"review" · concenter · fiction · Lit · mystery · philosophy/criticism · recommend · wondermous

{book} once begun

silence-once-begunSilence Once Begun by Jesse Ball

Pantheon Books, 2014. 232 pages

“The following work of fiction is partially based on fact.”

Over the course of several months, eight people vanish from their homes in the same Japanese town, a single playing card found on each door. Known as the “Narito Disappearances,” the crime has authorities baffled—until a confession appears on the police’s doorstep, signed by Oda Sotatsu, a thread salesman. Sotatsu is arrested, jailed, and interrogated—but he refuses to speak. Even as his parents, brother, and sister come to visit him, even as his execution looms, and even as a young woman named Jito Joo enters his cell, he maintains his vow of silence. Our narrator, a journalist named Jesse Ball, is grappling with mysteries of his own when he becomes fascinated by the case. Why did Sotatsu confess? Why won’t he speak? Who is Jito Joo? As Ball interviews Sotatsu’s family, friends, and jailers, he uncovers a complex story of heartbreak, deceit, honor, and chance.–publisher’s comments

Errol Morris brought more than justice to the wrongly accused when he brought The Thin Blue Line (1988) to the screen. He demonstrated how fiction lies within the justice system and how reality reveals itself in the imaginations of human perception. Both institutions and human beings can be corrupted; the question is whether doubt can lead to a liberating or confining truth. I thought of Errol Morris as I sank into Silence Once Begun, Jesse Ball’s latest novel.

“One has the impression one can know life, actual life, from its simulacrums by the fact that actual life constantly deceives and reveals, and is consistent in doing so” (4).

Jesse Ball, self-proclaimed professor of “lucid dreaming and lying,” exercises his particular gifts with the latter. We have a want to forget that as a gifted storyteller, he is a practiced liar. The heartbreak of increasing solitude and silence experienced in the narrator’s own life is raw enough to cite the provenance of a genuine artifact. “The following work of fiction is partially based on fact,” but what in the work is partial, or impartial? Silence Once Begun invites suspicion. What becomes awkward for the reader is when the suspicion is found directed not toward Ball or a character, but inwardly. Readers who favor romance and/or political activism will find themselves the easiest targets, among other professional prevaricators.

That smooth teller of tales that drew his reader in a single sitting through door after door and haunted them long after the curfew ended, confines the whimsy of his silvery tongue to his own “prefatory material” and Jito Joo. Joo takes on the silkiness of Milton’s Satan and I remain unconvinced that Kakuzo is able to vindicate her. Questions of love’s selfishness and sacrifice deepen the mystery Ball would document. As it is, the fans of Ball’s novels since Samedi the Deafness will be jolted awake by the halting language of concrete explication. Even the stories spun by relatives as a means to explain one another, find sentences short and constantly revisited. The language Ball adopts is not only one familiar to reportage, but translation—and the earnestness of finding the correct expression.

Oda Sotatsu’s mother is fond of telling stories by means of clarification: When talking with the mother, the interviewer notes how “the impression of exactitude remains” (18). He experiences a feeling that what she is saying is true; he sees what she sees before the evidence presents itself, before what she has seen appears (e.g. butterflies). Whether the mother is telling the truth about butterflies is negligent without a strong enough moral imperative. In Silence Once Begun, lives are hanging in the balance.

The interview is seeking someone to speak where Oda Sotatsu would not and now cannot. Once a silence had begun, can the silence ever be broken? The novel ponders how reputations are powerful constructs (29): how we are represented, expressed, speaks for us; it can certainly lie for us. Jito says of role-playing: “Each person chooses his life from all the roles in all the theaters. We are a prisoner and his love. For I am sometimes one and sometimes the other. You are one and then the other” (187). The liberated speak from a place of privilege and the imprisoned the limitation of choice. In a mystery based on mistaken identification, conversations on love and identity are the discourse that bind, and often blind the character and reader both.

“You don’t know me at all, I said, but I have a feeling that you know about something that I know” (Interviewer 163).

How can we truly know the other? We understand that different kinds of knowing exist. As one character after another jockeys for supremacy of knowledge, we test their validity. Jiro claims, “He hadn’t done it, because I believe he hadn’t done it” (45). The sister is an educated one yet distanced; Kakuzo is the architect of the crime and vain; Jito Joo, the most intimate of actresses.

Jesse Ball, the interviewer, is consciously aware of influence. How his ability to capture an image through a lens is affected, is made literal and then figurative when he takes photographs of the prison and other locations. He questions his ability to be objective, and the state of his relationship with an interviewee can be temperamental at best. He finds amusement and delight without anticipation by the reader. Even as it could be argued that “everything is contextual” (41), there is still the phenomena of surprise. Few could demonstrate the art of startling the reader into remembering that not everything can be anticipated nor traced back to an origin like Ball; which is key in a story where explanations are not just obscured, but elusive.

The attempt of the novel reads like Joo’s own: “I believe in discovering the love that exists and then trying to understand it. Not to invent a love and try to make it exist, but to find what does exist, and then to see what it is” (180). A sacrifice exists at the heart of this novel, more than one; and a person, more than one. Interpreting it and their meaning, to see what it is is a marvelous experiment, and a convicting one. At what point in the time-line is the act of invention initiated, because it would be dangerous to mistake Joo for not inventing a love into existence, wouldn’t it? Maybe your reading will disagree. Silence Once Begun interrogates human impulses: what we would remember, and what we would choose to conveniently forget.

If your cups of tea always require coherence in the mystery to be opaque in the end, to invite an explanatory flashback with solid connecting lines rather than perforated, any of Ball’s work will be uncomfortable, but none more than Silence Once Begun. This is not to suggest Ball leaves lazy gaping holes. His work is impressively spare. No, coherence needn’t have a clear answer everything, and Ball’s coherence artfully alludes to the corrupted nature to the human, the memory, the fictions we tell to make sense of things. The mystery is how we can ever pretend to be so very certain—so certain that we can carry through the life-threatening convictions that we do.

Jesse Ball’s provocation can be both frustrating and an absolute delight; which is how I could describe the conclusion. Ball makes the narrative personal and familiar, investing the reader in a summation that is as tidy as the novel will allow while yet demanding its lingering effect. He does not employ Errol Morris’ chilling play button on a tape recording at the end, but he does compel the reader to ask what it is we wanted to believe happened when the world turned upside down, when the expanding silence entered the room and asked us to wonder why.

"review" · concenter · fiction · Lit · philosophy/criticism · recommend · Tales · wondermous

{book} girlchild

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

Hardcover, 271 pages. borrowed from Library.

When I’d first heard of Girlchild, I left with the impression that it would be a story set in a harsh landscape with a resilient and quirky young protagonist—ala Susan Patron’s Lucky or Kate DiCamillo’s India Opal. But this is no children’s book. I should have read to the end of this Maureen Corrigan NPR review beforehand where it notes: “Rory endures sexual abuse, the death of loved ones, and everyday invisibility — all without playing for our sympathy.” The sexual abuse she endures is really difficult even without the play on sympathy, and it comes early in the relatively short novel, so plan bedtimes accordingly; especially if such recordings (fictional or otherwise) affect you and you need that time to sleep and not wonder if the nausea will take on an even greater physical manifestation. This is not to say that the author Tupelo Hassman does not handle the events with care. Hassman’s command of language and story is plenty effective with out straying toward any edge of the graphic. And she uses the structure of the story and its narrative styles to move in and away with a beautiful sensitivity to her protagonist (and reader)—and her uses of form, perhaps more importantly, to relay Rory Dawn’s experience. Similarly we see this with the mother’s childhood, having to rely much more on her encoded language and actions.

Girlchild is a novel set in the harsh landscape of a trailer park at the edge Reno, Nevada where a resilient young protagonist lives with her mother near her maternal grandmother. Rory Dawn Hendrix is made unusual by her surroundings in how well read she is, how remarkable her comprehension is, and that she treats the Girl Scout Handbook like a guide for better living. But the story isn’t only about Rory Dawn, but about her mother (Johanna Ruth) and maternal grandmother (Shirley Rose). “I know the stories about Grandma’s failures in the mothering department, and when it comes to Mama I could tell plenty of my own;” but as she observes further down the page, “there is a tenderness that runs quiet but sure in our blood and reveals itself as dependable as bedtime” (69). Rory is her mother’s girlchild, both a dream come true (after 4 boys) and a fear—she doesn’t want for her daughter what she had and has gone through as a girl & woman herself.

Girlchild shows a grit and resourcefulness in the women and in communities who live in oppression and/or poverty, and it does not shy away from criticizing the ideology that holds them there.

“The Girls Scouts and V. White [the caseworker] have one thing in common: they like to play it safe. V. White didn’t ask how far Mama could go, just how far a person like Mama has to go. She was only interested in the shortest distance between Mama being on welfare and earning enough to stay broke without welfare’s help, or better yet, figure out why Mama didn’t stay married just enough to keep off the dole altogether. As far as V. White was concerned, there was no reason for the County to send Mama to college and be made smart when, for less time and less money, she could go to vocational school and be made useful. (163)

Between the mother, Rory and the anthropological observations about the Calle, there is a lot to think about in explaining why so few get out, and how there is enough blame to go around. Another politically charged moment is when Rory has to write a report on the Fourteenth Amendment: Equal Protection of the Law. The librarian (a heroic figure) draws Rory’s attention to landmark legal cases and she settles on one in which she finds true connection: Buck v. Bell (1920s); “Based on [Supreme court Chief Justice Oliver W.] Holmes’ decision, upwards of fifty thousand intellectual defectives were forcibly and legally sterilized before the practice was quietly brought to an end in the 1970s” (173). A decision, the author notes at the end, that has yet to be overturned. The connection is found how Rory and Vivian Buck were of similar age, and the third generation of women who could be construed as feeble-minded and thus inevitably promiscuous, with a sense that their outcomes were dictated by heredity rather than environmental factors. After a rather striking passage on the case, a question is posed:

“Which statements are true according to the passage?

A) Science, governments, and your doctor should be trusted.

B) “Comforting her deep into the night: is a euphemism for sneaking candy.

C) The ugliest phrase used in this passage is “female.”

D) Bad things really do come in threes. (173)

The text, via Rory and many of her fellow characters, push against a sense of resignation regarding their fate, or rather, expected outcomes.

“When I get home I wait until after Mama’s asleep to take my paper out and read it again, the details of Holmes’s decision, of Vivian Buck’s life, how he couldn’t see that the equal protection the Fourteenth Amendment promises applied to Viv and Carrie’s lives, to their futures, that it applied to their bodies too, and how this probably means the Fourteenth Amendment just isn’t going to be enough to count on for the rest of us either. And then I read mrs. Croxton’s notes again, about how the “unfortunate mistakes” made in the case of the Bucks aren’t important enough to overshadow “the victories that have been won for the underprivileged.” Mrs. Croxton wanted pretty pages about how far we’ve come since slavery, not ratty truths about what work awaits us with the other groups still deemed less than human.” (178)

The above “Which statements are true” is indicative of just one type of chapter you can expect in Girlchild. She has very poignant “math-word problems” with multiple choice answers and a spacing with the encouragement to “show your work;” case file reports; a singular sentence; a chapter completely or mostly marked out. Chapters are short and are not linear in sequence, though they begin to hold chronology and segueing connection as the novel continues. The more anthropological pieces are fantastic (like “Funeral Etiquette”) and the sections on “how to earn ______ badge;” the chapter: “Proficiency Badge: Puberty” (222) is a must read.

Really, all of Girlchild is a must-read. Amy Greene of Bloodroot is quoted on the jacket, “I couldn’t stop reading until the heartbreaking but hopeful end, rooting for Rory Dawn Hendrix to make her own destiny.” I did the same, honestly wondering, as the latter pages began to dwindle if Rory, would get away. Did she? It reads like a memoir without the tradition of one. It holds the kind of heartbreak we shouldn’t keep ourselves from experiencing, if not considering. There are parts that are really difficult to bear, some language or action that may startle, and any optimism is hard-won. But the form in which the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix’s youth is translated is not to be missed.

The writing is gorgeous, unfailingly so. Hassman can turn a phrase, she can paint any number of inescapable portraits with a word, sentence, paragraph, or chapter in perfect variance and she stacks them all neatly before she knots the cord around them. And then she lights it. Sometimes clever or genius seems too “literary” or so high-fallutin’ as to be impenetrable. And it cannot be ignored that Ms. Hassman has stellar writing credentials. But Girlchild is accessible. Rory’s mom is a fan of Kerouac, and little wonder if the author isn’t as well.

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is easily one of my favorite reads this year, and I look forward to owning a copy; maybe two, one to lend; one to make sure N has herself a copy, too, in a few years.

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Doret’s readerly response at The Happy Nappy Bookseller (where I’d first heard of it, I think).

the NPR review, “Scrappy ‘Girlchild’ Forms A Girl Scout Troop Of One” by Maureen Corrigan link again,  where you can find an excerpt of the novel there, and in which I must add that I do not think the title is “corny” but rather apt when you consider the anthropological tones/stylings and the social implications of having and being a girlchild; that it was a pet name was just a nuance.

"review" · cinema · philosophy/criticism · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} the dark knight rises

A length of rambling in which I curb a rant into a review…

 

In a call from the daughter (newly 12) during her visit in the land of entrapment, she says, “Don’t be mad but I saw The Dark Knight Rises.” She, like many close to me, know how I feel about violence in media and my concerns as to the daughter’s exposure to it. I am by no means perfect in this matter, but that The Dark Knight (2008) was PG-13 as well, reminds me that “parental guidance” is there for a reason and I would want to view the film first. The things-we-tell-ourselves in this instance (that I feel comfortable repeating here anyway) is: “Well, at least it wasn’t as violent as The Dark Knight.”

It was a feat by Christopher Nolan and Tom Hardy to make Bane as, if not more, terrifying than the Joker. But I am wondering if the “less violent for audiences” argument holds; because while my daughter may see the creepy Joker masks around Halloween and hear of lone madmen running about terrorizing a city, how much more familiar are the occasions of a man in the mask entering a public or private space and opening fire? Alongside fire drills and storm drills, they practice “lock-downs” at school for a very real reason.

At the end of The Dark Knight we get that heart-warming moment where the people of Gotham, both criminal element and upright, choose not to play the Joker’s game and kill the other–we’ve no such warm fuzzy in The Dark Knight Rises. Those scenes of looting and pulling people out of hiding or sending them into “exile,” those were the citizens of Gotham. The horror I felt in watching Bane and the antics of he and his league differed from the Joker, but make no mistake—there was horror. That scene of those men hanging from the bridge?!—you caught that echo didn’t you? I was physically ill. N may not have these particular references, but she is engaged in conversations of protest, rioting, and terrorism.

In both Dark Knights a different sense of extremist portraiture is used to purposefully plays upon our collective fears, even as both stem from a similar ideas: chaos, anarchy, extremism, and terrorism. Joker wants to see the world burn for the sake of the desire to do so. Bane and the League of Shadows are zealots of another sort. Joker is an enigma with no origin, no traceable presence. Bane is born of circumstance. A key conversation in The Dark Knight Rises is that each have been created out of some past event, impacted significantly by their earlier environs.  If the Joker is about nature, Bane, and Batman included, is about nurture. Even as shootings in public spaces have a senselessness, we do have a notion that monsters are created. Why else do we begin digging into backgrounds for explanation? Where we would be more likely to look to mythological tales for characters like the Joker, we’ll find Bane in the local newspaper.

 

The Dark Knight Rises works as a cautionary tale. A violent uprising has consequence and often a leader with another agenda. Wow, how I love the temperance here, that Bane’s bid for violent retribution is not seated in the rhetoric he feeds the people. Here, the masked man reveals the hearts of some and the fleecy quality of others.

We (of the 99% who acknowledge our not-1%-edness) are to find sympathies with Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) who warns her wealthy dance partner, “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” And with Selina, we linger over the broken picture frame and the smiling family captured there. This wasn’t the change she was really seeking. She was only looking for an opportunity to be liberated from her constraints: social, work, and gender status (to name a few). Selina pulled herself up by her bootstraps–a complication in the film, because they are the boots of a cat burglar. But it is the wielding of her sexuality that is the most painful turn in the film. It is so quiet because she uses it so negligibly, but the young blond friend she protects expresses Selina’s own fragility. Selina Kyle desires only to dictate life on her own terms, not survive it by the terms of others, which we see as being ever denied her by men in power. –until Bruce Wayne, who finds his mother’s pearls worthy of Selina. What do we do with the wealthy Mr. Wayne?

Audience’s other avatar is Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), someone who believes in order, justice, freed-thought, and making the hard decisions with and for the people. He also cares for the most vulnerable in our society. The film does not encourage the viewer to lead or join a violent uprising, instead, finding a rising within the self as Blake has. Feeling orphaned and disenfranchised by your peers or society? There are two tracks and we want to take the better and higher road, not the one with a scarecrow on the judge’s bench. But the film is hardly one in which to find a solution. Batman refuses to kill, but it is a bullet from another that takes out Bane. In Batman Begins, he doesn’t kill Ducard (Liam Neeson) but he doesn’t have to save him either. There is that happy ending, and what our beloved characters are able to create for themselves out of the uprising Bane and others instigate. Batman’s fall after The Dark Knight does not actually release him as this film does. And how is Blake able to become but through opportunities: being good and free-thinking, being in the right place at the right time, networking,…chance? The Batman trilogy doesn’t leave our culture alone in its closing.

As an after-school-special The Dark Knight Rises would tell the viewer to consider any leadership’s agenda and personal motives—and consider your own while you are at it; create only and any good from the torments of your past; nurture your intellect and your own powerful will to love your neighbor. Sean and I re-watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight after this last film and we remarked upon the frustration with Rachel, how grating her piety was, but also how she never really got Bruce Wayne/Batman. By the 3rd film, Batman had arrived. He truly was willing to give everything to Gotham City. His socialist tendency is as important to him as the maintenance of his arsenal. {I use the term “socialist” appropriately understanding that you understand the differences. The term socialism can be used in positive contexts, my American sisters and brothers.}

Politics, anyone?…I had this great but brief conversation on facebook yesterday with a Mr. Shane Atwood who makes some intriguing reading on the political exploration in The Dark Knight Rises. I was mentioning something about the mislabeling of Joker as Socialism after the second film (and in an anti-Obama campaign), when Joker is an anarchist and Batman would be the one to be labeled Socialist, if anyone. Shane noticed: “I thought the latest movie did a good job portraying Bain as an extremist libertarian. Right up to including the fantasy that civil courts will solve all the problems of society.” My comment in between was less interesting.

Shane: “The cat woman I thought was a pretty spot on parody of the Occupy people too. That’s what was interesting to me. The movie certainly didn’t endorse her views about taking from the rich. It also sort of blended opposing ideologies I thought. Generally the agorists and anarcho-capitalists aren’t into the idea of forcing equality. When Bain had taken the city, Cat Woman’s friend seemed perplexed and asked her why she was upset, “isn’t this what you wanted?” I thought the mixing of the idea of wealth redistribution and anarchy was curious. If anything, it seemed like it was in favor of keeping things the way they are, not making drastic changes with more or less government. Very complicated politically.”

The film, and the trilogy, is complicated politically. Much of the pleasure of the trilogy are the conversations one can have with the film and with each other. Don’t get me wrong, the films can be sheer sport adrenal-wise.

How about adrenaline….The gadgetry, the vehicles, the car chases and explosions, the bare-knuckle brawling and tension, The Dark Knight Rises should not let the viewer down. Add the scores Hans Zimmer created for the film and its gorgeous application and you are guaranteed some thrilling moments. You’ll notice that much of the film is shot in reasonably-lit venues and daylight hours. Besides snow and heat, the elements are hardly torturous in ambience. There is no hiding and there is no blaming it on the weather. Countering expectation is, of course, unsettling, so while the devisement of light and set works thematic, there is a disturbance it plans to mine. By no means a perfect film, a few transitions feel startling, and some may worry over length, but short of ordering a smaller drink, it doesn’t have the laboriousness of that prolonged ending inThe Dark Knight.

Casting….Since this is already lengthy, I will be as brief as I can about characterization and casting. I will begin with the one everyone is talking about. Ms. Hathaway as Selina Kyle in a new Hollywood portrayal as Catwoman. Followers of Hathaway are not surprised by her range, but her followers are worth considering. Casting Hathaway lends the character to a nice breadth of the films population. There are suggestions with Catwoman, and I like that insanity is not one of them, nor is all-out victimization.

Ah, Christian Bale, how I love thee. You have complicated Batman for the Nolan boys quite beautifully I think.

I have been hearing many a praise for Gary Oldman with a tone of surprise. Oldman is brilliant, and much of the response from this trilogy is in the way the progression of the character Gordon has been handled. He does helpless but determined so magnetically that I find him inspiring. It is hard in this last installment to see his return to a more tremulous footing (such as we first found him) stuck in a most difficult ethical situation. As with characters like the wealthy Bruce Wayne (and his parents, and a few board members), Gordon gives us an image of that complicates the institution and structure he represents. But then, Batman is all about exploring the shades of gray and the shadows things and people cast. It is fitting that the 3rd and final installment should expose everyone and make glaring those internalized landscapes.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I am glad to see people discovering or rediscovering JGL. You have a fantastic library with which to catch up on this marvelous actor (though I must warn you about Hesher). I didn’t know who Blake was supposed to be in the film going in. I figured he would be the believer in Batman, the one to interject on his behalf and have the youthful idealism. I was not wrong.What I appreciated was how youthful idealism did not translate as naïve. Sure, he was a bit hard on Gordon (whom he models as a younger version in ways) and a bit overly optimistic while audiences cringed to warn him, but Blake is savvy and he isn’t untruthful (“You betrayed everything you stood for.”). He is also courageous, which I think should not go without saying. Matthew Modine as Foley does simpering and misguided well, and he rises admirably. It is tricky in an action film to get good development of a character down without reading a file which belies their most noble characteristics. Nolan had and used two to three films for some characters; but for those within a singular (albeit long) span, he focuses on characterization within the thematic boundaries and it works. Take cultural norms, violate or emphasize them, and cast the hell out of it. The film doesn’t even leave the child actor for the Prison sequences to chance.

Nolan hit the gold mine with villains for his trilogy. I tend to shrug when Tom Hardy’s name comes up.  I do not dislike him by any means, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. The sound in our viewing was fantastic, music and vocals balanced, and Bane’s speeches recorded into the intelligible but weird (my personal reaction).Tonal and inflection issues aside, Bane was imposing, and singular. There is that exchange near the end that would create nobility or romance out of some alternate storyline, and then then the moment is squashed, because Bane is.

A body who comprehends story and can be led away from the horrors into a quaint Italian cafe, will find a restfulness at the end that subdues plenty the film’s agitations. But the agitation returns as reality returns—at least for those who like to think about their viewing—and for those who have to sleep at night knowing that masked and unmasked extremists are real, as are our longings for positive change.

******************The Dark Knight Rises (2012)**********************

director: Christopher Nolan; story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer; Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan; based on Characters created by Bob Kane; music: Hans Zimmer; cinematography: Wally Pfister; editing by Lee Smith; produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, & Charles Roven; starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Gordon), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Tom Hardy (Bane), Marion Cotillard (Miranda), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake), Morgan Freeman (Fox).

Running Time: 165 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

IMDb page.  Wiki link.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · fiction · philosophy/criticism · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Uncategorized · young adult lit

{comics} pluto vol 1-7

If you are going to check out this manga series by Urasawa x Tezuka from your local library, please be sure they have all 8…As it is, I need to carve out time to find the 8th volume somewhere. Believe me, one volume will throw you into the next and you’ll not want to hit a wall. You know that dramatic Noooooo! that one can hear outside the house as it echoes down the street, from above the city, and even into outer space? Yeah, that was me.

URASAWA Preeminent manga artist Naoki Urasawa, collaborating with editor, producer and manga writer Takashi Nagasaki, creates a daring revisionist take on Osamu Tezuka’s timeless classic Astro Boy. Conceived under the auspices of Tezuka’s son Macoto Tezka, a visual artist in his own right, Pluto: Urasawa × Tezuka is more than just an homage piece — Urasawa takes Tezuka’s masterwork and transforms it into a new groundbreaking series of his own. Pluto: Urasawa × Tezuka will surely delight loyal Tezuka fans, but it will also capture the imagination of anyone who loves a compelling work of great science fiction.

× TEZUKA The legendary Osamu Tezuka is arguably the most influential person to shape the landscape of the narrative art form known as manga. In 1964, Tezuka created a revolutionary story arc in his Astro Boy series called “The Greatest Robot on Earth.” Tezuka’s engaging tale struck a chord with the children of that time to become the most popular story line of the series. It would also prove to profoundly influence and inspire a generation of manga artists to come. –Powells “about the author

This is where I admit to not reading much manga and my touches with Astro Boy are fleeting. I’m proof that Pluto will be accessible to just about anyone. It will help to know how to negotiate the right to left movement of the book and page, but it isn’t that hard to figure out. And Pluto is well worth the effort to step outside your norms and pick up manga.

note the mimicry of the top two panels. this portion of Pluto: 001 involving the story of North .02 is beautiful and heartbreaking.

Theirs is an idealized world where man and robot should coexist. But not everyone cares for robots and someone or something is out to destroy both the seven great robots of the world and key robot’s rights figures. Gesicht, a Europol detective and one of the seven, is brought in to investigate the serial murders marked by the composition of the remains, horns coming from the victims heads. What follows is a puzzle steeped in a near past and a race against time to stop the murderer from striking again.  Visiting Asimov’s rules, the conversations on Artificial Intelligence and its potential evolution fascinate. As for the political messages…who didn’t find weapons of mass destruction and declared war anyway?

All destruction and creation is not without consequence.

Pluto was created as a tribute to Urasawa’s hero Tezuka and the challenge was, in part, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Astro Boy. Loosely based on Astro Boy, Urasawa refers to Atom as he’s called, and apparently references the original series throughout, including imitating a few classic images.

{image: source}

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Gesicht could use a vacation from his work, and he and his wife keep talking about it, even as his work interrupts the best laid plans. Pluto writes a familiar script for both human and robot alike. Indeed, many people in the story have a hard time discerning the differences between the most advanced robots and humans. Even so, Urasawa creates very human connections with the most obvious looking robot, primarily by placing them in very human situations. There is some discussion as to the fairness and the value of creating humanizing expectation while yet holding robotic expectations as well. The conflicts on the level of characterization as well as the greater arcs are beautifully balanced and interconnected. There are a lot of philosophical ideas, and historical parallels, a lot of action, an incredible amount of intrigue. Not one piece works without another.

Moving in and out of time, ranging all over the planet, the transitions are easier than one should expect. The progression of the story wasn’t expected. I’m not going to give anything away, but there are moments of absolute dread. I really need to read volume 008, except I worry. But I have to read it. I need to know how it could possibly end happily. And I have to know more about that creepy teddy bear. Yes, Urasawa manages to make a teddy bear more terrifying than a demented robot kept in pieces and raving in the boiler room.

If you get to very little manga in your time, consider Pluto worth some of it; especially you sci-fi fans.

*also Hiromu Arakawa’s Full-Metal Alchemist (Viz Media).

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 Pluto by Urasawa x Tezuka

Viz Media, 2009 (orig. 2004); tradepaper.

w/ post scripts and interviews and the like in each volume.

—-2012 Science Fiction Experience–@ “Stainless Steel Droppings”—-

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · philosophy/criticism · poet-related · recommend · series · series · Uncategorized · wondermous

{book} my name is mina

Do you ever have the urge to write an author and transcriptionally hug and kiss them because of your profound gratitude for their having been born and having written this one particular book? I usually hug the book instead. And I’ve been hugging My Name is Mina the past few days. I should really write those living authors. I should write to David Almond.

I’d heard of My Name is Mina in passing. I think it was in a manner of whispers from the “Lucky Day” shelf in Juvenile Fiction at the Library. I picked it up the other day. I’m familiar with David Almond, should be good.  On the cover in small print: “One of the best novels of the last decade.” -Nick Hornby. I flipped open the cover and read:

Mina loves the night. While everyone else is in a deep slumber, she gazes out the window, witness to the moon’s silvery light. In the stillness, she can even hear her own heart beating. This is when Mina feels that anything is possible, that her imagination is set free.

A blank notebook lies on the table. It has been there for what seems like forever. Mina has proclaimed in the past that she will use it as a journal, and one night, at last, she begins to do just that. As she writes, Mina makes discoveries both trivial and profound about herself and her world, her thoughts and her dreams.

Award-winning author David Almond re-introduces readers to the perceptive, sensitive Mina before the events of Skellig in this lyrical and fantastical work. My Name Is Mina is not only a pleasure to read, it is an intimate and enlightening look at a character whose open mind and heart have much to teach us about life, love, and the mysteries that surround us. –inside jacket copy

I flipped pages and noted the unusual form. I balanced it on top of my seven volumes of Pluto. I was taking this book home to Natalya, whom instantly came to mind. She and Mina would be friends, minus the tree part. Well, maybe Mina could have talked her into climbing one. To be perfectly candid, I would linger in hopes of an invitation myself.

Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will ever be, it is a place of wonder. (11-12, though technically 3-4)

I could stop here, couldn’t I. But I won’t.

I had hopes with the first entry title page: Moonlight, Wonder, Flies & Nonsense. I found poetry upon the first page of written words, and I quickly found love within a short succession of pages; 4 and 5 and 6 pages in, pages 12-14. “I was told by my teacher Mrs. Scullery that I should not write anything until I had planned what I would write. What nonsense! […] I did want to be what they called a good girl, so I did try.” There are people who say they want to be a Writer, and there are people who say that they are. And I’m not mistaking Published Author for Writer and neither should you. My Name is Mina is for Writers, for Artists, Anyone, and for Birdwatchers.

I think people will want to give this book to youth they find “special.” And it is true that Mina is gifted and unusual (I think mostly due to her courageousness). You get that her mother is a profound influence, a mentor and guide; she herself is a Creative thinker. If for no other reason buy this for the sake of its portrayal of a loving, truly nurturing mother. “Raise your child in the way they should go,” comes to mind. Anyway, I think people should want to give this book to any young person. It is true that many people like Mina feel alone in their wondering and meandering and musing about themselves and the world; but the book does not impart a sense of “specialness” upon Mina outside of realizing a very rich character. It would assume every young person has (at the very most) an inner life, a distinction, and a loneliness. My evidence?

Now, I’m not going to say the book assumes absolute familiarity, Mina’s mind would be her own (11), but she will not be wholly unfamiliar on some intimate level (at least I desperately hope not). Better, Mina would challenge the reader to nurture their creativity, their wondering minds. If, like Mina, you’re not going to have it nurtured in a school setting or special programs, or unlike her, at home, be determined and a bit desperate and brave and find yourself an empty journal to meander your way through.

My Name is Mina has these fantastic “Extraordinary Activities” throughout. They are connected to her stories and contemplations where they are exampled, but they are meant to engage the reader, the creative. “Go to the loo. Flush your pee away. Consider where it will go to and what it will become” (124). “(Joyous Version) Write a page of words for joy. [or] (Sad Version) Write a page of words for sadness” (133). N did this one, pausing her reading to do so: “Write a poem that repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word until it almost loses its meaning. (It can be useful to choose a word that you don’t like, or that scares or disturbs you)” (97). N’s present essay project on present, future, past tenses: yep, the concrete poem Mina wrote on page 89 and following.

Mina is funny and serious and vulnerable and strong and restless and still and shy and friendly and outrageous and poignant and… I found her a beautiful character with which to become acquainted. Rather importantly, she is not charmingly quirky, or a cute puppy to indulge and smile over. She is deadly ridiculous.

If you’ve read David Almonds 1998 debut novel and awards-winning Skellig, you’ve met Mina. While you needn’t have read Skellig to enjoy My Name is Mina, My Name is Mina is cited as a prequel. You meet Mina from before Michael (in Skellig) moves onto her street. She sees him, occasionally observes, but there is a time before she finally introduces herself to him. Those familiar with Skellig will note references, people, and remember Mina. Those unfamiliar will not feel cheated, nor will they encounter any frustrating sense of inevitability like stories often written with another story in mind. You know those that are written to offer backstory. Mina isn’t a backstory. She is her own story.

When Mina writes that “the journal will grow just like the mind does” the book does take on this characteristic. She doesn’t date entries, but uses creative (summarative) titles. She’ll allude to an ending, and then move back and forth before she reaches it. “Afterwards, Mina tried to think of ways to tell the tale. Then she thought that maybe it’d be best to write it down, which is what she did” (58). She intentionally avoids stories until she feels ready to share them, still distancing herself from their discomfort; she’ll switch from 1st- to 3rd-person for similar reasons.  “Extraordinary Activity: (third-person version) Write a story about yourself as if you’re writing about somebody else. (first-person version) Write a story about somebody else as if you’re writing about yourself” (59). Some of the world about her is captured obliquely, what we learn of her mother’s is created thus. The book is a journal of Mina’s keeping after all, her preoccupations, her confessions, her stories, her own dramatic effects. She yells, she cries, she records poems and blank pages. Mina’s mind may be a mess, as she puts it, but the book is by no means jumbled into indecipherability. It doesn’t even feel unnatural. It doesn’t even exhaust the reader with cleverness–maybe because its less “clever” and more normal. Mina resists conforming, and I’m glad for it.

My Name is Mina culminates into an ending that isn’t remotely forced, or even inevitable for that matter. We have points we are alerted to look for, progressions we would see through, and then it slips into another story: Skellig. I was compelled to turn pages by my desire to spend time with Mina and the world she inhabits in her mind’s eye; to explore ideas of creation and death and life and belonging and cages and nonsense and story; to have fun and be brave and engage in healthy doses of nonsense and sorrow and long walks.

Thank you David Almond for your gift to the world, to my daughter, and to me. Thank you for introducing us to Mina.

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recommendation…ages 10&up, human (or beast), lovers of humor, occasional irreverence, poetry you can understand, adventure, birds, nonsense, absolute sense… For those who’ve experienced a loss, a found, an inquisitive mind, an understanding adult, an equally strange friend, the principal’s office

Bart’s Bookshelf did a really excellent (and short) review, which I just found. Check it out.

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My Name is Mina by David Almond

Delacorte Press, 2010

hardcover, 300 pages.

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · philosophy/criticism · recommend

the sense of an ending

Note: this post is quote heavy, as you can see. it can be (for the most part) read without them; i just chose not to restrain myself.

“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents–were they the stuff of Literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen. Like what? The things Literature was all about: love, sex, morality, friendship, happiness, suffering, betrayal, adultery, good and evil, heroes and villains, guilt and innocence, ambition, power, justice, revolution, war, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the individual against society, success and failure, murder, suicide, death, God. […] Real literature was about psychological, emotional and social truth as demonstrated by the actions and reflections of its protagonists; the novel was about character developed over time.” (16)

What if that isn’t entirely true? Or what if it is; yet drawn in the most unexpected and subversive way? Julian Barnes upends many things in The Sense of an Ending. I feel like maybe he is giving Literature the finger and smirking while doing so, widening into a grin as he receives prestigious awards for doing it.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
hardcover, 163 pages

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre. ~publisher’s comments.

Have you read a book you felt you should read? And not for a class, for a grade. We all have those. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes won the Man Booker prize this year. At 163 pages, I thought, “Why not?” I need to keep my literary self well nourished, don’t I? That must have been what I was thinking. Otherwise, I’m not sure what I was doing. The book was altogether a frustrating experience. And I hate that the more I think about it after, the more I admire the damn thing.

“We were book-hungry, sex-hungry, meritocratic, anarchistic. […] Yes, of course we were pretentious–what else is youth for?” (10-11)

The Sense of an Ending is about a middle-aged man revisiting his past and the beginning part, “1,” reads like a memoir.* Tony Webster has a story to tell, and one, you soon realize, with a particular focus, “Still, that’s all by the by. Annie was part of my story, but not of this story” (50). And as we continue in a shift to the present in 2 (the remainder of the book), it could be construed the story he was telling was to his then-wife Margaret. The shifting in an out of time and relationship and dialog is primary to the fabric of the novel. Barnes is flawless; his movement and what it illustrates is remarkably fluid.

“That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.” (13)

In the present, Tony is visited by ghosts of the past, the very past he’d just been speaking about. The reader is led to confront the persons and memories in the present as Tony would, as one privy to the events as Tony knew them. Considering the intimacy of the portraiture, we temporarily forgive the  reliability of the narrator. But as evidence and conversation and age come to light, Tony and Reader revisit what was thought to be known. And little surprise that a shift in perspective is necessary, reliability interrogated. We were warned all along with the contemplations on time, how history is recorded, on memory, and accumulation. But we are never warned how it might come together.

The Sense of an Ending has one of the best last sentences I have ever read.

“I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. […] However…who said that thing about  “the littleness of life that art exaggerates”? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life.” (102)

Tony Webster’s life shouldn’t make for good Literature. He is perhaps the most boring protagonist ever. He is painfully normal, from a young man who masturbates frequently to a middle-aged man who still depends on his ex-wife for emotional well-being. He admits to wanting more for himself in his youth, but finds his peaceable existence not unsatisfactory. He is tepid. The most passionate and mysterious time of Tony’s life comes into focus, and to what avail? No, Tony Webster’s life should not make for good Literature, but Julian Barnes makes him so. It is disgusting how well he does this. I even found Tony’s dealings with the Insurance company riveting. [and hate myself a little for it.]

“I’ve been turning over in my mind the question of nostalgia, and whether I suffer from it. I certainly don’t get soggy at the memory of some childhood knickknack; nor do I want to deceive myself sentimentally about something that wasn’t even true at the time–love of the old school, and so on. But if nostalgia means the powerful recollection of strong emotions–and a regret that such feelings are no longer present in our lives–then I plead guilty. I’m nostalgic for my early time with Margaret, for Susie’s birth and first years, for that road trip with Annie. And if we’re talking about strong feelings that will never come again, I suppose it’s possible to be nostalgic about remembered pain as well as remembered pleasure. And that opens up the field, doesn’t it? It also leads straight to the matter of Miss Veronica Ford.” (89)

“You just don’t get…You never did, and you never will.” Veronica repeatedly tells Tony over and over (past and present). I wanted to punch her in the face. Why? because I didn’t get it either. And I was worried I never would. And I’ve yet to, by the way. Veronica is an elusive memory, an elusive relationship, and never easily deciphered. She is a painful figure of the past, who, in the present, continues in much the same vein.

“There were some women who aren’t at all mysterious, but are only made so by men’s inability to understand them” (86). Veronica illustrates this beautifully. Tony doesn’t understand Veronica, his first serious relationship. However, his ex-wife Margaret feels she understands Veronica well enough, “She’s a fruitcake.” And this hard to dispute, actually. Even without Tony’s vague speculation that Veronica was “damaged” (46). And we come to use Margaret the same way Tony does, as the one who knows Tony well enough to make good objective assessments of the situation at hand. He tells her something, she runs it through a filter based in experience and returns with good advice. Not that he is obligated to take it.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but–mainly–to ourselves.” (104)

The visit of his past intrigues Tony enough to pursue a sense of closure, to reconcile memory with actual event, and to finally make sense of an otherwise senseless act. The Reader who hasn’t thrown the book aside pursues the same ending—only to find a sense of it. However, the mystery is not as compelling as the discussion on time, history, memory, responsibility, and accumulation.

Like the very first page, which read’s like a scavenger hunt’s list, the novel returns us to impressions, to marked images, at the end. In the “search for for possible hidden complexities” (5) in all we had come to study and learn, we are left (if not returned) to a feeling that is unpretentiously ascribed to and by the novel. The ending might not be the tidy one you want, but what you will get is a perfect one.

If you’ve a few hours an afternoon, you may want to give The Sense of an Ending a go; especially you Writers, and readers of Literature, and anyone over age 55 who’ve had a few good experiences with Literature. I didn’t read the novel in a single sitting, though I think, since it is possible, it is the best course: The Sense of an Ending is an incredibly well-crafted piece and the elements move in a conversation best held close in mind from beginning to end.

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Notes: I know this was a quote-heavy post. but for all the frustrations with unlikable characters and the occasional difficulty sussing interactions, the contemplations were interesting, if not endearing.

I survived. “He survived to tell the tale”–that’s what people say, don’t they? History isn’t the lies of the victors […] I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”(61)

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.” (88)

What had Old Joe Hunt answered when I knowingly claimed that history was the lies of the victors? “As long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated.” Do we remember that enough when it comes to our private lives? (133)

one of my favorite:

“When people say, “She’s a good-looking woman,” they usually mean, “She used to be a good-looking woman.” But when I say that about Margaret, I mean it. She thinks–she knows–that she’s changed, and she has; though less to me than to anybody else. Naturally, I can’t speak for the restaurant manager. But I’d put it like this: she sees only what’s gone, I see only what’s stayed the same. her hair is no longer halfway down her back or pulled up in a French pleat; nowadays it is cut close to her skull and the grey is allowed to show. Those peasanty frocks she used to wear have given way to cardigans and well-cut trousers. Some of the freckles I once loved are now closer to liver spots. But it’s still the eyes we look at, isn’t it? That’s where we found the other person, and find them still. The same eyes that were in the same head when we first met, slept together, married, honeymooned, joint-mortgaged, shopped, cooked and holidayed, loved one another and had a child together. And were the same when we separated.
But it’s not just the eyes. The bone structure stays the same, as do the instinctive gestures, the many ways of being herself. And her way, even after all this time and distance, of being with me.” (81)

* I dislike memoirs and was annoyed to be reading about someone with whom I had zero vested interest. I mean, that is why we read memoirs, right? out of curiosity of a particular person who had an interesting life? Barnes must be gleeful having won an award with Tony Webster.

cinema · foreign · philosophy/criticism · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

[tv] torchwood : miracle day

today I ramble a bit about the BBC television series Torchwood: Miracle Day. Sean and I had really looked forward to this season after Children of Earth in 2010. I’ll introduce the show and then dissolve into thoughts about this year’s Miracle Day. A lot of interesting conversations could be had from Miracle Day, believe it or not, I hardly touched on a fraction of these. and this post is fairly –spoiler-free–. mind the character discussions (sigh).

If you are a fan of the Russell T. Davies 2005 revival of Doctor Who, than it is likely you are familiar with Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the time-travelling immortal human (thanks Rose) who cons and flirts his way in and out of story. Davies created a spin-off called Torchwood where Harkness heads up an elite group of professionals based in Cardiff, Wales who monitor, track, and often fight alien activity on Earth.

Torchwood is nighttime television for adults. There is profanity, steamy sex scenes, and the show is prone to greater violence and gore. The stories can be really exciting and Sean and I have recommended it around, but with some caution; there seems always some caution with Torchwood.

Sean and I finally finished Torchwood : Miracle Day, the fourth season of the BBC sci-fi television series. I say season, but really Torchwood has morphed into more of a series. Miracle Day is a 10 episode series released weekly from July to September 2011. The third series Children of Earth was released nightly in the span of a week in 2010—it was marvelously intense. This year, Torchwood comes to America with Starz! Yeah, we were skeptical, too. And I think, in the end, rightly so.

If you’ve not seen Torchwood you can begin* with Miracle Day because the allusions to previous story/characters are light. Everything you really need to know, including some of Harkness’ history with The Doctor, is explained. Torchwood: Miracle Day is a pilot for American audiences essentially. Most of Miracle Day is set in the Los Angeles, with the introduction of several key American players before introducing the name Torchwood and bringing those who remain of that clandestine agency back.

Miracle Day asks: What would happen if no one could die? One day no one could and this first day of no one dying is dubbed Miracle Day around the globe. As the show thoroughly illustrates, no matter what the (would-be-)fatalities circumstance, they cannot die. However, they can feel the pain of their wounds, or illness, etc. How do you medically and culturally treat the living dead? The global population sky rockets. Legislation must be reviewed, amended, and enacted quickly. And Life must be redefined, quite literally.

Miracle Day’s scope is enormous.** They explore multiple scenarios and track immediate and global implications as they progress. The cast is extensive, though many move in and out of story in a single episode or over the course of two or three. The primary cast involve a convicted homicidal pedophile, an ambitious public relations woman, a CIA agent, a CIA information analyst (or 3), a medical doctor, and of course, Torchwood (x2+1). And not only must Miracle Day ask what would happen, but how did it happen and who or what is responsible?

The scope of Miracle Day would be managed by strong characterization (both development and consistency), by encapsulating each episode  and a few key character storylines with theme, and by taking leaps along the timeline to maintain credibility and interest. Still, the series feels too big, as if it feared the sci-fi fanatics who would send essays on how the writers forgot this causality, this effect, this probability. And while their question and its implications are fascinating, as well as their challenge to weave them into a compelling story, it was exhausting. When you find yourself asking, ‘How many more episodes to go?’ you know there is a problem. Not everyone will have this issue, but even Sean, reader of epic tomes within epic series, had to express real determination in order to finish Miracle Day. We took a break. Sure, our discussions after an episode (or during) were great, but the sequences of intense action (at least one per episode), the dramatic interludes, the 10 minute sex scenes, the long explanatory conversations; there was a lot to juggle and keep in balance. Torchwood: Miracle Day was necessarily ambitious. It is a police/government procedural, medical drama, family drama, romance, soft porn, action/adventure, detective mystery. Except the mystery kind of gets bogged down, and it is the mystery that would compel me the most.

Miracle Day as well as the people of Earth must first come to terms with what is happening with Miracle Day. The first 5-6 episodes are steeped in this. The latter episodes are what occur after everything comes to a head, especially in the lives of the main characters. The shifting of gears is very evident. It is now that something has to be done. They really must figure out what caused Miracle Day and how to stop it. We were really hoping it was something good. Doctor Who and Torchwood have proven imaginations that convince, if not enchant, despite their fantastical nature. With the build of anticipation, so did our expectation. And really, if we had to suffer [insert annoyance here] than it better be good!

[annoyances yet mentioned] : Mekhi Phifer may be a good actor to many (and who didn’t like him in “O” (2001)), but I didn’t care for him here. I became less and less enamored with him and CIA Agent Rex Matheson as the series progressed. He felt cliché, flat, and he never recovered from it. If you need a way out of a seemingly impossible plot corner, he will perpetrate it. It is amazing really what he can and cannot anticipate. But a bigger part of the problem is how he is set up next to Captain Harkness and he lacks John Barrowman’s charm, guts, and conceivable brilliance. Agent is Harkness’ counterpart, and he isn’t convincing enough in the role.

Now, if you need to get into an impossible plot corner in order to create conflict/adrenaline, CIA Analyst Esther Drummond will do it. She is gifted in a few areas, but is the initiated, the inept. She is not a field agent, and is also guaranteed to completely ignore anything Torchwood veterans Jack Harkness or Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) tell her not to do. She is well-acted by Alexa Havins; it is the necessary character who is annoying. And her one opportunity to show believable growth was undermined by how late it comes, and by final scenes where she is still manages frustrate plans.

While on the subject of cast/character: I was in awe of Bill Pullman as the clever and conniving pedophile, somehow I didn’t dread watching that scary monster in an episode, because While You Were Sleeping Pullman as a monster was fascinating. He was a brilliant casting choice.

I really enjoy John Barrowman as Jack Harkness. I like him best on Doctor Who, and I had major anxiety issues in Miracle Day, because a major plot point is———. Torchwood just isn’t Torchwood without Barrowman/Harkness, especially if they were to hand off the reins and a spin-off to Rex Matheson/Mekhi Phifer. Barrowman is looking older, despite his fit physique (with which everyone becomes quite familiar). After Children of Earth and with the turns Doctor Who takes…after every episode this series I worried over Harkness’ fate. It was he and Gwen Cooper who were one of the main reason’s we had to get to the end of Miracle Day  and some answer as to how they would fare.

It has been fun watching Eve Myles develop her character on Torchwood and her performance this series was fantastic! She was appropriately bad-ass. She moved convincingly through her multi-faceted role as Gwen Cooper: risk-taking Torchwood agent, fierce mother, devoted daughter, wife, and friend. And I also like how Torchwood has grown Kai Owen as Rhys Williams in character and role. If were unsure of this character/actor before, Miracle Day elevates him to an adoring degree.

Torchwood  as a television series has always been unpredictable. They aren’t afraid to kill of major characters, they confront difficult subject matters, and they have their crazy alien creatures. They are inventive and flexible. They took a gamble on the one-week stretch of episodes in 2010 to great success. Creating stories/mini-series’ that keep spinning off of the spin-off in 2011 is cleverness. In a way, Miracle Day reads like fan fiction, even as it reads Pilot. What is going to happen next?

Well, the ending of Miracle Day alludes to probable futures. And did the ending satisfy? I think so, at least up until the very last few minutes–and a major allusion part. But I won’t spoil it. Some will be happy enough though, so note that the opinion is mine, and Sean’s, and likely a few die-hard BBC Torchwood fans.

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* You could begin w/ MD but I wouldn’t recommend it.

**The television show FlashForward (2010,w/ Joseph Fiennes) came to mind.

Torchwood: BBC, IMDb, Wiki, (Miracle Day Wiki). please check these sources (among others) for more information, especially those behind the creation of this series, and the listing of this extensive cast (there are many familiar faces and good performances).

a trailer, which is pretty exciting.