Friday, January 01, 2010

Steampunk, Chick Flicks, Meryl Streep and Me

Several weeks ago I had my 7th grade students in the school library for a book club meeting and I happened to mention Scott Westerfeld’s new book, Leviathan, to our school librarian. Now, I’m pretty savvy when it comes to children’s literature, but when she called the book “steampunk,” I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I was off on an internet search to find out. Unreliable or not, one of my first choices for searches like this happens to be Wikipedia, where I discovered that steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction that has been around since the 1980s. The concept sets the story usually in the 19th century or Victorian-era England, and adds either fictional technological inventions or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date in an alternate history.

Armed with this tiny bit of information, I turned to my second great source of wisdom when it comes to literature—my critique group—where both J. Scott Savage and Robinson Wells delivered a quick overview of movies that fell into the genre. So, this week, with at last some time to watch something longer than a half an hour, I borrowed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from my son and settled down to find out what this new genre was all about for myself.

What I found was that it was fascinating! A series of 19th century literary figures—Allan Quatermain, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, The Invisible Man, Mina Harker, Captain Nemo—barraged by dirigibles, tanks and bombs directly out of World Wars I and II.

Now that I’m equipped with a better understanding of steampunk, I’m ready to rewatch the Wild, Wild West, a movie I simply didn’t understand at the time. “Where did the giant spider robot come from, anyway? I thought this was a Western.” And, I’m ready to tackle Leviathan with a whole new set of background knowledge that I’m sure will help make the experience more meaningful.

Speaking of meaningful, would someone care to explain the meaning of The Break-Up to me? I had expected a funny movie—after all, the flick features Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn—but I watched all the way to the very end and just wondered, “What happened?” I didn’t find it funny, even though the blurb on the front cover says “One of the best American comedies in years.” Is it asking to much to have a happy ending in a comedy?

If you want to see real comedy, have a happy ending, and see some great acting, try The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds instead. Okay, it’s a little irreverent, but I liked it.

And irreverent brings me to my new respect for Meryl Streep. For years I had told everyone how much I hated her, refusing to see her movies because I couldn’t stand to watch her. Was it because she frustrated me in Kramer vs Kramer? Who knows why, but how can I justify that she is the star and delivers perfect performances in three of my favorite movies that I indulged in re-watching this week, despite the fact I’ve already seen The Devil Wears Prada over a dozen times? The sing-along with Mamma Mia! was delightful—I don’t care what my boys say! And I hope I can be forgiven for laughing right out loud at the naughty parts in Julie & Julia. (If you’re not into naughty, absolutely do NOT read the book by Julie Powell! She flings around vulgarity the same way Julia Child flings a crepe into the air!)

Overall, I’ve had an enjoyable Christmas vacation, laughed myself silly, indulged in too much chocolate, and enjoyed watching whatever movies I wanted and reading a book or two just for fun. Now it’s almost time to get back to the real work of teaching school and writing for deadlines, but that’s okay. Something has to pay the bills!

In other news, I just saw the cover of the February 2010 issue of The Writer which features my lead article Traditional or do-it-yourself: Which way to go? A great way to start 2010 as part of my writing career. The article includes interviews with Richard Paul Evans, Annette Lyon, Dave Wolverton (David Farland), and Kenny Kemp. You can see the cover and article blurb at THE WRITER.


Christian said...

If you find yourself liking the steampunk genre, I'd recommend the Larklight series by Philip Reeve.

L.T. Elliot said...

I haven't seen Julie and Julia but I heard it was great. =]

Another good Steampunk book is "Boneshaker."

Annette Lyon said...

I never thought I'd have my name in the same sentence as those guys. I feel suddenly really cool. :)

Heather B. Moore said...

Speaking of Meryl Streep, I just watched The Bridges of Madison County. Saw it a long time ago, but it was all new to watch it again (blame it on my lousy memory). Meryl was excellent in that movie, and even more interesting was the "making of" section where they talked about writing the script and hiring on Clint Eastwood to direct it (when the original director and script writer decided to take a significant tangent).