Monthly Archives: November 2016

5 Thoughts: “Gun, With Occasional Music”


200px-gun_woccasional_music Lately I’ve been on a film noir kick. It all started with a Time Life collectors’ issue I saw on a newsrack at the supermarket and decided to add some titles to my Netflix DVD queue. So far I’ve seen: Shadow of a Doubt, Laura, The Maltese Falcon, The Woman in the Window, The Big Sleep, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Gilda.

Now some of you may be thinking that as a reader the next logical step in my journey through film noir land is to read the detective mysteries that influenced these films, particularly works by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and one day I will. But as usual, I wanted to read sci-fi books by the authors who were influenced by this cinematic art form. The subgenre is called many names: future noir, tech noir, mystery sci-fi or hardboiled  sci-fi. It combines all the familiar trappings of film noir -tough, wise-cracking detectives solving cases, gangsters with guns and femme fatales – with the out-of-this-world-trappings of science fiction: the setting is the future or an alternate timeline. Robots, aliens and mutants are involved, etc. And the first novel that came to mind was Jonathan Lethem’s 1994 novel Gun, With Occasional Music.

Watch out – Spoilers about!

Welcome to Oakland of the future. A future where asking questions is a social faux pas. Where everyone carries “karma points” on cards which could be added or subtracted if you’re not careful. Where criminals are placed in freezers instead of prisons. Where most of the adult population is addicted to assorted government provided cocaine. Where animals and children undergo a procedure called “evolution therapy” which gives them the intelligence of (adult) humans. Where men and women can switch sexual nerve endings. Where news comes in the form of music to warn listeners.

What’s so effective about Gun, With Occasional Music is that Lethem makes this society sound believable – and scary. You’ve heard the saying: “it’s a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.” Well this is a place you wouldn’t want to visit or live in.

Private eye Conrad Metcalf’s job is to ask questions. So you know he’s not the most liked man in Oakland. It doesn’t stop murder suspect Orton Angwine from hiring him to investigate the murder of Dr. Maynard Stanhunt, for whom he’s been wrongfully accused. It doesn’t help that Metcalf is up against a Mob boss and his evolved kangaroo henchman, Stanhunt’s former medical partner Dr. Testafer, Stanhunt’s estranged wife Celeste, her friend Patsy and members of the Inquisitor’s Office, who just took all of Angwine’s karma points and want to toss the poor guy into the freezer.

So besides thinking that this futuristic noirish society is not a nice place to visit, what other thoughts went through my mind as I read Gun, With Occasional Music? Here are 5 of them:

1. Evolution Therapy Is a Very, Very Bad Idea

As I said before, animals and children can go through this procedure (the book never describes how it’s done) and come out with advanced brains – but not bodies. While animals can now talk and walk on two legs (and wear clothes) nothing much is said about how the animals change physically. Some, like an evolved goat that Conrad buys a newspaper from, work low-paying jobs, but how can they pick things up if they have hoofs or paws? How do they dress themselves? How do they write? What is the life of an evolved animal like in GWOM? If Lethem decides to write a sequel he should write one from the perspective of an evolved animal.

Yet evolved animals seem to have it easier than the babyheads, children whose brains have been accelerated so that they think and feel like adults – while still in the bodies of children. Because of evolution therapy these people have cynical, bitter attitudes and live most of their lives as alcoholics and drug addicts. Ironically it’s tough, wise guy, Conrad who comments on the lack of children in this society and wishes that there were ordinary children playing in the streets (this makes me wonder how Conrad’s generation avoided the procedure).

And then there’s that male/female erogenous zone switcherooni procedure that Conrad chose to experiment in with his ex-girlfriend and she’s run off with his sex nerve endings while he’s stuck with hers. It means that Conrad can have the sexual responses of a woman but can’t get an erection (once again the book doesn’t go into too much detail). Have I mentioned that he’s also a drug addict like everyone else? No surprise there.

The lesson? Don’t alter the body you were born with (unless it’s for health reasons) just because your unhappy with it or just for kicks. You’ll regret it, as some people will attest.

2. I Can’t Help But Feel Some Pity For Joey Castle

Do you think the idea of a talking, gun-toting, suit-wearing kangaroo sounds funny? Reminds you of a certain movie about a kangaroo that came out a decade ago? Think again. Joey Castle (how ironic) is no laughing matter. He’s a hitman hired by Phoneblum to stalk, harass and possibly kill our hero. Except Joey’s always having his bu – uh, tail, handed to him by Conrad. Remember what I said about evolved animals having the brains of humans but the same animal bodies? As long as Joey acts like a human he will fail at being a human because he’s not human (and it’s not like he had a choice when it came to undergoing evolution therapy). Yet in one scene where an Inquisitor crosses paths with Joey (who’s still trailing Metcalf), Joey uses his marsupial heritage to his advantage and attacks the man with his enormous feet. And you don’t want to come into contact with a kangaroo’s feet. It’s a shame that Joey never uses his natural-born weapons again – especially when Conrad finally kills him.

3. There’s No Femme Fatales In This Story

But then, that depends on your definition of femme fatale.

According to Wikipedia, a femme fatale is “a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous and deadly situations.” However after watching many of the aforementioned films, I’ve learned that the femme fatale is not as easily defined as we think. She can be sympathetic. She can be tough. She can be vulnerable. She can have a good side. She can switch sides. Depending on who you ask, she can be a sexist or feminist.

Of the three important women of the story, only two pursue a relationship with Conrad: Celeste Stanhunt and Catherine Teleprompter, the receptionist who works at the Inquisitor’s Office. Both display traits associated with the femme fatale but face radically different outcomes.

In one scene, Celeste enters Metcalf’s office and tries to hire – and seduce – him. Because of his “condition” and her dubious role in her husband’s murder, he rejects her. She’s later found dead.

Then there’s Catherine Teleprompter, whom, despite his “condition”, Metcalf eventually sleeps with (fortunately the sex scene is brief and not graphic). But it’s after this tryst, Conrad’s karma points are depleted and he’s put in the freezer for six years. Six years later, Catherine is head of the Office and (on a newly thawed Conrad’s advice) lets Orton Angwine out of the freezer.

4. This Would Make a Great Animated Film

Because no one would take a live action film with CGI talking animals seriously. But as I was reading the book, I kept picturing the setting, characters and mood as a hand-drawn film with no music (except the kind that come out the radio and gun) in the spirit of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, Martin Rosen’s Watership Down, or Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. No I’m not saying the film is supposed to be an anime styled film, it just has to avoid the “cutesified” route. This story is not for kids.

5. It Makes Me Want to Read Other Future Noir Works

After this book I read the novella “Identity Theft” by Robert J. Sawyer (which is part of his 2013 novel Red Planet Blues. Then after typing “hard-boiled sci-fi” in the search engine, I found articles listing seminal works in the genre. Some of these works are: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. Who Censored Roger Rabbit by Gary Wolfe. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.

Those are my 5 thoughts on Gun, With Occasional Music. What’re yours?


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Yay! There’s a New Wonder Woman Trailer!

Warner Bros. has released the official Wonder Woman trailer. And I’ve viewed it 4 times already. And the first viewing spread a huge smile across my face. Here’re my thoughts on this second trailer:

  • Themyscira is gorgeous! The waters are crystal blue and the beach is white. Was it filmed in Hawaii or New Zealand or some other island? You’ll notice how Diana’s clean, majestic city is a sharp contrast to the smoggy city that Steve Trevor takes Diana to. Which city is it anyway? Is it Paris or London?
  • We now know that the disfigured woman is a villain. Some speculate she’s Dr. Poison. But is she the Big Bad of the story or is she a henchwoman? And once again, what is Danny Huston’s role in all this? Is he a weapons dealer or something more?
  • How did those soldiers find Themyscira? Does this mean that it’s not in the Bermuda Triangle, making it easier to find?
  • I like the scene where Steve tells Hippolyta: “you’re in more danger than you think.” It reminds me of the anti-isolationist stance (some believed) Marston was using in the early days of Wonder Woman. Bonus points for Diana’s firm stance on defending others.
  • Diana looks like she’s sneaking into the armory. Is it part of the traditional Amazon contest or is she defying her mothers’ law? Will there be scenes of an Amazon contest to bring Trevor back to Man’s World?
  • Another funny scene between Diana and Etta Candy, who will probably help acclimatize her to Man’s World. This may be our first fish-out-of-water superhero movie (sorry Thor, you don’t count).
  • I’m glad to finally see a “bullets and bracelets” scene.
  • I like how Diana slowly climbs out of a trench and Steve screams “DIANA!” It shows he truly cares about her.
  • Who was the Amazon that swung behind Diana and was shot by a bullet? Does she get killed? Did Diana become so distracted by saving Steve that she neglected her duties to her sisters?
  • The look on Diana’s face is priceless/precious when Steve calls her his secretary. If you remember the Comic-Con trailer, you’d understand why this is so ironic.

But, a word of caution. This is the first  live action theatrical Wonder Woman film in movie history. It’s also the first major superhero movie directed by a woman. It has a lot riding on it. It’s expected to prove that female-led superhero movies can make a profit. It’s expected to please Wonder Woman’s fans which is the most divisive fandom in comics. In other words: broken base, thy name is Wonder Woman. I believe we shouldn’t set our hopes too high so that if the film doesn’t live up to some people’s expectations, we’ll have years of disgruntled fans bashing and shaming DC like Star Wars fans did to  George Lucas after the prequels. I will see this movie because I want Hollywood to learn that women-led films can make money and become classics. But most movies I’ve liked had trailers/commercials that interested me, so this film looks promising.

Another thing I want to address is the killjoy Marvel fans who accuse this film of ripping off Captain America: The First Avenger. It proves how little they know their history. This film takes place during World War One, as I’ve said time and time again, Captain America takes place during World War Two. World War One = trenches, biplanes, gas masks. World War Two = fighter planes, GIs, Nazis. Heck, Steve Rogers is a baby during the First World War. I believe the reason the filmmakers chose to break with tradition and place Diana’s story during the Great War was so that they could avoid these accusations in the first place.

Well those are my thoughts. What are yours? What did you like about the Wonder Woman trailer? What are you looking forward to seeing in the movie?

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Filed under comics, Wonder Woman, world war 1 fantastic