The Apocalypse has been rescheduled: A review of “Good Omens”

It’s old news now, but Amazon is making a television show of “Good Omens,” the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel on nuclear Apocalypse and what happens when the Antichrist decides he’d rather have an idyllic British country childhood instead.

Good Omens

I originally read “Good Omens” years ago when I was on the tail end of a Terry Pratchett binge-athon. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a non-Discworld offering, as I’d read “The Nation” a year or so before and hadn’t enjoyed it nearly as much, but “Good Omens” came highly recommended and with a back cover covered in praise as opposed to a description of the plot, which I normally abhor but will admit is generally a good sign.

Spoilers ahead!

The story goes thusly: the Apocalypse is upon us, and the demons of Hell have enlisted a Satanistic order to pose as nurses in order to bring Lucifer’s spawn to the world and give him to an important American family. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), there’s a bit of a miscommunication and the spawn of Satan ends up with an ordinary British family that lives in a small country town.

Meanwhile, Crowley, a devil, and Aziraphale, an angel, are busy keeping an eye on the child they think is the Antichrist, each trying to persuade him towards their side. The result is that the real Antichrist has an incredibly ordinary childhood. Admittedly, he is a bit more charismatic than your average 11-year old, but still. Mostly he just rides his bike around, pulling pranks with the posse of children who are attracted to him.

Meanwhile meanwhile, there’s Anathema Device (I know), a young woman trying to stop the Apocalypse. How does she know it’s coming, you ask? Well, her ancestor was a seer, condemned witch, and author of “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter,” the only truly accurate prophetic book written in history.

At least the Apocalypse will be funny…

So as you can see there’s a lot going on, as there would be when the Apocalypse is at hand. You’d think it would be stressful for the reader, but “Good Omens” is written in that quintessential Pratchett style – a humor that is derived from the idiosyncrasies of human beings and the ways that morphs their perspectives and priorities. Take Shadewell, a witch hunter whose morality is derived directly from his medieval predecessors – except for the part where he takes advantage of both Aziraphale and Crowley by pretending there are way more witch hunters in his organization so that they’ll pay him more.

(Why are Aziraphale and Crowley paying him at all? Apparently witch hunting is one of those things that is encouraged on both sides).

There’s a lot of Pratchett in “Good Omens.” I haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, so I obviously can’t comment on how his style influences the book. What I can say is that it reflects a recurring theme in Pratchett’s writing: humanity as being above the morality of Heaven and Hell. In the Discworld books, Pratchett repeatedly positions the complexity of the human experience against the black-and-white morality of traditional organized religion. He challenges the idea that God’s Will is always good and pure, and instead positions our own free will as being morally superior.

As a religious person myself, this theme is one that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I believe that God has given us free will, and that morality is indeed complex. Indeed, I would say that God gives us free will so that we can tackle that complexity. But on the other hand, I do believe in the ultimate judgement of God, and that He is the arbiter of good and evil and right and wrong, whereas Pratchett would suggest that it is human beings who must take on that task.

So as you can see, for being a comedic romp through the Apocalypse, “Good Omens” is deceptively complex, and a book I would highly recommend. If you’re a fan of the Discworld, you’ll enjoy the patterns it takes from those books, but even if you’re not familiar with Pratchett’s work, I think it serves as a good introduction to his style.

With the television show coming out I’m hoping that style will translate, because it’s really one of the major selling points of “Good Omens” to me. These kind of adaptations are really hit or miss, and I feel like given that the book has a definite end maybe it would do better as a movie. I do have Amazon Prime so I might give it a shot – stay tuned!

Are you planning to watch the “Good Omens” adaptation? Let me know in the comments!

How many buildings can we blow up in one episode? A review of “Dirty Pair”

About a week or so ago I stumbled on the Tumblr blog “Yuri Looking Pissed.” I was about to scroll right on by, but this caught my attention:

And that’s the end of Yuri Looking Pissed! What started out as me making a joke on Twitter turned into a way for me to share my love of Dirty Pair, as well as an excuse for me to share goofy screenshots.

The way it was written reminded me a lot of Josei Next Door’s Sailor Moon recaps, so obviously the next question was: what’s “Dirty Pair”?

As it turns out, “Dirty Pair” is an ’80s-era anime about two women, Kei and Yuri (aha!) who work as intergalactic special ops police officers for an organization called WWWA or 3WA. The show, in case you couldn’t tell, is set back in the future – specifically, the 22nd century. Kei and Yuri’s code name is Lovely Angels, but they’re constantly referred to as Dirty Pair because of the trail of destruction they tend to leave in their crime-fighting wake. Kei is particularly trigger-happy and fully believes that the best way to get things done is to shoot at people relentlessly until they obey. Yuri is not much better, but she’s armed with a light-saber style sword instead of a gun, so that tends to limit the amount of damage she can wreak.

Ah, the delicate flowers of womanhood.

The show didn’t get a lot of traction in its day, so the series is quite short.  The original “Dirty Pair” is only 24 episodes long I believe, and “Dirty Pair Flash,” its ’90s-reboot cousin, is a series of three seasons each with only five or six episodes.

I started out watching “Dirty Pair Flash” – and the dub, nonetheless, so I’m fully prepared to be crucified by internet fandom hordes. But hear me out for a second. I decided to watch “Flash” because it was such a low time commitment, and I wasn’t sure if I would even like the show. When I finished the first season, I went back to watch the original…and didn’t like it as much. I only saw one episode, so perhaps I need to give it few more before I render judgment (and I most likely will), but I found that “Flash’s” short seasons meant that you got dropped into the action right away, and the storyline in general was tighter and more fast-paced than that of the original.

Also, I’m not sure I can get behind this style. The phrase “’80s-tastic” comes to mind:

The hair alone is upsetting, but shoulder pads!! C’mon guys! Via Yuri Looking Pissed

Questionable fashion and style choices aside, I really like the show. It’s like a cross between “Thunder Jet” and “Star Wars” but with awesome girls who work for the galaxy authorities as opposed to against.

Of course, that might be part of the problem. There is certainly a “fighting the man” component to a lot of popular television shows that resonate with a target audience of tweens and teens, who often see themselves as victims of the powers that be, i.e. parents, teachers, librarians, crossing guards, driving instructors, etc.

The show also doesn’t fit the “magical girl” genre, in the sense that neither Kei nor Yuri are magical, nor do either of them display the qualities of “femininity” that young girls are socially conditioned to aspire to. Yuri, at least in “Flash,” can be incredibly whiny and annoying; Kei would probably just straight up murder you if you said the wrong thing to her. This doesn’t bother me at all, but I’m also an adult who has come to appreciate that sometimes, whininess and aggression get things done. I don’t know that 12-year-old me would feel the same.

Magical girls also have the advantage of visually appealing and fantasy inducing transformations. In cases where they don’t, they exude a sense of elegance and beauty that falls much more easily into those traditional paradigms of femininity and womanhood.

It’s crime-fightin’ time! Excuse me while I get dressed.

Kei and Yuri are not dressed to fit that paradigm. Their uniforms (I use this word very, very loosely) are what many would call provocative – “Flash” particularly does not shy away from cartoon nudity – and one gets the sense that they’re designed to appeal to a male gaze.

Nothing says “we mean business” like brandishing guns in your underwear. Via Oh no! It’s the Dirty Pair!

If you look at the Sailor Scouts’ costumes, they’re not necessarily any more modest, and there is arguably quite a bit of suggested nudity in the transformation sequences. However, the design – skirts, bows, an emphasis on nail polish and gloves and nice shoes – gives the viewer a sense that this is targeted to girls and their sensibilities and preferences.

(It may be worth noting at this point that the creator of “Dirty Pair,” Haruka Takachiho, and the illustrator, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko are both men. Naoko Takeuchi, writer and illustrator of “Sailor Moon,” is female).

Now, there’s no reason why this show shouldn’t be targeted towards boys. Unfortunately, boys tend not to consume media where females are the main characters. Fun fact: J.K. Rowling’s publisher insisted that they use her initials on the “Harry Potter” covers instead of her name because they were concerned that boys wouldn’t buy a book written by a woman.

Why this is the case is an issue beyond this particular post’s ability to tackle (but stay tuned!). The point is this: you may not have heard of “Dirty Pair” before. You may not have found it interesting or engaging as a child. Watch it now. It’s good.

And let me know which you like better, “Flash” or the original!

Nadia watches Netflix: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

I don’t know why this show is classified as a comedy.

Is it funny? Yes. There are certainly moments of hilarity that catch you by surprise and make you actually LOL, but they are far outnumbered by the sheer depressiveness that drives the actual plot.

In “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe plays a med school graduate in 1917 Russia. He’s a star student with zero experience, sent out to a small village in the middle of an unending blizzard. The nearest town is three days away, and not surprisingly, our hero is less than thrilled about this, especially with all the excitement happening in Moscow.

The reason we’re being introduced to the young doctor’s rather unfortunate circumstances is because of Jon Hamm, who plays the same doctor 17 years later, in 1934. He’s under investigation and in the process finds the notebook he kept of that time, which also chronicles his descent into morphine addiction, something he is trying to hide from the Revolutionary Guard going through all his stuff.

So not really the premise for a comedy, although again, the show has its moments of hilarity. Mostly these come from the city-bred, educated doctor’s clash with the uneducated residents of this sad little village, whose idea of medicine is limited to “gargle” and “drops.” In one particularly dark/hilarious scene, Radcliffe is insisting on operating on a young girl who is unconscious and clearly dying, her face completely blue. Her mother, sobbing and terrified of surgery, asks, “Can’t you just give her some drops?”

I’m going to be honest and say that I was predisposed to liking this show. I have a fascination with anything set in Russia during the first half of the 20th century, especially during or around the Russian revolution. I also like comedies. As much as I like it, however, there is no denying that the show is dark. Visually, the setting is gloomy and gray. Radcliffe’s life is incredibly dull, stuck as he is in this little hospital surrounded by 12 feet of snow. He becomes more and more disinterested in his patients’ welfare in the face of their ignorance and their admittedly blase attitude to health and hygiene. Still, because the seasons are so short (four episodes each), it seems like he succumbs to depression rather quickly.

Hamm, meanwhile, is struggling to hide his morphine addiction. This is where the show loses me a little. Hamm watches his younger self take morphine and laments his fate, but in reality that’s just not how painkiller addictions work. It’s not something that kicks in from the first moment, especially if, as in the case of our young doctor, you take the painkiller for actual pain. As long as you’re taking a painkiller for genuine physical pain, you should not get addicted – this is why morphine is used in hospitals, but not cocaine or opium (anymore, at least).

In any case, “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” is a show I highly recommend. It’s the kind of show that’s a new take on the well-known setting of revolution-era Russia and pokes a little fun at it while at the same time addressing a difficult – and very modern – issue. One thing I know for sure, after this show, I’m going to read Tolstoy with a very different mindset.

The nature of human nature: A review of “Last Man in Tower”

Last Man in Tower” is a novel by Indian writer Aravind Adiga. The story is about the struggle between a real estate developer and the residents (eventually, resident) of the tower block he wants to tear down.

Via goodreads

I was intrigued by the book because its premise is very different from a lot of the “set in India” novels you usually get. Here, there are no arranged marriages, no slum dwellers, no epic Bollywood lifestyles. Instead, “Last Man in Tower” is a story about a universal issue, gentrification, and the impact it has on this one building and its middle-class dwellers.

The developer wants the land in order to build his dream project, and he offers to pay an exorbitant amount of money to the residents of the dilapidated Mumbai tower block so as to tempt them into selling him their flats. The catch: they have to accept the offer by a certain day, and they all have to sell before anyone can get the money.

At first, several residents resist, but the developer is able to convince all of them except for an old retired schoolteacher. And thus the conflict goes from developer vs. residents to everyone vs. teacher.

The teacher, by the way, has good standing in the building – he tutors some of the other residents’ children. But he’s also known for being very strict, so as each resident gives in, their opinion of him warps. Instead of being a lovable if curmudgeonly old man, he becomes a cruel, selfish man who gets a kick out of traumatizing their kids with his outdated teaching methods.

The story, ultimately, is a reflection on human nature. What motivates good people to do bad things? What motivates one person to stand against his neighbors, pitting his will against theirs? How far can you push someone before they crack?

Why is it so easy to turn people against each other?

I won’t tell you what happens, because even the Chronic Spoiler has her limits, but I highly recommend the book. “Last Man in Tower” is a novel that goes beyond its setting to address universal issues, and its one that I think anyone can enjoy and learn from.

Too much bride, not enough Bollywood – A review of “The Bollywood Bride”

I took advantage of the holiday sales to buy a bunch of books from Kobo, an online store that specializes in e-reading. One of the books I purchased was “The Bollywood Bride” by Sonali Dev.


I’m about to tell you all about this book, but I want to start by saying that I came in super enthusiastic about this book. I am not Indian, but I have had many Indian friends over the years and that’s given me the opportunity to learn a little about Indian culture. I’m not an expert, obviously, which was part of why I was excited to read this book – given that it targets a non-Indian audience, I figured I’d learn more about India and Indian-American culture through the story. I was also excited because Sonali Dev is Indian – she grew up in India, traveled the world, and now lives in Chicago. I always get pumped for women telling their own stories, especially women of color. Here, I figured, was a chance to read a story of Indian-America through the eyes of someone who is actually Indian-American.

Spoilerwood, a love story

Without giving too much away, “The Bollywood Bride” is about an actress, Ria Parkar, whose family lives in Chicago. Ria was a frequent visitor as a child, but since achieving stardom over the course of a decade she has avoided returning to the U.S. As it turns out, there is a tragic backstory behind all this – she was forced to abandon the love of her life because she fears that she has inherited a serious mental disorder from her mother, whom she has secretly put up in an asylum in England.

Ria returns to the U.S. under duress to attend her cousin’s wedding, only to be reunited with her long-lost love. He is still bitter about her leaving him, and although admittedly she was pretty cold about it, this was 10 years ago. Get over it dude.

It’s clear from the outset that Ria and her love, Vikram, will end up together in the end. It is also clear that whatever fears she has about her mental health will be assuaged so that the happy couple can dance off into the sunset in true Bollywood fashion.

This is where the story starts to lose me. Personally, I don’t see why Vikram is so obsessed with Ria, other than that she was his first love. Ria is, of course, beautiful per her description, and she is depicted as polite and loving. She also has some artistic ability and talent as an actress. Beyond that, I’m not sure what the selling point is here. She has a tragic backstory, but that’s not exactly a personality trait.

(For the record, Vikram is also a little too perfect – fiery, passionate, but also kind, intelligent, and altruistic. In that sense, they’re a perfect match.)

I also don’t understand why Ria doesn’t at least try to seek treatment, to see what she can do about the illness she is convinced has been passed down to her. Her fear that she will inevitably end up like her mother, violent fits of psychosis included, is a driving force behind the story – it is the reason she leaves Vikram and the reason she resists his attempts to reconcile. And yet she does nothing to actually address it.

To her credit, Dev addresses this point. When word gets out in Bollywood that Ria has an “insane” mother, psychologists call on her by way of the press to receive treatment. They are clearly trying to get their 15 minutes of fame on the back of this most personal part of her life. However, it begs the question: why doesn’t she get treatment? I think this part of the story would have been better served if Dev had spent some time addressing this point. What kind of social stigma exists in India for those seeking mental health treatment, and how would that have impacted someone famous like Ria? What options are available to her? Could she seek treatment outside the country in secret? It would have been more satisfying, in my view, to have Ria struggling with trying to treat herself (doing research online, taking supplements, doing yoga, praying, paying a doctor exorbitant amounts of money to pretend she has a liver problem or something) than having her simply accepting her “fate” and making herself and everyone around her (Vikram included) miserable in the process.

Fortunately for Ria (and for me, because if I want to be depressed I’ll watch the news), there is a happy ending. When the Indian tabloids reach her family in America, Vikram jumps on a plane to see her, first going to Mumbai and then to England, where Ria is visiting her mother for the first time in a decade. Vikram assures her that he loves her no matter what, and that he’ll stand by her as she seeks treatment (finally!).

In the end, “The Bollywood Bride” is a cozy love story, but ultimately not a great way to learn about Indian culture. There is the wedding taking place in the background, and Ria’s interactions with her aunt and uncle in America, so it could prove interesting and educational for someone totally new to Indian culture. Dev’s other books, which are also set in an Indian-American context, promise a more in-depth look into the culture, so I’m looking forward to picking up another one soon.

So much for man’s best friend: A review of “Fifteen Dogs” by Andre Alexis

Several months ago, a very dear friend of mine gave me the book “Fifteen Dogs” as a present. Unforgivably, I did not get around to reading it until fairly recently despite the fact that I was instantly intrigued by the book’s premise.

In “Fifteen Dogs,” Canadian writer Andre Alexis imagines a world where the Greek gods of old walk among us. Two, Apollo and Hermes (the god of music and poetry and the god of transitions and boundaries, respectfully), take an interest in fifteen dogs who have the extreme misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – a veterinary clinic in Toronto. Apollo bets Hermes that dogs would be miserable if given human intelligence, while Hermes is convinced that at least one will die happy.

It’s a dog eat dog world

You can already guess that this does not go well for the dogs in question, who wake up in the middle of the night at the clinic and decide to escape their lives of servitude to carve out their own destinies. Over the course of the book, the dogs do what we humans did – develop a language, form a societal hierarchy and a culture, and, eventually, get into fights about what the language and culture should entail.

So far, so good. I mean, that’s how our species evolved, and look at us now! Sitting at the top of the food chain, lord of all that we see, unimaginable technology at our fingertips. Granted, we mostly use it to maim and/or kill each other and destroy the very environment from which we derive our needs, but let’s not get to bogged down in the details here.

Fairly quickly conflict arises, as some dogs seek to preserve their inherit “dog-ness” by refusing to acknowledge or develop the intelligence that was thrust upon them, while others want to see how far they can take it. One in particular, Prince, who develops poetry (it’s very nice, and believably doggish), quickly becomes a target of the top dog (hah!) and his allies. They are then forced to pursue alternative paths and find themselves unable to survive without the care of a pack or a human, and at the same time unable to ignore the new instincts that challenge and conflict with the lower status of pets.

I know humans suck, but still…

It’s not surprising that things go downhill so quickly. What is surprising is the way Alexis portrays dogs, even from the beginning, as being suspicious of and even hostile to humans. A few remain loyal to their current owners, and most of them have fond memories and a genuine love for their original owners, the ones they knew as puppies. There’s actually a very heartwarming scene towards the end where Hermes makes up partially for all the trouble he’s caused by rewarding one dog with a vision of the child he’d adored, but it stands in stark contrast to how dogs view humans in the rest of the book. At best, it seems, we are a necessary nuisance to dogs, performing the functions of the “alpha” of their pack, but not inspiring any more love than your average boss or teacher does. At worst we are vicious, cruel, unpredictable creatures who are best avoided.

Granted, that last sentence is a pretty apt description for humanity at large, but it was surprising to see it so clearly articulated from the dogs’ perspective. I expected more of the “man’s best friend” view of dogs, where their loyalty and sweetness is contrasted with our fickle nature. I’m not particularly fond of dogs myself – the small ones are adorable but I’m pretty sure that one day the bigger ones are going to turn on us and decide that fresh meat is better than packaged dog food – but even I was like “geez, I thought you liked us!”

Overall, I really enjoyed “Fifteen Dogs.” It’s well-written, it’s different, and it really makes you think about why we as humans use the gift of intelligence so cruelly. If you have a dog, however, you may find it very disconcerting. At a minimum, you’ll think twice before you ask your dog to roll over again.