Moving from History to Legend Through Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo: The Chateau d’If, France

“On the 24th of February, 1815, the lookout of Notre-Dame de la Garde signaled the three-master, the Pharaon, from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.”

Thus begins Alexandre Dumas’The Count of Monte Cristo, telling of the arrival of the ship Pharaon (bearing the novel’s protagonist, Edmond Dantes) into Marseille. By a strange coincidence, I arrive in Marseille on the 25th of February, almost exactly two centuries later. I had vowed to visit this sacred place ever since I’d read Alexandre Dumas’ novel at an impressionable young age – – and finally, here I am.

The Count of Monte Cristo is Dumas’ sweeping tale of love, betrayal, and, above all, revenge. But it is also the story of transformation, both of its protagonist, Edmond Dantes, and of the reader – and at the center of that story of transformation figures the Chateau d’If. Mentioned in a deceptive, throwaway line on the first page, as the Pharaon passes by it on its way into port, the island fortress comes to play a significant and symbolic role in the novel: imprisoned there for fourteen years, Edmond Dantes escapes through the means of a faked death, his symbolic resurrection transforming him into the eponymous Count of Monte Cristo and allowing him to pursue his revenge.

Read my first piece of published travel writing at Travel Thru History.

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Book Review: The Geek Feminist Revolution by Katherine Hurley

There is a battle being fought right now over the most important thing in the world: stories. Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution thus comes at the perfect moment. It is many things: a guidebook to the pitfalls and the peaks of science fiction fandom today, a manifesto and rallying cry for those who want to see a different future, and a tactical plan for this war.

That might seem like an exaggeration – after all, there are things to fight about that are more tangible, more seemingly relevant, more visibly impactful. But humans are storytelling creatures. From the moment we’re born until the moment we die, we tell ourselves stories – from the pretend play of children to the history we learn in school, the narratives we write of our daily lives, the jokes we tell, and the dreams we dream.

We live inside stories, but also shape the world in the image of our stories. Our narratives tell us what our values are – what we should fight for and what we should hate, who we should consider a hero and who a villain. They valorize those people we consider important and erase the ones we think are insignificant. They make the invisible and the marginalized more so, and they are capable of recreating the world as it is in order to perpetuate it. And today, with the newfound accessibility of a variety of mediums, stories reach wider than ever before, which means they have an unimaginable power to change the world, or keep it as it is.

Read the rest of the review at Blogcritics.

Theatre Review: Tom Stoppard’s The Hard PRoblem

As I walked into Tom Stoppard’s newest play, The Hard Problem, playing at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theatre, I inadvertently made a statement that would turn out to succinctly sum it all up.

“We really could do without the mood music,” I said, referring to the saxophone player providing pre-performance ambiance. Sitting in the front row, the jazz tunes (not my preferred style of music) seemed to screech in my ears.

As it turned out, the saxophone player – who also provided music during the play’s transitions, thus invisibly and almost unremarkably weaving himself into the fabric of the play – represented God, in rather the same way that a silent octogenarian represented Time in Willy Decker’s famous staging of La Traviata. Towards the end of the play, a climactic revelation would lead Stoppard’s protagonist, Hilary, to believe that a miracle had occurred; the lights would dim as she would stare at the musician in awe and devotion, her faith finally confirmed.

The problem is that The Hard Problem could really have done without God.

Read the rest of the review at Blogcritics.

Meta, Meta, Meta – A Review of Sherlock’s “The Abominable Bride”

“‘Data! data! data!’ he cried impatiently. I can’t make bricks without clay.” [COPP]

Perhaps that quote should be updated to read: “I can’t make bricks without self-referentiality!”

On Friday, the BBC’s / MASTERPIECE’s Sherlock brought to our screens something that it had never done before: Sherlock Holmes set in the Victorian period. The Abominable Bride, which eschews Sherlock’s usual modern day setting to create a period, produced, as far as I can tell, a spectrum of responses as widely varied as Holmes’s mood. On the one hand, it garnered praise for its atmospheric depiction of fin-de-siecle London, its phenomenal acting and cinematography, and its intriguing meta-commentary; on the other, it drew criticism for its complex (or, as some claimed, convoluted) plot, its “self-indulgent” self-referentiality, and its seeming historical inaccuracies.

On this spectrum of responses, I fall much closer to the former than the latter. In fact, I think The Abominable Bride is one of the best episodes Sherlock has ever produced, and yes, I have observations, facts, and deductions to prove it. In fact, it seems to me that much of the disappointment surrounding the episode has to do with the fact that it is not a faithful-enough recreation of the Canon now that the show isfinally set in a Canonically accurate period. To which I say: that was never the promise, the premise, or the idea.

Read the rest of the review at IHOSE here.

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Life, as the esteemed Dr. Ian Malcolm (of Jurassic Park fame) told us, can only exist on the edge of chaos. Our existence as human beings is only possible due to the delicate balancing act between change and stability, between adaptation and death.

That’s equally true of life on Mars, where survival lies in the delicate balance of the ratio between oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide in one’s spacesuit. It’s the balance between the weight of a spaceship and the weight of the fuel it requires to fire that mass into orbit. It’s the balancing act between something risky but rewarding and something just plain stupid.

It’s the balance, in other words, between science and imagination – between knowing (and utilizing) scientific laws and using that human spark of creativity to turn them to one’s advantage.

Read the rest of the review at Blogcritics.

Supernatural 200th Episode Review: ‘Fan Fiction”

On Tuesday night, Supernatural aired its 200th episode. It’s a landmark that few shows achieve, and many celebrate the achievement with a very special episode (Stargate, for example, made fun of every sci-fi show known to man, including itself). Supernatural chose to celebrate the occasion by doing something that’s become its trademark over the years: a metafictional episode that’s so meta it makes your head hurt.

This time, the meta madness took the form of an all-girls school putting on a Supernatural play (well, after 10 seasons, at least someone clued in the writers that most of the fandom is female. It took a while!) based on the in-canon Carver Edlund books (otherwise known as the Winchester gospels), and adding some of their own….interpretations. After all, Chuck stopped writing after “Swan Song,” so it was up to these fictional fans to tell their own story of events – which apparently includes robots and tentacles.

Conveniently, there’s also a case in the same town that brings the Winchesters there; unsurprisingly, it turns out that the play and the case are related, and not for the first time, the Winchesters run into their own lives, with their usual trademark faces of astonishment mixed with annoyance. It turns out that the play is haunted, and the culprit is Calliope, the Muse, who helps a work of literature be brought to completion, then eats the author (maybe it’s the literary grad student in me, but there was a wry voice of humor in my head whispering “Death of the Author.” Thanks, Barthes). The only way to catch Calliope and defeat her? Well, that requires getting her to show up, and that means putting on the show and believing in with all their heart.

Read the rest of the review at Blogcritics.

TV Review: Supernatural 9×23 “Do You Believe in Miracles?”

Well, that was… unsurprising.

Do You Believe In Miracles? was not a bad season finale. It’s just that it felt like it was missing those jaw-dropping plot twists, shocking cliffhangers, and high tension that’s been the stuff of most of Supernatural finales. In fact, last week’s episode felt like much more of a season finale, while this episode, though it had some truly moving moments, honestly felt like it wasn’t doing anything much more exciting than setting up next season.

That makes sense, though, because according to showrunner Jeremy Carver, season ten is going to be the final act in the three-season story arc he planned when he took over in early season eight, where everything from the past two seasons comes to fruition. Accordingly, this finale is full of parallels to season two – four, which naturally makes it feel like it’s setting up season ten just like the first four seasons set up the fifth season and its climax of Swan Song.

Read more at Den of Geek: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/supernatural/30660/supernatural-season-9-finale-review-do-you-believe-in-miracles#ixzz3EAqv3jfn