A semi-weekly digest of thoughts on fiction, non-fiction, and all the news I see fit to print.
2016: The Year in Review
Traditionally speaking, the new year is—for many people—the chance for a fresh start, and so it is for me. Cheeky astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson (bless him) are inclined to pooh-pooh the notion that the boundaries of a year have any real significance, and to a certain extent I share that opinion. But symbols have power, and the more widely they are believed in, the more power they have. Many people believe that January 1 is a day of rare significance, and therefore it is. And really, when you think about it, given how much we all need opportunities to make a fresh start, January 1 is as good a day as any to do that.
The need to make a fresh start feels particularly strong this year, given the many blows endured last year. We, as a society, lost numerous heroes in the fields of science, literature, music, and art. We also, as a society, made several decisions that feel—and may well turn out to be—disastrous. For me, though, speaking solely in the most personal terms, it wasn’t that bad of a year. In fact, a number of very important things happened. I earned my doctorate. I wrote a novella. I got a job that I enjoy. These are accomplishments that I am proud of, and that I intend to build upon. So when I say I feel a particular need to make a fresh start, I don’t mean in the sense of wiping the entire slate clean—and, indeed, who among us can truly do that? I simply mean that I feel a need to refuse absolutely to be burdened by the pains of the past. I hope you all do as well.
The world is what we make of it. In 2016, we learned that we were—contrary to some assumptions—not actually making the best world that we could. We must do better going forward. The time is now.
A Brief Note on the Lost Art of Subtlety
The first trailer for Alien Covenant was released on Christmas Day, and—for me at least—got lost in the holiday shuffle. And, admittedly, I wasn’t exactly keen on going out of my way to watch it. I’m a big fan of the original film series, but I found Prometheus to be a tremendous let down and I’m leery of this new film as well. And the trailer didn’t exactly raise my expectations.
Watching this first trailer, I can’t help but feel that the people who are making the Alien franchise movies now have forgotten, or simply never understood, what it was about them that made them so great: subtlety. To paraphrase the great Terry Rawlins, who edited Alien and Alien 3, what you don’t see in a horror film is always way worse than what you do, and the original films capitalized on that fact to make some of the scariest, most disturbing films in the horror genre. Subsequent films, not so much. There’s absolutely nothing subtle about the Alien: Covenant trailer. It honestly looks like an advert for a slasher film, right down to the mid-coitus death scene. And, don’t get me wrong, I love a good hokey slasher film, but the Alien films have always aspired to be a more elegant form of horror (at least in my view). It’s a shame to see them eschew that approach—particularly when the franchise’s current director purports to hold himself to a higher standard and uses that as an excuse to denigrate other forms of entertainment.
I mean, seriously, a mid-coitus death scene? That’s bottom of the barrel. Like, Jason Goes to Hell-style bottom of the barrel. I really hope this is just a crap trailer, but I’m not overly optimistic. (That might a good thing, though. After all, the trailer for Prometheus was amazing, and look how that turned out. Going in with low expectations is probably the best way to see this film.)