Monday, July 28, 2014

Under the Dome 1.05: "Reconciliation"

It occurs to me that what we're dealing with on Under the Dome is, essentially, soap opera, wherein the characters need not remain particularly consistent from one week to the next.  All that matters to the producers and writers is that there be conflict between the characters.  Is it necessary for that conflict to make actual sense?  Not apparently.  They just argue and argue and argue, and if one character ends up arguing something that seems to contradict something they argued a week ago, well, what of it?
So, what's the argument about this week?
Image stolen from:

Yep: food.  Because, see, food is getting scarce in Chester's Mill.  Patience is also getting scarce, and the town is starting to divide along lines of those loyal to Big Jim and those loyal to Julia.  I'm not sure the series has done an adequate job explaining this, but evidently Julia is currently in charge of Chester's Mill.  This may or may not have happened prior to Big Jim getting arrested last week.  You'd think this would be a good time for somebody on the show to refer to Julia as "the monarch," but does that happen this week?  Nope.  We're over a third of the way into the second season, and the very concept of there being a "monarch" has been utterly ignored.  
Part of doesn't mind this, because it was kind of a dumb idea to begin with; then again, you can't really spend as much time as was spent on that concept in the first season only to then totally ignore it in the second season.  Except that I guess you can, because hey, lookit these folks doing it.  They're proving me wrong on a weekly basis.  So what I ought to say is that you shouldn't ignore it.
Anyways, I'm a bit pressed for time this week, so I'm not going to do what I've been doing this season; I've been watching the episodes a second time and writing my reviews as I rewatched, pausing as needed to wax philosophical and to take a crapload of screencaps.  There's no time this week; yr. hmble blogger has to go to work for a few hours, so blogging's got to take a back-seat tonight.
Which is kind of a shame, because I did like this episode.  It's still dumb as a sack of donut holes, and it's a step backward from the actually-not-bad philosophizing of last week's episode.  But, despite that, I enjoyed watching it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Under the Dome 2.04: "Revelation"

No time for preamble this week; let's get straight to it (he said, unaware that saying so was itself preamble).
We begin with Big Jim sitting at his desk, reviewing a stack of the census forms he and Rebecca collected last week.
Hey!  Look!  You can see a photo of Carolyn under Joe's form!  Get a good look: that's all you'll see of Carolyn this week, which makes this the third consecutive episode that Aisha Hinds has been absent.  This is not exactly unprecedented: Hinds' Carolyn was missing from four straight episodes during the first season.  So clearly, this show's producers have no problem being Hinds-less for extended periods of time.
Which begs a question: why not simply kill Carolyn off?  Wouldn't doing that be preferable to having her disappear for several episodes at a time?  I don't know if it's some sort of scheduling issue with Hinds, or a failure on the producers' part to find anything for the character to do, or what, but it's weird, and it's very noticeable, and it seems like writing the character out would be preferable.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Under the Dome 2.03: "Force Majeure"

Son of a bitch.
I've got a friend who, when he was a younger man, saw a guy beating a woman in a parking lot.  He jumped on the guy to get him to stop, and for his gallant efforts was rewarded by the woman with a two-by-four upside the back of his skull.  The lesson to be learned here is simple: some men can beat some women and not only keep the woman coming back for more, but actually have her come to his defense when and if he himself gets attacked.
In psychological terms, I believe this is referred to as "fucked-up bullshit."
I'm not quite ready to take a proverbial two-by-four to anyone's head in defense of Under the Dome, but I do keep coming back for more, and I'd be more likely to take to the streets with a two-by-four in search of dissidents tonight than I would have been one week ago.  To give you an idea of what that might look like, here's me circa 1988.
I looked a lot like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, didn't I?  Ahem...
Anyways . . . yeah . . . as much as it grieves me to admit it, I liked this week's episode of Under the Dome.  In the midst of my enjoyment of it, I came to a realization:
The series is, overall, lousy, and is unlikely to ever be anything but lousy in terms of the big picture.  But, within that big picture, there is still room for good episodes, and for individual scenes that work.  With that in mind, I have decided to try my best to simply let go of the notion that the series is ever going to be good in the way that I would like for it to be.  I'm going to just let that go, and focus on enjoying it for what it is, to whatever extent that is possible.  He's going to beat me from time to time, I know he is; but maybe he'll say something nice to me sometimes, too.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Review of "That Bus Is Another World"

On the agenda today: a super-duper brief look at "That Bus Is Nother World," a brand-new King short story that was published in the August issue of Esquire.  Yes, I know; it's still July.  It's one of those weird things where the cover date and the on-sale date seemingly have about a month's difference.  I don't get that, but whatever.
Regardless of such obfuscation, my local Public was more than happy to sell me a copy of this today:

The cashier took one look at this, and said, in a tone that indicated what I assume to be semi-immodest envy (but which might theoretically have actually been sapphic appreciation; even, possibly, both), "Boy, that's some bod, huh?"
Know ye that I am a man.  Yes, it is true.  I like a good-lookin' woman.  Know ye also that while it might be a reasonable assumption for a Publix cashier to make to assume that Cameron Diaz's luscious physique was the reason for my purchase, this was not actually the case.  I really WAS buying it for the articles.  Or, at least, for the short story.
My reply to the cashier was, "She sure does.  I'm the weirdo who's buying this for the Stephen King story, though."  Followed by what hoped to be a winning smile, but probably wasn't.  This was greeted with skepticism, or pity, or (again) maybe a bit of both.
So be it.  She wasn't the first cashier to give me such a look, and she won't be the last.
The story, then.  How is it?
Know ye (he said again, not sure where such weirdly formal language was coming from) that I will divulge no spoilers.  As such, I'd like to tell you as little about the story as possible.  That isn't unusual in my reviews of new King stories, because I assume most King fans will not read it until it is collected.  And also because, due to the way many short stories function work, the less the reader knows the better.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Under the Dome 2.02: "Infestation"

Q:  Bryant, do you think it's time to resurrect the self-interview format for this particular episode review?
A:  Bryant, I think it is.  Can I ask the questions this time?

Q:  No.
A:  Aww...
Q:  Let's get moving.  I don't want to spend any more time on this than is absolutely necessary.  How did you like last week's episode?
A:  "Heads Will Roll"?  Written by Stephen King?
Q:  That's the one.
A:  I thought it was okay.  I thought it hinted at a new direction...
Q:  Please don't say "nude erection."
A: a different direction for the series.  I didn't think it was a great episode, but I thought it had potential.
Q:  How do you feel about that potential after seeing this week's episode?
A:  I feel like it is nearly nonexistent, and I feel as if whatever potential IS there is almost certain to be squandered by the show's producers and writers.  This was a terrible episode.  Absolutely terrible.
Q:  That's harsh.
A:  You disagree?
Q:  I do not.  I believe harshness is warranted.
A:  Oh, goody!  We are in agreeance.
Q:  That isn't a word.  We are in agreement.
A:  Whatevs.  This show makes me dumber lol.
Q:  What was the plot this week?
A:  The science teacher, Miss Pine, discovered that the reproductive cycle of the butterflies had been thrown out of whack, and that they'd all just laid a bunch of eggs or something, meaning that pretty soon there are going to be a LOT of caterpillars everywhere, eating up all the grain and whatnot.  The end result of this: devastation for the town's crops.
Q:  That's a pretty good idea for a plot development, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Under the Dome 2.01: "Heads Will Roll"

Well, folks, Under the Dome has returned for a second season, whether you wanted it or not.  I briefly toyed with the idea of not doing weekly reviews this year.  In a way, it's no fun; I think that most modern television now works (or doesn't) as much on a season-by-season basis as it does on an episode-by-episode basis.  As such, I think it's a big old whopping mistake to lose sight of that fact, and I've found a great many modern television fans to be guilty of that weird crime.  (Don't believe me?  Go back and read some of the ludicrous reviews of True Detective and its first eight episodes; the ability of some of its fans to misread it became kind of staggering at some point.)
I was tempted to avoid becoming a part of that din by simply not writing the reviews.  But, when it came time to have the mission-control guys in my brain issue a go/no-go call, they all came down firmly on the "go" side of things.

So, what are we waiting for?
I think it's safe to say that the season premiere, "Heads Will Roll," will do nothing to alter your status as an Under the Dome fan.  If you are a non-fan, it's not apt to change that, either.  In short, it's up to the same tricks as last season.  But it's also seemingly holding out signs that things might be going in a different direction from this point forward.  Only time will tell; but it seems like a possibility, at least.
Before we proceed, a little background info is called for.  "Heads Will Roll" was written by Stephen King himself, who also evidently helped to design the course the rest of the season would take.  He was (apart from doing a lot of press appearances to help promote the series) very much hands-off during the first season; this show was the baby of producers Brian K. Vaughan and Neal Baer.  At some point, Vaughan left the series, saying that he wanted to spend more time focusing on his comic-book work.  (Given how good his two current series -- Saga and The Private Eye -- are, I support him in that 100%.)  Either due to this shakeup or not due to it at all (who can say?), King ended up coming onboard to not only write the premiere episode, but to help steer the course of the season overall.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Review of "Floating Dragon" [by Peter Straub]

From what I can gather via the (admittedly limited amount of) research I have done on the subject, Peter Straub tends to be a fairly divisive figure among Stephen King fans.  And, for that matter, among horror fans in general.

The most common opinions seem to be as follow:

  1. Peter Straub is one of the best writers in the history of the genre, and maybe one of the best writers of his era regardless of genre classifications.
  2. Peter Straub is a good writer sometimes, and a not-so-good writer at other times.
  3. Peter Straub is one of the most overrated writers in the history of the genre, and maybe one of the most overrated writers of his era regardless of genre classifications.

I leave it to you to determine whether these are actually the consensus opinions on Straub's work, or whether I have feigned all of this as an icebreaker for the post.  Might be it's both.

Regardless of what the truth of this particular situation might be, I think it is probably safe to say that anyone who actually does hold any of those three opinions will find plenty to reinforce their stance if they read Straub's sixth published novel, 1983's Floating Dragon.

Look how scuffed up my hardback is...!  Looks like the previous owner was using it as a seat-booster or something for the past three decades.  Also, how lame is that cover art?  Pretty bad, in my opinion.

There is a great deal about Floating Dragon that is notable, and I can already feel an unfortunate truth brewing: this review will not do it justice.  In saying that, I am admitting defeat up front, which is perhaps a less-than-admirable way to begin a post.  But the fact is, Floating Dragon is approximately 30 lbs. of crazy stuffed into a 5 lb. sack.  Unraveling it would take much more effort than I am prepared to give this week.

So, instead, allow me to simply try to make a case for why this novel, despite its shortcomings, is a hugely worthy piece of work.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When You Heard Hoofbeats, You Didn't Think Zebras: Considering "Mr. Mercedes"

Stephen King's newest novel, Mr. Mercedes, is now two weeks old, sitting comfortably atop various bestseller lists (including the New York Times, still the standard-setter of such lists) and earning mostly positive notices from those who care about such things.  I don't know what the reaction has been within the King community, because, frankly, I'm separated from most of those communities, and it's probably good riddance on both sides of that equation.  It certainly is on this side.  So whether the reception has been positive, middling, or negative, I do not know.

To be honest, it took me a while to figure out exactly what my own reaction had been.  My first review was positive, but as I began the process of allowing the novel to settle in, I began to feel a bit less persuaded by it all in some ways, and even more impressed by it in other ways.  It's a complicated reaction to a fairly uncomplicated book, which makes me wonder: is it an uncomplicated book?

Well, tonight, I'm going to explore a few of the elements that work for me, and a few that don't, and let's just see where we end up, eh?

Unless the British have made some genuinely Hogwartsian advances in printing technology, I don't the actual UK hardback rains.  Even so, I like this cover a lot.  Probably not enough so as to cause me to get a copy shipped across the drink to me, but never say never.

Before we proceed, a warning: I will wear no spoiler gloves during this post.  So if you've not read the novel yet, this is not written with you in mind.


One element of the novel that struck me right away was the setting: the latter years of the previous decade.  In and of itself, there is nothing extraordinary about that.  Stephen King frequently writes from the vantage point of the present (or, in this case, the very recent past).  However, when he does so, he frequently writes in a sort of "universal now" mode, by which I mean that the year in which the story is set is irrelevant.  Does it matter when Doctor Sleep or Duma Key are set?  Not really.  Assuming that technological advances don't begin taking place at a preposterous rate of advancement, people sitting down to read those novels in the year 2054 are likely to still be able to read them from a "this is now" sort of mindset, the way we today mostly still do with Carrie or The Shining.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #47

You'll pardon me if I'm a bit distracted tonight: today, I bought myself the first season of True Detective on Blu-ray, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on Blu-ray, and the original Cosmos on DVD (on account of how it isn't on Blu-ray).  So really, all I want to do is plop down in front of the teevee and spin some discs.

Instead, let's talk comics for a bit, beginning with:

That bottom cover is pretty creepy.  I like 'em both, but the bottom one makes me think that there is some serious chump-change to be made if Joe Hill decides to sell NOS4A2 (NOS4R2 for our friends across the drink) to Hollywood.  I am envisioning a Jason/Michael/Freddy-style series of seemingly-neverending sequels in which Charlie Manx and his Silver Phantom of doom treat everyone to the joys of the holiday season.  These films, of course, would be mostly terrible, but so what?  It's a fun concept, one that could be exploited by shoddy film producers for decades to come.

I'm not sure I would actually want to see such a thing happen, but the thought that it could happen fills me with a perverse sort of happiness.

Wraith #7 wraps up the series, and it does so in a medium-stretching format that is less a traditional comic (i.e., is less a traditional graphic narrative) than it is a sort of illustrated novella.  Let me show you what I mean:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Collectioning: Robert McCammon Edition

collectioning -- n. -- (1) the act of purposefully building a collection; (2) a made-up word coined by some dude with a blog (mostly) about Stephen King
Not too long ago, I reviewed the 1981 Robert McCammon novel They Thirst, and at the end of that review, I mentioned that I hoped to be attending a signing the author was giving a couple of days hence in nearby Birmingham.

Unfortunately, work got in the way and prevented that from happening.  I've been grumpy about it ever since.  I tend toward grumpiness anyways, so adding this into the grump rotation has proven to be no impediment.
To ease that grumpiness somewhat, I decided to splurge a bit and do something I'd been wanting to do for a while anyways: get my McCammon collection fully up to speed.  And since I've got nothing better to do tonight, why not share the details with you fine folks?
I love that cover art, almost as much as I hate the font on the author's name.  Hopefully that's just a placeholder font.

We begin with the upcoming Subterranean Press hardback limited edition of They Thirst, which I preordered.  It won't come out until October, but a months-long wait is par for the course with these limited editions. 
Subterranean previously published limited-edition hardbacks of McCammon's first three novels, Baal, Bethany's Sin, and The Night Boat, all three of which sold out long ago.  I had been planning to get their edition of They Thirst ever since it was announced, but had not considered trying to obtain secondhand copies of those other Subterranean editions.  However, I decided to check eBay, and was able to scoop each of them up for prices that were within my range.  I'm still a bit mystified as to how I was able to get that lucky.