Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Five Percent More Love

Tuesday, January 27th, 2004

Movie links of the day: Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, Star Trek: Nemesis Pictorial Plot Synopsis (rated R for profanity), and Roger Ebert on Macs in movies

The title is from one of the DVD extras on Signs - M. Night Shyamalan prompting the orchestra when they were taping the soundtrack. He doesn’t like CGI, so it was interesting to hear about his struggle with the special effects for the aliens. The other DVD commentaries I’ve listened to recently came with Stargate season 4; Stargate is all special effects all the time.

I wouldn’t want to make a movie myself. The process looks way too complicated and you have to be a business manager, or get your work chopped to bits by whoever is the business manager. I still find DVD commentaries interesting for the insight into how people string a story together under sometimes strict restrictions of time, place, or expense. Lots of money and effort can go into something very small like areal shots of Indian crop circles (or Jonah morphing into Jack in “Beneath the Surface”), while the most striking bits like the Last Supper scene (or Thera with her head on Jonah’s shoulder) come out surprisingly easily.

In that way, filmmaking is a lot like writing. Sometimes you hammer away at the technical details, and sometimes it all just flows out of a good setup.

The Return of the King II

Saturday, January 17th, 2004

My friend who braved the cold to visit Boston this weekend also braved the boredom to re-watch The Return of the King tonight. Silly me, I said it couldn’t be sold out anymore, but it was. Fortunately Loews Boston Common was showing it in two theaters, so we only had to wait an extra hour to see Aragorn come into his own. (Our show sold out as well.)

We enjoyed it more the second time around. My friend got to see the parts she slept through previously. For me, I was too distracted the first time by all the things that violated the letter and spirit of the book, and I was with someone who was getting just as offended and was also checking points of canon with me. (It’s scary how much I know - eg., what happened to the seven rings for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone?)

This time I got to sit back and watch without any distractions - the movie didn’t seem nearly as long. Since I wasn’t so busy getting offended, I could appreciate it for what it was. Elijah Wood still can’t act, but the other hobbits were fun, as were Gimli, Gandalf, and, in his own way, Aragorn. Arwen’s mysterious allergy to Sauron doesn’t improve with a second viewing, but the sections filmed in Elfvision were cool from a stylistic point of view.

My favorite character is still Pippin. Anduril, Flame of the West, gets a lot of Gratuitously Long Sword shots to balance out the traditional Gratuitous Whispering Ring shots. I can see myself blowing a day sometime in the future to watch all three movies on DVD - but I won’t be the one buying the DVD’s.

The Return of the King

Friday, January 2nd, 2004

…also known as The Return of the Franchise.

When we walked into the theater yesterday, the Faramir Offense was all I remembered of The Two Towers. After a truly stunning number of previews, the Franchise opened with a huge hunk of plot that properly belongs to The Two Towers - for example, Minas Morgul (the glow-in-the-dark one) is the second tower of the eponymous pair.

I should note that there is some debate on this point - see for example the Wikipedia entry for The Two Towers, or Tolkien’s letters on the matter - but canon contains a note at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring specifying Orthanc (Isengard) and Minas Morgul as the towers involved. Other options include Cirith Ungol (the orc tower at the head of the eponymous pass), Minas Tirith, and Barad-dur. Two notable towers not usually considered candidates are the Towers of the Teeth, Narchost and Carchost, guarding the Black Gate in the Morannon and blocking Frodo’s way.

No matter which towers you pick, they belong in The Two Towers. The cliffhanger for the second volume is Sam losing Frodo at Cirith Ungol, not some random Faramir character-assassination in Osgiliath. Pippin Wrestling the Palantir also belongs in TTT, where the palantir does not burst into flames, nor does it levitate.

Why did Peter Jackson choose to defang TTT of its second tower and its punch? The fans may never know. Squeezing half of TTT into the third movie didn’t do it much good, either. As a result, there was no room for the real Denethor, nor the real march across Mordor. The Scouring of the Shire was no great loss - having cut Saruman from the final scene at Orthanc, there was no call to bring him to the Shire. And yet the lack of conflict of any sort after the Really Big Eagles scene made the rest of the movie excruciatingly boring for those who hadn’t read the books.

Before the movie, I hadn’t thought much of Tolkien’s skill at writing a novel. His only successful effort from a purely technical point of view was The Hobbit, and that was a children’s book with an omniscient narrator - which is to say it wasn’t exactly in the form of the modern novel, either. The Lord of the Rings, the most beloved literary work of the 20th century, is not loved for its execution or technical merits. Many people, even some like Veronica who have no particular prejudice against fantasy, cannot even read it - yet Peter Jackson’s flaming-palantir version of LotR has given me a new appreciation for the virtues of the original.

There are three things you must love to love the books: epic, worldbuilding, and language. Only the second, the world of Middle Earth, was fully preserved in the movies. Everyone gushes over the landscapes, the cities, the oliphaunts. Even when it’s wrong or incomplete, it’s still lovely. (I wanted to see Morgul Vale, and not every cliff in the book was quite that sheer a drop. People with a fear of heights should avoid the third movie.)

There are moments of epic beloved of the critics (by “the critics” I mean mainly RJ and Naomi Chana): notably the lighting of the beacons of Gondor (for which we forgive even the huge Denethor character-assassination involved in Pippin’s having to do the honors by his pratfalling self), Pippin’s song sequence, and the charge of the Rohirrim (for which we forgive some incredible military stupidity on their part - don’t any of the good guys have archers?). Most of the failures of the movies also come in the area of epic - specifically an omission of the kind of people you find in epics: Denethor is just a madman, not a tragic figure; Theoden has trouble making up his mind; Eowyn isn’t riding undercover; Arwen has some sort of personal Elvish medical problem with Sauron rather than everyone else’s millennia-long epic struggle problem with Sauron; Gandalf doesn’t respect Pippin’s volunteer service to Denethor; Frodo doesn’t trust Sam; Sam doesn’t give the ring back to Frodo immediately; Gimli wants to cheat the Dead; and so forth and so on.

The heart of the books is language but movies are a visual art - language was doomed to lose out. A few stray lines make their way into the plot, but there’s no way to convey on screen the texture given to the books by the eight or ten languages Tolkien invented for the purpose. This is a difficulty the movies share with translations of the books into foreign languages: Tolkien had already carefully translated both Westron and the language of the Rohirrim into English and it doesn’t bear a second translation well, whether into Spanish or into Peter Jackson. Writers are more fascinated by language than the average reader, so while this loss is great in my accounting it’s not really a significant problem for the movies qua movies.

The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

Moving into another medium does mean picking up the problems of that medium - notably, cute people who can’t act. We get reasonably good performances from Gandalf, Elrond, and Pippin, but these only contrast with the problems of Aragorn, Arwen, and Frodo. Maybe it’s the producer who thinks that standing there and looking scruffy/Elven/tortured is enough to sell tickets - and he’d be right. Aragorn and Arwen (and similarly Legolas) can get away with the most here because their characters are just as sketchy in the books - they are part of the epic background, while the hobbits are the more modern, sympathetic viewpoint characters.

Frodo, however, is a huge problem, as I realized while he was standing on the deck of the ship in the Grey Havens, smiling at the shore and looking pretty for the camera. That boy with the baby face was not the 50-year-old Frodo of the books who went looking for the Cracks of Doom, found them, and could not go home again. He was the main character, yet I didn’t care for one minute what happened to Elijah Wood. He was never Frodo to me, especially after he got stabbed on Weathertop and moaned the whole way to Rivendell. Where was his warmth, his intelligence, his endurance, his compassion for Smeagol? Frodo (and in his absence Merry or Pippin) is supposed to be the reader’s linchpin connecting the epic past of Middle Earth to the coming Age of Men, but he doesn’t do that for the movie.

Frodo is not an easy role to play, but another actor might have pulled it off. Pippin, for instance, did hold a nice chunk of RotK together; he also looked the oldest of the four hobbits even though he’s supposed to be the youngest. Merry was underused, and Sam had everything but a proper master. Actors can make or break a movie; Elijah Wood broke The Lord of the Rings. (That is, of course, not his fault but that of the director who cast him.) LotR spiraled apart into a kaliedoscope of pretty scenes because Frodo wasn’t there to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

So my reaction to The Fellowship of the Ring still stands, here at the end of all franchises:

The scenery was wonderful, and the choices of what to cut from the book were not bad choices. However, the choices to rewrite the dialogue, plot and characters were all bad choices - too many to name, but all of them poor indeed. Let me clue the producer in: You’re not J.R.R. Tolkien. You’re not even Christopher Tolkien.

The Matrix: Repetitions

Saturday, November 8th, 2003

Word count: 0

First of all, a warning: The Matrix: Revolutions contains violence against eyeballs.

I guess this entry will be all warnings. Unless you’re seriously into Rasta Tech, this movie is a waste of $10. On the Rasta Tech upside, there’s a squid invasion of Zion, allowing all your favorite expendable characters to be noble, brave, victorious, and, occasionally, expended. That was my favorite part—still only eye candy, but things blowing up makes better eye candy than Keanu Reeves not acting.

If you’re expecting the deep thoughts of the original, don’t hold your breath. If you want answers to the questions raised in part 2, you’ll have to write some fanfic. If you’re desperately hoping that the Rasta babes will learn to darn already, you’ll be just as disappointed as Veronica was. Matrix 3 is a movie in search of a plot. The beginning meanders annoyingly, and the script twice as laughable as its predecessor, an impressive feat in itself. Veronica had the whole row breaking down in giggles with her. Keanu + tragedy = farce.

I would advise the W. Brothers not to leap into a large project without a good, solid plot ready. That’s what has torpedoed my NaNoWriting for the weekend—I’m beginning to agree with the NaNo critics that a novel written in haste is no novel at all. Movies produced en masse are no great shakes, either.

P.S. I still believe there was a matrix-within-a-matrix.


Monday, July 14th, 2003

Word count: holding steady at zero

The cat and I watched Unbreakable tonight. She was unimpressed, but I was blown away, which means this entry will be very similar to those for Signs and The Sixth Sense. Once again, I knew something odd was going on, and in the end that slight tickle of a breeze turned out to be a baseball bat headed straight for my temple.

But in a good way. M. Night Shyamalan is superhuman - with just one reluctant superhero, he makes the X-Men movie machine look…well, like a comic book. In fact, he makes 99% of movies look like comic books; I wish I understood, or could express, how.

One thing in particular I wonder: could his sort of surprise ending could be done in a novel, or is essentially a visual effect? I was trying to think of an example of a surprise ending in literature; the best I could come up with was mysteries, but even then you always know that the truth will out, and that the genre practically demands that it be a shocker. That’s not quite the same as being lulled into thinking you have a handle on this movie, right up until the moment baseball bat meets temple.

I have a new story idea, so I should be back to writing by tomorrow. The story already has a theme and several other goals - I want it to answer my Leather-clad challenge and to be ready in time for Die J/C Die Phase II, but I think a surprise ending could be squeezed in there somehow. I just need to figure out what that ending is.

R.U.R., 28 Days Later

Thursday, July 10th, 2003

Word count: not looking good

I picked up a Dover Books edition of R.U.R. by Karel Capek (there’s supposed to be a Czech hat on the C but I can’t find it in the HTML entity set) and read it on the T. R.U.R. stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots and is the source of the word “robot.” See Maxfield & Montrose Interactive for the full derivation.

The play was written in 1920 and became an international hit. The theme is hubris and the dialogue is quite striking at points. The men who run the world’s first robot factory are flooding the labor market with cheap, soulless labor created using their secret recipe. For reasons which are never specified, this leads to a drop in the human birth rate. Between that and wars fought with robot soldiery who have no qualms about genocide of civilians, mankind seems to be taking the express train to extinction even before the robots turn on their masters. It may be the end of the world.

Speaking of the end of the world, I also saw 28 Days Later tonight. (That’s my excuse for not writing anything.) I include it here only because I’d heard it described as science fiction. There is actually no sci-fi content - it’s just a disaster movie. Think Day of the Triffids (sans triffids) meets Night of the Living Dead. The disease around which the movie revolves is an eclectic mix of ebola, rabies and bleeding ulcers.

[Spoilers ahead] I can’t resist - I have to nitpick. Can anyone name a disease that manifests itself fully in 10 to 20 seconds? I thought not. I understand that for plot purposes (that is, having to hack your friends to death with a machete within 10 seconds of exposure), the unprecedented incubation time keeps the movie moving along, but it’s never justified.

First things first - when we first meet Our Hero, he’s been unconscious in a hospital for twenty-eight days. Later developments would seem to imply that he’s been abandoned for at least six of those days. That’s a long time to go on one IV bag and no bedpan. (By long I mean medically impossible.) Somehow Our Hero misplaced his johnny, so we get that Full Frontal shot American audiences have come to expect from British movies.

So Our Hero gets up, drinks some Pepsi, and explores the empty hospital and empty city. Eventually he runs into some of the Infected and is saved by some of the Uninfected. Although there’s nice Molotov-cocktail action to start with, the disinfection process switches quickly to the manual machete approach. And that’s not even the gross bit.

[Gross spoilers ahead] The grossest thing in the movie is some violence against eyeballs near the end. The second most icky thing is the projectile hematemesis. (And you thought there wasn’t a word for it!) At random but frequent intervals, the Infected manage to vomit huge clots of blood, preferably onto the Uninfected, but any nearby surface will do. They don’t seem to do anything besides grunt, spit, twitch, and barf - such as eating to replenish all that lost blood.

Some of the Uninfected are smart enough to wear biohazard gear to prevent just such projectile eventualities. You’d think more of them would catch on to such a lifesaving fashion trend, but no

I’ve barely begun to scratch the nits, but there’s one I just can’t overlook. I know that survivalists never end up the main characters of post-apocalyptic stories, and that nobody stuck on a savage, deserted island (in this case, Britain) has ever read Robinson Crusoe, and I accept that. However, some of the survivors were army officers, so there is no excuse for this nit. I’m only going to tell you this once, and you, too, will have no excuse. If you’re ever wondering whether a disease has wiped out all mankind or just Britain, there’s a very simple way to find out. Turn on a shortwave radio.

I’m not saying don’t see the movie; I’m not even saying it was bad. The characterization was pretty good, for horror. I’m just saying that if the hero can’t put a shortwave radio together out of, say, shortwave radios and batteries, and instead has to watch the sky for planes like some sort of cargo cultist, then don’t call it sci-fi. It’s an insult to the genre.

The Matrix Reloaded

Thursday, May 29th, 2003

…or overloaded. [Spoilers]

While as a movie, The Matrix: Reloaded failed on several counts, it’s still interesting as philosophy. Javageek answers the deep question, Why 23? and Ken Mondschein explains the Reload as theology. He even links a brief summary of the fake book from the original movie and explains why Keanu Reeves can’t act.

His most interesting point for me wasn’t all the gnosticism, or even the idea of a deity making love under an arch, but a more obvious detail that slipped past me completely: Neo’s power over the squid-machines implies that the “outside” world of Zion is also a simulation. He also mentions that the true status of Zion - real-world or meta-Matrix - isn’t important. I certainly agree in principle that if you can’t tell whether or not your brain is in a meta-vat, then it doesn’t matter whether or not your brain is in a meta-vat - but it does matter for the plot of the next movie whether the world of Zion and pod-people and squid-machines is real or just another Matrix.

This theory may even explain why the spinal buttons which were removed in the first movie reappeared on Neo’s back in the second - you see, it’s not his real back. And technically, he’s not the One, he’s the Six.

Harry Potter as Star Wars

Tuesday, April 8th, 2003

I’ve been going back and forth with RJ about Harry Potter, and this time I hit her comment size limit, so I’m going to have to put it all here. For those who have missed my other discussions with RJ, I should mention that I don’t consider Tolkien’s works to be “Christian” in any important sense - the category was brought up by RJ and I’m not relying on it when I criticize HP any more than Brin was when he lit into Star Wars (chuckle now if you know Brin). I also don’t believe that children need to be shielded from literature.

In response to RJ’s first entry, I commented:

One difference between HP and your other fantasy examples is that in Tolkien and Lewis, the human/hobbit characters do not have inherent magical powers. HP is more like Star Wars that way than Christian fantasy, and is susceptible to the criticism David Brin once made of the Force, which I linked in my blog back when I saw the first HP movie.

In brief, Brin calls Star Wars a “demigod tale”; analogously, Harry Potter isn’t worshipping another god, he is another god. He is born with powers no one else has, and he and his class despise the general run of mankind - the Muggles. Brin’s main concern was the democracy of equals vs. the depotism of the genetically superior, but I think that the deeper concern for children’s literature is the very concept of the boy born to be king. Most boys are not born to be king.

Frodo is a positive moral example because, like the Narnia children, he was sometimes weak, and paid the price, and ultimately he chose to do good despite the temptation not to get involved. Harry Potter, on the other hand, regularly lies to his family and his teachers. He breaks the rules and is rewarded for it because he is the anointed one. He does good accidentally, as part of his mysterious demigod nature, starting with his defeat of Voldemort while still an infant.

HP certainly is a pagan book, but not because of the magic.

In response to RJ’s comments on the above, I said part of the following:

Harry isn’t the analogue of Anakin Skywalker, but of Luke Skywalker (unless something unexpected happens in the later books). Part of Brin’s point was that Luke was born to be a demigod, and that that is a bad sort of person to star in fiction. His points about Anakin are valid, but irrelevant to HP.

I admit I’ve only read the first two HP books, but it’s not clear to me that anyone else is as powerful as Harry. Other characters constantly reinforce the specialness of Harry and the belief that Harry defeated Voldemort as an infant - and therefore, his unusual power even among wizards. Later revelations won’t negate that initial impression for me. How would you disprove Harry’s superior powers, unless by a faceoff between, say, Snape and Harry? That’s unlikely to happen, and any apparent superior skill among Harry’s elders can be attributed to education and experience rather than innate talent.

It is likewise clear to me that Muggles are, if not to be despised, at least to be pitied. I don’t think you can excuse Harry’s behavior by his bad Muggle parentage - it was the author’s decision to give him bad parents, to put him in that situation, and therefore to glorify his rebellion, however justified, to minors. It’s certainly true that the story of the boy born to be king (with a side of evil stepparent) is quite common - for example, it occurs in Star Wars - but that doesn’t make it an admirable story. I find it morally questionable.

You know I don’t believe in protecting children from literature, so what I’m really questioning is the appeal of HP. I think it’s so popular with children precisely because it tells this fantasy (in the bad sense of the word) of the boy born to be king, who’s the most popular in the school, who’s the most talented at sports, who has the most magical powers, who’s the most oppressed by his clearly evil guardians, and who saves the world in every novel.

Anyway, in real life we don’t see every infraction summarily punished…

Good literature does not copy real life, it idealizes it. What happens in the books expresses the ideals behind them. Especially in a fantasy, you can’t say that the author was just being realistic - that’s not the nature of literature, and certainly not of fairy tales.

So why do we expect anything different from fiction?

Well, the reason I expect more from fiction is that I still remember reading Lewis and Tolkien and Leguin as a child, and you mentioned two of them. When I read HP, I was surprised at how flat it seemed, how little it had in common with the books I remember. Lewis’ and Tolkien’s stories took average characters and put them into difficult situations which they overcame because of their moral qualities (and possibly supernatural aid), not because of native power or birthright. Frodo was the best hobbit in the Shire because of his character, not his parentage or his inheritance of the Ring. At best, with Harry it’s unclear whether his choices or his powers are behind his success, and though that doesn’t make the HP novels particularly evil, it does make them inferior as literature to the others you mentioned.

The Two Towers

Sunday, December 29th, 2002

…or, The Ring Goes Astray

The rosy spectacles of memory have been working their magic on The Fellowship of the Ring for a year now, but as I look back at that blog entry, I realize that the second movie was just more of the same. Here’s what I said last time:

The scenery was wonderful, and the choices of what to cut from the book were not bad choices. However, the choices to rewrite the dialogue, plot and characters were all bad choices - too many to name, but all of them poor indeed. Let me clue the producer in: You’re not J.R.R. Tolkien. You’re not even Christopher Tolkien.

Here’s a comment I made in Lori’s blog before I’d seen the new movie:

If it were me spending millions of dollars and years of people’s lives filming LotR, I’d follow the book. It’s the best-loved work of literature of the twentieth-century - it takes a lot of gall to think you could improve on that. Needless to say, you’d be wrong - major changes to the plot and characterization just date the movie and the producer’s neuroses.

Now Lori informs me that the producer is making the series PC - which just dates the movies and the producer’s politics. Angering Faramir-lovers is only a sideline. Having been warned about the wretched things done in Ithilien, I was more incensed by the illogic of the Ent scenes. Why didn’t Treebeard know Saruman had been cutting down trees? What kind of Ent doesn’t know about that? And why was Merry so hot to get the Ents to help him, when he’d had no contact with the outside world beyond orc kidnappers? What could he possibly have had in mind for Treebeard to do? I understand that there’s an attempt here to make the main characters more significant in the events around them, but Merry and Pippin were supposed to be baggage. (Ten to one that scene gets cut.)

On the Arwen watch, the gratuitous ring shots were replaced by gratuitous mystery-flower-jewelry shots. Arwen did give Aragorn a piece of jewelry in the books, but it wasn’t a flower. It was the Elessar - a nice green rock, if I recall correctly. [I didn’t, but I fixed it.] I suppose Grunge!Aragorn is too macho to wear jewelry on his forehead. Little as I like Arwen overuse, especially her habit of resurrecting a dying Fellowshipper every movie, I have to admit that the confrontation between her and Elrond was well-done. I liked his Middle-Earth is going down in flames - get out while the getting is good speech and the flash-forward to the consequences of not getting out.

So there’s no time to make sense of the Fangorn scenes, but there is time to add a pointless float down a non-existent river for Aragorn. Frodo also takes a major detour to a river he’s not supposed to be anywhere near, but does the audience the service of not falling in. If Peter Jackson weren’t so involved in telling his story, he’d have had time to cover the important parts of Tolkien’s story.

I thought the movie dragged - there was plenty of action but little plot to back it up. The Fangorn scenes were a typical example of that, as was Gandalf’s instant cure of Theoden. Especially after the first hour or so, I felt as if I were watching a very long music video rather than a movie. If I had the DVDs (and, of course, a DVD player), I’d watch the movies with the sound turned off. They’re beautiful, even the battle scenes. I’ve always had trouble picturing Helm’s Deep, not to mention thousands of orcs streaming in and around it. Gollum was also a special effect, which may explain why he was so good, as well as relatively true to character.

The Lord of the Rings is not a particularly psychological novel; it would be possible to film the entire thing more or less as written, the way, say, Pride and Prejudice was (in the six-hour version). Someday it may be possible to run Peter Jackson’s version through a nice graphics program and come out with the movie Tolkien would have made, or to make it from scratch without the overhead of extras, studios and travel to New Zealand. That would be a fine use of technology.

The Sixth Sense, Distress

Saturday, November 16th, 2002

Word count: 22,912

Sometimes, everything comes together at the end in a way you never saw coming, even though you saw the hints and you knew that they were hints. I just saw “The Sixth Sense” tonight, and I was blown away. I’m sure everyone else on the planet has seen it already; besides, I don’t know what to say about books or movies that are good.

The Greeks thought that the highest art was the drama, acted live on a stage. In principle I believe that, especially when I see M. Night Shyamalan movies. In practice, however, the novel is still my favorite art form. I go through periods when I think I’ve read all the good writers and there’s nothing left out there. Some books cannot be topped - no one is ever going to beat The Lord of the Rings at its own game. Tolkien was the sort of mad medieval throwback Oxford don genius who should have died in the Great War with the rest of his generation, but didn’t. Whether or not you like JRR, you have to admit that no one is going to create another Middle Earth with six or seven original languages and write poetry in them. Tolkien was a human vacuum fluctuation out of which an entire universe was born.

Last time I read Greg Egan, I enjoyed him despite the science and math overdose. This time I was blown away - there are still good writers out there, waiting to be read. Distress is about tabloids, politics, anarchists, intimacy, gender, isolationism, solipsism, autism, disease, bioengineering, physics, metaphysics, ethics, the eye of the observer, and the Australian psyche. The topics glide in and out of one another in the eyes of a jaded Aussie journalist whose videocamera is in his navel.

Like The Sixth Sense, Distress fooled me for most of the book into thinking it was just your average sci-fi adventure. There were themes, and I saw them and knew that they were themes. I was even sorry that one of them wasn’t more central, and then I reached the end and found out that it was more central than I could ever have imagined.

I admire Ayn Rand for writing novels in which she brought her philosophy to life, and Distress is a book that gives scientific materialism a name and a habitation. I’m surprised that it wasn’t even nominated for a Hugo or Nebula (as far as I can tell). The theme of materialism (that is, that there is nothing but matter in man and in the universe - no gods, no souls, no external meaning) is such a common one in science fiction that you would think that a novel which did for materialism what Rand did for objectivism would become the cult classic that Atlas Shrugged is.

Instead, it seems to have turned some people off, including the person who made this list of math-fiction. I guess materialism is all well and good until someone illustrates it a little too vividly.