Remake (1995) by Connie Willis

REVIEW CLICHÉ #16: The Half-Assed Parody/Tribute

Yep.

 

REVIEW CLICHÉ #42: The Canon Criticism (usually follows REVIEW CLICHÉ #41: The Canon Dump)

Glancing at the Gollancz SF Masterworks list, a non-SF fan might conclude that Connie Willis is the one of the only female sci-fi writers ever in the history of sci-fi. To me, she’s an odd addition to list; her work seems too recent to qualify for such a list and, while I’ve enjoyed a couple of her books to a certain degree, she doesn’t strike me as Master-status. I suspect her inclusion on the list might have been controversial at the time, considering the many other exciting and long-deserving female science fiction writers who were passed over in that decision. (Which, as I learned last year, has more to do with the copyright obstacles than anything else.)

 

REVIEW CLICHÉ #66: The Admission That Canon Books Just Discussed Have Not Been Read (Yet)

However, I still haven’t read her Masterwork-listed books, Doomsday Book (1992) and Time is the Fire (2013), so my opinion is not yet fully formed in that regard. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for this little number: Remake, a 1995 Hugo-nominated how-can-this-be-a-novel-I-have-recipes-that-are-longer-than-this-book?

 

REVIEW CLICHÉ #13: The Abruptly Wedged-In Summary That Not-Yet-Reads Won’t Read Because Spoilers and Already-Reads Won’t Read Because Already-Read.

In a near-future Hollywood, where all movies are CGI’d remakes of film classics, Tom, a student who works in the industry by removing AS (Addictive Substances) from films, meets Alis, a wannabe dancer who dreams of a starring role with Fred Astaire. Obsessed with Alis and her anachronistic career goals, Tom tries help her dreams come true, while at the same time reminding her that it’s impossible. Meanwhile, Tom’s friend “Hedda” plays the haplessly in-love third angle to this film-cliché love triangle.

 

REVIEW CLICHÉ #69: Positive Remarks so as not to Sound like a Complete Asshole

Clearly a dystopia, where old movies are remade, men overwhelmingly run the industry, and women with low self-esteem vie for director attention, it’s a disheartening read. When you realize Remake takes place in our now (“She was born the year Fred Astaire died” (7)- 1987, btw), where problems of gender-based pay differentials, overlooked female directors, and all-White casting are ignored for the more important problem of George Lucas’ involvement in the Star Wars reboot, you have to *sadly* applaud Willis for her terrible, depressing foresight.

The cliché and rather predictable love triangle pokes at movie formula, including her slightly-too-cheeky “MOVIE CLICHÉ” headings. With Tom’s job as AS-remover, Willis also tackles censorship, as it makes little difference in a society where drug and alcohol addiction run rampant.

 

REVIEW CLICHÉ #68: Subjective Criticism Dressed as Objective Criticism Laced with Acerbic Pronouncements

But ultimately, despite the clever nudges at the movie industry, the substance of Remake reads primarily as a thin, old-fashioned romance tale. It’s not biting enough to be satire, but not genuine enough to be pastiche. The cliché nature,  no matter how tongue-in-cheek, dulls the book and its odd, two-dimensional characters with peculiar motivations: Tom loves Alis, but he barely knows Alis; Hedda loves Tom, Tom is a jerk; Alis wants to dance in the movies, there aren’t any more movies. It smacks of cliché because it is deliberate cliché, but the commentary isn’t enough to impel reading. Willis’ criticisms of the film industry, censorship, and cliché are not novel— the same complaints have been heard long before 1995. She’s preaching to the theater, and Willis isn’t subtle enough to build a truly compelling tale around such heavy criticism. (Probably deliberate, given the cliché standard of the novel.)

 

REVIEW CLICHÉ # 181: An Important Point that’s Probably Not That Important but it Bookends the Theme of the Review and Will Inadvertently Confuse Skimming Readers

Remake1But Remake does serve to remind us of the extraordinary influence movies have over culture. It is a feedback loop, certainly, but when Tom makes the following observation, it makes me wonder if human interaction has evolved to become something less natural:

That’s what movies do. They don’t entertain us, they don’t send the message: ‘We care.’ They give us lines to say, they assign us parts: John Wayne, Theda Bara, Shirley Temple, take your pick. (48)

Hmm, it seems like Tom is saying something important here, but frankly, my dear reader, I don’t give a– .

 

I’ll be back.

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24 thoughts on “Remake (1995) by Connie Willis

  1. I sooooooo want you to review a Greg Egan novel!

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I think it will be a while before I get to an Egan novel. Does he play with cliché too?

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      • Not so much, but I guess I was really interested in how you approached this review in general that just made me think “she hasn’t done Egan yet…” Like with Heinlein, and so here with Willis, you may find a non-conventional way of doing Egan… but then you may not. Just be interesting to see what you think of his stories and ideas. I’ve only read two so far (Quarantine and Permutation City), and a collection of short stories, but I always liked what I read as far as idea-based stories go. I had two other of his novels in my possession but sadly lost them to the thieves of time (old friends).

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        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          I’ll definitely get to him some day. I haven’t heard enough about him to know what I’ll think, though didactic Hard SF comes to mind…

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  2. I’ve read a number of Connie Willis short stories, novelettes, and novellas, but no novels to date. I’ve been fairly impressed with what I’ve read. That being said, I don’t think this one would have piqued my interest just based on the subject matter. It just sounds like something that would be a disaster…I’m not sure why. Maybe the idea just sounds too cheesy to me. Firewatch remains my favorite of hers of what I’ve read, and I hope within the next reading year to actually take the time to read either The Doomsday Book or To Say Nothing of the Dog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      It is cheesy, but it’s not a mess. It’s all pretty clean and organized, which makes it hard to maintain interest because there’s just no real struggle or drama going on.

      Both The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog are on my list. That last one because the title is just so memorable 🙂

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  3. thebookgator says:

    Excellent. I’m ambivalent about Willis; there are a couple of her books that are on my all-time favorites, but I feel she’s used her general plotting to diminishing returns (say, since 2000), and with significantly less research that made mid career works so impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      That makes sense with what I’ve read of hers so far. I enjoyed Blackout/All Clear, but it needed to be whittled down to one book, and it felt too much like pop history.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hestia says:

    Like you, I thought Remake was only OK. I liked Bellwether, The Doomsday Book, and To Say Nothing of the Dog quite a bit.

    But her standouts, I think, are really her short stories, especially the ones from Fire Watch. (Although “The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective” nearly made me spit my coffee.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      That might explain the presence of her 2013 short story collection on the Masterwork list. It seemed out of place to me– it’s not talked about much and her career is much more recent than a lot of celebrated female short fiction writers. I will definitely check it out now.

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  5. I’ve enjoyed several of her short stories, and I keep hearing great things about Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. But… meh, this is why I’m so picky about reading SF published within my lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yeah, maybe that’s why her presence on the masterwork list confuses me: I associate the ’80s and ’90s with such poor fiction, only a few good novels stand out. It sounds like her short fiction is well worth looking into.

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  6. That was the best review ending ever. Here here. Loved the whole thing though of course. Far more than I loved the book. But I couldn’t manage to care enough to write more than three sentences about Remake, which pretty much says it all.

    I liked Bellwether a lot, but it still suffers from general shallowness. There is a real lack of nuance in her writing in general, at least in what of it I’ve read so far. Cheap humor. Cheap shots (her version of parody I guess). Though she still manages to make me laugh often enough (at least in Bellwether she did.)

    I will have to check out her short stories (I can’t believe I’m saying that, fucking short stories) since everyone has such good things to say about them here. Doomsday Book I can enjoy, but I find more than 50 % of it really, really annoying. There is about 1/4 of it that I can love, which I think is generally not enough to call it a masterwork. Still, I find myself wanting to read more of her work, perhaps because of how successfully Bellwether managed to entertain me but also because damn it if she’s on the Masterworks list so much doesn’t something of hers have to be fucking great? (Cough cough. Yeah, I know. Probably too optimistic a view of things.)

    I have Uncharted Territory on my shelf and from what I’ve read about it I’m not going to love that either. After that though I should really move on to the ones lots of people seem to like, To Say Nothing of the Dog (I love that title too) being first on the list.

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Haha, the ending was my favorite part, too. I didn’t expect to crank out more than 300 words, but half of that is long heading titles.

      I KNEW I knew someone who didn’t mesh with Doomsday Book! So many people love it, but I know I’ve read some criticism that suggests I might have a problem with it.

      As for the Masterwork list, Moon is a Harsh Mansplainer is on there, so I don’t expect them to all be gems, but I just don’t get why they rushed to add Willis, yet it’s missing Cherryh, CL Moore, even Bujold, (whose work I don’t care for but she’s so influential). I’m sure it’s due to copyright issues but still weird to see such uneven recognition of female writers on that list.

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      • It is enlightening to hear about the copyright issues that influence who gets on the list. But I totally agree, there are so many very influential names missing on that less. Ho hum.

        I am pretty sure you aren’t going to like Doomsday Book, though I think you are likely to like to more than Remake. I am pretty sure I only like Doomsday Book because I originally listened to the last half of it with a very high fever. So I was basically delirious and seriously empathizing with all the people dying from the plague. Relistening to it this month, I found even more of it annoying than I did the first time, but I stuck in it for the last bits with the plague. Apparently I need to read more books about that time period. Probably non-fiction.

        After all this I am starting to question why I am so dedicated to reading more of her work. Then again, PKD wrote some terrible novels, I and still worship him, so. Possibilities.

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        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          Well, she is a Masterwork writer, so that’s why I feel compelled to read her, no matter how rushed her inclusion seems to me. She did inspire me to buy not one but two green coats so I dress like Elaine from Blackout/All Clear, so that’s pretty important.

          Haha about listening to a book about the plague while being sick. I also think audiobooks tend to improve the quality of a book, no matter how good or bad it is (unless the narrator is horrible), so.maybe second time around, you noticed stuff the actor helped to disguise during the first time.

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  7. Hestia says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that Blackout/All Clear reads like pop history. I burned out a little bit on Passage, so I haven’t gotten to those two yet.

    In some ways, Willis is just so readable and so smart (and for me personally, shares so many interests…science fiction, Golden Age musicals, Shakespeare, Harrison Ford — yes, please!) that I can see why they canonized her so quickly. And there was a time when she was winning ALL the awards, so it certainly works on paper.

    At the same time, there’s a pop superficiality about her work that can be really annoying. Even The Doomsday Book, which has moments of genuine power, often undercuts itself with silliness and plot tricks.

    Also, she has said (and it’s pretty obvious) that Uncharted Territory is Heinlein pastiche, so…do with that what you will.

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    • “At the same time, there’s a pop superficiality about her work that can be really annoying. Even The Doomsday Book, which has moments of genuine power, often undercuts itself with silliness and plot tricks.”

      YES. Yes yes yes yes yes.

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      She did inspire me to wear a green winter coat so I can be justlike Elaine from Blackout. I can’t think of silliness in what I’ve read from her, but yeah, plot tricks and lot of “going here for this, now over there for that…” Heinlein pastiche might be interesting… I don’t hate the Heinlein flavor when someone like Varley or Palmer do it. I bet Willis would be good at it.

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  8. […] Remake (1995), which I reviewed yesterday, it’s another “he barely met her, but now he desperately […]

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  9. […] I barely mustered a few sentences on Connie Willis’ Remake, Megan at From Couch to Moon wrote a review of it far more enjoyable than the book itself. A few other reviews from this […]

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  10. […] KaBlam! After writing that paragraph, I added two more reviews, all about sci-fi romance: Remake (1995) by Connie Willis and The End of Eternity (1955) by Isaac […]

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  11. […] Remake by Connie Willis – It’s hard to call fluffy this bleak future romance set in the dystopia of drugs, isolation, and pervasive Hollywood rot, and yet it is just that: fluffy. Willis shows off her love for golden age (or silver age? I really don’t know) cinema, but it feels as insubstantial as lights projected on a blank screen. […]

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