Fionna's Ramblings, Including the Northern Guru's Expositions

Issue 1 December 2000


Welcome! At last it's here, the first edition of the fanzine for the undiscerning reader with low expectations. A couple of things: the contents are personal, what I've been reading, thinking, seeing and doing lately. There may be guest contributors from time to time, in which case you'll hear about what they have been reading, thinking, seeing and doing lately. The Great White Northern Film Guru (aka Amanda Lowery) will hopefully be contributing regularly with previews of films we have yet to see on our side of the Atlantic. The views expressed are mine, or those of the contributor. I am opinionated (one of the reasons for starting a fanzine) and I like a good argument just for the sake of it - I might be controversial if I think it will start a good debate. If you catch me being factually incorrect, please let me know. If you disagree with my opinion, rather than the facts, that's great - let's celebrate diversity. However, the fact of you disagreeing doesn't make me demonstrably wrong, nor does it make me evil, nor does it make me someone to target with invective. I like discussion, I like disagreement, I don't like to hear slurs on my parentage or my future - that's my own business (sorry, Mother).

Secondly (yes, it was all one point). A lot of what I read and think might not reflect your interest in the broad category of SF. Too bad. These are my interests, and I'm not going to take up watching Saturday morning TV (for instance), in order to write reviews about things that I have no interest in.

What I've Been Reading

It varies. It always does. About ten minutes ago I finished About a Boy by Nick Hornby. By any stretch of the imagination it isn't SF, but it might appeal to SF fans, some (many?) of whom were plagued throughout childhood by the knowledge that they were different from their peers, but without any clear understanding of why they were different. Marcus is twelve years old, going on thirty six. Will is thirty six, going on twelve. Marcus wants his mother to be happy, and for the kids at school to stop throwing hard boiled sweets at him, whilst Will wants to date a single mother, as long as it isn't Marcus' mother. The usual cliche, they can each give each other what they are searching for, but first they have to understand what they are searching for. Blah blah. What saves the book is the sense of humour throughout, and Hornby's unwillingness to cater for some of the givens in single-parent families and thirty-something unmarrieds. I liked it, despite (or perhaps because) the level of bullying I saw in school was nowhere near as harsh as that Marcus sees - my abiding memory is of being called ‘ginger nuts' when I was about eleven - proving I wasn't the only one who didn't know what it meant. In fact, after a school reunion a couple of years ago I realised that being called different was perhaps the greatest compliment my class mates could have paid me.

Teranesia by Greg Egan. I blow hot and cold on Egan's books. I loved Permutation City, probably because of the computer aspects of the science, and I should have loved, but ended up hating, Diaspora. His latest, however, I enjoyed immensely. I don't usually read hard SF, as pages of card-board characters spouting science at each other generally does nothing for me, but Egan's science is usually explored by interesting, somewhat real characters who if I cannot exactly relate to at least remind me of people I know. In Teranesia the science takes a back seat to the emotions that are triggered in the characters, and both are done well.Sometimes I find a book that reminds me why I started to read SF in the first place. One of these is Crescent City Rhapsody by Kathleen Ann Goonan. In the near future, an electromagnetic pulse knocks out most of the devices that make up life as we know it. They recover quickly, to be knocked out again, and so on in a rapidly increasing sequence that leads the world to search for solutions that rely on new technologies. You know what's coming now - yup, nanotechnology. But some of the world's leaders want the promise of these technologies to be limited in what they can do, some want the number of people with access to them to be limited, and some want to create a myth that will guarantee their place in the new world order. Add to this dystopian mix Marie Laveau, descendant of voodoo queens and the most powerful woman in New Orleans, a host of other remarkably well drawn characters, from geeks struggling to comprehend the emotions they have suddenly started to have, to the angry young man who is hiding from a threat he doesn't understand, some throwaway concepts such as a James Thurber plague, and some great, heart-felt writing, and you have my kind of book. Crescent City Rhapsody is the third book in KAGs nanotechnology series, which will eventually run to four books, but it is completely satisfying as a stand alone novel. I'll be rereading it, anyway.

Oh, and did I mention it has zombies? What more can you want in a book?

Don't bother reading

The Ghost of Flight 401 by John G. Fuller. The subject matter is intriguing, but I still flung the book across the room when it was done.


Three Days of Rain, by Richard Greenberg, is playing in Dublin Arts Project (on Essex Street) until December 16th. This is the Irish premiere of an extraordinarily good play - no way can I make it into SF by any stretch of the imagination, but on a continuing quest to get as many people to go to the theatre as possible, I'm plugging it. A really good play, likened by one review to some of the works of Arthur Miller.

Good Bones by Margaret Atwood. Atwood continually flirts on the edge of SF, saved from being marketed with pictures of leather armoured women probably because she writes "literature". In this collection of short essays there are lots of things that will make the SF fan think, and anyway I enjoyed it, so there.

Orion Arm, by Julian May. If the Saga of the Exiles was the literary equivalent of pizza and beer, this is a slice of garlic bread and a fizzy drink. But kind of fun if you're feeling under the weather, or have a train journey to get through.

Complicity, the film of the book by Iain Banks. This is actually pretty good, I can't understand why it only got a limited release. Jonny Lee Miller is cute, and plays Cameron almost to a tee. Only two gripes: Despot is supposed to be like Civ II, not Doom; and making William into the husband of a childhood friend dampens the import of Cameron's relationship with Yvonne.

Another Great Book

Sewer, Gas & Electric by Matt Ruff. Also known as The Public Works Trilogy. This book has everything you could possibly look for in an SF novel. Except for sensible science - it's more fun making it up, the author asserts in a disclaimer at the start of the book that immediately made me consider him as a future husband. Great white sharks, excuse me, Carcharodon carchariaii, escape from the New York sewers and eat boy scouts, Ayn Rand ("rhymes with sane?" "rhymes with mine") is reincarnated as an AI trapped in a magic lantern and almost discovers a sense of humour, the world's oldest woman talks about destroying the illusions of early feminists - much of the book is a vehicle to express the author's political views, but it is done with style and humour, and considering that I'm still not entirely sure what his political views actually are (and that I may want to marry him) it is forgivable.

The bit about the early feminists I found particularly intriguing. I was brought up as a post-feminist: it wouldn't occur to me that anybody with half a brain would actually believe that men are better than women. Different, certainly, and perhaps there are some tasks they are more suited to, but I can do my job as well as any man, and more to the point, I don't believe that there is anyone I have to prove this to. When Kite (181 years old, the only female veteran of the American Civil War, and still going strong) talks about the views of the first feminists it was something of a revelation for me. Because they lived in a world that up until then had been entirely dominated by men, they actually believed that putting women in charge would solve all of the problems. And I mean all of them - poverty, wars, hunger. Leaving aside the obvious joke about Thatcher, it shows a view which is just as biased as the men they were seeking to overthrow. And an optimism that I just can't summon up. I'm not sure whether to be glad or sad about this.

The Great White Northern Film Guru

Unbreakable is the new film from M. Night Shyamalan, director of The Sixth Sense. That's a hard act to follow, but it also means, at least this time around, there is a certain modicum of benefit of the doubt.

The film centres around David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a security guard by profession, and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man who owns an art gallery of rare and valuable comic book memorabilia. Dunn's marriage is in serious trouble, his wife (Robin Wright Penn) and he seem truly to care for each other, but are losing their marriage somehow regardless. It is obvious (through some incredible acting from both Willis and Wright Penn) that their love for one another is still alive, but they can't seem to reach each other.

But then Dunn is involved in a horrible accident (one of the most suspenseful yet subtle moments of the film, this and the events leading up to it is one of the most effective sequences in the entire picture), and this sets in motion a series of events that sends Dunn on a sometimes frightening, sometimes revelatory, journey of self discovery. The journey involves Elijah Price, a man with bones so brittle he was born with fractures, and who, even as an adult, is fragile as glass. These two men's paths become intertwined, and they find they need each other in order to complete their individual quests.

Like most good films, Unbreakable's strength lies in the journey on which it takes you rather than the destination. In that it is successful; the journey is an intriguing and unusual one. The destination was a little lacking, even though the film is said to be the first in a trilogy I still feel that it should be able to stand alone. But I enjoyed the trip enough to still feel that the film was well worth my time.

A strange aspect of this film is that it grows on you. I liked it better a couple of days after I saw it than I did right after it ended. I think some of this is because the film is so dense in symbolism and layers that it takes a while for it all to sink in. I think, like Shyamalan's first effort, it will flow even better the second time around. The Sixth Sense was unusual in that it viewed to me like a completely different film once I knew what the "secret" was. I have a feeling that Unbreakable will be the same.

It is a very Hitchcock-like film. Filled with symbolism (both overt and covert), foreshadowing and logical consequences. There are clues to the true nature of the film and some of its characters from the very beginning, and as the characters learn about themselves, the clues become more overt and numerous. This is handled with both skill and subtlety by actors and directors alike. Some of these clues and changes are so subtle that it may take more than one viewing to see them.

This is a film, like The Sixth Sense, that relies little on special effects and much on characters. The acting is nearly impeccable, everyone does their part in carrying the film through to its conclusion. There are no throwaway roles, the ways in which the film works are all based around the depth of the characters, often indicated non-verbally or with minimal lines (David), or with carefully selected language and delivery (Elijah).

The ways in which this film doesn't work are mainly technical: the pacing stops working as well towards the end, the ending itself feels tacked on (the same destination could have been reached in a much more interesting way). It is a classic good vs. evil tale, but handled with a strange combination of the overt and the subtle. Overall, it works as a film.

The reactions to my usual informal poll have been hugely varied. Some people loved it, others completely hated it and found it "laughably bad". I'm somewhere in between. I appreciated its beauty and subtlety, I appreciated the quiet, careful, excellent work of the actors, I appreciated the symbolism and suspense. But somehow it seemed to fall apart towards the end, as if it was in a hurry to get it finished instead of giving it the care it deserved. Dissatisfaction at this has changed into mild annoyance, but it is still worth a look.

Copyright Fionna O'Sullivan, 2000.
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