Book vs Movie: Matilda – What’s the Difference?

Let’s have a look at one of the adaptations of Matilda by Roald Dahl in this What’s the Difference?

Video: Matilda by Roald Dahl – Lost in Adaptation.

Recently our youngest has been on something of a Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith read-a-thon. She is very much looking forward to the new Matilda film coming out soon and very much enjoyed the book.

Part of the reason for her enjoyment was that, unlike The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith, the movie protagonist is a girl just like in the book.

“Why would they make the girl into a boy for the film?”

Yes, Hollywood, why indeed.

I can vaguely remember watching the 90s film of Matilda and enjoying it. Our youngest loved it. And we’ll inevitably sit down as a family to watch the new version. And this is in no small part due to the lack of kids books and adaptations featuring a female protagonist. You have to make the most of the handful of female-lead books and movies aimed at the middle-grade audience (YA is better served, but comes with slightly more stabbings and blood-drinking than we’re comfortable exposing a kid to).

As with many of Dahl’s children’s books, the treatment of kids comes from a different era. Matilda was published in 1988, yet much of the way schools were run had already begun to change by then. In many ways, the mistreatment of students by teachers would probably feel more familiar to my parent’s generation than is does to me, and feels odd to our kids. Yet it still manages to be entertaining to kids, if our children are any baramoter of what kids these days like.

Book vs Movie: I Robot – What’s the Difference?

For this Book vs Movie post, I’m hitting up a different sort of comparison video as my starting point. Sage from Just Write is not a fan of the I Robot movie and dives into Asimov’s books, adaptations, and the Will Smith movie.

Video: I Hate I Robot from Just Write.

So, I’m actually quite a fan of the I Robot movie and didn’t really enjoy the book. This puts the movie in the rare position of being better (in my humble opinion). Now, in my defence, it is a Will Smith action film and Asimov is a dry author who had busy hands – of course all sci-fi authors of that generation need to be graded from sexist to loving YA just a bit too much.

I haven’t read the detective novels in the I Robot series, which could actually be as good as discussed in the above video. But aside from an interesting series of ideas exploring how robots might come to understand/interpret the “three laws of robotics”, the Asimov novel was pretty bland.

Meanwhile, I Robot the movie is a Will Smith movie. You know, back before the late 2000s when he lost his mojo. Sure, it has all the depth of a Will Smith movie and has the dialogue of a Will Smith movie, but that’s also what you watch it for.

Although, Sage’s insights into the original script make me want to see that film made. I understand that movie studios love keeping hold of the IP they license by slapping it on any script they happen to find lying around, but it’s clear that some of those scripts could be interesting movies all on their own.

Maybe there’s a chance now to get both. Asimov’s The Foundation series TV adaptation – which I felt spent most of its time screaming “This is Sci-Fi” at the audience rather than just getting on with the job of being sci-fi – is getting a second season and seems to have been mostly well received. And remakes, reboots, prequels, sequels, and reimaginings are all the rage at the moment. So maybe someone will dust off that original script and get halfway through making it when they tack I Robot back onto it with (insert major star who hasn’t assaulted anyone at the Oscars lately here) starring.

Book vs Movie: Children of Men – What’s the Difference?

Let’s talk about depressing sci-fi with Children of Men, book versus movie.

Video: Children of men – what’s the difference?

The first time I watched Children of Men I wasn’t a fan. It was bleak, cold, and there was a feeling of pointless hopelessness. Even when I rewatched it, I can’t say I enjoyed the film. But I did become something of a fan of the film.

That’s something I often find with sci-fi movies. They may not be films I enjoy watching but they are rewarding, engrossing, and poignant experiences.

While this isn’t unique to sci-fi, it seems to attract filmmakers to the genre – when they’re not busy getting a hardon for pew pew noises. But I’d say sci-fi novels don’t have this same effect on me. With a few notable exceptions, like 1984, most sci-fi novels I’ve read are enjoyable while being rewarding, engrossing, and poignant.

The question then arises is why novels and movies differ in this way. I’d assert that the reason the books tend to be enjoyable is that I’d have given up on them otherwise. A 90-120 minute film is something you can tolerate a bit of bleakness in to come away rewarded. A book takes a lot longer to read, particularly in the sci-fi genre which is yet to produce a novel under 600 pages in a 6-volume series. You’d better believe the reader needs to be engrossed for the book version, which will require a bit less bleakness than movies can get away with.

Book vs Movie: The Night Manager – What’s the Difference?

If you like spies, then this instalment of Lost in Adaptation will be for you.

Video: The Night Manager – Lost in adaptation.

Many many years ago I decided I loved spy novels and read the Game, Set, Match series by Len Deighton. Not satisfied with books that mostly went over my head, I was recommended some John Le Carre. Again, I feel like the much younger me got lost in the ins and out of the spy world of Le Carre’s stories.

But then two things happened. The first was they made a pretty decent film adaptation of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. Then they cast Tom Hiddleston in a star-studded series adaptation of The Night Manager. So obviously, I was ready for my Le Carre.

I think the TV series was okay. The acting was just terrific, particularly from a relative Aussie newcomer in Elizabeth Debicki, but a lot of the scenes and details felt contrived. This really undermined any tension for me.

For example, the main antagonist played by Hugh Laurie is continually suspicious of everyone around him, but he is just a little bit too ready to accept Tom Hiddleston’s protagonist into the fold. “Here you go, you’re now in charge of one of my shell companies!” This would have been better if it was also great blackmail and/or worked as some sort of leverage against a potential spy (or maybe it was and I just forget that detail).

At some stage, the more mature and debonair me will revisit some of the books and authors I read when I was probably too young to appreciate them. Le Carre and Deighton are on that list.

Book vs Movie: A Clockwork Orange – What’s the Difference?

I will resist the urge to use Burgess’ slang in this entire What’s the Difference with A Clockwork Orange.

Video: A Clockwork Orange – Lost in Adaptation.

Despite having previously covered A Clockwork Orange, Dominic’s video raised some points I didn’t discuss.

The mention of the missing chapter in the US editions of the book reminded me of the far more acceptable British version I had read. Because it has been quite some time since I read the book, I had forgotten entirely that Burgess had ultimately said “people grow up” or can actually change. Leaving this out of the US version and thus the film is both bad form and entirely American.

Given that most of the novel is essentially a drawn-out complaint about kids these days, it’s kinda important to acknowledge that ultimate point by Burgess. But in the land of gun-toting ‘Mericans, it makes sense they’d prefer the ending that justifies them standing on their porch with a shotgun grunting “get off my lawn.”

The other thing I was reminded of was the lexicon glossary. Burgess included a section (at the end? Could have been at the beginning) that roughly translated the slang into something approaching English. I can still remember continuously flipping back and forth as I read, deciphering as I went. It wasn’t a long novel, but I do remember doing this for the whole book.

I wonder if a more mature me would have more or less trouble with this slang aspect? I do know the more mature me would certainly have less patience.

Book vs Movie: Dune – What’s the Difference

The spice must something something.

Video: Dune – Lost in Adaptation.

While I don’t want to make a habit of doing multiple posts about books that get multiple movie adaptations, I’m doing it for Dune. Previously I discussed the very 80s adaptation of Dune. And now I’ve finally gotten around to watching the Dennis Villeneuve version.

It was fine.

I’ve watched a few sci-fi adaptations lately that spent a lot of time screaming “THIS IS SCI-FI” at the audience *cough Foundation cough*. So I was happy to see something so obviously sci-fi that didn’t do that. I also really like the world-building, which was mostly just long shots of locations. Made everything feel big.

But the new Dune kinda felt like an overly long and tension/stakes free movie. The soundtrack was bland and built zero themes to call back and emphasise key moments. Given the runtime and world-building, there still managed to be gaping holes in the story and consistency. I liked what they tried to do with the timeline visions, but it was a little confusing and could have been done better. And Jason Momoa managed to stand out in his role despite showing up as Jason Momoa.

To give an example of the consistency issue, I’ll mention the final scene (spoilers). Paul is shown to be capable with a knife early on but doesn’t show himself to be a warrior. Meanwhile, we get a heap of rhetoric about how tough and awesome the Fremen are, even a scene where they ambush and wipe out a unit of elite Sardaukar. Then in the final scene, Paul just casually bests a high-ranking Fremen (/spoilers). This all felt really inconsistent and in desperate need of establishment.

I will say that many of the issues with the movie are also issues with the source material, including the one I highlighted above. But for the most part, this was a pretty good adaptation. I’m just not sure it was a great film.

My review of the Dune novel here, and of the series here.

Picture: Sandworm promo pic from Dune 2021. Ironically clearer and more impressive than its appearance in the film as it was hidden in the dark.

Book vs Movie: Good Omens – What’s the Difference?

Let’s talk about the greatest book of all time and its TV show adaptation.

Video: Good Omens – Lost in Adaptation.

Roughly every decade I re-read Good Omens. It’s a fun novel that I recommend everyone read. They even have it as an audiobook, so no excuses!

When I first heard they were making a TV show adaptation, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. Pratchett’s work has a habit of being turned into forgettable shows and movies. But then I heard about David Tennant and Michael Sheen being cast. With Tennant attached to a project, you can guarantee it will be watchable, and the two real-life buddies have great chemistry (just watch Staged).

I still waited for some confirmation that the show would do the novel justice. My wife bought the series and laughed the whole way through. So I thought I’d ask her if it was any good before diving in myself. She said I might enjoy it.

The thing that impressed me about this adaptation was that it really “got it”. Obviously, it helps that one of the authors took the adaptation on as a labour of love and to honour his late friend. The idea that Gaimen had a good handle on his and Pratchett’s work seems like an obvious thing, but being the author of the book doesn’t make you a good screenwriter or the person to do the adaptation (looking at you Stephen King).

Seeing a show that manages to make changes to the source material that you’d swear were there all along is a testament to nailing an adaptation.

I’m crossing my fingers on season 2.

Book vs Movie: Rashomon – What’s the Difference?

In this month’s What’s the Difference? it’s time to see which version of the material is the correct one with Rashomon.

Video: Rashomon – What’s the Difference by CineFix.

I’m going to be honest and say that until watching the above video, I’d never heard of Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Of course, I was aware of the Rashomon Effect, just trust me that my definition of it is correct. And it is hard to call yourself a movie lover if you aren’t able to name at least two Akira Kurosawa films.

I’m not a true movie lower though. I can only name the Kurosawa films made into Spaghetti Westerns: Yojimbo (A Fistfull of Dollars) and Seven Samurai (The Magnificent Seven). At least now I can name three.

Book vs Movie: Field of Dreams – What’s the Difference?

Do you remember when Kevin Costner was a star? Then you might appreciate this month’s Lost in Adaptation on Field of Dreams.

Video: Field of Dreams – Lost in Adaptation.

The point Dominic Noble makes at the end of the above video is a good one. This is not the sort of book I would have thought would make for a good watchable movie. But often we can get stuck in our favourite genres (or whatever) and a movie adaptation can come along and shake us out of that rut.

That said, the only thing I really ever enjoyed about Field of Dreams was the references made about it in other movies. As for reading the book, this Aussie raised on cricket thinks baseball is too boring to read about.

Book vs Movie: The Snowman – What’s the Difference?

Let’s explore a Scandinavian crime fiction classic, with Lost in Adaptation.

Video: The Snowman – Lost in Adaptation

Many years ago, when I was on something of a crime fiction bender, I stumbled across Jo Nesbo. People were raving about his take on the Scandinavian crime genre and how interesting it was.

Part of this raving was that he was touring Australia promoting the film Headhunters (an interesting thriller movie) and exhibited a charming and charismatic demeanour as he humbly gave credit to his novel’s English translator. Yes, that’s right, despite his fluency in English and the majority of his book sales being to the English-speaking book market, he lets someone else translate them.

So I picked up a few Harry Hole novels and read one.

Nesbo himself referred to the series as being inspired by Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, which I think is a fair comparison. But, the difference is that Connelly tends toward the dry real-world investigation influenced by his time as a crime reporter, whereas Nesbo tends toward the excitant – as much as a police procedural can do so.

Why did you read only one of the novels you bought?

That’s a very good assumed question from the assumed audience.

There are a few reasons. The first was that sometime after reading my first Nesbo novel I’d grown tired of the crime genre. As Dominic Noble mentions in the video, there are often numerous contrived red herrings in these sorts of books that start to become tedious rather than exciting and interesting. Often the main character is unlikeable or would be the person everyone at a party avoids due to their predilection for telling stories about linoleum texture styles through time.

The second reason was that, outside of a few exceptions, crime novels are part of the normalisation of the exceptional with a side serve of copaganda. When you start looking at crime data and policing and the giant chasm between that reality and the perceptions of crime and police, it becomes hard to enjoy this type of escapist fiction.

The third reason is something Dominic Noble alludes to in the video. The books aren’t exactly good. With a bit of distance from the genre now, I find myself less enamoured with authors like Nesbo, and thus have no real desire to read more of his stuff.

And on this point, I’m reminded of something Lauren Beukes said about being on a panel with Jo Nesbo. He was describing going to her home country of South Africa and how he got kitted out in body armour, had an armed guard to go places, etc, etc, and she commented how it was nice exaggeration that makes for a good story, but doesn’t really work if you give it any thought or know something about it.*

* I may be putting words in Beukes’ mouth here as this is a remembered comment from at least a decade ago.

Video: The Art of Editing and The Snowman by Dan Olsen aka Folding Ideas

Book vs Movie: The Beach – What’s the Difference?

Remember that time Leonardo DiCaprio used to date women his own age? Me neither. So let’s reminisce together and look at What’s the Difference between the book and the movie of The Beach.

Video: The Beach – Lost in Adaptation by Dominic Noble

The Beach was one of those books I picked up and put down. I can’t remember if that was before or after the movie – who am I kidding, it was probably after. But I do know that after watching the film, I’ve felt no compulsion to rewatch the film nor retry reading the book.

As Dominic discusses in his summary of the themes in the video, the hypocrisy of the characters wanting to find the non-tourist trap locations that only they can be tourists in is a great idea. But I’m not sure this idea was explored in an interesting enough way. Maybe it was in the book, hence its word-of-mouth success. Or maybe the book just executed a more engaging narrative that twenty-something me didn’t appreciate – I bet there wasn’t a single chapter devoted to things exploding after someone performed an amazingly athletic flying kick detailed in multiple paragraphs.

Actually, there’s an idea for a reboot: The Beach starring The Rock.

Toni Morrison’s Opus About Confronting a Terrible Past

Time for some Toni Morrison and her most cancelled book.

Beloved is the magnum opus of the late, great Toni Morrison. It has become a key piece of literature taught in schools and is considered one of the great pieces of American literature. To understand Beloved, we must first look at the woman behind the pages: Nobel Prize Winner Toni Morrison.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail MaryProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The universal jazz hands.

Scientists around the world have discovered two things: a band of radiation (Petrova Line) and the sun is dimming. It soon becomes obvious that the two are related and the problem is getting worse, potentially world-ending worse. Rayland Grace, a high school teacher and former astrobiologist, is enlisted to examine a sample from the Petrova Line and discovers a new lifeform: Astrophage. Can the world and Rayland save the planet?

So let’s get this out of the way upfront: I loved this book.

My problem with reading Andy Weir books continues. Ever since I first purchased a copy of The Martian, I have failed to read a Weir book without it disappearing and requiring me to buy another copy or (in this instance) borrowing from the library. I’m sure there is a valuable lesson for me to learn about reading books as soon as they are purchased, but my TBR pile laughs at the mere suggestion of this idea.

A new twist to this adventure was accidentally ordering a Spanish version of Project Hail Mary from the library to replace my stolen permanently borrowed copy. My passable English (I still don’t have a good handle on American despite my best efforts) and primary school level French was not quite up to that particular challenge.

Weir continues his protagonist sciencing their way through one catastrophe after another disaster style of story with Project Hail Mary. He has a formula of sorts and it works. Even if some of it can feel a bit contrived or an obvious part of the Weir formula at times (my wife made a good point about some similarities between Weir’s protagonists).

My highlight from this book was the character of Rocky. This situation could have been handled any number of ways. A lot of authors would have gone for a much more scared, nasty, or aggressive route, but Weir went for nice and compassionate. Which, in turn, drove a more interesting plot – with the nice addition of some Wittgenstein inspired language problem-solving.

I’m looking forward to having Weir’s next book stolen from me.

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Book review: Callahan’s Legacy by Spider Robinson

Callahan's Legacy (Mary's Place #2, Callahan's #7)Callahan’s Legacy by Spider Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The next round is on me.

Jack and Zoey are two bar owners expecting their first child last week. The bar’s patrons are also their close friends who hail from all walks of life, time, and weird occurrences involving saving the world. What should be just another fun evening of drinks and song is interrupted by new patrons and trouble.

The Callahan novels were recommended to me via a list of humorous books. The only one I could lay my hands on easily was Callahan’s Legacy, one of the later instalments in the series. It seems to be representative of the rest of the books, as near as I can tell, and fans seem to enjoy it.

I’m really not sure what to say and how to rate this book. It was mildly amusing, the banter flowed freely, and some of the puns were ingenious. But I could pretty fairly say that virtually nothing happened in the story. This was pretty much a novel devoted to documenting an evening of drinks between friends, some of whom are aliens, resurrected early 20th-century scientists, and people from the future.

I’ll be generous and give this 3 stars because I quite liked the joke about the Buddhist Burger Joint that made you one with everything.

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Book vs Movie: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – What’s the Difference?

This month in What’s the Difference? let’s discuss a classic five-part novel trilogy and its movie adaptation.

Video: Lost in Adaptation – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy part 1
Video: Lost in Adaptation – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy part 2

I love the Hitchhiker’s books. In the above videos, Dominic Noble covers a lot of what was changed from the book(s) to the movie and I agree with his points about how they managed to ruin the adaptation. But unlike Dominic, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the movie. I think this comes down to how I largely dismissed the film as either:

  • A very American homage to the Hitchhiker’s books, or;
  • A very soulless adaptation by the Hollywood machine.

Take, for example, the point about Arthur Dent being portrayed as a snivelling loser with all the cringe humour to support that portrayal. I really don’t enjoy cringe humour and laughing at “losers”. Having them be the main character is an even worse idea. But I can see how an American or Hollywood adaptation would take the idea of an incompetent and insecure (i.e. British) character and make them into Loser McCringefest.

The stamp of this failure to understand what the jokes actually were is all over the movie. And it seems to be a common problem when American studios take British material and try to adapt it. There are numerous TV shows that American audiences have loved, which a production studio takes as the impetus to make a version without subtitles*, and then somehow they make a pilot or show that just mangles the entire point. American audiences really deserve better.

There’s actually a good documentary on this issue done as part of the Red Dwarf DVD extras. Essentially, the production studios don’t really understand what is funny about the source material and thus what any changes they make will do to the adaptation.

So I don’t hate the movie adaptation of one of my favourite books. Because I don’t regard it as a real adaptation.

* Oh, you think I jest? I’m afraid not. When I visited the US of A I was surprised to see subtitles being used when people of non-North American origin spoke English. I mean, Scottish people having subtitles I can kinda understand, but Irish people? At least it was good to bust the myth that Americans can’t watch stuff with subtitles…

Book review: War on Peace by Ronan Farrow

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American InfluenceWar on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diplomacy? No idea where that is. Do they have any schools that we can bomb there?

In War on Peace, Ronan Farrow argues that since the end of the Cold War, the USA has been gradually cutting back its diplomatic resources whilst supercharging militarism. He attempts to document examples of how military figures have access, resources, and influence on the way the US (and its allies) conducts itself internationally to the detriment of peace and (sigh) US interests.

Ever since I saw the US market the post-9/11 war in Iraq as a totally good idea and certainly not based on an easily disprovable lie, I’ve been interested in understanding war and diplomacy. Unfortunately, few books want to look at the bigger picture, instead focussing on the “mistakes” of a conflict or the “harrowing true story” of a kid who was promised free university if they went and secured oil resources freedom in another country. War on Peace is one of the few bigger picture books that try to document how we got here.

This book has a lot of good insights into how diplomacy has been defunded, marginalised, and under-resourced while the military has been placed front and centre. As the saying goes, wouldn’t it be great if we gave diplomacy a try for once? I think Farrow also shows that we can’t just blame any one government or side of politics. And he also gives examples of how the militarism approach has embedded all sorts of issues that make the world far less safe.

Where I think War on Peace stumbles is in its American Exceptionalism and Supremacy. Laced throughout is this deep current of the USA wanting to control the world to meet its needs as though that is a good thing. And along for the ride is the idea that the USA is the “good guy”, all while documenting plenty of examples where the USA was clearly the “bad guy”. This would have been hilarious and worthy of being labelled satire if it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing these kinds of very serious US journalism books do without even a hint of irony.

Further to this point, the US-centric nature of the book neglects the international trends in diplomacy vs militarism. There is a small mention of China’s moves in this area, but it would have really helped the central argument to document, at the very least, changes in US-allies’ investment in diplomacy.

This is an important book on an important topic if you can get past the blinkered parochialism.

Comments while reading:
Not particularly shocking to hear that President “Drain The Swamp” turfed out the experts in favour of either not replacing people or looking for partisan hacks. But it was interesting to hear that this has been a trend since the 90s and the end of the cold war. That ties in with Jeremy Scahill’s writing on the rise of the private military, outsourcing, and militarisation.

I find it kinda funny to hear someone lamenting the decline of diplomacy continually utter it in the context of American Exceptionalism and Supremacy. “Decline in control of the region” is uttered at the same time as “negotiation for nuclear non-proliferation”, while oblivious to the irony of a nuclear power wanting to dictate terms.

President “drone strike” Obama’s first term being filled with warhawk generals taking over diplomatic roles is not particularly surprising. It was quite notable how much of the placating of the establishment Democrats and appeasement of Republicans resulted in his brand of Hope being watered down to Status Quo. The military angle was a big part of that.

Interesting that the diplomatic successes of Obama’s second term appear to have been a lot of hard work over the whole two terms and in spite of the administration. That this came from Hilary Clinton recognising various efforts being made and offering (the minimum of) support is telling given so many of the problems come back to Bill’s time as President.

I laughed out loud when, without a hint of irony, Farrow called China a country “who are wanting to be an international leader without acknowledging their continued human rights abuses.” Farrow, the former diplomat, whose bosses helped suppress human rights abuses, some of which are mentioned in this very book, wrote this down. His bosses also helped go after Julian Assange and Wikileaks for exposing US war crimes. Neither of these human rights abuses has been acknowledged and any accountability held.

But on the plus side, they did imprison, ruin the careers, and took a blind eye to the murder of those who exposed the human rights abuses of the US military.

Remember kids, it’s not human rights abuses when we, the good guys, do it!

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Book review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2)To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And never mind the cat.

The Oxford History Department has changed a lot since the invention of time travel. Ned Henry, a history student, has been tasked by the department’s wealthy benefactor with locating the Bishop’s Bird Stump. But Ned is overworked, time-lagged, and in desperate need of a vacation. So his professor assigns him some R&R in Victorian England… and a very important mission to fix the time continuum before history is completely destroyed.

After finishing The Time Machine Did It, I saw a list of other humorous novels. Ever on the lookout for entertaining reads, I started matching titles with my library’s catalogue. As luck would have it, To Say Nothing of the Dog was available and just desperately wanting to be read.

And it was fine.

The book is light and whimsical without ever being hilarious. The story is solid without ever feeling too tense. And the continual obstacles Ned and Verity have to overcome never feel insurmountable. As a result, I came away from To Say Nothing of the Dog with the sense of having enjoyed myself but not having relished the experience.

Something that I think is worth highlighting is that this book is nice. As in, there are no fights, no evil people doing bad things, no heroes with dark problems, and surprisingly, for a time travel book, not one person ceasing to exist because of time-ripple-magic-stuff. Instead, Willis grounds the conflict in the more ordinary and the stakes in the people vs events. I mention this as it can be quite refreshing to read a book that doesn’t feel the need to be gritty, mean, dark, or focused on people you’d pretend you don’t recognise at a party before sneaking out the upstairs penthouse bathroom window.

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Why Edgar Allan Poe Isn’t Just a Sad Boy

Let’s talk about one of the greats of fiction with this month’s It’s Lit!

Video: Why Edgar Allan Poe Isn’t Just a Sad Boy

My first memory of reading Poe was in high school. We read The Cask of Amontillado in English Lit class, which was either about exposing us to one of the greatest short stories of all time, or our teacher subtly hinting at what he’d have like to have done to his students.

I can’t remember when it was that I decided to read as much Poe as possible. I’m guessing it was during that standard phase everyone goes through sometime in their teens or early 20s. You know, the one that involves you wearing a lot of black and insisting that The Cure made awesome music you can dance to. And since that would have been the late 90s for me, it would definitely have involved a Brandon Lee poster of The Crow hanging on my wall.

Anyway, I remember being highly disappointed with Poe. I wanted to read The Pit and the Pendulum but the collection I’d found of his work hid it in amongst other far more cheery and sarcastic work. So, in some respects, I was aware that Poe was more than just a dark gothic author. Although, I don’t remember noting his sci-fi leanings and may have to revisit him as a result.

And I wouldn’t be a child of the 90s if my favourite Poe moment wasn’t also a Simpsons moment:

Video: The Simpsons adaptation of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (archive version here)
Image: I’m just a Poe boy, nobody loves me. He’s just a Poe boy from a Poe family.

We remember Edgar Allan Poe for his tales of horror and the macabre as well as inventing the entire Detective Fiction Genre. But unlike many of the great authors of Western classic literature, he has become an icon unto himself, recognized to this day by name and face almost more than the titles of his stories and poems. But his legacy is more complicated than school books may have lead us to believe.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

How Tech Bros Get Sci-Fi Wrong

Recently on the den of inequity and monetised dumpster fires, I posted a tweet.

Text: Those who read spec-fic are doomed to see dystopias turned into tech company ideas.

This idea of how the “big brains” in Silicon Valley seem to miss the point of most speculative fiction has been in my thoughts lately. I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve read that have sung the praises of a new tech idea that was clearly ripped straight out of a dystopic novel.

Surely it isn’t just me and every other book nerd who understands that your favourite sci-fi novel was meant to be a warning, not a goal, right?

Well, this video from Wisecrack certainly appears to be on my side.

Wisecrack video: How Tech Bros Get Sci-Fi Wrong.

I think it is clear why tech-bros get sci-fi (and other spec-fic) wrong. The shallow, selfish and egotistical nature of being a Silicon Valley wonk precludes you from fully understanding subtle messages in fiction. You know, subtle messages like AIs will destroy the planet, anarcho-capitalism will destroy the planet, rich/greedy people will destroy the planet, pollution will destroy the planet, etc.

Take Musk’s Neuralink. When it’s not being inhumanely tested on monkeys, there is a lot of buzz around what it could do. Like brain uploading to make you immortal. Like in that sci-fi novel where people became immortal thanks to brain uploading. Which was a novel about how brain uploading was really really bad.

But is that the message that someone like Musk would take away from Altered Carbon? Would he look at that sci-fi dystopia and think “wow, bad, let’s not make brain uploading a thing” or does he look at it and think “wow, that rich guy had a sky palace and got to be super-duper immortal rich, let’s make that brain uploading a thing”? Hint, it’s the last one. Because that novel isn’t a dystopia for someone like Musk, it’s a utopia.

This is ultimately the point of speculative fiction. It makes comments upon our current society through fictional worlds, to show us the follies of our ways. The trick is to make sure WE heed the message and stop the rich and powerful from steering us (further) into dystopia.

Book review: We Are Legion by Dennis E Taylor

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse, #1)We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it a Brazillian or Riker’s Beard?

Bob Johansson has cashed out of his software startup and cashed in on cryogenics. Thinking he’ll get to be immortal in a utopian future, he instead awakes to find himself as a slave to the new theocracy looking to spread the good word to the universe. The race to the stars becomes a race to Armageddon with only Bob floating in the way.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with Taylor’s novel. The reviews were solid, people enjoyed it and they said it was humorous. But We Are Legion had the dreaded spectre of hard sci-fi attached to it. Too many times I’ve read glowing reviews of a hard sci-fi novel that ended up annoying the scientist and reader in me.

Happily, We Are Legion was good fun. It engaged with the hard sci-fi without becoming interminable and boring. The tone, while not what I’d call humorous, was light and helped keep the pace brisk. That did make the novel and Bob a little flippant and unengaging at times, but that didn’t undermine proceedings too much.

The only real complaint I have is that the novel just kinda ended. It felt like the first instalment in a series – hey look, there are three of these things – not like a complete story.

I’m looking forward to reading more Bobiverse.

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