Thursday, February 24, 2011

Top 5 Evil Dragons

As I've mentioned on previous occasions, dragons have always been my favourite creatures in speculative fiction. With these fire-breathing terrors being once again top-of-mind with my recent review of the movie The Flight of Dragons, I thought they'd be a good subject of this edition of the weakly list.

While the fantasy genre (and to a lesser extent, science fiction) does have its share of good dragons, it's the evil ones that tend to be most memorable. Maybe it's because they display more intelligence in hatching their wicked schemes. Maybe it's because they've got bigger hoards (and, let's face it, when you're talking about piles of gold and other assorted treasure, size does matter). Maybe it's because they've got better dialogue (really, isn't it more satisfying to hear one roar "Puny scum!" than something soft like "Yes, I understand, that's a very good decision choosing lilac over key lime to paint your sitting room."). Or maybe it's sheer flashiness: there's nothing as visually stunning as a huge dragon wreaking havoc on its victims with blasts of fire, chomping of teeth, slashing and crushing of claws, and slamming of tail. The bad guys command respect.

For the purposes of this list, it's important to spell-out some disqualifications I've made.

Firstly, by "evil dragons", I mean dragons that are intelligent and have consciously made a decision that doing harm to other creatures is something they will pursue, with enjoyment, as a profession or hobby beyond their life-sustaining requirements. This rules-out dragons (whether they're intelligent or animalistic) like Vermithrax in Disney's Dragonslayer, or the monsters in Reign of Fire, or the hatching that grows out of control in Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's "The Dragon of Tollin" (in Greenberg & Yolen's anthology After the King) who devour and destroy simply as a matter of survival, and beyond that don't care about the affairs of other beings as long as they're left alone. This also includes the dragon in the original Old English poem "Beowulf", who seems indifferent to humans until a man steals a cup from his hoard, and then begins his rampage to get his property back and exact revenge. Eating and protecting one's territory isn't necessarily evil, though it may be unpleasant for those who get in the way of these top predators.

Secondly, I'm disqualifying dragons that aren't really dragons - ones that either started off as some other kind of creature, or ones where it isn't clear whether they're dragons taking the form of humans or humans taking the form of dragons for convenience. That rules out Fafnir of the Norse/Germanic legends (and it pained me to disqualify him, because Fafnir is clearly the inspiration for many of the dragons in the Western tradition, especially in modern fantasy) because originally he's a dwarf who runs off with a pile of treasure and sulks alone in the wilderness until his greed transforms him into a dragon. It also disqualifies the evil queen in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I'm also leaving out the dragon in the recent animated movie Beowulf because he takes the form both of man and dragon, and being the son of a human and a demon, it's tough to know what his actual form is, or whether form matters to him. Likewise, Beowulf's dragon in Parke Godwin's fabulous novel The Tower of Beowulf starts off as a man transformed into a monster by greed, much like Fafnir.

So having divided our horde of dragons like different coins in a hoard, I give you

The Top 5 Evil Dragons:

5) Bryagh (from Gordon R Dickson's novel The Dragon and the George and the Rankin/Bass movie The Flight of Dragons)
In the original Dickson novel, Bryagh was more of a thug than anything. He began as the big bully in the flight that the good dragons, Gorbash and Smrgol, were members of and only really became evil at the end of the book when he was mustered by unseen dark powers to protect their fortress against the story's protagonists. In the movie, Bryagh (in the picture at the top of the post) is a real power to be reckoned with. True, the red wizard Ommadon is the emperor in the realm of evil, but the dragon Bryagh acts as his Darth Vader (Interesting, since Ommadon was voiced by Vader himself, James Earl Jones. Bryagh was voiced by James Gregory.), enforcing the sorcerer's rule but acting as a significant terror in his own right. Bryagh is dispatched to kidnap a man brought back in time to help save the world from evil, and when it looks like this might fail, the dragon is quite content to drop the man mid-flight in hopes that he'll crash and die. At the climax of the movie, Bryagh kills nearly all of the heroes, taking pleasure in taunting them as he smashes or roasts them, before he's eventually brought down. And if that's not enough, he even takes pleasure in eating the eggs of other dragons. This huge monster is wicked in the extreme.

4) Lien (from Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels)
Once a powerful member of the Chinese imperial court (in Novik's China, dragons are considered full citizens and equal to humans - unlike their Western counterparts, who are treated merely as clever livestock - and members of the rare Celestial breed like Lien are considered part of the royal family), Lien is intelligent, strong and driven. Perhaps her cruelty is partially due to the fact that she was always somewhat ostracized because she is an albino, her whiteness being the colour of death in Chinese superstition. But she also allied herself with a scheming lesser prince who had designs on the throne, and when his plot failed and he died, Lien went into exile and vowed revenge against the English-raised Celestial dragon Temeraire and his human companion Lawrence who had foiled the plan. But it's not enough for Lien simply to want Temeraire and Lawrence to die. She becomes so driven in her desire for revenge that she flies across the world to ally herself with Napoleon to help him conquer the world. By assisting the French emperor in his attempts to crush Britain, Lien hopes to make her nemeses suffer. Lending her own intelligence and Chinese learning to Napoleon's military, as well as own considerable strength, Lien helps the French air corps crush all opposition on the continent and secures a beachhead for an invasion force to land in Britain. She even uses her "divine wind" (an ability of the Celestial breed to generate a powerful sonic blast) to create a tidal wave to destroy many of Admiral Nelson's ships in a battle in the English Channel. That's a huge amount of overkill in pursuit of revenge, and certainly ranks Lien highly among the most evil dragons. What's more, that probably isn't the last from her. While Napoleon's army is forced off of Britain and Lien retreats, I think it's likely that she'll be back to cause more harm in some future novel.

3) Smaug (from JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit)
Going by nicknames like "the Golden" and "the Magnificent", Smaug is one of the great winged dragons of Middle Earth. He's also responsible for a huge amount of bloodshed. In taking over the Lonely Mountain, Smaug slaughtered most of an entire nation of dwarves, with the survivors being forced to flee to the homes of their cousins in the Iron Mountains or to live in the wilderness. He's also pillaged and killed in the elven kingdom of Mirkwood and in the human nations of Dale and the Long Lake. The fact that he's fairly old means he's probably guilty of a fair number of other atrocities farther back in history that weren't documented like the genocide described in The Hobbit, and so it's my guess that his crimes probably outweigh those of Lien. The only thing that put a stop to the dragon's depredations, and specifically his last angry rampage when Bilbo stole the Arkenstone from his hoard, was a good shot by Bard the Bowman, who managed to put an arrow through a weak spot in Smaug's armor.

2) Nomote (from Alan Dean Foster's "Lethal Perspective" in Greenberg & Greenberg's anthology Dragon Fantastic)
He may only be the size of a small hummingbird, but Nomote is responsible for causing suffering and death on a scale that most dragons can only dream of. Every so often throughout the ages, the last surviving dragons gather in a secret cavern in the Himalayas and brag about their wicked deeds. The one who has inflicted the most harm is given a golden chalice and named their leader. At the gathering in the current era, as the great wyrms go through the litany of disasters they've recently caused, they're disturbed when this tiny cousin enters and claims victory. At first they scoff. But all bow when he tells them that he's responsible for causing addiction and lighting a person's first cigarette. Sometimes it's the smallest fires that do the most damage to a village.

1) Glaurung (from JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion)
It's almost not fair to include two of Tolkien's dragons in the top 5 of the entire genre, but he was just so good at creating them. The most evil of all the evil dragons I've encountered in books, TV or movies over the years is, without a doubt, Glaurung. In the history of Middle Earth, Glaurung is the Father of Dragons, the first dragon bred by the evil god Morgoth. In the great battles outside of Morgoth's fortress of Angband in the north in the First Age, Glaurung was an ultimate weapon, turning the tide of battle against the forces of men and elves until he was wounded by a dwarf king (who he managed to kill in his thrashing around, thereby forcing the dwarven army to withdraw to bury their leader, giving the forces of evil a chance to rally). Later he led a whole group of dragons in another battle, again driving the men and elves back. This wingless wyrm then led a goblin army out to destroy the elven city of Nargothrond, killing or enslaving everyone. But that's not enough: Glaurung likes to torment his prey from time to time. He puts a spell on the human warrior Turin, making him see the worst in himself. Glaurung holds Turin enchanted while goblins drag off the man's elvish girlfriend, then taunts him afterwards, telling him that if he tries to save her then he won't be able to save his mother or sister. The dragon then captures Turin's sister and casts a spell making her forget her identity and past; she eventually meets Turin, who doesn't recognize her when she's grown, and they marry. When Turin eventually meets Glaurung again and fatally wounds him, the dying dragon's last act of cruelty is to take the amnesia spell off of Turin's sister, causing her to realize with horror that she's married her brother; this drives the young woman to kill herself. A dragon that would use its dying breath just to mess with someone's mind one last time, to cause one last death that will make others suffer with grief, is truly the most evil of all. On this list of dragons, Glaurung takes the gold.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Flight of Dragons Ages Well

Animated kids' movies are like pizza: the best are the ones that age well. In the case of a 'pie, if it's as good or better when eaten cold the next day, you know you've got a thing of beauty. If a film's enjoyable in a decade or two once you've grown up (or at least aged, if not grown up at heart), then it's a keeper.

The Flight of Dragons falls into this category - as a thing of quality, that is, not something dripping with cheese.

Originally produced by Rankin/Bass in 1982 and aired on TV instead of in movie theatres, the story is based very loosely on Gordon R. Dickson's 1976 novel The Dragon and the George, about a 20th Century man who's magically transported to the past and has to embark with a group of companions on a quest against evil, while also having to deal with the fact that he's accidentally been put into the body of a dragon. The film's title, opening credits, and even some lines of dialogue (not to mention the main character's name) give more status though to Peter Dickenson's non-fiction book The Flight of Dragons, which endeavoured to describe how dragons would have been able to have their extraordinary abilities if they'd actually existed. But really, as far as Dickenson's contribution goes, the inner workings of dragons are summed up in about 5 minutes or so in a scene or two, while the story itself, though significantly altered, owes far more to GRD.

As a kid, all it took was the word "dragon" in the title (dragons were - and still are - my favourite critters) and the promise of adventure and this flick had me. And it didn't disappoint. There were dragons aplenty, knights, wizards, ogres, princesses and a desperate struggle to save the world and find a way for magic to co-exist with the growing reality of logic and science.

But as good as it was, over the years, The Flight of Dragons was shown less frequently. By the 90's, it was as good as gone. Sure, some channels would occasionally run older animated features like The Last Unicorn, but it was as though TFOD had faded into its realm of magic and had been forgotten.

Every now and again it came up in discussions with friends when we reminisced about our childhood favourites. But since there was never any sign of it on the videotape and later DVD shelves in entertainment stores, it was never something I gave much thought. Not too long ago though, I found a few minutes of footage on Youtube, and my interest was rekindled. I was pleased to find it on Amazon and got a copy on DVD last week.

And I have to say, as an adult, I think TFOD is still pretty entertaining.

Admittedly, it's not perfect. Some of the dialogue is a little corny at times (especially what was written for the late John Ritter as the voice of the protagonist, Peter), and there's a bit in the beginning where a gaggle of asshole millers has a whole assortment of different accents. The animation may be primitive by today's standards, but it was pretty good for '82 and is still good enough in my books. And there's the difficulty with the plot around the character of Aragh the wolf. Aragh begins his part of the movie dead, made into some sort of revenant by a good wizard to save the heroes from a hoard of monsters that no living creature can withstand. In exchange for his good deed, the wizard restores life to Aragh. But there are still many lethal challenges facing the heroes, begging the question: wouldn't it have been smarter to leave the wolf undead until all the evil badguys in their path were defeated and victory had been achieved? Isn't an undead wolf a far more powerful weapon against ogres and giant worms and evil wizards than a live one? It's the sort of question people ask about The Lord of the Rings and any other story where the dead rise to fight for good. Aren't they the ultimate weapon, since they're already dead? And if so, why would you stop using them after one engagement? With Aragh, there's no formal explanation, although I always got the feeling it was something of a fair bargain issue: a life for a life. It's also a little unsettling in the beginning when the good "green" wizard Carolinus is extolling magic's ability to inspire man to do better, greater things, and in his example lists dragon's hide as prompting the development of weapons of war like armour and tanks. Not so "good" results of influence by magic.

Regardless, there's a lot about The Flight of Dragons that works. It's a straight-forward quest story that's well put together and is consistently logical (pun intended, given the story's theme of logic versus magic) within the world it creates. There are plenty of good fight sequences like the rollicking aside when Sir Orrin Neville Smythe recounts his previous battle with the evil dragon Bryagh, or when Peter and his dragon mentor, old Smrgol, face off against the ogre of Gormley Keep. Along the way it also serves-up plenty of humour, with scenes where the dragons shake-down dwarves for jewels, or where they get drunk in the vaults beneath an inn.

It's a fairly smart movie as well, with the afore-mentioned explanations (as the man Peter is getting used to being in the body of the young dragon Gorbash) of how dragons breathe fire, why they covet gold, and how a creature that large can fly. And Carolinus' statement about evil being a natural part of the world was a good way of not only introducing the red wizard, Ommadon, but also of explaining why the green wizard and their other brothers had to initially try to include him in their plan to create a magical haven, thus accounting for how the enemy found out about it and why he wanted to stop it. Further, the realizations of Carolinus and the wizards Solarius and Lo Tae Zhao that their magic is failing, and the plot device of having the forces of antiquity "forbidding the four magic brothers from warring on one-another" (introduced after the wizards' failed meeting) neatly explains why the quest of Peter and his friends is necessary in the first place, and why the three good wizards can't just get it over with and gang up on Ommadon to end things quickly. Then there's Peter's battle with Ommadon at the end. It might have been sufficient to take the piss out of the bad guy by having Peter simply state that he was a man of science and that he denied magic. But the writers take things a step further, and while the red wizard mumbles incantations and attempts to summon a roster of foul creatures, Peter counters by rattling-off physics and mathematical equations and a litany of branches of scientific study, thereby making the scene far more powerful and driving home the point that science is just as broad and all-encompassing as magic, but also that it's logical and can be learned by anyone and doesn't require powers other than intelligence and curiosity. And I was impressed by a small, clever addition in the scene where Peter and Sir Orrin try to withstand the insanity-inducing noise of the sandmirks by singing: instead of making something up, the writers draw from real Middle English poetry and have the knight sing "The Cuckoo Song", which subtly reinforces that this adventure is supposed to be taking place sometime around the 10th Century (as Carolinus mentions near the beginning).

There are plenty of enjoyable characters too. They're all the better because the writers ensure that they're consistent with who and what they are. The dragons, even the good ones, still behave like dragons and have no qualms about bullying dwarves into giving up their jewels, steal cattle from innocent farmers, or deciding to burn down mills and potentially kill the millers if they cross the dragons' friends. It adds realism to them that makes them three-dimensional characters. Of all the characters, old Smrgol the dragon has always been my favourite. He's good-natured, if a bit prickly at times and is the mentor who has to teach Peter how to be a dragon and guide him through most of the journey to Ommadon's realm. I'll freely admit that I still get a little choked-up when Smrgol dies along the way. Sir Orrin the knight is another well-rounded character. Sure, he's the knight in shining armor, but he's not as young as he used to be. He's a brave warrior who's a force to be reckoned with in a fight, but he also boasts and when he's drunk he gets alternately maudlin and loud and combative. And, of course, we can't forget the bad guy: Ommadon. James Earl Jones does a terrific job with the voiceover for the red wizard, making him alternately lowly menacing and loudly maniacal in a way that's just close to over-the-top, but not beyond it, to be sometimes more frightening than his performances as Darth Vader and Thulsa Doom. It's also a credit to the film's writers that there's diversity among the characters. Not merely in the simple way of having dragons, elves and animals among the heroes. But more importantly, ensuring that the "good guys" aren't all white men. While Princess Melisande doesn't really play much of an active role in the quest, the band of heroes does include a woman, Danielle of the Woodlands, an unmatched archer who knows how to put a gang of elves in their place and is quite prepared to face-down a raging dragon. As for the three good magic brothers (I'm not sure we can count Ommadon in a diversity poll because he's so obviously not human), while Cornelius is white, Solarius is black, and Lo Tae Zhao is Asian.

What's also very important about The Flight of Dragons is that the writers don't pull any punches. This is a quest to save the world from evil, a serious struggle that means life-and-death, and doesn't just give lip-service to the term. People/characters die in this movie. That wasn't quite so much of a big deal back in '82 because filmmakers, even those producing movies aimed at child audiences (including Disney), recognized that for a story to have weight and meaning, there had to be consequences, and that meant that if there was real danger then not every character (and not just the bad guys, but the good guys too) would survive. Nowadays though, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a children's movie where one of the heroes is killed. Even the death of bystanders is unusual. But death is a very real fact in TFOD. As mentioned before, Aragh the wolf starts the adventure dead. An innocent bystander, the innkeeper, is killed when the ogre of Gormley Keep attacks a tavern in the night. Old Smrgol dies fighting the ogre - and killing it. And when Ommadon unleashes his terrible dragon Bryagh to deal with the heroes, the carnage is near-total: Danielle, the elf, and Aragh are all killed in fairly short order. Sir Orrin is critically injured and manages to kill Bryagh before he also dies. Only Peter survives. Granted, Danielle, the elf, Aragh and Sir Orrin are all revived when Peter defeats Ommadon and the magic realm is created, but that doesn't change the fact that the audience has had to watch them be killed. And, even though everyone else comes back, Smrgol remains dead. As well, there's a price for Peter's victory. In denying magic to beat Ommadon, he has severed himself from the magic realm and must return to the future, never to see his friends again (with the exception of Princess Melisande, who, having fallen in love with Peter, journeys to the future to be with him). And, of course, there's the realization for the audience that even though Ommadon was defeated, much of the destruction he was hoping to accomplish and the terrible inventions that he wanted to inspire happened anyway.

Bearing all of this in mind, one has to ask is The Flight of Dragons a movie for children? Yes, in that it's a good, entertaining story that doesn't talk down to them, but shows them that there are consequences for decisions and actions, and also that there's a high value to bravery, friendship, love and hope, and that even in a world that's necessarily of science, we can create a little magic sometimes. But it's also a movie that has the smarts to work for adults. And so it's my hope that The Flight of Dragons may experience a bit of a revival in the future and regain an audience that will appreciate it as a soaring feat of imagination.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another Great Nerdy Songstress

Nerdiness is the new chic for up and coming singer-entertainers - at least for young women posting their performances to Youtube. The latest is Victoria, BC's Amy Lee Radigan (way to go, Island girl!) who's hitting it big with her song "Nerdy Girls Need Love Too". A friend and fellow geek sent me the link the other day. It's got a folksy sound to it, but it's funny and full of references to Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory and other pillars of geekdom and is certainly worth listening to.

Apparently the video came to the attention of author Neil Gaiman (Radigan's holding a copy of Gaiman's The Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes in one shot), who then tweeted about it, included a link, and called it "ridiculously sweet". There's a more flushed-out story on Radigan's sudden appearnce in the spotlight in a recent issue of the Vancouver Sun.

This newest SF chanteuse follows in the footsteps of Rachel Bloom, whose hilariously raunchy "Fuck Me Ray Bradbury" exploded onto the scene last summer (and eventually earned her an audience with the old master himself).

My only question (and this applies to both Radigan and Bloom): does this stuff count as filk, or is it something else?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Top 5 SF Couples Who Are Overdue for a Valentine's Day Kiss

With Valentine's Day having just concluded, I thought it would be appropriate to put a little romance into the Weakly List. But rather than look at SF couples who have set the standard for great romances, like Sheridan and Delenn, Han and Leia, Adama and Roslin, Aragorn and Arwen, or Mr Universe and his lovebot, I thought it would be more interesting to look at the couples that should have a relationship. These are the ones who, for one reason or another, haven't broken the sexual tension yet, or worked up the courage to open their hearts, or realized their true feelings for one-another, or finally understood that the other person isn't a just a complete pain in the ass but really the love of their life. They're the couples who, if they ever did get together, would prompt fans to say "Well, it's about time!"

And so, with hearts and flowers and chocolates aplenty and love-theme music gushing in the background, I give you

The Top 5 SF Couples Who Are Overdue for a Valentine's Day Kiss:

5) Todd & Jenny (from Todd and the Book of Pure Evil)
As burgeoning highschool romances (or non-romances, as the case may be) go, Todd and Jenny's has it's share of obstacles. Not only is Jenny aloof even though Todd is clearly smitten with her, there's the problem of their school being the centre for evil supernatural activity that they're forced to deal with on a regular basis, which takes up a lot of spare time that would normally be devoted to adolescent melodrama and making-out. It doesn't help either that stoner metalhead Todd, as good-hearted as he is, may be the destroyer of worlds. And yet there's hope for these two crazy kids. Todd has demonstrated that he loves Jenny pretty much unconditionally and is willing to accept her for who she is, regardless of whether she's in her usual frame of mind, or whether she's been put under a spell and forced into a romance with an obsessive girl with an evil twin or with a basketball player possessed by the spirit of a 1950's auto wreck victim, or whether she's been cursed to increase her weight by a factor of ten. And, encouragingly, as we saw in the fat episode, Jenny has (grudgingly) taken notice of this and there seems to be a hope, however dim, that she may someday break down and give Todd a chance. So I say "Get it over with! Kiss the poor bastard!" and maybe, if the satanic cult doesn't bring an end to the world, they may live happily ever after - or at least until Jenny gets tired of Todd getting wasted and eating corn chips with his sidekick Curtis every night.

4) Lister & Kochanski (from Red Dwarf)
From the first day Dave Lister came aboard the Red Dwarf and laid eyes on Kristine Kochanski, he was head-over-heels in love with her. Three million years in stasis for Lister and Kochanski's death (along with the rest of the crew) couldn't diminish those feelings either. Lister even incorporated her into his life goal of returning to Earth and setting up a hotdog stand on Fiji. And, courtesy of a run-in with an alternate universe near-duplicate of the "Short Rouge One", Lister did eventually get Kochanski back. Problem was, she was in love with his alternate universe double, and didn't have much use for this universe's good-hearted slob. My memory of the middle seasons is pretty fuzzy, so I'm not entirely certain, but I've got a feeling that Kochanski never really gave Lister a chance, and we're told at the beginning of series 9 that she'd finally got fed up with him and the other "Boys from the 'Dwarf" and left the ship in one of its smaller craft. And yet the early seasons did contain a time-jump episode where Lister ran into a future version of himself, happily shacked-up with Kochanski. So it appears that eventually she does give him a chance. It's just that we, as the audience, haven't seen it yet. Never-the-less, it's gotta be a long, lonely wait for Lister to get to that point in time, so I say it's high time for Kochanski to realize what a great guy Lister really is. I say it's time that Lister got his Valentine's Day kiss from the woman he'd cross time and the universe for.

3) R2D2 & C3P0 (from the Star Wars saga)
They may have been manufactured long ago in a galaxy far, far away, but it's the 21st Century - time for these two droids to come out of the closet and show their true feelings for one-another. Really, R2 and 3P0 may be kidding themselves, but they're not kidding anyone else. Since their initial meet-up on Tatooine, the robots have been pretty much inseparable. When they're in the same room together, they're always close. Very close. It's not uncommon for 3P0 to have a hand near or on R2's dome. They're always fondly bickering like some old couple, and while 3P0 may storm off into the desert after a tiff, they're always ecstatic to be reunited. R2's always there to put old Goldenrod back together after some mishap. And when R2 takes a hit for the hometeam, it's not the human heroes who worry about him (hell, looking at their reactions, none of the Rebel heroes gives a shit about how much damage the little guy has taken and whether he'll recover), it's 3P0, who's quick to offer his own parts to save the astromech. I don't know whether droids would kiss or not on Valentine's Day. Might be a problem seeing as how R2 doesn't appear to have lips, much less a mouth. But maybe they'd interface with R2's data jack or something (now there's a rather risque image!). At any rate, R2 and 3P0 really need to get on with it and express their love for one another, and Valentine's Day is as good a time as any.

2) Mal & Inara (from Firefly/Serenity)
One Firefly's central sources of conflict is that of the captain and the companion aboard the ship as they struggle against the sexual tension between them that's thicker than Jayne's head. Arguments and insults are more frequent than attacks by the Alliance, Mal gets jealous when he sees Inara with clients and she is deeply hurt when he has a brief romance with a friend of hers. All of this eventually prompts Inara to leave the freighter, although she ultimately returns during the events of the movie Serenity and ends up staying-on again, much to Mal's satisfaction. Watching these two spar, the viewer knows it's only a matter of time until their explosive relationship is fully realized as an open romance, and yet because Whedon keeps stringing it along again and again, we're put in the same position as the rest of the crew of Serenity who see the relationship for what it is and sit on the sidelines in exasperation waiting for Mal and Inara to finally get it over with. Really, these two need to have a serious Valentine's Day kiss before they kill each other.

1) Ivanova & Marcus (from Bablyon 5)
The ultimate in tragic romances. All Marcus ever wanted was for Susan to care for him as much as he loved her. But despite the obviousness of his feelings, Ivanova, a victim of her own jadedness after a lifetime of romantic disappointments, doesn't allow herself to feel anything for him and returns his kindness and humour (usually) with disdain. Finally, once the ranger has given his life to save hers, Ivanova is forced to acknowledge the depth of his feelings, to admit she deliberately passed up a chance at happiness, and to come to terms with the fact that deep down she cared for him too, and she is nearly crushed by these realizations. Ivanova lives out the rest of her life successful in her careers in Earth Force and later the Rangers, but carries the constant burden of the lost opportunity with Marcus. It's a tragedy that's written and performed so well that it's almost as hard for the viewer to bear as the characters. If there's any consolation, it's that series creator J Michael Straczynski mentioned on one of the DVD collection commentary tracks that he eventually wrote a short story (haven't read it myself yet) taking place many years after the events of B5 where Marcus is eventually revived and Ivanova (now long dead) is cloned, and the two are finally able to build a life together on a distant world. Because of that, I hope for Marcus and Ivanova that there's something like Valentine's Day on that world where they could eventually enjoy a long overdue kiss.

Okay, before everyone starts with the "Hey, wait a minute! You left out..." I'll admit there's an absence of literary characters on this list. That's because as I looked through my horde of books, I couldn't find any examples of couples who should be together but who hadn't committed yet. Nor did any examples spring to mind when I sat down and thought about all the books I've read that aren't on my shelves. If there are any you can think of, by all means let me know and we'll put them in the "should have included" pile. Any more examples from TV and film that should be on the list? Let me know and we'll throw them in on the comments board too!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Look, Same Babble

It's been nearly two months since my last post and while it might seem like I'd fallen off the face of the Earth (and some may have hoped so), it was only a bit of a break. Partially spur-of-the-moment, part planned, part victim of circumstance.

I'd decided to take a week or two off during the holidays, what with family and friends visiting and the usual run-around, which is pretty much to be expected (Belated "Happy New Year" to everyone, by the way). Bit of a repeat later for Chinese New Year (Again, "Gung hei fat choi" to all of you). And, of course, I made lots of time for reading.

Then there was a recent, vicious bout of bronchitis that lasted several weeks (Note to anyone who may be sick: it's really, really not a good idea to read Arkham Asylum for the first time when you're burning a high fever and it's midnight after you've just watched a story on the evening news, complete with gory details, about the cruel butchering of sled dogs. Trust me.) which sapped me of all motivation to do anything besides read, watch TV, sleep, and ponder just how much goo a human respiratory system can hold before it explodes. The timing for this was especially annoying because I had to miss a screening of Big Trouble in Little China (timed for Chinese New Year no less! "Indeed!") at one of the big theatres downtown that was part of a national film festival sponsored in part by Space (which also included Alien, Aliens, LOTR, Predator, and The Goonies, among others). Being forced to take a pass on Wang and Jack on the big screen will give you an idea of just how bad this bug was. That being said, I'm mostly better now. Mostly.

And I wanted to take some time to recharge - give a little thought to some of the stuff I wanted to talk about here on bloginhood this year, give myself a bit of a kick in the ass about doing more book reviews (I've been Tweeting about the books I've devoured, but over the past year or so I'll admit I've been remiss about doing in-depth reviews here on the blog), give some time to brainstorm some new list ideas, and to give some thought to a bit of a renovation of the blog.

The old Parchment template I'd started with when I first launched was okay, but I've been growing tired of it for a little while. For the past several evenings I've been on Blogger's design page playing around with template options. While this ensemble certainly isn't the be-all and end-all, I think it looks a bit better, brings some of the side features to the forefront, and better reflects the subject matter of the blog. I hope all of you enjoy it.