Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Kingsman Reaches New Depths

As much as he’d like us to believe that he’s channeling Quentin Tarantino in the “The Kingsman,” Matthew Vaughn, who wrote the screenplay with Jane Goldman, and directed this bloodbath of a movie, lacks everything Tarantino has except the blood. The plot of The Kingsman is ridiculous -- and that’s okay for a film based on the comics -- but it’s also offensive, off-putting, juvenile in the way that bathroom humor is juvenile, and exploitive.

Vaughn has been criticized for a particular scene near the end of the movie, which he has defended by saying, “It’s a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind...”

I won’t say more, because this film isn’t worth saying a lot about. If you’re determined to learn what was so offensive about this particular scene in a movie that was replete with things to be offended about, just Google Kingsman + Vaughn. But remember, I warned you.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Time Out of Time, Book 2: The Telling Stone, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

The Telling Stone. Available for pre-order on
Fresh from his last adventure, Timothy returns to the otherworldly market and discovers that the Dark forces have mobilized again. After temporarily halting Balor’s evil army, Timothy, Jessica, and Sarah find that Timothy has received the crown that designates him the new Filidh, keeper of all stories. In order to continue their quest to destroy Balor’s forces, the children must find the powerful Telling Stone. Timothy is gifted a map that has neither a key nor a compass, and despite their best efforts, the gang cannot decipher it.

Timothy’s father is given a job opportunity in Scotland during Christmas break, so the family, including Jessica, travels to the land filled with history and tradition. While in Scotland, the children encounter allies, including Julian the fantastical reference librarian. With the good, though, also comes the Dark. During their trip Timothy, Jessica, and Sarah learn more about the Four Treasures. They also fight for their lives and for the future of humanity.

 The transition between the first (Time Out of Time [Abrams, 2015/VOYA August 2015]) and second book in the series is seamless. Action-filled sequences abound. The protagonists (and readers) are hardly given the opportunity to take a breath. Again British, Welsh, and Celtic mythologies are expertly woven together, with an introduction to Scottish history and tradition. Readers will appreciate Timothy, Jessica, and Sarah’s inquisitiveness and strong problem-solving skills. Character development is strong throughout; the tween characters behave realistically and it will be a treat to stick with them as they grow up. This intelligent, engaging series is highly recommended for middle-grade and teen readers, who will eagerly look forward to the next installment.— VOYA

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Spook Country, by William Gibson

From the review by Dave Itzkoff, in the New York Times

“Spook Country,” Gibson’s first novel since “Pattern Recognition,” moves farther from science-fiction speculation and immerses itself fully in modernist realism. More than a post-9/11 novel, it is arguably the first example of the post-post-9/11 novel, whose characters are tired of being pushed around by forces larger than they are — bureaucracy, history and, always, technology — and are at long last ready to start pushing back

Structurally, “Spook Country” rotates among the perspectives of three characters. The first is Hollis Henry, a member of a defunct rock band that enjoyed modest cult success. Now a writer for a magazine no one seems to have heard of, she’s investigating a high-tech art subculture for an enigmatic employer whose interests in the movement may transcend objective journalism

The second is Tito, a Cuban-Chinese immigrant who’s recruited into a series of espionage missions by an old man who Tito hopes can shed light on his father, who died under mysterious circumstances

Finally, there is Milgrim, an amphetamine addict and an expert of sorts in obscure details of communication and cryptography. He’s in thrall to a government stooge named Brown, who forces Milgrim to accompany him on his own surreptitious spying assignments by threatening to cut off his drug supply, and whom Milgrim occasionally suspects might not really be a government agent at all, and might just be a jerk with a gun. (Only he doesn’t use a word as nice as “jerk.”)

What initially unites these seemingly unrelated narratives is a theme familiar to Gibson’s work: the novice initiated into an alternative reality he or she never knew existed. But in each of these strands, Gibson is also playing on the word “spook,” not just in the slang sense of a spy, but also in the more traditional sense of a ghost — of figures who pass through the world unnoticed and unrecognized, and who are about to find out how empowering anonymity can be

At first, Hollis, the musician-turned-journalist, emerges as the novel’s most intriguing character. (Surely Gibson didn’t need the experience of interviewing U2 for Wired magazine to learn how it feels to be a rock star.) Her investigations introduce her to a form of expression called locative art, in which “spatially tagged hypermedia” and a sophisticated visor allow an observer to view images in the real world that are otherwise invisible to passersby: don the glasses in front of the Viper Room in West Hollywood and see an artist’s virtual recreation of the moment when River Phoenix died; stand in the world music section of the Virgin Megastore while wearing them and see F. Scott Fitzgerald suffer a heart attack

It’s a setup that lets Gibson riff on the immortality of celebrity, and reveal a side of himself that, though it may not be optimistic about the future, is at least willing to concede that the past is still up for grabs. (“The past isn’t dead,” Hollis muses aloud, in a nod to Faulkner. “It’s not even past.”) More important, locative art becomes a potent metaphor for a disjointed world where anyone can experience reality as he chooses to see it, and no two people’s observations of the same place or event need coincide in any way. If locative art went mainstream, one character predicts, “The world we walk around in would be channels.

But in later chapters, I found myself more fascinated with Milgrim, who sees his relationship to Brown as a twisted, 21st-century upgrade of Tom and Huck, and who wonders just how involuntary his servitude really is. And when Milgrim glances at a beat-up copy of a book on Europe’s history of revolutionary messianism that he just happens to keep in his coat pocket, he provides Gibson with another laboratory to synthesize his limitless curiosity about technology with his deep misgivings about the modern world

Under the dominance of Catholicism, Milgrim thinks, medieval Europe was a “one-channel universe ... broadcasting from Rome,” a province with “a hierarchy in place and a highly organized methodology of top-down signal dissemination, but the time lag enforced by tech-lack imposed a near-disastrous ratio, the noise of heresy constantly threatening to overwhelm the signal.

Of course, Gibson doesn’t have to reach as far back as medieval Europe to find a realm plagued by a unitary broadcast in dire need of being drowned out, and it is not only Milgrim who lives his life alternately in obedience and resistance to his autocratic masters. And as “Spook Country” refers to the spectacle of George W. Bush’s jet-fighter landing aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, examines the true function of terrorism (“to frighten you into surrendering the rule of law”) and explains how torture fundamentally undermines the process of intelligence gathering, it is not only the novel’s central characters who are left to wonder what has become of, as one character puts it, “the country he hoped was still America.

When the three narrative strands of “Spook Country” at last converge, almost 300 pages into the novel and just in the nick of time, they culminate in a climactic prank meant to deliver an accountability moment to some shadowy off-screen figures who have so far avoided blame for the world’s ills. And you may wonder, as I did, briefly, if this slick, “Seinfeld”-ian resolution was really worth all the events that preceded it

But I don’t think that’s the lesson of “Spook Country.” The point is that its protagonists are ultimately able to channel their feelings of detachment and insignificance into something meaningful and pleasantly destructive — and it is precisely because of their apparent insignificance that they are able to do so. When they breathe a sigh of relief for the invitingly uncertain world that awaits them, Gibson can, too: the future is a clean slate for all of them, and whether his characters realize it or not, the author surely understands that this is a symbol of ultimate freedom.
Dave Itzkoff writes the Across the Universe column for the Book Review.