Tag Archives: Television

Sharp Objects, Big Little Lies, and The End of Things…

Friendly Notice: The following post contains frank discussion and spoilers for the television mini-series Sharp Objects.

Pardon me while I climb on my soapbox…

The past two summers have gifted us with heady, visually intriguing mini-series based on powerful works by women.  Last year’s Big Little Liesan adaptation of Lynne Moriarty’s 2015 novel broached the topic of domestic abuse, violence against women, and the repercussions–expected and unexpected–of that violence.  This summer, HBO aired Sharp Objects, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2006 debut novel.  Both productions were directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.  They are both visually stunning, sensual, scenic productions that manage to convey as much (if not more) through silence than most productions do with pages and pages and pages of dialog.  Sharp Objects was a languorous, slow-moving southern gothic that made you feel sweaty from the sweltering heat portrayed on the screen.   Amy Adams’ performance was the stuff of legends and deserves applause, awards, and accolades.

Image result for sharp objects amy adams
Amy Adams in Sharp Objects, via The Wrap

However…

There be spoilers ahead, Matey!
(And let’s also note that we are talking about these shows as adaptations.  While we understand that the book and its film are independent pieces of art, they can also be considered side-by-side, which we are doing here).

We really need to talk about these endings. (Seriously.  Spoilers.  You’ve been warned.)

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Both Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects are the kind of stories where the ending redefine the entire story, forcing the reader to go back, rethink the story they have just read, and contemplate not only the truth that’s been lurking under the surface, but also about how their assumptions about “good guys” and “bad guys” affected their ability to recognize what was going on.  They are clear, coherent, wonderfully intelligent, and thoughtful.  However, one of the major themes that connect both shows are the plethora of headlines talking about the “abrupt” and “confusing” endings.  So let me be clear: neither book has a confusing ending.  In fact, they are both notable and noteworthy for the definitive statements they make about women learning to heal from trauma.

Let’s stick, for now, with Sharp Objects, since it’s the freshest in my (and perhaps your) memory–and also because I’m more angry at it right now.  In the book, journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her hometown to investigate the murder of a young girl and the disappearance of another.  From the beginning, we learn that Camille is depressed, self-harming (she carves words on her skin), and self-medicating with alcohol.  We learn that her younger sister, Marian, the undisputed ‘favorite child’ died of an unknown or unspecified disease, leaving Camille alone and forced to cope with her narcissistic, manipulative mother Adora.  Her return home refuels all the old tensions within her family, but now, Camille is focused on her half-sister Amma, some twenty years her junior, who is trapped with their mother and clearly coping badly.  Amma lives a double life: she acts out, takes drugs, and drinks (among other problematic behavior) outside, but in her house, Amma regresses, becoming a meek, innocent child that their mother can care for and manipulate.

Over the course of the story, we learn that Camille’s mother Adora suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, or, as it is now known, Factitious disorder imposed on another–a condition in which a caregiver develops a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, and harms the person in their care in order to be perceived as a helpful, saintly, martyr figure.   Adora herself was responsible for the death of Camille’s sister and, indeed, nearly kills Camille and Amma by feeding them a tonic containing rat poison.  The daughters are saved at the last moment, Adora is arrested, and Camille takes Amma to live with her.  Things seem fine until a girl at Amma’s new school is murdered, and Camille realizes that Amma was the murderer of the two girls, driven to violent rage when she though that the girls were getting more attention from Adora than Amma herself.  Distraught after Amma’s arrest, Camille uses a knife to carve more words into her back and very nearly begins cutting her face.  She is saved by her editor, who takes her in.  At the end of the book, Camille is living with the editor and his wife, and learning how to be part of a stable, loving family for once in her life.   For the record, this is a very watered-down version of the plot, and you should still read it.

The mini-series which aired on HBO (and concluded on Sunday) ends with Camille discovering vital (and horribly gruesome) evidence of Amma’s guilt concealed in Amma’s creepy-as-sin dollhouse.  Abruptly, we see Amma standing in the doorway.  She whispers “Don’t tell Mama,” before a brutally quick cut to the credits.  The only indication we have about the reality of Amma’s actions are a series of rapid-fire, hazy cuts that implicate Amma and her two friends in the deaths of the girls in Windgap, and Amma alone in the death of her friend from school.  The final shot of the entire episode is Amma’s face.

There have been a number of critics who have taken issue with this ending for its style, for its glamorization of Amma’s cruelty, for its ambiguity.  There is a lot to be said about this show, and this story, from the reality of female rage, the importance of telling women’s stories without pretense, or, indeed without needing male characters to justify their behavior.  But what has gone largely overlooked here, is how it destroys the real power of Sharp Objects‘ ending.

As we’ve pointed out here before, there is a troubling, pervasive trope of women victims in fiction–not only in mysteries, but they remain a primary offender.  For time immemorial, we have been treated to the image of a women’s silent body, violated and harmed.  We have been taught that women endure pain as a permanent condition–think of Miss Havisham forever in her wedding dress; or Bertha Mason in the attic; or any female ghost who ever haunted a house.  Women are vessels for pain in fiction, and we are taught to see that pain as inescapable.

Gillian Flynn flipped this trope on its head in Sharp Objects. From the beginning of the story, it seems that Camille is another damaged woman, trapped in her own pain.  This is a character who quite literally carved her pain into her own flesh, making her skin both an armor against the world and a cage from which she can never (apparently) break free.  In the show, we also learn in far more detail about the harm Camille endured as a result of the people in her town–yet another trap keeping her from healing.  At the book’s end, however, we see that Camille has learned that there is a way out from the horrible cycle of illness, anger, self-loathing, and self-deception that her family and her town practice.  She is given the choice and the opportunity to grow and heal–and she takes it.

That opportunity, that choice, that hope, is taken away from her in the mini-series.  By giving us Amma’s face at the end of the show, Sharp Objects is no longer Camille’s story.  Instead, she facilitates a story about Amma and Adora, and the ways in which violence destroys people, ruining the idea of a “pure victim.”  This is not to say this is not an important trope.  But to take away Camille’s hope is to perpetuate the notion that women in fiction (that women in general) suffer without resolution, and without real choice.  To take away the book’s ending is to dilute the shocking feminist ending of Sharp Objects in favor of a far more problematic one.  The miniseries states that women can be anything–victim, murderer, villain, or bystander.  Again, this is fine.  But the book says that women can change.  And that is vital.

Going Off Book…A Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 If/Then…

Following the enormous popular and critical success of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1986 novel), the likelihood that there would be a Season Two was a pretty good one.  Media success doesn’t rest easily.  As a result, the show’s second season (which is currently streaming on Hulu) is running off-book.

It’s a pretty daring prospect, on the whole.  The Handmaid’s Tale is not the first series to run ahead of, or away from, its literary foundations.  The production of Game of Thrones has outpaced George R.R. Martin’s writing, so that the final two seasons have covered material that has not yet been in print….though the books will, hopefully, see the light of day soon.  Fox’s recently cancelled show Lucifer was based on a character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but took on a life of its own very quickly (#SaveLucifer by the way.  It’s an incredible show).  But The Handmaid’s Tale has the daunting task of remaining true to Atwood’s masterpiece, and also advancing the plot enough to give both readers and non-readers a reason to keep watching.

Thus far, they seem to be doing a very good job of it.  Ratings and reviews for the second series have been very good–if acknowledging the fact that the harrowing subject matter and superb acting make each episode uniquely difficult to watch.  The show’s creators are moving backwards and forwards on the timeline, showing June and her comrades in a blighted and besieged Boston, while simultaneously showing us how the world they inhabit came to be, from the creeping authoritarian laws to the gradual acceptance of society to the direction their world was taking.  Rather than striking out into wholly new territory, a great deal of this season seems to be filling in the gaps in Atwood’s novel, showing how such a place came to be–a move that strengthens the foundations of the stories and the series as a whole.

Via metro.co.uk

So for those who are watching Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale, those awaiting its arrival on our shelves in DVD form, and those who are looking for even more dystopian fiction featuring women and strong social commentary, here are a few suggestions from us to keep you thinking, reading, and enjoying well into the summer….

The Power: Naomi Alderman’s sensational novel won the 2017 Baileys Prize for Women’s Prize for Fiction, and has been referenced frequently alongside discussions of Margaret Atwood’s work–mostly because it turns the premise of The Handmaid’s Tale upside down.   All at once, in a not-too-distant-future, girls find that with a flick of their fingers they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, four lives are utterly transformed, and  society as a whole begins to rethink the way it has thought and spoken about people since it’s conception.  Like Atwood, Alderman doesn’t pull punches; this book is visceral and gritty at times, but it’s also incredibly funny and snarky.  The correspondence that frame the story itself poke fun at our current gender stereotypes brilliantly, and help readers conceive of a world that it as once so familiar, and at once so utterly, completely different.

Red Clocks: Leni Zumas’ novel was released earlier this year, and was already listed as one of the best books of 2018.  Part mystery, part thriller, and all painfully, beautifully compelling, this book is set in a not-too-distant-American-future, where abortion is once again illegal in America.  In addition, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the “Personhood Amendment” grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo.   Zumas uses this premise to focus in on five very different women in a small Oregon fishing town, and  the effects of these laws, and the culture they promote, on their lives, especially when a reclusive herbalist, or “mender” is arrested, and made the subject of a national show-trial.  Like Atwood’s work, Zumas’ characters are rich and nuanced, and because they both benefit from and are persecuted by the laws of their America, this book becomes a timely and incisive social commentary, as well as a moving and unforgettable story.

An Unkindness of Ghosts: In addition to drawing comparisons to Margaret Atwood, Rivers Solomon has also been compared to Octavia Butler for the way they use the science fiction genre to interrogate issues of race and power in our present day.  An orphan , Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. In order to keep the peace as they know it, the overseers on the ship have imposed harsh and degrading regulations over the darker-skinner sharecroppers onboard, as well as those of different religions and social class.  Aster is a character who needs answers; on a personal level, she is determined to find out what happened to her mother.  But the more she investigates, the more she is determined to find out who is really in charge of the ship that is her world–and to challenge the system that has harmed her and so many others.  Solomon uses their premise to interrogate not only gender and racial issues, but also sexuality, class, and the ways in which power and the police state can corrupt and harm all those involved in it.  This book adds a great deal of dimension to the social commentary that Margaret Atwood provided in her book, while also being a fascinating and deeply imaginative science fiction book that will hold enormous appeal for readers across genres.

The Witchfinder’s Sister: Beth Underdown’s novel is, on the surface, a richly-detailed work of historical fiction.  However, Underdown uses her historical premise to ask a lot of questions that are as significant to the present as they are to the world of her characters.  The year is 1645, and Alice Hopkins, a pregnant widow, has returned to the small English town in which she grew up.  Without prospects, and unfamiliar with the town after a five-year absence, Alice is forced to live with her brother, who has become a rich and influential man–and a feared hunter of alleged witches.  Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene—and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.  We have been subjected to a lot of talk about witch hunts lately, but Underdown’s novel delves deeply into what such a practice really is–and the irrevocable damage it causes on all those involved.  Like Atwood’s book, this book deals with the persecution of women in a patriarchal society, but adds an element of mystery and rich historical detail to her fascinating and original novel.

Books on the Screen this Summer!

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Via Signature Reads

Time was, beloved patrons, when summertime meant nothing but re-runs.  Endless, unremitting re-runs of the shows we had enjoyed over fall, winter, and part of the spring.  But the evolution of television has opened new opportunities for how we tell visual stories–from mini-series to movie-length adaptations, and where we tell stories.  The internet has revolutionized the way we watch tv and film.  Moreover, the diversity of channels and options has raised the bar on the quality of those shows, as well.

So when we tell you that there are some sensational books coming to screens near you, you can be guaranteed these stories are the kind that will grip you, move you, scare you, and leave you hungry for more!  The following are just a few of the books that are being adapted into shows that will be airing over the summer.  We’ll be sure to keep you updated when these are available via DVD at the Library.  And never fear–our round-up of movie adaptations will be along soon, too!


 

Dietland: After author Sarai Walker saw the film Fight Club, she became determined to write the female version, investigating all the themes of gender and sexuality that Fight Club did from a feminine and feminist perspective.  The result was her snarky, subversive, outlandish and fascinating debut novel about a woman named Plum Kettle.  Plum works as a ghostwriter for the advice column of a wildly popular teen magazine.  After years of failed diets, weight-loss programs, and dreams of being thin, she decides to make an appointment for weight loss surgery. But while she waits for her surgery date, Plum finds herself recruited by an underground feminist cabal known as “Calliope House”, a group that soon clashes with a guerrilla group known as “Jennifer”, who has been carrying out increasingly violent acts of vigilante justice against those who mistreat women.  Used to a life behind a mask, Plum suddenly finds herself at the center of a sinister–and deadly–plot.  This dark comedy has been turned into a show by AMC, starring Joy Nash and Julianna Margulies.  It will begin airing on June 4, 2018.

Little Women: Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of the four March sisters has been made into yet another tv mini-series, starring Emily Watson as Marmee and the inimitable Angela Lansbury as Aunt March.  We’ve had plenty of talks about Little Women here at the Free-For-All, and though it’s very much a product of its time in many ways, the book is also a remarkable story of resilience and determination that has encouraged generations of children to follow their dreams and believe in the power of love in its many forms.  While I will personally be withholding judgement on this new adaptation for a little while, those of you willing to take the plunge into this new mini-series will find it airing on PBS beginning May 13.

Sharp Objects: Readers of Gillian Flynn’s dark thrillers will already know the power and pull of her stories–and anyone who saw the feature film Gone Girl will remember the way she can trick, tease, and turn viewer’s beliefs upside-down.  Now, we have the chance to see the adaptation of her dark, twisty tale of journalist Camille Preaker, who is sent on the hardest assignment of her life: back to her small hometown to investigate the murders of two preteen girls.  Camille has spent years trying to live down the weight of her judgmental, hypochondriac mother, or recover from the guilt she feels for abandoning her younger half-sister–but now that she’s back in her old bedroom, and once again enmeshed in her family’s and her town’s drama, Camille begins to realize that the truth is far more complicated–and far more personal–than she ever imagined.  This adaptation, starring Amy Adams, will be airing on HBO in June.

C.B. Strike: Thought the title has changed a little, fans of J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series will feel right at home in this adaptation of the best-selling mystery series.  After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator: he’s in debt, his girlfriend has left him, he’s living in his office, and he’s down to his last client.  But when Strike is approached by John Bristow, brother of a world-famous supermodel who recently fell to her death, he finds himself suddenly thrust into a world he never imagined.  Bristow’s world is full of luxury, decadence, and seduction…but it also hides worlds of secrets, shame, and darkness that Strike needs to uncover before it’s too late.  Based on J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith), this show will begin airing on Cinemax in June, as well.

 

So make some popcorn, beloved patrons, and prepare for a summertime’s worth of literary entertainment!

Awards Season: The Bram Stoker Awards!

It’s awards season this year, and we at the Library are thrilled to bring you all the winners–not just from last night’s Academy Awards, but from this year’s Bram Stoker Awards, which were handed out this weekend in Providence Rhode Island!

Each year, the Horror Writer’s Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the horror novel to beat all horror novels (and Free For All favorite), Dracula. The Bram Stoker Awards were instituted immediately after the organization’s incorporation in 1987.  The first awards were presented in 1988 (for works published in 1987), and they have been presented every year since. The award itself, designed by sculptor Steven Kirk, is a stunning haunted house, with a door that opens to reveal a brass plaque engraved with the name of the winning work and its author.

How amazing is this?!

The Stoker Awards specifically avoid the word “best”, because it recognizes that horror itself is a genre that is constantly moving, changing, and pushing its own boundaries (and can often be very specific to a place, or a generation).  Instead, it uses the words “Superior Achievement”.  The categories of award have changed over the years, as well, as the genre has evolved, but since 2011, the eleven Bram Stoker Award categories are: Novel, First Novel, Short Fiction, Long Fiction, Young Adult, Fiction Collection, Poetry Collection, Anthology, Screenplay, Graphic Novel and Non-Fiction.

We’ll have some more information regarding Stokercon, the annual meeting of the Horror Writers of America from one of our library staff who attended part of convention, but for now, let’s celebrate the winners (and maybe find some new books to enjoy?)!

Here is a selection of the nominees and winners of the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards, with links to the Library Catalog in the title of each book where applicable:

Superior Achievement in a Novel

Winner: Ararat by Christopher Golden

Also nominated:

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen & Owen King

Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman

I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski (access this title via ComCat–check with your friendly reference staff!)

Ubo by Steve Rasnic Tem

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Winner: Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen

Also nominated:

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

What Do Monsters Fear? by Matt Hayward

The Boulevard Monster by Jeremy Hepler (access this title via ComCat–check with your friendly reference staff!)

Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Winner: The Last Harvest by Kim Liggett

Also nominated:

The Door to January by Gillian French

Hellworld by Tom Leveen

The Ravenous  by Amy Lukavics

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Winner: Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and Octavia E. Butler

Also nominated:

Darkness Visible by Mike Carey and Ethan David Arvind

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman (access this title via ComCat–check with your friendly reference staff!)

Monstress Volume 2 by Marjorie Liu

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Winner: Get Out by Jordan Peele

Also nominated:

The Shape of Water by Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor

Stranger Things: MadMax (Episode 2:01) by Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer (Season 2 isn’t available yet, but once it is, we’ll have it for you!)

Twin Peaks, Part 8 by Mark Frost and David Lynch

It by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Winner: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of the ’70’s and ’80’s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

Also nominated:

Horror in Space: Critical Essays on a Film Subgenre by Michele Brittany (access this title via ComCat–check with your friendly reference staff!)

Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror by Kinitra D. Brooks

The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History by Stephen Jones (access this title via ComCat–check with your friendly reference staff!)

Where Nightmares Come From: The Art of Storytelling in the Horror Genre edited by Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson

 

Check out all the winners of the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards here!

Westworld: An If/Then Reading List

For those of you still having feelings about Superbowl LII…we see you, and we support you.  For those of you good readers who watched the Superbowl for the commercials, it was a pretty decent showing, all in all.  Particularly those Tide ads, that played heavily on genres, tropes, and gimmicks within familiar commercials.

But for fans of the series, there was no ad quite like the trailer for the upcoming season of Westworld, which debuts on April 22.  You can catch that trailer below if you missed it:

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Westworld is a science-fiction western thriller airing on HBO.  The television show was inspired by a 1973 film of the same name that was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and stars Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin.  The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West-themed amusement park populated by android (robotic) hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who come to experience life in the frontier town of Sweetwater, and interact with the robotic “hosts”, whose advanced programming allows them to follow a pre-defined set of intertwining narratives, and to deviate from these narratives as visitors interact with them. The hosts repeat these narratives anew each day, having their memories wiped of the previous day, until they are re-purposed or put away in storage. For the visitors’ safety, hosts are unable to harm any other living life forms, allowing visitors nearly unlimited freedom to engage in whatever activities they want without retribution. A staff oversees the park, develops new narratives, and performs repairs on hosts as necessary.  The series begins when a routine update in the hosts’ programming causes unusual deviations in their behavior that allows some of the hosts to understand the truth about themselves and their world…

Though there was some behind-the-scenes drama that postponed the premier of the show from 2015 to 2016, the finished product has been, according to nearly everyone, sensational.  The debut of the series garnered one the HBO’s highest viewership ratings and remains one of the most-watched series on HBO (which, given some HBO series’ devoted followings, is saying quite a lot).  And there are plenty of reasons why it’s continued to be such a talked-about and intriguing show.  First off, the sets, costumes, and scenic details are sensational (hats off to costume director Ane Crabtree, whose historic research paid dividends).  But beneath the stunning veneers, the story of the show itself is a deeply unsettling, curiously arresting consideration of what it means to be human, and what lengths humans are actually capable of going in order to feed their appetites, and what consciousness really means.  As The USA Today wrote, “The reward, beyond the visual splendors you’ve come to expect from big-budget HBO productions, is a set of characters who grow ever more complex.”  Mary McNamara of Los Angeles Times wrote that Westworld “…isn’t just great television, it’s vivid, thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment.”

So, for those of you looking for a new binge-watching treat, Westworld might very well be the series for which your searching, especially as one series isn’t, comparatively speaking, a huge amount to watch before the Season Two premier on April 22.  But for those of you who are already long-time visitors to Westworld, fear not!  We have a wealth of suggestions to keep your imagination spinning and your gears gyrating until the next episode airs!  Check out some of our top picks below:

Silver on the Road: Readers who are taken with scenes of the ‘Wild West’ in Westworld, and intrigued by the idea of women finding their identity while traversing it, look no further than Laura Anne Gilman’s sensational Devil’s West series.  The series is set in a fantasy west, ruled by The Boss…some might call him the Devil…and full of spirits, stories, and other things too terrible to name.  On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel decides that her true calling is in working for The Boss.  In turn, she is made his Left Hand–but what that title truly means is a mystery.  Rather than explain, The Boss places Isobel in the company of a man named Gabriel, and sent to explore the territory that is now hers.  The story that unfolds is a gently-paced, deeply emotional, and utterly vivid one, that will have you trying to brush the dust from your coattails after every scene.  Isobel’s comradeship with Gabriel is fascinating, unexpected, and stunningly equitable, the lessons she learns about herself and her role along the road are unforgettable, and the best part is that this is just the first book of an outstanding series.  So anyone looking for a Wild West that is just as weird as Westworld, but with a lot more occult and feminism thrown in, look no farther that this book.

Karen MemoryElizabeth Bear takes inspiration from the very real Seattle Underground to create a story about airships, gold miners…and, most importantly, Karen, and her fellow “soiled doves” working at  Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello.  When a badly injured young woman arrives on their doorstep, pursued by the man who holds her indenture, Karen realizes that trouble has fixed its eye on Madame Damnable’s.  But when a body is soon left on their rubbish heap, all hell seems near to breaking loose around them.  While the steampunk genre deals less with robots than automatons (the distinction can be found in the power keeping the machines working and, often, the level of autonomy and consciousness afforded to them), there is a lot of the same high-tech, Wild West skull-duggery going on in this sensational story as in Westworld.  Best of all, once again, we get a feminist perspective on violence, history, and tech, that is heartily welcome.

Utopia: Lincoln Child has terrific fun with the tech-thriller genre, and this book, set in a futuristic theme park, deals with many of the same themes as Westworld, including huge conspiracies, techno-wizards and techno-pocalyspes, and elaborate sabotage schemes going on behind the idyllic scene.  Utopia is a technologically advanced, family-friendly theme park off the Las Vegas strip.  Not only do people flock there for a day of fun, they come to see the system known as the Metanet, a highly secretive and enormously ingenious robotics system designed by Dr. Andrew Warne–a system that essentially runs the park on its own.  But when Andrew is brought in to consult on the possible expansion of the park, he soon uncovers evidence of tampering with the system–from the inside.  His worst fears are realized when one of the rides is sabotaged–and park officials are unable to turn off the rest of the park due to threats of further violence.  Full of fancy techno-details that will appeal to those who love programming potential in Westworld, and told in a thrill-a-minute, breakneck pace, this story is sure to feed your need for danger until Westworld surges back onto the screen.

FantasticLand: This one is a bit of an outlier, but for those of you drawn to the premise of an amusement park from hell, look no further than Mick Bockoven’s vivid, violent novel about an abandoned theme park–and the people who were abandoned inside it.  When the (fictional) Hurricane Sadie threatened Florida with inevitable destruction, the decision was made to evacuate visitors from FantasticLand, but to leave park staff behind with some supplies in order to hold down the fort, so to speak.  But when help finally arrives five week later, they find gruesome and visceral evidence (literally) that something went terribly wrong at FantasticLand.  This book is presented as a dossier of testimony from survivors about what precisely happened during those weeks, when the staff broke into tribes–complete with names and mottoes–and began hunting each other.  There are a number of echoes of Lord of the Flies in this book, and though there is a lot of Milennial-bashing in Bockoven’s work, this is just the thing for a reader whose looking for another dystopian theme park full of menace to tide them over until Westworld‘s gates re-open.

Books–Coming to a Screen Near You!

How do we feel about film adaptations of books, dear readers?

To be honest, I don’t have a personal consensus about this issue, so I doubt we as a group are going to come up with a unilateral stance.  If Games of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that books can be adapted well…and that they can also get in the way of the books (figuratively and literally!) just as easily.  On that note…stop toying with us, George R.R. Martin.  We are suffering enough.

Anyways, there are precious few adaptations that I enjoyed more than the books–like The Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, as I think I’ve mentioned previously here.  It’s difficult (as I know we’ve discussed here) to stuff a many-hundred page book full of literary symbolism, sensory detail, and emotional descriptions into a two-hour film.  Yet books still form the basis of a significant number of films and tv shows, precisely because they come with so much insight, intrigue, and development pre-packaged.   And, regardless of what Some People say about the death of literature, there is clearly a devoted following of literary fans who make these shows and films popular, and create the drive to make more.

So here, for your reading and viewing pleasure, are a few of the bookish film adaptations that have been discussed recently.  Feel free to air your opinions on them here, and to come into the Library and check out the books before they hit the screens, so as to taunt your friends and family with non-spoilery spoiler hints for months to come!

Little Women: I love Little WomenMy adoration of this book, of Louisa May Alcott, and of her family, has been well-documented.  And for that reason, I personally cannot bear another adaptation of the book, even if it is PBS Masterpiece putting it all together.  It’s like having a little bit of my soul taken out and manhandled by a major production company.  Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who are genuinely excited about this one, and I want there to be a really good adaptation on film, so I can only hope that this is the one that will prove that Little Women can be made into a meaningful, timely, and non-hokey production (if you’ve seen the BBC adaptation from the 1960’s, you know what hokey looks like).  As the Masterpiece website notes, “Little Women is a truly universal coming of age story, as relevant and engaging today as it was when originally published in 1868″, and we need those messages of hope, of strength, of determination, and of everyday feminism and female support that the March sisters learn from each other during their coming-of-age.  So please, please, please, Masterpiece, get this one right.  On the plus side, Angela Lansbury, Tony Award winner and creator of my personal heroine Jessica Fletcher, is slated to play Aunt March.  I will tune in for that, if for no other reason.

Alias Grace No doubt the huge popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale, convinced the Powers That Be that adaptations of Margaret Atwood’s books were a good idea.  No doubt Margaret Atwood’s stunning writing and incredible insight helped, as well.  Though one of her lesser known works, Alias Grace is another fascinating (and feminist) book that centers on the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Canada. Two servants of the Kinnear household, Grace Marks and James McDermott, were convicted of the crime. McDermott was hanged and Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment.  Atwood’s tale is told by the fictional Doctor Simon Jordan, who is ostensibly researching criminal behavior, but finds himself swept up into Marks’ story, and the paradox of the mild-mannered woman he knows, and the horrors she is supposed to have committed.  This new adaptation of Alias Grace will air in Canada beginning in September and will be streamed to Netflix afterwards.  For those eager for a taste of what’s to come, take a look at the trailer here.

Bird Box: One of the newer announcements regarding literary adaptations is the production of Josh Malerman’s dystopian horror novel Bird Box (soon to be starring Sandra Bullock) about a mother and her two small children must make their way down a river, blindfolded, lest they behold the dreadful entity that has destroyed everyone else around them.  Malerman’s use of sensory details and creeping weirdness made for an absolutely immersive page-turner of a book…but it is, nevertheless, a book about about a world that’s been devastated by “The Problem”, and one glimpse of those…’Problems’ is enough to induce a deadly rage into anyone who sees them.  Though there are flashbacks and traditional scenes, the most memorable, heart-pounding moments of this book come when the characters are blindfolded.  So how is that going to translate onto a screen?  Can it?  We’ll see when Netflix brings this adaptation to life…

So what say you, dear readers?  How does it feel to watch books on the screen?  Are there any adaptations you’re eagerly awaiting?

Saturdays @ the South: Fun with Time Travel (and also Murder)

Time after Time on ABC. Image from tvguide.com

I’m not sure how I nearly missed the memo that there was a new show starting last week that I can easily see fulfilling my need for campy fun with a somewhat-literary twist. I found out only just in time to set my DVR to a season pass for Time after Time an ABC drama that, while I don’t think it’s intention is to be funny, seems to be cracking some viewers up all the same.

The premise for the series is this: Legendary and groundbreaking sci-fi author H.G. Wells built a time machine prior to his authorial turn and while bandying about in Victorian times, manages to have said time machine stolen by Jack the Ripper. Both travel to modern-day New York City. Murder & mayhem ensue, Wells feels guilty and tries to track Jack the Ripper down and stop him. The series is also apparently very meta as it is based on a movie which was based on a 1979 novel by Karl Alexander (sadly, unavailable in NOBLE at this time).

For those of you looking for a more reality-based primer prior to watching (or completely ignoring) this show, here’s some brief info. H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was a British author most well known for writing The Time Machine and War of the Worlds but was also a sociologist, journalist and historian. His first book was, surprisingly, given his reputation for fantastical fiction in later life, a biology textbook. Jack the Ripper‘s true identity has never been officially proven , but numerous theories and obsessions abound about the pseudonymous murderer who struck in London’s Whitechapel district between August and November of 1888. It is also possible that the killer committed murders prior to and after those dates, depending upon how certain crimes of that time are viewed. Jack the Ripper has captured the imagination of many true-crime aficionados who still speculate who he was.

I’m not going to lie, I’m surprised to see these two figures in a television show together, given that the only link between them is that they were both alive in England in 1888. But I suppose that when one writes speculative fiction, it leaves those of us who read that work scads of leeway to speculate on our own.  If you’re interested in this show, or if aspects of time travel or Jack the Ripper appeal to you, you’re in luck. Here are some options for your reading and viewing pleasure:

Ripper by Isabel Allende

This is a fast-paced thriller in which true-crime aficionados around the world convene in an online role-playing game called Ripper. Most of these players are teenagers solving real-life mysteries on the game based on information fed by a game master, who gets her information from her dad, the Chief Inspector of the San Francisco police. This book is ideal for those who perhaps have some of their own theories about Jack the Ripper or who like Time after Time‘s modern caper appeal.

I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter

This is a historical thriller set in Victorian London. The main protagonist is none other than Jack the Ripper and Hunter goes to great lengths to get deep inside the mind of a killer, re-imagining how and why he might have done what he did. This is a natural pick for those intrigued by Jack the Ripper but would also appeal to those fascinated by the likes of Hannibal Lecter .

Ripper Street

This TV series, already discussed here on the blog is just fantastic. It follows the capers of the H Division detectives in London’s police force just after the Ripper murders as it delves into a re-imagined Whitechapel with several characters based on real-life investigators who were involved in (and somewhat undone by) the Ripper investigation. It is stunning, visually, in character development and in plot twists and is well worth watching.

Just One Damned Thing after Another by Jodi Taylor

This is the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series in which Madeline “Max” Maxwell is a time-traveling historian (quite possibly the coolest job description ever). There’s one major rule that all in that profession must follow: no interaction with the locals; observation only when time-traveling. Naturally, this doesn’t work out particularly well and Max realizes that being a historian who time-travels is a pretty dangerous activity.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren’s 2016 is not the same as our 2016. It is the 2016 imagined by those living in the 1950s, complete with flying cars and moving sidewalks. Then, through a time-traveling mishap, he winds up in our version of 2016, complete with punk-music (which never needed to exist in his world) in what seems to him like a dystopian wasteland. His ultimate question is whether he fixes the tear in reality that occurred during the mishap and get back to his idealistic world, or learns to live and survive and possibly change for the better, the horrors of the time we live in.

Outlander

This Showtime show is a perennial favorite at the South Branch and involves a nurse in 1946 who time-travels back to 1743 Scotland. Her heart is torn between the husband she loves and left behind in her own time and the man who she is forced to marry in the past in order to save her own life.

Till next week, dear readers, I’m going to try to get the Cyndi Lauper song out of my head…