Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On to the semi-finals!

With a decisive 9-2 score, Blade defeats Selene and goes on to face Eric Northman in the semi-finals ... which means we are a mere three bouts away from finding out which vampire reigns supreme.

I was wondering why the voting on the last match was so desultory, but was informed that apparently Google is giving Blogger's polling app grief ... which is odd, seeing as how Blogger is now owned and operated by Google, but then I know less than nothing about computer programs and their various neuroses.

It is a bit of a concern going into the semis however, so I will do what I can to settle this out ... and failing that, will add an extra day on the voting window in the hopes that more people can get through to vote on those occasions when Google is not being bitchy. Fingers crossed.

At any rate -- the first of the semi-final matches will go up tomorrow, and it promises to be a big one: an all-Whedon match between Angel and Spike. This promises to be interesting, so be sure to tune in!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cage Match: Blade vs. Selene

OK, the vampire cage matches have been on a longish hiatus, but we're back and ready to settle who will be battling it out in the semifinals. In our last quarterfinal bout, we have Blade from the film trilogy of the same name, and Selene, the über-stylish death dealer from Underworld. The winner of this fight will go on to meet Eric Northman of True Blood in the semifinals.

Blade won the coin toss, and has opted to have the fight in one of the more notorious vampire night clubs in town, presumably in the hopes of wreaking a certain amount of collateral damage on the clubgoers.


The music throbs through the smoky darkness, punctuated by occasional strobes and the multicoloured lasers emanating from the DJ booth. Selene walks slowly in from the kitchens, having let herself in through the back door. She clutches her semiautomatic pistol under her long coat like a talisman, knowing that, whatever else she has faced in her long and bloody tenure as a death dealer, she was about to have one of the most difficult fights of her life—if not the most difficult.

She pauses, using a knot of writhing dancers as cover as she surveys the club's massive interior for her foe. It seems to her that there are thousands of obliviously dancing vampires here in this hangar-like space and she instinctively keeps close to the walls so as not to let Blade sneak up behind her.

She is just about to check over her shoulder when she sees him—standing absolutely still on the other side of the dance floor, up on a dais so he is above the other patrons. Though he is wearing dark sunglasses, she knows he can see her; and when her eyes meet his, he smiles slowly, revealing unsettlingly white teeth. All at once, her hand grows slippery on the butt of her gun.

He cocks his head as if asking a question. Selene breathes deeply, and nods.

Blade seems almost to explode in movement, his long coat billowing out around him as he draws a pair of guns and brings them to bear on Selene. Selene responds in kind, twin .45s emerging from beneath her coat as she dives to her right. His shots pass through the air where she had been an instant before. She hears their quick, wet thuds as they strike the dancers behind her, and the screaming sizzle as the vampires dissolve in flame. She fires off her own volley as she dives, her nervousness now gone as her body instinct takes over. Her shots are dead on, but Blade whirls away and her own silver-impregnated shells cause carnage among the dancing bodies where he was an instant ago.

It is a sign of the clubgoers' collective trance-like state that they do not at first notice the fight claiming so many bystanders. And it is not the deaths that trigger the panic, but someone turning in anger at being shoved out of the way by Blade and recognizing him. The shout, shrill and panicked, goes up over the music. "The Daywalker! Blade is here!"At that, the throb of the bass cuts out suddenly and the club's patrons begin a stampede for the exits. Somewhere in a cold, detached part of Selene's mind, she takes note that the mere mention of her opponent's name—not gunshots and bodies dissolving in fire—is what causes a collective panic.

And with that thought, her fear returns.

They continue to duck and weave amidst the vampires scrambling to get out, each firing fusillades that miss their target but hit the fleeing bodies. Selene exhausts her clips and smoothly reloads; she sees Blade discard his guns entirely, throwing them wide. His hands dive under his coat again and she sees silver glint as curved blades snick open. She swings her guns up, but even as she brings them to bear, one of the double-ended blade spins toward her. She manages to knock it aside, but feels it bite into her suddenly nerveless hand. One of her pistols goes clattering across the floor. As she tries to aim her remaining weapon, he is suddenly upon her, his hand on her wrist, yanking her around, pitching her across the floor.

She hits the ground, rolls, and is back on her feet with her two long, wickedly thin knives in her hands. They pause, regarding each other. Blade nods at her, his face registering respect. He reaches behind his head and in a smooth, elegant sweep draws his sword. She nods back at him and they move together in a blur of steel.

The ending comes quickly. Selene knows even as their steel meets, that she is outmatched. She can fend him off, but only barely, and cannot come close to bringing one of her knives under his guard. The look of regret and respect on his face is but cold comfort to her when he finally makes an end with a slash that sends her head across the room.

Projected Winner: BLADE

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

An open letter to political pundits from English professors

Dear political pundit types:

Speaking on behalf of literary theorist types everywhere, I must protest your recent unauthorized overuse of the word "narrative." As in: "President Obama needs to present a clear narrative of his administration's goals." Or, "This goes against the dominant narrative of Elena Kagan as a remorseless apple-polisher and power-seeker."

I realize that it is natural for such terms to go in and out of fashion in the discourse of political talking-headedness, but "narrative" seems to have found a special niche since the election of Barack Obama. Is this because he has written two books? Is it because, as storyteller-in-chief, he has made the concept of narrative newly central to American politics? Or is it just a handy new term that injects a veneer of pseudo-intellectualism into the blasted wasteland of desiccated politico jargon?

Whatever the reason, I fear I must demand you immediately cease and desist. If you consult the records of jargon ownership, you will see that narrative became the exclusive property of literary theory in the mid-1970s. If you must employ a literary term, feel free to use "plot" and "story," as these became passé at about the time we staked our claim to narrative. Perhaps you can make them trendy again.

Please do not force us to make recourse to legal action. "Narrative" is our word to over- and misuse, not yours.

Yours sincerely,

The Academic Literary Profession

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

In praise of podcasts

I arrived in London, Ontario yesterday, having departed St. John's in my car last Thursday. I drove across the island (ten hours), and slept on the night ferry from Port-aux-Basques to North Sydney. Some brake trouble caused me to stop in Sydney, which delayed me for a few hours while some nice people at Canadian Tire fixed things up, and so on Friday I got as far as Fredericton. Saturday, in a fit of energy and no small measure of psychosis, I pushed all the way on to Toronto ... a drive of fourteen hours that got me to my parents' door a little before nine o'clock in the evening.

One thing I have to say: were it not for the phenomenon on podcasts, in conjunction with audiobooks, such a drive would be substantially more gruelling. Normally after several days on the road, the passenger seat is a mess of CDs and their cases. This year I wisely invested in a nifty little device that synchs up with your radio and broadcasts your iPod over a blank FM band. Much neater, and I could just load up a playlist and let it go.

I listened to music at times, but for the most part had podcasts queued up. Among the notable entries were NPR's This American Life, a weekly radio show that features different variations on a given theme in the form of documentaries, stories, spoken word performances or readings, and interviews. also has a decent slate of podcasts on a variety of topics, from politics to culture to movies, in which a handful of the online magazine's writers basically chat for forty-five minutes or so.

I also have to give a special shout-out, as I do periodically on this blog, to my friend Gregg at Decoder Ring Theatre, which produces the two excellent old-style radio dramas The Adventures of the Red Panda and Black Jack Justice. DRT releases a new episode twice a month, and for those who have not yet taken my advice to check it out, you have an embarrassment of riches: sixty episodes of The Red Panda and thirty-six of Black Jack Justice. Anyone planning a long road trip, or who simply loves well-made radio drama in the tradition of The Shadow and RKO Studios, is strongly encouraged to check them out. In spite of the fact that Gregg releases a half-hour episode every two weeks, the writing is superb and the voice acting simply amazing. Speaking as someone whose own writing is, well, glacial, I am in awe of how consistently good they are.

A frequently podcast sponsor is the audiobook site, and if you sign up through one of the Slate podcasts or NPR, you get a free audiobook with your membership. I got two for the road. First was a book I read last summer, but was keen to listen to the audio version because of its cast: Max Brooks' World War Z, a novel that imagines a global zombie outbreak, the conflict that follows, and the aftermath. And by "imagines," I mean that Brooks—author of The Zombie Survival Handbook—thinks very carefully through what a zombie outbreak would look like and writes a series of testimonials by survivors from around the world. As I said on this blog last year when I reviewed it, it is a surprisingly good novel.

The audiobook is also worth a listen however, even if you've already read the novel. Why? Because Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks, and apparently used his dad's connections to pull in some pretty impressive voice talent. Because the novel is a series of interviews and testimonials, the multiple-voice audio version works beautifully ... even more so because reading the roles are actors like Eammon Walker, Jay Sanders, Alan Alda, Jurgen Prochnow, Rob Reiner, Mark Hamill, John Turturro, Henry Rollins, Carl Reiner, and others. Definitely worth a listen.

My other audiobook was Ian McEwan's latest, Solar, a satire on the current political clusterfuck that is the debate over climate change. I was fairly impressed with the novel, but need to think about it a bit more before I offer a more measured critical response—listening to the book rather than reading it is a rather different experience, and I am not sure whether I think that it was a collection of well-wrought set-pieces that don't necessarily always work together, or whether that is a product of me listening to it while driving and occasionally having my mind wander.

I will say this much, however: I got the sense that, with this novel, McEwan is responding to John Banville's notoriously scathing review of Saturday—a review often credited with sinking Saturday's chance to win the Booker. One of Banville's quibbles with Saturday is that its protagonist has a too unbelievably perfect life. Henry Perowne is successful neurosurgeon married to an attractive high-powered lawyer with whom he is still deeply in love and on whom he has never cheated; they live in a huge, beautiful house; their daughter is a brilliant and promising young poet who has just published her first book, and their son an exceptionally talented blues guitarist. Conversely, Michael Beard of Solar is short, balding, going to fat, and just emerging from his fifth failed marriage. He is an inveterate womanizer and borderline alcoholic, and is further addicted to a wide range of fatty food. He is a physicist and has essentially spent his life coasting on having won the Nobel Prize in his mid-thirties—and has not done a lick of real science since, but instead pulls down a host of sinecures from sitting on boards and foundations that want the reflected glow of his Nobel.

Listening to the various vivid descriptions (say what you will about McEwan's writing, but when it comes to his prose, the boy has got some game) of Beard's crapulescence, I couldn't help thinking about Banville's (also eloquent) reaming of Henry Perowne as a character. Ironically, I think Beard is comparably unlikely. But more on Solar when I've had more of a chance to think about it.

In the meantime: tune in tomorrow as we take the Vampire Cage Matches off hiatus and show what will undoubtedly be a barn-burner of a showdown between Blade and Underworld's Selene. Stay tuned!