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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

On the heels of finishing SyFy’s Childhood’s End, I also managed to get through a novel: Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest Vorkosigan book, Gentleman Jole and the Red QueenI absolutely love Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga; I think it is one of the greatest works of science fiction, up there with Herbert’s Dune, Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, and Brin’s Uplift Saga. However, it is a very different type of story from those other series above; while the above stories are all about meaning and grand-scale, universe-shattering changes, Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga is much more modest in terms of astral scale, but it more than makes up for it in its deep probing of social questions and development of characters. Her accounts of the interaction between a backwards, feudal society and the technologies of the more advanced universe are a joy to read and extremely thought-provoking, in particular the way in which she explores the gradual granting of autonomy to women’s bodies, and the forces that resist this.

Of course, the series itself also develops several of science fiction’s most memorable characters, from Piotr, Aral, Mark and (the titular) Miles Vorkosigan, to Simon Illyan, Ivan Vorpatril, Bel Thorne, Elli Quinn, and Ky Tung, and of course, to Cordelia Vorkosigan (nee Naismith). I had no idea what to expect from this book from the title, which is neatly vague, but was pleased to see a return to focus on Cordelia, a galactic stranded in the backwards Barrayaran Empire for love. Yet, Cordelia manages to avoid falling into the woman-who-does-anything-for-her-man trope, while still being able to love deeply. It is Cordelia’s love and love-life that make for the focus of this book, which is also the latest chronologically in the series.

Not much goes on in the book, until a sort of very short climax at the very end. This was surprising, given the relatively action-packed rest of the series (which, I should mention, also slowly changes genre, from military science fiction to political commentary to romance, while always having elements of all three), but in no way diminished it; despite the lack of a real plot, I was hooked from the first chapter. Bujold has an amazing ability to draw characters, and these characters I already knew well. While most Vorkosigan books can, I think, be enjoyed on their own without having read others, this one is full of enough references that you really need to have read almost all of the rest of the series to enjoy.

There is also surprisingly little of the series’ central character, Miles, who the series for the most part follows from childhood to old adult, in favor of his mother; a nice return to the old Shards of Honor and Barrayar stories (with plenty of references to the former!). It was fascinating to see Miles (grown Miles) from the point of view of someone who is smarter than him, which was a welcome viewpoint and helped expose some of Miles’ vulnerabilities that don’t come across as much when he is the center of attention. The book itself takes place on the Barrayaran colony world Sergyar (which Cordelia helped discover), and deals with Cordelia and a close friend, Admiral Jole, dealing with the aftermath of the death of Cordelia’s husband and Jole’s mentor. The story deals with the pair of them (re)-finding each other while trying to manage an expanding colony, and reveals a lot of surprising facts about the past relationship between Cordelia, Jole, and the late Aral Vorkosigan. The introduction of Jole – an entirely new character as far as I can recall – was a bit clunky at first, and I never felt he really developed much, but the discussion of the relationship between the three of them, and its evolution (despite one of them being dead!) was very moving and, as always with Bujold, thought-provoking. Though nothing happens, the book still somehow remains a page-turner due to Bujold’s great gift with the pen (or rather, the keyboard). Though not what I was expecting, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen was still a joy to read!

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Posted by on February 12, 2016 in Readings

 

Childhood’s End

I just had the unique pleasure of watching SyFy’s adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End into a three-part miniseries, and in what little free time I had, I wanted to share a few thoughts I had on it. Childhood’s End is one of my favorite novels (despite its drawbacks including clunky writing and potentially colonial apologetics), but SyFy has an unimpressive adaptation track record, and so I had high hopes but low expectations for Childhood’s End. As such, I wasn’t terribly devastated by the adaptation, but nor was I impressed.

Childhood’s End is a story of First Contact, in which the aliens (the Overlords) come to Earth, but do not “invade” to conquer, but instead bring mankind into a Golden Age, though ultimately do so for a purpose both beautiful and horrifying.

In my earlier review of the novel, I argued that the central character of the novel was collective not individual; the character was humanity itself, and Clarke, in the novel, made this so by drawing out the Overlord’s management of Earth over fifty years, so more than one generation. SyFy’s miniseries shortened this time to fifteen years in order to focus on the more easily relatable, individual characters they created by fusing other characters from the book. Thus, we lost sight of the character of humanity that made Clarke’s novel so interesting.

This is not inherently a problem, but the way in which SyFy did this in a way that created needless drama that made the story much less thought-provoking. A greater focus on the micro-dynamics of the Overlord’s occupation would have been very interesting, and the show clearly tried to go in that direction, but did a poor job of it. The needless sub-plots about Annabelle, Ricky’s (not Rikki, like in the original novel) sickness, and confronting Karellen about the loss of religion added nothing to the plot, distracted from the interesting moments, and seemed to me to dumb down the story a bit by focusing on human questions in ways that were not unique to this show or informed by the unique context of the invasion.

The one interesting and unique addition SyFy added was the emphasis on the loss of religion, and a waning of faith in God as these powerful aliens took over the planet. That was a very interesting angle they started to explore, but they did so in less than stellar ways, and the conclusion of this arc (with the confrontation of the Overlord’s caretaker of Earth Karellen) was very unsatisfying.

The other thing that SyFy lost in its adaptation was the character of the Overlords themselves. In the novel, the Overlords were sad and curious, excluded from the Overmind (also, SyFy’s blatant equation of the Overmind with God was a little heavyhanded…) while also serving it faithfully, giving them a sort of martyr-like quality that was completely lost in the SyFy adaptation (not to mention the absence of Rashaverak and, until the end, any Overlord aside from Karellen). In focusing on (and failing to effectively explore) the personal aspect of the Golden Age of Man and Earth’s occupation, it fails to capture the big questions and sense of grandeur that Clarke had managed to capture so effectively.

Regardless, it was still enjoyable to watch, and Charles Dance as Karellen was perfect. The Overlord visual design was fantastic; I just wish there had been more of them.

 

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Watchings