Tag Archives: John Le Carre

From the English Civil War to the War on Terror: Books across time

THE RAVEN’S BANQUET is Clifford Beal’s somewhat disappointing prequel to Gideon’s Angel. In the waning days of the English Civil War, cavalier Richard Treadwell falls into Puritan hands. As he awaits his sentence, he writes down a memoir of his earlier life as an idealistic Protestant mercenary fighting against the Catholic League, only to have his ideals crumble in the face of war’s madness. This is perfectly readable, but just … slight; Treadwell bounces from exploit to exploit with no goal other than surviving another day and learning nothing a lot of historical adventures don’t teach their heroes (the supernatural element is very slight). The constant cutting between the “present” and his youth is distracting too. After the first Treadwell adventure, I’d expected more.

BUNKER HILL: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick looks at how Boston’s smoldering resentments with British rule and taxes exploded into armed insurrection in 1775, giving us Lexington, Concord and the misnamed battle of Breed’s Hill (nobody knows for sure why the Yankees made their stand in such a hard-to-defend spot). Very good at showing how chaotic, compromised and improved the birth of America was, and how unclear the patriots were about what they were doing (“They realized it was impossible to charge Benjamin Church with treason, as the legal definition of treason was still betrayal of the king.”).

Lance Morrow’s THE BEST YEAR OF THEIR LIVES: Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in 1948, Learning the Secrets of Power looks at the year Nixon began his rise with the Alger Hiss hearings, Johnson won his first Senate race and JFK began his battle with Addison’s (which as one reader pointed out hardly justifies the title). Unfortunately Morrow smothers whatever merit the concept had by treating the future presidents more as literary characters than real (JFK’s death is a modern version of the Osiris myth!_ and shoehorning their lives to fit his concept of their characters (Nixon was embarrassed and reticent talking about sex, he was reticent admitting his crimes in Watergate — it all fits!). Coupled with Morrow’s fondness for padding (a history of Washington monuments, a history of film noir), this was a waste of paper.

John Le Carré has a fondness for giving stiff, conventional Brit protagonists a bromance with someone flamboyantly edgy, as in Our Game and The Naive and Sentimental Lover. In ABSOLUTE FRIENDS the buddies are half-hearted radical Ted Mundy and genuinely radical German Sasha who meet as left-wing students, then become handler and East German informant. In the present (i.e., 2002), they’re both recruited by a pacifist billionaire who wants to push back against the military industrial complex in the wake of the Iraq war. But there’s more going on than it appears … Unfortunately what’s going on is a stock plot straight out of a conventional thriller (a CIA scheme to trigger a terror attack and thereby justify the war on terror) and I’m tired of Le Carré ending books with a dying protagonist going stream-of-consciousness (as in the preceding novel The Constant Gardener). A weak one for Le Carré.

#SFWApro. All rights to image (source Wikimedia) remain with holder

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading

A gardener and a sea king: books read

One of the complaints I’ve sometimes seen about John le Carré’s work is that so many of his protagonists have identical troubled, miserable marriages, and that’s pretty accurate (despite exceptions such as The Russia House). Part of what makes THE CONSTANT GARDENER arresting is that the marriage is a happy one despite all the usual warning signs (she’s hot, a lot younger than he is, everyone assumes she’s cheating on him) — although of course we start the story with Justin, a British diplomat in Kenya, learning his wife Tessa has just died. Refusing to believe the official story Justin starts digging and soon discovers Big Pharma and its government allies have been using Kenyans as lab rats for a new drug. Reminiscent of Le Carré’s brooding about corruption in The Tailor of Panama, though slightly more hopeful things can change. Overall excellent, though the scenes where Justin learns about ISPs and computer viruses are horribly antiquated now.

AQUAMAN: Crown of Atlantis by Dan Abnett and various artists is a good follow-up to Black Manta Rising as Aquaman copes with his new popularity in the surface world (“Here come more Aquafans!”), battles an other-dimensional monster and doesn’t notice that Atlantis is starting to get fed up with him. Abnett doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel — Aquaman struggling with Atlantean politics is a plot that goes back to the Bronze Age — but they do a solid job and offer entertaining stories.

#SFWApro. Cover image by John Fontana, all rights to image remain with current holder.


Filed under Comics, Reading

Libraries, bloggers, corrupt bankers and a knightly wordsmith: books (#SFWApro)

THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE is an uninspired graphic novel from Audrey Niffenegger in which a book-loving woman encounters a mysterious bookmobile that contains every book she’s ever read, and nothing else. And years later, she finds it again … Niffenegger clearly things she has Things To Say about reading, but I wasn’t impressed by this enough to try figuring out what they are. As I didn’t care for the author’s Her Fearful Symmetry either, I wonder if Time-Traveler’s Wife is the only thing of hers that’s going to click with me.

I didn’t care at all for Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim so perhaps it’s not surprising I don’t care for the author’s SNOTGIRL: Green Hair Don’t Care (art by Leslie Hung). The story of a struggling fashion blogger whose a hyper-allergic mess in real life felt like an overly cute version of pretty much every recent TV sitcom about struggling twentysomethings. That isn’t a good thing.

GREEN ARROW: The Death and Life of Oliver Queen by Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt ties into DC Rebirth not by bringing back the pre-Flashpoint Green Arrow but by soft-rebooting the bland Flashpoint Ollie (art on his first cover by Dave Wilkins, all rights remain with current holder) into the radical activist version. Which is a great idea, as is bringing back the romance with Black Canary, but story is a flop. I can’t see why Dinah is so down on Ollie using his money for philanthropy (which she implies makes him a hypocrite as he’s rich but helping the poor — no, it doesn’t make any sense). The money laundering underworld bankers are adequate villains, except the story treats “bankers who arrange financing for criminal and terrorist activities” as if it were some breathtakingly new idea. To say nothing of the uninspired nomenclature (a problem for other writers too) — seriously, the bankers fire-burned killers are called The Burned?

For a good story about corrupt bankers, we have John Le Carré’s SINGLE AND SINGLE the story of Oliver Single, former lawyer for his father’s extremely dirty bank. Years ago he walked out on Dad and blew the whistle on him to the British government. Now, though, “Tiger” Single is on the run from very angry Russian mobsters over the loss of their money, so Oliver’s back in to try and save Dad and bring the mobsters down. This comes off as Le Carré reworking the father-son issues of A Perfect Spy for a happier ending; good, although the plot largely vanishes midway through the book.

MALORY: The Knight Who Became King Arthur’s Chronicler by Christina Hardyment appealed to me as I love Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, but lost me early on. Apparently there’s not much definite material about Thomas Malory for Hardyment to work with, so what we get is a constant stream if “it’s quite possible Malory did this” or “Malory might have done that,” which is something I’ll accept in small doses, but here Hardyment’s pulling Malory’s entire life out of the air. Equally annoying, she tries to reverse-engineer his life from his work — Malory wrote about pure romantic love, so obviously he couldn’t possibly have accepted an arranged match. Very unimpressive.


Filed under Comics, Reading

Super-heroes and black ops: books read (#SFWApro)

BATMAN: Graveyard Shift (by various writers and artists) dis unusual these days in that it offers a series of one-shots rather than a big arc: Clayface tries to discredit Bruce Wayne, we met the first inmate ever committed to Arkham, Catwoman becomes queen of the Gotham underworld and Bruce mourns the death of his son Damien (don’t worry, he got better. They always get better). Individually these were fun, but they still carry enough continuity to be distracting; in one story Gordon has been jailed for something but we get zero explanation (on the one hand, Supporting Character Framed is common enough I don’t need one; on the other it isdistracting). And as others have said, the New 52 Batman having so many sidekicks in a six year career is ridiculous (it also reduces Dick to just one in a series of rotating Robins).

RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS: The Big Picture shows the writers are upgrading the power levels: Jason now wields mystic light-sabers and Roy is apparently a super-tech genius. Here again there’s no arc, just a series of stories as Arsenal defeats a criminal army with a screwdriver (more brutal than I like my heroes, though), Arsenal battles Lobo, Red Hood and Starfire take on Frankenstein (the highpoint of the book for me) and the Outlaws’ vacation turns into trouble (“They must be here undercover.”). Fun, but not the A-list — it doesn’t help that R’as al Ghul in the cover image looks like Wolverine.

John Le Carré’s THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is a black comedy inspired by Our Man in Havana (there’s also the in-joke of having the operation labelled “Buchan” for the earlier spy thriller writer) wherein the author’s typical characters have all been replaced by Star Trek‘s Harry Mudd (though admittedly that kind of conman character is hardly new to Le Carré’s works). Pendel is an ex-con who’s reinvented himself as an expat from the upper crust of British tailors; when a spy demands intel on Pendel’s politician-clients as the price for keeping his past secret, the tailor simply makes up whatever bullshit sounds exciting enough. Unfortunately when MI5 and a British press baron learn that Panama’s on the brink of civil war (heroic radicals pitted against a Japanese-backed cabal plotting to exploit the Panama Canal), they can’t sit idly by — and the story becomes more Black than Comedy. With Le Carré’s scathing satire of gullible spymasters, conniving press barons and the supposed “special relationship” between the UK and US, this could easily be a takeoff on the 2003 Iraq War, except it’s seven years too early. Unusual for Le Carré’s work in that Pendel’s marriage is relatively happy; one weakness in the book is that the tailor’s American wife speaks so strangely, I kept thinking she was a non-native English speaker. Overall though, excellent.

2153702SECTION G: United Planets by Mack Reynolds (all rights to cover reside with current holder) collects three short stories set in a future where space flight has enabled every race, culture and  political movement to settle it’s own planet if it so wishes. In a rather Star Trek set up, the United Planets never intervenes in member worlds’ affairs officially, but with an alien invasion looming, Section G specializes in covertly overthrowing governments that won’t get with the program (whether or not Reynolds meant it that way, it’s very reminiscent of the US attitude to governments that weren’t anti-communist enough). Reynolds was well known back in his day for looking at socioeconomic themes rather than just tech; while he does that here, he doesn’t do it as well as I remembered — way too many points made through As You Know exposition, for instance. And while I don’t hold it against the book it’s funny now that writing in the 1960s he assumed Spain’s then-current dictatorship (fascist General Franco) would continue into the future long enough to reach the stars. A touch disappointing.


Filed under Comics, Reading

John LeCarré, the Vision and Stormwatch: Books Read (#SFWApro)

OUR GAME by John LeCarré is a much broodier post-Cold War novel than Secret Pilgrim as the protagonist, retired spymaster Tim, discovers that not only has his former protégé run off with Tim’s woman and £37 million in embezzled funds, police and British Intelligence suspect Tim of masterminding it. This starts very slow, picks up steam gradually, and never entirely successfully — Tim’s obsessive desire to save his former asset is rationalized by their being inextricably linked at a deep emotional level, but I never bought it. And the LeCarré protagonist tormented by his faithless significant other is almost a cliché. That said, I still found the book  a compelling read, and LeCarré focuses on the problems of Russia’s breakaway states (this involves Chechnya’s neighbor Ingushetia) well before the rest of the world (and he’s clearly disappointed we didn’t get the era of lowered international tensions he was hoping for in Secret Pilgrim).

visionscarletwitch1After the Vision married the Scarlet Witch in the 1970s, the android and the mutant eventually moved to the suburbs and started a family, with the usual problems bedeviling their efforts to be normal (cover by Rick Leonardi, all rights to current holder). In  THE VISION: Little Worse Than a Man by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta, the android tries it again, but this time with a wife and children he’s apparently built himself. This was more entertaining than I expected, even though I think the earlier version was more interesting — the android-tries-to-be-human shticks here are so familiar, this might as well have been Next Gen’s Data (this may also reflect that this just isn’t my version of the Vision). And the ominous ending frankly struck me as a stretch. So readable, but with a poor aftertaste.

STORMWATCH: The Dark Side by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda is competently done, but much more unsatisfying. Stormwatch is (so I understand) the New 52 reboot of Wildstorm’s JLA-riff, The Authority, and as several critics have said, it’s hard to see what purpose they serve in the same universe. Sure, they talk a lot about how they’re totally not super-heroes, but they obviously are, so what’s the point? And while Cornell makes the team and its members’ powers clear even to someone who’s never read the original, the character stuff doesn’t work at all: all the struggle and clashing over who’s going to be in charge is quite uninteresting when I don’t know the players (the interactions of Midnight and Apollo, on the other hand, play just fine). So a nice try.

1 Comment

Filed under Comics, Reading

Hotel desk clerks, race in America and super-schools: books read (#SFWApro)

1735330THE NIGHT MANAGER by John le Carré (cover credits unknown, all rights to current holder) gives us as protagonist Jonathan Pine, a military veteran working quietly in a Swiss hotel. Years ago his efforts to help British intelligence got a woman Pine cared for killed; when the shady millionaire responsible shows up at the hotel, Pine agrees to help British agents bring him down by infiltrating his inner circle. In contrast to the tentative post-Cold War optimism of The Secret Pilgrim, le Carré here is even more cynical than usual, as Pine’s mission is derailed not only by the usual turf wars but corruption, as the bad guy’s plan will line the pockets of many important people. Well written (“His life has consisted of a run of rehearsals for a play he had failed to take part in”) and absorbing, the only flaw is that Pine’s romance with Jeds, the bad guy’s mistress, is really flat and unconvincing.

So after reading a discussion related to our WW II internment of Japanese-Americans, I picked up INFAMY: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves. While I knew the broad outlines well enough — that despite a complete lack of evidence of any Japanese residents plotting against us, the government interned tens of thousands from a mix of racism, political calculation and greed (vested business interests were happy to get their land or eliminate them as competition)—a lot of the details surprised me, from the effect of the camps on teen social life (in the crowds it was easy to sneak away from parental supervision) to injustices I’d never heard of (like the 2,000 American citizens we traded to Japan in return for American POWs). The kind of story that makes me want to dig up a number of graves and defile the corpses.

ARE ITALIANS WHITE?: How Race Is Made in America is a collection of essays edited by Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno that concludes the answer is yes: while Italians were often considered inferior to Real Americans, there were no serious attempts to class them as colored, so they could gain citizenship, voting rights and other benefits black Americans were denied. The essays discuss the broad and diverse approach of Italians to the race question (from radicals who opposed all forms of racism to people who cemented their claim to be white by dumping on blacks) to individual profiles such as Giancarlo Esposito and his roles in Spike Lee’s films (he argues that Lee actually does a better job capturing Italian-American life than he does black).

GOTHAM ACADEMY: Calamity by Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher has Olive and Maps meeting new student Damian Wayne, encountering a real-live Batboy and learning more about Olive’s super-villain mom, Calamity, than Olive really wants to know. This worked for me better than the first collection, though it’s still not quite to my taste. I am curious if all the villains on the academy staff (Professor Strange, Professor Milo, Kirk Langstrom) mean this is outside regular continuity.

AVENGERS ACADEMY: AvsX: by Christos Gage, Tom Grummett and Timothy Green II has Wolverine drop off some of his students during the Avengers vs. Xmen Big Event so that they won’t get caught up in the crossfire. That, of course, doesn’t work out as well as planned … This is much weaker than the other Academy TPBs, feeling rather like they’re just filling space until the event finishes. That said, it’s still got some good bits—apparently this series can make even a tedious crossover event look entertaining.


1 Comment

Filed under Comics, Reading

Not much reading/watching done this week (#SFWApro)

No movies, in fact, just books.

SCOTT PILGRIM: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life is the first volume in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s saga of the eponymous 23-year-old slacker who in this series opener has a high-school girlfriend, falls for a woman his own age (I find it oddly amusing that even fiction about twentysomethings uses the Older/Younger Woman conflict) and then has to battle the first of her Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends. I think this might have worked for me when I was Scott’s age, but reading now it seems pointless and plotless; the swing from sitcomish storyline to fantasy at the end felt very odd too.

doctorstrange01THE ESSENTIAL DR. STRANGE Vol. 3 (cover by Frank Brunner, all rights to current holder) is a very mixed bag. We start off with Steve Englehart’s run on the title (some of which was in Vol. 2), including Strange’s battle with the fanatical witch-hunter Silver Dagger, the destruction of the universe (and Strange’s horrified reaction to being the only one who remembers it is great) and the beginning of Stephen Strange exploring the occult history of America. All good, but then we jump to Marv Wolfman’s time on the title, and much as I like Wolfman’s work elsewhere, his writing here and his retconning away much of the Englehart run were sub-par. Things pick up as Jim Starlin takes over and ends reasonably well as Roger Stern begins his long run on the book. For me, worth getting for the good parts.

THE TEA ENTHUSIAST’S HANDBOOK: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Best Teas by Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss was one I picked up with a birthday gift certificate (TYG having already bought me a wide selection of tea for her big gift). Unlike my other two books on tea, this is less a history and more about how to select it, how to steep, the merits of the different main kinds (black, green, white, yellow, oolong and pur-en-ah), and some of the well-known varieties of each. The book is a bit tea-snobby, and I frankly don’t think my palate is good enough to make use of some of these suggestions; on the other hand, paying more attention to steeping time and to water temperature has produced notably better drinks for me. Of course if you don’t drink tea, you might as well skip this.


Coming out in 1990, THE SECRET PILGRIM appears to be John LeCarre’s retrospective on the Cold War, as Ned — a supporting character in The Russia House now working as a spy-trainer — finds George Smiley’s speech to the troops triggering flashbacks to stories of gay colleagues, the arch-traitor Bill Haydon (of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Smiley giving away cufflinks and Ned’s own miserable marital history (in the tradition of all LeCarre heroes to date). This is less a novel than a collection of themed shorts, the theme being the way unfortunates get ground up in the Great Game and whether it was really worth it (Smiley points out it was ultimately the Russians who broke their own system, not us prodding from outside). Not A-list LeCarre, but good reading.


Filed under Comics, Reading

Catching up on books (#SFWApro)

THE RUSSIA HOUSE is the British intelligence branch that discovers a high-ranked Soviet scientist has contacted a British publisher with a blistering book that reveals the entire USSR military establishment is a paper tiger; the scientist wants the publisher to tell the world the news, the Russia House (and the CIA) want the publisher to turn him into a source. This is a very talky book—at least the first third is heavily oriented to interrogations in cloistered rooms—but LeCarre makes all that heavy conversation completely readable (though I can’t imagine, and will probably never watch to find out, how they turned it into a movie). Surprisingly upbeat on the publisher’s fate, compared to the usual innocent caught up in LeCarre’s spy games.

LONDON FOG: A Biography by Christine L. Corton chronicles the legendary London pea-soupers that resulted from a mix of London topography (like Los Angeles, it’s a low lying city compared to the surroundings), industrialization and population growth (a running problem for years was that nobody wanted to restrict householders’ use of coal so all fixes were half-hearted) combining with natural fogs. This is as much a literary history as a history, recounting how writers from Dickens to Christina Brand have used fog as a symbol of alienation, apocalypse, moral collapse or simply a way to allow brazen crimes to happen unseen and then the post-Clean Air Act writers turned it into an often-exaggerated nostalgic detail (Corton notes that very few Sherlock Holmes stories involved fog, and Jack the Ripper killed on clear nights). Good, although I think I’d have liked more true accounts and fewer literary bits.

CEREALIZING AMERICA: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford is an entertaining account of how health reformers such as Dr. Kellogg developed breakfast cereals as an alternative to salt pork and similar morning fare, then spread the gospel by advertising (“Up to that point, advertising was considered unsavory as it was primarily used for patent medicine huckstering.”), the creation of some of the early spokes=characters such as Sunny Jim and an Uncle Sam, and then the somewhat guilty expansion into presweetened cereal (which was rationalized as a health move, as it would discourage kids from spooning sugar into the cereal bowl. There’s also a long, nostalgic list of the advertising icons of my youth including Sugar Bear, Quisp, Cap’n Crunch, Count Chocula and such forgetten cereals as the calypso-influenced Day-O and Ooops (“The premise was that due to an accident in the factory none of the cereal shapes looked alike.”) and lots of details about making cereal (puffed rice and puffed wheat were puffed by firing them from modified artillery). Fun and informative, though ending in 1995 it doesn’t cover the recent slump in cereal sales or the growth or organic and other specialty products.

ironman013ESSENTIAL IRON MAN 3 starts well with Archie Goodwin assuming the reigns from Stan Lee (the changeover actually came in the previous volume) but goes down hill after Ally Brodsky takes over (I’ve compared the two writers here) and ends with Gerry Conway, who was a long way from the good writer he became. Along with adding new villains such as Midas, Firebrand and the Controller (on the George Tuska cover left, all rights with current holder), Goodwin also took the radical step of replacing Tony’s damaged heart with an artificial one; gave Tony his first serious love interest, though not a great one (Janice Cord has no purpose in life other than to be helpless, fall for Tony, then die tragically); and in a throwaway bit in one issue, introduced Howard Stark, Tony’s father. This was a minor retcon at the time (the first suggestion Tony wasn’t a completely self-made man) that’s now much more important due to the sliding time scale of the Marvel Universe: as Tony put on the armor in the early 21st century, Howard can provide the same technical genius in earlier years (as in the Peggy Carter TV show). A really mixed bag of stories, but the Goodwin stuff made it a worthwhile investment.


Filed under Comics, Reading

Reading Material (#SFWApro)

A PERFECT SPY by John LeCarré has a horrififed British intelligence officer trying to track down chameleonic spymaster Magnus Pym without letting the US know that he may be a traitor of Kim Philby proportions. This, however, is mostly a frame for Pym to reminisce about his life and how it was molded by his even more chameleonic, glad-handing, manipulative father. This is LeCarré’s personal favorite of his books (with the possible exception of The Constant Gardener) due to the heavy autobiographical content, Rick being a stand-in for LeCarré’s own manipulative father (judging from the intro to this edition, the real deal was considerably nastier). Well written though a bit uneven, and even more cynical than LeCarré’s usual, Pym scoffing at Spy Who Came in From the Cold’s claim that the spy networks are the Sane People who keep the crazies from destroying everything.
AMERICAN DAUGHTER GONE TO WAR: On the Front Lines With an Army Nurse in Vietnam by Winnie Smith is, like Home Before Morning, background reading for Southern Discomforts. This is well-executed, though familiar, in its story of grim combat surgery, but it’s interesting to compare the personal lives of the two women: Smith’s comes across much tidier, with fewer affairs and no drugs stronger than booze and tobacco until after the war. Smith also appears to have become much more bitter than van Devanter at everyone from rear-echelon officers to pampered USO stars to the trivial problems of the patients she treated later in the states. According to Smith, it wasn’t until she read Van Devanter’s book that she realized how much anger and pain she was holding inside; good, though I’m not sure it added more to my insight.
SID AND MARTY KROFFT: A Critical Study of Saturday Morning Children’s Television, 1969-1993 by Hal Erickson looks at the creators of countless Saturday morning shows of my childhood including such time travel-relevant ones as the two Land of the Lost series and Lost Saucer. Erickson follows the Kroffts from their Poupees de Paris nudie puppet review (“In those days, live nudie shows were rare enough some of the audience found it quite titillating.”) through their long chain of kidvid starting with H.R. Pufnstuff and their several prime-time variety shows (most successfully Donny and Marie). Dry, but interesting as someone who grew up with these guys (though I was never as fond of them as Erickson). There’s also an interesting appendix discussing a lawsuit the Kroffts filed against McDonalds over ripping off their ideas for McDonald land
H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE, of course, time travel’s other foundational work, and like Connecticut Yankee it proved informative to reread it. I hadn’t realized how closely the Pal movie follows the book, the big change being that the Time Traveler rescues Weena from the Morlocks and then destroys them (in the original he heads home after she dies in a fire).
While Wells certainly gets as didactic as Twain, he has the advantage of writing at much shorter length and not having his protagonist as smugly confident, the Time Traveler admitting how often his theories about the future world turn out dead wrong. Wells also works in a lot of jokes about previous utopian/future SF, pointing out that most people who visit the future are unlikely to get detailed explanations of how the sewers work (the emphasis on the personal side is what keeps Wells’ SF alive when so many others of that era are vanished).


Filed under Now and Then We Time Travel, Reading

Movies and Books (well, one of each)

As I’ve always heard, The Omega Man is far and away the worst adaptation of Richard Matheson‘s I Am Legend but after my recent Matheson film festival, I couldn’t resist checking it out.
The movie has the same basic concept of one true human (Charlton Heston here) surrounded by monsters but instead of Matheson’s vampires, they’re traditional post-apocalypse mutants (though as light-sensitive albino mutants they still shun the light). And the real threat is that they’re also fanatical Luddites led by Antony Zerbe, blaming technology for the world’s collapse and hating Heston as a reminder of the age of the machine. Which I think, makes the mutation pointless—human fanatics would have had just as much threat. And if the mutants aren’t inherently hostile, who cares if they mutate?
The other big problem is that while the abandoned LA of the opening looks very cool, Charlton Heston can’t pull off the one-man show this requires (I like Heston, but Vincent Price he ain’t), so everything bogs down until Rosalind Cash and a few other survivors show up (and even then it’s rather lacking in ooomph). Not recommended. “Tell me something, are you folks really with the Internal Revenue Service?”

In the intro to this edition of THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL John LeCarre chuckles about how the end of the Cold War had many people predicting he’d be washed up, when he’d already written multiple novels that didn’t depend on it. This one, for instance, focuses on a British actress whose half-baked radical sympathies make her a perfect mole the Mossad can use to penetrate a Palestinian terrorist network by fabricating a relationship between her and the brother of the network head. LeCarre does a good job presenting both sides as devious and ruthless in their covert battles, but not evil (which unsurprisingly got him criticized as too sympathetic to the Palestinians). The detailed look at his protagonist’s mindset as she moves through different roles in “the theater of the real” bogged this down a little for me, but leCarré ultimately carries it off.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Reading