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The notorious novel of a Hollywood heel!


What Makes Sammy Run?

Bantam, 1941, 288 pages



Every one of us knows someone who runs. He is one of the symptoms of our times-from the little man who shoves you out of the way on the street to the go-getter who shoves you out of a job in the office to the Fuehrer who shoves you out of the world. And all of us have stopped to wonder, at some time or another, what it is that makes these people tick. What makes them run?

This is the question Schulberg has asked himself, and the answer is the first novel written with the indignation that only a young writer with talent and ideals could concentrate into a manuscript. It is the story of Sammy Glick, the man with a positive genius for being a heel, who runs through New York's East Side, through newspaper ranks and finally through Hollywood, leaving in his wake the wrecked careers of his associates; for this is his tragedy and his chief characteristic-his congenital incapacity for friendship.

An older and more experienced novelist might have tempered his story and, in so doing, destroyed one of its outstanding qualities. Compromise would mar the portrait of Sammy Glick. Schulberg has etched it in pure vitriol, and dissected his victim with a precision that is almost frightening.

When a fragment of this book appeared as a short story in a national magazine, Schulberg was surprised at the number of letters he received from people convinced they knew Sammy Glick's real name. But speculation as to his real identity would be utterly fruitless, for Sammy is a composite picture of a loud and spectacular minority bitterly resented by the many decent and sincere artists who are trying honestly to realize the measureless potentialities of motion pictures. To this group belongs Schulberg himself, who has not only worked as a screen writer since his graduation from Dartmouth College in 1936, but has spent his life, literally, in the heart of the motion-picture colony. In the course of finding out what makes Sammy run (an operation in which the reader is spared none of the gruesome details) Schulberg has poured out everything he has felt about that place. The result is a book which the publishers not only believe to be the most honest ever written about Hollywood, but a penetrating study of one kind of twentieth-century success that is peculiar to no single race of people or walk of life.


The most narcissistic anti-hero ever - Sammy Glick IS Hollywood.Collapse )

Verdict: An outstanding, funny, tragic, and entertaining novel about a despicable main character who epitomizes every venal Hollywood stereotype, and an excellent read for the prose and dialog as well as the characters. What Makes Sammy Run? is still appalling and entertaining; it may be about Hollywood in the 30s, but Hollywood is still full of Sammy Glicks. 10/10 and highly recommended!




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An ambitious sociopath works his way through three sisters.


A Kiss Before Dying

Signet, 1954, 191 pages



A Kiss Before Dying not only debuted the talent of best-selling novelist Ira Levin to rave reviews, it also set a new standard in the art of mystery and suspense. Now a modern classic, as gripping in its tautly plotted action as it is penetrating in its exploration of a criminal mind, it tells the shocking tale of a young man who will stop at nothing--not even murder--to get where he wants to go. For he has dreams; plans. He also has charm, good looks, sex appeal, intelligence. And he has a problem. Her name is Dorothy; she loves him, and she's pregnant. The solution may demand desperate measures. But, then, he looks like the kind of guy who could get away with murder. Compellingly, step by determined step, the novel follows this young man in his execution of one plan he had neither dreamed nor foreseen. Nor does he foresee how inexorably he will be enmeshed in the consequences of his own extreme deed.


A good book by the author of "Rosemary"s Baby" and "The Stepford Wives," but a horrible movie.Collapse )

Verdict: Read the book, skip the movie, at least the more recent version. A Kiss Before Dying is a clever little 1950s thriller, all plot and smart characters, and not too much suspension of disbelief (though the ending is wrapped up a little too neatly). 8/10.




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The novella that spawned The Thing,


Who Goes There?

Astounding Science Fiction, 1938, 168 pages



Who Goes There?, the novella that formed the basis of the film The Thing, is the John W. Campbell classic about an antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the ancient body of a crash-landed alien.


Paranoia will destroy ya, but murderous shapechanging aliens will kill you faster.Collapse )

Verdict: A fine pulp adventure that was made into three decent monster movies. Who Goes There? is a sci-fi classic that added paranoia about alien dopplegangers to the tradition of weird fiction set in the Antarctic. 8/10.




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Movie Review: Interstellar

Interstellar

At some point the near future, a "blight" is destroying all crops on Earth. The human race is facing slow extinction. A former astronaut-turned-farmer stumbles upon a secret NASA project to send explorers to other planets, thanks to a wormhole to another galaxy discovered near the orbit of Saturn. They believe they have received messages from an advanced alien race steering them towards this wormhole. So he is corralled into piloting the ship that will chose humanity's new home.

Oh. My. God.

This movie is an actual Science Fiction movie.

I wouldn't quite call it "hard SF" - I'm sure physicists more educated than I were probably wincing at the math and the relativity and the wormholes, and I definitely spotted some dubious science concerning the black holes, travel times between planets, a lot of hand-waved technology, and some suspensions of disbelief in the plot.

Nonetheless, this is probably the best true science fiction (as opposed to science fantasy) movie I have ever seen.

There is social commentary, like the bright-eyed teacher insisting that the moon landings were a hoax, and the (quite legitimate) debate over spending enormous resources for an extra-solar mission when people are starving at home. There is touching family drama and heroism and sacrifice. There are some awfully cool alien landscapes, and friendly AIs who do not go all HAL 1000 on the crew.

It's like The Black Hole minus the Disney silliness. It's like Contact but not boring. It's like 2001: A Space Odyssey but not boring. It's like Gravity without relying on George Clooney. It's all the best parts of those movies wrapped into one.

5 stars, see it in theaters, boo and hiss when it fails to win an Oscar.
Never trust a professor who wants you to stay in a haunted house, and watch out for the quiet ones.


The Haunting of Hill House

Penguin Books, 1959, 246 pages



Past the rusted gates and untrimmed hedges, Hill House broods and waits.

Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and self-closing doors, but Hill House is gathering its powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own.


Inspiration for every haunted house story since. Investigate this, Scoobies!Collapse )

Verdict: A bit dated, not the first and maybe not the best haunted house story ever, The Haunting of Hill House remains a creepy tale perfect for Halloween from an American master of understated horror. 9/10

Also by Shirley Jackson: My review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.




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Mars attacks! The granddaddy of all alien invasion stories.


The War of the Worlds

Originally published in 1898. Approximately 60,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



First published by H. G. Wells in 1898, The War of the Worlds is the granddaddy of all alien invasion stories. The novel begins ominously, as the lone voice of a narrator intones, "No one would have believed in the last years of the 19th century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's."

Things then progress from a series of seemingly mundane reports about odd atmospheric disturbances taking place on Mars to the arrival of Martians just outside of London. At first, the Martians seem laughable, hardly able to move in Earth's comparatively heavy gravity, even enough to raise themselves out of the pit created when their spaceship landed. But soon the Martians reveal their true nature as death machines 100 feet tall rise up from the pit and begin laying waste to the surrounding land. Wells quickly moves the story from the countryside to the evacuation of London itself and the loss of all hope as England's military suffers defeat after defeat.

With horror, the narrator describes how the Martians suck the blood from living humans for sustenance and how it's clear that man is not being conquered so much as corralled.


The chances of anything coming from Mars were a million to one, he said...Collapse )

Verdict: Truly the granddaddy of alien invasion stories; The War of the Worlds is still a frightening and entertaining classic. The plot is slow in places, and the characters don't really do much, but Wells describes a near-end-of-the-world in words that could be applied to any civilization that's been crushed, bombed, or genocided. 8/10.




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Book Review: Persuasion, by Jane Austen

The sailor she rejected when he was poor is now rich, and she's unmarried at 27.


Persuasion

Originally published in 1817, 236 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



Anne Elliot has grieved for seven years over the loss of her first love, Captain Frederick Wentworth. But events conspire to unravel the knots of deceit and misunderstanding in this beguiling and gently comic story of love and fidelity.


Perhaps the most outright romantic of Austen"s novels, with torches carried for seven years, and an Austenian heroine married off more happily than the author.Collapse )

Verdict: Not my favorite Austen, but not my least favorite either. Austen's prose is as flawless as usual, and Persuasion is finely plotted. It loses points for missing the humor and poignancy I found more abundantly in Austen's other novels. 7/10.

Also by Jane Austen: My reviews of Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Emma.




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A witty critique of Aestheticism that's been reinterpreted as a horror story.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, 1890, 252 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged---petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral---while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying and enchanting readers for more than 100 years. Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not simply a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde's fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed "Art for Art's Sake." The ever-quotable Wilde, who once delighted London with his scintillating plays, scandalized readers with this, his only novel. Upon publication, Dorian was condemned as dangerous, poisonous, stupid, vulgar, and immoral, and Wilde as a "driveling pedant." The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for "gross indecency," which led to his imprisonment and exile on the European continent. Even so, The Picture of Dorian Gray firmly established Wilde as one of the great voices of the Aesthetic movement and endures as a classic that is as timeless as its hero.


Oscar Wilde is on my list of Top 10 Dead Authors I wish were still alive and writing today.Collapse )

Verdict: Oscar Wilde can be relied upon for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a very readable literary classic. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's full of great one-liners and witty observations about Wilde's milieu.





My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: The Postman, by David Brin

A post-apocalyptic novel that came at the wrong time, and then got shafted by Kevin Costner.


The Postman

Spectra, 1985, 321 pages



This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth. A timeless novel as urgently compelling as War Day or Alas, Babylon, David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction.

He was a survivor--a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery


It was better than Waterworld!Collapse )

Verdict: A smartly plotted novel with bits of political and scientific philosophy sprinkled into the story, The Postman is a superior TEOTWAKI novel that would probably have sold better if it were published today. And if it weren't wrecked by an awful Kevin Costner movie.





My complete list of book reviews.

Movie Review: Godzilla

Godzilla 2014

When I was a kid, I used to check the TV Guide every week to see if any Godzilla movies would be playing on Saturday morning. The local TV stations would sometimes favor me with Mothra vs. Godzilla or Ghidora, the Three-Headed Monster. Loved 'em, never did follow the continuity very closely, but I've always been a Godzilla fan.

Mechagodzilla

The last time Hollywood tried to do a Godzilla movie, of course, was Roland Emmerich's POS in 1998, starring Matthew Broderick.

So I was wary but hopeful going into the theater to see 2014's Godzilla.

Well, what can I say? If you think giant monsters stomping on cities are stupid, this movie will not change your mind. But if you like Godzilla movies, this is a true Godzilla movie, complete with epic multiple-monster battles, city-smashing porn, and massive amounts of military ordnance being thrown about, mostly to little effect. Godzilla is the original movie Godzilla, the elemental force of nature who's "good" only in the sense that he destroys the other monsters and leaves (while smashing up a lot of the landscape himself).

The movie does a good job of delayed gratification - you don't get to see the monsters in all their glory right away, and you don't get full frontal Godzilla until over halfway through. The money shot, when he finally unleashes with his breath weapon, sent cheers through the theater.

There is a lot of superfluous rah-rahing for the U.S. military, with the main (human) character being a Navy Lieutenant who's somehow been cross-trained in EOD and HALO jumps. The plot actually does manage to give the humans something useful to do while trying to avoid being stepped on by 300-foot-tall monsters, and there are the obligatory cute kids to rescue, but let's face it, we go to a Godzilla movie to see cities being wrecked while kaiju duke it out, and this Godzilla movie gives us plenty of that - a Japanese island, Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco all get convincingly flattened in the course of the movie.

Yeah, it's a big stupid blockbuster, but if they bring back Mechagodzilla or Ghidra or even, omg, the Smog Monster, for the next movie, I am so there.

Gozilla vs. the Smog Monster

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