What I've Been Reading: Sept 2020September 15, 2020, 03:44 PM Horror, Reading
Devolution - Max Brooks
I'm a fan of World War Z. I thought the epistolary story structure was exciting and a refreshing take for the zombie subgenre. I also appreciated that it was more of a collection of social case studies rather than frantic horror. In Devolution, Max Brooks turns his eye to sasquatch or bigfoot. Still, the book has a similar structure as WWZ, telling the story through the protagonist's journal entries, supplemented by interviews with her brother, park rangers, etc.
At first, I thought the story was a bit slow getting off the ground. Unlike WWZ, this is much more focused on a single protagonist, so we spend a lot of time getting to know her. In another story, we might have gotten to the action sooner and picked up more character depth along the way. However, in this structure, where we're reading from her journal, those get-to-know-you details are front-loaded. We have her entries before stuff goes wrong, and after. In the former, we learn of her everyday life problems, getting all the mundane out of the way early. It also serves the story that she is a pretty regular person, not some exceptional character. With this style of structure and this type of character, it had to be this way.
That said, while it was slow early, it all paid off. Once the story gets going, and we aren't learning about the character, the action takes the driver seat and runs away. Having gotten to know her early, we delve deep into how the story's events change her drastically.
Best of all, like WWZ, there is an underlying theme that has nothing to do with the fantastic, like zombies or bigfoots, but rather is an indictment of real-life and society. Perhaps, here we see how dependent most of us are on our network of goods and technology. When they fail, we're far from prepared, and many lack the resourcefulness to get by.
I would have loved this book and theme no matter what; however, given the recent and ongoing supply chain difficulties from the COVID pandemic, the book hits close to home. There are also a few theme elements I've turned an eye to in a couple of sci-fi shorts of my own. So I felt a bit of unity while reading.
Suffice it to say, I think this book is well worth the read, and I'll be eagerly awaiting whatever Max Brooks has up his sleeve next.
More What I've Been Watching: Sept 2020September 15, 2020, 03:38 PM mystery, Watching
I didn't know what to expect from the new Perry Mason series, only that it would involve some sort of mystery, investigation, and trial, and that with HBO producing, it wasn't likely to be as clean as the old black and white network show. I thought I'd give it a shot.
I'm not a huge fan of reboots and remakes. I'd rather see something original that stands on its own. However, when one ventures down that road, I think you'd better at least have something new to say with it. Thankfully, that's precisely that the new Perry Mason delivered.
Unlike the old episodic show, this series takes one case and delves deep into it, stretching across the whole season. This lets the show dig into the characters. They give Mason, and other familiar names, complex backstories. And introduce a handful of new, engaging characters. Meanwhile, the show touches on themes of sexism and gender roles, specifically professional limitations for women, PTSD, discrimination against LGBT, and racism. All this, plus rich period details from being set at the same time as the blossoming Golden Age of Hollywood, between the world wars, and during prohibition, which comes with its organized crime and police corruption, to name a few.
Altogether, I found it enthralling, and I won't miss it if it goes into another season.
What I've Been Watching: Sept 2020September 15, 2020, 03:33 PM Sci-fi, Watching
I've followed the Westworld series with interest through its first two seasons. The themes of AI, how it might become sentient, how people might control it and potentially abuse and subjugate it, and how it might react or fight back, are all fascinating, along with some excellent storytelling. I eagerly awaited season three, in which the AI were set up to leave their captive world and start bringing the fight into human society.
(Spoilers Ahead) One thing I liked right off the bat is the new focus on corporations collecting vast data on every citizen and, in turn, using that information to control, limit, and generally manipulate people. This is a very topical notion, albeit taken to an extreme in Westworld, it has a very 1984 "big brother" sort of vibe, and it works. Season three also ups the stakes exploring the practical possibilities, with the nature of the AI beings, of copying one personality, something humans can't do and putting one AI's core "AI brain" into another AI's body. Where the earlier seasons played with telling the story out of continuity to keep us guessing, season 3 uses this cup-and-ball game of identities to deceive viewers. This increases the challenge of keeping everything straight beautifully. Altogether, I liked this season.
One gripe I have is that while Westworld has always blended the abstract and intellectual with high action, Season 3 gets a bit out of balance in the very last episode. Basically, all the cerebral, thought-provoking elements are strung-out through the first seven episodes, along with some decent action. However, episode 8 becomes just an action-packed, violent, grueling slugfest, with every reference to anything intellectual a mere rehash of what we've already discovered, and thus almost nothing to mull over. I don't think any of the action doesn't make sense for the story, but the tone shift makes it seem like a different show entirely. I feel like some of the action climaxes could have been spread over the last two episodes in order to keep reserve some challenging ideas for the finale.
Overall, I give the season fair marks, but if you're going to drop the ball on one episode, it stinks for it to be the end. All that said, I'll still be tuning in for a season 4.