Hero at Broadway Cinema

I think Hero is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. The use of colour, slow motion, moving fabric and closeups of water absolutely blew me away. In particular, I loved the use of rain at the end of the fight with Sky, and the way every time there was a new version of the Flying Snow/Broken Sword flashback, the colours were different. The end of the first version of this flashback – with the red clothes and the autumn leaves – was also wonderful.

The plot was actually very slight, and yet at the same time it was quite compelling in its simplicity. It took me a while to get caught up in it, and except for the end I found the non-flashback scenes less interesting (probably because they were less stylised), but I was totally gripped by the flashbacks. I did sometimes feel that the scenes lasted a tiny bit longer than I would have liked, but I suspect this is more a reflection of my attention span than of the quality of the movie.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

This book had been recommended to me by a number of different people. I found it pleasant enough, but I have to say I wasn’t really gripped by it.

I think part of the problem (for me) was the fact that there wasn’t one, overriding “case” to be solved. I have read other detective stories where you get a quick, one-chapter case to see the detective in action, and then the big one that the story is actually dealing with turns up. This book, however, dealt with a series of smaller cases. The supposed big one (disappearance of a young boy) takes up very little time.

The African setting was not uninteresting, and was often presented quite evocatively, but I was not totally enthralled by it. Quite a lot of the book is devoted to setting up the character, and some time is spent on her history, and that of her father. I found the technique of telling her father’s story in first person a little unexpected, and not entirely successful, although in some ways it is the most powerful section of the book.

All in all, I do not regret reading this book, and I will probably read the others if I come across them in the library. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to look for them, and I am unlikely to buy them.

Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

I’ve just finished re-reading this, the first in Bujold’s series about Miles Vorkosigan (although this book is actually about his parents, with Miles himself only being born at the very end).

Before reading any of Bujold’s books, I had been vaguely aware of seeing her name crop up now and then in the Galaxy bookshop newsletter, but didn’t really know anything about her. Then one day I came across a website that mentioned that her then most recent book (A Civil Campaign) was dedicated to “Jane, Charlotte, Georgette, and Dorothy” – by which, the site explained, she meant Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Georgette Heyer and Dorothy L. Sayers. Wow, I thought, this is one author I have to read.

Confronted with a range of titles at Galaxy, I wasn’t sure where to start. I had gathered that A Civil Campaign was about Miles Vorkosigan, so I thought it would be better to start at the beginning of the series than with the most recent book. A helpful assistant told me that Cordelia’s Honor was the first book (by internal chronology): he warned that it starts out a bit like “Mills and Boon in space” (and this is a problem? I thought), but to stick with it, as it gets much better. Well, it does, and it did. Bujold has since become one of my favourite SF/fantasy writers.

Cordelia’s Honor is actually two separate books – Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Shards of Honor is essentially a romance, although I think to call it “just” M&B in space is doing Bujold a gross disservice, as it deals with a number of thought-provoking issues. Of course, the M&B aspects (though I think they are more like Georgette Heyer) are good as well! It was the first book Bujold wrote, and I find it interesting that in her Afterword she says that she “already knew, at this early date, that Aral and Cordelia would have a physically handicapped son in Barrayar’s intensely militaristic culture”. I wonder if she realised that this physically handicapped son would be her major ongoing character?

Barrayar is both more eventful and richer in detail than Shards, dealing with politics and civil war, as well as with Aral and Cordelia’s relationship, and Cordelia’s connection with her unborn child. The first time I read them, I enjoyed Shards, but was absolutely gripped by Barrayar. On subsequent re-reads, Shards has risen in my estimation, but I still think Barrayar is more consistent. You can tell that Cordelia’s Honor was written by a woman (and a mother), as the whole concept of motherhood is central to both halves of the story. And yet, it’s also an action packed and exciting story, set in an interesting world.

Due to difficulties in getting hold of the books, I unfortunately read most of the rest of the Vorkosigan series out of order. However, I’m glad I started with Cordelia’s Honor. As well as providing a context for Miles (which original readers wouldn’t have had, as Barrayar wasn’t published until after the first couple of Miles books), I find it a thoroughly enjoyable book in and of itself. In fact, it’s probably one of my favourites in the series – behind Memory, Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign, but definitely ahead of all the early Miles books up to (and maybe even including) Brothers in Arms.

We Will Rock You (Queen and Ben Elton) at the Lyric Theatre, Star City

I didn’t know whether or not I’d enjoy this one. I had bought tickets on the basis of Queen music plus Ben Elton dialogue, but I wasn’t sure I’d really enjoy the music without Freddy Mercury’s voice; and then I read a really negative review of it in the Sydney Morning Herald.

However, having paid for the tickets, we went along … and had a great evening. I guess I can see why the Herald was so negative. As a musical, the plot and characterisation were minimal in the extreme, and the songs didn’t always fit in that neatly. However, taken as a show, the production values were good, the Elton dialogue was funny and the Queen music was great – and while the songs weren’t the same being performed by non-Queen singers, for the most part they still worked. Of course, some were better than others. I was a bit underwhelmed by Galileo’s (Michael Falzon’s) rendition of “I Want to Break Free”, but he was much better later – I guess since it was his first song, he was saving himself.

It said in the program that Ben Elton had made changes for the Australian audience. I expected it just to be a couple of lines, here and there. In fact, it was a lot of lines. (Probably more than I actually recognised – I have to admit, I initially missed the Wiggles joke.)

All in all, I had a great time. If it wasn’t so expensive, I’d almost be inclined to go again.

P.S. December 2004
In spite of the cost, I did end up going again. And had just as much fun the second time.

The Giver by Lois Lowry [Contains spoilers]

I picked this book up a few months ago. I came across it in a second hand bookshop, and remembered that people on the Child_Lit list had been raving about it. Ever since, it has been sitting unread on the bookshelf.

This morning, I grabbed it to read in the train. By the time I arrived at work, I was totally gripped, and I finished it in my (rather extended) lunch break. On the way home, I stopped off at a bookshop to buy Gathering Blue, which is set in the same world. Unfortunately, Messenger, which involves the characters from both books, is only available in hardcover at the moment, but I see myself getting it out of the library very soon.

I have never read any Lois Lowry before, but I found her writing style very engaging, and the world she created was interesting. The beginning of the book, where the reader gradually realises what the world is like, was gripping, as was the ending. However I did find the lead up to the climax (when they decide he should run away) a little bit perfunctory, and I wasn’t convinced their rationale was right. (Just because the memories were released by death didn’t seem to guarantee that they would be released simply by his going away.) Of course, it’s her world, so she can do what she likes. And I didn’t find it inconsistent – it just seemed like a bit of a leap of faith, in which they didn’t even realise they were leaping.

I can also see why there is so much controversy about the ending. My initial reaction was that he had died, although from what I had seen on Child_Lit, I knew that he came back in Messenger, and that some people felt this undercut the end of The Giver. So I figured maybe the end should be taken literally. Though when I was looking at reviews on Amazon, some people thought he had come back to where he started, but they now had colour, and weather, and families. I guess I’ll find out what it really means when I read Messenger.

At a high level, the plot reminded me a bit of The Awakening Water, or maybe the first Tripods book, but The Giver was much more sophisticated, and much more gripping, than either of these.