Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review of Reviews: They Live, Weaveworld, and Interstellar (Novelization)

It's time for another review of reviews!  (My last review of reviews was in July).  This time I have three items on the agenda: John Carpenter's film They Live, Clive Barker's novel Weaveworld, and the novelization of Interstellar by Greg Keyes.

Rowdy Roddy Piper all out of bubblegum in They Live

They Live

Owing mainly to my recent outbreak of 80's nostalgia (partially fueled by Stranger Things), I've been on a bit of a John Carpenter kick lately.

In the last couple months I've watched Escape from New York (awesome), The Fog (kinda fun), Assault on Precinct 13 (alright), and Dark Star (pretty much unwatchable today, but it was his debut film in the early 70's so I give it a pass).  In the last few years, I've watched The Thing (amazing) and Big Trouble in Little China (unbelievably amazing).  To sum up: John Carpenter is a genius.  And he does a lot of his own music, too, which has been a big influence in the aesthetic I've called "more 80's than 80's."  He has recently released two albums of original compositions, which are pretty good.

Recently my personal John Carpenter retrospective brought me to the 1988 film, They Live.  I remember loving this movie as a kid in the 80's.  For years afterwards, I would occasionally put on sunglasses and pretend I could see zombie-aliens.

I probably don't need to do much to explain the plot of this 28-year-old movie, but for the uninitiated, it involves a working joe (Rowdy Roddy Piper of WWF fame) in a slightly-worse-than-today dystopian America.  He accidentally discovers a stash of sunglasses that give him the ability to see that America is secretly controlled by zombie-looking aliens who use subliminal messages to control the human population.  The messages are anything but subtle: "Obey," "Conform," "No Independent Thought," and so on.

The political message of the film is so obvious it's not even fun to point out, but I suppose it does give something to think about.  How much are we today controlled by messages of the media, advertisers, and other powerful portions of society?  How could we really know who we are, what we want, or what we think given this level of influence?  If anything, I think Nada (Piper) is a little hasty to engage in violent rebellion.  Couldn't he at least talk to the aliens first?

But They Live is probably second only to Big Trouble in Little China when it comes to the particular brand of giddy silliness you can only find in 80's John Carpenter movies.  And we get one of the best scenes of all time:

Rating: 91/100

Weaveworld by Clive Barker

Originally published the year before They Live was released, Weaveworld continues my journey through 80's nostalgia land.  I've been a Clive Barker fan for awhile.  I've watched all the Hellraiser movies, even the ones Barker had nothing to do with, and I've read The Hellbound Heart, the novella on which the original Hellraiser is based.  Many years ago I read and enjoyed Barker's The Great and Secret Show.  I had been wanting to check out Weaveworld for awhile, so I finally did.

It took me awhile to get through Weaveworld.  It's not that I didn't like it.  I liked it a lot.  Part of it is that I had a lot of other things going on (like the beginning of the semester).  Maybe part of it is that the short chapters make it easier to take a break.  But mostly it's just that this is a really long book.  Prepare to spend some time on this one.

Like Hellraiser and The Great and Secret Show, Weaveworld involves the somewhat Lovecraftian concept of another world coming into contact with our own.  While Weaveworld has plenty of horror elements, it's more properly dark fantasy.  These days it might be called urban fantasy, although that's not quite right, at least if you're expecting standard creatures like vampires and werewolves.

Weaveworld takes some time to get started, but eventually two people in England come to understand that there's another world called the Fugue (one of many Capitalized Nouns throughout the book) that filled with the Seerkind, a race of magical humans (or humanoids).  The Seerkind remind me a bit of the creatures in Barker's lovable but commercially unsuccessful film Nightbreed.

The philosophical core of the complex machinations of Weaveworld is that the more fantastic, imaginative aspects of our humanity are worth defending.  They do not represent merely flippant escapism; we need them to be whole people.

These fantastic aspects of the book often have a dream-like quality.  Because of this dream-likeness, however, not everything makes sense.  I often had to treat sections of the book just like a dream by going with the flow to see where it goes (I've never been able to understand most of my dreams).  For the most part this worked, although sometimes I had trouble understanding exactly what was going on or why it was happening either because it was too complex for me to grasp or because Barker was intentionally leaving some mysteries (or perhaps a bit of both).  If anything, I would have liked to see a little deeper exploration of the Fugue.  Does each country have its own community of Seerkind?  Are they just British?  Is the Fugue part of something larger?

Aside from these issues, my only other criticism is that a book this long and complex with so many technical terms could really use a glossary.  It's hard to remember what all those Capitalized Nouns refer to, especially since many of them seem to be different names for the same or similar things.

Criticisms aside, I really enjoyed this book.  It's hard to do justice to a book this complex and mysterious in a simple review.  If you like Clive Barker, dark fantasy, or conjunctions of realism and dream-like fancy, then you might enjoy delving into Weaveworld to experience it for yourself.

Rating: 89/100

See my Goodreads review.

Interstellar (novelization) by Greg Keyes

Despite its flaws, I love the film Interstellar.  I've given two talks about the movie, one at my university last year and another at Worldcon last month.  In preparation for the latter talk, and because I recently found the book at a used bookstore, I decided to read the novelization.

I rarely read movie novelizations.  I find them to be strange beasts.  Making a movie out of a book makes more sense to me than making a book out of a movie.  Maybe it's because the loss of information to make a new product (in the book to movie direction) makes more sense than adding new information (in the movie to book direction).

This probably explains why I wanted to read the Interstellar novelization: I was hoping for a little more background and especially more on the conclusion.  Keyes's novelization follows the story of the movie pretty closely.  The prose is smooth and page-turningly readable, but nothing too exciting.  What you do get, and what makes it worthwhile, is more of the inner psychology and motivations of the characters.  At one point someone even makes fun of the older Dr. Brand for his frequent quotations of Dylan Thomas!

I didn't get as much as I hoped when it came to elaborations of elements of the plot, but I can say that I enjoyed reading this.  If you're a fan of the movie and want a little bit more from a quick read, check this out.

Rating: 85/100

See my Goodreads review.

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