About Me

My photo
Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Comparatively Analyse This: American Psycho vs American Psycho vs Banksters, Part 1

Hello hello!

So, while I write and edit, I sneak in time to read for leisure, and I often play movies and shows in the background while I edit. In a way, this is technically a "Missed It" review, because I have the marvellous skill (?) of being ten years late to every party, and of somehow insulating myself from things I haven't seen or read, no matter how famous they are. Obviously, both the movie and book fit these perimeters.

But let's talk about the book and the movie. I just finished reading American Psycho, and the movie called to me--especially after a bunch of my friends confirmed that it's much better. Obviously, there are some epic


ahead. I'll also be mentioning an indie parody called Banksters by Nic Wilson because it's based on American Psycho. Now, with that out of the way, let's get down to business. This is a three-way fight--book vs book vs movie!


I've mentioned it before, but I actually had the chance to read that first, before either the book or movie crossed the desk in my mind-palace. Banksters focuses on the machinations of a sociopath sexing, manipulating, and murdering his way to the top of a company. It's less metaphorical than American Psycho, and Mark Danes is both a more appealing protagonist and a more clear-minded one; it's more akin to the power porn I enjoy so much, things like Breaking Mad Game of Cards, for instance. (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, and House of Cards--both the British and the American versions--are all basically "power porn".) Banksters, though, is darkly humorous, and that counts for something. The prose is sexy and clever, and it's a really fun ride. Go buy it here if you haven't already.

American Psycho

Both the book and the movie tell the story of Patrick Bateman, and honestly, I can't do much better than the Netflix description--"with chiseled good looks that belie his insanity, a businessman takes pathological pride in yuppie pursuits and indulges in sudden homicidal urges." It's basically a story about the symbolic exploitation and abuse of the working class by the people at the helm of the economy, and the madness induced by meaninglessness of consumer culture and lifestyles, as well as the worthlessness of the trappings of wealth. Also, there's sexual torture. Lots of it. Proceed with caution. 

I have no source and no justification. 

Prose, Style, Cinematography

The book...ugh.  It's a very polarizing work. I really love books about madness, and I'm quite a Palahniuk fan--I love Lovecraft, I like William Golding a lot, I enjoyed Joseph Heller's Catch-22...you get the idea. American Psycho was on my bucket list for a long-ass time. Of course, now that I've read it, I'm glad I did, but I still have mixed feelings. Some of the descriptions of madness were wonderful, and I really liked the concept. The descriptions of clothing entertained me and ended up informing me about various kinds of fabric in some detail, though, so I guess that's actually a point in their favour--but all the gourmet food and the other stuff got really irritating to read about because there was just so goddamn much of it. However, the thematically appropriate but annoyingly detailed album reviews, and the completely over-the-top descriptions of the violence against women really got to me. I am not going to mention rats, electric shock machine torture, eyeballs, or cannibalism, because your brain will fill in the details of what happens to the (mostly women and hookers) for me. And I can guarantee you, the descriptions were worse than whatever your brain just came up with. I like my violence tasteful--no pun intended--and there was just too much of it to be really effective.

I kept comparing it to Banksters, because while that book isn't perfect, the murders and violence are more clever and the sex is less repulsive. The female characters are also much better and more interesting--more on that later--and there's a larger cast to work with. There's also a nice theme of examining the cost of the glass ceiling for women, and violence on women in the workplace, which I really appreciated. The point of American Psycho is partly how utterly interchangeable the people at the top are, and that actually ended up being to its detriment because it was hard to care when bad things happened. Anyway, the descriptions and prose in Banksters drew me in a lot more, and the wealth and opulence still came across. It's knifeblade prose, and there was much less waste and repetition than in its source. Also, American Psycho put me off sex and Banksters made me want to have sex, so that has to be counted as a point in its favour.

I wanted to love it, but it was a book you endure, not one you enjoy, and the reason is partly the jerky pacing. As Kyle Kallgren, "Oancitizen" of Channel Awesome put it, "It cannot be watched, merely inflicted," and that describes the experience of reading this book. I understand the symbolism of Wall Street broker types abusing poorer people and committing violence against them, and I understand the giant time jumps at the end of the book, but the clever symbolism didn't make up for the truly frustrating experience of reading the book. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson was much less of a slog, and so was On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Those books aren't totally perfect, but they're a damn sight less annoying, and the protagonists are better. More on that in a minute.

Now, the movie is loyal and faithful to the book, but it cuts out the annoying descriptions and replaces them mostly with, well, visuals; I think that works a lot better. The voice-over was a little distracting, and close-ups on all the labels and a silent opening--or one with music--could have been better, but it's a really well-filmed and nicely framed movie. It's also seductively paced and witty from step one, but in a more engaging way, and the message still gets across. There's a lot of dead weight that's just cut, a couple of things--like the breakup speech with Courtney--are rearranged, and it just flows so much better. Also, I could look away during the gory scenes in the movie, and frankly, that was preferable to having to read about what happened in the original text. They cut a lot out, including plenty of animal cruelty and torture porn, and I am more than okay with that. In exchange, we got some amazingly goofy Christian Bale faces.


This is getting a bit on the long side, so we'll take a short commercial break before we get back to the second half later this week!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

D%&$ It, Bioware, I Was Using That Heart: Mass Effect Revisited

Hello hello!

So, my turbulent and ultimately ill-fated love affair with the Mass Effect trilogy is pretty well known at this point. In case you missed all that, you can find info here, here, and here. There are


 about the first three games at all six of those links, by the way. I've written about this series a lot, and one of the reasons I love Farscape so much is that it gave me what I was hoping for from Mass Effect, but without the most tragic backstory ever written.

Well, the release of the fourth game in the franchise has been revealed at--where else?--the San Diego Comic Con. I waited with baited breath as I clicked on the link, hoping for a reveal of the future of the universe.

 Source: Cheezburger.

The next game is going to happen concurrently with the events of the last one, ME3. You know, that game. The one that ruined a company's reputation, earned EA the "Worst Company of the Year" award in 2012, and was universally hailed as a clusterphuque of earthshaking proportions. The original ending was so universally hated, they ended up revamping it with extended narration and explanations of the consequences. More on the extended endings in a minute. But all the phuquerie that resulted from that terrible, cliched, tropey, backstabbing of an ending happened because gamers felt betrayed. I was even one of them, and I shed my tears with the rest. But why? And why did I get a bad case of feels when I finally watched the extended cuts today?

What went wrong?

I'll try to keep this short because it's been discussed elsewhere. The problems with the ending boil down to five things.

First, the ending felt too simplistic compared to the complex and multilayered games that preceded it. The endings of the first two games were heavily reliant on previous actions, with Mass Effect 2's ending being the best example of that. Perhaps all the storylines they had going ended up collapsing on their own weight, but I think most of us expected some sort of large final battle where the results were determined by resources and alliances accrued and accumulated during the rest of the games. That isn't what happened. Like, at all.

Second, Shepard dies unnecessarily...or lives, if you (possibly) sacrifice all Geth and Synthetic life. I'm not restating that blog post about why hero death is a stupid and borderline unhealthy trope, but here's another link to it.

Third, the Starchild is a stupid and unnecessary brat with terrible voice acting and worse writing. The Illusive Man, a Geth, EDI herself, a Keeper (you know, those plot device bugs who were never used for anything in spite of substantial build-up in the first games?), or even, why not, the Rachni Queen, would all have been better choices. Sure, you have the little weird kid running around in Shep's head through the first half of the game, but freaky children are a stupid cliche at best, and it didn't belong in this game. Add in all the stuff about madness in the excellent DLCs for the series and you have a sinister perspective on the little brat--who, we are somehow supposed to believe, is some kind of peaceful and neutral force. You choose the McGuffin or you epic-fail. I actually love the new fourth ending, but the last time I saw an ending this hamstrung was at a sex show involving bondage and oral pleasure. At least with the "refusal" option, the stupid storytelling bit at the end makes sense.

Fourth, your team crash lands on a random planet for no particular reason. Why? Why did this happen? Why did they get sucked into a portal? Sure, the extended endings fix that up a bit, but why does this even occur?

Fifth, that stupid damn storyteller ending. I love Synthesis, and I can stand Destroy because Shepard lives, but Control always felt evil to me. And yet all three of these end with a stupid cutscene after the credits that even Buzz Aldrin's cameo couldn't save. The Starchild voice actor returns (shudder) and an old man tells him he might go to the stars...in a way that implies all knowledge of space travel has been lost. That blatantly contradicts two of the three endings, and worse, the "tell me another story about the Shepard" bit teases us with the false promise of another game about our protagonist. You know, the game they promised they'd never make. This storytelling ending actually makes sense for the Refusal ending, which was the most coherent, but the fact that they left it in the extended endings felt like a slap in the face.

This is basically how I feel about the whole thing. 

Why are we rehashing all this?

Oh, there's a reason. The new game will be set at the end of the third. Are they going to retcon the ending? How will they deal with the incredible fame of Shepard's character if your character is just some scrub? Are you going to have somehow never heard of the most famous person in the galaxy, a.k.a. Space Jesus? It's going to focus on the multiplayer side of things, sure, but this feels like a stall for time. My partner called it a money-grab, and not the real sequel, and added, "unless I'm absolutely wrong, you can completely ignore this game." Did I mention that they explicitly promised the next game would be set in the far future?

Okay, fine; how could you possibly fix it?

Just abandoning the series--which would actually be wise--probably isn't a viable option. A jump backwards in time would have solved a lot of their problems, and quite a few fans have been hoping for something set during the human-Turian First Contact War. Jumping drastically far forward into the future would also be an option.

What I'd love to happen, as much as I will weep angry tears over the impossibility of it, would be a proper exploration of the Synthesis ending. The extended version hints that a golden age was dawning, but change is scary. There's plenty of conflict you could mine from the sudden friendliness of the Reapers, the ancient technologies gifted to the unprepared galaxy, the fact that all races and species have the possible opportunity to be immortal, and the equalization forced on everyone. Diplomacy games! New wars! Playing as a Reaper! Dealing with grieving! New conflict rising as unknown or rare civilizations are encountered! Religious conflict! All the ingredients of amazing story potentials are right there, and there is no way we'll get to play with those toys.

Synthesis in a nutshell. 

The lesson in all of this is that creating a series is hard, and kind of dangerous. It's hard to please fans at the best of times, but the more complicated your world gets and the more plot devices and plotlines you pile on, the easier it is to screw them up. Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth series is the only one even close to Mass Effect in terms of McGuffin implosions, and that was a mess too. The lesson is that introducing endless plot mechanics and shiny toys is a bad idea. And sometimes, you just have to pretend something didn't happen and move forward with the story instead of trying to fix an old problem that's basically unrepairable. Writing is not always fun and it's rarely "easy", but at least we can learn from the failures of others.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Missed It Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Hello hello!

It's been a while--I've been working on After the Garden, which will be out at the end of the month, and epic-failed at scheduling blog posts to compensate for it.

Now, this review is a bit special because I'm working on a novella about the same thing that prompted the movie. My own tale is completely different, but I wanted to watch this one to compare the differences.

There are a few


But not too many. So, without further ado, here's Safety Not Guaranteed.



It's s story about love, time travel, and second chances. There are no objectified Scotsmen, and the hot redhead and sexy young career woman are two separate people, and they're a lot more complex than the stereotypes. Basically, three reporters are hunting for stories and pick up a weird classified ad by a guy hunting for someone to travel through time with him. Of course, there's more to it than that, and they have to figure out whether the guy is actually on to something or a bit off his rocker. Obviously, I'm not telling you the answer.

I like movies that don't go overboard with exposition, and this one really doesn't. Characters do say their bits, but they don't spell out their feelings, and a lot of the backstory is left to the imagination. When exposition finally does come, it's at appropriate moments, and it's given the gravity it deserves. They also don't go for cheap tearjerks or overly simplified characterizations, and that's a pretty good thing.

I really like the simple camera work and the low budget, to be honest. It's got good production values, but unlike most sci fi, it's pretty simple to look at. It was a nice change. I say "sci fi", but whether it's sci fi or mumblecore is a distinction that isn't made until the end of the film. It's also got a big heart and is very sincere, but not in a crappy, Lifetime Movie kind of way. However, I might have gotten something in my eye at the end.



It's smart, subtle, and basically embodies everything good about indie movies. The acting is pretty good too--it's certainly realistic. Darius is incredibly realistic and played with a lot of subtlety. Jeff, her boss, is a douche with a scarred side, and reminds me of Peter from Fringe except that he's an asshole. Kenneth is particularly wonderful and heartrending, very Nathan Fillion-esque and sincere. And if you want a movie that's touching but not pandering, has relateable but not overly idealised characters and doesn't make things artificially easy, this is just the film.


By Hollywood standards, the pacing is a bit funky. Arnau is kind of flat and awkward, and frankly he just felt like an Indian-American Michael Cera, but he was basically just a straight-man and there to fill out the cast. He's intensely awkward too. His subplot was okay, I guess, but it didn't do anything for me, let's put it that way.

The pacing is a bit wobbly, and sometimes it feels intensely awkward--if you're susceptible to fremdtscham, embarrassment on behalf of others, this movie might make you feel funny. That's about it, though.

Final Verdict

A solid 9 out of 10. It's just about perfect, it's rewarding, it's subtle, and it wraps things up while leaving an open door in the characters' lives. I couldn't ask for more from a movie, and Hollywood would do well to learn from this sweet little film. Definitely recommend it.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!