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By TheophileEscargot (Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 01:52:25 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "The Trade of Queens". Watching: "Wings of Desire", "The Last Exorcism", "Cave of Forgotten Dreams". Links.


What I'm Reading
Finished The Trade of Queens by Charles Stross, last book in the Merchant Princes series.

I really liked this series at the start. Takes the standard "Amber"-like principle of people who can walk between parallel universes, but actually applies some economic and practical ideas about how it can be used. The Family have a courier business going where they move drugs through the low-tech world, and ship low-tech items incredibly fast through our own world.

Unfortunately, Stross really struggles with the fantasy-like multi-volume plot. The series has the problem some fantasy series have, where nothing much happens in the middle volumes except characters wander aimlessly around waiting for the ending to happen. However it's exacerbated here by parallel worlds that aren't terribly picturesque: the main one is a realistically grim medieval feudalism, the second one has a revolution where the revolutionaries are pretty much as unpleasant as the establishment. Also there isn't that much action.

This final volume crams a load of events in, which should really have happened earlier. However, while lots of huge dramatic events happen, they don't really affect the characters we've got to know very much. So what should be a tragedy seems more like a statistic.

It's not helped by some fairly weak satire of the Bush administration, which might have seemed topical at the start of the series, but is already painfully dated.

Overall then, not a great series. This book does bring things to a reasonable conclusion though.

Watching
Saw Wings of Desire on DVD: Eighties German movie about angels in Berlin, one of whom falls in love with a mortal.

Definitely has some good points: loved the swooping angel point-of-view shots, and there's some striking imagery like the angels hanging out in Berlin's central library.

However, I think it might rely quite heavily on poetic language which doesn't really work too well in translation. Also the romance seems a bit perfunctory.

Watching 2
Saw The Last Exorcism on DVD. An evangelical preacher/exorcist decides he's had enough of conning rubes, so takes a camera crew on one last exorcism with the intention of exposing it all.

Pretty effective for the most part. Liked the documentary feel and the way it eschewed the dafter special effects. the actress has some ballet training, and contorts her body impressively without the need for CGI.

However, I thought the ending was a bit of a disappointment. The filmmakers seem very proud of it and describe it as ambiguous, leaving the viewers to draw their own conclusions. But I thought it was more incoherent than ambiguous. You can kind of make it work if you think about it. If the demon was real, then he would want the documentary to be made, so he might toy with the exorcist for the lulz, then come out with the 'blowing-job' thing to make it look like he's not really possessing her. If the demon wasn't real, then the girl might not be aware of the satanic cult, and therefore she might not tell the exorcist about it. But we saw her kill the cat, so was that because she had been brainwashed by the cult somehow? Were the other animals killed by her or the cult? Neither explanation really clicks together in a satisfying way .

Watching 3
Saw Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D at the cinema. Werner Herzog documentary about the Chauvet Cave paintings, the oldest cave art in the world.

Uses 3D very effectively to explore the cave. The paintings are incorporated into the undulating rock faces, so two dimensions doesn't quite capture them. However the small spaces and improvised handheld rig are a bit jerky: the movie has kind of DIY feel.

The usual Herzog voiceover might have a bit too much cod-philosophy for some, but I like it. I really like the way Herzog hasn't fallen into the fashion for drawling irony: you get the feeling everything he says is sincere.

Worth a look if you like his movies.

Links
Socioeconomics. Restructure Irish debt. Vickers report OK. I Had An Abortion and I'm Fine, French website. Winston Smith on care homes. Who watches movies: Skewed young, but not as much as I expected.

Video. Adam Buxton reads out YouTube comments. Dog bursts bubbles, baby approves.

Sci/Tech. IQ partly measures motivation, via.

Missed this tribute: Neil Gaiman on Diana Wynne Jones

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Angels in the architecture | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Trade of Queens by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #1 Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 03:36:30 PM EST
I really disliked the end, and yes the satire on the Bush administration was just bad.  I particularly loathed the silly names he gave everyone.  He should have just either said "Cheney" or given the people alternate names and used characterization.

Wings of Desire was meant more as a romance with Berlin itself.  I do think it works much better if you have some knowledge of both English and German.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

WIngs of Desire by lm (2.00 / 0) #2 Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 05:10:32 PM EST
I fouind it hard to keep my willing suspension of disbelief once the Peter Faulk cameo started.

The sequel is better in that regard but lacks the tone that makes the first one so great.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Multi-part Fantasy by jimgon (2.00 / 0) #3 Wed Apr 27, 2011 at 06:41:23 AM EST

I don't usually enjoy multi-part fantasy.  Most authors try to write a five thousand page novel instead of tying it all together with sub-plots.  There was a reason that Lord of the Rings read that way.  It was a single novel broken up.   So I haven't read The Merchant Princes.  I try to avoid that type of thing and only read them when I stumble into one accidentally. 

In regards to the medieval world, keep in mind that Stross doesn't like high fantasy.  He's an anti-monarchist and high fantasy almost always contains fairy tale monarchies. 






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Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
Fantasy by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #4 Wed Apr 27, 2011 at 07:20:33 PM EST
These books really aren't fantasy in any real way.  Stross uses exactly one fantastical element: a way of moving between alternate earths, and everything is built from that, in a completely logical way.  These books are fascinating for the economic structure he builds up based on this one twist, and his completely realistic portrayal of what are essentially medieval clans with access to modern technology and our world.  That bit was really well done.

It was more the individual plot elements that I think he muffed at the end.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

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