Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Poor presentations detract from the messages at Worldcon 75

Messukeskus Conference Centre, Helsinki, venue of Worldcon 75.

The first Academic Track session on the first day of Worldcon 75 (the 75th World Science Fiction Conference), on the 9th of August in Helsinki, Finland,  promised to showcase the finest minds and the most sophisticated analyses that academics working in Science Fiction (either the science part, or the fiction part, or both) have to offer. The subject was “Uses of Fantasy: The Book, The Film, and Audience Responses – Results of the Finnish Sub-Project of the World Hobbit Project”. The presentations by three academics were, unfortunately, examples of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Continue reading

Why we think that fictional characters are real

The reboot of the TV series Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: The Return premiered on the 21st of May, to a huge response from fans. What was interesting is how they responded, criticizing the producers if any of the characters deviated from their previous incarnations by so much as a word or gesture. They were commenting as if the people of “Twin Peaks”, “Detective Dale Cooper”, “The Log Lady”, “Laura Palmer”, etc., were real. What interests me, is why we identify with fictional characters and think they are real – or want to believe they are real. There has to be a psychological or neurological basis for this. In the linked pages of this post I discuss one reason at a time, from our ability to fantasize to the way our brains work. Continue reading

Authoritative non-fiction on interesting subjects – movies, art and the pioneer life

Marwencol etc.3For the New Year I engaged my brain to delve into some interesting new non-fiction. These are not obvious choices for coffee-table eye candy. One is a reference work on famous film quotes and the work of scriptwriters; another is on the art of Mark Hogancamp, called Welcome to Marwencol,  and the third the original text of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, called Pioneer Girl – The Annotated Autobiography. All three are great finds and well worth ordering for yourself. Like me, you will probably go back time and again to reread and check specific parts. But of course, the devil is in the details. Controversy and historical obfuscation are part of each subject. (Continue on to Pioneer Girl; Continue on to Marwencol; Keep reading for All the Best Lines.) Continue reading

The Big Business of Erotic Romances – Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (528 pages, Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition April 3, 2012)

For the last in my series of festive season books, the theme is romance and erotica, and I have some modern hits and old favourites.  I’ve reviewed novels with themes of politics and religion. Now it’s the turn of the big money-spinner, the erotic romance, focusing on Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James; contrasted with The Piano, by Jane Campion and Kate Pullinger, and the screenplay of Secretary, by Erin Cressida Wilson. Prepare for a lot of heavin’ & pantin’ in quotes from these books.

To go directly to the review of The Piano.

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Corner Gas movie in production – Finally!

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 11.55.57 AMSince the Canadian sitcom series Corner Gas ended in 2009, people have been asking why it stopped and when it would be made into a movie. Well, question 2 has now been answered. The Corner Gas movie is currently in production! Hooray!

Says Brent Butt on his blog (on May 20, 2014): “…the original story for this script was dreamed up by me and two other Corner Gas writers, and the actual script was written by me and Andrew Carr (one of the original writers on all six seasons) along with a nice, talented guy named Andrew Wreggit, who helped us transform a short-form show into a feature length movie.” 

As to question 1, why did it stop, Brent says: “We had done 107 episodes, six years of filming, and I simply did not want the show to go on too long. I did not want to see it get old and tired and stale. It was far too special to let it just wither on the vine. This show deserved a fate that would allow the fruit to always be sweet,… if I may be so sappy and maudlin. But, in the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted to return one more time.”

I am a passionate fan of Corner Gas and Brent Butt, and I wrote about his comedy and the Canadian psyche on my blog. Hopefully, the new scrips from Brent, Andrew Carr and Andrew Wreggit will have the same wit and depth as those of the original series. And, hopefully, no Hollywoodisation.

Follow all the action on Twitter: @CornerGas; and check out the new website at They’ve got a Kickstarter campaign going to fund the movie! Give, people, give!

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The Comedy of Brent Butt and the Canadian Psyche – Corner Gas

In some countries, comedy is a serious business

Brent Butt, writer and creator of “Corner Gas”.

Brent Butt, writer and creator of “Corner Gas”.

At the time that I relocated to Canada from South Africa, I thought that the situation down South was pretty depressing. The tension in the country was even showing in the work of local comedians who seemed to have turned bitter and defensive. Comedy was either viciously political or superficial and slapstick. Making fun of public figures could get you sued. My impression was that South Africans had lost the ability to laugh at themselves. It was not a good time to be politically incorrect.

Then I arrived in Canada and saw my first episode of the Canadian sitcom Corner Gas. First I thought; ’¿Qué…?!’ Then, ‘Oh, this is funny!’ It was philosophical, but also witty – in a dry, sneaky sort of way. There are poignant, reflective moments and some hard truths underlying the banter in some episodes, which gave them more depth than one would expect from a sitcom. Continue reading

Milking a franchise – Let Me Off at the Top! by Ron Burgundy

Let Me Off at the Top, by Ron Burgundy (Crown Archetype, New York, 2013)

Let Me Off at the Top, by Ron Burgundy (Crown Archetype, New York, 2013)

“Ron Burgundy” is of course not the actual author of this book – it was penned by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. “Ron Burgundy” is a fictional character, and this publication, his “autobiography”, is part of the marketing and publicity campaign for the movie “Anchorman II: The Legend Continues” which was released in 2013.

At 223 pages, the joke flags quite a bit towards the end.  However, the depiction of “Burgundy” – his life history, habits, tastes, expressions, attitudes – is surprisingly consistent, detailed and well thought-out, which may have led some people to think he is real. (Yes, there are those.)

It has its moments though. I enjoyed the description of the burning coal mine hometown of “Haggleworth” – that was a nice bit of satire thrown in the mix.


Checking for anachronisms and inconsistencies in the portrayal of the character was entertaining – and from the looks of it, the authors made these little slips intentionally. For instance, “Burgundy” writes that he was born in 1940, which would make  him 73 at the time of the book’s publication, which probably means he is immune to ageing, judging by the cover photo.

In another photo caption he states that he met Jacqueline Onassis in 1966, but Jacqueline Kennedy only married Aristotle Onassis in 1968, so she was still a Kennedy then, not an Onassis. Also, in the doctored Associated Press photo of him and Normal Mailer, taken in 1965, Mailer was actually arm-wrestling Mohammed Ali. 

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