Saturday, May 26, 2007

Three Books for Kids

In The Chronicle Book Review's special Children's Books issue, I review three science fiction and fantasy novels for younger readers: China Mieville's "Un Lun Dun," "Under My Roof" by Nick Mamatas and "Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening."

(And yes, I know Elasti-Girl was in the Doom Patrol. I tried to get the reference corrected, but it didn't take, somehow.)

Blues Busters

Three things that have recently made me happy (or at least marginally less miserable):

1. The "Lost" finale. Did that kick ass or what? Lots of great individual moments and a stellar slingshot twist at the end. It's rare that an American television series pulls itself out of a creative tailspin, but that's what "Lost" accomplished in its last 16 episodes. I'm primed for the next 48.

2. John Connolly's latest Charlie Parker thriller is also a fine return to form. I was disappointed in his stand-alone fantasy, "The Book of Lost Things," but "The Unquiet" achieves the right balance between crime and supernatural fiction. I also think Connolly is at his best when writing about Maine (which is odd, as he's Irish).

3. The audiobook of Kage Baker's "Rude Mechanicals." It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Baker's series of books and stories about The Company, the climax of which arrives in July. In the meantime, we have this novella about immortal cyborgs Lewis and Joseph as they mix it up in Hollywood during the Thirties. Mary Robinette Kowal delivers a lively reading that's perfect for walking from BART station to home during the evening commute.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Rock 'n' Roll" Broadway Bound

In case you haven't heard, "The Coast of Utopia" has racked up 10 Tony Award nominations this year.

Hot on the heels of "Utopia," Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" is slated to open November 4 at the Jacobs Theatre with much of the original British cast intact.

If this article is correct, you'll be able to hear a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of that play in July, as well as one of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."

Speaking of "R&G," there's a modern-dress production in Washington, D.C., complete with Beckettian bowler hats. The production in Kings Langley looks more traditional.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Coast of Utopia": All Over But the Awards

The Broadway production of Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia" closed on May 13.

It racked up six awards from the OuterCritics Circle, including Outstanding New Broadway Play, Outstanding Director of a Play and Outstanding Featured Actress (Martha Plimpton) in a Play. The play also took top honors from the New York Drama Critics Circle.

Still ahead are the Tony nominations.

Meanwhile, the New York Review of Books offers a lengthy analysis of the production.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Warren Zevon and the Vast Indifference of Heaven

I saw Warren Zevon perform once, at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, while he was touring for his ill-fated album "The Envoy." I wish I could remember more from the show, but I recall more about the drive from Brunswick than I do about his performance. Sometimes I wish my brain would retain what's important, rather than all the trivial crap that sticks with no problem at all.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about Zevon during the last two weeks. First I ran out and bought "Preludes," the double CD of recently discovered demos and rarities. Then I read "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," the new biography/oral history by his ex-wife Crystal Zevon.

I'm definitely glad I purchased the album, but I'm more ambivalent about the book. Of course, I'd read about Zevon's battle with alcoholism before, particularly in a famous "Rolling Stone" profile by Paul Nelson. But even that article, as hellish as much of it is, doesn't begin to hint at the bad behavior and wasted opportunities that Crystal Zevon reports. What's especially distressing are the ways in which Zevon neglected his kids and mistreated many of the women in his life.

Also disheartening is the account of his final fall of the wagon after 17 years of sobriety. Such a relapse is perfectly understandable, I guess, when you've been given three months to live after they've diagnosed you with mesolthelioma. I certainly can't judge him for it. But that's certainly not the redemptive story they told in the VH1 documentary about the making of his last album, "The Wind."

I mostly like the new biography, though, because it gives a fresh perspective on the creation of a catalogue of songs I really love and listen to often. I'm more interested in the stories behind "Desperadoes Under the Eaves," "Don't Let Us Get Sick" and "Disorder in the House" than I am in what drugs their author took or whom he slept with.

Zevon reminds me of the another dark humorist who kept plugging away almost to the very end, the recently departed Kurt Vonnegut. They are both artists whose work spoke strongly to me in my young adulthood and which I rediscovered later on and appreciated even more deeply. (The same, alas, cannot be said for Zevon's good friend Hunter S. Thompson. The tawdriness of his suicide only confirmed the decrepitude of his later writing.) I wish they had done more, but I'm grateful for what they left behind.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Spider-Man 3": Get Out Your Handkerchiefs

Is "Spider-Man 3" the weepiest superhero movie ever made? Everybody in it has gelatinous tears running down their faces. Spider-Man cries. Aunt May cries. Mary-Jane cries. Dead Uncle Ben in flashback cries. The Sandman cries. Harry Osborne cries. Hold it together, people! Sheesh! (At least J. Jonah Jameson doesn't start blubbering.)

In general, this iteration of the ol' Webslinger is entertaining. Better than the first in some ways, not as good as the second in many more. Could have used a lot more Venom, a lot less Sandman.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The (Granthony) Cain Mutiny

I’m telling you, Lynn Johnston is evil, man. She’s toying with us as she brings her saga of unconsummated Canadian lust to its inevitable and depressing conclusion.

Yesterday, Liz announced her plan to allow Granthony to squire her to an upcoming wedding. Today, Granthony scotches that idea by letting Liz know that he has invited someone else. In your face, Lizardbreath!

Unfortunately, we all know that this will not turn out to be a major obstacle in their path to true, tepid romance. Granthony’s “date” will turn out to be his daughter or his mom or his cousin Hortense from Manitoba. But wouldn’t it be great if he brought someone truly inappropriate, like a dirty “roadside” slut (i.e. any single woman interested in premarital sex), a transvestite “escort” or even a chimp on rollerskates? We can only dream…

Liz Patterson always desperately wants what she’s told she can’t have, so this smackdown from Mustache Boy will only intensify her ardor.

I want to look away, but I can’t.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What the Hell Country Is This?

Loyalty Day???

The Congress, by Public Law 85-529, as amended, has designated May 1 of each year as "Loyalty Day." This Loyalty Day, and throughout the year, I ask all Americans to join me in reaffirming our allegiance to our Nation.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2007, as Loyalty Day. I call upon the people of the United States to participate in this national observance and to display the flag of the United States on Loyalty Day as a symbol of pride in our Nation.