Friday, August 04, 2017

Dietland Comes to TV, Obit for Sam Shepard, The Bear and the Nighingale by Katherine Arden, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhonda Belleza and Faith of the Fallen by Terry Goodkind

I remember reading Dietland, and I hope that some of the themes of fat and feminism come through in this production. I have to wait until next year to see it, but I am looking forward to it, especially in light of my own struggles with weight and self acceptance.

TV:  Dietland

AMC has made "a straight-to-series order" for Dietland
based on Sarai Walker's 2015 novel, Deadline reported. The 10-episode
series, a co-production of AMC Studios and Skydance Television, will
premiere in 2018. The network acquired Dietland from Marti Noxon
(UnReal) and Skydance TV last October, "putting it on a
straight-to-series track under its model that involves the opening of a
writers room and spending several months exploring a potential series
before a greenlight." Noxon, who served as a consulting producer on
AMC's hit series Mad Men, is executive producer, writer and showrunner.

"Day in and day out, we work to refine our search for unique voices and
never-before-seen worlds. It is in that context that we proudly bring
Marti Noxon back to AMC for the first time since her work on Mad Men,"
said Charlie Collier, president of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios. He
added that Dietland, "populated by unforgettable characters and unique
storytelling approaches, will focus a wickedly entertaining lens on
issues as diverse and divisive as dieting, dating, beauty and the many
societal expectations that continue to dominate our culture and
consciousness. We are so proud to be working with Marti, her team and
Skydance on this topical, funny, relevant and poignant story."

I was the lead female, Halley, in Sam Shepard's play "Buried Child" back in 1983, my senior year at Clarke College (now Clarke University). My theater class went to Chicago that year to see several Broadway plays/musicals, and Buried Child was among them. The professional version was very stale and boring, and the actors seemed wooden to us in comparison to all that we felt we were bringing to our production. While that seems like the hubris of the young, I somehow think that Shepard himself would have laughed if I would have told him that, if I'd ever had the chance to meet the man. I'd say RIP, but Shepard wasn't the type of man who liked peaceful endings.

Obituary Note: Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard
the celebrated playwright, actor, author, screenwriter and director,
died July 27, Broadway World reported. He was 73. Shepard is the author
of 44 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays and
memoirs. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play
Buried Child. Two of his other plays, True West and Fool for Love, were
nominated for a Pulitzer. He was an Oscar nominee for his portrayal of
Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, and received the PEN/Laura Pels
International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American
dramatist in 2009.

Shepard's books include Motel Chronicles, Cruising Paradise, Day out of
Days, Rolling Thunder Logbook, Great Dream of Heaven and Hawk Moon.

In a 2016 New York Times q&a, Shepard was asked if he felt he had
achieved something substantial
in his career. "Yes and no," he replied. "If you include the short
stories and all the other books and you mash them up with some plays and
stuff, then, yes, I've come at least close to what I'm shooting for. In
one individual piece, I'd say no. There are certainly some plays I like
better than others, but none that measure up."

In a tribute, New Yorker magazine theater critic John Lahr wrote
"Sam Shepard arrived in New York in 1963, at the age of nineteen, and
took the city by storm. He was funny, cool, detached. He found his
groove early--a cowboy mouth with matinee-idol looks. Shepard...
had an outsider's mojo and a cagey eye for the main chance. He quickly
became part of that newest American class: the hipoisie. He wrote
screenplays for Michelangelo Antonioni and songs with Patti Smith. He
hung with Bob Dylan. To the downtown New York theatre scene, he brought
news of the West, of myth and music. He didn't conform to the manners of
the day; he'd lived a life outside the classroom and conventional
book-learning. He was rogue energy with rock riffs. In his coded stories
of family abuse and addiction, he brought to the stage a different idiom
and a druggy, surreal lens. He also had the pulse of youth culture. He
understood the despair behind the protean transformations that the
culture was undergoing--the mutations of psychic and physical shape that
were necessary for Americans to survive the oppression of a nation at
war, both at home and abroad. Martians, cowboys and Indians, and rock
legends peopled Shepard's fantasies. He put that rage and rebellion
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a Russian fairy tale come to life, or at least rewritten in book form. I was expecting a beautifully rendered tale, and while this story is engrossing, there is little beauty about it. Stark, cold and brutal as the winter, Vasilisa is a powerful witch who can see and hear spirits and forest/water sprites and household elves and communicate with them from an early age. Unfortunately, her father remarries an insane young woman who can also see these spirits, but because she's religious, she considers them demons and is afraid of them. When a handsome priest comes to their village and resolves to rid it of demons and anyone who believes in them, things get ugly, and Vasilisa is caught in a terrible situation. Even though she's still a teenager, her father insists on marrying her off, and her hated stepmother can't wait to be rid of her, because the priest has come to fancy her, and stepmother is jealous, in addition to being crazy. Here is the blurb:
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales. School Library Journal: Reading Arden's debut novel is like listening to an entrancing tale spun out over nights in the best oral tradition. This mesmerizing fantasy takes place in medieval Russia, at a time when women had but two choices in life: serve their appointed husband by bearing his children and taking care of his household, or serve God in a convent. Vasilisa Petrovna refuses to do either. She has been a wild thing since birth, escaping her household duties to run free in the forest and conversing with spirits only she can see. But Vasilisa's behavior is taken in stride until a charismatic priest comes to her father's village, convincing his patronage that their custom of leaving offerings to curry favor from the spirits is sacrilege. Vasilisa knows that if this practice is stopped, the spirits will grow weak and be unable to defend the village when evil comes knocking. When first crops and then villagers begin to die, Vasilisa's unladylike behavior and refusal to follow the priest's teachings mark her as a witch in the villagers' eyes. But she is not the one who is bargaining with the devil. Vasilisa is a strong female protagonist whom teen girls will want to emulate. She knows her own mind and heart and refuses to succumb to societal expectations, and her beauty stems from self-confidence rather than physical appearance. Arden's lyrical writing will draw teens in and refuse to let them go. A spellbinding story that will linger with most readers far beyond the final page.
Though I didn't find the prose lyrical, per se, I did enjoy the myths and legends of the Russian medieval era, and it was heartening to read of a young woman who refuses to allow anyone to change her into a meek little brood mare who would have a strong chance of dying in childbirth, like her mother. She's confident enough to face down what others fear, and she makes her family accept that she will live her life on her own terms. Feminism is pretty rare in YA fiction, but it's seamlessly woven in here. That said, the plot was something of a labyrinth, and the horrific side of the legends was emphasized, so that there were a number of frightening things that happened in each chapter. Hence, this book might be a bit much for those under the age of 12, unless they're fairly mature and inured to death and mayhem. Still, I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to those who are interested in the myths, legends and fairy tales of Russia.

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhonda Belleza is a YA science fiction novel that I've had on my wish list for awhile now. Though it sounded like your basic "princess on the lamb, hiding from the evil forces set out to destroy her line and take the throne" YA dystopian fantasy, moving the whole scenario to space and other planets really intrigued me as an SF/F fan of over 50 years.What I was not expecting, and was delighted by, was the multi-ethnic struggle that was brought into the story by Aly, a Wraetan character who must deal with not only prejudice against his skin color, but also against his planet's entire culture and society. Through Rhee and Aly's eyes, we get a fuller picture of this dystopian universe and all the political and scientific machinations of the Regent's government. Here's the blurb:
Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.
Aly has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. But when he’s falsely accused of killing Rhee, he's forced to prove his innocence to save his reputation – and his life.
With planets on the brink of war, Rhee and Aly must confront a ruthless evil that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy.

Rhoda Belleza crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy in this exhilarating debut, perfect for readers of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles and Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman's Illuminae Files.
VOYA: Someone is eradicating the members of the Ta’an dynasty. “Half the beings in the galaxy want you dead,” a leader warns princess Rhiannan (Rhee) Ta’an, the last surviving family member. Until the day of her coronation as empress, Rhee thinks she knows her enemy. Suddenly, everything changes. In Empress Of A Thousand Skies, Rhee has a co-protagonist although she does not know it. Alyosha (Aly) is a pilot and star of the holo-vision, reality TV show “The Revolutionary Boys.” Aly grew up a war refugee from Wraeta and has secrets to keep. Both Rhee and Aly must fight to survive assassination and defamation. The third-person narration moves between Aly and Rhee in alternating chapters. Belleza’s science fiction story grips readers not just with the distinctive characters and twisty plots, but also with cool tech. Extending today’s use of cell phones with social media, GPS, and the Internet, people in Belleza’s world who can afford it are constantly online through their “memory cubes.” Each person’s cube, embedded in their brain, makes all memories available for recall, searching, and sharing. What if the cube be hacked? Can people spy on other people’s memories—or change them? Belleza’s believable future world includes ships jetting between planets, a smart-aleck android, and a medication that changes your DNA. She incorporates diverse religious practices and varying types of species from different planets, illustrating the variety of as well as the discrimination (such as fear of Wraetans) in her vast universe. Empress Of A Thousand Skies will compel fans of series such as Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicle; Victoria Aveyard’s The Red Queen; Beth Revis’s Across the Universe; and George Lucas’s Star Wars. Belleza’s exciting novel debut will make readers desperate for the next book to complete this duology. Reviewer: Amy Cummins
Though I didn't feel that there was much of a connection to Firefly, I did notice that the book had a similar feel to Marissa Meyer's Cinder and her other books in the Lunar Chronicles, though this novel had a plot that moved at breakneck speed with engrossing and engaging prose. It was the kind of page-turner that won't let you put the book down, because there's a cliffhanger in every chapter. I liked Rhee, but I loved Aly, and SPOILER, I found it delightful that he hooks up with Rhee's sister, who doesn't know who she really is until the end of the book. Rhee reminded me of Tris from Divergent, in that she refuses to give up, despite the odds being stacked against her. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who liked the Divergent series or the Hunger Games. 

Faith of the Fallen by Terry Goodkind is the 6th book in his "Sword of Truth" series, which spawned a TV show that I loved called "Legend of the Seeker." I recall reading the first four books in the series clearly, but I stopped reading midway through the 5th book, and, as it was a long time ago that I read them (back when my son Nick was still in elementary school), I didn't recall why I stopped short of Faith of the Fallen. Then one of my son's co-workers, who is a huge fan of this series of fantasy books, began telling my son about them and insisting that he start reading them. Because he knows I'm a bibliophile who has read many of the fantasy or science fiction series out there, Nick came to me and asked about Wizard's First Rule and the other books in the Sword of Truth series. I was at the closing of a bookstore 4 or 5 years ago, and they happened to have 8 of the books in paperback on sale, so I snapped them up, not knowing when or if I'd get back to them, but I couldn't turn down the opportunity to get them for such a low price.  So when I met the man (who goes by the nickname "Fat Wolverine," believe it or not), after picking up Nick from work one night, I explained to him that I stopped reading the 5th book because I believe it got to be fairly boring. He responded that while it was true that there were a couple of duds in the series, the 6th book, Faith of the Fallen, was his favorite, and he recommended that I just read the last couple of chapters of book 5, and then dive into Faith of the Fallen to read about his favorite character, Nicci, who it turns out is a complete psychopath and a terribly abused and wounded person besides. Though I love Kahlin and Richard, the main characters in the books, I also found the Mord-Sith assassins somewhat interesting, if a bit grotesque in their horrible training and commitment to killing and torture. What became apparent to me, in reading Faith of the Fallen, however, was that Goodkind had an agenda in writing these novels that was overtly political in nature. Several monologues and screeds in this book sound like they're taken directly from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, with a special emphasis on the falsehoods and fallacies of Christianity (or any organized religion, really) and the horrors of communism. Parts of the book also reminded me of Rand's "Anthem," which I read as a teenager, and The Fountainhead. In Goodkind's philosophy, religion = death, and only the individual's ability to use his talents in a capitalist society that values the talented worker over the poor and destitute, (who are labeled as disgusting, lazy thieves, murderers, rapists and general immoral scumbag parasites living off the sweat of the brow of good and decent hard working people), creates a sustainable society where things get done and people can thrive in a community. Communism creates nothing but corruption, despair and starvation and slavery.  Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: Sequel to Soul of the Fire in Goodkind's popular Sword of Truth series, this extended barrage of sword-swinging fantasy pits the New World's Seeker of Truth, Richard Rahl, and his wife, Mother Confessor Kahlen Amnell, against the lethal totalitarian forces of the Imperial Order under Jangang "the Just" and his gorgeous masochistic minion Nicci, aka Death's Mistress, a dreaded Sister of the Dark. After Richard helps a desperately wounded Kahlen heal in a mountain hideaway guarded by their ill-tempered blonde bombshell bodyguard, Cara, Nicci ensorcels Kahlen and forces Richard to abandon her for inhuman bondage in the Order-dominated Old World. Kahlen defies Richard's prophecy that arms alone will never defeat the Order. She takes command of the D'Haran army, hopelessly outnumbered against Jagang's black-magicked hordes who are invading the New World. Untangling all this gives Goodkind an ample canvas for enough disemboweling, spit roasting and miscellaneous mutilating of men, women and children to out-Sade the infamous marquis. His fans--and they are legion--will revel in vicarious berserker battle scenes and agonize deliciously as Richard, reduced to slavery by Nicci, toils to establish a bastion of capitalism in the cold gray heart of the Stalinesque Old World. All the ponderous sound and fury of Goodkind's attack on socialist-style do-gooders who are destroying the world, however, founders in a welter of improbable coincidences, heavy-handed humor and a disconcerting dependence on misusing the verb "smirk." For sheer volume of its Technicolor bloodbaths and its bathetic propagandistic bombast, this installment of Goodkind's fantasy saga makes an indelible impact; anyone who yearns for Goodkind is going to be in high clover. 
I really tried to like the book, but the constant horror of battle, death and mayhem turned my stomach. I also didn't really care for Goodkind's heavy-handed screeds against communism, though I realize that (as a history major in college who studied the various ways that communism functioned in our own world) communism in it's purest form doesn't really exist outside of a convent, and has only brought pain and death to the people in the countries where it's practiced, such as China and Russia, the former USSR. There was also a pervasive thread of sexism in this book, in which the women were seen to need protection, and their highest goal was marriage and children, though both Kahlin and Cara the Mord-Sith lead lives outside of that paradigm.  Also, there are no fat people in Goodkind's world, nor are there people of color or disabled people, but then, there is also no compassion for the disabled or the elderly who can no longer care for themselves. Unless you are a skinny old wizard or witch with powers to help you with battles and soforth, I gather you die in a ditch somewhere, because unless  you can work, you are no longer valuable as a member of society. I found Goodkind's prose to be sometimes simplistic and sometimes rife with hyperbole, and his plot comes to a screeching halt every time he has Richard drone on about the wonders of individualism. That said, the book was engrossing, though I felt it needed a good editor to trim at least 200 pages of redundancy from it. I'd give it a B-, and only recommend it to rabid Goodkind fans, who are doubtless boys/men.

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