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Helter Shelter on Lumley's Little Bites
at 11:18 on 19-02-2017 - link
Excellent review as always.
May I ask what it was that put you off Lumley in when you were younger?
Jubal on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 18:59 on 27-01-2017 - link
Oh yeah, agreed. I should have mentioned the fact that it completely wimps out of the Alfred subplot. Understandable for a cartoonish film, but certainly not for the tone the subplot was aiming for. Perhaps if they'd made it "Alfred's sick and Batman must find a cure before it's too late" from the start, it might have fit better.
The genuinely tender moments between Bruce and Alfred have stuck with me though, as much as Arnie and Uma chewing the day-glo scnenery.
Arthur B on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 17:00 on 27-01-2017 - link
Bruce Wayne having to deal with the fact that Alfred is mortal and, even assuming the best possible outcomes, is near-certain to predecease him is, I agree, a good idea for a subplot... but it would work a lot better shifted to a different Batman movie. Not an outright un-cartoony one, but a less cartoony one - if there was just a bit less of a gulf between the "woo wow cartoon badassery" sections and the "Um, this is something our badassery can't fix" sections you wouldn't lose the audience when swinging over the chasm between them.
It doesn't help that, as it turns out, this is actually a problem which Bruce totally can punch and superscience his way out of: Alfred's sick with an earlier stage of the same disease Mr. Freeze's wife has, and after defeating Mr. Freeze (with punching) and proving to him that it was Poison Ivy that tried to defrost Mrs. Freeze (using superscience - well, a tablet screen, but that was superscience in 1997), he's able to convince Freeze to hand over the cure (which is also superscience).
So fighting baddies and using whizzy gadgets turned out to be the solution after all, which rather chickens out of the "This is actually a problem that there is no neat solution to" angle. That's the other reason I think it should have been saved for a less cartoonish Batman movie - if you are going to do that confronting mortality thing, you need it to be in a setting where mortality is actually a problem, otherwise what you get is hollow, insincere, and unsatisfying. Woo, yay, Batman can defeat mortality by punching the right person. That's certainly an approach to the universal dilemma of entropy that we audience members can relate to!
The writing for Robin here was just a bit odd and I honestly don't entirely blame O'Donnell for struggling with it - you're right that it seems to assume he's much younger than he actually is, which is odd because he was a returning cast member from Batman Forever so it's not like Goldsman didn't know who he was writing for. (Also, wasn't he an adult in the previous film?) Plus the whole "Batman isn't sure he can keep Robin safe" subplot seems really off. It seems like something that should really have been part of Robin's origin story, rather than something that's handled later, and it relies on Batman showing a Very Specific Level of concern - namely, he's worried enough to be paternalistic and overprotective, but he's not worried enough to leave Dick at home.
I just checked the Razzie results for the 1998 ceremony and it turns out Uma lost the Worst Supporting Actress Razzie she was nominated for to... Alicia Silverstone, for her Batgirl role. That, I think, is entirely fair: aside from the fact that I honestly think Uma's performance was actually pretty good by the standards of the sort of movie this was trying to be, Alicia is outright awful in this. She somehow manages to be too cheesy in the serious bits whilst at the same time not convincingly embracing the cheese in the cartoonish bits, so she ends up being in the worst of all possible worlds.
O'Donnell also got a worst supporting actor nomination (along with Arnie as Freeze), but lost out in favour of slamming Dennis Rodman, whose Double Team performance meant that movie got 3 wins to Batman & Robin's 1. Also The Postman got 5 awards during the year, and this was the same year that Speed 2 beat Batman & Robin for worst sequel/remake.
Man, what was with Hollywood in 1997? That's like an incredible year for awful movies.
Jubal on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 16:33 on 27-01-2017 - link
I think part of the trouble with the Alfred subplot is not simply that it exists at all in a film that should have stuck to neon-hued BIFF POW KERTHWACK campery, but that taken purely on its own terms it works quite well. As a tale of a young man forced to confront mortality in his father figure in a way he can't just thump or use gadgets against, contrasting with Alfred's calmly stoic acceptance, those scenes really do come off. Clooney seems much happier working with those parts than the campery, and of course a veteran thesp like Gough has no trouble with it, and the effect is to throw the awkward inconsistencies into even sharper relief than if it was something that could just be glossed over.
And, of course, there's Chris O'Donnell. Quite why anyone decided to cast him in the role is beyond me. Not only is he generally not very good, but an awful lot of his lines and scenes in here seem to assume he's about fifteen or so, which O'Donnell is very evidently not. Burt Ward was also in his twenties when he played the TV Robin, but looked young enough to get away with it.
Arthur B on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 21:23 on 26-01-2017 - link
Batman and Robin certainly didn't make a loss, but it was the least profitable of that run of Batman films to the tune of about $100 million - and crucially, it only made a profit because it had decent overseas box office returns. As I understand it, the big studios tend to regard films as a failure if they don't get a profit on the domestic box office alone; that may be less true these days, but it was probably more true in the 1990s.
Plus it made a lot of its money in the first week or so; once the word of mouth got out its returns tanked.
Ibmiller on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 18:24 on 26-01-2017 - link
Kind of amusingly, I just watched Batman Forever for the first time (I actually watched Batman and Robin a few years ago), and I felt similarly about that film to what you're articulating here - that there was a vision that the filmmakers had, that they sometimes clashed (I think the biggest disconnect is clearly between Goldman and Schumacher, since the scripts consistently try to approach more serious questions about the Batman character and world, while the visual design and actor's performances generally go for the most effective sight gag), and that ultimately, they failed to convince anyone that they were worth taking seriously. However, I think both films succeeded in getting money from the public, even though they also succeeded in murdering the franchise and the idea of Batman's sidekicks in live action.
Of course, I hate the Burton Batman films with a deep loathing as well, so I guess I'm just a child of the Nolan films in terms of the way I approach Batman, even though I think their hyper-realistic approach is unsustainable and falls apart really quickly if you actually think about any of the three films carefully. But the way Nolan presents Batman, as competent and intelligent, in addition to his deep trauma etc etc, is much more enjoyable to someone who thinks Batman should be cool than Michael Keaton getting beaten up by thugs.
- Bill on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 18:48 on 24-01-2017 - link The Ballantine series introduced me to Cabell, Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, so I will always have a certain fondness for Carter.
- Ichneumon on People are Insects at 00:56 on 21-01-2017 - link I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Sören! It certainly is a curious tale, yet one which pulled at my heartstrings in a way that I can't easily describe. There is something melancholy and ominous yet fragile and tender in it, particularly the odd fragmentary memories of the mysterious intended recipient of the letters and the closing implication of the narrator undergoing their own metamorphosis akin to Longhorn's.
- Arthur B on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 21:23 on 20-01-2017 - link True enough; you just have to look at the Ballantine Adult Fantasy lineup to see that Carter had great taste when it came to other people's work.
- Ichneumon on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 19:09 on 20-01-2017 - link For all of his various glaring faults as a writer of fiction, of which sources suggest he was actually well aware, I have a lot of respect for Lin Carter as someone with a great eye for talents which he did not himself possess. In particular, I recall a rather extensive anecdote, I think by Robert Price, about how towards the end of his life Carter became a very avid fan of the young Thomas Ligotti, saying outright that not only did his own output utterly pale in comparison, but that even at that early stage Ligotti was well on his way to surpassing Lovecraft as a master of the form. Indeed, the Silver Scarab edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer may have been the last book that he ever read.
Arthur B on Dermore I See Of Him, Derleth I Like
at 14:56 on 17-01-2017 - link
A little addendum: in poking about the excellent Eldritch Dark website - more or less the only online source on Clark Ashton Smith you'll ever need - I notice they've posted a bunch of letters Smith wrote to Derleth in the immediate wake of Lovecraft's death.
Notably, Smith gives Derleth some sound advice on interpreting the Mythos that Derleth seems to have stubbornly ignored - specifically, he points out that each story should probably be taken on its own merits and that Lovecraft wasn't really striving for consistency from story to story - "HPL wished to indicate the natural growth of a myth-pattern through dim ages, in which the same deity or demon might present changing aspects", and "As to the Lovecraft mythos, probably he had no intention or desire of reducing it to a consistent and fully worked out system, but used it according to varying impulse and inspiration. The best way, it seems to me, is to enjoy each tale separately and without trying to link it closely with all the others. This is the way I have always read them: a rather non-analytic and non-critical way, perhaps; but possibly they were written in a similar spirit." I'm amused that Smith here is advancing a position which Derleth's critics (including me) have kept going to this day; he does seem to have some passing sympathy for Derleth's bid to find some broad underlying canon to the whole thing, but in attempting the exercise himself soon stumbles across contradictions (like the "Old Ones" sometimes denoting Cthulhu and his allies, and sometimes denoting their enemies).
The real gem, though is in this letter, where he goes off on one about a draft of The Return of Hastur. It's evident that a cross-section of Smith's ideas ended up working their way into the story, especially when it comes to the deformation and mutation of Tuttle's corpse - no coincidence that those are easily the best and most memorable bits of the tale - but it's also clear that Smith's hit on some of the basic problems of Derleth's Mythos writing, in the sense that a) it's too rushed and b) Derleth tries to cram in too many Mythos lore details irrelevant to the story. (Also, Derleth seems to have retained the involvement of Cthulhu, which I agree with Smith confuses the story needlessly.)
Moral of the story: if Clark Ashton Smith gives you feedback on your fantasy/horror story, pay attention.
- Sören Heim on People are Insects at 09:16 on 11-01-2017 - link It's interesting but maybe really just free word-association... but it would be nice to find out if there is a connection between greek Tainaron and the russian word for secret... with russia heavily influenced by greek orthodoxy...
Janne Kirjasniemi on People are Insects
at 12:00 on 10-01-2017 - link
No, you're right, I managed to mix together the j(й) and the n(н), which I always manage to do, when I believe I remember it and try to go on without checking first(since I've supposedly learned the alphabet once).
In any case, it is an interesting thing, the russian meaning.
Sören Heim on People are Insects
at 09:16 on 10-01-2017 - link
I tried to read up on the etymology on russian wikipedia, but I cant make sense of the abreviations... anyhow it's pronounced "tajnə" so soundwise not that close to Tanja, at least how I would pronounce it...
There is an ebook-version of all of Krohns work which might be helpfull in getting to know the author...
Janne Kirjasniemi on People are Insects
at 20:22 on 09-01-2017 - link
The name Taina and Tanja(which I think is more close to the russian тайна, although I'm not sure) both have the same etymology, being finnish versions of the russian Tatjana, which comes from latin Tatiana, a roman name and also the name of a martyr, whose story is pretty typical for a roman martyr and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the subject matter. This probably doesn't help much.
It does sound like an interesting book, which I'm kinda shamed I've missed, since I too have finnish as my mother's tongue. But it's good to have aspirations and to-do lists, I guess.
- Andy G on Ferretnibbles 1 - Die, Monster Die!, Dragon Quest VII, and Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition at 11:07 on 05-01-2017 - link I've also recently been playing the Enhanced Edition, which I enjoyed, but what's been particularly great is Siege of Dragonspear, which now slots in between BG1 and BG2. Lots of interesting new encounters, monsters and storytelling.
Robinson L on Dissecting Lovecraft Part 7: Innsmouth, Heald, and Hitler
at 03:30 on 31-12-2016 - link
I remember you bringing up Lovecraft’s socialism in passing in an earlier article in the series, and it seemed a bit odd to me, but I forgot to make a note of it at the time. Thanks for the explanation.
He also seems to have lost faith in democracy, arguing that voters now cast their votes on issues they don't really understand and that the hidden hand of plutocracy has been running the country for a good while already.
And yet liberal and progressive reformers here in the U.S. still talk and act as if this is a new thing, only going as far back as Citizens United or Glass-Steagall or Ronald Reagan at the earliest. (I, obviously, don’t think this inherent to democracy, unlike Lovecraft, but it’s pretty obvious that the U.S. political system and democracy rarely intersect except in rhetoric, where it’s ubiquitous.)
I use the term “ideological fascist” very deliberately, since Lovecraft was reportedly not very keen on actual fascist bullying and intimidation.
For some reason, I’m now getting a mental image of 8-year-old Lovecraft in the schoolyard, jumping up and down like he has a full bladder and whining, “You guys, you’re doing it all wrong,” at Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.
Oddly, Kamog’s griping about the different properties of men’s and women’s minds seem to be an instance of Lovecraft pandering to popular prejudices of the time, since his correspondence reveals that, though a decade earlier he had been dismissive of women’s intellectual powers, by this time Lovecraft had come to the conclusion that women were just as capable as men and blamed their subjugation on “Oriental” influences.
I suppose it’s fitting, given everything I’ve heard about Lovecraft, that even when he does come around to a fairly progressive stance on some social issue, he’s still willing to jettison these sensibilities for the sake of selling a story (which, if I’m being generous, I suppose he might have needed to do to get the story published, and this was his livelihood, after all), and more tellingly, that he managed to blame people of color for society’s less progressive views on said issue.
- Arthur B on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 00:23 on 27-12-2016 - link I love that if only because I cannot think of a single pair of fantasy writers so far apart on the highbrow literature/lowbrow hackwork spectrum than Crowley and Carter.
- https://openid-provider.appspot.com/dudewhatwalks on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 22:16 on 26-12-2016 - link My favorite Lin Carter anecdote has got to be this one from John Crowley.
- Jubal on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 05:22 on 23-12-2016 - link Two main thoughts spring to mind from all this. The first is that I need to start using the term "Copulated awesomely" as often as possible. The second is that rhyming "man" and "Necronomicon" does work if it's read in a Jamaican accent, which raises all sorts of interesting prospects of mythos Dub poetry. Can someone get Benjamin Zephaniah onto this?
Robinson L on Red Seas Under Red Skies
at 00:00 on 22-12-2016 - link
Cheriola: book 3, when encountering a random pair of gay lovers making out in a garden and being tempted to go through their discarded clothing for their wallets, he stops his kleptomaniac impulse by reminding himself that doing malice to happy lovers would be bad karma.
That was cute. Another very minor point I appreciated from that book was in a scene where Locke has to hold Sabetha as part of this play they’re performing and the narrator (speaking broadly from Locke’s perspective) talks about what it’s like for someone to hold another person whom they’re attracted to. It would have been so easy to gender the subject of attraction in that sentence as female, or to say something like “a person of the opposite sex whom they’re attracted to.” But no, it’s a general statement, and so the book sticks with generalities, not making stereotypes about the genders or orientations involved. Again, a minor point, but one I’ve seen even a lot of nominally well-intentioned works fail at, so I was mildly impressed.
I was genuinely amazed at Sabetha - she's the best feminist (NOT straw-feminist!) character I've ever seen a male author write.
I think it was this part which finally clinched it for me to read the series. As a male author myself, I can’t help but take it as a challenge.
As mentioned earlier, though, I feel like we didn’t get much sense of Sabetha’s internal life, except as it relates to Locke, and she has to tell Locke (and the reader) what particularly attracts her to Locke, rather than the book showing us.
It probably was implausible to have 16-year-old Locke be so receptive to Sabetha’s Feminism 101 lectures, but for me it was preferable to the second hand embarrassment of having Locke throw out insipid, MRA-apologist arguments for Sabetha to shoot down.
Since I’m not seeing a Republic of Thieves review on the horizon, I suppose I might as well give my thoughts on the book in general. Overall, I liked it, and Sabetha is a fine addition to the series’ cast.
I also kind of dug the way the main caper of the book was not a high stakes life or death game of taking on some brutal, affluent, entitled snot or other, but rather fixing an upcoming election. It shows you can have all the same drama and intrigue without putting countless lives on the line, which comes as a nice change of pace. (Granted, it turns out there are countless lives on the line in the Bondsmagi’s larger game, but that only comes up after the whole thing is over, so in my view it still counts.)
My political sensibilities being what they are, I particularly liked the election angle to the plot because the book depicts it as 1) an aristocratic exercise with no pretense of populist input (only a small fraction of the city’s residents have the franchise), and 2) a complete farce in any case, because who gets elected has f**k all to do with who’s better leadership material or has the best policies – the book dispenses with such preposterous fig leaves and dives straight into the real heart of electoral politics: naked corruption, double dealing, and general chicanery. There’s also the implication that who gets elected is ultimately trivial in terms of how Karthain is actually run, because the real ruling elite (in this case, the Bondsmagi), make damn sure that in practice, it gets run exactly the way they believe produces the greatest benefit for the city’s inhabitants. (The book seems to suggest that what they think is best for Karthain really is, which is where its views and mine diverge, but other than that, I’m completely on board with the book’s representation.)
Locke’s backstory seemed … really out of place. Given how magic has always taken such a tertiary role in the books up to that point, I didn’t expect it to play such a huge part in Locke’s past. This felt like the backstory to a character in a very different type of story, honestly. But other than that it’s just kind of, “whatever.”
Robinson L on Red Seas Under Red Skies
at 20:30 on 21-12-2016 - link
And now it’s time for another installment of Robinson Dissects the Ethics of the Gentleman Bastard Books. This week’s episode: Captain Zamira Drakasha Edition.
So yeah, Zamira is all kinds of awesome, but like with the other main characters, it’s best to turn one’s critical thinking off when thinking about her actions, or it becomes very hard to think of her as any kind of hero.
Case in point: she takes Locke, Jean, and the rest of their sorry crew onto her ship as probationary pirates. You do good, you play by the rules, you become full crew members; you step out of line, you die. All pretty standard stuff, except it turns out when she says she will kill you for breaking the rules, she means it.
One of the guys who originally signed on with Locke and Jean now despises the two of them intensely and is kind of an asshole in general, so the reader is primed to dislike him. He’s getting picked on by some of Zamira’s crew members, and finally he gets pushed too far and grabs a weapon to defend himself with. But laying hands on a weapon is against Zamira’s rules, so she has him executed on the spot. For the kind of mistake that anybody could make. And the reader is supposed to be okay with this because the guy was made to be unlikable. It could just as easily have been someone like Jean or Locke making a similar mistake, prompting Zamira to execute them, and the reader to hate her, in turn. We’re not invited to judge her character based on her actions, but on how we feel about the characters she acts against.
Later, there’s the time when we first see Zamira’s Poison Orchid attack a merchant ship, which involves pretending to be in peril themselves. As the pirates are preparing to board the ship, one of Zamira’s lieutenants tells the new recruits “if any of you are feeling moral qualms about attacking these merchants, just remember that they thought we were in distress, and only came to help us when we signaled we were willing to give them unconditional salvage rights.” Which, if you stop to think about it, is a really clever rationalization to psych people up to potentially commit an atrocity. I mean, if that were the point of the sequence—which it isn’t—I would’ve said it was brilliant. For all they know, the captain of the merchant ship was just a huge asshole, and literally everyone else aboard was clamoring to help the Poison Orchid right from the beginning.
It also seemed like, in the three way struggle between the Archon, Stragos; the proprietor of the big gambling den, Requin; and the members of the Priori; Stragos winds up being the Designated Villain of the book, not because his actions are worse than those of Requin or the Priori (we’ve already established they can be equally vicious), but because it happens to be Stragos’ actions which got Jean’s girlfriend killed. He gets punished, whereas Requin and the Priori members get happy endings, only because Stragos hurt someone the reader is supposed to care about.
Locke and Jean are quick to forgive the Priori member who was sending assassins after them because the Bondsmages told him the two Gentleman Bastards were going to cause him trouble. Which, okay, the assassins all failed, and all got killed, but by the logic of this story they were probably all Bad Men who deserved what they got, so no harm, no foul, right? Except, no, there was harm. One of the attempts to kill Locke and Jean was a really convoluted scheme to give them free drinks which were laced with poison. And the thing about convoluted schemes is that they’re full of holes, as in this one where Locke and Jean weren’t interested in the drink in question, and passed theirs on to the dockworker at the next table, who proceeded to die in their stead. No one in the story ever gets any kind of comeuppance for this murder, ‘cause I guess we’re not supposed to care about red shirts.
So basically, what I’m trying to say here is that the ethics of this series are all kinds of messed up if you look closely.
Robinson L on Red Seas Under Red Skies
at 20:15 on 21-12-2016 - link
Cheriola: You know, oddly most of the things you mention didn't bother me at all. Except the utter pointlessness of the opening cliffhanger.
That pretty much sums up my feelings about the book, too. I guess I just think of this series as running on Rule of Cool and nothing else. Locke and Jean become pirates? Sure, why not? Doesn’t make sense? Who cares? And of course they’re going to complain about how ridiculous the Archon’s plan for them is, but that’s part of the fun.
Dialogue’s all the same? Ehn, so what? It’s all fun. And like you, I relish the modern snappiness/obscenity.
I mean, I don’t blame Wardog or Empink or anyone else who is bothered by this stuff, but just for myself, it seemed fine.
Wardog: I genuinely dig the exuberance and the irreverence.
That’s me, all the way (well, more like ~90% …)
I think the series is of two minds about whether Locke is actually supposed to be kind of an awful person or a stand up guy who happens to be a criminal—but as explained in my comment to the Lies review, I’ve chosen not to engage with those aspects and treat the whole thing as a rollicking adventure yarn. I will, however, once again point out a couple instances from this book of Character We’re Supposed to Root For Acts Like a Shitheel and Is In No Way Critiqued For It By the Text presently.
And sadly the delicacy of touch seems to have been replaced by the typical fantasy fiction obsession with geographic detail.
Okay, here we come to a criticism I wholeheartedly agree with. Ye GODS but the description got tedious at times. It got tedious on audiobook; I shudder to think of trying to slog through it in text format.
I didn’t so much resent the book ending on a cliffhanger – although by the time I got to it, <Republic of Thieveslt/i> was already out, so I knew I’d be reading the next installment in a few months. Mostly, though, I was just relieved the cliffhanger revolved around Locke’s survival rather than Jean’s, because there’s a chance, however slight, of the series killing off Locke’s sidekick before the final book, whereas there’s absolutely none with Locke. So I appreciate the book making it absolutely clear that it’s not really a question of if the poisoned character will survive, but how.
His [Jean’s] short-lived relationship - although actually moderately engaging, while it lasts - is only further evidence of this. You can see its inevitably tragic conclusion approaching on the horizon like the sails of the good ship Obvious.
I think you undersell the extent to which the tragic conclusion was telegraphed beforehand. We’re talking a MegaBrooks at the very least. And I don’t think it would be humanly possible for the way it played out to have been any more cliché. Not to mention the whole fridging angle. Easily the lowest point of the series so far for me.
I thought RSURS handled the aftermath of said inevitable tragic conclusion a heck of a lot less annoyingly than most other books with similar big deaths I’ve encountered, though (lookin’ at you, Harry Potter). Jean is, of course, grief-stricken, and the book portrays the depth of his unhappiness while mostly avoiding an Epic Angst Sequence (seriously, there are few things in fiction less engaging than characters sitting around moping), and even sets up some genuinely touching moments, such as in the immediate aftermath of Ezri’s death, when Locke talks Jean down by threatening to throw himself at Jean, forcing the latter to beat the crap out of him (Locke), “and then you’ll feel terrible.”
Yes, pretending Jean is anything more than Locke’s sidekick is on par with “suddenly, Harry realized Dumbledore had actually been a fully-fleshed, three-dimensional character the entire time.” (Book 3 confirms this, when, after Locke is all patched up, Jean slips happily back into his role as Locke’s Number 2 without a hint of lingering grief over Ezri’s death, even as he’s helping out his best buddy romance Sabetha.) However, I thought the conflict between Locke and Jean set off by this outburst of Jean’s you quote in the article was actually pretty decent in terms of a “tensions between the series’ Main Pairing” subplot, which are usually of the eye-bleedingly terrible variety.
And what’s this guff about “moderately engaging?” I found it one of the two most engrossing parts of the story, along with some of Locke and Jean’s interactions. Jean and Ezri are adorable in every single scene they’re together: they bond over martial arts (with Jean being impressed that tiny Ezri actually managed to take him down at first), and their mutual affection for the Gentleman Bastardverse’s Shakespeare analogue. And then there’s the celebration scene where the two of them officially get together, soon after Jean has had his argument with Locke. And he’s keeping his distance from Ezri and it seems like at first he’s heeding Locke’s “you need to stay away from her, bro” bullshit, but it turns out, no, he’s craning away because he’s near-blind and he’s trying to see her properly and it’s incredibly cute you guys, like seriously.
Another thing I really like about the Jean / Ezri relationship is that the presentation feels balanced. I instantly get why Ezri is attracted to Jean as much as why Jean is attracted to Ezri, and in that scene during the celebration where, of course, Jean is being all shy and awkward, there’s a part where we suddenly see Ezri being shy and awkward as well. I’ve read a lot of similar romance arcs—especially those told from the male perspective—where the viewpoint character is vulnerable and complex while their love interest is all strong and confident and basically put on a pedestal.
I actually found it more engaging than Locke’s relationship with Sabetha in Republic of Thieves. While I agree with Cheriola that Sabetha is a great character, we don’t get much sense of her interior life, and the only times she displays vulnerability are when it directly relates to Locke. Also, it takes a long time into the story for her to tell Locke and the reader why she’s attracted to him, and I don’t feel the text really shows her being attracted the way RSRUS does with Ezri.
RSURS opens with Locke and Jean caught at crossbow-point on the docks and then, gasp, ever-faithful Jean turns on Locke. The novel then spools backwards in time to show you how they got themselves into this mess and, yes, it's arresting except that it's basically just like Alias, a cliff-hanger critical on the surface but ultimately completely meaningless and wrapped up quicker than a streaker at a tennis match.
Oh my god, that was the worst; maybe even worse than Ezri’s death.
I detest flash-forward openings as a general rule. I feel like there may have been one or two I’ve encountered which actually worked okay, but if so I can’t remember them now. Those possible examples aside, at best, flash-forward openings contribute f***-all of substance to the story, and at worst they undermine immersion by distracting the reader from the current action with questions which aren’t going to be answered for another 200-400 pages.
To be fair, some flash-forward openings, while still crap, sometimes do something clever with the reader’s expectations (I remember one where a guy wakes up and wonders what the heck is going on, and when we get to that part of the book in turns out the original guy died, and this is a clone, so that waking up sequence is technically his birth). RSURS is not one of those stories, though. The sequence takes on no new significance or added meaning for having read the rest of the book up to that point.
But wait, it gets better! Jean turning on Locke is in itself not terribly surprising: they are master con artists, after all. The linchpin (no pun intended) of the tension to this scene is that Jean fails to give the hand signals which mean “this is a scam, play along,” leaving Locke, and the readers, to wonder if this is a real betrayal, after all. Then, after Jean has dispatched the two assassins he says: “Oh, yeah, didn’t you see me giving the hand signal which means ‘this is a scam, play along’?” and Locke is all like, “Gosh, man, I must’ve missed it.” And that’s an end to it. Are you f**king kidding me?
Granted, this sort of stuff happens all the time in real life, but narratively speaking, it’s the worst kind of cheap trick for creating false tension. It might have been forgivable if there were some long-term consequences to the whole business. Locke and Jean have both been dosed with a slow-acting poison at this point in the story, and I thought maybe Locke’s failure to notice the hand signal was an early warning sign that the poison is beginning to effect his perception. But no. Or maybe Jean really was considering turning on Locke for some reason or other and then had a change of heart, and made up the part about the hand signal. No sign of that, either.
Look, I’m glad Jean doesn’t actually betray Locke, because as story turns go, that would have been at least as irritating as Ezri’s death, probably worse. But first you hit me with this bullshit flash-forward, then you double down on the bullshit by revealing the whole thing was just a trifling misunderstanding with no effing consequences whatsoever? What a waste of time.
… So yeah, on balance, I was not well pleased or amused by this sequence, especially as our hook into the main story.
- Arthur B on Dissecting Lovecraft Part 5: Home Again, Home Again, Cthulhu Fhtagn at 19:38 on 21-12-2016 - link The example I'd point to would be things like the way Ulthar is there, and has the local legends associated with it, and the cats there are still significant, and it becomes the closest thing Carter has to a home base for the quest given how often it's revisited.