The Company of the Dead, by David Kowalski

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First time author David Kowalski certainly took on an big task for his début novel: The Company of the Dead is a wildly ambitious story that hops around from genre to genre not so much breaking the rules of good writing as simply being completely oblivious to their very existence. The end result might not always be the prettiest or easiest read, but it’s certainly strikingly original and vividly rewarding for those prepared to stick with it.

The narrative starts with a retelling of the story of the fateful last night of Titanic, a good choice since most everyone knows those events courtesy of the 1997 James Cameron film. At first the account is accurate, but then as things proceed you’ll notice things starting to vary from the known facts: in particular, the ship successfully avoids the iceberg. One iceberg, at least, if not the second. People die who should live, and others that we know should die manage to survive. The effect on history proves to be immense as we move back to the modern day and find a steampunk world with huge dirigibles and even larger vessels dominating the skies above a completely unfamiliar geopolitical landscape. There’s a Cold War stand-off between two global superpowers, but now it’s Japan whose samurai enforcers walk the streets of New York City, while the rump of the former US is now the Confederacy and is aligned to the Kaiser’s global German Empire. There were no Nazis, Hitler was merely a little-remembered second-rate Austrian painter of the mid 20th century, but there was still a fatal shooting in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas in 1963. Read the rest of this entry »

Titanic (1997)

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Contains some spoilers, if one can ‘spoil’ a 15-year old film!

With the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic firmly on the horizon (April 15, folks) it’s no surprise that we’re awash with various programmes and books marking the centennial of the disaster that claimed over 1500 lives. And it’s even less of a surprise that the seminal 1997 blockbuster from director James Cameron has resurfaced just in time for the occasion as well. (Don’t worry, the maritime allusions stop now.)

It’s interesting seeing people’s comments in 2012 about the film. At the time the movie was a phenomenon, but it’s one that people now seem to be lining up to denigrate. It’s as if everyone is now as embarrassed by that outbreak of film fanaticism as they are about the similarly overwrought public outpouring of grief over the death of Princess Diana which had occurred just a few months previously. Everyone professes not to have been one of those caught up in the original event, and to disparage those who were and the person or film at the heart of it as unworthy.

Hence, Titanic is now generally dismissed as being pretty dreadful – even to the point of some comparing it unfavourably with the likes of Michael Bay’s execrable Pearl Harbor. You’re not going to get such unwarranted revisionism from me, however. While I’m not going to contend that it’s a work of total genius up there with the likes of Citizen Kane or The Godfather, the fact is that this is an impressive film which is far cleverer than people give it credit for. Read the rest of this entry »