Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hi ho.

Hi ho.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

And, finally, the last post about Panama

And, in fact, it's not even really about Panama.

I decided on my way down to Panama that, while I would take some pictures of the country, that I'd rather do the ~old-school thing and keep a sketchpad of the trip with attendant notes than shoot seven thousand digital photos. So, well, I did. While I didn't make as many sketches as I would have liked, I did make quite a few. So, like any good child of the information revolution (capitalize it if you like), I have posted some of the better drawings to my webpage. If you'd like to check out the pictures, the url is If you live near me, I think that the pictures in the book give a better feel for the trip; I'd recommend that you hold your nose and come visit me to see them if you're interested. Also, I only scanned about half of the pictures - and not even the better half, in a few places. While I still can't draw people, I'm getting slightly better with it.

The regular posts of bad fiction reviews will resume post-haste. I'm sure you're excited.

Friday, March 17, 2006

WTF, Panama, just WTF?

So it's 1:38 AM after one of the weirdest days of my life - and by far the weirdest day of this weird vacation - and I'm trying to get the day together properly in my head. Forgive me if this is not the most coherent blog entry ever, but if it's bollocksed up then it will have followed today properly.

Today was one of those episodic, death-of-a-thousand-cuts days. The weird experiences of today were as follows: El Ray, the Panamanian Post Office, the homeless dude, Casco Viejo, more street people, Ten, and Next. Insert before/between most of these the hotel room, as I kept coming back to it.

So, get up at 8:30. Breakfast with folks, the realtor (names have been changed to protect the innocent) Francesco Rinaldi comes to see them. We're all supposed to go look at houses, and they want to talk business before we go. I'm not feeling so hot and don't much want to talk business so I head up to the hotel room and read some bad fiction on the terrace while waiting for them to come back.

Fast forward to 12:00. Francesco the gay realtor has left, we're not looking at houses. Fine. Why? Mom's got three homes under contract. Really, you know, here in Panama, about 12 people live in every home. Mom's buying three for her and Gary. Whatever. Again, fine. It's time to go to El Ray, the Shoprite owned grocery store down here, to pick up gifts for everyone, cause y'all don't get shotglasses, no, you are all getting beer and candy and juice and that kind of stuff. Probably on Wednesday if you're in/near New Brunswick, or by mail or what-have-you if you're not. This story will make more sense soon.

El Ray is weird in that once you've gotten all of your stuff to the counter, a kid magically disappears your cart. The cart you originally were using is replaced with a new cart that is owned by the (different) kid who is currently bagging your groceries. Word to the wise: if you bring (say) a big blue man-purse with to put your purchases into, the kid will be confused. And while he'll put his hands all over your groceries he won't touch your man-purse. Though once you've loaded it onto his cart he'll be more than happy to push it out to the curb for a tip - duh.

So, back to the hotel. Beg boxes off of the front desk. Pack up care packages for friends not in NB. There is no packing tape to be found, so (like you might) I presume that there will be some at the post office. Get boxes, head downstairs, fetch a taxi. Today sounds normal, right? Here's where it all goes to hell.

So I'm going to draw pictures today. I want to do it in Casco Viejo, cause it's the section of the city I'm most familiar with and it has the added benefit of having a bus stop for the diablos rojos in a square right nearby, and I want pics of these wierd things for home. So, I get a cab to the post office in Casco Viejo, and we're off.

After driving through Casco Viejo for approx. 10 minutes, the cabbie asks directions of 4 different people and finally figures out that the Casco Viejo post office has been closed and is moving to a new location. Said new location is no longer open. Fine. Let's off to the post office at Balboa Avenue. Cabbie drops me off and I'm $10 poorer than I was before. Whatev.

There's four lines at the post office. The signs at each line is in Spanish but they all look the same. There is one person in each line. I get in the third line and wait. And wait. And wait. Approximately 20 minutes goes by. There is a whole lot of passing of paperwork, of speaking back and forth, of phone calls, of more speaking, of filling out new and different forms, and finally, after all of this, the man hands over like $2.50, the clerk stamps his three non-airmail envelopes and it's my turn.

After some furtive hand signals and a lot of bad English and Spanish I find out that I get to go to the first line. Great. I walk to line one, there's one person in front of me. Remember all that paperwork and shit? There's more of that. Twenty minutes or so later, it's my turn. I'm beginning to get annoyed, but it's a new country, and not mine, so I swallow it. I'd also like to point out that I'm holding two large and heavy boxes and am hating my life.

Anyway. Now that the computer is no longer exploding I can keep blogging. The man at the front of this line tells me to stand in the second line, that I'm in the wrong place. Really beginning to get annoyed now. There's one person in front of me, which of course means that it's another 20 minutes before I get to the front of the line. The line next to me, meanwhile, has grown to four people. I manage to communicate to the lady at the counter that I need packing tape. It eventually becomes clear that I have to go the hardware store next door, that they have no packing tape in the post office.

Rage. Fine. I buy a $1 roll of packing tape at the hardware store, head back to the post office, assemble my packages, and get back in line. Again, one person ahead of me. The line next to me hasn't moved. Once I get to the front of the line, the clerk leaves. I wait. She comes back and starts doing paperwork. I wave, talk, knock until she looks at me, and she tells me that I'm in the wrong line for packages, that that's line number three, which was the very first line I waited in. There's also five people in that line and there have been five people there for the last half hour.

So I left. I was immediately accosted by an extremely dirty homeless man, who jabbered a long stream of Spanish at me. I said "no spanish, english only." He spoke a lot more spanish and ended with "25 cents." I said, "No change. Zero. Nada. Nothing. Nada," and smacked my pocket for emphasis - there was really none there. He jabbered some more, I said fine. I bent, propped my unmailed packages on my knee, and gave him whatever change I had, which was seven cents, apologising the whole time. He yammered longer and then handed me my nickel back with a dirty look and what I presume was a rude hand gesture. Which would have all been acceptable if he hadn't kept my goddamn pennies.

I took a cab home (and this driver was completely suicidal, even when compared to the other cab drivers in the city, and is the only person I've ever seen to push his car up to ~45 mph in second gear), dropped the packages, yelled at Sabrina for a bit because I was so freaking enraged by the post office (and kept a happy face on the whole time), then left to draw and take pictures in Casco Viejo.

The cab driver was normal, but got flagged down in the ghetto by another driver. By the time I figured out what was going on, we'd left, and I had one more thing to feel guilty over: the other cabbie had broken down and his fare, a young single female tourist from Argentina, needed to not be where she was. My cabbie took my mangled statement "no hablas espanol" to mean "she can't ride in my cab" and despite repeated attempts to figure out what was going on we didn't pick her up. Well, fuck me, huh? I'm feeling even more weird now.

So we head over to Iglesias San Remo, a beautiful ancient church in Casco Viejo. I wanted to go back here to take a few notes on the borders of the stained glass windows in the place - these borders look nothing like American or European borders, btw, and they're very gaudy and cool at the same time - and sketch this awesome Virgin Mary in the church. So I sit in a pew and begin sketching.

The experiences of the day so far are really telling on me: my hands are shaking far too much to draw well. Today's drawings are as bad as the drawings on the first day of the trip, I'm sad to say. This sucks because the Mary in question is awesome: the statue is life-size painted, carved stone, holding the church that we're in in her hands. Underneath her are a collection of busted-ass ramshackle buildings which she is apparently protecting. Beautiful in every way imaginable. I wanted to draw her, and I did, albeit poorly.

So I get done my sketches and stand up. Now, I ain't a believer or nothing, but I still figure I'll show some respect to Mary since I sketched her, so I bow to her. Upon bowing, this freaking American snot starts laughing at me. How do I know he was American? You tell me: he was approx. 50, white, had greasy+balding combed over hair, wearing dark, gold-framed aviators, a hawaiian short-sleeved dress shirt unbuttoned halfway, and had a cane and three cameras around his neck. Either North Jersey or Ohio, fer serious. Also, he spoke English. I glared at him and left.

Sorry this is such a long post, it gets longer. It's after two o'clock AM now, and we're at about 4pm. I'm on the street outside the church and am taking pictures. I snag some architectural shots, and then this little guttersnipe walks up to me. He makes hand motions while saying, "Take my picture, I'm hungry." Well, fine. Whatever. I feel like I have some karma to pay off, so i snap a picture of him and his brother and give them a dollar and leave. No lie: twenty seconds later, I hear from behind me, "Amigo!" and there are no less than freaking 20 kids yelling "Take my picture! Take my picture!" running down the street at me.

I eventually get away from all but one of them (while magically retaining my wallet and most of its contents). The one left, I snap a picture of and give a dollar because I just couldn't argue anymore. I mean, he posed and yelled "Please! Please!" I don't know if most tourists get a kick out of photographing malnourished street children but goddamn did I feel like a conquistador dickwad.

I took some more pics and drew some more, managed to not take any more pictures of children (but the four 8 year old girls who asked me to take their pictures while going into the church, all dressed in their finest white-and-blue dresses, were tempting. Okay, truth, I was out of film on the roll and they were in a hurry to go to church. Whatever.) and went up to a square to get the pictures of the buses I wanted. Where I was at in the square there were these two benches that formed an L, and these four old men were sitting there. I took a picture of a bus and these dudes started cajoling me (in Spanish) to take their pictures. I mean, enough already. I said, "English Only, Sorry" and started walking away while looking at the buses that had shown up in the meantime. This comment caused a great stir. After I had gone ~10 feet, I heard a yell behind me, "English!" I turned around. "I know English! Hello!" Okay, sure. "Hello!" Reply: "Hello!" Um. I reply, "Hello!" He replied, "Hello!" C'mon. I replied, "Buenos dias!" And got the hell out of dodge.

Back to hotel. Got dressed for dinner. Went to leave w/o a suit, saw Gary was once again wearing his, put a suit on. Dinner was at the best French restaurant in Panama, called Ten (the price of all the dishes), with Francesco Rinaldi the realtor. Francesco was born in Panama, lived in France for 30+ years, and moved back like five years ago. Francesco knows everyone in the world, used to own his own restaurant, is currently a realtor, raises chickens, goats, sheep, cashews, and mangoes on his 20 acre farm, and is as gay as the day is long. I really liked him. Got tons of data on Panama from him - including that little brother M. might not get too arrested here for his various indiscretions. Good news.

After one of the most amazing dinners of my life, I went outside for a cigarette and to clear my head. I pop in the smoke and am about to light it when a street kid about 14 years old asks me for a cigarette. You know what? Fine. He looked older in the darker light, it was only after I'd handed him the cigarette that I realized he was underage. Well, shit. He mimes that he needs a light. I hand him my lighter. He futzes with it, not lighting his smoke, and starts backing away. I must have given this kid such a look as I put my hand back out because he stopped in his tracks, lit the cigarette, handed me my lighter, and walked away. He was so about to just walk off with the thing, the look he gave me slightly before I stabbed him with my eyes just said, "Sucker!" Eh, whatever, I got my lighter back.

So, back into the restaurant, talked a little more, then Francesco dropped Breeze and I at the "best club in Panama," neXt. Suffice it to say that I don't really do the dance club thing, but if the best club in Panama has a dance floor that would fit 75 max and the DJ's don't fade between songs, but fade down one song and then wait until they feel like starting the next one (about 5 seconds between songs), then, well, the much-vaunted club-centric nightlife of Panama must suck far worse than I thought it did.

But Breeze and I danced anyway. The crowd was weird; when each song ended, about 40 people would leave the dance floor, and as the next song played, more people would filter on until the song ended, and then the crowd would empty out again. Breeze and I didn't dance long because the club sucked worse than we did. However: while we were leaving the floor, some 40-year old guy handed me a card: "BEAT. George Ballesteros. c:6684-4642. t:226-0780.," slapped me on the back, and spewed a stream of Spanish at me. Ah, I'm an old hand at this: "No Spanish. English Only." Reply: "No Problem! We are big-time producers! You call us! We make star!" I can only figure for gay porno because fer serious, the only people who like my dancing are sketchy-ass apparently gay dudes. I hate my life sometimes. We left the club in short order.

So the only thing that I had to feel proud of today was when we got a cab and the (excessively suicidal) cabbie quoted us twice what it had cost to go home from where we were now than it had cost to come from much farther than where we were yesterday. I yelled at him. He told me to get in the cab. I wouldn't have, but Sabrina was already in the cab and just wanted to go home. So I did.

Really, you know what? Days don't get to be as weird as today was. It's just not allowed.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Selected texts (and earnest mistranslations) seen in Panama City.

  • "Se vende ganga" - I'm sure this doesn't mean what I assume it does.

  • "El Tigre Verde" - Name of a plant store.

  • "Taller Car Planet" - Which is actually in Spanish and not a mistranslation.

  • FEAX Internationale - On a truck

  • Llamades de Celular 25c

  • STUDEBAKER - on a building which is theoretically no longer a Studebaker dealership.

  • Club de yates y pesca DIESEL - Come here to rent a yacht to catch diesel fish.

  • STUDENTS! Use the overpass the government built to save your life.

  • "Corruption Makes Us All Poor! To report, call..." - This on a billboard.

Bus names:

  • The Kronik

  • Melquisdeth

  • Macguiver

  • Nana Alanys


Route 1 Sucks Anywhere You Go.

Heading out of Panama City is a total trip.

With a few illegal U-turns under our belt well before we left the city, we crossed the Puente de los Americanos (I'm using as much Spanish as I can) and set out down Route 1 to attempt to find a beachfront home for mom and Gary. It turns out that it's really hard to figure out where you're going when you can't read the language and the only map you have is detailed only in comparison to 16th century European maps of the East Coast of North America. Even google maps has nothing on Panama; the best map we could find is probably not out-of-date, but is also a total fiction.

Another word on maps and Panama - even the Census Bureau doesn't have an accurate map. It's not that we couldn't find one, it's that it doesn't exist. This appeals to me, and adds to the whole post-apocalyptic flavor of the country.

There are no signs that tell you what road you're on, nor are the signs for exits clearly marked. Once you're 10km from Panama City, there aren't even any exits, there are only roads to the left and right. There are neither stoplights - of the three I've seen in the country, two were non-functional - nor stop signs, and the speed limits are queer; it's 100km/h (this is roundly ignored; people either drive 15mph or 75mph) on the open country and 65 km/h in towns. There's no warning that towns are coming, either. It's tree-tree-tree-town-scrub-tree-tree-tree. The roads are amazing.

After making another illegal U-turn at a toll plaza since we didn't think we were going the right way, we made a series of bad turns and wound up stopping at a police station to ask directions. No one spoke the proper language, but we eventually were able to tell a cop where we were going. Rather than giving us directions--which would have been admittedly difficult--he told us to follow him, and he showed us the proper way to get where we were going, which was (sadly) where we'd already gone and turned around. The first place mom wanted to go wound up being unfindable.

So was the second.

But we evenutally, through the judicious use of u-turns on the biggest highway in the freaking country, centered ourselves down to see a golf resort, whose name I forget. The place felt terrible--more like a burbclave than anywhere I've ever been before--and we left in relatively short order. It was very high-priced and seriously ugly.

Then we (again circuitously) made our way to the Playa Blanca resort. While mom did not wind up buying a house here, the Hispanic-American salesman Tito drove us about this huge installation in a golf cart (which almost didn't make it up the hills) and yammered about how much things were going to be worth in the future. The sad thing is, I actually think he's right. There is apparently huge appreciation going on here.

Playa Blanca, for all its niceties, has a few oddities inherent:

  • The closest grocery store is 35 km away. (!)

  • The closest gas station is 20 km away, and gas costs more than it does in New Brunswick.

  • It's both hotel and residential, so you're expected to live with full-on transients. Granted, transients in nice clothes, but transients nonetheless.

  • It boasts a rain record of 11 inches per year, and is 15 km from a rain forest. (?)

  • You can do anything you want to a house once you buy it but it has to be painted white and have a blue roof.

  • It is next to tree farms that have ponies browsing in the shade underneath.

  • And finally, buses are not allowed inside, so the day laborers have to hike out 3km when they're done work to Route 1 to be picked up - and there are a lot of laborers. Side note: a skilled electrician in Panama makes $16 per day. (!)

The way home consisted of a lot of dodging of buses, wild dogs (which I insisted on (knowingly) improperly calling coyotes), chickens, bicyclists, and cattle. And then the sun went down.

The country seems a lot more poplous in the night than in the daytime, probably because the houses really seem to blend into the trees; lights on the hills make it far more noticeable where houses are at night than during the day. During the day it seems completely empty--which makes sense, as apparently slightly over half of the country's population lives in Panama City. But at night, you really see that it's not empty, it just looks it. The lights in the hills are not streetlights, btw--the only part of Route 1 that's lighted is the Bridge of the Americas.

Which I was damn glad to cross when we finally got there. Driving Panama at night is actually scarier than driving 278 through Brooklyn during the day. Again, it would probably have been better if I'd been able to speak the language - but so be it. I am still an ugly American.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Panama City is totally crazy.

I wrote these notes more or less for myself, but figure I'll post them here anyway, as I hope to share my thoughts on this awesome piece with everyone who happens to read this blog. I like Panama City. Notes commence here:

Panama City appears to be entirely composed of interstitial zones. It sweeps around the bay from the Canal and the Bridge of the Americas east and ends rather suddenly approx. 5 miles from where it starts. The buildings tend to climb in height as one goes to the east, with slums abutting some of the nicest buildings in the town.
The sections of the city that we have so far been in are Casco Viejo, which is the old city, and contains some of the nicer/older churches, the President’s house, and other fun things. Fun parts of Casco Viejo:
Many buildings which have either burned or rotted out have been turned into parking garages. The architectural style which is mostly concrete construction and tends to large, wooden doors and frames set into the concrete means that where doorways have been removed, leaving wide concrete arches, there’s good spots for cars to drive through and park on the tiled floors.
Most floors are tiled concrete.
The older houses tend towards having quasi-French quarter construction; each floor has a long balcony covered in windows which open side-to-side and are mostly the height of the rooms inside. There’s little air conditioning, and most of the units are new (and manufactured by LG); most people seem to use the wind off the ocean to cool their homes.
Most of the balconies have laundry hanging from them.
There’s a hotel near the president’s house called the “Antigua Club” or something like that which is in ruins. Again, with the construction in question, ruins means that there’s nothing inside, and it is just a burned-out shell of concrete, with a tree growing from the chimney. The Antigua Club was destroyed in the 1989 US invasion and has not been rebuilt. The nice writer/artist from Argentina whom we met at the community art gallery (!) says that they’re planning on having some sort of art parties in the hotel, at least until the cops drive them out.
Casco Viejo is about 1/6-1/5 restored. These restorations are in no particular order; one building on a block is fixed and everything around it is crumbling. Paint peels in weird ways in the tropics; buildings look leprosied. Most of the concrete is intact but there are places where the concrete needs repair, usually in the center of large patches of missing paint. There are unrestored buildings on the same block as the president’s house; this is totally foreign to me.
The method of restoration of choice appears to be to remove everything that isn’t concrete from a building, and then redo it entirely. There’s a certain lack of subtlety to this approach that I appreciate. Restoration as scorched earth policy?
Houses are apparently cleaned by dumping soapy water on the floors and brooming said water out to the street. For serious.
The streets are narrow and the sidewalks narrower. The sidewalks are also part step; somewhere in the evolution of the city multi-layer tiered sidewalks were decided to be the way to go. Often the upper tiers are cracked tile.
Many businesses are unmarked, even though they appear to be open to the public. The doors open wide when they’re open and shut when they’re not. Yet more places have doors that are split in half top/bottom, apparently for street-level ventilation with added privacy. I’m not sure how you tell which buildings are businesses and which aren’t; perhaps you have to know before you get there.
Within sight of the President’s home is what appears to be a local ship terminal. Small boats (smugglers?) which are powered either by poles or by outboard motors (sometimes two) and are less than 1m wide and very long are parked outside it (see pics); it’s hard to tell which are still in use and which aren’t but I think it’s safe to say that if the boat isn’t actually flooded it’s in use. The shipyard itself is falling apart, hardcore. It’s beautiful in its own way.
Casco Viejo abuts the slums in many places. We were told by two nice ladies from an upstairs balcony not to walk the way we were going; this was probably good. It’s hard to tell which sections are acceptable to go into and which aren’t; this is part of the whole interstitial community thing I’m talking about. Nothing is clear cut, everything is jumbled. Possibly comparative to Roman towns like Pompeii? Must learn more.
Taxi service is weird. Everything from the hotel costs 3x as much as the ride back to the hotel. You don’t tip cabbies which is truly strange.
My favorite form of transit that I haven’t yet taken are the rojos diablos, or red devils. These are former US schoolbuses that are used instead for passenger transit. Apparently a ride is 25 cents, and the buses are amazing. They’re all painted red, white, and green, and then on top of this is painted anything. Really anything. Dragons. The Pope. Jesus. Wrestlers. Rock stars. Barbarian w/ axe. Bikinied girl. Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Someone who might have been Lao-Tzu. Trees. Oceans. Boats. Recursively, another bus. These things belch diesel fumes like they’ve just been drinking huge amounts of beer, and some have modified chrome exhaust pipes that go up over the emergency exit (blocking it) and vent over the top. Many have missing windows, all are loud, and none of them look like any other. They’re among the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
Other notes: the Bridge of the Americas turns off its lights at approx 11:15. Good conservationists.
The water around the canal is gross. Thanks large amounts of boats coming through.
There’s a size of boat called “HandyMax,” which is smaller than the size “Panamax.” Panamax boats, meanwhile, are smaller than “Suezmax.” I want to know where the Handy canal is.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Holy Rusted Mother of Storms Batman!

The first 93 pages of:
Mother of Storms
John Barnes
Tor, 1995
Rating: -6.5, Scale (-12:12)

This is really the review of two books: first, the opening 93 pages of Mother of Storms, one of the worst openings that we at Elfstar Industries, LLC, have seen recently, and second, the last 482 pages of Mother of Storms, the best book that we at Elfstar will never read. Why two reviews? Because the CIO of Elfstar LLC managed to lose the book on the bus, and refuses to buy another copy of it.

We mean, really, the last 482 pages of this book were really good, I mean so good in fact that we're considering stating that books such as the Iliad, Gravity's Rainbow, and Infinite Jest simply be burned as they cannot touch the beauty that is the last 482 pages of this book. The first 93, well, they weren't so good. But the last 482 pages would have roxxored ur boxxors.

Why were the first 93 pages so bad? Well, in that pile of pages, we were introduced to a metric ass-ton of characters, the majority of whom we only meet once. These characters were all totally one-dimensional, and a few of them have reprehensibility as their main dimension. So we at Elfstar Industries didn't really come to care anything about those characters. In fact, we were rooting for several most of them to bite it.

A partial list of the characters that we meet, and the number of times that we meet them, are as follows: The Boy Who Loved The Bomb (one visit), The Horny Engineering Student (two visits), The Beautiful Student Activist (two visits), The Money-Grubbing Capitalist SchwienHunt (one visit), Captain Spaceman (one visit), The Smart Eccentric Hermetic Weather Scientist (one visit), The Money Grubbing Capitalists' LapSchweinHunt (one visit), The Ball of Rage (two visits), The Smart and No-Nonsense Female President (one visit), The Probably a Pervert Vice President (one visit), and The Plucky NOAA Scientist (two visits). As you can tell, that's a lot of characters.

Now, there's a minor problem with the first 93 pages, which we hate to even talk about, but we're going to. It's written in the present tense. Now, normally that's not a problem, because most sub-standard writers don't use it. When a good writer writes in present tense, it's a fine thing; bad writers' present tense prose tends to come off clunky and juvenile. Guess which category John Barnes falls into. Quick! Guess!

So what happens in the first 93 pages of the book? Well, The Boy Who Loves the Bomb drops some bombs onto the north pole, in a premeditated proactive strike against the Soverign Territories of Alaska or something. These antimatter bombs melt all sorts of clathrates, releasing huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere. The back cover tells us that this is going to cause all sorts of hurricanes and, presumably, the title-referenced Mother of Storms. We quote the back cover because the first 93 pages never get there.

After these exciting (*yawn*) five pages, we're immersed into the world of misogyny, with detailed descriptions of terrible tortures and death used against women. This goes on for a disgustingly long time, and covers several characters. Then there's some rape fantasies (this is after the previously-mentioned misanthropy), some scientific garbage, some quoting of Yeats, some more misanthropy, then, well, some more misanthropy (seeing a pattern? We were disgusted.), some more pseudoscience, some more misanthropy, and then, just before the first city was destroyed, the book was lost.

Now, at this point, the book gets great! At page 94, which we at Elfstar Industries, LLC, did not read, cities are levelled! Civilizations are destroyed! Barnes writes in the past tense! It's incredible! There's no more misanthropy; in fact, the world rejoices in the Power of Women! Why? Because the book ends with a stunning scene, with much flag waving, where Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith lead a plucky group of ex-Navy, ex-Marine, and ex-cropduster pilots in a stunning attack on the very center of the hurricane! Through their self-sacrifice the hurricane's secret store of methane is DESTROYED and the storm ends, bringing the Threat Against Humanity to its knees! And what's more, all the pilots are female! They've had Amelia Earhart's memories and skills plastered over their own, and once they've killed the rampaging hurricane hordes they turn their skills on misanthropy itself, shatter the glass ceiling, and burn down Violence Against Women! The whole world rejoices and women are safe to walk the streets or even cook in the kitchen forevermore!

Man, do we at Elfstar Industries wish we'd read the last 483 pages of the book instead of the first 93. The last 483 pages are a real, red-blooded, American book, not like all the filthy books being taught in college today. Damn, that would have been a great book. It's a shame we didn't, and will never, read it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Perhaps "Lithe Ankles" Sounds Better in French

The Mountains of the Sun
Christian Leourier
Berkley International Science Fiction, 1973
Rating: -3.6 (Scale: -12:12)

With a breathtaking cover that prefigures the punk haircuts of slightly later in the decade (though perhaps it would be more punk if the dude in the spacesuit was safteypinned to the... ummm... sphere) The Mountains of the Sun enters the cosmology of Elfstar Industries, LLC, as the first example of French Postapocalyptica that we have had the honor to tear to pieces.

This piece of dreck starts with the wondrous phrase "I am Cal, the man with the long hair and the lithe ankles." Any book that starts with a phrase like that is going to be worth the long haul, and no mistake.

There are three major social groups that this book lampoons describes, two tribes on the recently drowned European mainland, and the stranded Martian settlers who are now coming back to Earth. None of these groups are particularly interesting, laudable, or worth writing a book about; needless to say, the interaction between them is about as fascinating as the interaction between three types of clay.

So, there's Cal's tribe, who are scared of the valley next door because the ancients say that there's a river of fire there. Then there's the rampaging nomads who push them into the valley next door (duh). Then there's the Martian scientists. Surprisingly, these disparate groups interact. There's the manly Cal, the crippled An-Yang of the rampaging nomads who Cal befriends, and then a bunch of forgettable scientists who want to "study" the nomads. Study includes medical experimentation - but "good" medical experimentation. The main baddie is the warmongering nomadish leader T'ong-O, immediately rechristened B'ush-O by your snarky friends at Elfstar Industries.

The best part of all this is that the "good" tribes are obviously French, and the "bad" tribes are obviously Spanish. Obviously, because the scientists talk about their languages' lingual roots. I love inter-European rivalries.

While I was hoping for some good radiation burns from the river of fire, that was just hyperbole. However, there's some nice destruction of tech for scrap metal, and some really insipid native discussion on the purpose of the crucifixes that "are found in all their villages."

Then there are the other problems. The Martian computers: Intelligent? Check. 3-D monitors? Check. Punchcards? Check. Dammit, you try so hard not to make fun of the technology and it's just so easy. I mean, it's right there! There's some plastics that have lasted since the apocalypse. Then there's the 100+ meter floods that the caused said apocalypse; perhaps the earth was pounded by comets? Or God left the tap in heaven on too long? There's not that much water on the earth. There just isn't. It's the same reason Waterworld is so funny - you just can't do it. The math doesn't work.

And finally there are the different tribes' formal speeches. B'ush-O always refers to himself in the third person; Cal refers to his ankles as "lithe" at least ten times throughout the book. An example of B'ush-O's speech: "Such was the affront sufferend by T'ong-O, [sic] mighty chief of the steady-handed warriors." Whew.

The nicest thing about this book is that we Americans get to see that even though the French pretend to have all the best writers and novelists in the world, the best of their published SF is only marginally better than most of the bottom-of-the-barrel American SF, and far worse than the rest of the barrel. France, baby, you've come a long way since Verne.