Archive for March, 2012

I posted on Facebook last week that if any of you out there have not yet watched Peter Greenaway’s The The Draughtsman's ContractDraughtsman’s Contract—one of my favorite movies of all time—the whole bally thing is up on YouTube.

It’s a weird movie, unapologetically so, as well as being slow and, I dunno. Tawdry? Maybe that’s the right word. It’s definitely really sexy, or at least full of sex (depending on your perspective/inclinations), so don’t watch it with your parents/kids/nieces and nephews/maiden uncles, unless you have a very different relationship with them than I do with my own. So, yeah. The film as a whole, sex included, will not be everyone’s cuppa of course, but I aspire to write a period piece as awesome as that. It’s my gold standard.

Anyways, the score is super-good, too. Like, I love that movie to pieces, and I consider the score to be one of the best parts. It’s by Michael Nyman, who is a genius of course (he wrote the score to The Piano, The Libertine, and Gattaca; he did a lot on the Ravenous soundtrack, and also wrote an opera based on The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, because why not?). It’s my favorite thing of his he’s done, which is saying something.

Nyman’s score for the film is up on Spotify and YouTube, and though it’s not as complete as I’d like, it’s still amazing and I listen to it all the time. In isolation it makes for wonderful listening; in situ, the score is another character in the film. So, anyways, being the nerd that I am, when I was looking up supplementary information on the movie, I discovered that apparently all the compositions in Nyman’s score are based on “grounds” (a “ground,” to my understanding, is like a “riff” in popular music, but I’m really not musical at all so that might be wrong in some ways) by Henry Purcell and William Croft, period-appropriate composers. Best of all, Wikipedia was kind enough to list the specific songs Nyman is referencing, which meant that I could hop back on Spotify and locate them.

Listening to the tracks side-by-side made for a fascinating listening experience. The original compositions are all beautiful (The Academy of Ancient Music’s rendition of Purcell’s “She Loves and She Confesses Too” with Barbara Bonny’s vocals, in particular, is completely magnificent if you can locate that version, and spellbinding after listening to “The Disposition of the Linen,” Nyman’s interpretation). You can really hear why Nyman selected these pieces in particular, they give The Draughtsman’s Contract the frothy, dark, decadent, dissipated, luscious, and thoroughly-Restoration “feel” it has throughout.

Draughtsman's Contract Still

yes, please. actually, come to think of it, I'll take two...

 

But more than the pleasure of being able to directly experience for myself a source of inspiration for one of my favorite artists of all time (not just “musical artists,” either: artists as a whole), listening to the pieces side-by-side was a weirdly enlightening experience. As a writer whose most popular, well-reviewed story to date is a “riff” on Lovecraftian themes, I understand encountering a piece of art and feeling the need to respond to it in an honest, creative way. I think the enduring popularity of the retold fairy tale speaks to this: Those with a creative streak often desire to play in the same sandbox as other creative types they admire, or take issue with, or whatever. Art can be found anywhere, and inspiration, too, so this makes sense.

But as someone whose musical abilities were never particularly amazing (much to my mother’s dismay—she and my grandmother are fundamentally musical people, whereas I was a mediocre singer and flautist … on a good day) it never really occurred to me that musicians might feel the same need as writers and fine artists to respond to those artists they found inspirational. Other than when listening to samples of this-and-that in rap/hip-hop/techno, and in a jazz class wherein we discussed “riffing” or whatever it’s called, I never really thought much about the way musicians comment on and are inspired by one another. I mean, I knew that musicians took subjects and responded to them musically (Into the Woods, the William Tell Overture, Nyman’s opera based on case studies of neurological abnormalities, etc.) but the notion of hearing something and then feeling an artistic need to reply to it in kind—that absolutely blows my mind.

Perhaps this is nothing new to anyone reading this, but if the idea of musicians pulling a Wide Sargasso Sea seems interesting, unusual, or curious to you, I encourage you to listen to the soundtrack for The Draughtsman’s Contract and then seek out the source compositions and listen to them. At the very least you’ll spend some enjoyable hours listening to gorgeous music…

Sometimes fortune smiles upon me. I posted on Facebook a few months ago how much I had enjoyed the batshit-insane post-apocalyptic barbarian queen epic She, and Ross Lockhart, friend/kick-ass editor of The Book of Cthulhu Jane Carver Of Waar by Nathan Longpinged me, asking if I’d like an advance copy of Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar. I looked up the cover (left) and started drooling. Yes, I said. Yes, send this book to me, please.

I mean, omg, look at that cover! Big-hair muscle-babe in sweet armor uses a Gatsu-proprotioned sword to carve up purple tiger-taurs amidst an epic landscape? That is pretty much all I ever wanted from a novel. But a question came to mind: Could Jane Carver possibly live up to my expectations after I had gazed upon that wonderful artist’s rendition of a bad-ass warrior woman’s enviable quadriceps?

Yes. Yes, it could. Actually—no. Jane Carver exceeded every single one of my expectations in the best possible ways.

I mean, let’s talk about the protagonist: Jane Carver. Jane is a strong, punchy biker chick and ex-Airborne Ranger, who, due to circumstances, is forced to go on the run from the law … straight into a magical cave that transports her to an alien planet: Waar. Waar is populated with terrible monsters and all-too-human alien humanoids. They ride big chocobo-style birds and have a quasi-feudal society. So far, so awesome. Also: The gravity is less than Jane’s used to, meaning she can jump high, punch hard, lift heavy things, and go braless without pain. YES!

Jane, to her credit, takes all this in stride, and for much of the book ends up helping a male-model handsome (but hopeless-with-a-sword) princeling named Kai who early-on in the book has his sexy bride stolen from him by a rival nobleman-cum-asshole. Noble Kai, who speaks in luxurious courtly language, is the straight man to Jane’s joker. The dynamic is awesome, and often very funny. Take, for example, this early exchange, after Jane helps Kai extricate himself from the ruins of his coach, post violent bride-snatching:

I passed him some of the meat pies and veggies. “Eat. You gotta get your strength back.”

He took the chow, but offered some back to me. “And you? Do you not hunger?”

I hadn’t realized it ’til then, but I did hunger. I hungered like dammit. Traveling light-years in a second, or whatever I’d done, sure built up a powerful appetite.

That’s the tone throughout; Jane narrates the whole thing (College Feminist Molly says: Look how she’s a Subject rather than an Object! Hells yes!). Thus we see Waarian culture through her eyes, and Jane is not uncritical of what she finds. It may be a beautiful world full of thoroughly decent people, but misogyny, machismo, and double-standards abound among the folks she encounters. Jane, however, calls everyone on his or her bullshit, which is really fun for the reader. Not only does she freak everyone out by being a woman who looks unusual (Waarians are purplish, dark-haired, and on the shorter side; Jane is 6’2″, white, and red-haired), as well as being strangely strong and agile, but she freaks them out with her feminist and class-eliding notions, too.

Jane articulates her problems with Waarian culture beautifully, and without pretension, and with laser-pinpoint accuracy. Take, for example, Jane’s thoughts on lordly, incompetent, honor-bound Sai’s quest to win back his fiancee via single combat when she first encounters regular ol’ Waarians (instead of the noblesse):

…I understood these people. The guys were just guys. The chicks were just chicks. They wouldn’t die for some sucker’s idea of honor if you told them heaven was an eternal blowjob. They might die for love, or for friendship or even their country, but they wouldn’t throw their lives away because it was more honorable to be dead.

Sorry. I guess Sai was pissing me off a little at that point. I bet he could have ditched his title, got the girl and lived down here on Sailcloth Street and nobody here would have given him a second glance. But with his upbringing that would probably have been harder for him than dying. Oh well, fuck it.

Jane rolls with the punches (and throws them) which is gratifying and makes for smile-inducing reading. Even better: she never considers herself superior to the Waarians because of her appearance/opinions/abilities, just different. Jane is a very “live-and-let-live (unless you piss me off or hurt my friends)” sort of person. She may think she has a handle on things, but her opinions aren’t rigid and she’s willing to learn as well as teach. Long does a bang-up job of writing a first-person female protagonist whose feminism is unobtrusive but so omnipresent you can tell that’s just who she is. It’s fantastic. I mean, after reading the book I wanted a sequel, but more than that, I wanted to go to the gym and then grab a beer with Jane. So, yeah.

The novel hit all the right notes for me, basically. I can’t talk more about what I loved with out spoilering too much, so I’ll leave off here and just say, if you like well-written adventure novels, get this book when it comes out. It’s so goddamn good.

There was literally only one little thing that bothered me in Jane Carver of Waar, and wasn’t a big deal, though it does come in the first two pages, in Long’s prologue. I liked the conceit of the prologue just fine: that Long met Jane outside of a bar, and she provided him with the account that comprises the book. But then there’s a weird moment, before we’ve even met Jane, where Long tells us:

Jane is remarkably honest in her admissions of her failings, but sometimes I wonder if she is’t being too modest. She says throughout the tapes how ugly she is. Well, I met her, and though she was no Scarlett Johansson, she was by no means ugly. She had the kind of broad-faced, rugged good looks you associate with frontierswomen and female fire-fighters.

This comment rubbed me ever so slightly the wrong way. I understand what Long’s trying to do here—Jane is, after all, a 6’2″ female ex-airborne ranger, and even on earth that’s not something one sees every day, so Jane has certain opinions regarding her physical appearance that are informed by the beauty standards of our world. That said, I don’t give a damn if the heroine of a novel is butt-ugly or not, and I don’t need an outsider’s reassurance that “it’s not like that, objectively speaking” if a heroine says she’s not attractive. I didn’t feel it was a necessary remark; indeed, I felt it kind of undermined Jane’s authority in telling her own tale. That said, I understand why Long included this comment. I think it was with the best of intentions, and it’s true that body-worship is part and parcel of the barbarian epic. I just think it would have been fine to have Jane tell us about herself, rather than Long as he appears in his prologue, I guess.

Anyways, who cares, the book ruled like dammit, as Jane would say, and I would read a billion Jane Carver novels. The back-cover copy may read: “Jane Carver is nobody’s idea of a space princess.” Well, maybe that’s true for some people, but Jane Carver is exactly my idea of a space princess. Strong, foul-mouthed, bad-ass, socially aware in interesting and engaging ways, self-aware, feminist, malleable while holding strong opinions, crafty, intelligent, resourceful, and still entirely human in all the right ways. Yes! Yes, yes, yes. We need more books like Jane Carver of Waar out there. I actually delayed finishing the book for a few days because I didn’t want to leave Jane and Waar behind; hearing that Long has already planned a sequel, Swords of Waar, took away a little of the pain. I cannot wait to devour it.