Category Archives: TV

Reasons why I’m reading a book series out of order (True Blood)

I have a confession to make. I’m reading the True Blood books by Charlaine Harris, and I’m doing it totally out of order. When I mention this to people, I get the impression that reading out of order is tantamount to that other sin of reading (which I’m also guilty of)–peeking ahead to read the ending.

I don’t read all series out of order. In fact, this is kind of a rare occurrence for me, but I have no regrets thus far. I watched True Blood seasons 1 and 2, so I figured I got the gist of the story from HBO, and no need to repeat it for the sake of saying I read the actual words.

In the library, I browsed through the True Blood paperbacks, reading the back of each book to see which one piqued my interest. I wasn’t totally committed to even trying the books, so I wanted to pick the most interesting one possible. My eyes lit up at the summary of Book #4, Dead to the World. It looked like Sookie and Eric would finally get it on this book! So I was sold. Or, er, borrowed.

Now, Book #4 wasn’t the best thing I ever read ever, but it was funny, entertaining, engaging, and I liked the characters and setting. Perfect for a summer beach book. It’s on to Book #3, Club Dead. From there, I’m not sure what to do. Go back and read Book#2 anyway, since I heard it’s somewhat different than the TV series? Or forge ahead through the series based on what interests me the most? I might go that route.

I’m not worried about the typical concerns of reading out of order, like not understanding the plot. It’s clear that most authors embed recaps, some better than others, for the forgetful or blatantly non-linear readers. I figure that this time, those annoying recaps telling me what happened in the previous book won’t be so annoying anymore (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter).

I highly recommend tackling a series out of order if the following inclinations apply to you.

1. It’s a sequel or continuation of a popular movie/TV show and you dread the thought of backtracking. Don’t worry about bucking the numbers! No one is making you read in a particular order! It’s your free time, so pick up the story where it starts for you.

2. You have a feeling you might like a series, but the beginning sounds boring (for whatever reason). Why not pick up the book that does sound interesting? If the author recap isn’t good, there’s always Wikipedia.

3. It’s a long long series, and you can’t picture reading all of it. But you can picture reading Book #5…

4. You’re at the library/bookstore with a flight/beach trip/boring evening looming, and they don’t have the next book in the series in stock!!! NOO! But they do have some other books in the same series. Hmm….

If you’re still feeling guilty, consider that sometimes authors even write their books out of order. When I was a teenager, I read both The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, both EXCELLENT books. I read the Blue Sword first, and it happened to be published first too, in 1982. Later, I read the Hero and the Crown, the prequel to the Blue Sword, and was surprised to see it was published in 1985. (I didn’t read the books when they came out, so the dates were afterthoughts to me). There are times when authors write the story that moves them first, and I think it’s a good move for readers to follow their hearts too, even if it’s a zig-zaggy path.

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Good Brother, Bad Brother Stories

A few years ago I watched the anime Trigun, a story that centers around a man named Vash and his twin brother Knives. Unsurprisingly, one of the brothers was evil. I’ll leave you to guess which one…

I was laughing about this less-than-obvious name choice with a friend, when it occurred to me that the dearly departed TV show Lost involves a similar interpretation of brothers. One baby, Jacob, is born and wrapped in a nice white blanket. Then Jacob’s brother is born and wrapped in a foreshadowing black cloth. White-blanket baby becomes the illustrious protector of the island and black-blanket baby gets shafted with the role of Nemesis. Poor evil baby doesn’t even get a name.

Why do so many stories out there have a plot involving a good brother and an evil brother? Often these brothers are twins, but not always. In the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, good little Ender becomes the Battle School hero and saves the world, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, his older brother Peter’s hobbies include torturing animals and Ender.

I haven’t conducted a thorough survey here by any means, but by just recalling my own media consumption experiences it seems like the good brother/evil brother trope is quite common. Other examples include The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks (good twin/evil twin), the Bible (Cain/Abel and Jacob/Esau), The Man in the Iron Mask (good twin/evil twin), The Dragonlance series (good twin/evil twin), and The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (good brother/bad brother, although there’s a cool twist to that). Oh, and let’s not forget Dexter (Season 1 SPOILER), where, um, I suppose both brothers are serial killers but Dexter is most certainly the good serial killer. I’m sure there are plenty of others out there that I’m forgetting.

So, again, what’s the deal with all these good/evil brother pairings? I’m wondering why I can’t think of any good sister/evil sister stories, twins or otherwise. Can you think of any? Luke and Leia in Star Wars are boy/girl twins, and both good, so maybe girls just cancel out the evilness of boys? Seriously though, the good brother/evil brother tale seems entrenched in our storytelling, ancient as the Bible.

I wonder if it’s a vestige of the pre-feminist revolution days when mostly everything was by men and about men. But that explanation seems too shallow, too easy. We’ve had decent stories in recent memories with strong female protagonists, and some in the past too, so why not a slew of good sister/bad sister stories to keep pace with the boys? Or even more boy/girl twin stories?

Perhaps our modern brother stories are echoes of legend, of an archetype. But still, why are brothers handy personifications of good and evil and not sisters? I understand why women in legend are often earth goddess mother types. I get why ancient cultures were kind of freaked out by twins in general. Is the brother cliche a result of men’s higher rates of murder in society? Is it because men are typically more physical than women, and physicality equals violence equals death equals evil?

From the stories I’ve named, the brother trope seems to appear more frequently in speculative fiction than in the literary variety. Of course, I enjoy reading/watching speculative type things and have probably read more of such stories as a result, so my experience is biased.

I’m curious if anyone else has thoughts on this. Why are we drawn to brothers, and not sisters, who personify good and evil?

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Lost Ending: Emotion Over Mythology and a Pool of Glowy Light

The ideal Lost ending would have wrapped up the important religious mysteries, explained the sci-fi mysteries, thrown some philosophy in the mix, and delivered an emotionally compelling ending for the characters.

After watching Lost last night and re-hashing it today, it’s clear that we didn’t get the ideal ending. All of those things in my dreambag didn’t happen–Lost’s potential as a story ended up being too tall an order to fill for the writers. You can’t change TV once when it’s written and aired, unlike a book. So, rather than try to haphazardly do all the things I mentioned above, the writers focused on bringing all the characters together in an emotional tour de force. Forget about it making sense or anything.

And yet, I’m not angry at the ending. All season, Lost has killed off characters left and right, some in the most preposterous ways (was there any reason for Sayid to dive through the sub door in a suicide run with the bomb rather than just throw the thing through the door and shut it?). The writers were clearly going for emotional earlier in the season too, but previous deaths didn’t coax one tear from my eyes. I felt nothing for many of the “emotional” scenes early in Season Six. Even Sun and Jin dying failed to move me. Why? I’m not a cold-hearted troll. Many scenes were poorly written, for various reasons. Sun and Jin’s death suffered from terrible writing and didn’t even have the lovers speak their final words in Korean. Sun and Jin’s reunion inserted Frank Lapidus in the most ridiculous way. Illana picked up dyamite and just went kaboom, but she wasn’t a comic relief character like Artz, so it didn’t work. Etc. Etc. Lots of stuff didn’t work.

So, I essentially set my expectations for the finale to Low, and I was thrilled to experience an emotionally resonant ending. Few hokey lines, no random one liners, no plot-device-convenient deaths, and few expedient deaths either. The last few minutes, starting with Jack and Kate’s farewell kiss (Kate: Tell me I’m going to see you again. Jack:……) hit me hard, followed by the montage of flashbacks as key characters in the sideways universe remembered their island pasts. Juliet and Sawyer with the Apollo candy bar=excellent acting and writing. Jack realizing he’s dead in the sidewaysverse with Christian. The last scene brought the show full circle, with Jack stumbling to the bamboo patch, lying down with Vincent, watching the Ajira plane fly over, and then closing his eye.

So, putting myself into the shoes of the writer’s, I understand their strategy to focus on the characters’ emotional ending rather than construct a mythology-rich ending with a rushed pace and flat tone.

But, the series will ultimately disappoint many people because it used its complex mythology as a six-season red herring, forsaking it at the end in a hokey pool of light. Remember when Jacob said that the island was a cork that kept the evil from the world?

On a show that prided itself on quasi-philosophical leanings and intelligent fans, it seemed mighty cheap for Jack and Desmond to plug up a pool of glowy light with a LITERAL cork.

At least the island world didn’t turn out to all be a dream, right? For the writers out there, the message of Lost seems to be–if you screwed up the story, then go for the emotion instead. But emotion doesn’t trump story for everyone, not even for me. So, at best, the ending of Lost half-worked. The fans who were in it for the mystery and mythology were left in limbo, even as the characters processed into that shiny white light. Literally.

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Four Reasons Why Frank Lapidus’ One Liners Ruin Everything

Poor Frank Lapidus! One of Lost’s more likable (and sadly under-developed) characters has been subjected to some bad writing lately. I often look to TV shows for lessons on my regular writing. Lost has floored me with its creativity and skillful use of rule-breaking narrative devices like flashforwards and flash-sideways.

I’ve also been floored lately by some truly grimace-worthy one liners.

On the April 20th episode (slight spoilers if you read ahead), Frank is tagging along with the group as usual, looking all ragged and, to quote Sawyer, like “some guy who stepped off the set of a Burt Reynold’s movie.” At some point, the writers must have figured that, hey, Frank needs to talk or it’ll seem like we kept him alive and tagging along just to fill out the cast poster.

So, when the Losties are on the sailboat cruising to Hydra Island, the writers think ohmygod, we need to clear everyone off deck so Jack and Sawyer can have a private fight.

Cue Frank. Frank says (approximately) “Hey, I think there are some cans of food down below. I’m going to go get some.” And then everyone promptly follows him, orderly as a line of elementary school kids filing out the door for recess.

But the best one liner, the moment where the actor playing Frank must have cringed, came at the end of the episode, during Sun and Jin’s long-awaited reunion.  Some background:  Sun had previously lost her ability to speak English following an accident.  Obviously, she gets this ability back while the emotional music soars and she embraces Jin.  She says she loves Jin or something like that.

Cue Frank.  The camera pans to him and he says, with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “Looks like Sun finally got her voice back.”

Groan.  Yeah Frank.  Yeah.  I like hearing your husky voice and all, but that just made me crack up on the spot.

So, Lost has taught me that:

1.  The misplaced one-liner is even worse in many cases than the dreaded infodump.

2. Show, not tell.

3.  Don’t assume readers/viewers are stupid, especially in a show that caters to the obsessive wiki-creating crowd.

4. Make use of a potentially awesome character like Frank.  Leaving him to languish is a shame, but inserting him in scenes as an unnecessary element is even worse. It’s like Chekov’s writing advice–if there’s a gun on the wall in Act 1, it should be fired during Act 3. The gun shouldn’t be used to scratch someone’s back though, it should be fired.

Check out this forum on Game Faqs though for some re-imagination of Lost.  What if Frank Lapidus had been inserted into every key, heart-wrenching scene?  It’d be pretty hilarious.

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