I fear my feelings about Skellig are going to disappoint you. I didn't love it. Now that could be because it came to me too late in life tDear Amber,
I fear my feelings about Skellig are going to disappoint you. I didn't love it. Now that could be because it came to me too late in life to truly adore the story of the strange owl/angel/man, or perhaps I am too damn jaded, or it could just be that I no longer seem able to completely enjoy something just for the sake of enjoyment. I don't like that about me, but there it is.
Don't get me wrong. I liked Skellig plenty. I liked it enough that I've recommended it to Te and Los, and Scoutie has already started reading it, and I blew through it at top speed, wanting to see how things played out.
There is much to admire in Almond's book. Michael, the protagonist, is a wonderful boy, a kind sensitive protagonist much like a little boy I know, and boys like that are underrepresented in literature (it seems to me). Mina, Michael's friend, is a fierce, uncompromising home schooled girl with a deep love of William Blake (kind of like an Amber I know) and an open, welcoming, searching view of all the potentials in the world. They are a delightful pair to spend time with, and their care of Skellig made me cheer for them.
Skellig him(it)self was another victory for Almond. Skellig could easily have been misused. Too much Skellig and the book would have been a fraction as good as it was. Too little Skellig and what would be the point. And if Almond had chosen to tell us everything about Skellig, to spoon feed us Skellig's "truth," I might have been moved to toss the book on the barbecue. But no, the amount of Skellig was perfect.
Yet I closed the book as an admirer rather than a lover. Why the distance? It was Almond's fence sitting when it came to the secular and the religious. His position lacked the subtlety of the rest of the novella, and each time the fence sitting appeared it pulled me out of the story.
The tension in the book between evolution and the existence of the supernatural was so forced that I couldn't concentrate on the characters or what they were doing; it felt a bit too much like the wife in the Murder of Gonzago. And I think this was a lost opportunity for Almond. The middle ground between science and the supernatural -- which is where I think most of the people I know personally would situate themselves -- doesn't get enough representation in our pop culture. The fight between the most credulous believers and the unbelievers gets all the play, but those folks somewhere in the middle are a bigger group by far (at least that's my guess) than the ones on the ends of the spectrum, and they are forced to listen to those who don't share their opinions all the time. Yet here, finally, they get a book looking at things from their perspective, but Almond strayed to far from just showing them the middle ground and entered the realm of lecturing on the middle ground. And that bummed me right out.
So I liked this book. I liked it very much. But I couldn't love it, Amber. I am sorry.
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
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
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
Brontë, my lovely seven year old, is a kooky girl.
From the time she was wee, she's been a talented artist, and her greatest influence, then and now,Brontë, my lovely seven year old, is a kooky girl.
From the time she was wee, she's been a talented artist, and her greatest influence, then and now, was Tim Burton. One of her greatest pictures, "The Dark Queen" will someday be a tattoo on my left thigh.
But that's not all ,,, Brontë loves Zombies (they scare the shit out of her, btu she loves them. in fact, putting on The Walking Dead, no matter when I put it on, is the flame that draws my little moth into the room. She can be asleep, and she'll still turn up. But she suffers for it later, even the tiny bit she catches -- as do I). Brontë loves anything that has to do with Frankenstein. Her favourite role in Hamlet (a role she is currently playing as we perform Stoppard's 15 Minute Hamlet) is Hamlet's Ghost. If it's supernatural, Brontë loves it with the same intensity she fears it, and she pursues it with passion.
Most of the little girls she knows look at her askance. They don't get her. Sometimes it makes her sad, but other times it makes her proud. I hope that the latter will always weigh heavier in her estimation, and I think that Jim Benton's Franny K. Stein books may tip the scales in that direction.
Franny, like her namesake, is a mad scientist. She makes lunch meat monsters, transformation potions, analyzes everythimg critically, rejects PB&J and Barbies, yet wants very badly to have friends, so badly that she tries to change her ways to achieve their love. In the end, in kid book style, she learns that being herself is enough, and that she can have friends, truer friends, by being true to herself. I don't know that I buy it, at least not entirely, but I see it impacting the way Brontë sees herself, and that impact is positive.
So that's good enough for me. Smart girls, quirky girls, strong girls rule! And kooky girls rule most of all. You do rule, Të. Maybe tonight we can make another cayenne pepper infused potion. As usual, I will be your test subject. I promise....more
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you madAugust 7, 2011
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you made the right choice putting an end to it when you did. I can't believe it's been gone for 16 years now. Your precocious Calvin was what every kid with an overactive imagination is in their own heads, but you also gave us the view of what the rest of the world sees in these kids and does to try and beat the imagination out of them. There's implied sadness in the explicit joy you gave us, and it makes Calvin and Hobbes a true masterpiece.
I was fourteen when you started your opus, and I was close enough to my own hyper-imaginative childhood to connect at a visceral level. My youthful imaginary friends were still fresh in my mind, and my current imaginary friends were just taking hold, and your strip gave me something to relate to, someone to cheer for, a place where it was okay to turn dreary realties of the world into exciting fantasies and be proud of that ability all at the same time. It was also a fabulous way to relax my brain (though not too much) amidst all the literature I was devouring at a frightening rate.
But I have a request. Now that I am forty, and I have a precocious little Calvin of my own making explosive sounds with his mouth as he blows up his LEGO creations (as I write this, in fact), and my little Calvin’s twin sister, who happens to be a lot like Susie, I would love it if you came out of retirement and gave us just one year of Calvin and Hobbes and Son (or Daughter). I want to see where Calvin is now. I want to see Calvin as a Dad, and I want his son (or daughter) with a beaten up, super ratty, devilish-as-ever Hobbes. But I don't want this comic to be about the kids, I want it to be about Calvin. I want to see how well Calvin was able to fight off his indoctrination; I imagine he’s one of those rare folks who didn’t join the mainstream, who somehow continued to live on his own terms, but my imagination aside, I am dying to see what he became for you. Please, please, please come back, Bill. We could all use a bit of Calvin again.
I know that my request will never reach you, and that, if it did, you'd probably never even consider the possibility, but I know you could do the "parenting thing" better than all your peers, just as you did the "kid thing" better than anyone else.
So I'll just leave you with the firmest, most heartfelt thank you that I have in me: thank you for that little corner of joy you carved into my world. I’ll never forget it, and late at night, when I am dipping my peanut butter and jelly into my hot chocolate, I’ll have one of my Calvin and Hobbes books open so that I can stain the pages with the purple of some yummy Welch’s grape jelly. Just as Calvin would.
Rape. Ultra-violence. Outdated dystopia. Cold War prophecy gone awry. Cello. Obnoxious Americans. Anti-US Foreign Policy and its crimes. Panama Canal.Rape. Ultra-violence. Outdated dystopia. Cold War prophecy gone awry. Cello. Obnoxious Americans. Anti-US Foreign Policy and its crimes. Panama Canal. SCUBA. History lessons. Imaginings of Japan. Hisako Onoda. Fire. Blood.
This is one bloody tale, one of Iain Banks bloodier tales, which is saying a lot, yet it is also a tale with many moments of profound beauty. I found myself surprisingly moved from time to time, both from the emotional connection I found myself developing with Hisako Onoda, the Japanese Cellist deathly afraid of flying but not diving, and from the gorgeous prose Banks conjured out of the most disparate occurrences.
I'm guessing this would be a tough read for some folks, but if you're not triggered by anything I said in the first paragraph, you could just be a candidate for falling in love with this least talked about -- and seriously underrated -- Iain Banks book. ...more
We book lovers can’t help speaking of authors as “the next ....” We’re always keeping our eyes open for the next Jane Austen or the next Ernest HemingWe book lovers can’t help speaking of authors as “the next ....” We’re always keeping our eyes open for the next Jane Austen or the next Ernest Hemingway or the next Salman Rushdie or the next Ursula K. LeGuin, and we gleefully trumpet their arrival in our reviews. Of course, what we really ought to be looking for is the first China Miéville, the first Lisa Moore, the first Neal Stephenson, the first Iain Banks, the first whomever. When we find those authors who are truly themselves, we’ve really uncovered gold.
There is a comparison that is valuable, however. It doesn’t place impossible expectations on burgeoning authors; it doesn’t reduce the work they are doing; it simply places them in the context of literary history and points us in the direction of their progenitors. What I am talking about is authorial inheritance. There are some authors who, for whatever reason or in whatever way, have “inherited” a technique or a focus or an obsession from an established author and somehow built upon what came before.
Tolkien’s world building, especially linguistically, is legendary. He knew everything there was to know about the races, religions, languages and histories of Middle Earth. It remains a world of immense richness, and Fantasy authors of every generation have aspired to create worlds that match Tolkien’s genius.
I don’t think Vandermeer is one of those authors, at least not consciously. I don’t think he’s sitting down with his scribbled maps and booklets of backstories and rules of behaviour, aspiring to be the next Tolkien.
Yet what Vandermeer has done is create a world every bit as alive and teeming as Tolkien’s, and he has done it in a way that is unique to his time and personal experience and place in the world (a Pannsylvanian born, Fiji raised, Floridian).
Can you imagine a world where the grey skinned alien invaders people fear come from below, not from above, and are living, breathing fungus beings? Jeff Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where historians and artists are the venerated celebrities of the day, rather than actors and athletes? Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where weapons of mass destruction are fungal weapons that alter the world in a fearful burst of steampunky modernity? Vandermeer can.
But Vandermeer doesn’t stop at these peculiarities. He produces artifacts for reproduction, like a fungus rotted page from Janice Shriek’s Afterword, complete with Duncan Shriek’s annotations, and reproduces it in Sirin’s Afterword to her Afterword. He offers us photos of Janice’s mushroom overrun typewriter, the key artefact of her writing process, the green, glowing keys she writes about as she writes about her brother and Mary Sabon and Ambergris and herself.
And Vandermeer doesn’t stop there either. He invites bands into his world to write soundtracks for the works he’s writing. He hints at characters whose roots might be our world, madmen trapped in Ambergrisian madhouses. He offers histories of commerce and religion every bit as alive as the creations of any other world builder. And there’s more, so much more. It's in City of Saints and Madmen. It's in Finch. It's in Vandermeer's mind.
Vandermeer lives and breathes Ambergris and cities and nations it competes with, and all its environs, and his world is always expanding, always becoming. In its own way, Vandermeer’s world is as alive and important as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and he has one leg up on the old master. He’s still alive, still working, and Vandermeer’s world can continue to grow.
I remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for gradI remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for grade three. We were in the library for a library period, and I asked Mrs. Dalgliesh, our groovy librarian, for a book. I can't remember if I was the one who suggested Greek Mythology or if it was she, but I do remember her aiding me at the card catalogues, then she sent me off to the shelves to track down "292 DAU [JUV]."
That little journey changed me irrevocably.
I devoured D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths in what was then record time, and within days I was debating my father on theology. I demanded to know why I couldn't worship Zeus instead of his God; I wanted to know why, if the Greek Gods came first, they had a flood, Heracles was resurrected, and Phrixus was saved from being sacrificed by his father by the presence of a golden ram, amongst other things. I wanted to know how Christianity could have such similar myths.
It was the beginning of the end of my religiosity and the penultimate blow to my catholicism. It was the end of my acquiescence to unjust authority. It was the end of acceptance without questions. It catalysed my constant search for understanding. It was the beginning of my father's disdain for me, and his fear of my mind (the latter, I've always suspected, was close to the root of much of the abuse I suffered at his hands). It was the moment of my enlightenment. And I've loved this book deeply from the second I first closed its cover until today.
I finished reading it to our twins last night. To hear them talk today, they are in love with the book themselves, though I doubt it can be felt as deeply as my love for the book. We encourage them to think for themselves, to question, to seek, to demand that authority earns respect, so their experience with the book isn't as revelatory as mine. They have parents who've been answering their questions -- about gods, life, death, where babies come from, about anything -- since they were asking questions. They haven't needed to find that power for themselves, we've pointed the way to that power from the start. Still, they love this book, and I hope they share it with their kids (if they choose to have kids) in turn.