Archive for February, 2009

The Atrocity Archives

What is going on in Scotland?  There are too many creative SF writers there.  I demand that they be forced to churn out fantasy books until they have lost their edge.

I recently read The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross.  Following my general theme of SF ignorance, I hadn’t heard of him until I read about him on a blog last week.  This book is a high-speed collision between hacker culture, the Cthulhu mythos, and the spy genre.  Awesome stuff!  Be warned, the “atrocity” bits are pretty atrocious.  That sort of thing takes a toll while reading — and based on an experience in a writing group, while writing as well (we all wrote short stories about offensive things… it turns out that I have a deep, dark streak in my imagination).

The hackers in this book are absurdly archetypal.  This makes for great reading, but I think I’d hate them in real life.  ESR single-handedly turned hackerdom from a genuine culture into something that can only be an affectation: when your culture and attitudes and slang are codified a reference manual, and actually referenced, it is time to mutate and move on.


Taken is a revenge movie.  The hero’s daughter is kidnapped while on a trip to Paris.  The rest of the movie is the story of him killing and maiming his way through the echelons of the kidnapping ring to rescue her.  This movie was pretty dark and made a bit more disturbing by the fact that I am going to have a daughter soon… a daughter who will now never visit Paris alone, as I simply don’t have the skills required to protect her.

By “pretty dark” what I mean is that the main character basically acts like a psychopath.  He kills or at least hurts nearly everyone he meets.  Of course, the movie sets things up so that we cheer his actions; without the intro this would be a sickening story about a deranged thrill killer.  The setup worked very well.  Too well, in fact: I thought the end of the movie came too soon, and I wanted to watch Liam Neeson kill more people.  My walk home was marked by violent fantasies of justified revenge.

These revenge stories are powerful and popular, because they play on our fairness, a major value.  I think this explains the popularity of police shows, too… we like to see evildoers get their just desserts.

The filmmaking here is pretty basic.  There were a couple of weirdly delivered lines, and Neeson’s phone call with the kidnappers follows Sidney Lumet’s advice to always go with the emotional truth and not the literal truth: which is a fancy way of saying that the call made no sense.  The action is nonstop, though.  For once I thought the trailers were very accurate: if you like what you see in the trailers you will not be disappointed by the film.

In the end I am not sure whether I liked this or not.  It pushed my emotions around, but perhaps a bit too hard, and only in one direction.  Still, it was decent for what it was, a hyper-violent story of single-minded revenge.