31 March 2018

Space Opera and Horse Opera

Those who know me know I like to write--and read--mostly mystery stories. As for the writing part, my "genre specialty" is made easier because almost any story involving a crime can be considered a mystery.

Today, though, I want to tell you about two pieces of fiction that I recently discovered from other genres, and they're stories that I found exceptional. One's a western and one's science fiction, but both are chock full of crime and deception; does that mean they could be loosely defined as mysteries? Probably not. But I liked 'em anyway.

The first is a Netflix Orginal series called Godless. And I need to clarify that a bit. A lot of TV shows that I've watched lately, like Goliath, True Detective, Fargo, etc. (and unlike Longmire, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, House of Cards, and most others), have been what's become known as "limited-series" presentations--stories that are told start-to-finish in one season. There might be some degree of similarity and continuity between seasons, but mostly the story ends when the season ends, and you wind up with what amounts to a single seven-to-ten-hour, full-character-arc movie. I usually binge-watch them.

Godless is a western, and one of the best I've seen. It features a few familiar faces like Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston and a bunch of lesser-known actors that have become better known as a result of their being cast here. The story involves a legendary outlaw in pursuit of a former friend who betrayed him, but the strangest thing about the show is that it takes place in the fictional La Belle, New Mexico, which is a town of mostly women--all the men have been killed in a catastrophic mining accident. I won't get into too many details here, but this seven-episode series is truly well done, in every way. The writing, the acting, the direction, the cinematography, everything just works. By the way, any of you who might still think of Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber or Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey will barely recognize them here. Daniels is as good in this as he was in the HBO series The Newsroom, and that's saying a lot.

My other recent discovery was a novel called Artemis, by Andy Weir (who also write The Martian). I loved The Martian--book and movie--and I thought this second novel was just as good. The protagonist, a young woman named Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara, is as tough and resourceful as any hero/heroine I've seen in a long time, and outrageous as well. At the start of the book Jazz is a wannabe tour-guide for some of the attractions around Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, and since she can't seem to pass the test to become a guide she makes a living smuggling certain items when they arrive from Earth to her customers here in space. Long story short, because of her lack of funds and need for employment she finds herself a part of a get-rich-quick scheme that instead gets her into deep trouble, including dealing with hitmen who are sent from Earth sort of like the four gunmen in High Noon. You'll wind up cheering her on, while you learn (or at least I did) a lot about life on the Final Frontier.

That's my sermon for today. And don't get me wrong, I've watched a lot of other good movies lately--Wind River, Baby Driver, Arrival, Logan Lucky, Gerald's Game, Hell or High Water, No Escape, Wonder Woman, Bushwick, Mudbound, The Last Jedi, Get Out, Blackway, Bullet Head, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri--and I've read some other good novels too--The Cuban Affair, The Fireman, The Girl from Venice, Dragon Teeth, Home, Gwendy's Button Box, World Gone By, Blackjack, Mississippi Blood, Sleeping Beauties, Goldeline, Fierce Kingdom, El Paso, The Midnight Line, Paradise Sky, The Big Finish, A Column of Fire, etc.--but I believe these two stories were as good as any of them, and better than most. If any of you have seen Godless, or read Artemis, please pass along your thoughts.

I also wouldn't mind some recommendations. I've been devouring collections of short stories lately, mainly those by Bill Pronzini, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Annie Proulx, and (believe it or not) Tom Hanks. I need to get back into some novels.

Meanwhile, happy reading, and viewing.


  1. Good information. Can't help much here. I was so little recent TV and have not seen a decent movie at the theater in a long time. My wife say's I'm too picky. She's right.

  2. Thanks, O'Neil. Being picky's okay. I'm sure I watch too many movies on TV. Trust me, though, this one's good--and the novel too.

  3. Haven't watched Godless, but I'll check it out. And I'll read Artemis.
    Loved "Three Billboards" and don't understand at all why people were saying Mildred Hayes was "unsympathetic and abrasive". I thought she was spot on. Of course, I blame those reviews on the idea that women have to be fluffy no matter what.
    Loved Ladybird, Darkest Hour, and Dunkirk. HATED the new Murder on the Orient Express.
    For those of you who haven't seen it YET, The Meyerowitz Stories is SUPERB. Same writer as Margot at the Wedding, which is a must see.
    Happy Easter!

  4. Eve, you'll like both.

    I absolutely loved Three Billboards--I figured I would--I like McDormand, Harrelson, and Rockwell too, in just about anything they're in. Mildred Hayes is one of those characters you'll never forget, right? And what an ending--talk about character arcs . . .

    I liked Dunkirk but have not yet seen Lady Bird OR Darkest Hour OR Murder on the Orient Express. Thanks for the recommendations (and the warning too, about Orient).

  5. Thanks for the tip about Godless. Will put it on "next up" list.
    Didn't realize that Steven Soderbergh was involved. Enjoyed his other series, The Knick, and was disappointed when it ended abruptly.

  6. Thanks, Anon. And remember, this is a limited series, so it runs start to finish in one season.

    Soderbergh is indeed a great director. Some of my favorites, of his: Out of Sight, Logan Lucky, and Pleasantville. I hope you'll like this one.

  7. Artemis sounds particularly good, John!

  8. It is, Leigh--it'd be right up your alley. Loads of technical detail, but he keeps it interesting.

    Thanks for stopping in.

  9. Sorry for the late reply, John. I haven't seen any movies lately. TV-wise, I recommend the new shows Good Girls and Rise, both on NBC. Really enjoying them. And in case you didn't know, season two of Timeless is airing now. Sundays at 10 p.m., also on NBC.

    How was the Hanks book? Does he write as well as he acts?

  10. Thanks, Barb. I've made a note.

    Yep, the Hanks book, Uncommon Type, was surprisingly good. If you've not heard, the stories are "linked" in that a typewriter plays a part in each one--and several (one is called "These Are the Meditations of My Heart")--are really outstanding.

    I bought and read it mostly out of curiosity, so I was glad to find it was well done.

  11. I didn't care for Godless, quit on episode 2. Your mileage may vary, obviously.

    My wife works at an independent bookstore and they scored a big one by convincing Andy Weir to come do a signing for ARTEMIS. I think what sold him was that he was interviewed by Melissa Rice, a physics/geology professor who is part of the the team that programs the Mars Rover. The bookstore rented a college auditorium for the event, and pretty much filled it. He was great (as was Rice) and they sold a ton of books.

  12. Hey Rob. That truly was a coup, getting Weir for that signing--congrats to your wife. Rather than being an author who also happens to be a technical guy, Weir is a tekkie who also happens to be an author, and his expertise comes though in the novel.
    I think he worked as a software engineer for 20 years or so before The Martian was published.

    Sorry you didn't like the western--I really got attached to it.


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