau Zero has been hailed as the quintessential hard SF novel, and it’s a well-deserved accolade. It shares some of the weaknesses of the genre, sure; but in its strengths it shines as an exceptional story, grounded in proper science, and brimming with mind-boggling ideas, hard science, and a scale rarely matched in SF.
Let’s get the weaknesses out of the way first. Yes, the character development is flimsy. And as with many other SF classics, it’s hard not to get irritated by its portrayal of women as fragile, irrational creatures. Most of the characters are interchangeable and forgettable, with the exception of Reymont, who turns into quite an interesting and complex character. The level of prose and character emotion can be summed up by the following two excerpts: the first, almost sensual, is a description of two space modules docking:
“[The ship’s] robots—sensor-computer-effector units—directing the terminal maneuvers caused airlocks to join in an exact kiss. More than that would be demanded of them later. Both chambers being exhausted, their outer valves swung back, enabling a plastic tube to make an airtight seal.”
The second describes a beautiful woman:
“Physically she was a big brunette, her features ordinary but the rest of her shown to high avantage by shorts and tee shirt.”
Oh, hard SF…
But anyway. Who reads hard SF for the character development and the prose? It’s all about the fascinating scientific concepts, and this novel has them in spades.
Guest Blogger, Allie McCarn, reviews science fiction and fantasy books on her blog Tethyan Books. She has contributed many great book reviews to WWEnd and has generously volunteered to write some periodic reviews for our blog.
”There is a Group of eccentric immortals, who have all come into being after a shocking near-death experience. Some of them are actual historical celebrities, but others simply take on names that best describe their interests. Guig’s name comes from the “Grand Guignol”, and he earned it through his obsession with recruiting new immortals. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to orchestrate an experience of horrific near-death followed by a miraculous save, so all his attempts have ended in failure. Mostly, he just kills people in terrible ways—but with the best of intentions.
Guig has his sights set on a new recruit, a genius Cherokee scientist named Sequoya Guess. The conversion marks Guig’s first success, but then something unexpected happens. Guess has mysteriously formed a connection with a supercomputer known as the Extro. Guess may want to further his research and make life better for humankind, but the Extro has more homicidal intentions. Guig and his Group must face the terrible truth—if Guess can’t control the Extro, they may have to kill a man they think of as a brother.” ~Allie
This is my September novel for the Grand Master Reading Challenge. I picked this novel because I am generally a fan of Alfred Bester. He is a skilled wordsmith, and everything he writes seems to be brimming with energy and enthusiasm. While The Computer Connection was as ridiculous and energetic as usual, I don’t think it is one of his best novels. For any newcomers to Bester’s work, I would recommend starting with some of his more well-known novels, such as The Demolished Man or The Stars My Destination.
Chris Uhl (chuhl) can’t remember a time when he wasn’t a science fiction fan. He has a B.A. in Classics from Vassar College and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a teacher, a legal assistant, a college development officer, a salesman, and a film extra. Chris may be the only WWEnd reviewer who has no blog. This is his third GMRC review to feature in the WWEnd blog.
Stepsons of Terra is the story of Baird Ewing, a man on a mission to save his planet. His homeworld, a distant colony of Earth, lies in the path of implacable alien invaders. He travels to Earth, the first of his people to do so in 500 years, to get help, but he is shocked to find that Earthmen are not the resourceful supermen he was expecting. Instead they are weak, decadent and about to succumb to invasion themselves at the hands of the Sirians.
Like one of Alfred Hitchcock’s heroes, Ewing runs afoul of the Sirians, who refuse to believe the simple truth that he has come to enlist Earth’s help. They jump to the wrong conclusion and assume that Ewing has come to lead a revolution to save Earth so they harass, kidnap, and torture him.
In his introduction, Silverberg says that this novel, his sixth, is the first one in which “I was a trifle less flamboyant about making use of the pulp-magazine clichés [such as] feudal overlords swaggering about the stars. Rather, I would write a straightforward science fiction novel, strongly plotted but not unduly weighted towards breathless adventure.”
…and WWEnd is looking for your book reviews to go with it!
Last year’s Month of Horrors was a huge success, but it was driven almost entirely by Rico and myself (with one great assist by Allie), but this year we’d like to feature reviews of Horror novels and collections from all of our members. All you need to do is start posting reviews to your favorite Horror novels, and we’ll pick the best ones for the blog.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a small sampling of the Horror books and authors currently on the site. And remember, if you can’t find a book in our database that you’d really like to review, drop us a line in the comments, and we’ll do what we can to add it.
- William Peter Blatty
- Ramsey Campbell
- Neil Gaiman
- Joe Hill
- Shirley Jackson
- Stephen King
- Dean Koontz
- H.P. Lovecraft
- Arthur Machen
- Peter Straub
Lists and Awards:
Daniel Roy (triseult), has contributed over 30 reviews to WWEnd including 2 for the GMRC. Daniel is living his dream of travelling the world and you can read about some of his adventures on his blog Mango Blue.
I love this book so much. It’s clever and inventive and filled with the kind of literary truth that leaves you breathless. Among Others received the Nebula Award, and even beat Miéville’s Embassytown to the Hugo. And you know what? Jo Walton totally deserved it.
Among Others is something new in a genre already known for invention: it’s what I like to call “speculative autofiction.” It features the strengths of both SF and autofiction, and each genre adds to the other to transcend either into something refreshing and exciting. Among Others is the story of Welsh-born Morwenna, who ends up in a boarding school in England following mysterious tragic events involving her mother and twin sister. The story is told in the form of Morwenna’s diary, as she chronicles her life in this strange new environment. But Morwenna happens to see faeries, and knows how to use magic spells.
The ambiguity surrounding Morwenna’s magic is a piece of intricate, subtle, and clever world-building. It’s not the kind of magic that allows you to throw fireballs; as a matter of fact, it’s so subtle that if you stop believing in it, it might suddenly seem like a series of fortunate coincidences. Likewise, it’s not clear whether the faeries are real, or if they’re the product of a hyperactive child’s imagination. Yet as a fantasy system, the faeries and their magic work perfectly. They’re clever and inventive, and they work on many levels. Ultimately, the title of the novel itself is a piece of similar ambiguity: it’s not clear if the “others” in the title refers to faeries, or to the mundane world in which Morwenna struggles to survive.
Scott Lazerus came to Worlds Without End looking for a good list of books. He found David Pringle’s Best 100 Science Fiction Novels to his liking and is currently working his way through the list. He has posted a bunch of reviews for WWEnd including several for the GMRC. Be sure to check out Scott’s excellent blog series Forays into Fantasy too!
Clifford D. Simak’s stories embody contradictions. Like Ray Bradbury, his writing looks back longingly to an idyllic rural Midwestern childhood. As John Clute and David Pringle put it in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Simak “reigned as the finest pastoral elegist of his genre” from the Golden Age through the 1980s. Unlike Bradbury, though, Simak stuck with science fiction, rather than drifting into realism, and his books have always struck me as a strange combination of futuristic SF ideas and a criticism of the technological, social and economic trends that make the manifestation of those ideas possible. The main theme of Ring Around the Sun (1953), one of his most acclaimed novels, and the one that may come closest to crystallizing the themes that run throughout his career, is that humanity’s biological and social evolution hasn’t kept up with its technological capabilities, resulting in the inevitability that humanity will destroy itself.
In 1987, Earth is still threatened by Cold War superpower rivalries, with war seemingly always around the corner, while the ennui of modern life has led people to retreat into a movement called Pretentionism. Clubs have formed in which people get together to share their hobby of historical role-playing, retreating into an imagined past that implies a psychological rejection of the contemporary world. Jay Vickers is an introverted writer who disdains the Pretentionists, but realizes that his own retreat from the world into writing is just another symptom of the same social malaise.
It seems that every couple of weeks or so we hit a new milestone around WWEnd. Most are small ones that we celebrate quietly amongst ourselves with a quick text or high five or fist bump when we see each other. Like when we hit 400 blog posts or 10,000 Twitter followers or some record number of new visitors in a single day.
Some are big milestones that deserve a little celebration, which with this crew usually means a trip to the bookstore then to the pub for a few beers. These include things like when we hit 1,000 members – then again at 1,500 – or, more recently, when we hit that magic 100 then (gasp!) 150 GMRC participants – that was an especially sweet one considering we only expected to get 50 or so. That of course led to 500 (and now over 600) books read for the challenge and a staggering 184 reviews so far. That makes me grin just typing that one.
All of these milestones make us feel like we’re doing something right and keep us motivated to reach higher and keep improving. But more importantly, all of them are centered around you, our members and visitors. We built this site to share our passion for SF/F/H books with other fans out there and your enthusiasm and commitment to helping us make it a better site has made it a real community project.
Last Saturday we passed a major milestone that’s all about our community: one thousand reviews! Holy shit, that’s a lot of reviews! But, more than that, it’s a lot of great reviews. Sure we’ve got some what I’ll call “short opinion pieces” that would fit in a tweet like “The most boring book I’ve ever read.” or, one of my favorites, “Sorry. The movie is better. Not sorry.” but the vast majority of them are much more informative and entertaining. Those 1,000 reviews come courtesy of 125 members from all over the world who put a great deal of care and effort into writing the best reviews they can. We’d like to say thank you to all of them for their contributions and give mad props to our Top 10 Reviewers:
|1. Charles Dee Mitchell (charlesdee)
|2. Sara (divinenanny)
|3. Allie McCarn (allie)
|4. Rob Weber (valashain)
|5. Daniel Roy (Triseult)
|6. Emil Jung (Emil)
|7. Matt Wiles (Mattastrophic)
|8. Donald Adamson, Jr (wmfontaine)
|9. Scott Lazerus (Scott Laz)
|10. Jeremy Frantz (jfrantz)
Thanks again to everyone for all the great reviews and here’s to the next milestone, whatever that turns out to be!
The August GMRC Review Poll is now closed and the winner is Allie McCarn (Allie) for her review of Man Plus by Frederik Pohl. Allie won the April contest for To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer.
The August review poll was a close one with 3 members sitting on 10 votes: Allie, Emil and CharlesDee. This was the first time we had a tie at the end of voting so we needed a tie breaker. Enter jynnantonnyx. I told him of the problem and he said “Hey, I forgot to vote.” and voilà, we had our tie breaker.
Allie will receive a T-shirt, a GMRC button and a set of commemorative WWEnd Hugo Award bookmarks as well as her choice of book from the WWEnd bookshelf. All runners-up will be getting a button and a set of bookmarks for their efforts.
The GMRC just keeps on truckin’! We’ve got 166 participants who have logged 603 books read and submitted 184 reviews. Many thanks to all involved!