Cannonball Read #3 – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Dystopia, classic, disturbing.

This review contains spoilers.

Winston Smith is dead. He is dead because he has committed thoughtcrime and thoughtcrime is death. In his dead but not-dead state he becomes free to act in a manner that disregards his personal safety. He falls in love with Julia and they have an affair. They know the affair is doomed but they pursue it anyway. Julia and Winston are caught by the Thought Police. They are tortured and made to confess all their crimes. They are afraid to die but the goal of the Thought Police, in fact, the whole government of Airstrip One is not to kill people; it is to control them. To control the circumstances of their entire existence not through exterior means, through force or extortion or the threat of physical pain. They want to control people by completely shaping and knowing their thoughts. To inculcate doublethink into the populace so firmly that a person cannot even think of rebelling against the system. Complete hegemonic control is the goal, effected through the manipulation of culture, information and language. Winston and Julia are not tortured to death, they are tortured into complete submission. They give up every secret place inside their souls and in the end they become the property of the Party.

After I finished reading Nineteen Eighty-Four I read the news. I wanted to scream “It’s doublethink!!!” The cognitive dissonance on display was suddenly transparent to me. I was able to see through to the motivation of “culture warriors” who speak without logic. They seemed to be purposefully obtuse. The purpose is to avoid logical interpretation, to breed frustration to the point that people stop trying to interpret or argue and give in to illogic because they are too tired to try and make sense of the messages anymore.  The end goal is not temporal power or even political ascendancy. The goal is control. Control is not imposed but flows from within a culture. When a group can take control of the language of a culture they don’t have to fight for power any more. They own the consciousness of the culture.

I used to wonder when my father would be incredibly offended when he thought someone was engaging in revisionist history. Now I know. When public figures espouse an opinion and a month or a year later espouse a completely different one without explanation or acknowledgement they are trying to say that the past doesn’t matter. Now I know why The Daily Show continuously exposes these incidents. This sort of exposure shouldn’t get old. The contradictions, the desire to own the narrative of history, to try to recast, revise or just erase history, these are all facets of the control that Orwell plays out to a possible conclusion.

Ninety Eight-Four is a classic novel for a reason. It is frightening because it is possible. I feel like I am watching people try to implement Newspeak in the present day. Would public figures utilizing the tools of the Party in the novel be so adept in their use of these concepts if he had not written this? Would the populace be more vulnerable if he had never written about what he saw happening?

Forewarned is forearmed, as far as I’m concerned.



Schmannonball Schmead: Soul Drinkers Omnibus

Mildly spoilery in the service of outrage.

It’s often been noted that while Warhammer 40,000’s Imperial Space Marines are fun as plastic army men who beat up orks with their chainsaw swords, they make for terribly dull long-form fiction characters. There are only so many cries of “For the Emperor!” and “Xenos filth!” that a reader can take before boredom sets in, and a marine-centric novel runs the risk of becoming a string of heroic deaths and gruesome slaughters.

It’s very obvious that Ben Counter doesn’t really like Space Marines much, or at least understands the arguments of those who don’t. The Soul Drinkers in his novels have all of the usual Space Marine “virtues” – pride, wrath, pitilessness, overweening piety toward the Emperor – but Counter makes a point of giving the perspective of both the enemies and allies of the Marines, and none of them fail to see these flaws for what they are. Nobody in the Imperium of Man really trusts or respects the Soul Drinkers outside of their use as a tool to smash enemies, and in the omnibus’ third book we find that the Crimson Fists marines are held in similar poor regard by the Imperial Guard generals they are assisting.

Seriously, fuck this guy.

The first novel is set up as a Greek tragedy; the names of Soul Drinkers like Sarpedon, Iktinos, and Tellos are no accident. Small mistake by small mistake, prodded by hubris, they slowly make their way down the path of damnation. The other two books are more like action mystery novels, with the reader shut out of the Soul Drinkers’ motivations and getting more from the side of those who oppose them. All of the books have an ongoing sense of doom and decay, as the fugitive marines are steadily whittled down with little hope of… well, anything, really.

Continue reading Schmannonball Schmead: Soul Drinkers Omnibus

The Colour of Magic – Cannonball Read #2

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. Snarky Fantasy.

The Colour of Magic is the first Discworld novel. It is a send up of fantasy, a genre ripe for mocking.  The heroes are a wizard who failed out of magic school and a tourist from the other side of the world, which is a disc that rests on the back of four elephants who are riding on a celestial turtle.

Rincewind, the wizard, is tasked with showing Twoflower, the tourist, around the continent. Twoflower is the first tourist from his side of the world to visit the main continent. He is extremely naive as to the culture on the continent he is visiting.  Most of the hijinks that ensue do so because of his ignorance and polly annaish nature.

Absurdism abounds and is quite diverting. Eventually it became distracting.  The satire is forced and relies heavily on puns. The tourist, Twoflower,  brings modern day concepts into the story but they are sometimes hidden behind impenetrable veils of punnery. It just broke the frame. In the end the point was the absurdism rather than the plot, which in the end meant absolutely nothing. Definitely not escapist fantasy. This book was so self aware that it is hard to get into.


Crave – Cannonball Read #1

….aaaaaand we’re back!  The last quarter of 2010 (and the first quarter of 2011) was way too exciting in real life for us to post here. Now that life is more boring we’ll be posting more.  On to the trashy novels!

Crave by J.R. Ward – Fallen Angels #2. Paranormal Romance/Thriller.

Jim Heron is back. He is the catalyst in the struggle between heaven and hell. Seven souls are in play and whoever gets the most, wins. If four of the chosen humans choose virtue, Heaven will triumph. If they fall to sin the world will be subsumed into Hell.

In play is Jim’s old Covert Operations buddy, Isaac. Isaac is trying to get out of Covert Ops.  As the usual way to exit the business is in a body bag, Isaac is taking the path less traveled and has gone AWOL. He’s tired of killing people for a living. He uses an underground, bare knuckle boxing ring in Boston as a vehicle for raising money to stay on the run. He gets arrested during a match and lands  pro-bono defense attorney Grier Childe  – how awesome is that name? She’s a high class, blue blood lawyer trying to somehow work off the guilt she feels over not being able to save her brother from heroin addiction.

Aside from the ass kicking, hot sex and “boy tries to give girl up for her own good but is fated to be with her” plot, there is a moral to the story. In the end, the soul that is in play is not judged on the consequences of its actions but on its intent. It’s a disappointment to the characters in the book but it resonated with me.  For all one’s pontificating and protesting about a righteous life, when we go to our final judgment it will be our hearts that our judged. A lot of people put on a front to make people think they are good or righteous. They are forgetting that it is not people who will be weighing their lives in the end. An odd place to find that message but welcome nevertheless.



I Watch Movies: The Warrior’s Way

The Warrior’s Way is best thought of as a live-action anime; the characters, action, and plot would all be completely at home in something like Samurai Champloo or Gungrave. In that respect it joins other live-action cowboys ‘n’ samurai adventure films such as Sukiyaki Western Django and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, both of which featured cartoonish characters and plots. The Warrior’s Way to takes the animated aesthetic to a higher level than those other two thanks to a near-constant reliance on computer-generated effects, green-screen scenery, and anime-esque action choreography; it’s also strongly reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels, at least as far as the “feel” of the picture goes. There are times, as in a fight lit only by staccato machine gun fire, where the computer-drawn vibe works out beautifully, but for the most part it has the lightweight plastic feel we’ve come to expect from movies with too much CG and not enough of anything else.

The performances are all over the board. Dong-gun Jang as good guy ninja Yang (and I had to imdb that, because I’m pretty sure nobody calls him that in the course of the movie) is impassive to the point of being inert. Geoffrey Rush makes a glorified cameo that’s completely oversold by the trailers, but spends the time he has well. Perennial “oh yeah it’s that guy” actor Danny Huston has a nicely reptilian turn as an impossibly evil army Colonel gone bandit, and Tony Cox continues to prove that you don’t need to be able to act as long as you’re a midget. Special awful credit goes to Kate Bosworth for channeling Toy Story’s Cowgirl Jessie in her portrayal of a knife-flinging rape survivor. It’s as inappropriate and ludicrous as it sounds.

All of this is tangential to the action, really, and it’s not bad. The film starts off strong with a healthy dose of Lone Wolf & Cub-style ninja/baby insanity, but goes largely talky for its second act. Once the training montages begin in earnest and the bandits start getting ready to ride into town, things pick up quite a bit. The last 20 minutes or so are a pretty constant parade of ninja/cowboy throwdowns. The Warrior’s Way is on the cusp of having not quite enough ninja goodness going on – it doesn’t top last year’s ninja champ, Ninja Assassin – but what it has is pretty high quality, especially if you dig the more cartoony vision of, say, Ninja Scroll.


Fantasy Lover & An Unforgettable Lady- Cannonball Read #37 & 38

Fantasy Lover by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Slightly paranormal romance with contemporary setting.

An Unforgettable Lady by J.R. Ward writing as Jessica Bird. Contemporary romance.

I found myself in the position of having read back to back two romance novels wherein the protagonists spent most of the book trying not to sleep together.

Continue reading Fantasy Lover & An Unforgettable Lady- Cannonball Read #37 & 38

The Scarlet Pimpernel – Cannonball Read #39

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Adventure novel of derring-do in Revolutionary France.

Highly reminiscent of The Lady in the Lake, Orczy gets things off with a bang.  Two pages in and the milieu is set: A teeming bloodthirsty mass against the lone, hidden hero.

Continue reading The Scarlet Pimpernel – Cannonball Read #39

The Girl Who Played with Fire – Cannonball Read #36

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson. Second book in the Millennium Trilogy. Thriller with Scandinavian flavor. Spoilers for this and the first book in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Continue reading The Girl Who Played with Fire – Cannonball Read #36

A Dark Adapted Eye – Cannonball Read #34

A Dark Adapted Eye by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine. Psychological thriller.

About fifteen years ago I watched half of the TV adaptation of this novel with my mother. We never got to watch the second half. It has been long enough that I remembered nothing of the plot, only flashes of Helena Bonham-Carter looking distraught. I finally got around to reading the book and I was not disappointed.

Continue reading A Dark Adapted Eye – Cannonball Read #34