St John is a freelance writer, historian and ornamental hermit. He spends his weekends reading terrible books and shouting at kids to get off his lawn.
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I'm glad there was something to enjoy in there. If a novel has a primary purpose, it should be to entertain, whether it's dramatic, or funny, or thrilling. That's one of the nice things about YA literature — it's got to be entertaining or else you lose your audience. A lot of adult literature seems to think it's okay to be dull, with the result that no bastard wants to read it (Peter Carey, I'm looking at you…)
However I'll disagree that it doesn't stand up to a more literary analysis. There is a general sort of coming-of-age theme in there, but the main thing for me was a dissection of the "chosen one" style of storytelling. We've seen these stories over and over again (Star Wars IV, Harry Potter, etc.) There's a chosen one who has magical powers and is destined to save the day, and in the end of the story he uses his magical powers to fulfil his destiny and save the day. Wooh! Didn't see that one coming. It's not that these are bad stories or they aren't entertaining, but there's something unsatisfying about a story that couldn't have ended any other way. It's also rather alienating to know that if I were in that story, I'd screw it up. I'd fail. I'd miss the vital shot and the Death Star would destroy the Rebel base.
Radium Baby deconstructs the whole "chosen one" idea. Instead of having a chosen one, there are three chosen ones. And what's worse, Sam is the least capable of the lot. Sam fails at every hurdle. He never wins a challenge and he bungles every opportunity he has to succeed. What he realizes in the end is that success in this case is an illusion. The title of Radium Baby doesn't mean anything, and the fight to defend it is incredibly destructive. It's dangerous and it's turning him into a nasty person. Sam's shining moment as a protagonist is when he rejects the competition. He's actually walking away from the whole "chosen one" plot and rejecting the dubious narrative he's been put into. He doesn't just change the ending, he changes the narrative. It's not something he needed unique magic (like the Force) to accomplish, it's a decision he came to because, although he's not the smartest or the most capable of the Radium Babies, he has become the most mature. A good comparison here would be with Star Wars VI, in which Luke doesn't save the day by using his magic powers but saves the day by rejecting the fight he's been manipulated into. It's a decision rather than some innate ability.
There are a number of other ideas in there too. There's idea that a sense of entitlement is also an invitation to stagnation. At the start of the novel Sam thinks he's the Radium Baby and has absolutely no desire to do anything other than work at a bath-house in the middle of nowhere. It's only when he has that taken away from him that he realizes how exciting the world can be and he aspires to achieve something on his own. There's also the idea that competitiveness can be destructive and pointless if it's not moderated by humanity. Yes, you can be the number one at anything if you try hard enough, but what's the point if you're a terrible person?
You mentioned literary techniques, so I don't know if you're looking for the techniques in individual scenes, but the things I mentioned above are the broad strokes of the novel. You may still disagree, and I would be curious to hear what you think.
It's interesting you liked Gloria. Both she and Hadrian are, basically, little shits. But even though Gloria is such a terrible person, she's easily the smartest of the three Radium Babies. Sam might be less capable, but he's the one who matures faster than the others — he's the one who's wise enough to decide to quit the competition by the end, and he drags the others (kicking and screaming!) back towards the light. Still, we can make you up some "Team Gloria" t-shirts.
Hey, if you can convince Tim Burton to direct the film, be my guest! Out of curiosity, who would you cast? In an ideal world I'd want Mrs Cholmondeley to be played by Margaret Dumont from the Marx Brothers' movies. She wasn't a fat woman, but she had Mrs Cholmondeley's magnificent carriage, and she has that air of New York aristocracy about her. Maybe a young Ralph Fiennes or Jude Law as Adrian Ember? And Ron White as Jebediah Northcote, the insane Texan!
You, mk, and humanodon mentioned the weirdness, which I love. "Anything for a weird life," as Zaphod Beeblebrox said. But an awful lot of the weirdness actually happened one way or another (although I admit I riff off the concepts liberally). Claremore exists and had "radium baths", although in reality they were simply sulphur mineral springs with no radium whatsoever. But the radium craze was real and many actually radioactive products were sold (including a radioactive rod you would stick up your urethra to cure the damage done by "self-abuse"). I've got a boatload of ephemera from Claremore's radium days, which I'm hoping to post on my blog at some point.
This is the best thing I've ever seen! I grew up with the Simpsons (back when it was still good), and those classic episodes are still some of the finest television ever written.
Certainly an interesting article, but it does read more like a list of the journalist's favorite TV shows. I only spotted one show made before the 80s and no shows made outside of America, so "greatest of all time" is a bit misleading. From my shelves I'd volunteer the first episode of Doctor Who ("An Unearthly Child", 1963) which was totally unlike anything that had been on TV before. I also remember being captivated by the first episode of I, Claudius, but I'm not sure that counts as a pilot as it was never intended to be an ongoing series.
Carell was good, but he was never the center of the show for me. I always enjoyed the other characters much more, which is why I felt like the show really spread its wings after Carell left. Maybe it's just me, but I'm definitely on Team Dwight. The one where Dwight fakes a fire in the building and Angela attempts to throw her cats through the ceiling was pure bliss.
It's all on Hulu, if you're that way inclined. It's a fun show and I'm really glad they had the imagination to take it to some interesting places. Also, Spader made a fantastic boss. I think they knew the show was going to end soon, so they made the bosses as insane as they could.