The Name of the Star and In Time

I bought Maureen Johnson's novel The Name of the Star when it first came out but I didn't get around to reading it until this week. I'm a big fan of MJ but the cover put me off a bit. Yet another murdered girl sprawled lifeless in the street. Sigh. Aren’t there enough murdered girls in pop culture?

Sure enough, the book starts out with a murder of a woman before switching gears somewhat. Rory, an American teenager from a tiny town in Louisiana, moves into a school in London just as someone begins to recreate the Jack the Ripper murders. Rory lucks into a good roommate called Jazza, which somewhat counteracts her awful new sport (field hockey) and her awful new head girl. Jazza and Rory are soon good friends and sharing Cheez Whiz, which Rory heats on the radiators. Rory is also drawn to a boy called Jerome, which is why she ends up at one of the murder sites – Jerome's insatiable curiosity.

There she meets an innocuous man who she promptly forgets, until she runs into him again while out after curfew on the night of another murder. He questions whether she should be out and she blows him off while climbing back into her dorm. But then she realizes nobody else can see this guy and suddenly things get even weirder when she talks to the police.

One of my favorite things about this book was the way the supernatural elements kind of sneak up on the reader. We are never hit over the head with OMG this can't be happening!!! types of dialogue, which is refreshing. Even when we learn that the television footage of the crimes show the murders but not the murderer, we're still unsure if something otherworldly is happening or if there is a technical explanation. Not there there is anything wrong with being overtly supernatural. I'm a big fan of this kind of fiction, but since The Name of the Star is also a mystery it was nice that it was mysterious on more than one level.

The Name of the Star is a fun, fast read, but I never loved it as I have other books by Maureen Johnson. I think that this time the fault is in me, as I am so thoroughly sick and tired of reading about murder. Maybe I should have kept this one on the shelf for a bit longer and let it age, like fine wine.

You can read the first few dozen pages here:

This past week I also tried to watch a movie that frustrated me so much I quit part way through. I rarely do this but this thing was so terrible that I had to give up to save my sanity. Called In Time the film is a science fiction post apocalyptic story about a society where the aging process stops at the age of 25, but everyone dies shortly after they stop aging. Unless they can beg, borrow and steal some time from other people, in which case the sky is the limit. As a result, time has become the new form of currency.

Justin Timberlake is a Nice Guy who lives with his mom, played by Olivia Wilde. As the film begins Olivia is celebrating her 50th birthday but of course looks 25 (and better than 99 percent of 25-year-olds). We see that she is short of time, very short of time, and Justin gives her a little bit to help her through until they can earn some more.

Later we see Justin hanging around in a bar where a fancy dude is behaving in a cliched fashion. Dressed to the nines he's got ladies hanging all over him (because we all know that women are primarily motivated by money, time and power – barf) and is buying drinks for everyone in the place. The rumor is this guy is bursting with time, so Justin, as a Nice Guy, is contractually obligated to protect him. The rich dude doesn't want to be protected, but since when does that stop a nice guy?

When the Inevitable Bad Guys show up Justin saves the rich dude and hauls him off to a warehouse for some exposition. Here we all learn that contrary to what the poor people have been told people don't have to die at the age of 26. The expiration date is an artificial constraint put into place to control the population. This also explains why prices in the ghetto keep going up. The rich dude can no longer bear the burden of his one hundred years of extra time, which he got at the expense of his fellow human beings, so he was planning to be beaten up, killed and robbed of his time. It's no surprise when he waits until Justin falls asleep and then gives just about all of his time to Justin, climbs to a nearby bridge and watches his final sunrise before expiring.

Justin heads home where he runs into one of the dudes from the Big Bang Theory, who has a brand new baby. Justin donates ten years to the guy, one for each year they have been friends. This seems like an awful lot in a world where people typically give each other five minutes at a time, but I was thinking that divided among the baby, the mom and the recipient, that it wasn't much – a little more than three years each. Instead dude from the Big Bang Theory hollers to his wife that he'll be back later and goes off to spend his time! Cue eye rolls from the entire audience.

And now comes the dumbest thing in the known universe. We cut to the end of the day. Olivia is getting off of work but can't get home because the bus has doubled the cost. She doesn't have enough time to pay for the bus and she doesn't have enough time to get home, which is ninety minutes away. The bus driver tells her to run, which she does. Meanwhile Justin is waiting at the bus stop with flowers and flips when she doesn't get off the bus. He goes looking for her and we see her running towards him at high speed. He runs towards her and she dies seconds away from him, falling into his arms in a graceful arc.

This is where I turned the thing off. One of the nice things about the world of In Time is that people are well aware that they have a limited lifespan so they are open about expressing their affection for each other. Olivia and Justin have told each other they love one another several times, so there is no reason that Justin wouldn't have spent the day doing whatever it took to get to her so he could he could pass along some of his new time. He got the time as the sun was rising and it's dark when Olivia appears racing towards him. If he had time to buy flowers why in the world didn’t he go to her work and pass time to her? I can't watch something when I don't care at all about the characters. Too bad, as there could have been something good coming up.

Before I close this week's column I have one more thing to say about this film. It was filled with cliches. Like when Justin swings into nice guy mode in the bar he tells the rich dude that someone is going to “clean his clock”, referring to the clock on his arm that stores his life. There were several examples of this kind of thing, where a cliche was kind of brought to life. If I read an article that said the writer(s) had been inspired by Logan’s Run and then had plucked several items from the Big Book of Cliches and built the film around them, I would not be surprised at all.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a Nedroid comic. In it we unlock some of the deep, dark secrets of the mysterious computer.