Austerlitz – W.G. Sebald

Modern Library

It’s like a novelistic version of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil,
said Jon, which was good enough recommendation for me. However my experience of Austerlitz is really a tale of two readings. The first half was unwisely choosing to read the book at home, at night, as my bedside reading. For a novel that rambles, stream-o-conch’ like through various stories and ages, with very few fullstops and no chapters, this was a poor choice for the late night read. It defeated my poor brain at every turn. Once I finished “Getting Things Done” at work, I brought in Sebold’s book and on breaks got into the second half and was done in days. The second half, coincidentally or not, is where the rough edges of a plot begin, and where the novel becomes less experimental.
The title character is a wandering eccentric, who makes friends with the narrator, and whose stories and search for his vanished history take over the book, such as what happens in Heart of Darkness. Austerlitz discovers later in his childhood that he was spirited out of Nazi Europe by the Kindertransport, to be adopted by a Welsh family. Years later he goes looking for clues to his parents by retracing the transport route back. It’s a journey into an old Europe of evocative places and place names, and the empty center for those who want to go looking for history after it has been annihilated. There are no conclusions, only infinite possibilities.
By the end I was rather underwhelmed by it all, as it ends on such an uncertain note. But I did like this passage on time:

And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak?

Why yes, it most probably is…

Ocean’s 11

Dir: Stephen Soderbergh
Haven’t watched much these days,
as I’m editing (or thinking about editing) this music video, but the missus insisted we watch this film as the plane she was on a week or so ago landed before the film finished. (In an even stranger example of bad planning, they showed Ocean’s 12 first. The original Rat Pack vehicle is overrated to start with, going downhill after the excellent Saul Bass title sequence. Lazy plotting, turn-up-and-goof performances, and Sammy Davis Jr. relegated to “working negro” status all make the film ordinary at best, but its reputation has been resurrected, I believe, by viewers nostalgic for the era of their fathers, with Sinatra standing in for Daddy.
Oh well. Sodenberg’s remake is equally slapdash, but big, bloated, glossy. I like all these actors here: Clooney, Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, but what are they doing? Slumming, looking grumpy or blank, with not many memorable lines to utter or laughs to gain. Pitt especially, whose character is solely defined by his proximity (friendship?) to Clooney’s “Ocean”. And watching Carl Reiner waste his time was sad, after not having seen him on the screen for ages. Maybe only Elliot Gould seems to be having fun. Compared to this, the remake of The Italian Job, dumb though it may be, at least breathed on the screen. This is as airless as a bank vault.

Jumper – Steven Gould

TOR Books

Gould’s book takes a sci-fi premise–teleportation–and throws it into a coming-of-age story for young adults.
This got highly recommended by someone on BoingBoing, and being YAF (Young Adult Fiction) promised a quick read.
Davy Rice learns he has the talent to “jump” to locations he’s been before one night when he flinches from his father’s drunken, physical abuse. He pops up in the safety of the school library. He does so again when he runs away from home and nearly gets raped by a truck driver. From these grim beginnings, we follow Davy as learns the limitations and benefits of his powers, but most importantly tries to seek “closure” (eek) over his abusive dad and his absent mom.
I have to say I was ready for the sci-fi, but wasn’t prepared for the touchy-feely psychobabble. Davy spends quite a lot of the book crying, weeping, and blubbering. Even more amazing, he hooks up with an older woman called Millie (older as in college student), who becomes his shoulder to cry on, and is so well-adjusted she’s like a cut-rate family counselor (and the voice of the author). Now, that’s some sci-fi! The more the tears roll down his face the more she wants to sleep with him. Don’t try this at home, kids.
The first half of the book is all logistics, as Davy funds himself by robbing a bank, creating a little safe house apartment in NYC, then gradually extending his knowledge of places (he can’t teleport to places he hasn’t visited). He gets revenge on Daddy Dearest by making him believe his son’s a ghost, a similar tactic he does to the truck-drivin’ rapist. He makes amends with Mom, just before she is blown up by a terrorist (!), spinning us into the book’s second half, a riff on “with great power comes great responsibility.” The NSA want to know who this teleporting kid is, and how he’s able to get onto planes and subdue terrorists. Davy has a special desert oasis hideout where he brings his vanquished foes, dropping them from 50 feet in the air into the water. Also on his tail is Brian Cox (who hopefully will be played in the film, if they ever make it, by Brian Cox) his nemesis at the NSA. By the end of the book, Davy confronts all three father figures (Dad, terrorist, and agent) and Gould does a good job wrapping everything up without a shootout or a speech (those come early, usually from Millie).
I enjoyed the novel for what it was, although I skimmed all the times the waterworks got turned on. What pleased me most was the ordinary uses of teleportation. When Davy is traveling to scout out new locations, his flight is delayed five hours. He teleports home, sets the alarm, then has a nap up till boarding time. Now that’s a super power!

Ah, Mr. Bickford, at last you’ve come

Frank Zappa fans might know of the brain-twisting clay animations of Bruce Bickford, as Zappa released some of his work in the ’80s on VHS. Those tapes are hard to find now, as was much info about the artist. But now the award-winning animator has an Official Homepage, which shows numerous photos of his work, but no clips. Above is a series of clay work he did based on David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” A DVD is rumored to be in the works.
Oh yes, and there’s a documentary, too.