Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Underground Man

I heard Ross Macdonald was always a Chandler clone, and that I should avoid him. I decided to give him a try regardless. I went with a cheap paperback I found at the aforementioned shitty bookstore and read it in one sitting.


Lew Archer, Macdonald's Marlowe, gets involved in a weird kidnapping, all involving a small community high in the hills of California during an oppressive and unstoppable forest fire.

I'm extremely hesitant to say that The Underground Man is good, great, bad or awful. There were times I thought it was beautiful and poignant and observant, and there were times I thought the plot was driving off a cliff. I can't even say if I liked the book.

Starting with the negative aspects, let's talk about the style. I was told Macdonald was a Chandler clone. If that's the case, where in the world did the attitude and style go? Macdonald's prose is often as lifeless as it is lyrical. When Archer is gazing at the fire, and resigning himself to another awful interview, Macdonald shows us he can write careful prose. But a lot of the time, the muscular tough guy prose, a hallmark of the genre, is absent, replaced with simple flat descriptions. Like Hammett at his worst.

The single most problematic aspect of this novel, next to the absence of style, is Macdonald's sheer confusion of imagery and motifs. The only significant image in the book is the forest fire and he rarely does anything with it. It's just atmosphere. Fire means passion and it means consuming and it means renewal. None of these archetypal meanings apply to The Underground Man. Instead of using the fire, Macdonald uses the title and the theme of what lies beneath the surface, buried but never forgotten. The confusion is that Macdonald doesn't bring out that heavy gun until the climax. That's not to say that the forest fire wasn't terrible. It gave the novel some much needed atmosphere, which worked.

There are positive things to say about The Underground Man. The best thing I can say about it is the amazing use of the main character's depression and grief and loneliness. This is Chandler's posited concepts of the detective absolutely refined. Lew Archer is an intensely moral man. He's sort of like a detective version of McCarthy's John Grady Cole. Archer's whole outlook is wrapped around his sense of morality, and his outrage at the awful things people do to each other. Chandler claimed that the detective is the direct opposite of amoral. The protagonist should always have a strong moral centre, and Archer is the embodiment of that sentiment. This is what works best in the novel.

What struck me about Archer is the same as what struck me about Lehane's Patrick Kenzie. With Lehane's series, you read them in order because what happens to Kenzie, the toll that the crimes take on him. The depression, the exhaustion, but never the compromise. That's what made Gone, Baby, Gone a classic. It's the same with Archer. I'm fascinated by a guy who never stops believing in what's right and wrong, but hasn't the strength to remove himself from the underworld.

Macdonald also plots the hell out of this book. The mystery is over complicated and relies very heavily on the shared community, but it's never detracting or irritating. The central reveal is dependent on coincidence and Archer's guess is pretty out there, but it never bothered me. I went into this hoping to be made dizzy by the plot, and I wasn't disappointed.

I just don't think Macdonald does anything profound or transcendent with The Underground Man. I don't think he's doing anything amazing with this book. But, because I was impressed by Archer and impressed by Macdonald's vision of California, I'm going to read another one and hope for the best. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Burnt Offerings

In my head, I have this long list of out of print books that I always look for when I'm at a used bookstore. Most of them are obscure sci-fi and horror novels that have slipped out of the public consciousness, but have serious fans out there. The holy grail was Tom Tryon's The Other, which blew me away, considering my expectations. Another is Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings, which by chance I found for one dollars at a stupid bookstore called Globo-sapiens. But this is about the book and not the store.


Ben, Marian, and their son David don't want to be stuck in their cramped Queens apartment all summer, so they rent a giant dilapidated mansion out in the country from a bizarre brother and sister, with the only caveat being their elderly mother never leaves the house. Marian absolutely throws herself into fixing up the house and taking meals up to the reclusive elderly woman, while Ben is slowly having a nervous breakdown thanks to a lack of sleep and frequent blackouts. As Ben tries to figure out what's happening in this house, Marian loses her grip on her family for a house that needs her.

On the cover of my copy of Burnt Offerings, a newspaper quote claims that this novel is better than The Exorcist, The Other and Rosemary's Baby, all three of which I would classify as being masterpieces. Does this book rise to that level? Short answer: yes - long answer: no.

It's extremely difficult to review horror, I find. Unlike any other genre, horror's quality relies on the effectiveness of its visceral reactions. For a horror book to be good is has to be: well plotted, well characterized and scary. Most books can only manage the first two. Something always messes up the last thing.

Part of the difficulty is that books are rarely as immersive as a film. You don't let go like in a movie. With a book, you're always sitting on the couch, you always need light to read, and there's probably background noise. Now to compound this problem, you have a book that's 30 years old, and its tricks have been repeated and re-used a thousand times, diluting the scares.

But Burnt Offerings struggles valiantly against this obstacle. I was almost always fully invested in the sequence, willing to be scared, and the best the book can do is creep me out. I think that's a big thing, even if it seems minute and ineffective. I'm jaded to horror, and this book manage to creep me out.

It helps that Marasco plots the novel with an expert hand. The scary bits are relentless in their approach, and are structured very well. Marasco also stacks the novel with some amazing subtle motifs that build throughout the novel, but without ever hitting the reader over the head. The meaning of the title becomes apparent about halfway through the novel, but is never spelled out to the audience. Never! It's always just implied.

I was wise to Burnt Offering's tricks, but I was still given the heebie-jeebies. If that doesn't speak to the impressive skill of the novelist I don't know what will.

But I said that the long answer is no, this isn't as good as the other books. Well, unfortunately, it just isn't. Marasco builds his novel with a great foundation, vivid characterization, unique dialogue, but the stakes are small potatoes, and that's what stops Burnt Offerings from rising to the pantheon.

The problem is that Marasco isn't willing to go balls-out until the last 5 pages, letting the scares subtly build up for the duration of the novel. A better example of how to scare the pants off the reader is Jay Anton's original Amityville Horror. There's a book that is hard as fuck, even at the halfway point. But Anton's novel suffers from being poorly written and populated by badly designed characters (I refuse to entertain the book's status as non-fiction - bullshit is what it is, albeit entertaining).

Other than this substantial but not fatal problem, Burnt Offerings is a great read. It's a well-crafted haunted house novel with a unique angle, one I've never seen before. Modern horror writers could definitely learn something from him, how he slowly builds a horror surface while simultaneously crafting an eerie poetic subtext that collides in the last couple pages with great results. I really liked this book, and would kill to see it get more love in the public.

Swag

I went through a big Elmore Leonard phase when I was in high school. It was due to discovering Tarantino and his adaptation of Rum Punch. So I devoured a whole bevy of Leonard novels, and quickly got sick of them. I found them repetitive and plotless. I decided to give Leonard another try, and I'm glad I did. It seems that when I was younger, I missed the point.


In Swag, Ernest Stickley Jr, aka Stick, gets busted by a car salesman while stealing a car. But the salesman, Frank, has plans. He makes up a set of rules to follow, and he and Stick embark on a campaign of well-planned armed robberies. Of course, the money gets too easy, and the rules go out the window for one big score.

As I said, I must have missed the point entirely, or this is the best novel Leonard has ever written. Either way, I had a fantastic time reading this book. Leonard's prose is so effortless and so cool. His dialogue leaps off the page. The only thing that gives away this book's 30 year old age is the lack of cellphones. Otherwise, I would have believed this had been written yesterday. That's how strong this is.

Reading all these noir and crime novels the past week has made me wonder why this is the genre I always come back to, the genre I always tend to write when I do. I'm sure there are better critics to tackle this subject, but I think part of what makes noir so attractive is the idea of a world just below the surface of our own, recognizable, but not always following the same rules ours does. Noir characters are always trying to avoid our world, our 9 to 5, our credit cards, our SUVs, our reality shows and our boring meaningless lives. The people in this underworld can't make it with the overworld's rules. They struggle and end up sinking back. What makes this so attractive to us is our constant and insatiable desire to sink down too, but what stops us is the stability of our lives. So we watch them, we watch the underworld move up against us and slip back.

With Leonard, we're watching Stick and Frank do what we want to do. We want to rob banks and have a 24-7 party, pick whatever fast car we want and just take it. Instead of hard work and sacrifice, Stick and Frank just take what they want. It's the sublimation of the id.

But of course, what goes up, must come down, and we revel in the fall. We ache for the pendulum to swing, because if we can't have it, why should they?

This doesn't really relate to Swag specifically, but it certainly sticks to most of Leonard's output that I've read. I absolutely love noir and crime because I want the shadows. I want the darkness. I want the freedom. But I can't have it. So I live through Stick and Frank and it was a great time.

I absolutely adored Swag. I had a fantastic time from beginning to end. Even the ending was really good, something Leonard often has trouble with. Swag is a masterclass in unbelievably good tough guy dialogue, and he always keeps it real and in the moment, as opposed to Chandler and Delillo's often detached dialogue. I had such a good time that I'm going to read some more Leonard, but this time I won't make myself sick of him and wait another 8 years before trying again.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Grifter's Game

Hard Case Crime has been publishing new and classic noir books for awhile. I've read a couple, from before this blog's lifetime, and I decided to give another a try. I went with Lawrence Block's Grifter's Game, originally titled Mona.


Joe is a smalltime con artist, conning lonely women out of their hard-earned cash with his good looks and charm. But one day he steals some luggage, finds a million dollars worth of luggage and meets Mona, the luggage owner's wife. They hatch a plan to relieve the husband of his money and his life. Will Joe be able to pull it off?

This is a very light and quick read, with some good hardboiled prose, mixed with some bad prose. The con going on is fairly easy to pick up on, but it's the amazing denouement that elevates this book from dime store trash to great work of hardboiled.

Spoilers

So Joe and Mona scheme to murder Keith, the husband, and make off with his money together. Joe kills him, and then Mona disappears. Obviously Mona planned all this and has now scuttled off with the money. Joe traces her down, and ties her up, and - wait for it - turns her into a heroin addict!

Awesome. Of all the lowdown, inhuman things a person to do to another, that's one of them. To add insult to injury, he forces her to marry him, and then they live together, with Mona being constantly under his thumb.

It's evil. It's misogynist. It's awful. It's pure noir.

There's really not a ton to talk about when it comes to this book. It does everything it says it's going to do, and it does it well.

Other than the ending, there's not much to recommend with Grifter's Game. It's a quick read with quite a bit of sex and a bit of violence. The plot is well wound, but unfortunately predictable. I'd only suggest this for fans of hardboiled.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Thin Man

I've always been more of a Chandler fan than a Hammett fan. I've read The Maltese Falcon and liked it, but I always had a bit more love for Marlowe's nihilism than Spade's opportunism. That being said, I have never read The Thin Man, that is, until now.


Nick and Nora Charles are on vacation in New York when the daughter of an old client introduces herself. It seems her father, the thin man, hasn't been in contact for years, and that Nick should get in touch with the family lawyer. The next day, the thin man's lover is found murdered and suddenly everybody has an angle. Nick keeps professes to have been retired from the sleuthing game, but it doesn't stop him from trying to figure this out, before more bodies turn up.

Oh boy. I was hoping for a complicated mystery, and I certainly got it. This is as convoluted as they come, but it's never baffling for the reader, and certainly not for Nick, the dapper hilarious hard-drinking detective. The solution to the mystery is one that I did not see coming, and everything sort of fit.

I guess I'm always going to be a Chandler fan, because I liked The Thin Man, but I didn't love it, and I think I know why. Historically speaking, Hammett refined the genre, giving it most of its hallmarks, but Chandler stylized it, giving it the nihilism and the deeper themes. The Thin Man is lacking in style. Oh, sure, it has style, and it's a better written hardboiled book than most people could ever dream of, but it just doesn't have the edge that Chandler gave hardboiled.

This might be a little too harsh on The Thin Man. After all, it's not Hammett's fault that The Big Sleep is just better. The Thin Man remains a well-crafted mystery, with well-drawn focal characters, and it has enough sex and violence to keep me interested.

The sensation I got from this book is Hammett's sheer professionalism. This is a theme that I return to time and again with this blog, because I'm really fascinated by economy of prose and structure. Hammett had an clear understanding of the ending when he began devising the mystery, and probably just added to it as needed. But what's most impressive is how each element is revealed and the pace by which it happens. It's a transcendent skill and it's pulled off with punch.

I kind of had problems with the long drawn out explanation at the end, when Nick elucidates the solution to Nora. I'm not in favour of this. Marlowe only ever explained enough of the solution for the reader to go back and piece it all together themselves. But this is where Hammett reaches for the fatalism and nihilism of the genre. Both Nick and Nora agree that the ending of murder mystery only changes the murdered and the murderer, and that nothing can ever fit perfectly together. Nothing will ever tie it up in a neat little bow - there's always loose ends and lives to live afterwards. It's a beautiful final page and extremely influential, if you look at popular authors such as Pelecanos, Lehane, and Price.

Overall, I really liked The Thin Man, but I didn't love it. This novel is extremely well crafted and the dialogue zips along, carrying the reader further and further down a rabbit hole. I will definitely read more Hammett and fill in the holes in my noir reading, after so many years of being exclusively a Chandler fan.


I will admit that I'm going to be reading some noir and hardboiled stuff for awhile until I get sick of it. I have Lawrence Block's Grifter's Game on my shelf along with some lesser known James M. Cain books. I've read all his famous ones and adored them. I'm also going to try some of the Chandler-followers such as Ross MacDonald and Robert B Parker eventually. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Synecdoche, New York

I'm a big fan of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, mostly Adaptation than the former. Charlie Kauffman is a great writer, full of great ideas and challenges to the viewer. He's bold and daring, something a lot of screenwriters are not. His directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York opened to mixed reviews, but I still wanted to see for myself. I finally sat through it all.


Caden is a successful director of plays who unexpectedly wins a MacArthur Fellowship, a genius grant, and he intends to create a play of brutal uncompromising truth so he buys a warehouse and mounts a mini-Schenectady, and creates a play of everything, including himself. He hires actors to play people and then actors to play the actors playing people and so on and so forth.

This is a big movie in that there are a lot of things going on. It's a movie about the nature of creating art, the inability to remove the creator from the creation, the self-sacrifice required for real truthful art, and ultimately, the inability of art to represent real truth. On top of all of this is the slow, inexorable crawl of man towards inevitable death.

But is it any good?

It's okay. Kauffman has somehow managed to top the self-indulgence of Adaptation with a screenplay even more about the screenwriter, and the self-recursion goes even deeper, on a grander scale. This is self-indulgent art by definition.

But it lacks humanity. A lot of terrible things happen to Caden, like his wife abandons him and robs him of his little girl's childhood, and his little girl grows up to be a Berlin prostitute/dancer, and his physical decay is steady and never-ending. But I never cared for his plight. Not once. Caden was so self-centered, so self-involved, and irritating that anything that happens to him is just something that happens. There was no pathos.

It doesn't help that Synecdoche, New York indulges in surreal antics, like a perpetually burning house that one character lives in. Or the wilting flower petal that falls off a tattoo of a flower. The symbolism is there, right in front, nothing subtle about it. This detracts from the human aspect. Surreal sequences always sap the emotion from the situation because the audience cannot relate or connect to the experience. They've never had it, so why would they understand, on an emotional instinctual level?

Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as Caden is good, but nothing absolutely spectacular. I could have seen Paul Giamatti or any other schlub in this role. In fact, a much better movie about the problem separating the creator from the creation is American Splendor. In that movie, Harvey Pekor becomes his comic, and vice versa, and every experience he has must be transmuted into comics. It's a fascinating portrait of a real person who could only deal with cancer by writing a comic about it.

While I may seem overly critical of Synecdoche, New York, it's only because I'm a fan. Kauffman seems to be going over the same ground compulsively, and coming up with nothing new. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation are stunning, amazing screenplays that mine new angles and profound emotion from tired old situations. This movie does not.

On the whole, it's entertaining. I had a good time, save for the boring bits, and the fizzle of an ending, so I can't say that I hated Synecdoche, New York. I was just disappointed. Just because a movie is challenging, or has oneiric imagery, does not make it inherently a good movie. There has be a heart beating under the symbolism, and this movie just doesn't have it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nocturnes

I am a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro. I really really really liked his two most famous novels, but I was defeated by a couple of his lesser known works. So it was with a little trepidation that I approached his most recent release, Nocturnes, a collection of five short stories.


In this collection, Ishiguro takes us through the connection between music and romance, showing us people such as an old crooner, a saxophonist recovering from plastic surgery, a cellist, and others.

These stories are good, entertaining, but forgettable. Overall, I felt the stories were slight and fluffy. Plus, the thematic arc of music has tenuous and sparse connections at best. Certainly the second story has almost nothing to do with music, and feels like it was added to the collection as an afterthought. It's a story of physical comedy and classic British sitcom style humour. While that's fun, it's not really substantial or meaty.

I was entertained for the duration of the book. Ishiguro's prose is good, clear, and his use of the first person narration is always excellent. But never in Nocturnes does his prose ever rise above good. Most of the time it's workmanlike and descriptive, but never powerful.

Nocturnes is a good collection of short stories, but nothing particularly memorable or striking. This is a work for previous fans only. All five of these stories will only make the reader hunger for more substantial Ishiguro work, and hopefully he will publish something sooner than later.

Monday, October 25, 2010

One critic at Salon.com has got it wrong...

...about Paranormal Activity 2. If you click this link, you can read Andrew O'Hehir's review, which I found to be so condescending, frustrating and annoying that I thought I would discuss. I'm going to take points that Mr. O'Hehir has made, and then address them. Overall, he gives the film a satisfactory rating, like a C grade. But what I took issue with are certain wrong-headed ideas of what made the film so good.
In fact, the youthful and diverse Gotham audience forced me to notice an aspect of "Paranormal Activity 2" that I might not have observed on my own: Part of this franchise's pornographic allure lies in watching its blithe, privileged and supremely mediocre characters being tormented by unseen evil in their immense suburban houses, which are just a little too cookie-cutter to be called McMansions.
Okay, well you've stumbled upon a greater truth about horror movies. Congratulations. Most modern horror movies are about watching something awful happen to someone else. It's called schadenfreude. Also, what does that mean that the houses are too cookie-cutter? What is your point? That there is a level of artificiality? Inauthenticity? Yes, we know. We're not stupid - it's fiction.
It concludes, needless to say, with just enough ambiguity and people left alive to make room for "Paranormal Activity 3," possibly an NC-17 intergenerational road movie directed by Larry Clark. (Come back after you've seen the film and tell me if that joke is any good.)
That's easy. No, it's not a good joke.
Of course, applying the so-called standards of film criticism isn't especially helpful; I'm not the first to observe that movies like this have more in common with theme-park rides, video games or "Jersey Shore" than they do with "The Seventh Seal" or "Sleepless in Seattle."
Now we've gotten to the meat of Mr O'Hehir's issue. If the film is "critic-proof" and audiences will enjoy it whether or not the critics advise them to stay away, then the critic is having a dialogue with himself. I don't see how this film can be compared to either Jersey Shore, The Seventh Seal or Sleepless in Seattle. What bothers me most about this whole review is the vast level of condescension that the critic has for everybody who enjoyed this film. Is he trying to say that "movies like this" are of inherently lower quality than such "critic proof" fare as The Seventh Seal?

The language used throughout the review suggests that Paranormal Activity 2 has no intelligence, and nothing to offer save some lo-fi scares, albeit effective scares. Mr O'Hehir says things like "I'm not sure that "Paranormal Activity 2" is measurably stupider than its predecessor" or "anybody else cares about the dumbass adults in this movie".

Does Mr O'Hehir think reviewing horror movie sequels are beneath him? That's the overall feeling I got. It feels like he's even above other critics:
I'm also going to resist the widespread critical tendency to praise teenage audiences for preferring a more "psychological" movie like this to splatter-fests like the "Saw" franchise. Novelty will always draw a crowd when it's genuinely new, and the POV consumer-video horror film hasn't quite run out of juice
Here's a point that I wholeheartedly agree near the end of the review:
I don't think a cultural work is automatically better, or better for you, because it depicts no violence, and it's condescending to imagine that watching slasher movies damages the souls of 21st century teenagers.
That's well said, Mr O'Hehir.

However, your overall review suggests the film is slight, past its prime and void of any intelligence. If the movie manages the effectively scare its audience, its jaded 21st century audience who have seen a million horror clichés, then Paranormal Activity 2 must have some sort of idea of how horror works.

I'm glad I'm not as jaded or as cynical about horror movies as this critic is. Though, apparently he thinks the world should be.

Paranormal Activity 2

There's not a lot of horror movies that can actually scare seasoned veterans such as my girlfriend and I. One film that managed to do so was the lo-fi sleeper hit Paranormal Activity. I'm pretty sure it's my g/f's favourite horror film of all time. She's made me watch it 6 times - I'm thoroughly desensitized to it now. But, we had a small measure of hope that the cash-in sequel would deliver the same level of fear without stooping to Blair Witch 2 paroxysms of tedium. She insisted we see the opening show on Thursday, and we did.


While it's advertised as a sequel, Paranormal Activity 2 is more of a prequel and a sequel that runs concurrently with the original. We're introduced to a family welcoming a new baby from the hospital. We're introduced to Dad, Mom, teen Daughter and the Dog. We find out that this new mom is actually the sister of Katie, from the first film. Suddenly, bad things go bump in the night and they're focused on the baby. Things take a turn for the worse, and the mythology of the first film is deepened by idiotic exposition delivered in wooden fashion.

I give a glib synopsis, but I still loved this movie. On the spectrum of horror sequels, this is on the fantastic end in terms of quality. The scares in this movie are just like in the previous one, but different, or louder, or more frequent. It's unbearably tense in certain scenes.

Or at least, I think they would be. The unfortunate thing about seeing this movie on opening night was that everybody else wanted to see it on opening night. I have never, I repeat never, heard so many people talking during a movie. Without exaggerating, I can say there was not a single moment during the film when the entire audience was silent. Everybody was whispering, or shouting or screaming, or yelling juvenile jokes at the screen. Yes, there were people there who thought their comments were so entertaining that they felt they had to share it with everybody. The entire experience was ruined for my girlfriend, who was unbelievably excited for this. So thanks to you, homies who attended the 9:35 pm show of Paranormal Activity 2 on Thursday October 21st, at the Silver City Polo Park theatre.

But whatever, the movie was still scary, despite the never-ending audience noise. That must be proof positive of successful horror tactics. However, not everything was perfect. The ending of the film leaves much to be desired. It uses one of the endings, and attempts to deepen and complicate a story that was decent enough on its own. The ending is also not scary in the slightest. It's just weird.

Paranormal Activity 2 was a surprisingly entertaining 90 minutes. It was nothing new, and all of its tricks are tried and true, but somehow it was frustratingly successful in scaring the crap out of me. There's one particular scene in a kitchen that sort of kind of references a kitchen scene in Poltergeist, but it's so well done that I would rank PA2's kitchen scene as one of the scariest ever. Overall the movie is a good solid horror movie. I just hope they don't keep making sequels. (They made a million Saw movies, so I wouldn't be surprised)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hope of Heaven

I had trouble starting A Rage to Live, so I thought I'd take a quick detour on O'Hara and sample one of his California/Hollywood stories, namely the novella Hope of Heaven.


Molloy is a moderately successful screenwriter and he gets a call one day from a man from his hometown who's deep in trouble over cheque forging. Molloy helps him by just being the guy who the forger confesses to. At the same time, Molloy has been seeing Peggy, and trouble ensues when Peggy's estranged father suddenly appears, and Molloy figures there's some connection between the forger and the father.

I guess this is as close to a detective story O'Hara would ever write, and it's pretty good. But it's not great. The atmosphere, and the angle of approach to the story, which I've never really encountered before, is admirable. Even if this is a Chandler homage or reference, it's too original to smack as one.

However, this isn't a detective story. This is a classic O'Hara study of society and the people living in it. The mystery at the heart is simplistic and merely a MacGuffin for O'Hara's long conversations and observations on polite society. The overall effect of this is of improvisation. I spoke of this before with O'Hara, and this work is strongest of all for that argument. It feels like O'Hara has no idea where the story is taking him, but he layers the foreshadowing and the Catholic imagery on nonetheless.

The outcome is a fizzle of an ending. It's not awful, but it's not good either. If O'Hara was doing a Chandler, he should have learned how to plot more fully than this. This is a sketch, rather than a tight plot. There's a fantastic, atmospheric, prescient and cutting 1930's detective story somewhere in this novella. I would love a chance at adapting this for the screen and tightening the plot. That's not to be, however, and all we are left is Hope of Heaven, not what could have been.

On the whole, I enjoyed Hope of Heaven. It was a breezy read with great atmosphere and compelling characters. With a stronger ending and a tighter focus, this could have been a masterpiece to sit beside Hammett and Chandler. (Honestly, this makes me want to read more 1930s detective fiction, which I can never get enough of. I've read everything by Chandler and two biographies of the man!)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fallout: New Vegas has arrived

Okay so my birthday is in two weeks, but my girlfriend surprised me with the game yesterday. Which is to say, that I'll be taking a hiatus from reading, writing and watching. All I'm going to be doing is playing Fallout and Red Dead Redemption, which I got for cheap by trading in the terrible Borderlands. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Haters gonna hate


Click for animated fun

You should read this story about prison

If you click this link, you're going to read one of the most interesting, mind-blowing and heartbreaking stories ever. This guy who posted on 99chan when to prison for 2 years for armed robbery and when he got out, he started posting, and attracting a ton of attention. The poster, OP, is well-spoken, honest, and clear, and he paints a picture of the dehumanizing experience of the U.S. prison system.

Here's a short excerpt, but click the link to read it all. It's all fascinating.
After a while, drugs become a viable option inside. There is a lot on offer. If you can get it out in the world, you can get it inside - for a better price strangely enough, considering the difficulty of getting it in. That is if it is what your man says it is. I decided to get onto horse after a few months, mostly as something to do. I'd tried heroin outside, but hadn't liked it since getting on the nod seemed like a waste of time. But inside, it's great - a shot in solitary can make a week pass in no time at all. Problem is the shit it will be cut with. Flour, baking soda, jell-o crystals - all shit that should not be in a vein. After a while, you just end up doing things that outside, you never would have dreamed of. I was paranoid about getting the AIDS, so I kept this one needle the whole time I was inside. Went rusty and I ended up spending a month in sick bay with tetenus. When I couldn't score for junk, I scored for codeine tablets. Grew my thumb nail long and wrecked it on the concrete so it was sharp enough to cut open my thigh, and would stick the crushed up tablet inside.
And
The keeper of the TV Guide would be whoever scored it out of a mail bag. Usually the guy on mail duty. And after a few weeks, you'd ask, as nicely as possible, preferebly with a gift of candy, if you could take a look, and maybe later, in return for smokes - you'd cut something out. I cut out a half page ad for The Other Boleyn Girl. Actually, i'll find it an post it here.

Now you think about the shit you can get with just three clicks from here. You can hit up one of the porn boards and be jerking away in minutes. You'd probably even not jerk off to soft core porn, because just a few clicks away, you could see some whore being cranked by 9 guys and getting glazed with cum.

I guess in the real world, where life is mundane and boring - you need those fantasies of dark sexual shit to keep you going. But inside, there is just dark shit everywhere. Violence, death, fear. You don't want it in your head. So no matter what you were like before, inside, you try and escape in your head to places that are good and just... decent I guess.

You go from having elaborate rape fantasies to having sweet, candle lit intimacy fantasies. Sounds gay, but it's true for most guys inside I think.

It changes the way you think about women. When I went inside, I was full of bitterness over the mother of my kid leaving, I felt like my sister had betrayed me, so I left her - and I thought of some of the girl's I'd used in my life and felt like they were pathetic sluts.

But inside, I would have given anything to know just one of them loved me - and when I say love, I don't mean like, I'd want to marry them, or that kind of passionate, movie love. Just that they'd consent to being intimate with me.

I don't think I mentioned it before, but I spent a few months inside under the impression that I'd been infected with hepatitis - thankfully I wasn't, but that really compounded this need for intimacy, because I felt like, even once I got out, a woman would never touch me again.
Really harrowing and powerful stuff.

What's really most fascinating about this whole system is how the guards dehumanize the prisoners. They keep them separate, paranoid, and zombified on drugs. And yet, when OP got out, he came out intact. Sort of.

I'm not willing to make any moral judgement on the guy who posted this. I don't know him, nor any of his personal details about the crime. But regardless of where you stand on this, you can't deny this makes for fascinating and heartbreaking reading.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Union Atlantic

I have been waiting to read this book for months. I'm not 100 percent sure why I was so excited to read Union Atlantic, but maybe it was because I had an inkling it would be sort of like Gaddis' JR or something: about the financial system and how dehumanizing it is. Well, I finally got my chance to read it.


Doug Fanning is a successful investment banker who has decided to build a giant eyesore of a mansion in his old hometown. The land he has chosen is adjacent to Charlotte Graves' home, and the land itself was bequeathed to the town by Charlotte's grandfather. Charlotte, a history teacher forcibly retired for outspoken politics, decides to take legal action against the town and Doug, as she sees it still as her grandfather's charitable donation. Meanwhile, one of Charlotte's tutors, teenaged Nate has fallen in love with Doug, and Charlotte's dogs are speaking to her with the voices of Malcolm X and Cotton Mather. To complicate things, one of Doug's underlings has taken billions of dollars and illegally moved them into a stock that was sure to succeed, but is now failing in light of the 9/11 attacks.

Even though Union Atlantic is only 300 pages, it does seem like a big novel, weighty and full of serious things about the state of the union. And, it does seem to say something about the financial world post-9/11, but I'm not sure if Haslett does anything deeper than just saying something, superficially skimming the surface.

First of all, the novel seems rushed. Everything happens so quickly, there's very little time for the characters to breathe. The only time the novel relaxes is when the focal character of the chapter reminisces and we're treated to a flashback. These memories are the absolute best parts of the novel. Because of this rushed feeling, countered against the fantastic flashbacks, the novel feels like a first draft, like a practice run to a better, longer and more comfortable novel. There's a masterpiece to be teased out from this sparse structure.

Haslett's prose is never stilted or boring, and he has a tendency to - most of the time - let his characters' actions speak for themselves, rather than any intrusive narrator explications, a page from the minimalist book, I suppose. But since the novel is so intent on getting to the end, his prose never gets a chance to shine. We're just whisked off from one flashback and one movement across the chessboard of the plot to another.

It's rough to do this, but I was often comparing this to Franzen. In Freedom, Franzen takes his time to paint a portrait of a country (and the world) in crisis, and never shirks away from the big picture. Haslett seems to be doing a variation on this. He wants to have the big ideas without the didacticism and with the more intimate character studies. He sort of succeeds in this, but the big picture is missed by the reader when the best bits of the books are Haslett's character-building.

The best subplot of the novel is the unhealthy relationship between the underaged Nate and the dominating Doug. Until this, Doug had always been exclusively a heterosexual, the novel pains to belabor, and is really really ridiculously good looking. He uses Nate to steal documents from Charlotte in aid of his defense of her lawsuit. This really does reinforce the dehumanizing aspect of having so much money, and so much power, as Doug treats Nate like a pile of shit. But there is an amazing, extremely deft and masterful end to this subplot, which I won't spoil, but it's there on the penultimate page and it's utterly heart-wrenching.

There are some bravura sequences, such as the house party that some rich wife of a Federal Reserve head gives, which is hilarious, sad, important, and sage all at the same time. The husband hires some two-bit security force, and everybody's nervous, considering this is less than a year after 9/11, and some hippie calls someone a terrorist, and then chaos reigns. It's a great scene.

I can't say that I loved Union Atlantic. I was left underwhelmed by the rapid pace and the lack of enthusiasm for its subjects. I was impressed by the character-building, and Haslett's ability to lift the cast from the dismal machinations of the plot. As I said, this feels like a first draft, and could use some breathing space, to get across the scale of the financial world, without sacrificing the great character bits. Still, the novel isn't terrible; it is often good and sometimes great. I had high hopes, and they were mostly dashed. Oh well. I'll always have Gaddis and Franzen.


So, here's an update on what I've been doing. I'm over halfway through Justin Cronin's The Passage, which is on everybody's list now, and I have to say that so far, the novel is exceedingly overwritten and needs a trim. The opening of the novel is wonderfully epic and masterful, but when it shifts gears and moves ahead 100 years, the novel becomes - and I hate to use the term - terrible. I'm also about to start O'Hara's A Rage to Live, which should be good.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Expendables

The Eighties had the sweetest action movies. Big guns, big dudes, big explosions, and super evil villain. Since Sylvester Stallone is riding the nostalgia-train with Rocky and Rambo, he may as well make a whole new throwback. To do so, he amassed a who's who of action stars, past and present and made The Expendables. But is it any good?


Stallone and his group are mercenaries for hire, and their newest job is getting rid of some rogue CIA agent who has set himself up behind a dictator of a Latin country. Stallone falls in love with the dictator's rebellious daughter. One of their own betrays them. They get into fights. Stallone gets a tattoo. Jason Statham throws a knife at a dartboard from outside the room. He stabs a basketball. There's lots of explosions.

The plot is pure drivel. The acting is atrocious. The romance is gag-inducing. But the action? The action is fucking sweet. The fist fights and the gun-play are top notch. This is a tried and true action movie with all guts and all glory.

One doesn't watch this movie without keeping all of this in mind. One just simply enjoys. There's no point in analyzing subtext, or metaphors or imagery. As long as the movie never bores and stupefies the viewer with non-stop violence, then it's a success.

However, there is a point I'd like to raise. If, indeed, these mercenaries are so goddamn good, why, then, are they getting into fist fights with people? If they were that good, they wouldn't ever be seen. They would have just killed you before you had a chance to put up your dukes. I find it illogical that Steve Austin's character, the CIA agent's henchman, and Stallone would have a bloody, epic, bone-crunching brawl. Wouldn't Stallone have pulled out his emergency handgun and blown a hole in Austin's face? I think so. When do soldiers ever engage in fisticuffs?

Whatever. The Expendables was an entertaining movie that had some great fight scenes, lots of explosions, a pointless story, and some fun cameos. It was obvious that the cast and crew enjoyed themselves while making the movie, and that in turn made me enjoy the film more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From the Terrace

I haven't posted in awhile, but that's because I was working, almost 40 hours in 4 days, which meant my time on the Internet was limited. However, the benefits of my job mean that I get to read. A lot. I powered through a 1000 page novel in a five days thanks to my job. That's the other reason why I haven't posted. I read From the Terrace by John O'Hara, and it was a big, long novel. I previously read Appointment in Samarra, and I liked it. So I decided to keep going with O'Hara.


From the Terrace is the life story of Alfred Eaton, born at the end of the 19th Century. He's the son of a mill owner, in a tiny town, and goes to a prep school, goes to Princeton, goes to war, goes into business, gets married, has kids, changes jobs, has affairs, gets a divorce, becomes a government official during the next war, and then retires.

Here's a social novel in the sense that O'Hara is obsessed with class, society, money and privilege. Of the hundreds of characters in this book, only a handful are poor, and they represent the servants and butlers of the main cast. But O'Hara doesn't simply tell a story of a rich people doing rich things. This is a nuanced character portrait of a man in changing times, or society in changing times.

I guess a lot of reviewers of the time complained of the obsession with sex in the novel. I can see how this problem would come about. Frankly, it's almost too much sex, but O'Hara doesn't labor the description, just says it happens and moves on. For the most part.

Even though this is a thousand page novel, it doesn't lag. It barrels through at an unrelenting pace. Conversations take up pages upon pages, and it's almost always engaging and entertaining. O'Hara really does have a genius-level talent for dialogue. It's amazing.

What impressed most about this novel was twofold. First, it always seemed like O'Hara was just making it up as he went, just writing and writing and writing and letting the story take him where ever it needed him to go. In most books, I'm more impressed by longterm planning and formalism, but here, the sheer size of the novel, and its seemingly improvised structure, made me more involved.

Secondly, and this goes with the first, even though it seems ad-libbed, O'Hara's professionalism was always paramount. Specifically, the role of the narrator. From the Terrace is made up of two narrative styles: dialogue and lengthy description of inner character. As aforementioned, the conversations go on for pages, and O'Hara never breaks up the flow. Each scene has its natural beginning, middle and end, each one a little one act play. Only after the conversation has come to its reasonable end, does O'Hara allow the narrator to speculate and explain the inner person, their thoughts, feelings, motives. But this is never intrusive. More often than not, it's done in the D. H. Lawrence style, that is to say pure emotion, not rote explication of attributes. It's extremely skillful.

There's also some Easter eggs to be had in this book. Julian English, main character of O'Hara's supposed masterpiece, Appointment in Samarra, makes a few appearances. Unfortunately, O'Hara indulges himself and lets the main cast discuss his suicide. This was unnecessary and detracted from the Samarra book itself. I would have preferred if O'Hara had left the opinions to the reader. I'm sure there's other characters from other novels too, but this is only my second read by him, so I can't be sure. There is a cast of hundreds, so I wouldn't be surprised.

If there was a major grievance to be had, it's the spectacularly anticlimactic ending. This might have one of the most boring and deflating endings I've ever encountered. There's no catharsis for the reader or the protagonist, and it just simply goes on. The last fifty pages devote themselves to introducing new characters and having them comment on things, and moving Alfred Eaton, the focus of the previous 950 pages, relegated to passive secondary character. It's frustrating and weak.

Other than the ending, From the Terrace was a gripping, enjoyable read. O'Hara's skill with dialogue and flow is practically unmatched, and I was never bored with the novel. It was, to use a cliché, unputdownable. I think I preferred this to Appointment in Samarra, if only because this was meatier, and less a collection of sketches. This was a solid "big" novel.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I've been playing a lot of video games recently...

and I'm going to quickly talk about each one. Not really a full review, but just "thoughts" on them.

1
Half Life 2
I've always heard that this was one of the best first person shooters ever. Well, I'm about halfway through and I can honestly say that this is one of the most fun games I've ever played. The level design is great, the story is great, the gravity gun is great, and the action is intense. If I had a complaint it would be that I'm not fond of platforming. Jump mechanics are so frustrating in games like this, that any level progress that depends on jumping immediately irritates me.

2
Sins of a Solar Empire
There's two kinds of games I like: first person shooters and real time strategy games. I hate sports game. Since my computer can't handle Starcraft 2, I've been on the hunt for something to tide me over. I started with this game, a huge, 3 dimensional space war game that sort of like Starcraft, but on a bigger scale. It's the same setup: you manage resources and build an army and then murder your enemies. Sins of a Solar Empire doesn't have a story, though. It just has massive games that takes hours and hours. I started one and haven't finished it yet. I'm playing on Easy and finding it incredibly difficult. These games are always long term investments. Hopefully this pays off.

3
Doom 3
Here's a throwback game if there ever was one. Just simple shoot-'em-up. The game mechanics are practically the same as the original except the graphics are improved sort of. This is an ugly game really. There's not really much to say about this game other than it's sort of entertaining for an hour or two and then you have to take a break and play something more substantial.

4
Supreme Commander
This game is ridiculous. Here is one of the most complicated real-time-strategy games I've ever played. It took me three skirmishes to even understand the leveling and the architecture hierarchy! But it was really fun. The units are to scale, so when you have a massive army of tanks rolling through the countryside, it looks absolutely ballin'! I didn't get far enough into the game to get the experimental game-ending units, but from the videos I've seen, they are outrageous! Great game, but 180 degrees from Doom 3.

5
F.E.A.R.
I absolutely adore the second F.E.A.R. but I never played the first one. Well, I'm enjoying the game, but certainly the combat mechanics are better in the second, but this is obvious, considering it's a generation after. Overall, with F.E.A.R., you're going to get great gun-play, scary moments and a fairly decent story. I like it!

6.
Grand Theft Auto 3
I've never played the third generation of GTA games, either San Andreas or Vice City. I have played GTA IV and found it to be a little too big. But with GTA III, I feel like there's a healthy medium between the little and the massive. Sometimes it's just fun to drive around and enjoy the city. Sometimes it's just fun to pick up hookers, have sex with them, and kill them to recoup your money!

I'm also looking at playing the new Wolfenstein and Quake 4... I'll report when I have something to say about them.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Salt

Did you know that the second run movie theater on McGillivray charges only $1.50 on Tuesdays? That's crazy. I'll see, like, any movie for $1.50. Why not? With this attitude in mind, the girlfriend and I went and saw Salt last night. I have some really quick thoughts on it, considering the amount of money I spent on seeing it. Spoilers follow.


Salt has an extremely solid premise, but does not deliver on the questions of identity teased by the advertising campaign. Once we had reached the halfway point of the film, the audience has no questions relating to Salt's identity. It's irritating.

Also, the whole "paralyzing venom" subplot is so annoying and unscientific that the girlfriend and I were making fun of it during the entire movie. I called it so quickly, and was disappointed so thoroughly by the end of the movie that I can surely say I hated Salt because of the subplot.

Other than this frustrating aspect, the plot holes in this movie are big enough to fix Texas through. Most of Salt's action relies heavily on coincidence. She's always in the right spot at the right time. Like when she's on foot and stuck in traffic on a freeway, the CIA are about to squish her with their generic black SUV, and of course, a motorcycle just happens to swing by. Ugh.

While the action may be dependent on coincidences, most of it seems to be done without the use of CGI. The freeway chase scene looks like all stuntwork and practical effects. That's rare, and very commendable.

You could have put ANY actor in Jolie's place and they would have done just as good if not better. Angelina Jolie is one of the most overrated people on the entire planet. I don't just mean acting skills. I mean as a person. Those giant gross lips are a big turnoff too.

Anyways, long story short, Salt sucks, but it entertained me for 1.5 hours for 1.5 dollars.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Social Network

25 minutes before the movie was supposed to start, I updated my status on Facebook to: "...is about to see the Facebook movie". The internet has been pretty much taken over by porn and Facebook. They have 500 million members, including yours truly, and no doubt includes you and you and you. Of course they went ahead and made an origin movie for it, made by no less than David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. But is it any good?


Mark Zuckerberg is a programmer gifted with the knowledge of the here and now. He sees the need for a website where people can see pictures of their friends, and it all ties to exclusivity. His friend Eduardo Saverin puts up the money to host this site. Soon enough, TheFaceBook takes off, catching the notice of Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster. Eventually, Facebook is making enough money to support itself, and Parker and Zuckerberg scheme to remove Saverin from the company.

From the very first virtuoso scene, we know this is a movie about dialogue, written by Sorkin. It comes rapidly, overlapping, at a breakneck pace. It's absolutely fantastic. Fincher's visuals are strong and confidant, just like usual, but his work is overshadowed by the screenplay.

The actors are especially strong as well. Jesse Eisenberg has the difficulty of playing a character introverted and anti-social, but without alienating the audience. It's a tricky part. Justin Timberlake is good as Sean Parker, but I wasn't blown away by him like some critics were.

One of the surprises was actor Armie Hammer, who has dual roles as twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss. The twins are the most captivating, entertaining antagonists I've seen in a long time. It helps that they have the best lines in the whole movie. There's a scene in which they complain straight to the President of Harvard, something they used their daddy's contacts to do, and they get reprimanded. The dialogue is ridiculous, and the twins hold their own.

I'm not sure if the movie goes ahead and makes any epic statement about the prevalence of Facebook. The scope by which they took over the Internet doesn't get the focus that the lawsuits get. This is more of a movie about the path to success, and the people who will do anything to achieve it. And that's not a bad thing. I just don't think that, in the future, we'll be analyzing this film for its prescient themes on technology.

The Social Network is a great movie, ably directed by Fincher, and expertly written by Sorkin. The cast is great, and the movie is always entertaining and never boring. While I don't think it's the deepest film in the world, but it is still a great movie.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Twilight

Since I enjoyed William Gay’s previous novels, I thought I might as well continue and read his third, called Twilight. It’s very rare that I read all of a particular author’s work, but Gay has a few things in his favour: his books are mercifully short, well-written, and easily available from my local library. With this in mind, let’s take a look at Twilight.


Kenneth and Corrie Taylor, siblings, suspect that the undertaker would buried their father is up to no good. When they stumble upon incriminating evidence, Corrie decides to extort the perverse undertaker. Unfortunately, the undertaker employs a vicious inhuman ex-con to retrieve his property and silence the siblings forever.

Now this is Southern Gothic at its finest. Everything that I had problems with regarding Gay’s fiction is almost entirely fixed. Here is a tight, suspenseful novel with well-drawn characters, underscored by Gay’s increasingly strong prose.

As aforementioned, this is a tight novel. Gay spends the first half setting up characters, situations, the plot, and then the entire second half is an extended chase sequence through a surrealistic backwoods rural area. Gay uses gorgeous language to convey the land’s inherent beauty and danger. During the chase, young Kenneth meets a variety of country folk, some helpful and some dangerous.

Gay continues his theme of mysticism of the South with this novel. At one point in the chase, Taylor comes across a witch, who purports to have potions and spells. And once again, Gay leaves it ambiguous on whether or not the witch has any real power.

Instead of relying on short sketches to propel the characters through the motions, Gay wisely lets the plot itself do the work. A botched blackmail job and the spectre of Death hunts them. It’s fantastically simple, and Gay absolutely pulls it off. Twilight is the culmination of the two previous novels.

Twilight is a wonderful novel. It is chock full of great dialogue, well drawn characters, all put through a tight plot and tons of great symbolism. William Gay has written a suspenseful, beautiful novel that can stand up to McCarthy’s early work as well as great modern Southern fiction.

And so ends the William Gay streak, as my library has no other book available by him. A quick Google search lets me know that his fourth novel is scarce, but will no doubt get a wider printing due to the movie based on his second book coming out this year.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Provinces of Night

Readers will remember that I really liked Gay's first novel, The Long Home, and I decided to keep going, his next novel being Provinces of Night.


When his father, Boyd, decides to travel north, to hunt down his adulterous wife, Fleming is left alone in the house, in 1940s Tennessee. Meanwhile, his grandfather, E. F. has decided to end his exile and come back to the homestead. This novel follows the three generations as they learn about vengeance, love, family, and everything that makes them Southern.

The title of this book comes from a Cormac McCarthy novel, which states the intent right there on the cover. This is a Southern gothic novel, but without the crazed violence of McCarthy or The Long Home. Unfortunately, Gay pays further tribute to McCarthy by doing without quotation marks around dialogue. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but its self-conscious emulation is somewhat distracting.

My previous problem with Gay was that he had no faith in the reader when it came to his protagonist. I can happily state that this problem is rectified. Gay's strong character construction shines through, and he doesn't hold the reader's hand through any thoughts or motives of the cast. He simply lets them speak for themselves either consciously or unconsciously. It's a tremendous improvement.

However, Gay's plotting takes a serious turn for the worse. This is a novel made up of slight character sketches, mostly enjoyable, some humorous, some heartbreaking, but the thrust of the main plot is meandering and weak. When we've reached the end of the novel, things are resolved, but not in any meaningful or dramatic way. The characters just keep going. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the weakness of the plot structure was amateurish.

Something that Gay builds upon, from his last novel, is the mystery surrounding magic. One of the cast in this novel claims that he is able to cast spells and put curses on people, and Gay keeps the efficiency of these hexes sort of ambiguous. It's a nice change from the grim and gritty style of fiction these days. Perhaps there's more to the world than meets the eye, Gay supposes subtly.

I still really enjoyed Provinces of Night, even if at times I felt it was McCarthy-lite. Gay's storytelling skills (not novelist skills) are strong as before, and he lets his characters do the bulk of the narrative work, rather than an intrusive narrator. When Gay lets loose his characters in a tighter plot, then we might have the makings of a great novel instead of a good novel.

While Google searching an image for this post, I found out that there is a film based on this novel! Can you believe it? It's called Provinces of Night, obviously, but it also goes by Bloodworth, which is the last name of the family in the book. The movie stars Kris Kristofferson (who is a great actor) and Val Kilmer. I'll try to see it!

Next up is Twilight by William Gay and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which I've heard good things about. I still have Nabokov's Pnin somewhere, so I'll give that a go.

Conspiracy theories...

...are mostly bullshit. There, I said it. Here's the thing about conspiracy theories: once you amass a certain amount of facts and data, there's bound to be correlations and convergences. However, as every statistician will tell you, correlation does not mean causation. One would be hard pressed not to find correlations when one is dealing with that much data. This doesn't mean one should be drawing lines from one phenomena to another.

Somebody slipped a pamphlet under our apartment door the other day. Once I had muddled my way through its almost incomprehensible grammar, I realized the intent of the publication. I was being warned that the Canadian government has been installing sub-dermal microchips into the infants of the poor, with the intention of tracking them. The government was actively targeting Native peoples. This alarming "fact" was substantiated by the author advising the reader to do a "Google search" and see for themselves.

Well, sir, you anonymous visionary, that's pure and simple bullshit, and I can show that with some extremely quick and elementary logic.

Cui bono? Who benefits?

Why in the world would the government want to track poor people? What possible financial benefit could be made off such a tactic? None, of course. There's no reason to track anybody, especially through such an expensive and labour-intensive proposition as sub-dermal microchips. The vastness and intricacy of this conspiracy completely derails its plausibility. First of all, who in their right mind thinks that the government is well-organized enough to pull this off without letting something slip? Secondly, wouldn't the chips show up in any X-ray or MRI? And suppose it did, every single doctor in Canada would have to be in on it so as to keep a lid on things.

The problem with conspiracy theories, this one included, is that for every step required to sustain the conspiracy, there are more people and more chances of screw-ups. In reality, government programs and plans take years to implement, and often take years to iron out details. With a conspiracy, everybody from the top down must be able to keep their mouths shut and be constantly aware of the plot. But this wouldn't work. Try keeping a secret in an office, and see how long it stays secret.

It's more realistic to think that any real "conspiracies" in the world are simply business deals between businesses and government from the civic level all the way to the national level. There's too much money to be made in legitimate business for corporations and governments to be messing around with secret societies.

Conspiracy theories tend to speak to the lonely and disenfranchised, but in our highly technological and connected world, everybody with access to Google thinks they're cracking the secret of the Kennedy assassination.

Occam's Razor demands that the simplest explanation is always the correct explanation. Is it too much to believe that the government is just too inept to pull off something on this scale?

EDIT: Okay, so I was wrong about Occam's Razor. In fact, I misinterpreted wildly. If you'd like to read a very simple explanation about Occam's Razor, click here. What I should have said in the post was that Occam's Razor asks us not to invent unnecessary explanations for a hypothesis. At least I think that's it.