Manic Monday Apocalypso: Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Now we’re talking APOCALYPSE! Actually, whether The Hitchhiker’s Guide counts as “post-apocalyptic” is highly debatable, since the Earth is completely destroyed in the first chapter.

But over the course of five books, Earth is destroyed, rebuilt, redestroyed, visited on different timelines, and finally completely and utterly removed from existence entirely (though not enough so, apparently, to stop publishers from wanting to make a sixth book).

What’s more, it’s unique as a post-apocalyptic book in the sense that Arthur Dent is basically caught in a highly civilized post-apocalyptic life. He seldom seems on the verge of starving, on the one hand, though there are numerous direct and bureaucratic attempts on his life.

He’s constantly looking for some sort of normalcy and stability and insignificance, yet he is fated to a life of weirdness and randomity and, yes, significance. He is destined to live an interesting life, in the literary and Chinese sense. Which, perhaps, we all are.

It’s hard to overstate the effect this book had on my writing style. Really. Really terrible, actually. Not that it’s bad when Douglas Adams writes that way, though if you read all five books, you’ll find fewer and fewer of the literary flourishes that make the first book so funny. It’s a highly affected style but it’s a little like riffing your own movie.

The saga’s pedigree is a little odd, too. It started, I believe, as a radio show, that got turned into a book and a sequel, that got turned into a miniseries, that got turned into a text-based adventure game, that got turned into some more books, and a big Hollywood movie.

Outside of the first two books, which make a nice set by themselves, Restaurant at the End of the Universe rounding out the shenanigans in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in a relatively satisfying way, the original BBC miniseries is worth watching. It’s not a great series in terms of hilarity, but elements of it are just perfect: Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, David Dixon as Ford Prefect, the graphics for the guide, and the user of Peter Jones as the voice of the book. Oh, and the theme music, which apparently is “Journey of the Sorceror” by The Eagles, of all things.

The recent movie is relatively weak as well, though it has a good cast and a bit of nice set design.

In any event, you know you’re having a bad week when it starts with your home planet being destroyed.

Until next Monday, mutants, stay radiated!

Spaced

We’ve been watching the millenial Channel 4 show, Spaced this week, which seems to be the series that really established the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg team that would go on to make Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. (I’ve written about Hot Fuzz before here, regarding its take on male friendship.)

In a lot of ways, “Spaced” is a very traditional comedy with a very traditional situation. Tim Bisley (Pegg) and Daisy Steiner (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson) play two 20-somethings in need of a place to stay. They find the perfect place, with one catch: They have to pretend to be a “professional couple”.

This setup is actually used for almost none of the stories that follow, but unlike most sitcoms, Tim and Daisy are constantly forgetting that they’re supposed to be a couple, and once they’ve warmed up to the creepy landlady Marsha (Julia Deakin), they find themselves mid-sentence saying something that makes no sense.

“Spaced” features a lot of the cuts, setups and rhythms found in the two movies, and is rife with references to cinema, television, video games and comics. It’s a credit to the show that I probably got about half the references and still found it hilarious. (The references to television are particularly British, and I only know a handful.)

A lot of what makes it work, of course, is the melodramatic camera work and use of movie tropes (camera angles, zooms, flashbacks) in situations that are either inappropriate or that don’t pay off as expected.

For example, Nick Frost plays Pegg’s best moustachioed friend Mike, whose great desire for life is to be in the military, but who can’t get in because of…the incident…that happened long ago when Mike and Tim were kids. Several times, they mention this, and look skyward, as the camera drifts up to a flashback of the two of them as children, sitting in a tree, Mike still with his moustache.

And then they’re interrupted, and the flashback ends. We do sort of find out later on what happened, but it doesn’t really make sense. We just know it was Tim’s fault.

The show’s American parallel is probably “Arrested Development”, though it’s far less sleazy (from what I recall of AD), and far geekier. There’s some of the whimsy of “Northern Exposure”, and you could even compare it to “Friends”, except that it feels a lot less plastic, for all the contrived-ness in its setup and style.

Rounding out the cast is Mark Heap as Brian, the tortured artist who lives downstairs and Katy Carmichael as Twist, Daisy’s bubbleheaded friend “in the fashion business” (she works at a dry cleaners).

These six characters pretty much carry the show, though there are no throwaways: The guy who stole Tim’s girl, the bike messenger “Wheels”, Brian’s mum, and Marsha’s tempestuous never-actually-seen-but-always-heard teenage daughter–they’re all vividly drawn.

Despite the wildness–which actually doesn’t seem all that wild ten years later–the show hangs together by its character development. So much so that, toward the end of the second series, the penultimate show is actually pretty serious. We were worried that the show was going to end on a downbeat.

Having come to the show backwards, as it were, through the two movies, Jessica Hynes was the unknown element. She co-wrote the shows along with Pegg, and moved on to–well, to have a mess of kids, and to do movies. (She plays Simon’s ex-girlfriend in Shaun of the Dead, the one who is also leading a crew of characters to safety, though in the completely opposite direction.) Turns out she’s quite a force.

To reference “Friends” again, I remember in the first season of that show, when it took off all crazy-like, the actors talking about the length of the series, and how sad it would be for them to be in their 40s, still doing the same setup of having roommates and no steady job and no family. Ultimatey, they did go for 10 years, and it was sort of sad. (Or so it seemed to me, I only watched the first season.)

“Spaced” ran for fourteen episodes, encompassing a year or two of the characters’ lives, and by the end, there’s some concern that they all need to move on. (This is the sort of serious moment.) There’s even a speech where Tim talks to Daisy about how lucky they are to have been able to prolong their childhoods–though it was wisely cut out of the actual show.

But basically, here’s a show about 20-something geeks, written, directed and performed by 20-something geeks. And you might have to be, or have been, a 20-something geek in the ‘90s to appreciate it. And there’s almost no way they could have gone on too long with it, or get it back together now for a third season, as they all approach 40.

In fact, in both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, the characters are in my opinion a little old for the roles. But we’re lucky to have this moment in time crystallized in DVD form, and for the creators to have gone on to do even more cool stuff.

Just Ourselves And All Eternity

Trooper York shows a different side over on his blog.

I suppose it’s a cliché that we become increasingly aware of our mortality as we age. I remember lying in bed at the age of five and feeling my mortality acutely, a feeling that used to visit me periodically, and now sits beside me like a municipal road repair crew with all the time in the world.

And I remember having my car spin out on the 101 at 50 mph–I remembered to turn into the skid–and thinking, “So, this is it. This is how I die.” An entirely different experience of mortality, akin to being tossed about by strong waves at the beach: You already made the choice that set you on that path and now it’s out of your hands.

And when I feel a mysterious pain, or I notice some loss of vision or agility, the Man With The Scythe is there, looking at his watch. But again, that’s a different experience. Troop talks about that a bit.

Another experience of mortality comes from thinking about my children. I don’t really think of death as being able to hurt me directly, as odd as that may sound. Death pretty much ends those concerns. But my death would harm my family, which creates an entirely different concern.

Ah, but the sort of mortality Troop mostly talks about is that of the missing person. They don’t even need to be dead, just gone from your life. Change itself is a reminder of a the sort of mortality that is inescapable.

You’ll never be that person again. You’ll never know those people you knew. The family that raised you is long gone, and you’re filling that role with a new generation.

I’m sure that’s behind the static concept of Heaven that a lot of people have. They remember a moment from childhood, with their mom or their grandmother, or some other person filling a role relative to themselves, and they remember a particular feeling that they identify as being perfect. (Richard Matheson actually manages to create a concept of Heaven in What Dreams May Come that allows both for change and a Heaven where you meet up with your dog.)

On the other hand, maybe this is why you be wary of late night walks in the cold autumn air while listening to classic rock radio stations.

On The Criticism of Art

I once pissed off the entire WRITERS forum on Compuserve by comparing the output of art critics to bowel movements.

I was young, and a lot more honest back then.

Althouse’s thread on Ebert made me think of this incident, which was rather hard for me at the time, since I liked the people there, even if an inordinate number of them seemed to work writing reviews for porno. It was in that general area I “met” Mike Resnick and Diana Gabaldon. (They were in LITFORUM, as I recall, which WRITERS was split off from.)

Basically, a guy came in asking about why art critics are reviled, and my observation was that it was warranted. I was surprised at how lonely it got real fast. For me, it goes without saying that criticism, as a rule, is parasitic. Most people, I think, feel this way. I think because it’s mostly true.

What I got wrong, in retrospect, was thinking that criticism can’t be better than the thing it’s criticizing. That’s at least arguable, though I still think this Twain takedown of James Fenimore Cooper is pretty pissy. (Then again, I’ve never read Cooper.) On the other hand, this Richard Jeni bit on Jaws IV is hysterical.

MST3K and Cinematic Titanic could be seen as film criticism, though, as I’ve said, Citizen Kane would be a great movie to riff on, as Mike Nelson’s RiffTrax demonstrates. Art relies on certain conventions that are not logical, comprehensive or literal, and so it’s easy to make fun of. (This applies to paintings and sculpture, as well as music, literature and movies.)

But now, I suppose, we must confront The Big H: Hypocrisy. For example, this is pretty pissy. How many reviews of stuff, some of it in the category of “art”, have I done just here on this blog? The linked tag shows about 20 items, going back to late August. (I guess I haven’t been very good at tagging stuff.) I’m hypocriting at about 2-3 items a week, here.

Or am I?

When I review something, I’m trying to make it very idiosyncratic. I’m not on some lofty plane contrasting Gone Baby Gone with Proust’s Rememberance of Things Past. I’m not really concerned about Art-with-a-capital-A. (I learned in my music study days that such concerns tend to be constipating.)

What I try to do when I review anything, even a non-fiction work, is give you, the reader, an idea of where I’m at. Everything is viewed and evaluated from a particular point-of-view. Unlike science, where it’s required to eliminate the baggage that might come from that point-of-view, in art, the baggage is required.

You’re being presented with a series of images and words designed to create an emotional effect. Without the baggage that is your language, culture, upbringing, aesthetic, sensibility and so on, any work of art is going to fail to resonate. (Indeed, where does the resonance come from if not sympathetic strings of your own experience?)

For non-fiction, it’s a little simpler. If a book on how to make ice cream is 90% on how to calve and raise a particular kind of cow whose milk is especially good for ice cream, and I’m sitting in my one room apartmen tin the city, with the Alta Dena carton in my lap, I’m probably gonna be a little pissed. But it’s important you know that’s where I am.

And, in the end, even the guy who writes the bad book or makes the bad movie has done more than I have in my review. No matter how good the review (and the critical ones are the best, right?), making the art–however bad–is harder, braver and more worthy of respect.

Now, I think it’s perfectly respectable to walk out of a movie after eight minutes if, like Ebert–who I kind-of think is an idiot, adrift between what he knows he’s supposed to think versus what he actually thinks–you can make a shopping list of reasons why.

That list in his first review is brutal, perhaps, but probably fair: Moviemakers are required to present us with a minimum of technique to get us to stay in the chair. You can’t really violate all the rules with amateurism and shoddy craftsmanship and expect people to invest their time. The idea that even a critic is obliged to sit there subject to an insult of this caliber is pointless torture.

And you may (and should!) apply this bit of reasoning to my nanowrimo effort. Or any of my other efforts, if you can find them.

Kinda Cool: 10,000 visits

Some time in the past couple of days, I passed the 10,000 visitor mark.

As I noted in June, when I passed the 5K, it might only take about 4-5 months to get to 10K, and, hey, I was right. Woo. Hoo.

It’d be cool if I could pass 15K by the end of the year. A bit of a stretch, though at the current rates.

Still, thanks for dropping by and, uh, tip your waitress and try the veal.

Blogging may fall off during the nanowrimo. But you should be able to read that, if you’re so inclined.

Simply Skimming Reinvention

reader_iam has turned her blog into more a “catch” for stories of the day, peppered with some short quips and observations. (She doesn’t call it a blog, but she’s actually just gone from a not-quite Althouse-style “essay blog”, like this one, to an aggregate style, like Instapundit.)

Check it out. She’s got that marvellous ability to say something…piquant in a sentence or two. (Still don’t like the commenting software, tho’.)

It’s Hard Being Right All The Time

As the global warming house of cards tumbles, it’s time to revisit my views on oil.

Like the real estate bubble, which I was vigorously assuring people would pop (I mean honestly, anyone who can afford to pay $750,000 for a house is pulling down six-figures minimum, and not that many households are doing that), I’ve also stated that as soon as we start sinking money into alternative fuels, the price of oil will drop to the point where those fuels are not financially feasible.

Behold!
According to this, oil is below $70 per barrel. The most feasible of the alternatives I’ve read about is shale oil. (Still oil, but in crunchy form.) According to this, shale costs more than $60 per barrel, though I’ve seen estimates that it can be brought in slightly cheaper.

Russia’s slap-happy waking bear dreams aside, I would suggest that oil can’t be kept higher than the price that encourages alternatives. I mean, obviously, if you have magic car-moving goo for $90 barrel then oil can’t go higher than that, or people will buy MCMG.

But also, the higher the price of a barrel, the more the alternatives can cost, and therefore the greater the interest in providing those alternatives.

Simple, eh?

Oil producers are simply motivated: They want as much money as they can get for what they have for as long as possible. By reducing output, they raise the prices and extend the longevity of their supply. But people will simply use less, on the one hand, and look for alternatives on the other.

The oilmen know this and act accordingly.

Eventually, I’m sure, we’ll get to that better form of fuel. But it’ll probably be something we don’t even see now, maybe taking advantage of physics we don’t even understand yet, say, at the quark or sub-quark level.

That would be cool. In the mean time, enjoy your oil. How low will it go? Think it might go back to sub-$50? Sub-$20?

That, I cannot say. I do like to point out that the peak oil people assured us it could only go up from here, much like the global warming people.

I’m petty that way.

Drive Them SUVs, People!

Via Instawhatsit, a roundup of climate change heresy at Fabius Maximus.

He entitles it “Good news”, but it’s only good news if it counters the flow of stupidity. The fact that the data contradicts the global warming model–well, what will happen is that we’ll get a lot of quiet on the topic. You may have noticed less of a “global warming” drumbeat lately.

It’ll get quieter while the socialists latch on to the “free market failure” idea. Presuming they don’t destroy the economy, when things get better, they’ll go back to the environmental football.

The other reason it’s not good news is that we could really use the planet to be a few degrees warmer. A huge chunk of Canada and Russia could be turned into arable farmland with a 5-10 degree hike. (Maybe not even that much.)

Plus, a lot of people are cold. And they like to put their cold feet on my warm belly or back. This has to stop.