Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Because steampunk is really all about the joy of being alive

A steampunk take on the conclusion of the Original Series Star Trek episode, "The Menagerie"

I also rather enjoyed this strip, which is hotter than your mom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A quick break

I haven't abandoned CADS, and while I'm overdue for a post, I'm up-to-date on my reading, and will try to have something tonight.

In the meantime, however, I have another pressing issue on my mind. DC Comics lately has tried to drive sales with big identity mystery/reveals: who is Superwoman? Who will be the new Batman? I didn't care much about the former, and the latter turned out to be pretty much exactly who you would expect. (This is not a complaint. The last time there was a new Batman, it was a character that was introduced specifically to take over the role, and it sucked hard.)

A new Batgirl ongoing series goes on sale today, and the promotional material is trying to drive speculation about who exactly the new Batgirl will be. Casual fans may or may not know that Barbara Gordon hasn't been Batgirl since the late 80s, and a new character, Cassandra Cain, took over the role in 1999.

Without rehashing the whole sordid story, Cassandra Cain has been a bit of a hard-up character lately. Her own unlimited series ended in 2006, and she was turned into a villain as part of the "One Year Later" storyline. This move proved to be unpopular, and so Cassandra was revealed to have been under the influence of a mind-control drug. She floated around the second-tier "Batman and the Outsiders" title until that team collapsed during the "Batman: RIP" storyline, and Cassandra went to work organizing a new Outsiders team to help fill the gap left by Batman's apparent death. Oh yeah, she also had her own six-issue miniseries where she sought revenge for the mind control incident, learned a bit about herself, and finally was going to be adopted by Bruce Wayne (as Tim Drake, um, Tim Wayne, um, Robin had already been.)

What's the point, you ask? Exactly, I say. What's the point of all this if there's going to be a new Batgirl? What happened to Cassandra Cain? Is this just a Cassandra Cain Batgirl relaunch? (Which, I should say, would be well deserved) I'm going to be a bit peeved if I'm being sold a "who is Batgirl?" storyline if the answer turns out to be "the person who was already Batgirl before we started this storyline."

All the same, I'm going to be equally peeved if I don't find out exactly what Cassandra Cain is up to. Dick Grayson and Tim Drake make a big deal of the fact that they are adopted brothers, and there's a real bond between the two characters. It would be very un-Bat-Family for Cassandra to be adopted and for no one to know or care what she's up to.

However, I got to thinking this morning about the Battle for the Cowl storyline, and how while it really made sense for Dick Grayson to take over as Batman, part of me was hoping that Tim Drake would do it. It would be a bolder choice, as Tim is far younger than Bruce Wayne was when he first became Batman. (Tim is in his late teens, and Bruce is normally presented as being in his mid to late twenties on his first adventures as the Batman.)

In that spirit, I realized that there is a similar option for the new Batgirl, another character besides Cassandra who has been abused in every possible way, and largely overlooked even after her recent reintroduction: Stephanie Brown. It would be totally in character for Stephanie to take on the Batgirl mantle without asking permission, and I'd really like the character to come into her own as a full member of the Bat Family and become more than an ongoing well-intentioned troublemaker and comic relief.

So if DC had any guts, or ever did anything unexpected, Stephanie Brown should be the way they go. Based on the covers of the first few issues, however, I think it's going to be Cassandra (and I fear that it might just be a new character altogether.)

(Update, 11:38AM: Woot!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The eternal present

Observation #2 on time: when it starts moving in CADS, it moves fast. We've shifted from an eternal world in the first 50 pages, where no one dies and all history exists at once (as Tim observed), to the third generation gaining influence and beginning to die. It was striking to me, after reading again and again about the circumstances under which Colonel Aureliano Buendía faced the firing squad, to see him survive and his corrupt nephew Arcadio executed (in a figurative, narrative sense) in his place.

It's interesting to me as well the way that the transition between the mythic, deathless world, and the world of history is so seamless. It is never commented upon in itself, but is demonstrated only by the way that it affects the lives of the characters. It's not really fair, for example, to trace the beginning of history to the arrival of Don Apolinar Moscote, or the priest, Father Niancor. Even if the conservatives are read as the instigators of history, the exit from a mythic time, it is made clear that neither Mosciote nor Niancor are up to the task themselves, and when the revolution comes (my term, not García Marquez's), it passes Mosciote and Niancor by. The army takes authority, not Mosciote, and Niancor has his head "split open," becoming, paradoxically, something of a cause for the anti-religious liberals.

In fact, potency and inadequacy seem to be constantly at play on both sides of the conflict. Colonel Aureliano Buendía is something of a mythic figure himself (the son of a Titan, if you will), who cannot be killed by poison or bullet, and who fathers 18 children (17 Aurelianos and Aureliano José) by 18 different women, but he is also a figure of failure. He "organized thirty-two armed uprisings and lost them all." If Mosciote and Niancor are incapable of instigating history, Buendía is incapable of stopping it.

So we've talked about magical realism, and time, but what do we think García Marquez is trying to do or trying to say through the way that he makes time operate? Post-colonial conclusions seem apparent—that the local, marginalized village operates outside of what is considered time and history in a way that allows for the possibility of giants, and it is the outsider, the colonizer, the post-European, if you will, although perhaps Sir Walter Raleigh himself, who institutes time and history for his own gain—but somehow, I want García Marquez to be doing more than that, and I think he is. But what?

Also, what's up with all the incest? :-)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Reading 100 years of solitude nearly ruined all literature for me.

The night I finished it, the summer of 2007, I lay on my stomach in bed and looked across the pillows at Jeremy and said, I don't think I'll ever read another novel again.

What shocked me, in the last 30 or so pages of the novel, was how perfectly and precisely plotted the whole book was. That what happens in those first few pages, first few chapters, sets into motion something cyclical and inescapable. Like "Love in the Time of Cholera" this novel is just as much about the inescapable realities we create for ourselves and others, and time, and its effects. Here, you'll find, there's a sense that time is more fluid. (In "Love", which I recommend, the construct is much more rigid.)

What I am reveling in, right now, is seeing it all set up so minutely and intently. It's all the stuff that hit me like a tsunami, the revelation, the oh-my-god-that's-what-this-is-all-about kind of thing.

Things I underlined and want to discuss, or return to: (all page numbers from my copy, an Avon books PB, which is probably a lot different than yours.)

"Things have a life of their own," the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. "It's simply a matter of waking up their souls (11)."

The episode where young Aureliano, age 3, tells his mother the pot of water will spill (23). This certainty in seeing the future, a sort of fatalism that doesn't change a thing, is compelling. It's as though, looking forward or back, nothing can be changed. It's almost what Daniel Faraday and Eloise Hawking tell Desmond Hume in LOST; you can't change it, and the more you try, the stranger things are that happen to keep time in order.

This sense of the unchangeable future, and the completely tangible and present "past," is echoed in JAB's sort of disinterest in his sons. When Ursula tells him of Aureliano's psychic fit, UAB dismisses it as a "natural phenomenon."

Somehow, that seems to be the point, here: none of this is fantastic, none of this is strange. It is just natural.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

". . . to have searched for the sea without finding it [...] and to have found it all of a sudden without looking for it . . ." (12)

Firstly, my experience with GGM is very limited and my experience with CADS is zero. This is surprising, considering my love for magical realist fiction (which began in grad school because of Professor A. Gilson). However, I have only ever read "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" probably once in high school and once again in college. Secondly, I enjoy books that come with a family tree on the inside.

What stood out to me in the first 40 or so pages were the concepts of discovery and knowledge (and how one acquires it). For JAB, sometimes the collection of knowledge was contingent on calculations and "directional instruments" (10). Sometimes, discovery only came when JAB's naiveté of the surrounding geography frustrated him to act. Sometimes, physical travel was hindered by JAB's lack of confidence, and therefore stifling his attainment of knowledge. Discovery would come from visitors. From the past. Perhaps knowledge isn't only extracted from how far you can see, how far you can walk. Knowledge will come even if you aren't looking for it. Even on an island. Even for a man of science. A practical man. Any kind of person.

And, isn't there a distinction among knowledge, discovery and learning? Learning means retaining, growing. Discovery means experiencing. Knowledge could be anything...fleeting, temporary, unnoticed...

I also liked the concept of how the past can be found as something physical--a path leading to memories so overwhelming that the men had to flee. Yes, objects serve as a reminder, a trigger for the past. But what about visiting--physically--the past. Often, I think of the past as purely a mental exercise--and this is part of what I love about magical realism--but I suppose it doesn't have to be only emotional or mental. It can be physical. You can physically go there and want to leave.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

First impressions

40 pages is just the first two chapters, so there's not that much for me to talk about yet—not because García Márquez isn't doing much. Indeed, quite the contrary. I'm just not sure where things are going yet.

So far, however, I love that ice is "the great invention of our time." Last fall I saw the Ridley Scott film Kingdom of Heaven, which includes a scene (historically accurate) in which Saladin offers a cup of crushed ice to the captured leader of the Christian army he has just destroyed, Guy de Lusignan. It's a striking scene of organizational and technological superiority, reinforcing the fact that the Christian army has been defeated after a foolish march through the desert in which they were cut off from their supply chains. But more than that, it's like magic when Saladin produces ice, as if it's the most natural thing in the world. That scene gives me just a hint of José Arcadio Buendía's awe. (As a whole the movie is okay. Hokey in places, but not terrible.)

I'm also not ready to go too far in-depth yet, but I'm enjoying how García Márquez's narration really tweaks the sense of time. The simple way of describing it is that by jumping back and forth as he does, giving parts of an old story, and then returning to it later, all interspersed with whatever functions as the narrative "present," gives the sense that everything in the book has already happened and it's coming into being as we watch (read). I think it'll be interesting to track how that functions as I continue to read.

So, fellow readers, what's your favorite scene from the first 40 pages?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Context, Then Content

The only thing I can add to Gavin's account of our gift-giving above is that for years, it was a double-blind gift; we would give each other books that NEITHER of us had read before, and then proceed to NOT read them, together.

It was an aspirational thing; if there was a book that you wanted to read, you would buy it for your friend, in the hopes that he might read it for you, and then entice you to read it.

I think Gavin gave me CADS/OHYoS in 1999, but it may have been as late as 2001. In any event, I didn't read it until the summer of 2003, when I read it out loud to my then-girlfriend, now-wife. If you can find a spouse who WANTS you to read highly literary Latin American fiction to them out loud, marry them.

Since I'm coming from the POV of a re-reader, I'm going to hold off on plot/theme analysis in the first post and just focus on Garcia Marquez's sentences.

Especially in these early chapters, the story, the plot, the characters, the world, are really constructed from sentence to sentence, and sometimes from clause to clause. GGM's sentences are elastic, but never distended; none of those Proustian contortions or Faulknerian agrammaticality. It's usually just one or two clauses, the first giving the content, and the second delivering the payload. Seriously, check the rhythm - every sentence ends with a satisfying solid phrase, usually joined to a concrete image.

But there's always something hidden - a stray reference, an ellipsis, a digression, a temporal retread - either in mid-sentence or in the transition from one sentence to the next. One good example of this is the observation that José Arcadio was born in the mountains, on the way to Macondo, and his parents were relieved that he didn't have animal features. The narrator moves quickly to describe Aureliano's birth - and Aureliano is the son we're supposed to care about, kind of, maybe, since it's his firing squad that opens the book, so we move on, thinking "well, maybe there's a theory that a child born in the wilderness might look like an animal, or something" - and then in the next chapter, we find out that José Arcadio and Úrsula are cousins, and they've had another cousin who looked like a pig. Each clause provides an image, but it also seeds the backstory.

The rhythm of these sentences is hypnotic, almost enough to make you drowsy! It's only the vocabulary that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It's also pretty flexible - in fact, I teach my students to write expository prose using a similar construction style to what's adopted here.

I also don't know how much of the syntax is the translator's attempt to preserve Marquez's Spanish, whether the original text reads the same way, or if it's got a slightly different connotation in Spanish. In short, I don't know the Spanish text or Spanish well enough to say.

Let me also add that I love, absolutely love, José Arcadio Buendía. I feel like I AM him, or a version of him - his schemes, his energy, his fits of pique, his oscillation between apathy towards and intense devotion to his children. There's something almost Homer Simpson-esque about him - that oddly intelligent, "Father, give me legs!" Homer, who knows a surprising amount about Supreme Court Justices, whose half-assed overparenting is almost as bad as his half-assed underparenting, who still repeatedly falls down the same set of basement steps.