all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom

This media blow rolls both classy and street:

The Pacific and Other Stories
: I read Mark Helprin’s Memoir from Antproof Case at least a decade ago. At the time it struck me as a clever and entertaining, if somewhat twee, story. The short fiction collected here all hits one of those same three notes. He writes very well – lush descriptions, uniquely chosen metaphors, a certain dry wit – but you could make a Mark Helprin story by selecting any three of the following at random:

  • A European seaside town;
  • Orthodox Judaism;
  • A mawkish fondness for older things;
  • A man tentatively entranced by a woman, not necessarily beautiful but fine in poise and character;
  • Opulent wealth;
  • The War;
  • Men older than fifty
That being said, “Monday,” “Perfection” and “A Brilliant Idea and His Own” justify the price tag by themselves. Only one of the stories – “Jacob Bayer and the Telephone” – made me cringe, and it made me laugh a few pages earlier. Elevating beach reading, I’d call it.

Seeing Sounds: Damn! Why did nobody tell me about these guys before? As Melissa mentioned on Sunday, the album sounds a bit overproduced – maybe one less layer on the final recording session would make it perfect. Still, I can’t imagine better background music for a hep party full of socially tight people.

Best New American Voices 2007: Editors Sue Miller, John Kulka and Natalie Danford select their favorites from the nation’s writing workshops. My most common reaction: “hey – I could do this!”

Battlestar Galactica: Oh, man.

First off, my few moments of dissatisfaction:

I hate prophecy as a trope in genre fiction. It infuriates me. Ever since some obscure Jewish sect in a Roman province decided they could misread Isaiah and tout their own bearded hippie as the son of a virgin, it’s been fair game to nit-pick over metaphors and claim they foretold the future. And I have yet to see a piece of fiction made better by some overly literal prediction.

“I am the Witch-King of Angmar! No man can kill me!” I don’t mind a female having a strong role in a Tolkien novel – for once – but the tedious literalism that it takes to give her the spotlight grates my teeth.

“No man of woman born can slay you, Macbeth!” Great. So let’s stretch our imaginations to think of all the ways a person could be alive without being literally born of a woman. Posthumous C-section? Perfect.

Argh! I hate that shit. I hate writers who pass off vagueness as cleverness. I cannot stand it. Everything the idea touches suffers for it.

That being said:
I cheered when President Roslin’s religious counselor ate a landmine in S2 so she would no longer crop up around every corner with a handy reference from the Scrolls of Pythia. “Well, what do you know? I just happen to have a religious text that just happens to mention the thing that just happened.” That’s lazy writing. That’s the antithesis of foreshadowing, which I will call anteshadowing from here on out. Rather than laying groundwork to build suspense, you pretend to create an intricate past in order to build … what’s the opposite of suspense? Boredom?

So we saw one and a half seasons almost entirely free of religious prophecy. Then suddenly the Opera House becomes important again. First off, “and you shall know the truth of the Opera House” fails on all levels – inspiring prophecy, good poetry, good religious imagery, clever writing, etc.

Second – as of the last episode, the Final Five Four Cylons didn’t exactly point the way to Earth. They just stood around Kara’s VIPER, scratching their heads, until Kara climbed back in the cockpit and spotted something. In other words, President Adama (unwittingly) made a totally meaningless threat to space Colonel Tigh. One of those Cylons could have found the weird noise just as easily as three of them.

Third – the online community, still speculating on the identity of the fifth Cylon, seems convinced that no one aboard the Galactica could be it. Why? Because D’Anna said that “only four of them” were among the crew. So we won’t consider the possibility that she didn’t see someone? That she got it wrong? I know those wouldn’t be very satisfying resolutions – “oh, whoops, you do have all five Cylons” – but I don’t find the tedious literalism of prophecy any better.

There. Deep breath.

With all that out of the way? I’ve enjoyed S4 more than I’ve enjoyed any of the show since … early S2, I think. I loved the slow growth of Baltar’s religious cult. I loved the tense negotiations with the Cylon rebels. I loved the tough choices and the race for Earth. And I loved the bitter mid-season ending. Because, really, BSG was never about the quest for Earth – it was about what Earth meant to everyone involved. So getting to Earth should not solve all of the Fleet’s problems.

I’m still a fan. I’m still sticking around.

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9 Responses

  1. My take on the “only four of them are on the ship” thing is that the final one was already on the Cylon ship. Roslin, maybe?

    I also thought it smelled like cheating that Kara did lead the way to the “destruction of the human race” by way of a destroyed Earth. But I hope I’m misinterpreting that and something more interesting will follow in the second half.

  2. Either Roslin or Baltar would be the only ones with any sort of impact as a revelation. Imagine the anticlimax if it turns out that Helo’s the fifth Cylon.

    And it smelled like cheating because it’s a prophecy that came from the base’s Hybrid, and prophecies are dumb (see above).

  3. In my personal opinion, prophecies can work in fiction, if done well. BSG has *usually* done them well, IMO, but I do agree that it’s gotten a little heavy on that recently. But like you, I don’t mind, I’m still a huge fan and I’m obviously seeing it through!

    More than anything else, I’m pissed we have til Jan. 09 to see the rest of it. Lame!!

  4. See, I have never had much of an issue with prophecies as a foreshadowing/theme device, so long as they are handled lightly. I agree with Katie in that there has been a bit of heavy-handedness to this season when it came their use, especially since they introduced the base ship hybrids as these fountains. It seems that all the prophecies also wandered a bit in BSG’s 3rd season with the Eye of Jupiter (huh? they knew that it would go Nova RIGHT THEN?) and the plague-filled marker at the “lion’s mouth” (where did that all go? Nowhere it seems, so far). It does seem that they’re trying to get more on track this season, but they’re going a tad overboard to make up for all the wandering that happened in the last.

    Still, one of the things that I have always liked about BSG is the mix of the scifi with the spiritual, especially by giving the Cylons and the humans two differing religious beliefs. The Baltar cult is opening up another door to see the various twists of religion and its influence. It would be really interesting to see more differing interpretations of these prophecies more than literal “oh, THAT’s what it means — you see 12 snakes and there is Kobol!” and having it bifurcate the fleet, much like interpretations of the Bible has. But, as they only have a half season left, I don’t really see that happening as much. Oh well.

  5. It would be really interesting to see more differing interpretations of these prophecies more than literal “oh, THAT’s what it means — you see 12 snakes and there is Kobol!” and having it bifurcate the fleet, much like interpretations of the Bible [have].

    Exactly! I hate prophecy as instruction manual; I could cotton to prophecy as social catalyst.

  6. I’m not convinced that the 12th Cylon isn’t aboard the Galactica. Not because I think D’Anna could have simply made a mistake, but because I think she could be outright lying. She’s not exactly shown herself to be reliable up until this point — if she though keeping the identity of the 12th Cylon to herself would benefit her, she’d do it.

    The whole prophecy/mysticism thing doesn’t bother me much right now when there’s still some possibility that how it worked will be explained eventually. (And I’m not looking for some hard-SF explanation; I’d be okay with a supernatural one — I just want an internally consistent one.)

  7. Taking for granted that, for the sake of a good story, the Very Last Cylon has to be a Big Reveal, that leaves:

    (1) Admiral Adama
    (2) Captain Counselor Councillor President Adama
    (3) President Roslin
    (4) Starbuck
    (5) Gaius Baltar

    Of those, my money’s on #4, or else the writers have to provide a consistent explanation for why the Fifth Cylon didn’t start hearing Bob Dylan covers in the nebula like Tigh, Tyrell, Anders and what’s-her-face did. But Kara wasn’t on the ship at the time.

  8. Ooh, good point re: “Watchtower”. I hope that gets explained more fully.

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