Reviews: The Fan: Serendipity, Lucky Breaks, and Ill-Advised Choices


by Carole McDonnell

It’s no secret to you — fellow readers and lovers of cinematic and literary arts — that I am not particularly gifted at knowing what books and films to review. With me, it’s often a hit and miss affair. By which I mean that whenever I miss clues that I might hate a particular book or movie, I generally end up hitting my head strenuously with the palms of both hands trying to get it into my thick skull that I should read synopses better. The worse that happens when I choose the wrong book or movie is that I waste my time on a book I’m unable to review. Why waste my time boosting the signal for something that gave me conniptions? Counter-acting this utter inability to judge a book by its cover or its synopsis is a strange congenital luck that often brings the right book tumbling down from a store bookcase or across my facebook feed whenever I need it. Here, then, my wanderings: brought to me by serendipity, and bad choices.

zoo-300Zoo, 13 forty-minute episodes CBS/Netflix, based on the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Confession one: I tend to harbor ill will towards what I perceive to be false advertisement. Even when the false perception was primarily my fault. I was hoping to see humans hiding out from marauding wild-eyed vengeful lions. Therefore I had to shake off my annoyance that this book turned out to be more spy-medical-thriller than sci-fi.

Confession two: One of the effects of watching Korean dramas is that whenever I return to American storytelling tropes, I feel just a might underwhelmed. So, yes: I had to get my mind sorted out.

The first thing I noticed was that Zoo presents viewers with a cosmopolitan multicultural world. I never know what to do with this sort of thing. Should I praise the writers for doing the quota thing? Or should I cringe because it’s so dang aggressive and yet — no matter how hard it tries — it is so rooted in ya know…whiteness?

But — my qualms and uneasiness aside — let us move on: Meet Jackson Oz a (white) zoologist who lives in Botswana and is pretty chill. His best friend is a happy, philosophical, stocky (aren’t we all happy and philosophical, though?) African safari guide named Abraham. Not that we see a lot of friendshippy moments between these two but hey, the friendship is established. So the plot can move along. Jackson’s dad went mad while developing a radical-enough-to-knock-him-out-of-responsible-academia theory of animal uprising. “A manifesto, of sorts.” But, yeah, you know how it is with prophets — or the prophetic trope: no one paid attention to him.

Then there is Jamie, a blogger with a passionate axe to grind against Big Food/Big Corporation Reiden Global. Then there are the mysterious Chloe and animal pathologist, Mitch. And a whole bunch of other people.

The plot begins when some lions escape from the Los Angeles zoo and go on a murder spree. Wouldn’t you know? Some African lions are doing the same thing. Then there are missing cats in LA, dogs, rats, and birds. Ah, yes, birds. See, this brings me back to where this drama lost me. I was hoping something more was going on. Ya know…like a natural “reset.” Heck, I’ll say it. I was hoping for a kind of Walking Dead with zombies replaced by animals. But no, this epidemic is man-made and greed-caused. Which is cool, I guess. After all, that’s how many zombie apocalypses begin. But my heart sank when the hordes of terrified fleeing humans didn’t really materialize and the story took a detour into medical investigation.

Something else bothered me. The tropes. Tropes galore. The story felt like screenwriting by the American cultural book. There are gun-toting rednecks, Black men who will say wise insightful philosophical paternal stuff one minute then make piropos at non-Black women the next, a young scientific-minded African boy, a possibly-shifty FBI operative, a sick dying little girl who speaks like no real sick girl but like all the sick dying kids ever in Hollywood movies, a gang, a Charles Manson type (complete with southern accent and Bible), a rich Asian safari-hunter and many others. The drama had a kitchen sink feel and if the writers hadn’t aimed to shoehorn all these tropes/beats into one story, I would’ve been more interested. But in their rush to hit all the templates, none of these sub-plots touched the heart.

Okay, so did I like it? Once you accept the tropes, the rushing about from country to country, the convenient-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness-plot, the iffy CGI, and the dang slow mystery, it’s really an okay show. Writers will be ticked off by the stereotypical beats, even more stereotypical people, and cringey dialog but kids and non-writers might like it. It’s pretty safe. No major sex scenes. I will also say that James Wolk, who plays Jackson Oz is seriously hot and boy-next-door hotness does wonders to keep this female viewer watching even after she realizes a story isn’t going the way she wants it. So yeah, good for teens who like medical thrillers. And hey — a multicultural cast and a Black person helping to save the world. Aggressive multiculturalism covers a multitude of bad plotting.

cslewis-300The Surprising Imagination of C S Lewis — An Introduction, by Jerry Root and Mark Neal, ISBN: 978-1426795107, Abingdon Press.

Have you ever had one of those moments when the perfect book falls into your hands at the perfect time? So there I was writing a romance for Harlequin and really freaking out wondering what direction my imagination would take, and what I should and would do about certain erotic scenes. I was in a quandary and, trust me, you don’t want to see me in one of my quandaries; it isn’t pretty. I didn’t want anyone falling into sin or veering off the right path. Ah, the trials of a Christian writer! And what popped up? The Surprising Imagination of C S Lewis! That’s what! It’s a wonderful examination of the source, cause, roots, and implication of imagination. And wow, what a wonderful corrective to some of the stuff I’ve heard spoken against imagination by evangelicals who hate fiction. Ah, I love perfect timing!

C S Lewis is a Christian writer who has influenced much of modern fantasy. I suspect many readers will not want to read this book because they fear they might be overwhelmed with silly Christian nonsense. But trust me on this, unless an atheist writer has a major grudge against an old evangelical aunt, he/she should find this book very enlightening. And certainly those who want to depict the religious mind properly, without spite or injustice, would do well to read a book like this. Not only is the philosophy of imagination — and of the self — examined but the book adds insight on many other writers inside and outside of the Christian tradition.

Knowledge of Lewis writings would make this book an even better read but it is not required because the editors/writers have written a book that is an “introduction” to Lewis’ philosophy of the imagination and to his writings. Think “dissertation” for academics rather than a book for laymen readers.

Lewis has written about the “sense” and types of imagination. The three senses of imagination are as follows: the first is wish-fulfillment fantasy which is self-referential and narcissistic and imagines the dreamer as the hero. The second sense is invention in which the creative power of the human mind crafts images and depictions to explore, grasp, and understand the world as it is. The third sense is the imagination that helps us to understand what is beyond our understanding and experience horizons that are beyond our experiences.

The types of imagination include: the baptized imagination which is the imagination regenerated which is an awakening and longing for the numinous, and a waking to the grief of the world. The penetrating imagination is imagination that helps in getting deeper knowledge of a kind of reality. There is also the material imagination, the generous imagination, the primary imagination, the transforming imagination, the controlled imagination, the satisfied imagination, the awakened imagination, the absorbing imagination, the shared imagination, the compelled imagination, and the realizing imagination. I think those are all of them. The editors use different works by Lewis to show how these different kinds of imagination are at work in literature, art, spirit, theology, creativity, self-knowledge, and reality. Lovers and writers of fantasy will find their hearts leaping at the many explanation of how and why fantasy works within the human and cultural psyches.

I really want to do this book justice because it is that good! The last book that had such an effect on me was Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova and that was a book that used Arthur Conan Doyle to show how memory, neuroscience, and literature works. This book brought back my joyful love of literary criticism and reminded me again why my favorite genre to read and to study is review/criticism. Truly, reading this book caused me to be Surprised by Joy. I will only say that the only problem I have with this book is its price. Seriously, it’s a paperback; why so expensive

Brass-teapot-300The Brass Teapot, (US) Written by Ramaa Mosley and Tim Macy. Directed by Ramaa Mosley. 101 Minutes. Released April 2013.

This month I became a judge in a flash fiction contest. Dear me! Why did I do that to myself? The genres I asked for were fantasy, ghost stories, fairytales, and scifi. I should not, should not, should not have chosen the fairytale category. Apparently, there are many people writing fairytales who don’t really understand them and who insisted on writing anti-fairytales or “not-your-grandmother’s-fairytale.” There was much darkness, sentimentality, kneejerk despair, and philosophizing. Some of which were quite patronizing. But it was the darkness especially that annoyed the heck out of me.

I tried to assuage this great annoyance by watching the Korean film, The Piper, an adaptation of The Pied Piper. But, well, Korean movies can be very downbeat so …not helpful at all to feed my fairy-tale yearning soul. But just when my mind was reeling — quite unexpectedly, what should appear in my Netflix feed? The best little dark-yet-triumphant modern fairytale. Oh sure, the folks on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes slammed this little story. From what I could see, some critics hated it because it got dark. And others hated it because it got all moral at the end. Heck, it’s based on a comic book and a short story. It’s a fable. What do they expect?

The story begins with John and Alice who are poor but in love and dang cute! Fate steps in and a brass teapot enters their lives. Well, actually, Alice steals it. From the beginning, Alice is a bit morally-challenged. We see no backstory to see why she is so greedy, which may or may not have been the correct choice. (I’m trying to figure that out. Maybe she’s supposed to be an Everywoman kind of character.)

The teapot spouts money whenever one or the other is in pain. A bump on the head? A few ten dollar bills. A bit of sexual torture? A few dollars more. Well, you can see where this story is heading. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this teapot will tempt our heroes to hurt each other and even strangers. The funny and painful thing is how these increments of cruelty push past boundaries. How far will John and Alice go? And will they survive in the long run? Heck, will good win out?

Yes, I’ll say it: Good wins out! Yes, that’s a spoiler. But the ending had me clapping my hands with glee! Apparently, my childlike soul loves a happy morally-strong ending.

time-chamber-300The Time Chamber by Daria Song, Watson-Guptill; Clr edition (October 13, 2015) ISBN 978-1607749615

I haven’t seen any adults coloring any books but supposedly there’s an adult coloring book craze. Who knew? So when I got the opportunity to review one of them, I grabbed it. The fact that the book features a world perfect for fantasy-lovers who yearn for sensawonda helped too.

Unlike, say, illustration books where the colors are chosen by the creator of the book, what makes coloring books so good is that there’s a collaboration between the original artist and countless colorers around the world. Coloring book artistry is a skill that requires generosity and pattern-making as they guide strangers through their created world.

So, the book. There is a story as well. A little fairy who lives inside a cuckoo clock is bored with her world and decides to visit the human world. The sights the reader/co-creator sees are tiny because they are seen through the POV of a tiny fairy. Aspects of the human world would seem magical to any stranger, but imagine a tiny creature from another world viewing our human world at night. This is what is so lovely. Our world is full of so many patterns which we barely notice. The practical created arts of a utensil set or of keys or the haphazard patterns of books on a bookshelf are what brings delight to our lives. I remember sitting in a dentist chair once and noticing how the horizontal slats of the window blinds fell against the window sills and how the light reflected diagonally on the medicine drawer. I’m sure it made me smile. The world is full of design, color, and patterns we hardly notice unless a child or a fairy brings them to our attention. Then suddenly the designs on crockery, the parallels of the rise and goings of a staircase, or even the face of a clock will give us pause. Art and the POV of children truly adds beauty and magic to our world.

This is the sequel to an earlier work which showed the fairy’s world. That was probably lovely as well. The book is printed on both sides of the paper. That means that one should warn one’s child to be careful about what media they use. Recommended for kids and adults who like to color.

Happy creativity, all.

Carole McDonnell is the author of The Constant Tower, published by Wildside Books.

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