Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Omelette du Homage

So, if you're in the mood for a very dangerous drinking game (or you want to play an alcoholic version of Russian Roulette), I have a proposal for you: one shot per sci-fi reference in Fox's new Almost Human.

Now, normally I don't comment too much on current things in pop culture. This is because, rather than being on the cutting edge of pop culture, I'm more akin to being on the dull, rusty garden implement left out on the lawn over the winter edge of things. (Thankfully my shots are current. I think.)

But there were just so. many. things. Leaving aside that the entire premise was done before in the short-lived (but thoroughly enjoyable and not just because of Yancey Butler) Mann and Machine, in about the first 20 minutes, this is what I noticed. This list is entirely spoiler-free, I promise. Nothing here is plot relevant. More on that - the non-plot relevance - in a moment. Anyway, in random order:

  • There was the memory machine from Total Recall
  • The neighborhoods from Blade Runner.
  • The noodle shop from Blade Runner, complete with the people with umbrellas in the background.* 
  • The emotional robots going nuts. Heck, I was waiting for someone to say "More human than human."
  • The robot doing the statistical analysis on who to save from I, Robot.
  • Heck, the interior of the police station looked very similar to I, Robot.
  • The bad guys stole their black leather get up from Clarence J Boddicker in Robocop. (With maybe a dash of Roy Batty thrown in.)

And that was about when I just stopped keeping track.

Don't get me wrong, it was enjoyable enough, despite the veritable plethora of cliches - including every single character profile - and I'll tune in to see where it goes. But as the similarities started to pile up, I had to wonder if they were doing this on purpose. By the end of the episode, I was convinced they were. My only question is, were they doing it as homage, or because they couldn't think of anything original?

If I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to the writers, I'd have to say homage, if only because there were just. so. many. On the other hand, this is from the same guy that crafted the last two Star Trek films, including the one that was largely cobbled together from Wrath of Khan and various sundry pieces. So it may be a little from column A, a little from column B.

[Seeing as how J.J. Abrams' next big thing is the Star Wars films, I have decided that in a stunning bit of prognostication I shall herein reveal the script for those: it's going to be entirely bits and pieces from the prior movies. In random order. With lens flares.** As long as those bits and pieces are mostly from the original trilogy, I'm actually good with that. Maybe a couple of the lightsaber battles from the prequels, because let's face it, those were the only good things in the prequels.]

I'd also like to believe that the massive amount of references were mostly homage because otherwise there's a staggering lack of originality that's just depressing. The media powers that be ought to be able to come up with better without having to shamelessly steal from other things. Or else they just figured not enough people would notice, which is just a cynical thing to be thinking, even for me.

And I'll admit, if it's homage, it's just clever enough to get me to tune back in. But there had better be more than just retread. As much as I adored all the sci-fi goodness that they're drawing on, nostalgia only carries so far.

Besides, I have most of those films on DVD anyway.

Oh, and if you're puzzled over the title, it was my own homage to an episode of Dexter's Lab. By which I mean I blatantly stole it.

*I'd have to check, but if that wasn't just about shot perfect - same angle and everything - from that opening scene with Deckard, I'll eat a spinner. (That's one of those flying cars.)

** Okay, that was low-hanging fruit, and to be honest I didn't notice any in Almost Human. There was, however, a decidedly shiny quality to some aspects, though it was balanced out by the non-shiny underbelly stuff.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

If it quacks like a duck...

Found myself thinking about the boundaries of genre the other day (courtesy of Abner and Chelsea, who are nice folks that you should check out) after going over a list of books that while ostensibly about YA books included a title that I would not have ever, ever thought of as being Young Adult (YA). Which then led to a discussion about what makes something YA, and whether it's a category or a genre and which of those supersedes the others. 

The book in question was Dune, which despite some valid points raised, I'm still not willing to think of as being particularly YA. I would confidently assert Frank Herbert didn't think of his book in those terms, either, though authorial intent is often secondary in these things.

At the end of the conversation, I'm not sure I learned anything about where those boundaries are, or even if they exist, but it was interesting nonetheless. I could, if I were cynical, adopt the position that a YA designation - much like NA or Literary - is more of a marketing standpoint than anything else. A way to determine what part of the bookstore or library (or page on Amazon, I suppose) the book should be shelved in. But even though there are sci-fi, mystery, and fantasy books in the YA section of my local library, I think it's about more than who gets to read the book.

My confusion wasn't helped any by another conversation elsewhere - I don't remember exactly where - about whether horror is a separate genre, or more something like YA. I would make the argument that horror is a genre, as it has its own conventions and trappings much like other genres. It's no different than romance or Western. Of course, my local library would seem not to agree. The library has a mystery section, and a western section, and a science fiction section... but if I want to pick up a book by King or Koontz I have to wander into the general fiction section.

(Though maybe that's more about the short-sightedness of the people who came up with the system than anything else. Urban Fantasy gets dumped into science fiction, interestingly enough, but that probably wasn't even something under consideration the last time library call numbers were assigned.)

And then to further muddle the heck out of things, as I was wandering in the library yesterday looking for a book to read, and not finding anything, I remembered The Last Policeman being on my list of books to check out. As it is an end-of-the-world story, I expected it to be in the science fiction section. 

It wasn't there.

Instead it was under mystery. Which, to be fair, it is. A homicide, in fact, but set at the end of the world (not an exaggeration, and although I just started it this morning based on the pages I covered it's going to be a good book). So it's just the set pieces that are science fiction, while the plot is all crime fiction. But then again, so are more than a couple of Asimov's Robot books. They just happen to use a shiny future, with robots, rather than a "we're all going to die in 6 months" bleak future.

If the The Last Policeman had a robot, would it then be reshelved? If Asimov had not included robots, would they be reshelved? If Paul in Dune had spent more time brooding in his room, would I be more willing to accept it as YA? Maybe. Maybe not. Honestly, at this point I have no idea. Dune still looks sci-fi to me, more than anything else it is. Space travel, exotic planets, strange life-forms. That says sci-fi to me, and it says that as its primary identity. Not YA.

In the meantime, I'm going to settle for organizing my books alphabetically.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

As this is the only time in my entire life I'm going to be able say this, I'm going to say it, despite my general disdain of hipster attitude.

I was reading Joe Hill before everyone else.

Well, okay, hardly "everyone" else, but it seems this current novel has catapulted him back into popular consciousness, and it's certainly deserved. But having read his earlier books and short-story collections, and having waited patiently for another book while he's worked on the Locke & Key comics (which, despite the Lovecraftian overtones and numerous accolades, I just couldn't quite get into the last time I tried to read them), I feel I have some lassitude to say that NOS4A2's being as good as it is does not surprise me.

Only it did, because it was just that good. This was a book that was easily up there with the best of his more famous father's books, and while there are probably comparisons to be made, Joe Hill has his own voice. If his themes are reminiscent of his father, it's more likely because, like Stephen King, he tends to write on familiar themes. Only he does so in a way that makes you realize you were never quite as familiar with those themes as you thought you were.

There are bleaker aspects here than are usually found in King's works (unless it's a Bachman book). Where King's protagonists usually suffer their mental breakdown after the pages of their own story, usually as a quick side note in the next book, Hill is not afraid to take his characters there mid-book. No, that's not a spoiler, because it's one of the things that makes the book a richer, more authentic experience. Let's face it, if most of us were living through the events of a horror novel, we'd be gibbering in the corner somewhere before too long. Hill also seems to have a greater range of characters, because as much as I like King, with some of his books - Under the Dome in particular - I have felt that he is at times drawing on stock characters. That may simply be a product of having been writing for so long, whereas Hill is, to some extent, just starting out (not really, but as this is only book #4 I'm going to take liberties with that phrase).

If I'm drawing too many comparisons between son and father, it's only because the similarities were there. But while yes, there was much of this that reminded me of a great King book, and while, yes, I would recommend this book toKing fans precisely because of that, it must still be said that this is not one of King's. Joe Hill has his own voice, his own approach, and that, too is something that I would say to recommend this book. Because maybe you know the father, but you don't know the son yet.

And you should get to know him, you really should.

Take it from someone who got there at the beginning.