Saturday, August 30, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
I would believe he has the power to breathe
life into pots of clay or crush the globe
into dust between his fingers
as I watch his nose, mere inches from yours,
inhaling air that carries your voice
and healthy laughter.
The peaks of your joy stab
my lungs, my diaphragm. Seeing
you smile at Jehovah-man, cracks
my ribs, leaves me incoherent, groaning.
My groin, my armpits, and underside of my tongue
blaze as if razor burned. My eyes squeeze shut
against the glare. My ears fill with unlikely tears.
My entire body weeps sweat. I’m parched
as lawns in drought. The kiss you share with him
may simply extinguish this observer.
I’m a lifelong fan of Doctor Who. Tom Baker was my first Doctor, seen on Public Television in the state of New York on a staticy TV using rabbit ears. Peter Davidson was my favorite Doctor for years and years due to his sincerity and fallibility—he really made me worry that the Doctor might not save his companions, that the Master might finally take over the universe. The tension was higher as were the sakes. And I had a big crush on companion Tegan. (What was I thinking? Yeah, she was a “looker”, but she really was such a whiner! Wasn’t she?)
So far I’ve loved the new series that began back in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. Yeah, I was sad and worried to learn that Eccleston only had one season in him. His portrayal of the Doctor was so melancholy and charming. The relationship between the Doctor and companion Rose was so intense and believable. Rose seemed to me to be the best companion ever, since she has as much to do with defeating the monsters as the Doctor himself. Bright, pretty, and energetic, Rose was a match made in heaven for the Doctor.
Also in 2005, David Tennant took over the role of the Doctor as the Tenth Doctor. It took me a few months and several episodes to get used to the change, since I had found Eccleston so beguiling. It was hard to get over the loss. Yet Tennant brought such intensity, wit, and conviction to the role, it was a forgone conclusion that I would be won over. The relationship with Rose continued to be fascinating and heartfelt. In addition, the Doctor took on more and more mythic proportions complete with prophecies and the return of arch enemies.
Fast forward to Series Four (2008). David Tenant is still the Doctor, after three years in the role. His performances continue to be riveting. However, the writing and concepts for Series Four seem to me to be sub par. The latest crop of episodes strike me as suffering from fatigue and the old mistake of believing that bigger and broader is better. It feels like the show is a victim of its own success. It’s perhaps a wise move that the BBC has put the show on semi-hiatus for a year.
For example, “The Doctor’s Daughter” where the Doctor must deal with the sudden creation of his own full-grown offspring is an episode where the gimmick overwhelms the characters. Things are kept moving fast in an attempt to distract the viewers from the faulty concepts. Jenny, Doc’s daughter, has potential as a character, yet the constraints of a 42 minute episode doom her to cartoony flatness. Her existence seemed like nothing but a cute gimmick. Her resuscitation in the final moments of the show, or whatever you want to call it, struck me as corny. She just snapped awake, as if nothing had happened. Why no regeneration? Who knows? And what was up with her blasting off in a rocket? Yes, it leaves openings for her to encounter the Doctor somewhere in the universe, but it makes no character sense. It all seems contrived and forced. I thought it was interesting that Jenny had the same basic build and complexion as Rose. Some kind of genetic Freudian slip? The only true, deep, and meaningful note in that episode was the revelation to Donna that the Doctor had had children and that they had perished. Made me wonder if they were going to develop something around Susan, the First Doctor's companion, who called the Doctor "grandfather." So far, no such luck.
The other big disappointment of Series Four were the last two episodes “Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End”. These were a crazy jumble of characters, action, and wild concepts. Overall I enjoyed it as entertainment, but felt let down. Let down because it could've been so much better. Rose's character seemed undervalued due to the swell swarm of other companions. What could've been a meaningful and poignant return with some depth was blown off by demented spectacle. It was big and sloppy and falls apart if you think too much about it. Yet it was still entertaining, tender and moving in spots, and goofy fun in others. The insane Dalek Caan was probably my favorite part. Such loopy dialogue!
My feeling on the Fourth Series as a whole is much the same. It could've been better, but there was a lot to appreciate along the way. If only it all could have been as good at “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”. That Fourth Series 2 parter (written by Steven Moffat) was among the all time best of Doctor Who stories. (My only complaint is the shadow creatures are defeated by the Doctor’s reputation, not his direct action, but perhaps that's how it works in human/political conflicts in the real world, so what do I know?) This story had emotional depth, epic intonations, mystery, atmosphere, and really scary monsters. This is Doctor Who as it should be!
Here's to hoping that Steven Moffat will oversee a new level of quality for the series when he replaces current Head Writer Russell T Davies, who has held the role since 'Doctor Who' returned to screens in 2005. Overall, I'm hoping for much better tone, character development, and intrigue from Moffat than what we got from Davies in season Four. I expect Moffat to infuse the series with more darkness and emotion. Also I'm hoping for a bit more logic and cohesiveness. I've had enough of guest-star gimmicks for quite some time. Let's get back to character building and breaking new ground.
Of course, I did place my pre-order for the Season Four DVD despite it all, because Tennant is so good and there were some fantastic moments (Moffat’s doing!) here and there. ‘Nuff said.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Hey, Keith --
What happened to the Friday spontaneous poetry? I bet you've got a backlog by now, so bring it on!
If you need some more keywords to get going again, add these to the pile:
Hope all's well,
The requests dried up on 4th of July weekend and I didn’t have the mood anymore to nudge anyone else for prompts. Basically I quit writing on the 4th and hadn’t picked up keyboard or pen to do anything poetic until yesterday. The 3rd Thursday poetry workshop met again yesterday and I hate to go without something to get feedback on. So I dusted off a scrap of writing I’d started and whipped it into a more finished form for the group. It got some good responses but it’s not quite done yet.
Anyway, I was ambivalent about the arrival of your prompt. I almost turned it down. But the poetry bug seems to be biting again. Not to say this is anything all that great, but I’m getting more in the mood to play with words again. So thanks for the prompt. I hope you find the results interesting enough.
Superfudge is a book about a boy
who wants to be a bird.
That dream will never come true.
Waterloo ended Napoleon’s rule.
Some dreams end in abdication.
Although rumored to be lethal,
the Spartans left on permanent vacation.
Some dreams are never written, dying on the tongue.
Girls and boys are raised up for the Presidency,
but who watches those watchmen who let us down?
Too many dreams of justice never reach the psyche.
Tachyons, tachyons, theoretical but never slowing down—
dreams are like that, cold hard proof never found.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Marillion is sponsoring a video contest for their new song "Whatever is Wrong With You?" The prize of 5000 pounds goes to the video that gets the most views on YouTube. So far this is my favorite. I haven't invested the time to watch them all yet though, and doubt I'll ever do so. At least take a look at this one, and listen to the new song!
Friday, August 01, 2008
Reader’s Response: “Pump Six” by Paolo Bacigalupi
from Fantasy & Science Fiction September 2008
The first person narrator, Alvarez, has troubles at home. He and his wife Maggie are trying to get pregnant, and Maggie doesn’t seem to be thinking too straight as she uses a lit match to locate a gas leak.
Alvarez has troubles at work, the sewage treatment plant for all of New York City. His fellow employees do no work and simply hang out and bicker all day. When an equipment problem comes up, they call Alvarez to fix it, if they think to even call Alvarez at all. In the course of the story, Alvarez comes to discover that the whole sewage treatment system is on the brink of complete collapse due to lack of maintenance over the course of one hundred years.
The world described in the story is one that is winding down. It appears that human beings may be de-evolving into new hermaphrodic, pack-like race called trogs that does nothing except hang out on the streets and have orgies. Alvarez worries that if he gets his wife pregnant their baby may end up being one of these trogs. Various other descriptions of the water, the lack of availability of certain consumer products (such as bacon), the breakdown the of the university system at Columbia (the students spend all their time on the quad in the nude), all suggest a future of social and genetic decay caused by environmental pollution.
Although the vision of things breaking down is depressing, I found the narrator’s voice to be engaging enough to maintain my empathy and interest. He’s a hard worker, thinks of the needs of others before himself, and endures the company of idiots for the sake of making a living.
My only complaint was some of the repetition of Alvarez’s worries and concerns. I guess the cycles of his griping about his co-employees (notice I don’t call them co-workers), about trying to get Maggie pregnant, and about how he’s stuck with the responsibility of being the only responsible fix-it person in sewage management, are intended to add realism. We all do tend to repeat ourselves when it comes to our everyday complaints. However, I would have preferred a bit of trimming on these points to make the story more concise.
“Pump Six” is an excellent example of the range of science fiction that is being published today. Anyone who thinks the genre is still only about space men and time travel hasn’t been reading the genre in ages. Even so, I would have never expected a story about future sewage treatment, yet it was fascinating and frighteningly plausible.
Bacigalupi’s story highlights the slump in human ingenuity and thus in turn society’s infrastructure that we all witness right here and right now. Food contaminated with E. coli bacteria, bridges collapsing, cranes falling: we face system failure all the time. Who doesn’t fear genetic mutations due to the poisons we have pumped into our environment?
Well, maybe those who are ceasing to think, which is the bigger horror Bacigalupi has illuminated here. There are those we encounter daily at work, in our schools and universities, and in our government who seem to be a thoughtless and ambitionless as Alvarez’s co-employees and as the trogs in the streets. One wonders at times if we are seeing the inevitable decay of our species.
Yet there are glimmers of hope, as Bacigalupi portrays in the final pages of the story. Alvarez appears to be a human with the ability to grow and learn, so all is not lost. There must be others.
I forced myself to look at the good things. People were still out and about, walking to their dance clubs, going out to eat, wandering uptown or downtown to see their parents . . . Lots of things were still working . . . I couldn’t let my myself wonder if that baby was going to turn out like the college kids in the quad. Not everything was broken.
As if the prove it, the subway ran all the way to my stop for a change. (41-42).
Even though most of the conflicts in the story remain unresolved, the tale ends on a tone of hope, suggesting we might be able to fix some of the problems we are creating for ourselves. But we need a few more good men, like Alvarez, who are willing and able to keep thinking to pull us out the muck. I hope they’re out there.