Level 7

Apocalyptic fiction is a funny thing. It’s pretty much exclusively an artifact of the second half of the twentieth century, and it tends to fall into one of a handful of genres: the tautly political pre-war thriller, the hopeful rebuilding-society political screed, and the nuclear wasteland adventure story. With few exceptions, they’re pretty dire. In the twenty-first century, it’s looking like “apocalyptic fiction” is going to describe Darbyite Christian nonsense, so we should perhaps look back with nostalgia on these works whose unworldly scenario was, for a brief dark period of human history, not only believable but considered a certainty by wise people. So, nuclear-apocalypse fiction. Level 9 rather transcends its genre by not really fitting well into any of the obvious pigeonholes. It staggers extraordinarily close to the awful, but manages to avoid being a really bad book in a number of ways, starting with the unclassifiable genre. It’s to some extent a psychological thriller, but the psychology of the characters is so unrealistic as to render that somewhat moot. Again it staggers out of the way of awfulness by sheer plot contrivance: the characters are chosen for their psychological aberration, so their inability to display recognizable humanity is an asset to their depiction, not a liability (we call this the Evangelion dodge). It goes on in this vein: it’s focused on details rather than situations, but so is the protagonist; it presents the actual war in so drily flat a tone as to render it seemingly meaningless: once again we have our narrator to thank; and somehow this all works. The inhumanity, the fundamental alienness of it all, makes it an irresistable read. It’s very odd: it shows none of those hallmarks of brilliance a good book should have, but it weaves its way skillfully among all the ways a book can be bad, hitting none of them.

The Prestige

[Screenshot]I really liked The Prestige. Like so many things I like, I find it difficult to say anything really intelligent about it. I am further hampered by its extraordinary spoilability, so it’s best not to say overmuch at all for the benefit of those who might like it. But what worked? Most of the twists were authentically shocking and surprising. The acting was respectably good if not superlative (Scarlett Johansson sulks roughly 50% less in this move than in anything else I’ve seen her in). The feel was just right, as was the pacing. There was an excellent cameo by David Bowie. Really, can’t say much more without going too deep into details. Yes, I’m sure everyone else has already seen it, but all the same, it’s a convenient way for me not to have to say too much.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Josie and the Pussycats, episodes 1–6

[Screenshot]I’m actually approaching this without nostalgia, which is rare. I’ve never seen Josie and the Pussycats before; I think I was born a bit too late, although I certainly saw plenty of other Hanna-Barbara cartoons. Anyways, so to my virgin eyes this seems kind of unremarkable. Parts of the team seem unnervingly like the Scooby-Doo gang with a palette change: you’ve got the handsome male leader wearing an ascot, the green-shirted craven male, and even the girls sort of matchup (the ditz, the brain, and the title character). that actually brings me to one complaint: for the ostensibly central character of the story, Josie sure doesn’t have much of a personality. Not that any of these characters are richly layered and complex, but most of them at least have some attributes to hang on them. Josie seems more like Alan’s appendage than the other way around (apropos of which: what the hell is it that Alan, Alex, and Alexandra do for the band?).

Enough ragging, time to talk about what’s actually worthwhile in this odd bit of history. We can start with Valerie, who was refreshingly a black character for whom being black wasn’t the central issue. It doesn’t even come up, far as I can tell, which is nice for the ’70s. She does get subjected to some odd pigeonholing, but not by race. Quoth Alex, “Varerie, for a girl, you’re a mechanical genius!”. Dude, she built a remote-controlled robot out of a vacuum cleaner and a suit of armor. I think that qualifies as “mechanical genius” from a sample set of arbitrary size. The music is also pretty good, in a forgettable Hanna-Barbara bubblegummy way. It was subdued, at least.

One final comment: many other shows have a laugh track, but how many have a snicker track? I started trying to remember what the background behind Sebastian was from snicker shot to snicker shot just to see if they were reusing cels (pretty sure they were within each episode, but I think they changed it up a bit from episode to episode).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.