Saturday, September 29, 2012

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Today I finished reading Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, the sixth in his Sam Vimes/Ankh-Morpork Watch subseries. So that means I've read...

1. Guards! Guards!
2. Men At Arms
3. Feet of Clay
4. Jingo

You'll notice that #5 (conveniently named The Fifth Elephant) is missing from that list. That's because I had #6 on my shelf waiting to be read...and The Fifth Elephant was on a library shelf somewhere.

In Night Watch, Vimes is sent back in time when a magical incident takes place during an attempted arrest. Vimes finds himself in the Ankh-Morpork of his youth...just a few days before an historic revolution is set to take place. He needs to arrest the criminal and get back to his own time - but he can't just abandon his younger self, or the pathetic Night Watch, to the injustices and dangers embroiling the city.

Vimes knows what happened in the history books, but now he's living the history, and he doesn't know if Doing The Job In Front of Him will change the timeline. If he does the right thing, he could change history, meaning that his present would cease to exist.

...unless it never happened.

And if the criminal reveals Vimes's identity- particularly to Young Sam Vimes - the consequences could be catastrophic.

Pratchett manages to juggle the time-travel conundrums with cleverness, suspense, and wit. The stakes continue to rise throughout the book as the revolution rises, the soldiers are mustered to keep order, people panic, and Someone Does Something Stupid.

Vimes has always been a strong character in the Discworld series, and this book explores further the depths of his ethics, honor, and hard-earned experience.

Also, since Vimes traveled to the past, Night Watch is a great opportunity to see a lot of our favorite Ankh-Morpork characters as they were Back In The Day. Without giving away any major spoilers, we meet Fred Colon, Nobby Nobbs, Young Havelock Vetinari, and, of course, Young Sam Vimes. (The interaction between Vimes and his younger self is very well done.)
With his typical insight into human nature, Pratchett provides great commentary on mob mentality, revolutionary idealism, Glorious Last Stands (and the corresponding intestines) and the identity of The People.

Truth, Justice, Freedom - and a Hard-Boiled Egg!

A great read. I give it a 7/10.

And now I guess it's off-to-the-library for The Fifth Elephant...?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Today I finished a reading group, led by my friend Michael, for Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta.

This blog post will have SPOILERS.

Also note that I will use the words “graphic novel” and “book” interchangeably.

V for Vendetta

It’s impossible for me to talk about V for Vendetta without also mentioning the movie based on the graphic novel. In a break with stereotypical comparisons between books and movies, I can say with absolute certainty that the V for Vendetta movie is far and away the best version of this story.

First of all, the movie has Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.
I’m a huge fan of both actors (Hugo Weaving is Elrond and Mr. Anderson. ‘Nuff said. And Natalie Portman is...Natalie Portman. ‘Nuff said.) Their performances really defined the film.

Second, the book is full of Stupid Anarchy.

One of the biggest contrasts between the book and the film is the anarchic bent of the book. In the book, V’s infatuation with anarchy (and presumably Alan Moore’s) really annoys me. That's because I find any obsession with anarchy to be juvenile, naive, and angsty.
It’s all well and good to point out the corruption of a system and decide to overthrow it, but what are you going to put in its place? You can break things and provide no solution if you want - but all you've done is broken what's in place. Someone else will come along and put something else in its place. The vacuum won't be empty for long.

In the book, V overthrows a corrupt, totalitarian regime and puts...nothing in its place. He creates chaos and allows the people of England to make their own choices about the future.
V claims that the people should have the right to make their own choices, so he creates chaos and anarchy. He makes a clean slate.

But the last time England had a clean slate, they chose a totalitarian government. So they exercised their choice...didn’t they?

Oh. But V didn't like their choice last time. So he punched the reset button. And he left them with nothing—he just created another vacuum.

...and we’re to expect a different outcome this time? Is V going to help with the glorious new future? No, he's dead. He did leave Evey in his place though. That's good...right? (Not as could as it could be, because Natalie Portman is not Evey in the graphic novel).

Presumably, Evey is supposed to help with the rebuilding now that she’s taken over V’s identity, V.

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

That's probably the most memorable line in the movie. I don't recall reading that line in the book.

I might have missed it (let me know if I did), but if it was there, it obviously didn't make much of an impression. It certainly was not the main point of the book, while it was the main point of the movie.

The movie was very English and American in that respect: the people have the right (and, some philosophers would say, the duty) to overthrow a corrupt government that has ceased to represent its people.

The movie ends on a hopeful note: the people have spoken, the corrupt regime has been overthrown, and it is implied (from my point of view, at least) that a newer, better government will be put in its place.

I can't remember the book providing any good examples of leaders or authority figures. Probably because it's anarchic.

Good Scenes in the Book and Better Scenes in the Movie

There is a particularly good book-exclusive scene in which V roleplays with a statue of Lady Justice. V tells Justice that she has betrayed him (because she allowed the totalitarian regime to masquerade as justice). He adds that he has taken a new mistress: anarchy. Then V blows up the statue of Lady Justice. Ha ha! How do you like that breakup?

Aside from that memorable scene, which demonstrates V's flair for the dramatic, the best scenes in the graphic novel are also in the movie—and they’re better in the movie.
Case in point*: Evey’s moment where she stands in the rain - after discovering that “last inch” within herself - is one of the best parts of the entire story.
It's good (even great) in the book...but it’s a soul-elevating, tear-inducing moment in the movie. It's one of my favorite pieces of cinema. Put it up on the wall for those young impressionable students to say, "This Is How It's Done."

*Isn't that such a useful phrase?

I guess I can at least thank Alan Moore for writing the book so we would have the movie. Thanks, Alan. You're a great writer. Your characters are very well developed. You wrote a memorable story that thousands and thousands (millions even?) of people love.
But the anarchy is annoying.

Other Things That Annoyed Me About the Book:

a) Lots and lots of nudity. Lots. Didn’t want to see that.

2) V is a very well written character, but he “Wait and see...the answers will will all be revealed” probably irritated me just as much as they annoyed Evey.\

d) The ending was unsatisfactory. Why did V let himself get shot by Finch?
I did receive a very good explanation for this from my friend Sam, who said that V understood that his purpose was fulfilled, since he was a killer and the time for killing had ended. As the new V, Evey’s role was to rebuild.
In that case, I would hope that Evey would have less of an obsession with anarchy.

Final Thoughts

Uno: Thanks Michael, for leading a great reading group.

Dos: If my country is in peril and I need a hero to lead my people into the bright uplands of freedom, I'll take the Founding Fathers over V any day.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

This weekend I watched the film version of Terry Pratchett's Going Postal.

The movie held very close to the book, which I greatly enjoyed reading earlier this year. (It might also interest you to know that the book is ranked among the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.)

Moist von Lipwig is a con man who's come to the end of his rope (which, unfortunately, ends in a noose).

He's given a choice: die or become the new postmaster general.

That sounds like an easy decision - but not when you've seen the mess that the post office is in...and not when you know that the last four postmasters have suffered terrible deaths.

Moist undertakes the task to restore the post office to its former glory. His challenge will include:

a) Surviving the curse that's killed the other four postmasters
2) Surviving the cutthroat business tactics of his rivals
d) Overcoming his con-artist instincts before he destroying a relationship with the first person that he's ever cared about

Seeing Discworld in a movie for the first time held a similar wonder to seeing Narnia, Middle-earth, and Hogwarts onscreen. The makers of the film did an excellent job with their sets and costumes. They created a very convincing Ankh-Morpork in the film.

One of the best character in Going Postal is Mr. Pump (or "Pump 19"), a golem who serves as Moist's parole officer. I was very pleased with how Mr. Pump and the other golems were represented in the film. Mr. Pump's voice was particularly satisfying. I always cast the voice of André the Giant for Mr. Pump when I read the books. This wasn't André in the movie, but I suppose it was the next best thing.

All of the casting was good. Richard Coyle (Moist von Lipwig) and Claire Foy (Adora Belle Dearheart) were great together, and Charles Dance did a superb job as Lord Vetinari (although I always thought that Vetinari's hair was black...)

Terry Pratchett was deeply involved with the making of the movie, and he was quite pleased with the outcome. I can see why.

Going Postal was well-worth watching, and it would be a good introduction to anyone who has yet to experience to humor and fantastical adventure of Discworld.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Today I finished reading Jingo by Terry Pratchett, the fourth book in the story arc of Samuel Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.

Jingo was a delight. I rate it 8.5/10. The characterization, the humor, the pacing, and the characterization were brilliant.

A previously submerged island rises to the surface in the sea between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch. Tensions, nationalism, prejudice, and war-fever rise with the island as both nations claim it for their own.

Commander Vimes isn't a soldier, but he's swept into the chaos when angry Ankh-Morporkians vent their xenophobia against Klatchians living in the city. Death threats, mobs, assassination attempts on visiting dignitaries, and burning embassies ensue. Lord Rust, a war-hungry noble, wants to invade Klatch without further ado.

The Klatchians might wear funny towels on their heads, but their numbers and weaponry are far superior to Ankh-Morpork's. If Ankh-Morpork is to avert or survive war, it will need Vetinari's cunning, Leonard da Quirm's genius, and the loyal stupidity of Sergeant Colon and Nobby Nobbs.

And what's Vimes to do? He's a copper. He can't arrest an entire army for disturbing the peace...

...can he?

"It's time to teach Johnny Klatchian a lesson!"