Friday, January 19, 2007

Camera Obscura - Cyberpunk TV, Weird P.I.s, The Descent

Like most of us, I start the year with great expectations. Hopeful, even. And some years, the results exceed the expectations. Since it's still January, expectations are quite high. So some news today about what's ahead and what's being planned, and my take on one of the best reviewed horror films of 2006.

I was most impressed to read that George Clooney will try and bring the Hugo Award winning novel "The Diamond Age" by Neal Stephenson to life in a mini-series for the Sci-Fi Channel. And it's because that is one fantastic novel, and Stephenson is writing the script. "The Diamond Age" is one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read - and I mean ever. No matter if the genre isn't something on your regular reading list - this richly detailed look into the future explores very likely expansions of current tech, has elements of a great mystery novel, near-Dickensian characters and social history all in one.

Stephenson has a massive cult following for his earlier work too, "Snowcrash", which has been mulled over as a movie, but again, it's the book itself that provides a detailed and highly entertaining world in which most readers can get easily lost. I've probably read "Snowcrash" half a dozen times and never get bored. It's very funny and satiric in it's approach to a world future. Computer gaming, franchise-businesses as nation-states, and language as code, the book is the origin of much computer and web slang, as well as the longtime online world of the Metaverse.

And yes, I've read all his books - he's one of the best American writers today.


Speaking of the shows on Sci-Fi, they present a new show based on Jim Butcher's books, called "The Dresden Files." Basically, a master wizard as detective show, it airs on Sunday. I've always liked the supernatural detective/private investigator idea, and this one shows some promise.

In fact, for the last year, I've been reading the very pulp-fiction adventures of one Repairman Jack, hero of ten novels by F. Paul Wilson. Jack is a down-and-dirty outsider, a fixer, who gets drawn into a full blown multi-dimensional power struggle for reality itself. It all tends to start normally, as he P.I.'s his way into seemingly normal crime cases, but with each book, he learns he is part of some nebulous cosmic battle.

Very pulpy style helps this out and yeah, it's a guilty pleasure. But I've read 5 or 6 of the books and can't stop. Jack is too much fun.


I sat down this week at long last to watch "The Descent", which friends and critics alike all cheered as one of the best horror films of 2006 and of the whole darn '00 decade. I was more than skeptical of such praise.

But it does deliver all the goods and will scare the bejesus out of you, even long before the monsters in the dark appear onscreen.

The set-up: An all-female group of adrenaline junkies/extreme sportsters follow a friend who's organized a cave exploration. She is not a nice person. She takes them into unmapped areas without telling them and of course they get lost. It's a cinematic marvel of near-darkness and claustrophobia which gets the suspense cranked into high gear.

The horror: Lost and scared and bickering, one member of the gang, already in a spiral descent of madness before even going into the cave, starts seeing people in the dark. Scampering, oozing creatures who melt into shadows. And there's not just one - there's a dang colony of these things. Building on the first half-hour's tensions, the movie gets feral for the remainder of the journey and so do the women.

The verdict: It's a first-rate thriller. Writer/Director Neil Marshall of Scotland already had B-movie fame for a movie called "The Dog Soldiers" about a half-assed military squad encountering werewolves, lives up to his early hype and delivers the goods with "The Descent". His frequent collaborator, cinematographer Sam McCurdy, is part of the reason for success here. He gets impossible shots inside that cave's nooks and crannies, and the viewer feels as lost as the gals.

Turn off all the lights, crank up the sound and prepare for nerve-jangling fun.


  1. james1:42 PM

    Joe,you have to read The Dresden File books. Jim Butcher has a style that pulls you in and keeps you there all the way through. Yay Sci-Fi Drsden Files.

  2. I love you for loving Stephenson.

    Let's make out.

  3. heh heh. well, i would be happy too but yer hubby ain't gonna like it!!