We have another book up next and it’s a slightly surprising one that I’d avoided partly because it sounded like a really soppy story and partly because my partner bought it and didn’t like it. But I eventually ran out of everything else in the house to read and took the plunge. The book in question is The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger which is certainly a love story, but a love story with a neat twist: one of the protagonists frequently finds himself displaced in time to points in his own past or future which leads to a bizarre upside-down plot in which the love of his life has met him and fallen in love with his older self before his younger self has actually met her. Sounds bizarre? It is, but don’t worry, because the necessarily complex story is handled with rare skill, not only making perfect sense from start to finish but exploring every possible aspect this odd affliction has on the protagonist and his family along the way. The completeness with which it explores every human and narrative consequence of time travel totally appeals to the nerd in me and left me far more open to the softer, more emotional side of the story which is also constructed extremely well and which, in spite of my best efforts, totally suckered me in. I was really choked up by the end, and I’m normally pretty good at laughing off the sort of blunt emotional manipulation that’s the stock-in-trade of literary love stories. The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that the male lead - a handsome, athletic librarian for fuck’s sake - was quite obviously a sexual fantasy construction of masculinity designed to appeal to a certain kind of well-read woman. But other than that it’s highly recommended as the ultimate love story for geeks.
The next book was one I’d never heard of but which was given to me as a gift based on a seemingly endless stream of five-star reviews on Amazon. Apparently it’s a science fiction classic but in spite of decades on the nerd circuit it had totally passed me by, the apocalyptic fable A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller. The plot is difficult to summarize: it essentially tells the tale of how the attempts of the titular Leibowitz (long dead by the start of the story) to preserve some knowledge at the outbreak of a nuclear catastrophe profoundly influences the re-development of civilization in the long ages following the apocalypse. It was published in 1960 and the writing style feels even older. As a modern reader I found it a little dry and impenetrable at times, and the occasional use of untranslated Latin and the way the plot stop-starts between different ages and sets of characters as it seeks to cover the passing of many centuries doesn’t help either. But that’s counterpointed by a wry sense of humour that’s present throughout and ultimately it’s a rewarding, fulfilling read that leaves you with a lot to think about, filled as it is with themes that connect to important ideas such as repetition across history, the power of church versus state, the morality of euthanasia, the importance of knowledge and civilization in the face of war and barbarism and the potentially vast implications that can result from apparently insignificant choices and encounters. It’s always a great pleasure to encounter a book that can cover big, juicy themes whilst remaining exciting and readable, I just wish it had been a tiny little bit more readable.
Switching attention from books to TV now I finally managed to catch the sequel to zombie-reinvention flick 28 days later, the aptly and unsurprisingly named 28 weeks later in which survivors from the UK are repatriated in their home land now that all the infected have died from starvation. I don’t think it’s going to be a major spoiler to announce that the zombies manage to make a re-appearance and cause havoc. I didn’t know much about this film and I didn’t expect much from it, given the poor record of sequels over the years but I was surprised and pleased that it doesn’t fall into any of the obvious traps like re-doing the spooky empty London scene from the original or choosing a blindingly obvious route to bring back the ghouls. In fact it’s a pretty different film entirely, much more action oriented, a bit like the comparison between Alien and Aliens and on the whole I think it’s a good choice. It’s exciting to watch and features some stunning and truly horrific set pieces, such as a wife being trapped in a room with her much-loved and now newly-infected husband, which I found to be extremely disturbing both emotionally and visually, and that’s kind of a good thing in a horror film. It’s also noticeably darker in tone than the original which carried a spark of human decency and an ultimate possibility of hope throughout. Neither is present here and although such a bleak tone is a staple of a lot of zombie horror I think the story as a whole is weaker for it because it also lacks the undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek humour that’s so common in z-films and the whole is a bit too brutal without being sufficiently thought provoking. But overall an excellent effort, and well worth watching.
For my final paragraph it’s another gift that an old friend sent me out of the blue, a DVD set of a 70’s TV series called Kolchak: he Night Stalker that we both recalled watching as teenagers. It’s rarely, if ever, on TV nowadays, at least not here in the UK and it was a fun trip down memory lane. The series follows the adventures of a journalist who makes a speciality of investigating and eliminating a number of supernatural and extra-terrestrial threats, a different one each episode. Remind you of anything? The X-Files perhaps or Supernatural? Well of course this series pre-dates both by decades and as, in fact, been acknowledged by X-files creator Chris Carter as a major inspiration behind his invention. And if you can get past the inevitable hokey 70’s style, the dated props and special effects and the poor quality of the video the first episodes of this are actually really good. It’s not just nostalgia talking either. The acting from the lead is really pretty good, walking that fine line between camp and seriousness that’s necessary for any kind of fantasy or sci-fi show and the writers make excellent use of a variety of obscure myths and legends alongside the obvious candidates to keep the audience guessing. The episode Firefall about the ghost of an arsonist assuming the identity and trying to take over the body of an innocent man was particularly effective, with the phantom popping up and grinning a horrible hungry grin at his victim all the time. It tailed off toward the end of the series, becoming increasingly silly as the writers either began to run out of ideas or out of steam with the effort of keeping it semi-serious but there’s plenty of material that’s worth a look. The series itself resulted from two previous films, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler which I won’t comment on as I’ve not seen them in years, but I remember them being entertaining. And the series was actually remade as the plain old Night Stalker in 2005 which I won’t comment on because I watched two episodes of that and thought they were bloody awful.
And that pretty much covers my media exposure for a year of my life up to Februrary of this year. I have about the same number of items to cover for the past few months, and there’ll be more coming at the same rate. So until next time - assuming you want there to be a next time - that’s enough trashy shorts for now.