Saturday, January 28, 2023

Pop Quiz Occasioned by Episode 1 & 2 of Three Pines

 Situation: Inspector Gamache is having a disagreement with three other characters. Gamache is

  • Older
  • White
  • Male
  • In a position of authority
  • Arguing based on logic, facts, and evidence.

The other characters are

  • Younger
  • Non-white (indigenous Canadians)
  • Female
  • Poor and marginalized
  • Arguing based on emotion, sentiment, and personal biases.

Question 1. How many episodes will it take before Inspector Gamache is proven wrong?

(a) One.
(b) A few.
(c) Most of the season.

Question 2. If Gamache were gay, would he still be wrong?

(a) Yes.
(b) Yes, but it wouldn't be his fault.
(c) If he were gay, he would believe the women, because he'd know they're in the right.

Question 3. Where did Gamache go wrong?

(a) When he used logic, facts, and evidence, because the police should never do that.
(b) When he joined the police, thereby becoming a tool of the patriarchy.
(c) When he was born.

I give you my word that I was eager to like this series. It's got real artistic ambition. It's got good dialog, great cinematography, good actors. I was even ready to sympathize with the indigenous characters, because the plot thread they're caught up in is a real one, and it's horrifying. (Believe me or not, as you choose.)

The writing, however, is nothing but a collection of cliches. I was actually considerably more irritated by the "solution" to the "mystery," which Gamache arrives at by pure guesswork, and which in any case was done considerably better by Agatha Christie in 1949 (Crooked House, for those of you keeping score at home.) Plus, with how Gamache handles the denouement, any half-way competent lawyer would get the killer acquitted and the detective fired in fifteen minutes flat.

Learn how to write, people.

I doubt that I'll watch any more of this tripe. I've read one of the books, and it wasn't bad; probably I should stick to my lane.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

In Which I Fail to Understand the Market

Not long ago I read a mystery short story. (I'm not giving details because I don't want to badmouth a working writer.) The plot goes like this:

  1. Murder.
  2. Police find a fingerprint.
  3. Police ask suspect about fingerprint.
  4. Suspect attacks police, is guilty.

In between 1. and 2. there's a lot of window dressing, none of which turns out to be important.

I'll stipulate that I was enjoying the story right up to the end. I'll even admit that I'm a little interested in the other stories in the series.

But I'll further admit that I don't grasp why this kind of story routinely gets published.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Department of Unpopular Opinions

Wakanda Forever is not a good movie. There, I said it.

What's wrong with it? I'm glad you asked!

  1. Namor & Co. are the bad guys for the single and sole reason that they are fighting the good guys, and they are fighting the good guys for the single and sole reason that the good guys need someone to fight.
  2. The protagonist changes from Queen Ramonda to Princess Shuri halfway through the movie.
  3. Shuri's motivation for the first half of the movie is T'Challa dying offscreen, which is then totally forgotten and irrelevant for the second half of the movie, because REVENGE! (Or not.)
  4. Climactic fight: World's! Stupidest! Plan!
  5. 90 minutes of plot squeezed into a 160-minute film.
  6. Plot threads with no consequences. For example: 
    1. Vibranium-seeking mercenaries
    2. General Okoye loses her job, resulting in ... what? A battlesuit?
In my opinion there's also some remarkably bad overacting, but that's an aesthetic judgment that's open to disagreement.

I can turn my brain off for some of the lapses of logic--for example, the Wakandans don't bother to fight the Atlantians using, oh, say, high tech depth charges--because these things are just a given in a Marvel movie. The point of the movie is to have lots of hand-to-hand fight scenes, so by definition guns and stuff don't work well, because if they did you wouldn't have the fight scenes. But "that's just how it is" can't salvage a movie that's nonsensical and poorly structured even on its own terms.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Doesn't Ring True

Well, it's no Picard . . . but Amazon's Rings of Power is no masterpiece, either. It's high-school-level Tolkien fanfic (believe me, I'd know). The writers clearly have only the vaguest idea of what JRRT was trying to do; they seem to think they can replicate The Lord of the Rings by throwing in a bunch of pointy ears and adding special effects. It looks gorgeous, but it's hollow.

And it's predictable. I spotted the obligatory BIG TWIST in the finale right around episode 4. Don't believe me? Ask my friend Allen; he and I discussed it extensively.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-loved novels of all time. If you think you're a better fantasy writer than its author . . . well, you're probably wrong. The writers of The Rings of Power certainly are.

Here's another writer's longer take. I mostly agree with it, though with less passion and more meh.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Make It Slow

I have just endured the . . . whatever it was . . . that was Star Trek: Picard season 2. I may have more to say on the subject in a longer post. Right now, I just feel the need to highlight two three four gargantuan problems that haunt the whole season.

  1. It is God-awful slow. There are entire episodes that don't contribute at all to the main story arc. There are others (Episode 8, I'm looking at you) in which the characters get out of trouble, after a full hour, by doing something they could have and should have done in the first ten minutes.
  2. Speaking of the main story arc, what the hell is it? Who's the antagonist? Is it Q? Is it Soong? Is it the Borg Queen? Is it Renee Picard's inner demons? Is it the authorities? What exactly are any or all of the above trying to achieve?
  3. "We need to go back to the past to fix the timeline" is OVER. Don't do this setup again.
  4. Apparently Jean-Luc Picard experienced a childhood trauma that was so fundamental, so foundational to the man he became, that he sat two meters away from an empath for eight hours a day over seven years and she never noticed.

I'm sorry, I have to stop now. They're coming with my medicine.

Go watch Strange New Worlds instead.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Strike Two

I tried another Ngaio Marsh mystery, The Nursing-Home Murder.

Roderick Alleyn decides, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, to recreate the crime.

At the recreation, a supporting character--entirely by accident--nearly knocks over a piece of equipment.

This reveals the killer's identity and method.

Also, the killer's motive makes absolutely no sense. He's a fanatical eugenicist, but the victim neither has, nor has any prospect of having, children. (highlight to view)

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Concerning Dame Ngaio Marsh

 Recently a close friend forwarded this review to me:

Every Roderick Alleyn Novel (Fiction, Ngaio Marsh, 1934-1982) Roderick Alleyn, the Shakespeare-quoting, handsome, aristocratic Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, spans the gap between Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and P.D. James’ Adam Dalgleish. Not as inventive (in plot or dialogue) as Sayers, and not as deep (in character and psychology) as James, Marsh still easily beats Christie for human stories, and her puzzles are reliably honest legerdemain, the best kind. The early novels have a Sayers-Wodehouse sort of air, and she never approaches the psychological starkness of late Allingham, but at her best (Surfeit of Lampreys, Scales of Justice, and the near folk-horror of Dead Water, all Recommended) she combines knowing lightness, humanity, and cruelty better than most mystery writers. Many Alleyn novels have a theatrical setting, combining two hothouse genres with general success. –KH

Now, I am well known as a swooning devotee of the traditional whodunit mystery, featuring puzzles and clues and stuff. There are very few practitioners of the art nowadays, although I would be remiss not to cite the inimitable Steve Hockensmith and the always-excellent Aaron and Charlotte Elkins. (Although, come to think of it, I myself have imitated Hockensmith, so maybe he's only mostly inimitable.) I'm always searching for new authors in the classic mold. So nothing would please me more, at least within the confines of the literary universe, than to find that I'd unjustly overlooked Ngaio Marsh.

The thing is, I've never thought much of her. Her writing style is good, but her plotting always struck me as pedestrian at best. On the other hand, my wife likes her, and brought a dozen Marshes to our library. So I resolved to try again. I picked out one of the books I hadn't read, Death in Ecstasy.

Here's what happens:

  1. A woman is poisoned while attending a peculiar religious service.
  2. Ordinary police work reveals that she had a serious quarrel with someone, regarding the theft of some bonds which she had given to the sect. 
  3. It's not clear with whom she quarreled, but it's presumed that that's who killed her.
  4. One of the suspects actually overheard the quarrel, but he won't tell the police who the other party was.
  5. Except that, a couple chapters later, he does tell them who it was, and that's your murderer.
  6. The end.

There are a lot of melodramatic trappings, but that's it. That's the mystery.

Ngaio Marsh fans, please tell me: what am I missing?