I went through most of my life not knowing that The Moon is Down even existed. I haven't been the most fervent fan of John Steinbeck, so that could beI went through most of my life not knowing that The Moon is Down even existed. I haven't been the most fervent fan of John Steinbeck, so that could be the explanation, but in all the classes I've been in, in all the discussions of Steinbeck's work or dicussions of stories of WWII, I've never heard of this book.
When I stumbled upon it in my local used book shop I couldn't help wondering why it was new to me. I figured it must just be a terrible book, unworthy of attention, a rare Steinbeck failure, but I went ahead and bought it anyway (it was only a buck and a quarter). Then it sat on my shelf for a couple of years.
I dragged it along with me to the Caribbean (where we're staying for 2014-2015), determined to give it a crack on the beach sometime. That time was over the Christmas break, and within about twenty pages I was trying to figure out the real reason for my ignorance of this book because it isn't a failure on the part of Steinbeck.
The Moon is Down is sparing, as are all of Steinbeck's novellas, and there is a beauty in his chosen simplicity. The cast of scantily drawn characters seems to be a deliberate part of that simplicity. It is as though Steinbeck wants us to find ourselves in any or all of the men and women who inhabit this little world of Conquerors and (Un-)Conquered, Vanquished and (Un-)Vanquished, so he spares us too much detail that could get in the way of our ability to relate. And herein may lie the reason why The Moon is Down has been pushed to the fringes of Steinbeck's work, because the characters (at least two thirds of them) that Steinbeck wants us to relate to are Nazis inhabiting a town in the midst of WWII.
We all know the discomfort that comes with being able to empathize with or relate to Nazi characters, but that discomfort can only be intensified by the fact that Steinbeck himself never gives his occupiers the name Nazi. The only place the word Nazi appears on my book, in fact, is on the back cover. I imagine anyone reading this book when it was released, or even folks who might read the book now without a back cover-spoiler, would be angered when they realized that the Nazis of Steinbeck's novella are not so different from they themselves or from their troops that might this very second be occupying another place somewhere in the world. Occupiers as hated by the Occupied as Steinbeck's Nazis in The Moon is Down.
I'd be willing to wager a pay cheque (don't get excited, that's practically nothing these days), that Steinbeck's book has been quietly set aside because of that very discomfort, which is a shame because it is telling an important story that I am better for having read. ...more
I am going to start with the big reveal at the end of the book. As some friends of mine around here have pointed out it was not much of a reveal; moreI am going to start with the big reveal at the end of the book. As some friends of mine around here have pointed out it was not much of a reveal; moreover, it didn't have the power of inevitability, of being a driving force or a shaper of things, nor did it really impact what had come before in any way. Yet its very presence, the attempt made by Maria V. Snyder was a distinct positive, so for all its clumsiness I am going to call it a success (for me at least).
Whew! Now that I've handled that, I can talk about Yelena and Valek. Yelena first: there was almost nothing to dislike about her. She was an immensely capable heroine, smart (and I thought there was just enough thickness of thought, just enough blurring of the things she should have been able to see but couldn't because of her own flaws to make her intelligence realistic), she's capable, she's strong and strong-willed, and she's likable. Even better, the way she deals with what's put before her -- from killing Reyad to becoming the Commander's taster to dealing with Valek -- rings true emotionally. Snyder clearly loves her heroine, and it makes it easy for us to fall in love (or at least like) with her too.
Valek is a different matter. We're trained in literature and film to love characters like Valek. The utterly capable, inflappable, unstoppable, perfectly loyal, sexy-as-hell, damn near perfect hero figure with just enough of an edge (he's an assassin, you know) to make us call him flawed (though in Valek's case that is a stretch) and make us love him even more. I have to admit that in the midst of the story I did fall in love with him (and a threesome with him, Yelena and myself may have crossed my mind in the quiet of the night), but once I stepped back from the story for a while, once I was out from under its spell, I found myself annoyed with Valek. Of all the fantasy elements in Poison Study his perfection might be the most fantastic and the most unbelievable. I still like him, but my love dissipated with the closing of the pages, and I will approach him with much more wariness next time around.
And there will definitely be a next time because Magic Study is sitting in my bhig tupperware box of soon to be read. ...more
It has been so long anything with Captain Atom that I can't even remember his real name, and they helped me not a whit in this opening
Captain Atom #1
It has been so long anything with Captain Atom that I can't even remember his real name, and they helped me not a whit in this opening issue. No matter, they told us what we needed to know about him: 1. he's an ex-pilot; 2. he had a quantum accident during a mission he volunteered for that made him into Captain Atom; 3. he absorbs energy; 4. he can manipulate matter, organic or inorganic, at at least the atomic level, including himself; 5. he could on the verge of dissipating as he tries to bring his powers under control; 6. he's in some study under Dr. Megala -- a sort of Stephen Hawking for the DC universe; 7. his own safety means less than the safety of people he doesn't know; 8. So he's a hero.
I don't know what to expect and my memory's not helping me out, so I will just enjoy this without access to my suppressed biases.
Now for the technical side. Two things jumped out at me: 1. the colouring of Jose Villarrubia is beautiful stuff. 2. For some reason I love the "comuterised"dialogue boxes of Dr. Megala. They're unique and oddly endearing. There. I said it.
Captain Atom #2
Second issue in a row where Captain Atom's conflict is a problem that needs to be and can be fixed without engaging in battle. last time he absorbed the energy of a NYC volcano, and this time he goes into a kid's head (quite literally) to "attack" and eradicate the boy's brain tumour. That and the struggle to stay corporeal are the conflicts in the story. There are no big villains, no scenes of Captain Atom punching the shit out of people or attacking them with radioactive bolts, just a super-guy solving problems as peaceably as he can, which is more peaceably than anyone else I've seen. It will probably change (there is a mutated beast at the end of issues #1 & #2 that suggest there's a big traditional battle coming) but this intelligent use of his powers is refreshing while it lasts.
I aldo want to mention a wonderful moment, which is, perhaps, my favourite moment in a New 52 opening arc -- Captain Atom bombarded my communication. He is being discussed by his colleagues at the lab, and not in the friendliest of terms, but he is oblivious to them because his brain is tuned into all electronic communication that's floating through the air. It overwhelms him and he tries to process it all at once. The art supporting the moment is as perfect as the moment itself. Well worth a read just for this, I think.
Captain Atom #3
Captain Atom is starting to feel like a god. Nothing seems to be beyond him. He needn't eat or sleep, so he needn't stop saving lives, which takes him into the metaphysical questions only he, the Beyonder or Dr. Manhattan (and maybe a couple of others) need to ponder: Am I a God? Am I God? Does my presence disrupt God's plan?
These are excellent questions for a guy who can absorb a nuclear blast and who scares the hell out of the Justice League and Flash to try and answer for himself. The answers, though, aren't easy, and I can't see them becoming easier as this arc proceeds.
Captain Atom #4
Now the question is: Am I a weapon? The answer to this one is obvious, though, so Captain Atom must decide if he is willing to be a deterant in the "good ol' U.S. of A.'s" arsenal. It takes no time for him to make the choice, and once again, despite half the air force attacking him with missiles and bullets, he doesn't take the bellicose route. He transmutes the armaments into feathers, mooting their offensive capacity, proving his place as one of the coolest heroes around.
Meanwhile, the title itself feels like it is about to take a turn into 50s Sci-Fi cheesiness, which could be glorious if handled well. Bring on the mutated bio-goo of any shape and swelling size!
Captain Atom #5
Twice in this issue, Captain Atom engages in classic super-heroing: the first is in a dream and leads to the disintegration of Dr. Renata Carter, one of the scientists studying him (and the one who seems to be falling in love with him), so he chooses a less destructive path when he actually goes to help Renata, taking a decidely less super-heroey path in the end; the second is in reality, and the flesh mutation beast that has been growing at the end of each comic has eaten (devoured? absorbed?) the population of an entire town, and Captain Atom loses his temper, lashing out with his energy in a very super-heroey way, but it doesn't work the way he planned, and the fleshy mutation beast grows exponentially. Then it begins -- possibly -- to devour Captain Atom himself. The super-heroey stuff has backfired. Sweet!
I want more of the non-super-heroey stuff. It's refreshing beyond belief.
Captain Atom #6
Freddie Williams II's art is damn good, but it is Jose Villarrubia's colours that are the true star of this book. In fact, it is the colours that are pivotal to the books art. Villarrubia's colours, the bright pastel of Captain Atom contrasted with the more naturally coloured real world, are some of the best I have ever seen, which is fitting considering how radical the tale is.
Captain Atom is a tale about what's wrong with us, what's right with us, and offers a message concerning where we should be and how we could get there if we would only try. Captain Atom is the best hero book I've read in quite some time. Thanks for your awesome writing, JT Krul. Well done indeed.
Sure Batman & Superman are good, but those books detract from DC's other characters, who could be so much better than the headliners given half a chance -- and Krul proves that point right here in this book. I would love to see a world where Bats and Supes were rested indefinitely. Never going to happen, but it's something pleasant to dream about.
I love that this comic has no bullshit buildup to the death of Captain America. That build-up was the entirety of the Civil War storyline, so when TheI love that this comic has no bullshit buildup to the death of Captain America. That build-up was the entirety of the Civil War storyline, so when The Death of Captain America kicks off Tony Stark is now the head of SHIELD (mostly successful in imposing the Superpower Registration Act), Captain America has surrendered his rebellious self to end the bloodshed (novel concept that ... the America icon willing to surrender himself to save innocent lives rather than seeking revenge and "victory" at all costs -- but then that's why Captain America kicks so much ass), and all those effected by the Civil War can only stand by and watch while their world shifts around them.
And within seconds of the book's opening Captain America, Steve Rogers, the Super-Soldier (my personal comic book hero) is lying dead on the steps of the courthouse. He's hit by a sniper while trying to save the people around him, even though he's the target, and he's finished off (perhaps?) by a shooter close to him.
The book, therefore, is not about Captain America himself, but about his death and what it means to those he leaves behind: it is about the Winter Soldier's regret; it is about Agent 13, Sharon Carter's, guilt and pain; it is about Tony's arrogance and shame; it is about Red Skull's hate; it is about Black Widow's duty; it is about Falcon's loyalty and sadness. It is about the loss when a mentor, a lover, a friend, an adversary, a comrade, and a brother dies.
Sure we could talk about how the idea of Cap is bigger than the man, how ideals supersede the individual, how the meaning we take away from one's life is more important than the manner of one's death, but I think the most important thing the book does is to offer us the personal stories and reactions of those who loved an icon who was really just a man. It humanizes them just as it humanizes Steve Rogers, and Ed Brubaker deepened my love for a character I already loved more than any other. This is the quintessential Captain America story. If you dig Cap or think you'd like to, this book is a must read. ...more
I have to admit straight away that I pretty much hated the Heroic Age of Marvel, which came just after the Secret Invasion (methinks). It felt like aI have to admit straight away that I pretty much hated the Heroic Age of Marvel, which came just after the Secret Invasion (methinks). It felt like a whole bunch of mess fixing and silly assed rationalization, but then I've not read anywhere near all of the titles from that period, so perhaps my bias is not founded in the reality of the time. Regardless, I've not been a big fan of what I have read from the Heroic Age, so I was pleasantly surprised that I actually enjoyed the first volume of Avengers Academy.
I've only gone back to these books because I've been sucked into Avengers Arena -- my guilitiest pleasure in the Marvel Now!-plosion -- and I wanted to see the origins of these strange little Avengers I've grown so fond of, and I am glad I did.
Mettle (view spoiler)[dies in the first issue of the Arena, so it was nice to get to know him at all seeing as he (hide spoiler)] is the only guy who can get close to the poisonous Hazmat (the girl whose body emits every form of radiation you can imagine), and when this comic begins they can't stand each other. That won't last, as we now know, but the opening salvos of their classic love/hate dynamic were fun to witness. Reptil, the lamest of the young Avengers in the Arena, turns out to be extremely likable and kind of compelling, which should add to my enjoyment of him in Murder World for as long as he survives, but the best part of the book are those kids who don't make it to Avengers Arena.
Veil and Striker, gaseous-girl and electro-boy, add plenty of teen drama, and their emotional messes are a bit like watching Degrassi, which is oddly fun. The best of the academy is Finesse, however. She might be the daughter of Taskmaster; she was certainly trained by Taskmaster; she is actively blackmailing Quicksilver to train her the way Magneto trained him; she is a bad ass polymath who can learn anything in mere seconds, just by watching it done (just like her maybe Dad), and she is an unemotional psychopath. She is the "potential villain" the Avengers Academy was set up to turn into a hero instead, and I'm guessing it just ain't going to work.
I don't know that I would have liked this had I read it before Avengers Arena, but I sure like it now, as my own little personal prequel, so I recommend reading these books in the order I have: Avengers Arena #1-10, then Avengers Academy vol i; I promise it is a good way to read them. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is the first time I have ever read (listened) to a series of Conan stories that were all by Robert E. Howard, undiluted by his imitators and dimiThis is the first time I have ever read (listened) to a series of Conan stories that were all by Robert E. Howard, undiluted by his imitators and diminishers, and what a revelation. Howard's work was not the pulpy trash of his followers; it was accomplished, vital, deep and rich in characterization, and some of the finest world building ever achieved. It was that thing I love most: a novel in short stories.
Listening to this collection, one gets a full picture of Howard's Cimmerian. Not the "barbarian" his copycats like to present (it's interesting to note that Howard's Conan only ever refers to himself as a Cimmerian), but the man with powerful personal ethics, a good man born of a bellicose tribe in a time of war, a man whose lustiness is lustful rather than rapacious, a man as capable of personal brutality as he is of noble heroism as he is of tactical genius as he is of creeping stealth as he is shocking kindness as he is geniune responsibility. Howard's Conan is a possible man, a realistic man, a man who does great things and travels far -- rising from thief/pirate to general/king -- but a man who, despite his titular status, suffers consequences and faces situations with real stakes.
That Conan, Howard's Conan, disappears in the writing of others, becoming a buffoonish barbarian pseudo-god, a "barbarian" in every caricatured sense of the word, a moron, a being of pure instinct and no intellect, the sort of character Arnold Schwarzenneger might play, rather than a real actor with a real brain (say Tom Hardy).
The stand out stories: "The Tower of the Elephant" (my favourite to teach), "Queen of the Black Coast" (recently adapted and serialized beautifully by Brian Wood for Dark Horse Comics), "Black Colossus," and "The Devil in Iron" are some of the finest short stories ever put to typewriter -- by anyone.
If the only Conan you know is the Conan co-opted by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Robert Jordan et al., and you enjoyed their pulpy goodness well enough, do yourself a favour and read the real thing. Robert E. Howard was the real deal, and I'll be surprised if he disappoints you.
One final word: the narrator of the audiobook -- Todd McClaren -- is excellent. His voice his clear, his feminine voice avoids insipidity, and the way he paces the tales is impeccable. I'll be seeking his voice out in the future....more
Never have I read such a marvelously plausible work of Science Fiction. There are many prophetic works, and plenty of works of farther distant futuresNever have I read such a marvelously plausible work of Science Fiction. There are many prophetic works, and plenty of works of farther distant futures that I can see being possible, but The Space Merchants is mostly here right now, and everything else (if you exchange Mars for Venus) is merely moments away. And that is a scary fucking proposition.
Pohl & Kornbluth's world is an overpopulated mess, where food and water are at a serious premium and the super-rich dominate the use of goods and services. And that world is ruled by the all-powerful ad agencies, who just happen to have overtaken every industry. There is a President who is no more than a useless figurehead. There is martial law that everyone happily accepts. There are Orwellian levels of thought control without any need for thought police because advertising and media do the job quite nicely. And there is the usual group of revolutionaries working clandestinely for the "good of all."
The Space Merchants has been on one of my must read lists for twenty years, and I've only now gotten around to it because I tracked down a two part radio play of it on Relic Radio's Sci-Fi podcast. I'll be giving it a listen tonight, but I am not sure how close to the book a sixties CBS radio play can be, especially considering the damning criticism of America's consumer culture, and its ambiguously depressing ending. I imagine it is going to end about halfway through Mitchell Courtenay's journey, when his capitalist dreams are complete. I'm kind of stoked, regardless.
One last thing, if you are looking for a classic work of Sci-Fi to turn into a mini-series SyFy, this is the the work for you. Mitchell Courtenay could easily be the Don Draper of Sci-Fi pop culture. And there's even a part for Peter Dinklage (and a damn good one).
Charles, you had it absolutely right. I am so glad I got around to this. ...more
"Step back and think about this one. It's ridiculous. Giant silver bullets? Another genocidal X-Man story? Death and resurrection and death and ...? A"Step back and think about this one. It's ridiculous. Giant silver bullets? Another genocidal X-Man story? Death and resurrection and death and ...? Another super-powered alien race? Space S.H.I.E.L.D.? Another big 'sacrifice' that won't be a sacrifice. And the inexplicable failure of all the big brains to save things in the end" "I know. It sounds crazy, but I can't help myself." "So nothing I say can change your mind?" "'Fraid not.' "Why?" "That Joss Whedon is pretty good." "How? He wrote all that silliness." "Yes, but he made all that silliness work, and then it isn't silly in his hands. Is there anyone else who can do what Whedon does with Marvel Superheroes?" "Sure. There's gotta be." "No. There doesn't. Just like the Avengers movie, Whedon doesn't just offer the ultimate X-Man team experience (gloriously devoid of the always excruciating and self-righteous Professor X)--" "--Not devoid!" "Yeah, yeah, a one frame, hinted at deus ex machina cameo, but at least we didn't have to listen to him yammer on about 'my X-Men.'" "No. We had Cyclops for that." "Exactly! But Cyclops didn't go on about it. Whedon used it as a passing of that hat, a true claiming of leadership. He made it the ultimate Cyclops moment. And THAT is what Whedon does best. He doesn't just make a great team story, he turns his team stories into the best possible individual stories." "Such as?" "Best Colossus moment ever in the energy core. Best Wolverine moment ever after burning his way into the atmosphere. Best Kitty Pryde moments ever while in bed with Peter and then saving the Earth. Best Emma Frost moment ever facilitating the plan. And as I said, the best Scott moment ever when he releases his blast and calls his X-Men to him." "What about Beast?" "Okay, 5 of 6 is pretty damn good. I guess Beast got the Hawkeye end of Whedon's stick." "Yeah, Hawkeye sucked in the Avengers." "A waste. But everything else was so good, as it is here in Astonishing X-Men, that I feel compelled to let it go." "So you dig this?" "Love it. Second favourite complete comic story I've ever read." "Really?! That good?" "That good." "What beats it?" "C'mon. You know the answer to that." "Oh yeah. I guess I do." ...more
If I had to have a Five Favourite Things in the Book List:
1. Charon and his love of easy listening music. 2. The way Ares' weapons camouflage themselves for public consumption. 3. The way Percy's Mom (view spoiler)[murders her husband with Medusa's head and (hide spoiler)] fits right in with the spirit of the Gods. 4. The meeting with the Nereid and her gifts to Percy. 5. Camp Half-Blood
If I had to have a Five Crappy Things in the Book List:
1. The time wasting at the Lotus Casino. 2. Smelly Gabe 3. Percy's love of blue candy. Seriously? Is that character development? 4. The idea that the Ares' daughters must be brutish and ugly. 5. The use of the term Half-Blood
If I had to watch the movie version of this (which I will, undoubtedly): "Why did they ...?! But there was no need to ...! They cast him as ...?! How old are the supposed ...? This is torture, Los, do I have to ...?"
If I have to read the sequel: "Yes please." ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
For a few years now, I've been interviewing my twins after they finish reading their books, posting those interviews on their own goodreads profile. MFor a few years now, I've been interviewing my twins after they finish reading their books, posting those interviews on their own goodreads profile. My girl, Brontë, finished reading Little House in the Big Woods about a month ago, and I read it this week (I always read or reread the books they've read.) You can see that interview with me right here:
Brontë: So first ... did you like it? did you love it? or did you hate? did you think it was okay? or did you really like it?
Pa: I loved it. It was good. Much better than I expected.
Brontë: Who was your favourite character?
Pa: Hmmm ... that's a tough one because I loved Pa and Laura a lot, but I also dug Ma. Mary's a bit of pain, but to be fair, the story is being told by Laura, and little sisters don't tend to be too kind to their older sisters. So maybe I can't judge Mary on that. But I guess I like Pa the best because he's really the focus of the story for Laura. He's the one she talks most about. And he seems like a pretty good guy.
Pa: Did you expect something different? Did you think I'd like someone else?
Brontë: I thought you'd say Laura, but my second favourite was Pa.
Pa: So we're reversed.
Pa: I figured you'd like Laura best.
Brontë: What was your favourite moment and your favourite chapter?
Pa: My favourite moment was when Ma slapped the bear in the night. That was awesome. And my favourite chapter was the Maple Syrup dance on the day of the sugar snow. That was pretty cool. I loved how everyone really just had fun even with all the hard work that still had to be done.
Brontë: Did you like the Harvest chapter?
Pa: That must have been your favourite.
Brontë: It was one of my favourites.
Pa: Yeah. I liked it. It was awesome. Charley deserved to get stung by the bees.
Brontë: Yeah he did. When that happened I almost said, "Get off your lazy butt and do some work!"
Pa: Yeah he was lazy all right, and a total pain the ass. Pa didn't approve of the way Charley ignored his Dad, did he?
Brontë: No, he didn't. I thought the same thing. I love how in the picture when he was wrapped in the bandages all the girls were staring at him with mean faces on.
Pa: That's something else I loved, the art.
Brontë: Oh yeah, the art was beautiful.
Pa: But Laura's writing was even more beautiful. I was impressed.
Brontë: I agree.
Pa: It was so clear and descriptive, and I felt like I was there sometimes.
Brontë: Me too. Every moment I felt like I watched it in my head.
Pa: It's cool when you read a book like that.
Brontë: And then I could look at the pictures and think, that's what the boys and girls look like and watch it in my head as I read.
Pa: I think I could see what they looked like even without the pictures.
Brontë: Yeah, me too.
Pa: The writing was just that good.
Brontë: Especially what she said, like in the dance part when the girls were getting ready, and she described what the dresses looked like and you could totally see the dresses in your head.
Pa: Darn good book. Thanks for reading it so I could.
Brontë: No problem. Don't forget to say thanks to Auntie Marci too.
I was going to give this five stars, then I thought, "It's too much fun for five stars," so I clicked on four stars, then I thought, "Fuck that! FiveI was going to give this five stars, then I thought, "It's too much fun for five stars," so I clicked on four stars, then I thought, "Fuck that! Five it is." And so it came to be.
New Novella --
I have been tossing around an idea I have about the shift in novella writing from a thing unto itself into a portion of "larger" works (I first started talking about it here), and it seems to me that John Scalzi's quite marvelous Redshirts is just such a work.
I would split it into two novellas: Redshirts itself, and the three Codas. Redshirts is, after all, a mere 200-ish pages that read very quickly. Its length is similar to many of the classic novellas (many of which, like Heart of Darkness are densely packed into their slim editions); it gets going, gets its story told and gets out.
The Codas, then, make up the second novella. Though they work as narrative additions to Redshirts proper, they also work on their own, stringing together three short stories (a novella in short stories?) that make one cohesive unit, and I think they could be read as one piece minus Redshirts and be quite excellent in their own right. Moreover, they offer up first, second and third person perspectives, respectively, binding themselves together as one unit with a mechanical throughline that weaves together the narrative threads into a piece.
You may not consider it two novellas, but the idea works for me in my brain, and next time I read this book I am going to read the Codas all by themselves to see how they work.
Fun & Funny--
Novella talk aside, this is one enteraining piece of fiction. It hits that special place in my liver where my Trekkie love rests, it hits that special place in my hypothalimus where my Firefly love rests, it hits that very special place in my testicles where BSG rests, it hits that special place in my joints where Deep Space Nine rests, etc., etc.. Scalzi knows all the pressure points (and of course he would being the nerd that he is and having worked on Stargate too), and he pokes at those points with joyful abandon. I haven't had so much fun reading in a year.
Fuck yeah! Anyone who is interested in Baudrillard or Eco or spends their time seeing the removes in everything they perceive with enjoy their time down the wormhole or ten.
A Yeti in the Jeffries' Tubes. Seriously fun.
I know I am missing some things I wanted to say when I finished reading last night, but those can wait until the next time I read Redshirts. It is sure to come. ...more
I read this twice in close succession. I read it, then I read it again. The two readings were necessary, and not because William Golding failed in anyI read this twice in close succession. I read it, then I read it again. The two readings were necessary, and not because William Golding failed in any way, but because his novel, The Inheritors welcomes so much failure from his readers -- I don't say this lightly.
I taught this for the first time this year, and it was beyond my first year university students. The Inheritors challenges. It challenges readers to work hard. It challenges readers to pay attention. It challenges readers to empathize. It challenges readers to think about themselves and humanity. It challenges readers to consider other ways of seeing the world. It challenges readers to question the things they hold true. It challenges readers to look in the mirror. It challenges readers to actually read!
The Inheritors is a damning criticism of us and what makes us us. It is an attack on the civilizing drive of humans and a call to consider the wreckage we left behind and continue to create.
Mostly it is a scream into a vaccuum that swallows all sound, reminding me of my favourite contemporary authors, like ki hope, who can imagine others that the rest of us wouldn't even remember let alone imagine. It reminds me how much I miss the people (... or that person ...) that voice such important messages.
The Inheritors is a difficult read. But a necessary one for anyone who cares about life and living. ...more
I've had this on a list of Sci-Fi books to read for quite a while, a list passed on to me by one of my favourite Profs, but it took a group read (thanI've had this on a list of Sci-Fi books to read for quite a while, a list passed on to me by one of my favourite Profs, but it took a group read (thanks, Kim) to finally make me pick up the old, water-stained copy that's been sitting on my shelf.
I imagine I knew what to expect once upon a time, but that time was long gone and When Gravity Fails was full of fun cyberpunky surprises. I loved the easy, full acceptance of the transgendered in the contained culture of the Budayeen, especially the acceptance of it by our protagonist, Marîd Audran. His acceptance made it seem normal, barely worth mentioning, and I loved the comfort this engendered (sorry ... couldn't control myself there). Moreover, I thought George Alec Effinger offered one of the best visions of cyberpunk body alterations that I have ever read. "Daddies" designed to boost one's skills -- mostly for language, but for all sorts of other physical and mental skills -- "mods" to give you other personalities and experiences, and plenty of plastic surgery to reassign one's gender, reshape one's look, reinvent oneself. None of it went too far. All of it made sense to me.
At the nuts and bolts level, the story was a readable one (despite its familiarity). A gritty, noirish, underground mystery where the hard loner who moves teflon-coated through the dirty streets is sucked into a murder investigation to protect himself and the place (and people) he loves. We've seen it a squillion times before (and it rarely tires me). I liked it just fine and was all set to give When Gravity Fails three stars. Don't get me wrong, it was better than okay for most of the read, but it never compelled me to pick it up and read voraciously to the last page. It was mostly just a comfortable read -- the kind I'd pick up when my brain needs a rest.
But then Audran found his killers, and When Gravity Falls did things with Audran (freshly modified despite years of remaining free of augmentations) that I didn't expect. What he becomes, beyond his control or not, is a tale-changer, and the way those around him react is precisely as it should be.
Sometimes bad endings can take something I love and make me hate it; it's nice to know that great endings can take something mediocre and make me love it too....more
A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of theA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell....more
It took me nearly three years to get through Finch.
I picked it up the first time, got started and found myself stopping for what, at the time, was anIt took me nearly three years to get through Finch.
I picked it up the first time, got started and found myself stopping for what, at the time, was an inexplicable reason. I had already read and loved both City of Saints and Madmen & Shriek: An Afterword. The former for its insane originality and the latter for the way it appealed to my post-modern academic self. But I couldn't break ground in Finch, so I put it down and thought I'd take another crack later.
I don't know how much later I started my next crack, but I always have a book to read in the shower while I am letting the hot water work on my beard before a shave. Somewhere along the line I made Finch my shower book. I started again. Got a chapter or two beyond my first attempt, then moved away from my home for a year and a half, and left it sitting there in the bathroom awaiting my return. I hadn't been taken with it enough to take it with me, though, and I was starting to feel like Jeff VanderMeer had finally taken a misstep. I went to Anguilla and forgot all about Finch.
When I came home, there Finch was sitting in the bathroom, waterstained, slightly mouldy, a little bit daunting. I left it for a good while, just languishing on the bathroom shelf. I ignored it for magazines that talked about baseball and Star Wars and naughty sex, but then those all ran out, and I happened (as I always do) to be teaching excerpts from VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen again, and I grudgingly picked up Finch for what turned out to be the last time.
It was a slog, a tough read, it was dribs and drabs under the hot water. A page or two every couple of days at first, adding damp to the pages so the mould could take hold. I almost quit a couple of times. I started to piece together why I was having so much trouble with the book. I felt all at sea with the story, like there was too huge a gap between the tome that was City of Saints and Madmen, the meta-brilliance of Shriek, and I couldn't place it in the time or space of its predecessors. But worse, Finch was a first-person narrative of constant fragmentation that wasn't a first person narrative at all. It was a third-person limited narrator, limited to Finch's POV, but written as though first person. It was strangest, most prolonged bit of literary torture I have experienced. It was work. It was VanderMeer telling us to work. It was Finch slipping in and out of consciousness in the big scene with the Partial actually taking shape for a reader oneself.
I hadn't been willing to work before, but now, somehow, I was, and as the story unfolded, and the mould began to colonize the pages I had left behind and water continued to stain the pages I was reading, preparing them for the fungus that would conquer them, I began to see the genius of what VanderMeer was doing, had done.
Finch is a glorious completion to his Ambergris cycle. A bizarre, frustrating, oddly delicate, gynecologic, spore of a book that colonizes the reader the way Wyte is colonized by the Grey Caps. It is emotional; it is powerful; it is sinister; it is violent; it is fiercly imaginative; it is genius.
But it's not easy. Take your time. Give it a chance. VanderMeer deserves your loyalty. ...more
This review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it waThis review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it was written in. I have transcribed it verbatim (although square brackets indicate some additional information for readability) from all those years ago. It is one of my lost reviews.
The most important part of Heston's book -- and his life -- is his ability to speak his feelings with no remorse. He is not a racist, as far as I can tell he is not a sexist, but he is also not politically correct (God, bless him).
Heston's writing is superb, and it forced me to re-evaluate the man whose acting I've enjoyed, albeit with a sense of mockery (it's late...i wonder if this will make any sense later). He is not only entertaining, he is smart, talented, courageous, loyal and a loving father/husband (according to himself).
But the one thing he game that eclipses my enjoyment and newfound respect was my first glimpse of a long future with Michelle. It is more than a dream. It is something that could happen. Thanks for the early look into your life, Chuck. ...more
I am not sure why she couldn't simply have finished her story before the Star's End adventure happened (but I haven't finished her book either. I paused my reading so that I could read Daley's book, so I will return to her book tonight), but since I had the Daley books handy, she nudged me into reading the source of the interlude, and it would have been better for Crispin's Han Solo if I hadn't been diverted.
See my Han Solo love runs deep. It burst out fully formed in 1977 when I watched him blow away Greedo, then nonchalnatly toss a credit to the barkeep, saying, "Sorry about the mess." My Han Solo was a genuine criminal. A drug running, pragmatic, mercenary S.O.B., whose only redeeming qualities were charm, skill and loyalty. And it was the latter which would lead him into becoming the only Star Wars character with a genuine arc. Come Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo found himself sucked into the Rebellion with a burgeoning love for Leia and a feeling of responsibility for Luke. Once there his other natural gifts flourished, and he began to change in a logical, believable way. He slowly became a "good man."
Unfortunately, much of that was undermined in Return of the Jedi when Solo began to make decisions that made no sense at all -- like giving Lando, his betrayer, the Falcon, behaving like an idiot schoolboy in his relationship with Leia, and behaving like a knob everywhen else (and it didn't help at all that Lucas had Solo dispatch Boba Fett through sheer luck rather than ruthlessness or skill).
The message of Return of the Jedi (particularly when coupled with Lucas's later decision to have Greedo shoot first) was that Han Solo was weak, and he'd always been a good man. He just hadn't been surrounded by the right people. And that's the Han that AC Crispin loves and embraces. Don't get me wrong. That Han's okay, and I was enjoying reading about him. And Crispin genuinely loves that Han. But that Han is not my Solo, and I miss the character I fell in love with as a kid.
Crispin led me back to him, though.
He is fully present in Daley's Han Solo at Star's End. A little more hard SciFi than contemporary Star Wars books, along with clunkier dialogue and a heavy reliance on space tech, the first in Daley's trilogy was published in 1979 -- one year before Empire Strikes Back appeared on screens -- and it breathes freely without the density of the now massive Star Wars canon. So Daley's Han Solo is the original Han Solo. His Han Solo is still the Han Solo who would publicly execute a bounty hunter without remorse, and go charging after a pack of stormtroopers at the heart of the Empire's ulimate weapon.
And what does this original Han Solo do in Daley's book? Well, he cares first and foremost about his ship, which is right and proper; he cares next about Chewbacca; and these loyalties, the Falcon and Chewie, embroil him in the Star's End adventure -- not some bullshit, post-Empire apologetic idealism. And while he's busy improving the Falcon and saving Chewie from some nasty torture, he vents a traitor into space with brutal pragmatism. He kills anyone who gets in the way of his goals, and aids anyone who can help him achieve the same. He slaughters hundreds, maybe thousands of prisoners with a split second decision that is good only for him and his closest friends, then saves a droid to which he's suddenly become loyal over the course of his adventure. He does what is good for Solo, and everything else can suck his vapour trail.
This isn't just Daley's Han Solo. This is my Han Solo, and it was nice to have him back, even if it was only for one hundred and eighty pages. But now I am faced with the prospect of returning to George Lucas' butchered Han Solo in the hands of AC Crispin. A Han Solo who is heroic on an epic scale, a Han Solo who takes in stray street kids, loathes slavery, and is already busy working for the Rebellion without even knowing it, and I am pretty sure it isn't going to be anywhere near as fun as it was before I was sent off to read Han Solo at Star's End.
Nice job, Crispin. Whatever star rating you receive for Rebel Dawn will be all your fault. ...more
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John ByrneBloody fantastic! What a great surprise.
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John Byrne -- and I thought, "I must have this." My whim needed to be fulfilled, so I fulfilled my whim.
I didn't expect much, though. I figured I'd be disappointed, but that would have been okay because the only reason I bought it was nostalgia. I could cope if it sucked. I mostly wanted to revisit John Byrne's art, and see what he could do with my favourite Star Trek character. I was wrong to have low expectations (mostly because of myself, though. I imagine the power of my personal nostalgia is a large part of this book's success with me).
Leonard McCoy Frontier Doctor takes place just before Star Trek The Motion Picture, and Bones McCoy is busy gallivanting around the Federation in pseudo-retirement, curing diseases, saving folks of myriad races, getting in adventures, reflecting on his career, repairing timelines, writing letters to Jim, and visiting old friends.
Those old friends were my favourite part. I expected to see Kirk (who was there) and Spock (who was not, which was a surprisingly nice ommission) and maybe even Scotty (who had his obligatory drink with Bones), but it was the unexpected cameos that gave me the greatest joy. I turned a page, for instance, and out of the corner of my eye, in a future panel, I saw a guy who looked familar, "Kooky," I thought, "That looks like Gary Seven." A page and a half later I found out it was Gary Seven. And Roberta was with him. Then the Admiral of the USS Yorktown looked like Majel Barrett, and it turned out it was her -- she was the former first officer of the Enterprise under Captain Pike. And on the same ship, who should be the Chief Medical Officer? Doctor Chapel, of course, looking like Majel Barrett with a different hair cut. Silly, I suppose, but it sure worked for me.
The stories themselves were light and fun and beautifully illustrated. The colour palette was perfectly Star Trek. Bones's beard was positively regal, and even the new characters, like Dr. Duncan and his hot Andorian lover, Theela, were a welcome addition.
I just wish Byrne had done more. Five issues in one graphic novel isn't nearly enough. ...more
Surprised: I didn’t expect to like World War Z at all. I’m not even sure why. I like Brooks’ parents, so that shouldn’t have negatively impacted my expectations. I’ve loved Zombies since first I saw Return of the Living Dead in the movie theatre, so I was predisposed to like this book. So I dunno. But I had low expectations, and they were thoroughly exceeded.
It is a great idea, and Brooks’ total commitment to his mock history was convincing. There were times when I couldn’t help letting my imagination run to a parallel universe where this War had actually happened.
The best part, though, was the places Brooks took his Zombiepocalypse – places only The Walking Dead has even approached. Most Zombielit is about the outbreak. The Walking Dead takes the next step, letting us see what it would be like to be a survivor of the outbreak, what it would be like to live during the Zombie occupation, but Brooks gives us the aftermath. How he hell does the earth rebuild after something like that? Brooks takes a pretty convincing stab at imagining how, and it isn’t pretty, nor is it even all that inspiring. I buy it, though.
Fulfilled: My low expectations didn’t extend to the Zombie violence. Even with the oral history format, I expected gore and grotesquery and nastiness, and I got exactly what I expected. There were even a couple of kick ass violent – and not so violent – superlatives, like the marine-Zombies attacking divers, the madness of Yonkers (a pretty impressive moment, actually), the greed of Breckenridge Scott and his Phalanx, and the Redeker Plan (along with the Redeker Twist – which was my absolute favourite part of the book).
Disappointed: Once Brooks blew apart my low expectations with some strong writing and brilliant ideas, he created a new expectation – and a very high one that he failed to deliver on.
Brooks attempted to make his book a global chronicle of the Zombie War, and he populated World War Z with characters from nations on every continent. By the end of the book, though, they were homogenous. The Japanese folks didn’t sound Japanese. The Russian folks didn’t sound Russian. Everyone sounded American. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Brooks gave in to the temptation to make America and their “great” President the saviours of the human spirit. Yep, the Yankees led the charge to defeat the Zombies, to take the war to the Zacks rather than hiding in their fortresses and embracing safety.
We bought an antique piano today, and we were comparing middle C on our dreadfully out of tune piano and our electronic keyboard. The warbling shred of the antique piano made the kids sad because they wanted to sit down and play, but they knew they couldn’t until the piano is tuned. That sadness is exactly the way I felt about Brooks’ decision to make the USA the heroes of his War, but there’ll be no chance of a tune up to take away my sadness. ...more
Nicholson Baker himself intended it as a memorial to “Charles Pickett and other American and British pacifists. ThHuman Smoke is many things, I think.
Nicholson Baker himself intended it as a memorial to “Charles Pickett and other American and British pacifists. They’ve never really gotten their due. They tried to save Jewish refugees, feed Europe, reconcile the United States and Japan, and stop the war from happening. They failed, but they were right,” and to some extent he intended it as an argument for peace –- more likely peace as pacifism.
It is a chronicle of the worst war criminals that we’ve ever seen, specifically Hitler, Churchill and Roosevelt (and their lackeys), with cameo appearances by some other nasty criminals like Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, and Tojo. It shows how their actions and decisions continue to reverberate into today, and how the positive or negative mythologies that have sprung up around them don’t even begin to tell the truth. Moreover, we’re still fighting the fights they started, and seem doomed to keep fighting them.
As I write this the “Blue Angels” and “Snowbirds,” those dazzling, acrobatic show offs of American and Canadian aviation military might are streaking over my home to the delight of my militarized neighbours. Their delight and my disgust. Their delight and my shame.
But back to Human Smoke. It is an anecdotal history that uncovers the ugliness of us all. There are contextual gaps, there are omissions, there is spin, but it is a powerful book and an important one. I, in my dilettante historianism, knew most of what Baker was offering already, but he surprised even me at times, and I’ve never seen the dirtiness of WWII presented in quite so powerful a way.
As I closed the cover, though, I didn’t end with a new dedication to pacifism as so many have before me. If anything, Baker’s moments spent with Gandhi merely underlined the failings of pacifism. Gandhi’s non-violence would have been for nought if England wasn’t busy bombing and being bombed by Germany. England would have rolled over Gandhi and Nehrou and we'd have forgotten all about them and their desire for independence. I didn't heed the call to pacifism, nor was I filled with a new dedication to war as an answer either.
What it did leave me with was a desire to dedicate myself to imagining a new way. Militarism doesn’t work. We know that. Pacfism doesn’t work, even though it makes those engaged in it feel better about themselves (and superior to others). But we seem incapable of finding another way. What good are our minds if we can’t imagine another way? I am positive there must be another way. I want to find it.
My gut tells me it has something to do with forgiveness. For now I will go with my gut and see where it takes me. Thanks for the kick in the ass, Nicholson Baker. I hope you do the same for many, many others. ...more
My first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters listeMy first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters listened to; three chapters read, two chapters listened to; and on. Teaching this book in a town in a different province than the town I live in, across a straight, over a bridge (my adopted country's longest, the adopted country that plays such an important role in the piece, which is itself a nation sandwiched between nations in our always); a soccer game was played with four teams and two balls, simultaneously filling the same grosstopography, unseeing each other, unseeing the other game, but there was I in net, in perpetual Breach, defending one goal from two teams, and my fellows from Breach were busy removing those who Breached during play. And I found myself loving the mystery of the book then thinking it was too weak then loving it all over again when the twist I'd forgotten reminded me of Miéville's genius and why the mystery really does work. And I found myself loving and loving and loving the alterity of the spaces that Tyador and Corwi and Dhatt navigated with their unseeing, unhearing, unknowing senses as they were forced to see and hear and know. The City and the City is a masterpiece. One hundred years from now this book, and others of Miéville's ouevre will be canon. He's the first writer I've discovered, and long before others had, that I can say that about. And one of the few of the future canon with whom I am contemporary. I am lucky to be reading him now, in his pomp, the way little boys were lucky to see Wayne Gretzky play hockey live. I will never see Miéville's like again....more
Reading (or in the case of Star Wars The Han Solo Trilogy rereading) Star Wars books, with all their cheesie craptasticness is a great reminder of jusReading (or in the case of Star Wars The Han Solo Trilogy rereading) Star Wars books, with all their cheesie craptasticness is a great reminder of just how bad George Lucas' universe is.
It is all contradictions and stock characters and pretty lights and bad plots and predictability and self-referential bullshit and unspeakable dialogue and sci-fantastic worlds. And that's exactly why we love them so much -- or at least why I do -- because they are drivel.
So when A.C. Crispin, who is obviously a fan of Han Solo, has her hero leading smugglers in an attack on an Imperial Fleet come to destroy Nar Shaddaa, it doesn't matter that it further damages his original trilogy character development (the worst damage was done by Lucas, after all, so the Creator himself set the precedent). And when Han comes up with the master plan that will help defeat the fleet (an ex-lover whose illusions would put David Copperfield to shame), and when Han is used by Jabba and Jiliac the Hutts to bribe the Admiral of the fleet, and when Han barely escapes from Boba Fett long before his Empire encounter with the bounty hunter (and makes him a mortal enemy by stealing his Mandalorian wrist darts), and when Han falls in love with the Millenium Falcon in about as banal a way as I can imagine, and when Han meets and befriends Lando Calrissian on the spot, who turns out to be a man who loves responsibility long before he becomes responsible for Cloud City, and when Han peaks out of a closet at a Darth Vader murder, it doesn't matter because its just as contradictory and silly as all Star Wars tales. And it's just as fun.
So I admit it ... I really, really liked The Hutt Gambit because I am a nostalgic git with no taste. But I'm okay with that....more
Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck"Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck" like Paul Newman.
But there's this awesome cat named Samuel L. Jackson who can say "fuck" amazingly well, and since Newman is dead, Jackson is the perfect choice to read Adam Mansbach's brilliant Go the Fuck to Sleep.
I haven't laughed so hard since George Costanza visited his Mom in the hospital to watch a sponge bath in silohuette. My baby, little Scoutie, was more interested in my insane laughter than the book, but she was sitting on my lap at 12:10 am, so it was all rather fitting.
I love this book. I wish I'd thought of it. And boy do I want more. Just be aware that this is more of an adult spoof of a kid's book than a straight up kid's book. but when SLJ reads it ... hell, it's fun for the whole family.
I wonder how it would read if Cartman were the narrator?...more
I've never been a fan of fictionalized works of authors' lives, and the fact that The Paris Wife recounts my favourite author's life during the writinI've never been a fan of fictionalized works of authors' lives, and the fact that The Paris Wife recounts my favourite author's life during the writing of my favourite book of all time, The Sun Also Rises, antagonized the hell out of me. It didn't bode well.
But I promised my sister I'd give it a go; she wanted me to read it because we'd just read A Moveable Feast together, and she sent me the hardcover that she'd read for a recent book club. I couldn't say no.
Then, straight away, Paula McLain pissed me off with some of her early writing in the book. They pulled me out of the immersion I prefer to give myself over to when I read; I would just start to lose myself in Hadley's Chicago, or Hemingway's Michigan cabin, and she'd do something inauthentic to break the spell. Things were getting worse.
Later on, my own personal feelings, connected to a long dead relationship of my own, a relationship I always thought of in terms of Hadley and Ernest, yanked me out of my immersion -- not once or twice but many times -- and I would be forced to take a break and try to immerse myself all over again. But I blamed myself and tried not to let my attitude spill onto McLain.
Around the same time, some clever moments marrying Papa's fictional writing with his "real" world were appearing, which had to be McLain's fault, and I asked myself: "Why do we even need books like this? If a book is just retelling the stories another author already told so well, fictional or autobiographical, surely a fiction that retells these already told tales is superfluous?"
The answer, I must admit, took me by surprise and changed my relationship with The Paris Wife. We need books like this because sometimes the finest stories are the ones we already know told from another direction by someone who loves the original stories and people just as much as we do. It seems obvious to me now, as I write it, but it wasn't at all obvious to me while I was reading.
It is beautiful the way McLain loves her subjects. She is fair to them all. She understands them in her own way, a way new and compelling to me, and she overcame all my prejudices, eventually suspending me in my immersion despite herself and her source material and me.
I wanted to hate this book. I set out to destroy it and tear it apart. I wanted to come on here and thrash it and Paula McLain. But I can't. I think this book is something special. And it will take its place on the right hand side of my Hemingway shelf, just this side of the biographies, and the Michael Palin Hemingway books. McLain's earned it.
Always read with a mind willing to open itself (even when you find it difficult to open your mind from the start). You never know what joys you'll find. ...more
WARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planWARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planning to read it for some time.
Star Trekiteuthis: The Original Series Episode: TOS 061 - Spock's Brain Season 3 Ep. 1 Air Date: 09/20/1968 Stardate: 5431.4
The U.S.S. Architeuthis is on a routine mission in its preservative bottle when a riffling, ink stained, paper tiger beams into the National History Museum. Without a word, the tiger reorders the ink of its pages and everyone is rendered unconscious. It moves around the Museum until finally it comes to Miéville. Smiling an inky smile, it lays a hand on the author's head, as if it's found what it was looking for.
When Wati Kirk awakes, Miéville is gone from the Museum. Before the labour organizer can find out where his author has gone, Dane Parnell calls, demanding his presence immediately. Miéville's body lays on a diagnostic table, on full life support. Dane Parnell explains that his brain is gone ... miraculously removed with some technology that the Kraken Agent has never seen before. Every nerve was sealed and there was no blood lost. However, Parnell tells him if the author's brain isn't returned to his body within 24 hours, Miéville will die.
Wati Kirk orders the city's familiars to pursue the paper tiger. By following its lack, the Architeuthis arrives at the Sea's embassy in Varmin Way. When Wati Kirk and party shift inside, they find a soaked, underwater world inhabited by two villains: Grisamentum, who is comprised of ink and paper, and the Tattoo, a crime lord tattoed onto the back of a man named Paul. While Grisamentum is resurrected in the liquid body of ink, he doesn't fully understand the power of metaphor. Only the "Great Prophet" -- a.k.a. Billy Harrow -- has this knowledge, and he was left behind by ancient squid cultists (or bottle angels) who once lived on the planet.
Dane, having borrowed a device which will control Miéville's body without the aid of his brain, goes with the author to join Wati Kirk and his party. They find Grisamentum, the tiger who came into the Museum. They quickly realize that Gris doesn't have the skill or knowledge to have understood the operation on Miéville, and the Londonmancers tell them about the Great Prophet.
Finally, Wati Kirk finds Miéville's brain. The Tattoo has hooked it up to control his main thug, Goss and Subby. The brain is now revered by the thug as the "Controller," which the thug hopes will fulfill his (its? their?) murderous thirst for the next 10,000 years. After trying unsuccessfully to get Gris to repeat the operation on Miéville in reverse, Dane submits to the Great Prophet and gains the knowledge of metaphor needed to restore Miéville's brain and save both the author's life and all their existences.
Without his Controller, Goss and Subby succumb to the wrath of Paul who conquers his Tattoo. Wati Kirk suggests the familiars go on strike once more, and Grisamentum's attack on Miéville never-was.
There are three reasons why I love The Magic of Recluce: 1) it's not like the Star Wars movies in one crucial way; 2) it is built around training rathThere are three reasons why I love The Magic of Recluce: 1) it's not like the Star Wars movies in one crucial way; 2) it is built around training rather than adventure; 3) woodworking.
1) Not Star Wars: There is a line in Empire Strikes Back where Yoda says, "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack." There is no equivocation in that. It is NEVER for attack. Pretty simple, I would think. Yet the movies are packed with our Jedis on the offensive, including Yoda in the prequels. I wanted to believe Yoda. I wanted it to be true. I wanted Luke's confrontation with Darth Vader in Bespin to be as much a mistake because of its offensive nature as it was a mistake of his youth.
I've debated and discussed this with many over the years, and one of the most frustrating excuses for the movies is that "there is no other way." I've always argued that there is another way, and that the failure to embrace that other way is a terrible failure of the films and its creator (I am fine with using the violence of attack as an answer, so long as the great guru of our hero doesn't say that it is NEVER for attack). But my argument has been written off as mere theory because while I have argued that there is another way all I had was my assertion that there was. Now I have The Magic of Recluce. Where Lucas fails, Modesitt Jr. succeeds. Where Luke Skywalker fails, Lerris succeeds. Where the flawed use of force fails, order succeeds by letting chaos destroy itself.
Lerris doesn't need big weapons. He actually breaks his own staff at one point and uses a shield as his "weapon." Lerris spends the novel disarming people, avoiding people, protecting people and attempting to bring order to the chaos around him. And there is no loss of excitement in the story. Big action be damned.
2) Training: I am a big sucker for training stories. It has always been one of my favourite aspects of war movies (raw recruits becoming soldiers), martial arts movies (ninja and samurai mastering their weapons), and sports movies (especially the crappy baseball team going back to basics). I suppose it is because I like to learn and I like to teach, but it is also a wonderful tool of storytelling because it breathes life into characters very naturally. Character development must happen. There is no avoiding it when a character's raison d'etre is to change. And here, in The Magic of Recluce, Lerris is learning from the first page to the last, even when he is bored, even when he is seeking, even when he is teaching and even when he is just riding his pony. Lerris learns and that is good.
3) Woodworking: This may seem like an odd reason for loving the story, but the woodworking is quite a beautiful addition to The Magic of Recluce. It grounds our hero, is key to his search for his place in order and chaos, links him permanently to the land of his birth and provides him with an occupation when times get tight. And it is the latter economic use of woodworking that I liked best.
Fantasy novels and their characters rarely worry themselves with anything as mundane as money. Even the poorest farmboy turned hero just goes out in the world and has everything happen for him. There is some early testing adventure that puts him in danger, and when he walks away from it he has a full purse and food just falls into his lap whenever he needs it (either because he is an accomplished hunter or everyone's happy to give their food away). Not for Lerris. He makes his way through the Easthorns after a last ditch escape from Jellico and finds himself short on food and short on funds. So what does he do? He gets himself a gig as a journeyman woodworker and spends a good third of the novel becoming a master builder. This, of course, does much more for him than simply providing money (it is probably the most important part of his personal training), but to see a hero concerned with the day to day difficulties of living pushed The Magic of Recluce into rarified air for me.
It is a damn good novel, but the woodworking? The woodworking makes it great. ...more
Many months ago, I ordered some books online, and when the box arrived I discovered Peter Abrahams' Down the Rabbit Hole had mistakenly found its wayMany months ago, I ordered some books online, and when the box arrived I discovered Peter Abrahams' Down the Rabbit Hole had mistakenly found its way into my box. Being the anarchic thief that I am, I decided to keep the book, tossing it on my tertiary to-read pile and promptly forgot about it.
But last week I needed a book to read while doing the dishes, and noticed Down the Rabbit Hole sandwiched between A Game of Thrones and The Drawing of the Three, and since it fulfilled my doing-the-dishes requirements I decided to give it a go. My doing-the-dishes requirements are: 1. it has to be a book that can get wet, which means I can't care about it before reading; 2. it has to be something that doesn't require undivided attention (for instance, Gravity's Rainbow wouldn't qualify); & 3. it has to be a book I can toss aside without guilt (a complex internal system I can't explain here) if I'm not enjoying the experience.
Down the Rabbit Hole fulfilled those three requirements, so I found myself reading this totally random book that's full of problems yet somehow manages to be a damn fine read.
Problem 1. It is written in the third person, but just screams to be written in the first. Problem 2. Its reference to Alice in the title creates some reader expectations (at least in me) that were never fulfilled. Problem 3. The end made me feel like a lemming who suddenly realizes he's falling off the cliff. I was invested, I was excited, I was looking for more, and then it was over and the chapter to the next book was beginning. Not good. Problem 4. The Sherlock Holmes love fest was just too damn silly for me. Problem 5. Abrahams left too much hanging for future books, making me want to find out about Grampy's farm, how Joey and Ingrid develop as a couple, and all sorts of other things. Clever bastard! So, yeah, there were problems.
But I actually DO want to read on. I really took to the characters in this book, and I actually came to love Ingrid. I even felt worried for her. Abrahams generated genuine emotion in me, and I'm impressed by that.
Down the Rabbit Hole was a nice diversion while scrubbing pots and glasses and toddler bottles. I am guessing it would be equally welcome when taking a poop, showering, or even lying on a beach. Take your pick. ...more
1. The Zombies are from space! 2. Not all the uniforms are Trek. Can you say Princess Leia fighting zombies in her slave girl bikini?! 3. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Star Wars references abound, driving our captain, Jim Pike, crazy! 4. Serious, gory, Zombie slaying madness with seriously cool Trek weapons (remember Amok Time?)! 5. A Convention within a Convention on the Edge of Forever! 6. Nuclear Blasts that turn out to be fusion bombs that put an end to USA's sixth largest city! 7. Twists and turns and octopus hands! 8. Plenty o' death to plenty o' red shirts! 9. A Kirk style hero with some genuine military training for that added flavour of believability ;) 10. 35 exciting chapters named after the best Trek episodes you can remember :)
I expected the book to end with me smiling a little -- maybe more of a smirk -- and shaking my head over the 17 bucks I wasted. I didn't expect to love it. And I did. It started to drag for about two chapters at the end, but even that couldn't wipe away the brilliance of Night of the Living Trekkies.
I don't know that people will like this book if they aren't fans of at least Zombies or Trek, but if you're a fan of both this book is a photon torpedo. It's slick, action-packed, wittingly hits all the right notes and plays by the rules of its sources, and it is ready, this minute, to be turned into an excellent film. I hope it makes it to the big screen, but even if it doesn't, I'll be returning to Houston and the problem of Third Eye Space Zombies real soon.
I happened to be reading this with my daughter at the same time I was rereading the Culture novel Consider Phlebas and I couldn't keep the two separatI happened to be reading this with my daughter at the same time I was rereading the Culture novel Consider Phlebas and I couldn't keep the two separate. Pippi just seems like the perfect member of the Culture, decent, headstrong, hedonistic, in love with her post-scarcity living, and a bit too flaky for her own good. All that led to this:
9. Pippi Goes Aboard*
Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter Longstocking closed the door to her cabin aboard General Contact Unit Villa Villekulla and hung her red ribbon from her custom door stud for the last time; then she lifted the horse drone down from its pedestal. It was completely capable of using its anti-gravity forcefield, but it preferred to have Pippi set him down –- so for the last time she lifted him down off his pedestal. The primate shaped drone, Mr. Nilsson, already hovered over her shoulder, projecting simultaneous auras of importance and annoyance. He understood that something special was going to happen.
“Well, I guess that’s all,” said Pippi.
“Tommy and Annika nodded. “Yes, I guess it is.”
“It’s still early,” said Pippi. “Let’s walk; that will take longer.”
Tommy and Annika nodded again, but they didn’t say anything. Then they started walking toward the town, toward the harbour, toward the Cliff Class Superlifter Hoptoad. The horse, forced to use his anti-gravity now, floated along slowly behind them.
Pippi glanced over her shoulder at her cabin door. “Nice little place,” she said. “No bugs, clean and comfortable, and that’s probably more than you can say about the hovels where I’ll be living in the future.”
Tommy and Annika said nothing.
“If there are an awful lot of bugs in my Drezen hovel,” continued Pippi, “I’ll train them and keep them in a box and play Run, Medjel, Run with them at night. I’ll tie little bows around their antennae, and the two most faithful and affectionate I will call Tommy and Annika, and they shall sleep with me at night.”
Not even this could make Tommy and Annika more talkative.
“What on earth is wrong with you? asked Pippi irritably. I tell you it is dangerous to keep quiet too long. Tongues dry up if you don’t use them. On Vavatch I once knew an Eater who never said a word. And once when he wanted to say to me, ‘You look yummy, dear Pippi, come let me eat you,’ he opened his mouth and can you guess what he said? First he made some horrible faces, for his teeth had fallen out and he needed metal ones, and then a sound came out: ‘U buy uye muy.’ I looked in his mouth, and, imagine! there lay his tongue like a little wilted leaf, and as long as he lived, which wasn’t long I admit, that Eater could never say anything but ‘U buy uye muy.’ It would be awful if the same thing should happen to you. Let me see if you can say this better than the Eater did: ‘You look yummy, dear Pippi, come let me eat you,’ or at least, ‘have a nice mission, Pippi.’ Go on, try it.”
“Have a nice mission, dear Pippi, and thanks for your visit,” said Tommy and Annika obediently.
There was the Smallbay; there lay the Hoptoad. Captain Efraim stood near the ramp, shouting his commands, the drones hovered back and forth to make everything ready for departure. All the people on the GCU had crowded into the Smallbay to wave good-by to Pippi, and here she came with Tommy and Annika and the horse and Mr. Nilsson.
Pippi nodded and smiled to the left and the right. Then she took up the horse, who obediently shut down his force fields and carried him up the ramp. The poor old drone cast a suspicious aura, for old drones don’t care very much for Contact missions.
“Well, here you are, my beloved operative!” called Captain Efraim. He folded her in his arms, and they hugged each other with all the power that their hyperactive adrenals could muster. They nearly cracked each other’s ribs -- captain and operative -- and it took a moment to catch their breath. That was when Pippi noticed Annika’s tears and Tommy’s frustration.
Pippi came running down the ramp and rushed over to them. She took their hands in hers. “Ten minutes left,” she said.
Then Annika threw herself against the force field of Mr. Nilsson and cried as if her heart would break. Tommy clenched his teeth and looked murderous. He would not cry for anything.
All the people of GCU Villa Villekulla gathered around Pippi. They took out their bird whistles, manufactured by the GCU for the occasion, and blew the farewell tune the GCU had composed for her. It sounded sad beyond words, for it was a very, very mournful tune. Annika was crying so hard she could hardly catch her breath, and Tommy was so tense he had to think to engage his endorphins just so he could calm down.
The people crowded in from all directions to say good-by to Pippi. She raised her hand and asked them to be quiet.
“Hereafter,” she said, “I’ll only have little Drezeni savages to play with. I don’t know how we will amuse ourselves; perhaps I’ll actually have do some work. Perhaps I will teach them some pluttification. I suppose we’ll manage to pass the time some way.” Pippi paused. Both Tommy and Annika felt that they hated those Drezeni Pippi would know in the future.
“But,” continued Pippi, “Perhaps a day will come when their planet is a part of the Culture, a long dreary century from now, when I will have taught them all to pluttify, and then I could come back here, to the GCU Villa Villekulla and everything can be just like it is now all over again.”
The people blew a still sadder tune on their bird whistles.
“Pippi, it’s time to come aboard,” called Captain Efraim.
“Aye, aye, captain,” called Pippi. She turned to Tommy and Annika. She looked at them.
“Close the ramp, Fridolf” cried Captain Efraim to his knife-missile. Fridolf did. The Hoptoad was ready for her mission of Contact.
Then -- “No, Captain Efraim,” cried Pippi, watching the crowd in the Smallbay -- watching Tommy and Annika -- through the viewscreen, “I can’t do it, I just can’t bear to do it!”
“What is it you can’t bear to do?” asked Captain Efraim.
“I can’t bear to see anyone in the Culture crying and being sorry on account of me -- least of all Tommy and Annika. Put down the ramp again. I’m staying on Villa Villekulla.
Captain Efraim stood silent for a minute. “Do as you like,” he said at last. “You always have done that. And so you should too.”
Pippi nodded. “Yes, I’ve always done that,” she said quietly. “You know, Papa, Efraim? I think it’s best to live on a decent GCU and not disrupt my comfort on some stinky, backwater planet -- don’t you think so too?”
“You’re right, as always, Pippi,” answered Captain Efraim. “It is certain that you live a more ordered life on GCU Villa Villekulla, and that is probably best for you. Fridolf anticipated your decision, and your replacement is already onboard.”
“Just so then,” said Pippi. “It’s surely best for me to live and orderly life, especially since I can’t order it myself.
Pippi said goodbye to the drones on the Hoptoad and hugged Captain Efraim once more. Then she lifted her still grounded horse and carried him down the ramp. Mr. Nilsson floated along beside her with a content aura. The Hoptoad was cut off by a force field generated by the GCU and vented out of the Smallbay, leaving Pippi with the people of Villa Villekulla where she would always be happy.
***WARNING*** This is a reading journal rather than a review, so it will be riddled with unmarked spoilers. You have been warned.
China Mountain -- Zh***WARNING*** This is a reading journal rather than a review, so it will be riddled with unmarked spoilers. You have been warned.
China Mountain -- Zhang:- So far, Zhang is nothing like I expected, neither the character nor the book. I expected a cyber-punky action thriller, and it may still become that, but this first chapter offers no signs that a change is going to come. At this point it is a study of two characters: Zhang and San-xiang; the former is our gay half-ABC (American Born Chinese) half-Spanish (from Spain) engineer; the latter is our unfortunately “ugly” political girl. It’s them, together, moving through New York in a Chinese dominated near (not so near?) future, thrust together by her Chinese parents and finding that they quite like each other despite his sexuality (which she never seems to peg) and her ugliness (which fascinates him). It’s moody, it’s atmospheric, and the milieu is entirely plausible. But the banality of the tale, so far, is quite a surprise. It is an average character study that could just as easily be told in your city, right now, today, and it would still be as likable and readable as this story is. If there is going to be something more like actiony Sci-Fi I can’t imagine how it would come about. But then, I don’t think I want it to. I am liking this book for its banality. Why not set a story like this in the future? Works for me.
Kites -- Angel:Now it feels like my favourite of things –- a book of short stories loosely, loosely connected, and I will be disappointed if this book is pegged into a novelistic plot. I don’t want to go back to Zhang (at least not too often); I want new people, new experiences, in this future Socialist Union of American States; I want criminals or a nurse in a future hospital or maybe even some other kite fliers; I want more exploration of gender, of the bents and the straights; I want a far reaching set of stories rather than one deep exploration told close to the body. I loved Angel and her kite flying genius, but I need someone new.
Baffin Island -- Zhang: I am fully convinced now that if this is a novel it is a novel consisting of short stories, even though two of them already follow the same guy. There is no plot to speak of, and I love that –- “Fuck plot,” I say. This is all about character and place, and places –- be they New York or Baffin Island -– are characters in this book. I continue to adore Arctic tales too, so the story of Zhang in the Arctic station doing the maintenance work for a bunch of scientists tracking whales, nearly losing his shit in the land of the noontime moon is exactly the sort of tale I am made to love. I feel the need to go North before it is completely gone, before I am gone. Enough about me: it’s a great chapter as Zhang begins to see himself, and I find myself cheering him on. I can’t wait to see what we get and where we go next.
Jerusalem Station -- Martine: A commune on Mars. Crazy. Nothing prepared me for the leap from Earth to Mars, but it was deftly handled by McHugh, and it’s another place lovingly turned into a character in the tale. Martine’s goat farm/apiary, and the round about way she falls in love with (or falls in care for) Alexi and Theresa is exactingly created. It is all nuance, nuance written to capture truth in a future that almost seems like it is rather than it could be. I am officially in love with this book now. And Martine and Alexi. I have no idea what else Maureen F. McHugh has written but it is something I am going to read. (one more thing: as I finished the chapter I couldn’t help noticing the word “nurse” in the first line or two of the next chapter. I love that I am going to get my wish.)
Ghost -- Zhang: The hint of a plot finally appears in Ghost—Zhang, but only because it is our third chapter following the life of Zhang. He’s in China after his stint in the Arctic, studying Engineering at the prestigious University of Nanjing, and he’s in love with his tutor, a man named Haitao. In love in a place where being “bent” is a crime that the government either Reforms Through Labour or solves with a bullet in the back of the head. Zhang seems a bit naïve about the threat and the world he’s living in, but that naïveté is gone by the time Haitao kills himself. The slightest nudge and all the gains we’ve made will tumble and we’ll be hiding in back alleys and parks all over again. It’s a fucking tightrope. This story hit me where I live.
Homework -- Alexi: Goats. Goats and marriage. Goats and marriage and a tutor for Alexi’s correspondence course through the University of Nanking (a tutor named Zhang). This is, perhaps, the most banal chapter of the lot, but lovely in its simplicity, even so.
Three Fragrances -- San-xiang: I can’t help thinking of my biannual re-reading of Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Written nearly 400 years ago, Swift’s pamphlet is a catalogue of everything that is wrong with the world. Except it’s not simply a catalogue of what was wrong in his world of 1729, it is a catalogue of what’s wrong in our world of 2012. The problems are all the same. What’s wrong never changes; hence, my confidence that we are doomed to create our own extinction because we can’t change. We like to pretend things are better, but they’re not. And here’s San-xiang, face finally restructured, jaw firmly and perfectly in place, looking pretty for the first time in her life, and a predator picks out her vulnerability, and she walks inexorably into the predator's lair, and he rapes her. McHugh doesn’t shy away from telegraphing what’s to come, and that dramatic irony is what creates the suspense that pushes this story forward. When it finally happens, when Billy rapes San-xiang, but worse seems oblivious to having raped her, I felt the ache that took me to Jonathon Swift and the thought that nothing changes. Why doesn’t it? I’m convinced it is because we invariably treat symptoms rather than diseases. But I have been known to make mistakes ... from time to time.
Rafael -- Zhang: I could read another three hundred pages in McHugh’s future world. The stories were that good. This final short wraps up the “novel” precisely as it should -- with life continuing for everyone in the directions they’ve chosen or had thrust upon them. There are connections that all link back to Zhang, connections to all the other players from all the other stories, that are touched with the most delicate of touches, and none of them feel too good to be true. There is no destiny at work, no impossible predetermined coming together of people from different places. They’re simply intersections and crossings between lives -– all of which make perfect sense (the sorts of things I've experienced again and again in my own life). China Mountain Zhang is about a possible world that probably won’t happen, but could. It is an act of Sci-Fi world building that I’ve rarely seen matched. But for me, Mchugh’s real achievement is the people she created. They are beautiful. The whale scientists and engineers and hustlers and Martian colonists, the wounded the harmed the foolish the suicidal the nasty the kind the living, and the dead, San-Xiang and Haitao and Invierno and Peter and Zhang. I will miss them....more