freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I can't say that it was official Movie Club, because Rule 1 of Movie Club is that we compare two movies, however tenuously connected. However, Sunday night's spontaneous movie-watching with jo&stv did fulfil one of the secondary functions of Movie Club, which is to make us watch movies we otherwise wouldn't. I have randomly and without justification re-watched both Star Trek reboots in the last couple of weeks, in an outbreak possibly not unrelated to randomly and without justification reading rather nicely-characterised slow-burn Kirk/Bones slash I happened randomly upon, but there is nonetheless no real way I would have seen Space Station 76 unprompted. However, now I have. And I have Thoughts.

This is billed as comedy, but it's only really comedy in the blackest, most parodic sense; it's satire, verging at times on allegory, and what it most resembles is a dastardly fusion of Star Trek and The Ice Storm, supposing you'd allowed the resulting horrific miscegenation to be scripted by Chekhov, or possibly Kurt Vonnegut. (It also shares some distant, cousinly DNA with both Galaxy Quest and Pigs In Space). It's a 2014 film set on a space station in a future imagined from the vantage point of the 70s. This of course means tacky special effects, plastic asteroids, Tupperware spaceships, sexual liberation, cigarettes, and mad outbreaks of 70s boots and mini-dresses. However, it also allows for the actually quite powerful essentialising of issues - primarily sexuality and gender - through the exaggeration which inevitably happens when you view 70s caricatures through a contemporary lens. The space setting strips away extraneous detail, leaving the deeply dysfunctional relationships to enact themselves starkly against the pastel plastic of the background and the isolation of space. The film was developed from a stage play, and you can see it in its scale, its minimalism, its horrible intimacy.

Space Station 76 is quite often funny, but one seldom laughs without wincing - the humour is close to the bone, frequently productive more of discomfort than amusement. (Some of the few places where both Jo and I unabashedly laughed were the therapist-bot sequences, which are both horrendously cynical and irresistibly funny to anyone who's ever been in therapy). The cast is generally very good, despite representing archetypes rather than actual personalities (the Sad Captain, the Unfulfilled Career Woman, the Monstrous Mother); the whole thing is played with a sort of deliberate, tongue-in-cheek self-awareness which never quite allows you to immerse yourself in the characters. I say "allegory" because the whole thing is so self-consciously artificial that it positions the viewer very interestingly in a space which denies the possibility of willing suspension of disbelief: you are poised in a critical space outside the events, ejected equally by discomfort and unreality.

I wouldn't say this is a great movie, and its black humour at times is deeply unsettling, but it's an interesting one, and one I'm glad I've seen. It's really doing things that are far more sophisticated than they appear at first glance. Also, clearly, sexual liberation does not equal happiness, and in fact exaggerates unhappiness with resentment that pressing sex button A does not produce happiness at the vending machine slot as it clearly ought to. Which is clearly true today, and clearly the point.

(My subject line is David Bowie, because that's where I am in the Great Car Sound System Alphabetical Trek. Arcade Fire, Bed On Bricks, Belle and Sebastian, Crowded House, David Bowie. (Apparently all my Clash is under The rather than Clash). We're going to be here for a while. The quote is from "Slip Away", quite my favourite track on Heathen, which is sort of early late-period-Bowie. The alphabetical order of album is disconcerting me slightly as I do prefer listening chronologically, particularly with Bowie; as it is, we've gone Aladdin Sane (later early-period rock(ish) with jazz bits) to Diamond Dogs (early middle-period apocalyptic glam rock, Black Tie White Noise isn't on this mp3 player because it annoys me) to Heathen (early late-period, lord I don't know, regressive alt-rock with an electronica element?) to Heroes (late middle-period Brian-Eno-shaped Berlin Years) to Hunky Dory (early early-period folk/rock/pop/who the hell knows, at any rate I've wandered around the department all day singing "Quicksand", as one does because it's a bloody earworm of note). As whiplash goes it's rather enjoyable, in fact. Weirdly enough, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Bowie.)

live fast and prosper

Monday, 1 July 2013 02:33 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

Took myself off to see the new Star Trek yesterday, which apart from anything else was a good excuse to drive my new car places. Which is just as well, because I'm not entirely sure the film justified the trip. It annoyed me. I'm a bit out on a limb here because I've never watched the original series1, but based on my voracious consumption of the entirety of Next Generation in about two months flat, I mostly think JJ Abrams has the tone all wrong. (And I don't think this is just because Canal Walk's sound balance and volume are habitually set by ham-fisted drunken gorillas).

Into Darkness was frenetic action from the get-go; loud, brash, violent, fast. In my sense of it, Star Trek is not a standard action narrative. The TV series (certainly Next Gen and the odd episode of TOS I've seen), and even the older films, are at least partially contemplative; they dwell on character interactions and evince a sort of leisurely, self-indulgent enjoyment of the utopian aspects of this futuristic society, both scientific and social. They have exciting action sequences, certainly, but they're interleaved at suitable intervals with slower sequences to give a very different sense of pace. The two new films don't have that; they're all action, with the contemplation (and there is some contemplation; I liked the examination of moral decisions, and the attempt to redeem the immature-twit-Kirk-should-not-be-in-charge plot holes from the first film) tacked onto action sequences in breathless gasps. JJ Abrams films are all chorus and no verse. They're exhausting.

This is a pity, because I think he has his cast absolutely right, they're really enjoyable to watch. And I spent most of the film giggling at inappropriate moments because the classic Kirk/Spock slashy subtext is so beautifully pandered to. Honestly, you can feel a thousand slash writers squeeing in the background in some of those sequences. I think the films have the Kirk/Spock dynamic pretty much down, particularly because their version of Kirk is such an impulsive, emotion-driven idiot, and I love these versions of Scotty and Bones et al. It's just a pity that the mood and pace (and the script, with its usual giant logic holes and reliance on cliché, good grief) don't match the characterisations.

I just wish they'd done more with the tribble. I was expecting trouble.

1 I feel the need to watch the original series, anyone have it?

Subject line: if I actually need to gloss my random concatenation of "Live fast and die young" with "Live long and prosper", I'm saddened, is all. Saddened and disappointed.
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Good lord, I opted out of Christmas this year. My mother's 6-day delay rather put the kibosh on family Christmas dinners of any description, and we ended up having a more or less spontaneous three-generation all-girl Christmas day lounging around the house and garden drinking tea, catching up, and opening a few presents in a desultory sort of way. (My sister gave me pink champagne for Christmas. I utterly approve). Lunch: dug around 'fridge for random smoked chicken, seed loaf, tomatoes, fruit. Nary a whisker of turkey in sight. It was bloody marvellous. I think I may randomly cook a full-on turkey and ham Christmas dinner in July, when it's cold, just for the hell of it, but the lack of it at actual Christmas was completely fine by me. I hope everyone else had a Christmas that was equally and perfectly tailored to their needs and expectations.

I have been motoring through Smallville at speed, occasionally with my long-suffering mother in tow (fortunately she also likes Superman), and am currently approaching the end of the second season. The writing is improving, although there are still moments of complete psychological irrationality in the service of narrative kludge, which is annoying. (Just tell her already! good lord!). I am, however, deriving an unwholesome pleasure from watching Lex and Lionel Luthor exchange all these platitudes about family loyalty with about fifteen layers of irony, sarcasm and manipulative snark beneath the surface cheese.

While on the subject of fangirling, if you didn't follow Neil Gaiman's link to the Year's Best Media Corrections, you darned well should. Scroll down about a third of the page to the long Apology of the Year from it's a deliriously wonderful and deadpan pander to Trekkiedom, done with affection and wit and considerable technical geek-out about Enterprise starship classes. It made me, as is traditional, snerkle like a loon.
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For some reason I seem to be re-reading, yet again, the entirety of the Sherlock Holmes corpus (I'm currently in the middle of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which one of these days I really must teach as a Gothic novel, just for the hell of it). I have that lovely facsimile edition which reproduces the whole lot from the Strand magazine stories, with their slightly faint, slightly mannered illustrations. I cannot work out if this dedicated re-discovery is motivated by any one of the following more than the others, it may be a cumulative sort of thing:

  • the running thread of Data's Sherlock Holmes fixation through seven seasons of STNG;
  • too much diligent playing of Echo Bazaar;
  • the rather spirited discussions we've been having in my second-year English tut about Dracula as a figure of inverted Victorian masculinity ("...each age uses its vampires to express its fears and desires. What does Twilight say about us?" *horrified intake of breath from class*. Maybe there's hope for the youth of today);
  • the need to re-watch my shiny new copy of the RDJ Sherlock Holmes with an eagle eye for fun adaptation in-jokes (and as an attempt to persuade myself that it's not just an unholy fascination with RDJ with an English accent);
  • the complete absence of brain currently occasioned by the fact that Cape Town's pollen has been studiously mutating over the last few weeks in an effort to lay low the human population and take over the world. (Fact. I know three separate people who are off work owing to allergies, sinusitis and general incapacity, and I'm only at work myself out of sheer bloody-mindedness and orientation planning panic. I have a dark suspicion that this planet has actually had enough and is dusting its hands preparatory to ridding itself of us by hook or by crook).

Anyway. Sherlock Holmes. Either fanfiction has hopelessly infected me (which, to be fair, it probably has), or there is a seriously slashy subtext here. Watson/Holmes is rather sweet, they have an old-married-couple comfort thing going on which is extremely enjoyable to watch. In fact, surprisingly, Watson isn't as annoying a twit as I'd remembered, and Holmes is rather sweet all on his own - I'd remembered him as far more of a cold, distant and madly eccentric figure, but he's capable of erratic but rather endearing acts of empathy. The blatant lack of realism in Holmes's deductions does get to me a little, and I remember just enough of the stories from my last reading that none of the detective outcomes are actually a surprise, but I'm also really enjoying them. Some things don't date as much as you'd expect.

Speaking of which, I've now finished STNG, and boy howdy does it date. I loved it, but I am reserving serious narrative fulminations for a whole long post of its own. Right now, the Spirit Temple in Zelda beckons, because really I don't have the brain for much else.
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Fridays seem to be my Great Space of Extra Brainlessness, the week having tired me out to the point where I'm singularly lacking in inspiration. Particularly this week. Wayward Puppy alert!

  • I'm not entirely sure why it should be so utterly endearing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt to post the "Rainbow Connection" video on his Tumblr site, but it is. Also, everyone's Friday is better for the application of Kermit the Frog. I am now possessed of a desire to spend an hour or so teaching myself to play the song on my sadly-neglected piano, the chord progressions are interesting.

  • I don't participate in the SCA at the moment, and it's looking increasingly likely that I won't actually ever do so again, but most of my much-loved friends still play, and the whole unlikely edifice is still dear to my heart. So the current movement in one of the American kingdoms to change the rules to allow same-sex couples to enter Crown tourneys (and thus, by extension, to reign, although quite as what is unclear - King/Queen and consort? King/Queen and King/Queen?), has piqued my interest. I think it's an excellent idea, whose time has more than come, and they're going about it intelligently, rationally and with a refreshing lack of ideological froth. One bit of their well-argued manifesto completely cracked me up, however. They're responding to the idea that allowing same-sex entry could open a space for dedicated male fighters to game the system: if two straight male fighters pretend a same-sex relationship so both can fight in the tourney, they have a doubled chance at Crown. The manifesto's argument: "if two men are willing to take on the stigma of presenting as a same sex couple, it will likely be a profound learning experience for all involved." Hee. Damn straight. So to speak. I really, really wish some rhino-hide pair of manly fighters would try it, because I'd love to watch the resulting psycho-social repercussions. Fight a mile in someone else's shoes, why don't you.

  • I finished watching Season 5 of STNG last night, and am impressed. There were really some excellent episodes in the season, it's probably the best so far, even with its distressingly lowered levels of Wesley (token disapproving growl). The writers seem to have hit their stride and are doing very, very interesting thematic things - Picard as father and grandfather on a backwater planet, the whole examination of Starfleet and duty in Wesley's screw-up at the academy, the fascinating linguistic games in "Darmok", the mind-rape in "Violations", the implications of an isolated Borg - chewy, thoughtful stuff. There's also a strengthening in narrative shape and innovation - I loved the disaster-movie and time-loop episodes, and the really sneaky alien attack in "Conundrum". Am a happy, happy Trekkie, save for the sad realisation that I have only two seasons left to watch. Sigh.

  • Of course you all know this because you all read boingboing, but the Google instant version of Tom Lehrer's elements is brilliant.

  • Tonight the Salty Cracker Club hits Bizerca. For no adequately defined reason, stv has promised to dress as an Amazon. I can't wait.
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Random Sunday is random! I still have no brain, and am unequal to the task of composing any of my planned blog posts on (a) the manifest seductions of verbiage, (b) Tron, or (c) ex-Zimbabwean rootlessness, although they're marinating quietly in my back-brain and I'll get round to them eventually. Instead, I shall round up various items of a Literary or Cinematic Nature which have recently affected me, just because.

  • The nice thing about randomly lending people books is that they randomly lend you books. [ profile] tngr_spacecadet brought my Sookie Stackhouse collection back this morning, and incidentally dumped off a couple of supernatural Victorian novels, including Gail Carriger's Soulless, which I unrepentantly devoured this afternoon in default of marking the pile of Frankenstein class tests I should have been marking. (I currently do not love my job, so the weekends, are mine, goddammit, and work can bloody well wait). Soulless features some rather acutely-observed Victorian social comedy, a pleasingly strong-minded and matter-of-fact heroine, interesting world-building, unexpected Queen Victorias to the social situation, and rather enjoyable interludes of sweaty groping with werewolves in carriages and corsets and what have you. It's well written rather than being brilliantly written, but is often very funny and was bloody good fun to read. Recommended. Shall acquire my own copy forthwith, and any sequels.

  • Justice has been done! China Miéville's The City and the City won the Hugo for Best Novel, unusually a tie (with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, which didn't grab me as hard but which will make [ profile] pumeza happy).

  • Finally finished Season 5 of Doctor Who. I really, really like this Doctor. He doesn't inspire me with the girly heart-throbbings that the Tenth did, but he's becoming very interesting very fast. I am, however, faintly disappointed in Steven Moffat, who appears to have sacrificed his Blink-style elegance in favour of the kind of overblown grandiosity of concept favoured by Russell Davies. "The Lodger" was a lovely episode full of lovely people who almost but not quite distracted one from the gaping plot holes. The two-part finale made me very happy for its cunning Pandorica occupant, its Rory-redemption (and dammit, now I want a spinoff series covering his adventures over the last 2000 years) and for some actually intelligent use of time-travel, but the gathering of the Doctor's enemies was a generally pointless and self-indulgent concept which didn't give enough narrative pay-off to justify it. And the wedding scene was cute, but predictable and a bit flabby. I'm ... slightly miffed, actually. It's still all much better, plot-wise, than the previous Davies-seasons, but I had very high expectations of Steven Moffat, and he's turned out more of a Davies-disciple than I'm strictly happy with in my role as a pervy plot-fondler.

  • The latest Microfiction bits are up. This month's theme: "Spanner". Mine here. I think in this one a week of academicating (or, possibly, reading Miéville) has unduly predisposed me to a dense and convoluted writing style, but it felt necessary. Also, the word limit killed me this time round. Will post the longer version as well, sometime, just for comparison, because I actually think it's better.

  • The STNG episode which finally attacks homosexuality head-on, if somewhat laterally (and, yes, both together) made me very happy. (The one with poor Riker's doomed love affair with the androgyne). The Star Trek universe is so generally liberal, the lack of awareness of anything other than heterosexuality was beginning to be a serious gap and was narking my Proudly South African sensibilities. (Although it's also subtly annoying me that, while there are clearly women in leadership roles all over the show, since the departure of Tasha they're all very traditional nurturing female roles - doctor and counsellor. This is possibly why I'm really enjoying Ensign Ro's kick-butt spikiness).
As of tomorrow I'm taking notes in a two-day workshop, so will be generally un-available on Teh Internets unless I use Winona and manage to pirate a wireless connection to Seekritly Browse while I should be minute-taking. Wish me luck...
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I've come late to Star Trek. Neither the original series nor Next Gen was ever on TV when I had access to a TV; the Evil Landlord and I watched some Deep Space Nine when it trickled through to SA, but only in a desultory sort of fashion, and I don't remember much of it. I'm not sure why borrowing [ profile] first_fallen's complete STNG set and proceeding to watch it in an unholy gulp over several months should have had the effect of putting me into warp drive in the direction of helpless, geeky fandom, but it has, and there we have it. I knew the die was cast when the simple action of Spock teaching Data the Vulcan nerve pinch caused me an exquisite, inexplicable, fangirly joy. It's over. I'm a Trekkie. Alas.

Of course, the whole thing was more or less sparked by my discovery, over vastly circuitous sf fandom routes (possibly via the Whatever), of Wil Wheaton's blog. I have an unholy fascination for the Wesley Crusher phenomenon: for the incredible outpouring of fan hatred which managed to pillory not only the character, but the unfortunate actor, who seems to be a likeable sort of person who really didn't deserve that. I'm a few episodes into Season 5, and of course Wesley has now left, to "go to the Academy", but really for the shattered teen actor to hie him off into the middle distance and try to regain some sort of self-esteem. It's all rather unfair: being a teenager is a poisonous enough experience without legions of geeky sf fans craning over your shoulder and insisting not only that your character's a dweeb, but that you are.

But I have to ask myself, even in strictly narrative terms - what the hell was going on here? I mean, yes, the writing in the first couple of seasons was really very clunky, and Wesley didn't exactly shine as an example of logical plot decisions, character development or emotional coherence. But then again, nor did anyone else. Honestly, I spent about the first season and a half dropping stitches in my knitting while shouting enraged instructions at the screen - for heaven's sake, beam them out of there! or use your empath! or why the hell are you putting a teenager into that situation? it makes no sense! And I have ranted elsewhere about the dialogue. Good grief. But these generalised problems don't seem to have generated the frenzy of frothing hatred that poor Wesley did. Putting an immature and inexperienced kid, however intelligent, onto the bridge is dodgy, but I think there's more going on here, and most of it is about fan identification.

See, Wesley is a geek. He's written as super-intelligent, accomplished and precocious; he solves problems adults can't. It's not realistic in many ways, but it's no more unrealistic than other aspects of the series, which really abandons all sorts of logic in the pursuit of both story and budget. (The stand-alone episodes drive me crazy: Significant Person or Moment introduced for an episode arc will vanish without a trace with the closing credits, never to be seen again despite the fact that really they should continue to affect the Enterprise and its inhabitants. Like Worf's bonded brother. Bleah). Wesley being a geek shouldn't be any more of a problem than Worf never being able to win a fight, and it particularly shouldn't be a problem given that the bulk of the viewers are themselves geeky science-fondling types. And Wes is not written as an arrogant smart-arse: he's an eager kid, probably intended as a rather endearing point of identification for geeky types whose reaction to the Enterprise would be an identical wide-eyed wonder, because all this spaceship science is just so cool.

And this, I think, is where the problem lies. However badly he's written, the root of the Wesley Crusher problem is not the fact that the character is unlikeable or unrealistic. It's actually a problem of over-identification, not failure of identification. I think too many geeky Trekkies see themselves in Wesley, and they find it excruciating to watch - oh god Wesley is where I would like to be, bumming around on the bridge with an enormous grin on his face, and he's completely dorky and has no right to be there. He both embodies and dramatises the fact of the watcher's own eternal exclusion from the bridge. The revulsion is thus because he represents the watcher too closely, at least the kind of watcher who spends a lot of time at Star Trek conventions. I think it's significant that, at least anecdotally, a lot of female Trek fans seem to really like Wesley. They don't have to watch themselves, and cringe, knowing full well that if given half a chance they'd be babbling just as excruciatingly about the ways in which matter and antimatter could be aligned even more efficiently in Dilithium crystals. (They might well so babble, but at least they're not watching themselves).

I don't like Next Gen as much without Wesley. There's a gap on the bridge, and I'm very aware that the writers partially created it by being really very bad at finding a realistic place for a teenaged geek in Star Trek - but only partially. In fact, the fans created it by being intolerant and incredibly cruel, and that intolerance is directly and slightly unforgiveably about the whole unhappy, marginal geek package - about insecurity. It's sad. I wish it had gone differently. I like Wesley, and he didn't deserve that.

And in broader terms, the whole Trek thing's bloody annoying. Now I'm going to have to re-watch the recent Star Trek movie and see if I actually like it any more than I did now that I'm all Trekkified. Phooey.
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Right, bored now. Technology hates me and is out to get me. My car's in with the panelbeaters being welded and sealed against the damp which habitually infests it, causing the insides of the windows to fog up unpredictably so I have to drive using sonar. Which I don't have. Memo to self, become part-bat. Unless it's dolphins which use sonar? Or boats. Maybe I should become part-boat. Anyway, so I rounded off an incredibly long day exerting utmost self-discipline to be serially nice to a continuous string of students, with moderate success (only growled at one, and she deserved it), by walking home. My knees hurt. Then I opened the front door and the house alarm, which has recently developed a hissy fit about the connectivity of the front door sensor, celebrated my return by going off loudly before I could get to the keypad to neutralise it. My nerves are still jangling.

Now I'm sitting at my computer swearing at the speakers, which have recently acquired a random and horrible distort at higher registers, like violin music and Regina Spektor. No amount of fiddling with the settings seems to help this, I'm going demented, and it's doing positively disgusting things to the Section Quartet, who otherwise make me incredibly happy by doing string quartet covers of Iron Maiden, Radiohead and Cream. Honestly, you wouldn't believe how much fun "Sunshine of your Love" is as classical chamber music. And Radiohead is just lyrically beautiful. But my speakers distort. Someone out there who's both a muso and technogeek, please make useful suggestions? At this stage my options seem to be (a) watch enough STNG to persuade Wesley Crusher to come and solve the problem by unleashing the technobabble, or (b) bury the speakers in the garden for the moles to chew on, and serve them right.

On the upside: new Guild today. Although Fawkes is being horrible. Predictably horrible, but I'm still all depressed.
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I have a visa for my English trip, hooray. It arrives all neatly sealed into a silver plastic envelope, festooned with snippy interdictions about breaking the seal unless you're absolutely and positively the person it's intended for. It was an extremely efficient process, done in only a couple of weeks, and automated every step of the way. Collecting the passport must have taken all of a minute and a half. Inside the envelope, however, is not only the passport and the documentation I submitted, but a neat little A5 booklet in red, white and blue, with the title "PLAYING BY THE RULES IN THE UK."

This title is is causing me almost physical nausea, which is disproportionate because the contents of the booklet are fairly straightforward rules for visitors: don't misuse your visa or bring in banned foods and please tattle on human traffickers at these easy numbers. But the positioning of the title gets to me. It's sanctimonious, paternalistic, smug and self-satisfied: it says "We're all part of a police state, isn't it lovely, you will be too." It also has an air of unspecified and inherent menace: you will be good, won't you? or else. The tone is that of a particularly saccharine kindergarten teacher: we're all just do as we're told here, don't we? Or mummy will smack.

I do not like your current Great Britain, it strikes me as neither great nor British. Whatever happened to the great British virtues of bloody-mindedness, eccentricity and up yours? Or is my preferred reading too firmly back in the early 20th century?

In other news, I have written two pages of densely-compacted notes for this vampire/fairy tale paper, only to discover that I'm really only making introductory motions. Hmmm. This topic may be larger than it appears in the rear-view mirror. Also, tonight I embark on STNG Season 3, suggesting I'm rocketing through them with becoming fangirly fervour. The scriptwriters, praise the cosmic wossnames, found a clue somewhere in the middle of Season 2. There is yet hope. And I still rather like Wesley Crusher, possibly on the same general principles as my growing fondness for peaty whisky: sheer bloody-mindedness. There's clearly a lot of early, classic British in my family tree.
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Friends hosted a distributed-cooking Christmas In July last night, which means I'm lolling around the house still incredibly full of snacks and soup and turkey and Jo's amazing roast potatoes and baked potato gratin with the cream content of a small herd of Ayrshires (Jo and potatoes, it's the love story of the century). I didn't have room for the trifle, but since I made it (my signature Black Forest trifle, i.e. with black cherries and chocolate ganache on account of how I spit upon this custard/peaches nonsense) there's still half a one in the 'fridge. I'm eyeing it speculatively for lunch. Hmmm.

Last night was interesting because of the way a lot of the chit-chat was integrated with blog posts. In our sadly geeky crowd various people's blogs become almost another character at the table: they contribute to the conversation, sparking discussions and subsequently weaving in and out of them. We inevitably got onto Star Trek because I've been watching and blogging a fair amount of it, and I ended up both explaining the Wesley Crusher Problem to [ profile] diced_caret, and joining in a general excoriation of the writing in STNG Season 1.

This resulted in the best slightly drunken metaphor I've ever generated for the problem: those poor actors occasionally quite obviously approach their dialogue with the sort of dubious poke you'd give to a giant plate of something ethnic and unidentifiable you've just been served at a diplomatic function, and which is looking at you because it's full of eyeballs. As a result, they end up mouthing the more horrible bits of dialogue rather gingerly, with politely-concealed distaste. It's a pity, because the show actually has a very good cast (apart from some obviously ham guest stars), and they deserve to be given something better to say. It's also the basis of the Wesley Crusher problem - it's nothing to do with the unfortunate actor, the character's just really badly written, poor lad. So now I have a new insomnia cure: where before I used to lie awake at 3am whiling away the hours by designing lesson plans for Hogwarts Divination classes (I don't believe in divination, but anyone with half a brain for symbol analysis could do a better job than Sibyl), now I lie awake re-writing the most recently-watched STNG script to make the character and plot motivations actually, you know, make sense. It's really not that difficult.

I'm also interested in how far my sense of "OMG this is badly written!" is about writers who haven't yet hit their stride, and how much of it is simply about dated values for dialogue and acting. Even in the good episodes the beats seem slow to me, and the interchanges frequently stilted: is the same true of most TV from that time? As someone who's come to TV anachonistically, late and on DVD rather than in any contemporary sense, I really don't have the wherewithal for comparison. I darkly suspect, though, that Joss Whedon may have spoiled me.

On a completely unrelated note, this morning I stumbled across the deliriously happy concept of the Desert Bus video game, which made me giggle like a twit for several minutes. I am apparently a huge fan of ideas taken to their logical conclusion and beyond until surreality sets in.
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It's been a weird kind of day. The campus is blissfully quiet in the middle of the vac, haunted only by vague gaggles of students in the middle distance, blowing vuvuzelas contemplatively as they wait for buses to various games. I saw no-one yesterday; today I had an equally empty day except for an odd little surge at around 11.30, when five students arrived for advice at approximately the same time and hung around in a micro-queue outside my door, where they talked and laughed and made rude but supportive comments about Bafana Bafana while I dealt with their various angsts in series. Other than that, I've been reading the back issues of Wil Wheaton's blog: as a sort of side-effect of all this STNG-watching, I've become fascinated with the Wesley Crusher phenomenon and the effect all that hatred had on a teen actor. SF Fandom is apparently lovely and intimate and invested and supportive up until the moment it can't separate text from reality and actually damages you.

At 1.30 I dashed madly into town to submit my visa application for this conference trip. I haven't driven the new intersection at Hospital Bend in that direction before: there's this deeply Zen moment when you leave the freeway only in order to join exactly the same freeway again 100m later from the other side. Apparently you can cross the same freeway twice. Or can't cross it once. Or something. What is the sound of one car not changing lanes?

The British visa application people are efficient like whoa and dammit: they have this whole system of online appointments and form submissions, festooned with shiny jack-booted warnings about arriving ON TIME for your appointment, with EXACTLY THESE DOCUMENTS plus any others you think might help, entirely up to you, and I had to restrain an impulse to include testimonials from my cats and a photograph of my favourite tomato plant, just to be lateral. Their whole system is automated with number-issuing machines and displays when your number is up, in addition to the extremely crisp and perfectly clear announcements over the public address system - it's kind of the Platonic ideal of the Groote Schuur process, only well thought out and not actually clogged by all these inconvenient poor people. (I seem to be all socialist again. I blame China Miéville). It also all seemed a bit futile, since there were precisely three of us there. I arrived five minutes early, went straight through to two counters without waiting, and left ten minutes later, feeling slightly stunned. The visa is granted within four working days. I was worrying that I only have six weeks until I leave. Silly, pilly me.

The drive home after work was even more surreal. There's a SA/France game on, apparently. Apparently this causes nine-tenths of the population of the city to be dragged willy-nilly to their TV sets by magnetic lines of force, there to sit helplessly while rush hour fails to happen without them. The streets were deserted. Under the freeway overpass coming off campus, there was a life-sized cardboard cutout tied to a signpost, depicting a person standing next to an old-fashioned bicycle, beautifully drawn in black and white. The basket was full of logs, in the sense that it was an actual basket filled with actual three-dimensional logs. No poster or inscription in any way explained this phenomenon. Twenty metres later a youngish coloured dude stood by the side of the road, head tilted to the sky, mouth wide open as though screaming, or possibly singing opera, although no actual sound emerged. In my rear-view mirror I saw him stagger out into the road behind me, head still raised, narrowly missing an oncoming car which forced him to dash back to the curb, arms flailing in a sort of scarecrow shamble. The bicycle-image plus the oddness of the man felt uncannily like some kind of inscrutable performance art; it went very well with the empty streets. It's also entirely possible I hallucinated the whole thing.

Plan for tonight: actually sleep through the night, avoiding both the usual 2am wake-up, and the increasingly trippy series of sleep-walking dreams in which I've forgotten to do something terribly important to the incomprehensible grid of squares on my bedside table, and thus wake up repeatedly trying desperately to sort it out before the waves of zombies get me. I think they're zombies. Occasionally they're amorous wood-elves. It's all a bit weird.
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Still a Bear of Very Little Brain, despite - or possibly because of - a week doing effectively nothing, except playing Plants vs. Zombies, watching Doctor Who, reading Iron Man graphic novels, re-reading my Sookie Stackhouse collection (hawt vampire sex! yay!) and reclining on the sofa fulfilling my god-designated role as Warm Cushiony Thing to an array of cats. I still feel short on sleep and as though someone's punched me in the neck repeatedly, but I'm back at work today, and haven't actually bitten anyone yet, so possibly there are cautious grounds for hope that I'll wake up one of these mornings and not actually want to go straight back to sleep for eight hours.

One of the other things I did manage to read was Holly Black's White Cat, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I know her mostly for her YA faerie series, Tithe et al, which are solid and slightly gritty pieces of YA urban fantasy but which don't really expand the boundaries of an increasingly crowded genre. White Cat is different in that it felt genuinely fresh. The novel assumes that magic is real, but that it's been outlawed; the contemporary setting does an interesting echo of Prohibition in that, logically enough, if magic is illegal then curse workers will, in fact, be controlled by organised crime. Lots of lovely plots, double-bluffs, truly nasty people, and a slightly sketchy but rather fun play with the eponymous fairy tale. Recommended.

In other news, [ profile] first_fallen just lent me all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I started watching last night. So far I have concluded the following:
  • It's very slow-paced, which works well for my fledgling knitting skills. Eight rows of Ravenclaw Scarf last night, about to embark on the colour change. However, the Evil Landlord urgently needs to replace the bulb in the light above my sofa, I can't see properly to knit and there's a clear and present danger I'll end up knitting a clockwork train owing to the gloom.
  • Good lord, Wil Wheaton is ickle. And Wesley Crusher is not nearly as annoying as urban legend would have him. Also, about two-thirds of his blog suddenly makes sense.
  • I have absolutely no tolerance for the Portentous Crashing Musical Score, which is all about Flagging! Important! Moments! And! Lots! Which! Aren't! Important! But! Which! Are! Flagged! Anyway!, causing me to mutter a lot and grind my teeth. I may have to acquire a wax doll of the composer, and prod it at vindictive intervals with my rosewood 3.5s.
  • Most of the cast is kinda cute.
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It has become traditional to do that thing where you mark the end of the year by running together the first sentence of your first post from every month, resulting in pleasingly surreal and surprisingly representative dadaist gibberish. Thusly:

I have to report quite the nicest new year wish I've had so far. Hello, February, who the hell let you in? Oo, er. Arrived safely in France. I love the bit where I tell a room full of anxious first-years that it's actually significantly difficult to get thrown out of the faculty, they're fine if they pass three courses in their first year. I was going to review Wolverine, honestly I was. Back at work, alas. Hooray, my dreams are back! Wheee! new words! Good grief, it's October. Gawsh. Oh, happy day!
Doing my mystic gypsy bit, I divine the following about 2009:
  1. I still habitually start months with surprised exclamations.
  2. France loomed large in the year.
  3. I still enjoy the bit where I make students' lives better.
  4. Other than that I hate my job.
  5. Disappointing year for Hollywood popcorn movies. (Yes, I didn't like Star Trek either.)
  6. Still get high on words.
  7. For a year which really presented hitherto-unsuspected magnitudes of suck, I actually sound quite determinedly upbeat. That, or extremely sarcastic.
Today, in wanton retreat from all the orientation material I've been updating, I played Zelda in short, compensatory bursts in between packing up the booze cabinet so the Evil Landlord's sister could spirit it away. This necessitated rearranging (and incidentally New Year-cleaning) the kitchen to fit in all the cabinet contents, and thereafter constructing a map so the Evil Landlord could find it all again, although I admit it might have been more amusing to let him bumble around for ever before discovering that all the tall booze is now stashed in with the catfood.

The Zelda thing has re-started after a two-week hiatus after I had to call in stv as a consultant to get me through the horrible bit of the fire temple where I kept falling off the curving ramp trying to run it before the time limit, which he humiliated me utterly by doing first go, without touching the sides. In revenge I have subsequently kicked the butts of the bosses for both the fire and water temples, first go without touching the sides, and in the last one without even using up my healing potions. Currently hung up on trying to catch sufficiently large fish: got annoyed, watched more Supernatural, which (towards the end of Season 4) is extremely angsty and in which angels are bastards and Sam is being a dingbat. On the upside, meta episode is meta. In-episode slash references make me strangely happy.

I'm going to bed now, I seem to be babbling.
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Hah! Vindicated. I urge all currently wrong-thinking people (i.e. those who thought Star Trek was a good film) to read Sarah Rees Brennan's parody, which irrevocably highlights all the logical flaws in its "plot". She's a fanfic writer (wrote as Maya) who has just had her first original YA fantasy published, a copy of which I have ordered in recognition of her righteous mockery. (Actually, not really, I ordered the book yesterday because I really enjoy her writing. But the parody would have made me order it if I hadn't already.)

Now off to display my own, much less exciting Book over lunch to the HoD of the English dept who still refuses to hire me. Cosmic Irony ftw. At least it's raining. Rain makes me happy. Happily damp.

Edited to add: it occurs to me, belatedly, to comment on the fact that my subject line is a deliberately layered appropriation of a quote from a work which explicitly quotes, restates and parodies a film which is itself a self-conscious reworking which continually references the complex construction in fan consciousness of a rather old and klunky actual text we all hold dear. Baudrillard would be so proud. As, for that matter, would Jameson and old Uncle Umberto and all.
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Celebrated my apparent return to something vaguely resembling actual health (yay antibiotics!) by taking myself off to see the new Star Trek this morning. Um.

See, this film has generated a lot of buzz, and various trekkoids of varying degrees of frothing fandom have been fairly positive about it, and said it feels like Star Trek. Only problem is ... (deep breath, braces self) ... I disagree. I really didn't like it, and didn't think it felt like Star Trek at all. Which is a dicey position to take because, while I have an undying devotion to the unrealistic fizz of Alias and JJ Abrams in general, I haven't watched a hell of a lot of Star Trek in the first place, so what do I know? I know what impressions I have of it; more generally, I know what I like, sf wise. This wasn't it.

Things I liked about Star Trek:
  • The cast. I thought they were largely well cast and somewhat endearing, and worked well as young hot-shots. I particularly went for Bones, and I thought Spock pulled it off. Not enough Simon Pegg, though.
  • Um, not much else, actually.
Things I didn't like about Star Trek:
  • It was loud, scrappy, confused, over-busy and visually disorienting. My sense of the series has always been a kind of stripped-down essentialism - it had a moral and narrative clarity which this film simply lacked.
  • The spaceships. Not a single moment of "ooooh, cool!", which is what I watch space opera for.
  • The plot. It covered too much area with too little in the way of rationalisation, leaving gigantic holes all over the show. Too much time travel, transporter hopping, poor reasons for doing stuff, cadets mysteriously in charge, bad characterisation.
  • The "science". Bleah. Typical JJ, in fact - giant red balls of mysterious stuff which have actual effect on anything only when the narrative actually demands it.
  • Chekov's Russian accent - kept doing a Souf Effrican vowel-flattening thing, very distracting.
Overall, not an actively unpleasant way to spend a couple of hours, but really not Star Trek. Sorry.
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Even more things that make me cry: hearing that Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's. So bloody unfair that a mind and a wit like his is assaulted when someone like George W. Bush continues blithely on with what passes for an intellect untouched. Please join me in unrelenting psychic effort to effect a transferral of symptoms.

I am horribly headachy again, although I can't work out if that's Sid the Sinus Headache, post-interview trauma, or the after-effects of getting all weepy over Pterry. Am applying therapy with loud David Bowie in defiance of the exalted hush of the halls of learning. Bugger the halls of learning, anyway.

Last Night I Dreamed: I was involuntarily caught up in a Star Trek episode, in which someone cloned a Klingon into approximately five hundred copies, which ended up standing around introspectively on a beach somewhere. It transpired that a weird space/time wossname had pulled them all in from parallel universes. We got rid of them by running copper wire through the sand and frying them with electricity, whereupon they all vanished except the original.


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