A couple things.

Scott Pilgrim vol's 1-6 by Brian Lee O'Malley

After reading Watchmen many years ago, I became disillusioned with comic books. I didn't think anything else could achieve the power and intensity that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons achieved in that magnum opus. Every comic I attempted became cluttered, confusing and by the end utterly inane. Superheroes don't mean anything to me any more, I've moved beyond the hero and villain archetypes and craved more dimensional characters, complex narratives and most of all--resonance.

I wish I hadn't watched the film before discovering the Scott Pilgrim books because now I'll have to watch it again, with the realisation of its hollowness and failure. I mean, it all seems so incomplete.

The past few posts were little thought-pieces on the books I've been reading, but then I came up to Scott Pilgrim and decided to hold off posting until I've compiled all the things I needed for a lengthy, in-depth review of the film. Firstly, I'll say the books were brilliant, and contained everything I wanted in reading a comic. I fear that instead of restoring my faith in the comic format it has repelled me even more from the medium, unless anyone can recommend me any other good ones to read.

Secondly, I'll say now that I'm not sure if I'm ready to take on the task of the Scott Pilgrim vs The World film post. To give an idea, here is the outline of what I have planned:

Why the film is a failure: Marketing, as an adaptation, and as a film.

Why I love the film still: A summary of art and pop culture of its time, it's technical achievements, and etc.

A history of art in film, leading up to SPvTW:
(each film mentioned will belong in its own post with a link to it, that I will post beforehand, and an explanation of how they apply to SPvTW).
-Modern Art--Expressionism: Cabinet of Caligari
-Modern Art--Surrealism: Un Chien Andalou
-Contemporary Art--Post-modernism: Contempt
-Contemporary Art--Pop Art/Comic Books: Hulk and Sin City
-Video Games: Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Kombat and Doom

A study of the film's interior logic, regarding absurdist humour, comic-book aesthetics, video-game logic and character point of view.

Character analyses: Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers and Gideon Graves.

And then down in the comments section I'll do a scene-by-scene analysis, including commentary on the shots, technical points, references, comparisons to the books and whatever else pops into my head. So, you know, I'm thinking big, and maybe biting off more than I can chew with this one. Anyway...

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I decided to read this one because I found out about its film adaptation, and thought "just for fun" I would compare the two. Oh boy...

The book is brilliant, amazing, as expected of anything by Vonnegut. It is a great pre-curser to Timequake, pretty much in the same liberal, anti-establishment style but not quite as much of a messy mindfuck on the structural front. I can't resist an excerpt, although I warn that it is a bit of a spoiler. From the start I was wondering what was with all the digressions and the multiple strands of character threads interweaving in and out of the plot. After a while I became desensitised to it and accepted whatever came. Then Vonnegut, about two thirds into the book, explains exactly what he was doing all along, suddenly and brilliantly illuminating everything written before it:
►I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist. I thought Karabekian with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make the poor people feel stupid. I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.
 As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.
 Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.
 And so on.
 Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.
 If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.
 It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.

Then I watched the film, which was made in 1999. I felt like I was watching a bunch of children trying to make their parents and peers laugh, but trying too hard, and harder and harder. It was an awkward mess, and as far as an adaptation goes, it just about sucked out everything that was good about the story. All that was left out, left in, invented and re-invented of the story, none of it mattered, because it was just a bad film, which I felt so sorry to see. But considering the comparisons, in its own way the film ended up falling opposite of everything Vonnegut intended to express. The film has no value, skip it.

Immediately after I watched Slaughterhouse Five, made in 1972, also based off a great Vonnegut novel, perhaps considered his best. Like Breakfast of Champions, the film doesn't hold a candle to the book, understandably, it couldn't possibly achieve the wonderful little literary devices that made the book so great. But it was a great film, beautiful, subtle, complex, emotional, innovative, intelligent and entertaining. It should be seen, whether you've read the book or not.


I am doing two things at once. I'm playing My Japanese Coach on the DS, even though I'm only semi-dedicated and more concerned about finishing it, I'm learning a fair bit. I'm even learning a bit of Kanji! Understanding how the vowels and adjectives work are a pain, I kind of skimmed over them but at least know it's all there if I ever feel more dedicated.

Whenever I'm taking a break from learning Japanese, I'm reading through King Lear by William Shakespear. I got through the first act, tried to summarise it in my head, then re-read over a few parts, then realised I'll have to start again. Also, I don't know how he wrote his plays to be so long...

I don't know if I'll finish King Lear, but I have a whole line of other books on my reading list, and even more on my to-buy list. Authors include H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Jules Verne, John Wyndham and Yevgeny Zamyatin. The classics.


I saw these two great movies in one day which I think is significant enough to commemorate with a blog post.

13 ASSASSINS directed by Takashi Miike, screenplay by Daisuke Tengan (who also did Audition)

I had to go all the way out to Dendy Portside to see this one, it was the only cinema screening it. It was in E-Cinema, which is a type of digital projection at about DVD quality. The curtains were separated for Wide-Screen but the movie was in Cinemascope, letterboxed. Have you ever watched a movie letterboxed at a cinema? The subtitles were over the black bar at the bottom, I guess so it doesn't interfere with the image. The sound was in stereo, I think, I couldn't here any sound directly behind me or beside me, just mainly from the front. Miike films aren't really outstanding for their sound-design though, which makes them so much more fun, in a way.

The movie, none the less, hooked me in. Being roughly 2 hours 20 minutes, the first hour-and-a-half or so was a huge complicated mess of information in typical Miike fashion. If you don't concentrate, you'll easily lose track of who's who and what's happening. In most cases a Miike film is designed to be watched multiple times, so I was used to it. I gathered the basic plot was that there was this evil aristocratic overlord who was killing a bunch of people because he felt like it, this is considering that the film is based in the Edo period, a time of peace after many era's of warfare. A badass samurai called Shinzaemon is summoned to take care of the business. Shinzaemon does what he can to gather as many top-class samurai and ronin as he can muster, which is difficult in a time of peace, when a Samurai's services are hardly needed, which is why he only ends up with a rag-tag group of 12. The 13th assassin is a mystery, barely explained in the film, I think he's some kind of Shinto myth or something, but he was really cool, and the most distinct and recognisable character in the entire film.

The last hour or so is a total bloodbath. The bad guy is lured into a seemingly innocent town, but it's really a trap set up by the 13 assassins. The problem is, the overlord has an entourage of 200+ men and this is where things get completely absurd/awesome. This is probably the most impressive Miike film yet, in his signature over-the-top style the brutality just keeps going and going and going. There's one great shot where a river of blood gushes over the roof of a building, and I still don't know what that's all about!

This is one for the Blu-ray collection.

SUBMARINE written/directed by Richard Ayaode

The guy who plays Moss in The IT Crowd has made a movie! What's so special about an actor who plays a computer nerd making a movie? Because Richard Ayaode is also a huge film nerd. This is evident in his earlier television creation Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, a show about bad story-telling. I often talk about jazz musicians who knowingly break the rules they have mastered, but there is another side of the spectrum, is when you unknowingly break the rules you were never aware of. If you watch Tommy Wiseau's The Room or James Nguyen's Birdemic Shock and Terror, there is a strange charm in films that explore the completely wrong way of story-telling. What makes Garth Marenghi's Darkplace such a mindfuck is that Richard Ayaode and Matthew Holness are knowingly breaking rules in a way as if they're unaware of them.

"Rules" are hard to define in cinema, as there aren't really any rules, just guidelines to make sure the audience doesn't become confused, bored, frustrated or unintentionally laughing at a serious dramatic scene. Then you have a "conventional" style of film making that uses and re-uses well established film techniques so that audiences don't have to think or feel too much for themselves. Convention keeps things sterile and can get boring in its own way. Submarine is an unconventional film.

I don't know if it's good or bad to say this, but I am reminded of Stephen Spielberg's early movies, like Duel or Jaws, that felt similar in style to Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Spielberg's stories needed suspense, so who better to borrow from? In the same way, Submarine felt stylistically similar to a Martin Scorcese movie. I can't really define in a few words what that means exactly, but if you watch a lot of Scorcese movies you'll see what I mean. Maybe Scorcese is the master of unconvention?

I loved Submarine, and I must watch it again some time. Ayaode has managed to construct a story out of back-to-back moments that should be nothing but awkward and excruciating, but has made them beautiful and engaging. He employs humour and drama in perfect fluidity. It may be obnoxious for me to say, but the most unconventional thing about this film is how much I invested in the characters emotionally. The most heart-breaking moment is when Oliver Tate, the protagonist, has his heart broken. Etcetera.

I highly recommend this film, I recommend it for all.

BOOK: TIMEQUAKE by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

A word of advice to any one starting out in creative writing: do not attempt to be anything like Kurt Vonnegut! You will only end up hurting yourself.

I am not quoting anyone in saying that, it comes entirely from me, and if anything, it's a memo to myself. Vonnegut is a rule-breaker. He is a writing equivalent to a jazz musician, who has devoted themselves to mastering the rules of music, that it becomes more interesting to hear them being being broken. Vonnegut has managed to twist and turn written language until it has become something entirely and uniquely his own. Any attempt at imitating his work without understanding the basic rules of English will result in superficially copying language anomalies and absorbing them as mistakes.

I wouldn't recommend it even for novice writers. Vonnegut was and always will be better than anyone in this contemporary age.

I feel I jumped into Timequake a little too early as, I later learned, it was his last novel, published ten years before he died in 2007. Then again it is probably the best place to start, as it is all about Kurt Vonnegut and his life, his books, life (in general) and books (in general). Getting Timequake out of the way first will definitely give you a better understanding of all his other written works when you explore them later on. It's just that this book has such a complex narrative, layered and meta, weaving in and out of fiction, non-fiction, and philosophical asides, it may be a little difficult to get into. So you'll have to excuse me if I'm a little bit confusing when I try and summarise the plot here.

Written when he was 73, it often felt like I was reading the ramblings of a senile old genius. The story is framed around a fictitious clambake on a beach at the writer's retreat Xanadu, in summer of 2001, six months after the timequake's rerun ended. The timequake itself was a glitch in the space-time continuum, that happened on February 13th 2001, that caused the Universe to go back in time nearly ten years to February 17h, 1991. Everything in the Universe had to run its exact course as it did before, even with the awareness that it's already been done, there was no free will during those second ten years.

At the clambake were a host of characters, real and fictitious, who were or were resembling Vonnegut's close friends and family, as well as himself. The clambake was a celebration for Kilgore Trout, a fictitious science-fiction writer who was also the alter-ego for Vonnegut, whom he created for his undying habit of constantly inventing short stories. The celebration wasn't for Kilgore Trout's writings, however, but for his intervention into the other character's lives by snapping them out of Post-Timequake Apathy (PTA).

PTA is when free will kicks in again after the timequake is over, but the person doesn't realise it and still acts as if their on automatic-pilot, which results in them falling down or being immobilised like a statue. The story of Kilgore Trout's intervention happens in Timequake One, the first version of this book, which Vonnegut decided to cut out the good parts and scrap the rest. He did all this before, of course, before the timequake hit and now he has to do it again.

In Timequake One, Kilgore Trout wrote many short stories, and Vonnegut relays a summary of a few of them, while providing anecdotes of his own. He relates friends and family he knew in his own life to the characters in the story, and it all builds up to a complex and climactic sequence of events that happened when the timequake ended, and free will kicked in again.

In trying to summarise this story, I realise how much I am in love with this book. It is the finest example of a literary novel I have ever read, and will hope to read again and again as I grow older. It contains everything about the world, life and death. I hope it is read by everybody, at some point in all of their precious lives.

UP NEXT: Scott Pilgrim vol's 1-6

I probably won't do a post on these books, as I'm planning to do a post on the movie. I'm just reading these now as I probably should if I'm going to talk in-depth about the movie at some point. So far as I've read, the books and the movie are quite radically different even if they are the same story.

I will also take a bit of a break from reading and focus on a bit of writing, and other stuff I want to work on.

BOOK: EMBASSYTOWN by China Miélville

Check out this cool picture I found on Google:
Here is an excerpt of the very first paragraph:
THE CHILDREN of the embassy all saw the boat land. Their teachers and shiftparents had had them painting it for days. One wall of the room had been given over to their ideas. It's been centuries since any voidcraft vented fire, as they imagined this one doing, but it's a tradition to represent them with such trails. When I was young, I painted ships the same way.
From reading this you can pretty much gather what you're in for. Unfamiliar words like "shiftparents" and "voidcraft" are not defined, there is no sense of location, time or any of the other five W's. Throughout the prologue, you are only given a sense of mood, but nothing really tangible. Miélville perhaps supposes that the reader will be revisiting the prologue later, when it makes more sense.

After the prologue, there is a preface. Chapter 1 doesn't happen for a while, but here is where you are given background information on the narrator, the world she is from and the reason she is going back. Miélville drops in an outsider character, Scile, the narrator's husband, as a neat way to give a little bit of exposition. Scile is a language academic, and he wants to study the natives of Embassytown and their culture. During his time in the book, he explains everything that the Embassytowners already know, but have never articulated themselves.

What I like about the preface, or the "proem" as it's described in the book, is that Miélville gives you an opportunity to make a choice. If this is your kind of thing, then read on, but if not, then you can put the book down and never pick it up again. You may have a little bug eating away at the back of your brain, a bug called regret, gnawing away at the fact you might have put down the greatest story you'll ever read in your life, but if it's not your thing it's not your thing. That's OK. If you read on, however, then you have just signed The Contract. In my situation my housemate who lent me the book told me I had to read it anyway, not that I wouldn't have if I had the choice.

The sole condition of The Contract is that you are trapped in a binding agreement that you can not put this book down until you have reached the last page. One paragraph after another, the story keeps escalating, and building layers, like a snowball rolling uphill. This book may easily be found in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section, but it's real genre is Thriller, but also just happens to be situated on a cool alien planet at the edge of the known Universe, with properly alien aliens.

I still have trouble imagining what the "Hosts" look like, at one point they are described as something like "insect-horse-crab-coral chimeric beasts", but I imagine if this was made as some kind of film (which would have impossibly-high expectations), there would be a creature-shop department employed by people straight out of a lunatic asylum, or whatever politically correct term they call it now days.

There is a kind of technology in Embassytown called "biorigging"--this basically means every technology is actually a live organism. Imagine a large fleshy gun with a mouth and teeth, and when you pull the trigger its mouth opens and howls a flaming projectile. Even the houses are alive, the wallpaper is actually its skin, and through some orifice, like a fireplace or something, is where you have to feed it. I can't help but think that Miélville is probably a huge GWAR fan or something.

I won't go too specific into the strange world of Embassytown and its story, it probably takes about as long to explain as reading the story itself. I'd like to think the story is very much about language and symbolism, about perception and reality, and probably related to Lacanian psychology. If you're not a thinker, you don't have to think that it's really about anything, as the story itself is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. At least that's what it did to me.

In summary, a great read, highly recommended, I should check out more of Miélville's stuff.

Up next: TIMEQUAKE by Kurt Vonnegut.

The following quote is by Phillip K. Dick, when he took a questionerre for Science Fiction writers back in 1969. It is not about Timequake (which was written in 1996), it's about Vonnegut's first book Player Piano, but it may as well be about any of his books:
Question 11: What do you consider the greatest weakness of science fiction today?

Its inability to explore the subtle, intricate relationships that exist between the sexes. Men, in their relationship with women, get themselves into the most goddamn difficult circumstances, and SF ignores--or is unable to deal with--this fundamental aspect of adult life. Therefore SF remains preadult, and therefore appeals--more or less--to preadults. If SF explored the man-woman aspect of life it would not lose its readers as those readers reach maturity. The novel Player Piano is an exception to this, and I suggest that every SF fan and especially every would-be writer study again and again the details of this superb novel, which deal specifically with the relationship of the protagonist and his wife.
(I should note that Embassytown has a fair bit of exploration of the relationship between sexes, although it's such a different planet and different culture, it keeps the characters at their core fundamentally human)