Addicted to Whedon & Pratchett

Discworld_Companion (by StarbuckGuy)

I’ve touched on this before — I’m addicted to the productions of writer, director, and producer, Joss Whedon. I own the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, all seven seasons of Buffy (TV series), the complete Angel series, and as of today, the complete Firefly series and the subsequent movie Serenity. They arrived in my latest Amazon.ca order.

I’m on my second viewing of Angel and, as happened with Buffy, I’m enjoying it much more the second time around. Right now I’m in the very dark season two episodes where Darla has been turned (re-turned) into a vamp by Drusilla and the two are terrorizing LA. Wolfram & Hart are showing more and more of the depth of their evilness and Angel is driving away his friends, Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn. In fact he just fired them. I’m midway through the season, before their dimensional adventure takes them on a subplot where they find ‘Fred’.

It’s not the plots, which are a bit monster-of-the-week or adventure-of-the-week. They’re enjoyable, if you like SF&F. It’s the writing. Joss Whedon’s originality and freshness has been passed along to all the co-writers of the various series and, as a result, the episodes have the unexpected, surprising twists of dialogue, undercutting humour, and powerful character development and story arcs that flow from Whedon’s own pen. I’ve never encountered writing like this before in pop culture media.

I wasn’t sure I was going to purchase Firefly and Serenity after watching a borrowed version, but I finally convinced Trevor to watch Serenity with me (we often share our fave movies as father/son buddy time) and after viewing it he said, “You’re going to buy these, aren’t you?” That’s his stamp of approval — he’s acquired a considerable video collection of his favourite movies. Well … certainly I couldn’t let him down.

I added a paperback to the latest Amazon order to bring the threshold to the ‘free shipping’ point: The New Discworld Companion, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs. I’ve only dipped into it a little but it’s a delightful reader’s encyclopedia to the characters and elements of Discworld. Here’s the entry on Conina:

One of the daughters of Conan the Barbarian, and therefore genetically a barbarian heroine who, unfortunately, wants to be a hair dresser. A superb fighter, she carries a large number of concealed weapons, although absolutely anything she can get hold of — a hairgrip, a piece of paper, a hamster — is used as a deadly weapon.

Her hair is long and almost pure white, her skin tanned. She is a demure and surprisingly small figure. Although she inherits her looks from her mother, a temple dancer, she inherits from her father sinews you could moor a boat with, reflexes like a snake on hot tin, a terrible urge to steal things and a sensation that she should be throwing a knife at everyone she meets.

I see a strong connection between my addiction to Joss Whedon and my addiction to Terry Pratchett. Both, in my opinion, transcend the genres they write in, creating art.

Nation, by Terry Pratchett

Nation, by Terry Pratchett (by StarbuckGuy)

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Terry Pratchett fan and am currently re-reading all the novels in his Discworld series. When I heard that his newest novel, Nation, was not set in Discworld, I was a little disappointed, mainly because Discworld is so much fun, not to mention addictive.

But Nation is an entirely fresh Pratchett, unlike any I’ve read before. It takes place on a round world, namely ours, but 150 years ago in a parallel universe, when a tidal wave, or tsunami, caused by a Krakatoa-like explosion, washes over parts of what we’d call Pacific Ocean islands, wiping out most of the inhabitants.

On one particular island, called Nation by its inhabitants, the sole survivor is a young boy who had been at sea in his canoe when the wave struck. The wave also washed a large wooden ship ashore and its only survivor is a young high-society Victorian-era girl. There’s an immediate tension between these two when they meet. They learn some of each other’s language, but they have no cultural references in common.

From this starting point the story unfolds and it is exactly what I would expect from Pratchett — an engaging, humorous, thoughtful, deeply-meaningful story told by a master storyteller. There is nothing Disneyish about the story, and its development and ending are totally appropriate to the two main characters.

It’s officially a Young Adult novel, like the Tiffany Aching Discworld novels, and like them it’s what I call one of Pratchett’s ‘wisdom’ novels. Through the plot and character, the novel plumbs philosophical depths that would be unexpected in most YA fiction.

By extraordinary luck, I had the very first hold on the novel from my local public library system. I finished it in the wee hours last night and can say with no hesitation that it’s a delight (except for the loss-of-sleep-reading-it part). Pratchett fans will love it. If you’re new to Pratchett, this would make a good first read — primarily because it’s not part of the complex Discworld series. It’s a wonderful standalone novel that I think will become known as one of his finest.

Notes:

There are two very good short videos on YouTube in which Pratchett talks about Nation and its creation.

1. Terry Pratchett on Nation: 3:01

2. Nation: An Interview with Terry Pratchett: 7:09

Going Postal

Postal Delivery (by StarbuckGuy)

It was a bonanza day at the mailbox today. Two different shipments arrived — one from Amazon.ca and one from AbeBooks, my preferred online seller of used books.

The Amazon shipment included more Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett (now Sir Terry Pratchett), including the very funny Going Postal. My set of trade paperbacks is now complete, until TP publishes another. His latest novel, Nation, is one of his rare non-Discworld works.¬† In my re-reading of Discworld, in the sequence in which they were published, I’ve reached Maskerade.

There’s no single thing that attracts me to Pratchett’s fantasy series — sometimes called ‘comedic fantasy’, which is accurate as far as it goes. It’s zany, similar in spirit if not in style, to Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It’s often funny in the way Joss Whedon scripts are funny — quick lines and understatements and unexpected juxtapositions.

Pratchett is also amusing, as well as thought provoking, as a social satirist. His thinly disguised sendups of the Gulf War, Christmas, opera, rock music, Shakespearean drama, and Hollywood, among other things, are all part of the fun.

He’s an interesting stylist too. His plot structures resemble a spiral more than anything else, and they’re not always easy to follow. He includes no chapter breaks — the books seemingly ramble about — but they always circle back toward the centre.

I find a great deal of wisdom in his novels. It pops up in the Night Watch books, the witch novels, the novels in which Death is the main character, and especially in the Tiffany Aching stories.

The reason I’ve collected all his novels is that I want to read and re-read them for years, the way I do with David Eddings’s Belgariad and Mallorean series, and the eternally delightful mysteries of Agatha Christie. When I need ‘comfort’ reading, these are the books I reach for.

The DVD of Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog is something I’ve bought on faith. I’m not even certain what it is, but it’s by Joss Whedon and it’s had enthusiastic reviews. As I mentioned in my blog entry Things Joss Whedony, I’m addicted to the man’s creative productions.

The book Writing Creative Nonfiction is a followup to a posting on the newly-launched Creative NonFiction Writing Forums. It sounded interesting and instructive, and it wasn’t very expensive, so I simply indulged.

Le Petit Larousse Illustré, 1982 ed., is a used book I sought out after a conversation in Starbucks with a man who was reading Nietzsche in French translation. I posted on this on the Creative NonFiction Writing Forums:

While sitting in Starbucks this morning [January 18, 2009], working on my current blog entry and browsing some of my favourite forums, I was joined across the table by an older gentleman (about my age) I’ve seen in Starbucks previously.

As I finished up my work and was putting away my netbook, I happened to look at the book he was reading. It was a book by Nietzsche, in French (I didn’t quite catch the title). My curiosity overcame me and I asked him why he was reading Nietzsche in a French translation. His simple answer: he liked reading French.

I asked him how he’d got so good at reading French (he was clearly not a native French speaker). I don’t know what I expected — that he’d been assigned to the French Embassy at some time in his career, that he had a bohemian period in Paris, that he’d been a member of the Foreign Legion.

No, he just liked reading French. He told me he’d taken French in school but had forgotten most of it, but one day he picked up a book in French and decided to read it. At first, he said, he had to use a dictionary for almost every other word. But now he scarcely uses a dictionary at all.

The breakthrough, he told me, came when he got rid of his French-English dictionary and started using Le Petit Larousse, a French-only dictionary. He said the French definitions were very clear, and that the dictionary also provided synonyms and antonyms.

Interesting. My ability to read French was never particularly good, but it even that has atrophied through disuse. Worse, I even live in a bilingual English-French country (though I rarely encounter French other than on my cereal boxes).

It’s making me think perhaps I should get a Le Petit Larousse if I can find a used one, and try some Camus again. I always loved Camus as a stylist.

I sincerely admire people who do things like read French simply because they like it, and elect to read their Nietzsche in French. Kudos!

I once owned a version of this fine dictionary when I was studying French at university, and the conversation brought back memories of my enjoyment of it. It may be an undertaking like yet another started and failed diet, but I truly want to try to re-learn how to read French. I’ve always liked French, though I have a tin ear for learning languages. I’m going to try, or put another way, je l’essai (which I’m certain is terrible French).

Besides, it’s a beautiful book.

Le Petit Larousse Illustre 1982 (by StarbuckGuy)