The Sameness Of Chuck Palahniuk

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Depending from where you’re coming from the problem (or attraction) of Chuck Palahniuk is that all his novels are about the same things and cover all the exact same themes over and over again. Sure, every author covers similar themes and ideas throughout their career due to the fact that they’re one singular person with a limited set of ideals and experiences that constantly get fed into their work. Where Palahniuk differs for me is that his repeated themes of parental issues, sexuality, addiction, shock value and satire of popular culture among others always resonate in the same way in each novel, generally consuming a main character and their troubles to deal with the outside world.

His first four novels from Fight Club to Survivor to Invisible Monsters to Choke literally just feels like he remade Fight Club three times over following the same idea of a troubled protagonist dealing with whatever sort of addiction, coupled with their messed up state of mind and daddy and mommy issues. Don’t get me wrong, Fight Club was a really good book and I enjoyed the small twists Choke did, but the rest of the novels felt like Palanhiuk just swapped out a few characters and a new locale and created a “new” book.

After those first four novels is where Palahniuk started to get real inventive and thus started his whole gimmick of each novel having some kind of weird and wacky narrative device to tell the story, whether it was a framing of interwoven short stories or an oral biography or a multi-POV perspective or a novel in broken english or whatever, Palahniuk had unlimited schtick it seemed to write a novel in. In one aspect I really loved this, because in the face of his first four books he now wasn’t keen to repeat the same boring narrative structure, but instead challenged himself and the reader to consume this media through whatever gimmick he had that intended to serve the material the best, whether it worked or not. I enjoyed the And Then There Were None aspect of Haunted, even if he didn’t quite pull it off in the end and thought the idea to do Pygmy in the broken English perspective of an exchange student was a perfect way to skewer culture and society. Others like Tell-All and Rant didn’t work too well, with a narration and oral history gimmick, didn’t work well because they weren’t interesting or engaging on either level of content or through any sort of device.

On the other hand of things the Palahniuk devices can become tiring because often its just a flashy cover for the same things we’ve been reading about all these years. It’s like a big budget Hollywood moving using amazing CGI and effects to distract you how bad the actual narrative of the film is at its core. That’s an extreme example, and I don’t feel like Palahniuk’s novels are bad, if anything very average, it’s just that often these narrative devices just seem like they become a gimmick just to be a gimmick and have no place rather than just for being a new and crazy way for Palahniuk to put out a new novel. Like I mentioned before, some work good, while others don’t amount to much at all. The one thing I really took away from reading his entire bibliography is that he has not one great or singular classic I could really take away. I guess you could argue for Fight Club (even though I like Lullaby the best), but there isn’t really a seminal piece of his work that rises above the others and thus it all just muddles into the same.

I think that’s the problem in the end, is that writing about all these same or similar things you’re going to get some good and bad novels, but nothing ever rises above that, and nothing a gimmick narrative device could ever improve. Another thing that Palahniuk is perhaps most widely known or thought of in the mainstream culture or with people who are only slightly familiar with him is his dark and explicit deceptions of sexuality and gruesome scenes. Again fitting in with what I’ve said before, his repetition of what he thinks is “shocking” behaviour that he thinks will get the reader all riled up just becomes predictable and old-hat after you read it for the tenth time, and just becomes a lame gimmick among many that falls flat and doesn’t achieve its desired effect.

Aside from my negative tone of the majority of the article, I really don’t dislike Palahniuk and actually think he’s a pretty good writer. His first two short story collections are pretty good (and I generally don’t really like short stories all that much) and demonstrated how good of a write he is when he’s not always depend on writing inside of a gimmick or in certain narrative thematic parameters. And I guess what it all comes down to is unevenness in his bibliography where I liked a bunch of his novels (Fight Club, Choke, Lullaby, Doomed), but hated many of the same (Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Tell-All) and was never left with that one definitive Palahniuk novel that rose above the rest.

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‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 4 Review

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Season four and the series ends with a drive towards the finish line from the start of the episodes and never lets up until all is revealed, for better or worse. I’m happy to say that what I hoped this season would be, in that it was a season of television focused on wrapping up and explaining what it had been building to this point with few distractions, was exactly what I got. Unlike in previous seasons there was less of the one-off episodes that just seemed to fill a hole or expound upon the ideals of a certain character, with this season focusing on the overall narrative of the series and attempting to wrap it up. Not that makes things particularly easier or anything, as this show had seemingly more storylines and mythology than I can easily recall at a glance, not limited to what the heck is ever up with Starbuck and her returning from the dead, the final five mystery Cylons, whatever is ongoing with Number Six and Baltar, Adama/Roslin, and then of course the whole thing about finding an “Earth” to settle on and whatever “force” is driving them to find it.

Ultimately, I kind of didn’t realize until they were on the downwind of things that the show indeed had a ton of mysteries and plot all going at once and driving headwards into a conclusion at the same time, which felt kind of clustered with a lot of reveals or explanations just thrown to the side or explained away in the most base way possible. I mean, like it or not you got explanations to overall mysteries, but the payoffs with how the Kara Strace character was revealed and the prominence of the Final Five did not seem to be equated to how they were built up or brandished to how important we were supposed to perceive them as. In the end the show bit off a bit more than it could chew, and like I’ve mentioned before, a more toned back and focused show (in both episodes and narrative content) would’ve made things work a lot better and allowed their main ideas to breathe and be developed more.

In the end it’s not like I was totally offended by how things ended so abruptly or without too much concern to being faithful to its buildup. As well, I was only committed to this show for a few weeks, compared with people who watched over years and had realtime commitment and expectations in a show that carried them this long with these mysteries only to underwhelm in explaining what largely the whole point of the show was. The majority of these endings being explained with some religious connotation whether some characters were “angels” or the entire fleet was being directed and influenced by some kind of god didn’t really alienate me or feel cheap to me because it still felt very much like a key tenant that this show believes in. The show from day one was always more interested in ideas of religion or spirituality in driving characters, being a framework for human civilization in whatever format (ie. on Caprica, Battlestar, new earth or whatever), and just largely being something that hung over the machinations of plot and any of the science fiction devices. It goes back to knowing that the show was far more interested in doing something beyond prototypical “science fiction” means, and sure near the end they compounded things too much, but it still remained faithful to what the show was, just that it seemingly came out of nowhere and became the forefront of answering away many of the show’s mysteries.

Coming away from the show I definitely have a greater appreciate for not only the show itself, but what can be done not only within the science fiction genre and within any genre where you take the basic tenants of it and either build something new off of it or use its typical framework against it. It managed to not only be a good science fiction show, but also a show that would’ve been just as good with the sci-fi elements devoid and removed from its fantasy metaphor and put in a real-world situation. I can’t say that I completely fell in love with the show or anything like that, but it was consistently good throughout its run where I can’t pick out a stretch or season that was particularly bad, but indeed it was quality from the outset. Battlestar Galactica was a show with a sci-fi backdrop that never intended to settle with being just that, and in doing so pushed it to become something that took elements from shows previous to it and morphed it into genre faire that was more about seeking answers and trying to understand what it means to be “human” and the relationships that falter or strive from this pursuit.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 3 Review

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Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica sees the show in unfamiliar territory with the main action not taking place on the Battlestar, but instead shows the imprisonment on New Caprica and the efforts to escape. I enjoyed this little mini-arc that served as a nice breather as the show used to do more frequently in the beginning with placing the characters off the ship, so it was a nice change of pace to see the characters having to deal and interact with this new space. I would’ve even liked to see them stretch out this time on New Caprica and parse it a little more, but I understand them not wanting to dwell too much on this and get back to their status quo with adventures on the ship. Really, the whole idea of putting them on New Caprica was just a nice cliffhanger for the second season finale and something they easily remedied early in the third season, and not an actual game changer in the landscape of the show like I thought it would be, but one does wonder how it could’ve played out more largely to the overall end game of the show and not just a quick roadblock for an easy cliffhanger.

The rest of the season falls into a similar pattern from the second season. There’s a mix of bottle-esque episodes where a story will be largely self-contained within one episode mixed in with the episodes that push the series long storylines forward with their pursuit of earth, they mysteries behind Starbucks and what she possibly possesses in their quest for freedom and the quelling on inside and outside Cylon threats. Immediate Cylon attacks and confrontation seem to be a bit mellowed in this season where there is less one-on-one battle and meetings with them in their physical form, yet the show still manages to portray their threat in the continually wracked nerves and sanity of the crew, who seemingly keep getting stressed piled on top of them until it breaks. Thus, the show further explores the relationships between Starbuck/Apollo, Adama/Roslin along with Baltar/Number Six, which all work fine enough, but the way the show handles its relationships all seems very “high school” and immature at times with me. As a matter of fact the show feels like some teen drama at a high school at times with its petty dealings between the populous and dalliances between the crew.

While I enjoyed the switch between stand-alone episodes and series storyline pushing episodes, it felt very stop and start and by the end of the season there wasn’t all THAT much accomplished in the 20 episodes that really felt getting any closer to unlocking the what the show is supposedly driving toward. Really it was only the last couple of episodes that really pushed things along, with the Baltar trial (which was really good and my favourite stuff from the season possibly) and Starbuck’s disappearance. Its that sometimes the feels a lot more of a hangout-type of show with the stand-alone episodes seeming rather pointless and often feel just-like stop gaps or episodes the show had to fill until they could get back to the ones that pushed the plot forward. In that aspect I would’ve love to have seen the season episode orders shortened to 10-13, so the show could focus on moving the story along at a nice clip, without having to add in these filler episodes that stunted the momentum of the season.

I’m looking forward to season four, though, because they’ve done a pretty good job so far in teasing all these mysteries and secrecies behind finding earth and possible special forces living in certain characters pushing them to these certain places (BSG loves its religion analogies) and I’m sure we’ve still got more things to learn about the Cylons. I’m really hoping for a mad dash to the finish line with the show perfectly set up to wrap things up, especially with them not having been on for so long that they’ve worn out their welcome or haven’t compounded their mystery and complicated it by putting it through the wringer so many times that it doesn’t make sense anymore *ahem*Lost*ahem*, so basically don’t screw up this ending is what I’m saying.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 2 Review

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Battlestar Galactica is the exact same show as The Office. I’m serious. Alright, not completely, but I couldn’t help but think of similarities between the two as I made my way through the second season of Battlestar. I knew coming in and from what the first season laid out that it was less going to be a “science fiction” show in the classic sense you might expect of them visiting new planets each episode, battling aliens (Cylons in this case) in epic battles all the time and just generally combating with various fantastical concepts and beings. Yes, there is a portion of that in the show, but largely a lot of this season concerns just the goings on on the Battlestar ship and all the drama, tension, fights and so on that would just naturally occur from these people basically creating a new world on this lone fleet that are constantly in danger, heightening all the emotions.

Where The Office gives you a comedic take on the slice of life and inter-office happenings of a local paper company, Battlestar Galactica gives you a dramatic (and sometimes comedic) slice of life and inter-office happenings of the last remaining humans on a spaceship trying to find refuge and avoiding the cyborg beings that eliminated the majority of their race. Both take on the same concept, just in slightly different ways. Battlestar doesn’t need to be visiting a new planet each week and encountering new races and having epic dog fight battle each week, they do have them, but it’s connection and building of these characters, their values and relationships actually make these moments when they are in peril from Cylon attacks or encounter something new and revolutionary to their cause mean that much more because of how well all the character and inter-relationship ties are woven together. I mean, sure, this show was on Sci-Fi after all, so it’s not like they had the budget to be going all out on epic science-fiction-y thing each episode, but even still the show’s not really about that.

It’s no secret and is largely what this show was founded on, but the science fiction backdrop of the show is really superfluous when you really get down to it, with all the themes and storylines the show develops so easily able to be lifted and placed onto any other real world dramatic show. Sometimes I feel the show hits it a little too on the head, largely with the whole analogy of the Cylons being some kind of invading sect like “foreigners” from another country and the danger they pose, like being compared as terror threat. The science fiction aspect on the other hand gives it a good dimension to explore societal topics like abortion, which doesn’t seem too shoehorned in just to give them an excuse to debate the sides of the issue. The world of the show that has been set-up allows this abortion debate to actually mean something within the show with the deepening debate of whether they should keep a baby alive because it’s a live being, going against the fact that it’s a Cylon (the things out to kill them). A lot of the societal parallels are very blatant and on the nose, and I mean it’s hard not to be because if you just subtract the presence of the Cylons and the establishing shots to show this is in space, the show just looks like any government drama you see dealing with real world problems, because these are all real world problems, they just sometimes have to deal with cyborgs. Also, the show makes no qualms that it’s a lot more interested in telling stories of power struggles, political dealings and how the human condition reacts in extended periods of peril over the constant shoot ‘em up alien fights you might expect from some a show like this without knowing much about it.

Season two works well because it balances all of its elements quite well. There’s a lot of episodes just concerning the inner-goings on of the ship and the dueling powers, that largely just develops the people and their motives, which sometimes comes close to spinning its wheels, but then they’ll throw in some episodes that push the plot along, or begin to unravel or reveal things that’ll play out in full later. The ending of the season does well to highlight this and also assure that they’re not content with keeping the status quo that was maintained throughout the season of being removed from a huge Cylon threat. As soon as we think the people have found a worthy planet capable of habitation the Cylons are right on their track, taking over the planet and imprisoning all of our characters as the season ends. That’s something I continually love about this show, how it constantly gives the characters a brief moment of happiness or satisfaction and then the rug just gets pulled right out from under them. It does well to establish and further the condition of these people and how much of a constant threat the Cylons are even when they think they are free and clear. It’s just like any normal life really, just a series of highs and lows and learning to enjoy when you’re on top because the bottom could just be around the corner, and who knows what it will hold.