days of destruction, days of revolt

is the name of this talk by Chris Hedges from a few months ago. It is impassioned and deeply relevant – I think Hedges is the most important political and social commentator coming of America at the moment. In this he touches on his work with Joe Sacco to document the “sacrifice zones” of capitalism in America, and how Occupy rose out of that. He also sprinkles it with amazing observations from his time as a foreign correspondent – talking to political leaders in East Berlin on the day the wall came down, who thought that maybe travel across the border would be possible in a year from then – the change took everyone by surprise.

Anyway. It is about a half hour of talk, it is very right on and informed, and I commend it to you. Powerful stuff.

reading 2012: volume 3

Chug chug chug. Not including a bunch of non-fiction that got skimmed.


Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

Like (I presume) most people, I always thought this was the story of a mild mannered doctor who drank a potion and turned into a monstrous beast.

It’s not. I had recently been tipped to that, which is why I read it.

Turns out Jekyll is indeed an upright Victorian doctor. Hyde, however, is a part of him; Jekyll’s baser instincts and desires that he has shut away; and when the transformation occurs, Hyde himself is a weedy, vile little man everyone instinctively loathes. Jekyll is completely aware of what Hyde does, though not in control. (And what Hyde does is less than one might imagine.)

A very odd little fable, told in very roundabout fashion, among honourable men of the time.

Blood of Elves – Andrzej Sapkowski

Polish fantasy author who came on my radar; the series the Witcher game derives from. Definitely a different feel and focus than usual in fantasy; a very peculiar analog of the contemporary world, and commentary on ethnic and political complexity. Was the only one the library had; may have lost a bit as it is an episode in a longer series.

Selected Poems – Jorge Luis Borges

Jesus fucking christ Borges is better than everyone else.

I mean really.

He is in my top three all time, one of the bare handful of writers who palpably changed the way I wrote – or at least, how I thought about writing, and what I realised was possible – after I encountered him. Hadn’t read anything of his in years. Picked this up by chance secondhand, the largest collection of his poetry in english.


His short stories are incredible, his essays are extraordinary, but he regarded himself primarily as a poet.

I don’t really read poetry, but he is a pretty damn amazing poet. Really, it is just funnelling that exemplary mind and exquisite linguistic framing into another form, and yes, it really does suit him.

If you haven’t read Borges, why the hell haven’t you read Borges?

Korero Tahi: Talking Together

Book on Maori protocols around oral discussion.

The Islanders – Christopher Priest

Priest’s latest won the BSFA this year. Pretty remarkable. Takes the form of a travelogue of an unmappable series of islands by an exceptionally unreliable narrator, yet weaves a story or three by implication. Very weird, highly enjoyable. Most reminds me of Stanislaw Lem level weirdness.

How Fiction Works – James Wood

Literary critic renders a book length examination of the novel. Pretty interesting, and made me think a bit about how words work and why. Found the tracing of the historic development of prose style particularly valuable since I have no formal background in literature studies.

Mysteries – Knut Hamsun

Hamsun won the Nobel prize in 1920. This is his masterpiece, and, along with Hunger, probably what he is best known for.

Extraordinarily energetic, even manic, presentation of a person losing their mind. Very entertaining, very striking, hard to believe something this stream-of-consciousness and bizarre was published in 1892. It has the traditional framings of the era – parties and society and conversation – but extended passages of dizzying associativity and moments of sublime beauty. A little exhausting, somehow, for something so easy to read, but quite wonderful.


Journalists suing Obama over laws violating freedom are winning so far

I haven’t really followed the Obama administration, and US politics’ general descent into madness over the past couple of years. (While it is in some sense vaguely reassuring that the Republicans can’t seem to find anyone who isn’t palpably batshit insane to run for President, it is also extraordinarily disturbing. In any case, why wallow in it?)

But for me Obama’s failure to repeal the insane civil liberties destroying laws that were thrust through under the hysterical guise of the war on terror demonstrated he was not the leader needed or hoped for. Instead, as we have noted previously, the situation has actively gotten worse under Obama.

Anyhow. This just came on my radar; haven’t heard it elsewhere yet. A group of journalists, including Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges, have sued the US government and so far they are winning. This from Hedges’ column about it, the whole of which is well worth reading:

In January I sued President Barack Obama over Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorized the military to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely, strip them of due process and hold them in military facilities, including offshore penal colonies. Last week, round one in the battle to strike down the onerous provision, one that saw me joined by six other plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, ended in an unqualified victory for the public. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, who accepted every one of our challenges to the law, made her temporary injunction of the section permanent. In short, she declared the law unconstitutional.

The link in that quote is to the 112 page judgement, one of the very few judicial rulings to strike down a law of Congress, and even more rarely over such subject matter.

This will of course be an ongoing legal battle. The government is already appealling the decision. Tracking it will be interesting.


The government has now lost four times in a litigation that has gone on almost nine months. It lost the preliminary injunction in May. It lost a motion for reconsideration shortly thereafter. It lost the permanent injunction. It lost its request last week for a stay. We won’t stop fighting this, but it is deeply disturbing that the Obama administration, rather than protecting our civil liberties and democracy, insists on further eroding them by expanding the power of the military to seize U.S. citizens and control our streets.

And I’ve got to say Hedges continues to impress the hell out of me. (We posted about him back here.) All power to those willing to scream defiance in the face of the beast,

Anyhow. This feels important, and something that should be better known.


Review: Total Recall (1990) vs Total Recall (2012)

A few months back I had a weird hankering to revisit Total Recall. Shortly after, posters appeared for the remake. Thus, inevitably, we get a head to head review.


Total Recall (1990)

I liked this at the time, but suspect some of its reality-questioning nuance went over my early teenage head. Having since read a heckuva lot of Philip K Dick, I now appreciate how true it is to the mentality of his world-view, even while departing from what is an excellent short story. It plays as sort of a combination of the gist of lots of PKD’s message about the unreliability of our reality and the inhumanity of our technology. Mostly it makes sense, and does effectively pose the question what if any of what occurs is real.

The most bizarre thing is Schwarzenegger. The guy can almost act, but not really. (Though one can see how he can act just enough to be a politician – he can do dumb, genuine, and asshole.) Mostly he is a giant muscle-bound guy, and the story is written for him. Key moments only work because he is giant muscle-bound guy, and can do things a normal guy can’t. This brings a cartoonish veneer to proceedings, which suits Paul Verhoeven’s lurid and absurdist tendencies; oddly makes me want to revisit his unstinting oeuvre.

Really fun. Late 80’s punk apocalypse mutants. Those same corridors that are the future in every sci-fi movie. Whatever happened to Rachel Ticotin? Amazing how much of the visual side of things stayed with me across the decades. Ridiculous deus ex machina ending.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore.


Total Recall (2012)

Short version: watch the original.

There will probably be spoilers in what follows. So it goes. Watch the original instead.

That was weird to watch close to back to back, and the remake suffers for it. The basic framework is there, but the veneer of ideas has worn away.

The remake is not about the ideas. The main thing added is lots of action sequences that are tolerable if uninspired. The nature of the world is… unconvincing. Some nice tech design amidst lots of very busy and incoherent CGI. (This in contrast to the dirt and tactility of Verhoeven’s Mars.)

The absence of feel for the material is evident. The palette and tone of the film is inhuman. We never get a feel for the stakes; there is no human face to the Colony. Farrell is oddly charmless.

None of the characters are characters. This is startling, given how closely it follows the original in many ways, and how the characters from the original stick with us (particularly the mutants). But it is true. Here they are just roles. No one is memorable. No one is worth caring about. Kate Beckinsdale’s role compresses Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside’s roles into one, yet has less character than either. There is no supporting cast; just a series of poorly fleshed out main roles.

The extent to which it is a straight remake is interesting, given how they changed it. However, many of those changes meant they should have kept changing things, and the bits that are kept make less sense in their new context. Probably the best moment in the film is a riff on a thing they have done differently – the fat woman at the scanner, who reminds us of the fat woman Schwarzenegger was disguised as.

Cohaagen’s motives are uninspiring. Matthias/Quato doesn’t exist long enough for us to care about him. He is reduced a cypher to deliver a key piece of thematic information, which while acted on is never given any significance by the acting or direction. Sub-Matrix-sequel philosophizing.

The overall difference in tone is striking. Verhoeven’s film is definitely fun; the remake is never fun. Verhoeven’s is openly surreal and human; the remake is neither.

Ach. On some level it saddens me that it is easier to criticise its failings than praise the original. I also think it is weird that it is easy to talk about pop culture when it doesn’t matter. Or at least I realise that this doesn’t matter, yet it is easy to blog about.