Back when we were all a bit younger, a 17-or-so-year-old man named David Gerrold wrote and sold a Star Trek script that was actually produced and aired, much to just about everyone’s surprise. That the episode was one of the funniest ever (even beating out Theodore Sturgeon’s Shore Leave episode) and most popular episodes of one of the most popular SF TV shows (barring Dr. Who, but we’ll leave that discussion to another day) also surprised everyone. What was no surprise, following the success of The Trouble With Tribbles, was that David Gerrold went on to become a successful writer and script writer outside that particular franchise, often showing—in his scripts and books—his funny side in other forums. For example, some of his Land of the Lost scripts were rife with actual humour (as opposed to the forced humour of many TV shows), as were other scripts he wrote for subsequent incarnations of Star Trek. (Figure 2 shows a young Gerrold in a walk-on role for one of the Star Trek movies.)
He firmly cemented himself as a humourous SF/F writer, however, with 1971’s book The Flying Sorcerers, co-written with Larry Niven. Later, more serious SF novels followed, such as When Harlie Was One, The War Against the Chtorr series, the Starwolf series; and the more serious semi-autobiographical book The Martian Child. He kept his hand in, humourously speaking, with the time-travel novel The Man Who Folded Himself; an examination of just how far a dedicated writer can take the time-travel trope. I met him at my first convention (Westercon 28 in 1975), and have been fortunate enough to maintain contact since. You can try, but don’t expect to become a Facebook friend, however, because he’s always at the Facebook limit. You can, however, subscribe to his website.
Subscribers to his website are being allowed to download—for FREE!—the humourous alternate-world short, The Kennedy Enterprise which, if you haven’t read it—and if you have a sense of humour—you should immediately go subscribe and read. I know the usual phrase is “read ‘em and weep,” but in this case it should be “read it and laugh yourself silly!” To be fair, you must have at least a basic knowledge of ‘60s TV and politics and, naturally, history. This story has an in-joke for everyone who knows anything about that vanished era. If you’re knowledgeable about SF writers, you’ll find a couple of jokes that should crack you up—I won’t mention any names, but one of them’s reknowned for a sometimes volatile temper—and if you know the history of the last fifty-sixty years in the US, you’ll—at the very least—have a wry chuckle. Briefly, imagine if Joe Kennedy, instead of becoming ambassador to England, moves out to Hollywood and marries Gloria Swanson. His son Bobby becomes head of MGM (replacing Irving Thalberg) and Teddy moves back east and goes into politics, where he vanishes from public view for good. John Fitzgerald, however, becomes an actor.
Not a very good actor, however—but he’s got that smile, and that charisma. So imagine him at the helm of a starship in Forbidden Planet, and later—well, we’ll leave that for you to discover. Suffice it to say that in some ways history repeats itself, and in some ways it comes up with new surprises. A thoroughly enjoyable story and a heck of a lot of fun. Go to the Gerrold website (link above) and subscribe for your copy. (By the way, a word of warning to all people who live in Southern California: stay the heck off David’s lawn!)
Moving on now; if you’re a horror movie fan, I have a movie for you! Released in 2013, but only recently available on Netflix, Rigor Mortis is a Chinese horror movie originally titled Geung Si. (I have no idea what that means—whether it actually means “rigor mortis” or not.) According to IMDB, this movie is an homage to “classic Chinese **** movies”; I’m not going to tell you what kind of movies those are for a while yet. It’s kind of a minor spoiler, so I won’t reveal it until I’ve laid the scene out for you. I can tell you it’s a ghost story—maybe not a traditional Chinese ghost story, from what I’ve read on IMDB—with some marvelous special effects; it’s well acted and well directed, and keeps your interest (well, it kept mine as well as the interest of the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, so take that as you will.)
All in Cantonese (I think; I’d have to go check the “audio and subtitles” again), with English subtitles, but that’s not a detriment, really. The dialog is fairly sparse, so that even slow readers can keep up with no difficulty. As with the best movies, after a little while you forget the people you’re watching are actors, and just go with the flow. (Because the audio and subtitles went by so fast, I will probably make mistakes when attributing either the characters’ or actors’ names; so please forgive me in advance.)The storyline’s fairly simple as well:
A man, Chin Siu-Ho (Siu-Ho Chin), who was a famous actor, has come down in life to a concrete tenement, about 30 stories high, to live, carrying a suitcase and a couple of bags. On his way to his apartment he meets a young boy, Pak, with blond hair. He is let into apartment 2442 (on the 24th floor) by a man called “Uncle Yin” (Hoi-Pan Lo), who’s the Security Guard for the whole tenement (although we never see more than a dozen inhabitants at once). Apartment 2442 has been vacant for a few years, and what furniture is there is shrouded, so Uncle Yin gives 3 sticks of incense to Chin—taking 3 for himself—and asks him to perform cleansing or blessing rites with them for politeness’s sake. Uncle Yin bows with the incense in several directions asking the inhabitants (one assumes the ghosts) to be nice and not destructive. When he leaves, Chin unpacks his suitcase, revealing a couple of cool costumes from movies he’s been in. He then climbs on a table, takes out his phone and listens to a message from his young son, before putting a noose around his neck, tied to the ceiling fan. The message says that “mommy tells me I must sleep now,” and Chin sees a woman and young boy walking away hand in hand into the darkness (presumably because they’re dying or dead); he kicks the table away and begins choking to death.
Or does he? A white sheet, in humanoid shape, rises—with blood coming through the sheet—to meet his face, before collapsing to the floor; Chin is surrounded by white smoke and begins a series of extraordinary physical spasms—seeming to almost fly or swim, to run—and possibly being possessed by the white smoke—when suddenly the locked door bursts open and a glasses-wearing man in a bathrobe hanging open to display his shorts and undershirt jumps to cut the rope tying Chin to the ceiling fan; Chin, wreathed in white smoke, suddenly vomits up something like a gallon of black goop and collapses against the wall.
We find that bathrobe man (I believe it’s Yau, played by Anthony Chan, but I could be wrong) operates a cafe—possibly in the basement of the tenement, possibly on the 24th floor; it’s never made clear—where he serves large portions of food to every inhabitant, and never charges them! We also learn that Pak and his mother used to inhabit 2442, where Chin now lives, but left or were driven out after Pak’s father, who tutored twin young women, died. He didn’t just die, he raped one of the girls and her sister stabbed him to death with a large pair of scissors. The raped girl committed suicide and her sister died from stabbing herself while killing Pak’s father. Pak’s mother is now tied to the apartment and cannot leave it—but she can’t enter it, either. At one point we see it through her eyes and she sees the girls—one hanging, one standing with scissors in her hands. Gradually we meet most of the inhabitants of the 24th floor, including Antie Mui (Hee Ching Paw) who, although she isn’t much of a seamstress by her own admission, repairs the clothing of all the other inhabitants. We meet her husband as well as Gau (Fat Chung), a magician who is dying of terminal lung cancer.
We gradually learn that the twin sisters are ghosts, but who eventually become pawns in the hands of Gau, who has a much more sinister design. (Does Figure 4 remind you of something? Go ahead, say it: Grady’s daughters in The Shining. It’s probably deliberate.) And I can’t go too much farther with this description, because there are surprises and shocks ahead for all, including one very final surprise. (You won’t get this unless you watch the movie, but the initials “AB” might come to mind.) I’m not that familiar with Chinese ghost stories—or Chinese **** stories (IMDB gives it away, but I’m not going to… yet.) for that matter, but the movie held my interest very well. It’s got terrific special effects, which are all subordinate—as they should be—to the story and the characters. I’m told (by someone on the IMDB board) that all the characters are classic ghost-story characters and have specific roles to play; if you are grounded in Chinese film and/or literature, you may get an extra dimension from watching this. Be warned, however, that the movie does have its quota of blood. It’s not a slasher film, per se, but the director neither dwells on the bloodshed—more than the story calls for—nor shies away from it. I gave the movie four out of five stars on Netflix; it was both shocking and surprising and, as I said, held our attention. Okay, now I’ll tell you. **** is “vampire.” It’s a Chinese vampire movie. There are certain traditional forms in Chinese vampire movies, and this one repeats many of them. Check out the IMDB boards for more information.
And now we come to the book review portion of this week’s column. You will notice that, at the top, I added no adjective to the “book” portion of the title, and deliberately so. The book in question is called Severed Souls, by Terry Goodkind, and it’s a “Richard and Kahlan” novel, as it says on the flyleaf. One assumes that you’ve read enough Goodkind to know who “Richard and Kahlan” are; or at least have watched the TV series Legend of the Seeker.
Frankly, if you haven’t read Wizard’s First Rule or any of the other previous fifteen or sixteen or so books in Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series, then you might be advised to pass this one up until you do. (Especially since the hardcover is $34.50 Canadian—why not wait for the paperback?) Because this book does assume you know all about the whole series; you know who Richard (Cipher) Rahl is, who Darken Rahl was, who Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander is, who Kahlan is, who are the Confessors, what the Sword of Truth is, who the Mord-Sith are and what is an Agiel and so on. If you don’t, you will be able to pick a lot of it up from context, but it won’t be easy. Since I think I’m about ten books behind, it took me a while to catch up.
The book starts in medias res, with Richard, Kahlan, Zedd and the rest of their party traversing the Dark Lands. Almost immediately they are attacked by Shun-tuk, possibly a zillion of them—I’m not exaggerating; read the book and find out—who are “half-men” with white-painted faces and bodies, also eyes blacked out and fake teeth painted on their faces to make them look somewhat like skulls. (You’ve seen these guys in other movies.) Although they kill about half a zillion of them, there are still a zillion coming, and Richard and Kahlan no longer have any powers of any sort—because they “carry death inside them”—although Richard can use the Sword of Truth’s anger to fuel his own swordplay. Even Zedd is somewhat handicapped, because some of these Shun-tuk are resistant even to Wizard Fire. (By the way, most of the Shun-tuk carry knives, but don’t usually use them; they use their teeth, consuming the flesh of their enemies in a futile attempt to gain the souls of those they kill and eat.)
In a parallel thread, a necromancer (Bishop Hannis Arc) who has raised a long-dead Emperor is attempting to use dead people and Shun-tuks to conquer all the land, including the land that Richard—who is now Lord Rahl (somewhere in the past ten books Darken Rahl must have bit the dust) and the Lord Protector and is marching on Richard’s Palace killing all and sundry in his way; the Spirit Emperor is planning to erase the barrier between life and death and merge the living and dead worlds to create another world which will mean the End of Everything. Or something like that. Richard and Kahlan, meanwhile, are dying because of the death that’s in them; they have only days to reach a place where they can be cured by sorcery.
Unbeknownst to Hannis Arc, his trusted lieutenant (pronounced “leftenant” if you’re Canadian, “lew-tenant” if you’re American. Just thought you’d like to know), Ludwig Drier—who has been bringing Arc some carefully-selected prophecies—is actually working behind his (Arc’s) back in order to make himself—are you ready for this?—“Lord” Drier. Drier is controlling the town that Richard and Kahlan are attempting to reach, because they’ve been told there is some kind of sorcerous field there that will protect Zedd or whomever, because attempting to remove the death that’s within them without this field can backfire, killing the person or persons attempting the cure as well as Richard and Kahlan. But they don’t know anything about “Lord” Drier; they’re unaware that the town they’re headed for is no longer under Richard’s rule.
There is a lot of action in this book and, if you’ve kept up with the series, I’m sure you will find it very enjoyable. If you are new to the series, or haven’t been keeping up, you might find yourself at least a bit lost. The book’s not badly written—I, personally, found the first four or five to be a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the TV series, even though it did get away from the books quite a bit. (Personal opinion—the woman who played Kahlan was drop-dead gorgeous which, coupled with the fact that the Mord-Sith women wore tight red leather outfits, compensated for a lot of script failings. I mean come on; what guy wouldn’t enjoy a show full of strong women wielding weapons?) But somehow I lost track of the books, and suddenly I’m way, way behind. There are a couple of surprising deaths in the book, and it ends on a giant cliff-hanger. Figure 5 shows the poster used to advertise this book pre-release. (The poster has a major spoiler in it!)
My verdict on this book? Unless you’re caught up, don’t bother with it. It assumes too much knowledge on the reader’s part. It’s certainly not a book to begin reading the series with, in my opinion. And real fans of the series might be a bit upset—or maybe really upset—with the deaths in this book, because some main characters die. I now have to go back and read the ten books I hadn’t read before. Grr. But if you are caught up, and don’t get bothered by the death of major characters and a cliffhanger that promises you’ll probably have to wait a year or so for a resolution, go for it!
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