Friday, June 27, 2008

A Hero’s (Precisely Timed) Return Across The Wine Dark Sea

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I feel about the Greeks of The Iliad the way I feel about the Yankees: I know I’m supposed to love them*, but instead I hate them with the fiery burning of a thousand suns.

There is room in my heart for only one ancient warrior race, and that place is forever occupied by the Trojans. In particular, Hector, breaker of horses. However, if pressed to choose one Greek for whom I would willingly make Nanna’s meatball gravy, it would be Odysseus. Simply because, when I was reading The Iliad, I always sensed that he really wanted to kick that knucklehead Achilles in the shin for being such a stupid, whiny baby. Of course, it would have meant instant death if he’d done it, so he resisted the urge. But I know he was thinking, “Just SHUT UP already about Briseis. We are at WAR, dude.”

I liked him in The Odyssey. Since the gods made it ridiculously hard for him to get home to his one true love, I found it in my heart to forgive him for the horse idea and I sort of started rooting for him. He’s so clever!

Also, I always secretly liked the scene where he finally shows up at his palace in Ithaca, 10 years after setting out for it, and just starts killing all of Penelope’s suitors. It's awfully violent of him, but they had been warned by Theoclymenus, and I understood where Odysseus was coming from. I think that’s just how barbarians dealt with bad moods and stress.

Anyhow, all this to say that very scene may have helped scientists pinpoint the exact day and time of Odysseus’ return. (I KNEW it was awesome for a reason!)

…The seer Theoclymenus then foresees the death of the suitors, ending by saying, "The sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world."

The Greek historian Plutarch suggested the prophecy of Theoclymenus referred to a solar eclipse.

Two astronomers think they have learned to which eclipse Homer was referring, and can extrapolate from that precisely the day and time when Odysseus reached home.

Read the whole thing here. It’s amazing.

I know the astronomers are excited because they realize this may mean the ancients knew more about the stars than we’ve commonly given them credit for, but I like it because it makes Odysseus more real, and if he’s more real, somehow so are the stories; Homer, their author and everything about that world. Gives you the literary willies, doesn't it?

*Yes, I know scholars have argued that Homer wanted us to hate the Greeks, and that The Iliad is really a secret anti-imperialist tract, but blah, blah, whatever.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Our Heroine Ain't Gonna Wear The Clothes That You Like

But if Weezer eats their candy with the pork and beans, so will I.

Click to listen to the happy. So cute! This makes me smile!

However: Rivers Cuomo, what is up with the 'stache?

P.S. Yes, I know the song is about not conforming, but still, that is quite a mustache for a young man. I'm not saying he should shave it off, I'm just asking, "Why?"

Our Heroine Finds The Holy Grail of Literary Cartoons

Oh! I am seizing up with happiness. I found my most favorite New Yorker cartoon online today.

For years now, whenever I feel glum, I only have to think about this cartoon and I start giggling. I've even sketched it for people! I could never find it again after that one time in the magazine, and it became the Holy Grail of cartoons for me. But now, it is shrouded in darkness no longer!

Mr. James Joyce, I don't enjoy reading your fiction, but I can only be grateful to you for being the writer you were, because it inspired this:

If you can’t quite make it out, Joyce's refrigerator “To Do” list reads:

1. Call Bank
2. Dry Cleaner
3. Forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
4. Call mom

Is it totally pretentious to get this on a mug?

(H/T Walking Raven, who closed-captioned it and got it on a shirt)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Our Heroine Does Not Approve of Having a Very Special Message Hijack Her Movie About A Killer Virus

Y’all, I’m sorry. I got really excited about The Andromeda Strain remake on A&E, so I forgot my critical-thinking hat and blindly assumed it would be awesome. How could anything based on that book not turn out to be solid gold awesome? Even when I saw they had added a scrappy journalist to the plot, I remained hopeful. I like a good scrappy journalist! I do!

However, you may have noticed I never mentioned The Andromeda Strain again. And that was because Your Heroine was deeply ashamed, because it was awful. It was so awful I couldn’t finish watching it. It made a fine gray dust of despair settle on my soul for days, which only an intense regimen of cupcakes and shimmery lipgloss eventually cured. I was so depressed about it I could not even summon the energy to tell you all how much I hated it.

But I’m better now, and ready to thank Jonah Goldberg for doing what I could not. (Side note to Jonah: I hope you have cut your hair. It was looking a bit insane the last time I saw you on TV.)

The Paranoid Style -- From Outer Space!

...a couple months ago Ross [Douthat] had a very good piece in the Atlantic about how 70's paranoia is fashionable in film again. Unfortunately, the piece came out before the remake of The Andromeda Strain ran on A&E. My wife and I caught it the other night. Wow, what a horrible concatenation of clich├ęs, plot holes, absurdities, and all around groan-inducing inanity (See the comments at IMDB for a taste). The casting has a real Love Boat feel, piling up out-of-work or between-gig fading TV stars, including some very talented ones (like Andre Braugher, who plays the Army General with his heart in the right place). Will from "Will and Grace" plays the heroic journalist. Imagine Rick Berke from the New York Times fighting off special-ops assassins in the desert...

Anyway, amidst all of the other cliches, it turns out that the real villain isn't the killer space bug, but the evil land-rapers, henchmen and dirty tricksters swirling around an unpopular president. Without spoiling too much, it turns out that there's a Very Important Environmental Message at the heart of the movie which falls on deaf ears in the corridors of the Military Industrial Complex but hopefully not on the rest of us.

That’s it in a nutshell. Of all the problems Jonah listed, what bothered me the most was the “very special message.” There is no special message in The Andromeda Strain. It is anti-special message, unless that message is, “It is bad, VERY BAD, to pry open military satellites that crash in your backyard. So, don’t do it!” But that’s not really a special message, that's just plain common sense.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Our Heroine Enjoys A Good Insect Alien Whomping As Much As The Next Girl

2008 was supposed to be many things for Our Heroine, but one thing she never expected it to be was the year in which she read ALOT of science-fiction, and maybe, sort of, liked it.

To wit: Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, which is several hundred pages of military strategy and command training being hammered into the brain of a 6 year boy in the hopes that he alone will save the world from alien destruction, before he turns 12.

This book does not have "girl" written all over it. And yet...

I absolutely loved it! I read it in one day. Today is that day. The novel is very intense. The suspense was killing me. I was a very quiet car companion on the drive back from Vermont, because I had to know if Ender cracked under the training to which he was subjected, or became the greatest military commander in all of human history. I won't tell you. You should all read it.

I'm not sure what this means for the rest of my summer. I do have nice, civilized literature to read, and yet somehow I keep buying novels about scientist-soldiers struggling against insane challenges in the distant future. Very often these insane challenges involve, or in fact, ARE, insect aliens.

I do enjoy a good insect alien whomping. So maybe that explains it.

Actually, I have a theory, which I don't think is particularly original, that sci-fi writers can be especially frank or brave about describing the ills of humanity, because it's not really us they're describing. It's almost us, but it's not really us. It's a different us that we can feel disgusted with, or alarmed at, but not get defensive over, because it's the future, or an alternate universe, or against insane odds (read: insect aliens).

I'm not sure if that's why I am reading more sci-fi these days, but it is one reason to consider it if you never have before.

Even so, I promise my next book will be in the Canon. Even if it's the shortest of short stories, or just a teeny sonnet, Harold Bloom will have approved it!

But first: I need air conditioning.