Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jumping Genres

A couple of weeks ago I saw the trailer for a movie scheduled for a February 14th release titled "Jumper." Using the Power of teh Google, I found the trailer and it appealed to me: the coming-of-age story of David, who discovers that he can "jump," i.e., teleport, and the world of instant gratification that it opens up for him! But, there are enemies as well, hunting down him, and others like him.

Another hit Google returned was on Wikipedia, and, reading that entry, I discovered that the movie was based on a 1992 novel by Steven Gould, and that there was a 2005 sequel titled "Reflex." The next day I bought both books, and the first novel, "Jumper" caused me to do something that I've not done in years; read it entirely in one day! ('What do you mean, "It's 5 a.m.?!?") I spent the following three days on "Reflex."

"Jumper" can be considered a "juvenile" science fiction, as were many of the early Robert Heinlein novels. It follows the protagonist, Davy,traumatized by an alcoholic, violently abusive father, and his mother's abandonment of their family, discovering what his newfound power can do. He always seems to be running from something, yet still carries his pain with him as surely as any probationer's tracking bracelet, and he is alone. Davy seems to be the only one who can do what he does, and although there is no fanatic organization pursuing him as in the film, the National Security Administration is very interested in him.

I let my 13-year old read "Jumper." I have not allowed her to read "Reflex," a much more mature, and often downright brutal novel. It picks up David's story ten years later; he is married, and occasionally does "good" covert work for the NSA; but, it appears that there are Byzantine intrigues between various factions in Homeland Security; and one of those groups decides to make Davy more... cooperative. And they have a rather nasty way of achieving their end. In the meantime, Davy's wife Millie is bored, frustrated, and wants a child - something Davy is reluctant to do -, but when he goes missing, she sets off on her own journey of discovery. It's spy versus spy, with superheroics.

Gould writes these books from the first-person perspective, and, I think, successfully gets into the heads of a troubled, but powerful, adolescent, a frantic wife whose world is turned upside down, and a young man struggling to survive and escape his tormentors. In the sequel, he splits the narrative between David and Millie; some reviewers have complained that they couldn't much tell the difference between Davy and his wife's "voices;" I happen to disagree. Her journey may parallel her husband's adolescent discoveries, but it is more mature, and for a deliberate purpose: she must negotiate a dangerous world to find her missing husband. David, by contrast, it trying to escape, not his younger demons, but very real and dangerous powers that will destroy that which they cannot control.

It was also interesting reading two novels written thirteen years apart back to back; not only has Gould honed his writing talents, not only have the characters matured, but the temporal contrast was not only displayed in major world events, but in the casual details. In 1992's "Jumper," there is a brief visit to the World Trade Center, which is mentioned as "the site of the WTC" in the sequel. Also, in "Reflex," disposable cell phones are ubiquitous, but there is only one such reference in "Jumper," and it is a "cellular phone" housed in a limousine. (This is rather akin to my re-reading Heinlein's 1961 "Stranger in a Strange Land," which I first read in 1966, in 2002; although it is set in the late-21st century, there is not a computer to be found, and almost everyone seems to smoke cigarettes!)

I saw the movie today, and enjoyed it fairly well. Some critics have complained about the "woodenness" of lead actor Hayden Christensen's performance as David, and although there are no Oscar-nominations looming, it was played well enough. He was not the tormented seventeen-year old of the original novel; but the film didn't focus too heavily on those aspects in any case, other than casting him as a shy high school loser. The "Paladins," religious fanatics who have been hunting down Jumpers, who they accuse of usurping God's powers, since the Middle Ages, are an old plot device. But they do provide the foils for David, and his more-experienced, reluctant Jumper ally, Griffin, to battle. And innocents can pay a high price when Powers do battle.

I will likely buy the DVD when it comes out, and try to catch the pieces of dialog that I missed. The only real complaint I had, where my "suspension of disbelief" cracked, involved David's final scene with his lost-and-found mother.

The movie was an enjoyable afternoon matinée; the novel, and it's sequel, I highly recommend. "Reflex," particularly, leaves one wondering about the darkest side of government; we may think that we see evil on the nightly news and the morning headlines; but what if those in the camera's eye and on record are only "middle-management?" That is a truly disturbing thought.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Beatin' the MidWinter's Bluez
Oh, the secular call it "Groundhog's Day," and the Catholics, "Candlemass." The Celts called it Imbolc, a 'cross-quarter day' on the Solar calendar celebrating lambing-season and the first signs of Spring. In my Tribe, however, we call February 2nd MidWinter's Day, and we've been celebrating it pretty continuously for 27 years. HOKAH-HEY! as we like to say.

There are neo-pagan elements to our gatherum and celebration, but the fact of the matter is, it's a party in the mid of Winter to shake of dem Bluez that Seasonally Affect us, to ritually get beyond last year's karma, and to be forward-looking (once the fuzzy heads have cleared).

How'd this all come about? Well...

Twenty-seven years ago my best friend and I had just ended relationships with our mates, and were feeling kinda down. It was cold, and the days were short, and would it ever be warm and light again, and could we throw off that funk?? And I recollected an event that my elder cousin had created sometime in the middle 1960's : he'd discovered this book by Finnish author Tove Jannson called "Moominland Midwinter." The Moomin were cutesy trolls who hibernated through the Winter, but one young Moomin woke up to discover an alien, icy land that had transformed the familiar landscape into a realm inhabited by people of the night. And on one grand evening, they would kindle a bonfire to chase away the Winter and beckon forth a new Spring!

My cousin, the Ur-father to us now, but an awkward adolescent then, wrapped a gas-soaked rag on a stick for a processional torch, and used a cardboard tube as a trumpet, and he held a private ceremony in his back yard. And so it lay fallow for fifteen years!

But my buddy the Artificer and I assembled a circle of friends - much of the core of our current Tribe - to light a bonfire, consume intoxicants, play a little music, and generally make merry. It was several years before we got the bonfire quite right, a brightly burning pyre rather than a smoldering, smoking, heap. But, from those clumsy beginning, a ceremony has evolved, attracting sometimes as many as fifty people, with sometimes an international flavour, from France, and Brazil, and Czechoslovakia. Come Together! Chase the Winter! Hokah-Hey! (That cry actually seems to mean something in Lakota Sioux, but Iself cribbed it from a comic book, "Tales of the Beanworld.")

The Ceremony was not written as a script, was accrued from bright ideas over the years. In fact, I am of the opinion that is you throw together enough props, people will naturally do something with them. And, they have! These are not done at each and every ceremony, but may be ritually acted out at many:
  • the Gatherum : eat, drink, and socialize! don't forget to sign the Register!
  • the Search for the Sunbearer: who will don the Garb, and light the First Torch? Virgins and Noobs especially valued!
  • the Reading from the Book of Moominland MidWinter!
  • the Procession to the (unlit) bonfire:
  • calling forth the Sunbearer to Light the Circle of torches, then unto the pyre!
  • chanting, singing, ringing bells. pounding on drums. wishing well and burning karma. general silliness and milling about.
  • the Passing of the Bread and Cheese.
  • the Attack of the MidWinter's Beast! calling forth a Warrior to save us! a battle! mayhem! and with the Head of the Beast, he comes gallumphing back. Much celebration!
  • Wax Magic! a fiery ceremony challenging the Winter Spirits with demonstrations of fuel-air explosives!
more feasting, more intoxicants, and slow farewells, until the next gathering...

And so was our experience just two days past. The days are lengthening, and a hint of Spring is in the air. Success! Give Praise unto the Most High for the turning of the Seasons! So, let us reflect on those Finnish lines, read by the Ur-father himself:

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