Time for me to play catch-up once again, I think.
On the face of the evidence, Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mantra is that composer's most widely-recorded and -performed piece. There's the Bevan/Mikashoff recording which I reviewed; the Kontarsky version issued through Deutsche Grammophon / Stockhausen Verlag; the Corver/Grotenhuis version (Stockhausen's alleged favorite, which is not in print); a version by Janka and Jurg Wyttenbach; and the Schumacher/Grau version on Wergo, which I now also have and admire quite a lot.
And now we have yet another one, by Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer, which substitutes the analog electronics called for in the score with an all-digital, computer-driven setup. They used Max/MSP, the same suite that Merzbow now uses on his Mac for his laptop-based compositions. You can even download the same patches and wiring diagrams they used, if you've got three pairs of hands and want to give the piece a shot yourself.
It took Mother to wipe the taste of the abominable Tsubaki Sanjuro out of my mouth — which it did, and then some. Every year for over a decade now there’s been at least one wallopingly good Korean movie. This one ranks as the entry for 2010, at least until I see how I Saw The Devil holds up against it.
Mother is a fine example of how a movie can be both conventionally entertaining and unconventionally intelligent. The bare outlines of the film are a thriller, but the blank spaces between them have not been painted in by the numbers; they’ve been given the tics and quirks of both real life and artistic fancy. It makes sense when you realize the director is Bong Joon-ho, he of The Host and Memories of Murder, two other Korean films that were among the best movies of their respective years regardless of country. Read more
I am not, in principle, against remakes. I am against them when they add nothing to a movie that was perfectly good all by itself. The problem is that the economics of moviemaking no longer favor storytelling, let alone individual expressions of ideas. They are, more than ever, all about pumping out a product that can be pre-sold on the basis of its name before a single frame is shot. Remakes are one of the easiest ways to accomplish that.
I’m also convinced every country’s moviemaking industry eventually enters a phase — maybe even a terminal one — where that kind of moviemaking becomes prevalent and drives out most everything else. Japan seems to have entered this phase in earnest. Why else would we have a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, a movie which proved that even when Kurosawa was not at his best he was still miles better than most other directors? Watching this retread was one of the most depressing experiences I have ever had in front of a screen.Read more
My most common lament about anime, manga and Japanese popular culture generally has been the language barrier. I’ve tried to learn Japanese but I was only able to make so much headway, and with my spare time at an even greater premium now it’s not likely I’ll ever develop the skill needed to read manga without a translator. A great many titles I know I want to delve into — Azumi, for instance, or Yoshiharu Tsuge’s works, or the endless one-shots I’ve collected along the way — are more or less off-limits for now. In this regard I have, and most likely always will, depend on the kindness of strangers.
The good news is the strangers are getting a little kinder with each passing year. Not just manga publishers like Dark Horse taking intelligent risks with titles like Hiroki Endo’s Tanpenshu, but Drawn & Quarterly bringing out Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work, or Vertical, Inc. digging through most of Osamu Tezuka’s back catalog. Now joining their ranks are graphic-novel greats Fantagraphics, and their debut release in this category is a gorgeously-produced best-of collection from shojo manga creator Moto Hagio, A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. (Even apart from the content, the book is a keeper — a large-format hardback, in color, one of the best productions of its kind since something like the domestic printing of Seiichi Hayashi’s Red-Colored Elegy.) Read more
Let me start on as unambiguous a note as possible. Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo is the manga title of the summer, possibly the manga title for the whole of 2010. It doesn’t just break new ground for manga, it paves it and puts parking stripes on it. It is raunchier than the last issue of Penthouse Variations you found behind someone else’s toilet, violent enough to knock the teeth from your face, and entirely too funny for its own good. It will raise one hell of a noise. It ought to.
After writing and throwing away a dozen other drafts of this review, I think I’ve managed to boil down to three basic points what makes this book such a blast of fresh air. One, as has been discussed at great length elsewhere, it’s one of the first manga titles — if not the first — created by a non-Japanese native, but published over in Japan before being licensed in English. Two, it uses its outlandish seinen plot (which reads like an overheated portion of, say, Black Lagoon) to make some fierce points about the very audience that might well be lining up for this thing. It has at least as much to say about otakudom as it does its cultural inverse, the fetishization of all things American (or at least Western) by some Japanese. Three, it does all this in exactly the style — not visual, but emotional — of the best manga: on one panel you’re getting your face slammed into the pavement, and then on the next you’re getting tickled until you can’t breathe. There’s a kind of genius in being able to do that and get away with it. Read more
First rumor dispelled: I haven't died.
I have, however, been dealing with some rather crazy personal-life stuff, the details of which I won't go into here. (Those of you who know me slightly better than casually, you know what I'm talking about; no need for me to repeat myself.) All this stuff, on top of the workload I found myself facing this month, conspired to make it difficult for me to do more than get up, work, go to the bathroom less often than I'd like, sleep every now and then, and maybe eat as well.
Not my idea of fun. Not my idea of work, or even existing. But I'm still here and twitching, so I guess that counts. I'll pick up my medal later.
Last night I came to one of those conclusions I never like to come to, but which are like a gate which walls off progress: if you don't go through the gate, you never get to the next level.
It is simply not possible to finish The Underground Sun on the schedule I have set for myself and make it a good book.
Trust me, this doesn't thrill me in the slightest.
I started working on this book back in 2008, put it aside to work on Tokyo Inferno, and came back to it over the course of this year to try and finish it. At each stage it changed — sometimes drastically, sometimes incrementally — and as I pushed on through the body of the ms. I tripped over and fairly broke my nose against a whole gaggle of obstacles that weren't going to be apparent to me from an outline, or even when I was part of the way through a first draft.
By the time I realized I had maybe a month left to put the book to bed before AnimeFest (which is when I've traditionally debuted new works), I had accumulated several pages of notes that flagged endless little problems with the book. Questions of logic, loopholes other readers would surely chew my ear over, and issues with the setting all leaped out at me like those stray kernels of corn that finally pop themselves and fly right into your face.
Last night, after struggling through a particularly stubborn section very near the end, I stopped and pushed my keyboard away and just looked at the list of Things To Fix I'd accumulated. The first draft wasn't even done, and I was dead certain a rewrite would take more than a few weeks. And the more I looked, the more I found things that I simply could not ignore.
This is not shaping up to be a cosmetic rewrite; this is a full-blown dismantling and reworking.
But this has to happen. If I don't take the time to do this, and do it right, I will not have a book worthy of my name.
I'm fond of the romance inherent in putting out a book a year — look, Ma, I'm "productive"! — but not when it conflicts with the larger goal of putting out well-written books. What I have right now is maybe forty to sixty percent of what it can be, and if it takes me past the end of the year to get it to the 80-90% mark, then so be it. Georges Simenon, I am not.
I've been grousing about this to myself for some time now, but it's really not all that bad. I have two — three — shows coming up that I've never sold anything at, so I'll still be able to release "new" material there. New to those respective audiences, that is. So it's not a total loss; it's just a minor jab.
To that end, I'm going to take a break from working on the book for at least the rest of July. I've got a few other things demanding my attention — real-life stuff with friends and family, a software project I've been neglecting, the Really Great Thing I Still Can't Talk About Just Yet (which could seriously affect my writing and sales activites), a stack of books I owe it to myself to read, and just a whole extended family of other goodies.
The worst part is that the damn book still isn't finished. It feels now more like a tumor to be excised than a creative product to be completed. It's not the kind of feeling I want to have about something that's been so close to my heart for so long.
It's not often I read something that has me screaming and thrashing around in annoyance and disgust, but Rudy Rucker's "Psipunk" thing did it for me. Go read it and then come back here.
Okay, we're back.
Let's leave off the fact that the whole n-punk thing has been wrung through more permutations than there have been cover versions of "Louie, Louie". That's bad enough. What's worse is the way the whole thing is pure, unreconstructed Nerd Rapture, without a hint of irony or skepticism. It's today's version of SF from the Fifties, wherein were solemnly predicted food pills and world government — and how silly and quaint does most of that stuff seem today? Swap "quantum" for "atomic" and a few other buzzwords, and it's the same thing: In The Future, All Of Us Will Drive Standing Up!
Even the stuff in part 4 — the short-term predictions — are annoying in varying measures. The reason we still don't put everything into network links is because even in this day and age network links are notoriously slow and flaky. A home file-sharing system is one thing; leaving all your music on the other side of the country and accessing it through the same pipe through which is also being shoved your phone, wireless, NetFlix streaming and god knows what else ... that's another. (I'm not suggesting that this is impossible, just that most people need only to experience a couple of network outages [as I have] to find out why this is nowhere nearly as dependable as just caching things locally.) And the bit about tapping into the quantum energy of rocks as a computational system made me want to shove Rucker headfirst into the LHC. Sorry, gang, but quantum computing is not the Xanadu Technology it's been made out to be. Better people than Your Humble Narrator have explained why.
[Addendum: Right guy, wrong link. Most of what he talks about there is a refutation of the idea that quantum computing is impossible. Scott believes it is possible, but does not believe it will be as earth-shattering as the conventional wisdom has claimed. I'll find a better link.]
I do give him credit for provoking some thought, even if not as he intended. E.g., telepathy. I wonder if it might not be such a great idea, for one reason. Does it suddenly become that much easier to spoon-feed people predigested concepts that they never question, never grapple with, never test with their own skeptical viewing equipment? I suspect it will be possible to award people knowledge, but I doubt it is possible to do the same with wisdom and perspective. I don't think he was deliberately trying to conflate knowledge with thought, but that's part of the problem right there. Ideas are cheap. Perspective is priceless, and I doubt it can be boiled down into a Brain Pill that can be passed from one person to another.
I don't say any of this because I think SF or fantasy has a duty to predict anything, which is a misleading concept. I think it is the duty of such work to envision possible futures, and as a way of building a degree of skepticism about them — to allow us to keep guard against the worst of it so that we can have a future in the first place. The biggest problem I have with essays like this is the complete lack of a sense that the implications of anything they bring up are anything but "Hey, man, awesome toys!"
Again, I haven't been posting much lately because of the Really Awesome Possibility thing that I can't yet talk about. Soon, I promise.
The big fandom-related news of the weekend was of course the ghastliness of The Last M. Night Movie (we can only hope at this rate). Charges of "racebending fail" have given way to the far more specific charges of "making a terrible movie".
As a sort of antidote to the general horribleness of the movie — it's depressing they can spend this much money on any film and have it be so universally dumped-on — I sat down with the TV series itself. I've watched a whopping total of one episode so far, but what I have seen bodes very well indeed. (I understand now why people were weeping and ripping their hair out when they saw the live-action Aang never so much as crack a smile. If the show is any one thing, it is fun, and the biggest criticism of the movie is that it is simply no fun on any level.)
I'm surprised that I've run into a couple of people who have a problem with the original Airbender on an existential level — that it's a Western show trying too hard to be "Asian", and I have some inkling of what they mean by that. But there's a big difference between just copying something and taking inspiration from it, and from what I've seen the show understands this. It's not an attempt to ride anime's coattails. For that, I suspect the upcoming live-action Akira will serve as a perfect example, which is currently being masterminded by all kinds of people who don't seem to get it.