You've given me many gifts over the years, and I cherish them all, so it is fitting that your most recent gift is a book of the sDear Ursula Le Guin,
You've given me many gifts over the years, and I cherish them all, so it is fitting that your most recent gift is a book of the same name. I know it is not the favourite of many of my friends who love your work too, and I don't know if I can even call it a favourite, but I accepted Gifts from you at the perfect time, much as I've accepted your other works.
When all my fantasy worlds were filled with too obvious expressions of god vs. evil, and I was struggling with the binary world view I was being fed, you gave me Sparrowhawk, showing me a manifestation of the contradictions I felt in myself. Sparrowhawk was neither good nor evil. He was. And there was no character like Sparrowhawk or book like A Wizard of Earthsea that I could find when I accepted your gift.
When I was struggling with my sexuality and fighting off indoctrinated prejudices that betrayed my core and made me a homophobe despite my bisexuality, you painted a picture of gender I couldn't have imagined until you revealed it to me on the cold landscapes of Gethen, teaching me a tolerance on an ice planet so like my own. And I learned that tolerance not just for others, but above all for myself.
When I needed to aspire to something better, you gave me the only character in literature I wished (and still wish) I could be. Yes, many would pick Jesus, or Buddha or Muhammed, but for me the character was(is) Shevek. I can imagine a future where the only surviving book is The Dispossessed and a new religion forms around the scientist from Annares. But before that happens I will simply strive to live as Shevek lived, strive to be like Shevek was. I will approach our world with eyes open to its inequities and refuse to be silenced -- even when no one can hear my voice for the din.
Those gifts you bestowed are more than I could ever hope to gain from any author, and here you've given me another. Gifts may be the most emotionally satisfying gift you've given me, Ursula. It didn't make me cry, or reduce me to deep depression, or lift me to places of unfettered joy, or fill me with spiritual uplift, but it was a place of quiet peace, wherein Orrec's telling of his story was perfectly suited to the simplicity of the betrayals and sacrifices that shaped his life -- deep and personal and true and satisfying. I have heard that Voices is even better, but I find that hard to believe because I have not read a better book than Gifts in a good, long time.
So thank you, Ursula, for being the author of my heart. I hope I get to stand in your presence some day. You are one of my heroes, and I love you.
I found myself back in Paris this winter because my 10 year old son, the indomitable Miloš, took on The Three Musketeers for his essay, and I read itI found myself back in Paris this winter because my 10 year old son, the indomitable Miloš, took on The Three Musketeers for his essay, and I read it in support. It is my sixth or seventh reading, but I haven't read it in a while so I honestly can't remember which reading it is, not that it matters. I had quite the experience this time through.
In the past I have been obsessed with the treatment of Milady de Winter -- both Dumas' treatment of her and the Musketeers' treatment of her -- but this time I was much more focused on the Musketeers themselves. Most if not all of that can be chalked up to Miloš' essay topic. About half way through he was zeroing in on the fact that the Musketeers, particularly Athos and D'Artagnan (who begins the tale unattached then turns Guard then turns Musketeer) are vastly less than heroic. So my reading went down the same path, and damn are they an ugly bunch.
I've spoken and written of their iniquities in the past, so I'll leave the listing of their bad behaviours aside, but I will say that I was struck most profoundly -- once again -- by the way pop culture has twisted the Inseparables.
I am sure that Dumas' didn't conceive of them as humorous, sexy, devil-may-care, lily white, honourable or even upstanding heroes. He conceived of them as flawed men living in a flawed society, busy taking advantage of whatever they could to get ahead, get in a bed, get rich or richer or forget their pasts. Sure they are fun to read when they have a rare sword or musket fight (and there are precious few when you consider the page count of this book), but so much of who they are is so unsavoury that, as Miloš said to me, "they can't be heroes." No. They really can't.
I wonder if we started a petition of literary fans if we could get HBO to produce a version of the Musketeers that makes them appear as they truly are, though I doubt it. BBC has succeeded in making their time dirtier and grungier, and even made Cardinal Richelieu vastly more nasty than Dumas intended, but their Musketeers are as charming as ever Hollywood made them. I, for one, would rather see the nasty Musketeers. I want to see them as they were conceived by Dumas. That would be something. ...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.
What I really dug about this book was the sense of diminishment it left me with: the diminishment of Osama as a man; the diminishment of Osama as an iWhat I really dug about this book was the sense of diminishment it left me with: the diminishment of Osama as a man; the diminishment of Osama as an idea; the diminishment of the attack on the WTC; the diminishment of terrorism in general; the diminishment of the US government and its war machine; the diminishment of violence and our rationalized motivations for violence; the diminishment of humanity; the diminishment of our own little tragedies. And it did this while celebrating knowledge and love.
It told its strange tale of afterlife in a string of pseudo-short stories that massed together into a novel, all with some wonderful imagery. Yet it was littered with similes that began to smell like trash in a steaming, tropical landfill (exactly!). It was interesting, but I could put it down and forget about it for days. I wanted it to be better. It could have been so much worse. I think I'd rather read the novels in the novel than what we were given as the novel itself. And I wish I cared more....more
In a conversation I had about The God Butcher yesterday, the question of "what makes a God a god" came up. Worship, tradition, and ritual -- it was deIn a conversation I had about The God Butcher yesterday, the question of "what makes a God a god" came up. Worship, tradition, and ritual -- it was decided -- make a God, and unless there is some fantastical higher being out there, it is our agency and belief that breathe life into our Gods, so if that is true, the Norse God of Thunder is one of the most revered Gods in our now.
Then we started talking about how Gorr the God Butcher wants to kill the Gods, all the Gods, a sort of Nietzschean Über-Übermensch out to enact the ultimate God is Dead scenario. But what is his motivation? Volume 1 of The God Butcher ends one issue shy of these revelations, yet there were plenty of theories: Gods suck; they cause too much pain and suffering; Gorr wonders where the Gods of "poetry and flowers" are and why they are so out numbered by Gods of war and strife, so we wondered if it is us or the gods that make for this split, and if it is us can the gods be blamed? and is Gorr blaming the gods unfairly? and would Gorr care?; or what if Gorr is a God himself, the God of Deicide, called into existence by all of those who feel wronged by Gods, who utter curses under our breath or scream them at the heavens, what if Gorr's motivation is his very existence, born of us?; we had no answers but plenty of questions and theories.
Then we pondered Jason Aaron's three Thors: young Thor, pre-Mjolnir, very much like the bellicose Thor of Norse Mythology; our Thor or middle Thor, worthy of Mjolnir (in the comic book way), driven to save the Gods from Gorr, answering prayers on planets far away; future Thor, a sort of Thor/Odin, an All-Father alone in Asgard, last god standing. The trio caused some confusion, but seeing the three juxtaposed, it was decided, gave us a unique perspective on character development -- the fully realized arc in three easy steps, achieved at the earliest possible convenience, but I think it is something more, a meditation on stereotypes of masculinity, which leads me to the other thing we discussed ....
... The lack of women. There was one female who spoke in the The God Butcher, a Viking elder, a sort of witch woman, and the rest of the women were in the background. We were told that young, unworthy Thor was sure to have bedded them. This lack of women as actors in the story moved into our discussion and shifted from indifferent to disappointed to frustrated to angry. Where were the women? Why the sexism? But the more I thought about it and think about it the less this glaring omission of women glares. There is a thrilling asexuality about Gorr (the only character of import outside of the three Thors), and the story is almost solely about Thor himself, meaning that few other characters have any place in the book, male or female (yet the other Gods Thor speaks to are male, so there is that).
And then our discussion wound down and moved on to other things. A comic book did that. A graphic novel. An excellently scripted, beautifully painted, thrillingly conceived run of Thor comics that will be a landmark arc in the Marvel history of Thor. Thanks Aaron and Ribic for the best comic in Marvel Now. ...more
I don't know who these kid superheroes are who are getting bumped off left and right, but damn do I love it. We've got broken necks, decapitations, diI don't know who these kid superheroes are who are getting bumped off left and right, but damn do I love it. We've got broken necks, decapitations, disintegrations, death, death, death, and some pretty cool little heroes. Some of them are knock-offs of the greats (like a girl clone of Wolverine known as X-23, and an arrogant punk called Kid Briton) and some of them are the silliest of the silly (like Reptil, a guy who turns into dinosaurs), but as their story is being told here, they are surprisingly compelling. Dennis Hopeless has done a heck of a job making this both a relevant comic and a guiltily pleasurable comic all at the same time. ...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
How the times change. My most recent class left me with the impression that most of them are just fine with the Ludovico Technique, thank you very mucHow the times change. My most recent class left me with the impression that most of them are just fine with the Ludovico Technique, thank you very much. If it makes criminals incapable of committing crimes, then they didn't give a damn about free will. Mind control is welcome if it makes us "safe." That frightens me, and what little hope I've held onto for our world is slowly disappearing. Maybe I am the cynic a close friend suggested I am. But fuck ... I didn't think it was going to be like this. ...more
Reaction #1 -- The brain exhaustion I feel right now must be the sensory exhaustion one would feel after an all encompassing hours long orgy at the diReaction #1 -- The brain exhaustion I feel right now must be the sensory exhaustion one would feel after an all encompassing hours long orgy at the dirtiest, grimiest, sexiest sex club in town. Artemis, you see, is an orgy in itself. It's an orgy of blood and guys and cyborg compartments and circuitry and magma genocide and black hole genocide and godlike being genocide and quantum death. It is an orgy of violence in every shape and form one can imagine and even shapes and forms I've never imagined and perhaps some shapes and forms no one but Philip Palmer has imagined. I am pretty sure there has never been a book with the body count of Artemis. It's disgusting. Really. Palmer should be ashamed of himself. I know I am of myself.
Reaction #2 -- What's not to love about Palmer's eponymous character, Dr. Artemis McIvor? Plenty, actually, but I imagine anyone who reads this book will be captivated by her strength and bad-assery and intelligence and honesty and cool powers and her determination and her individuality. And I imagine it would be hard not to see her as a strong female character, maybe even a great female character because of her strength. I certainly enjoyed reading her "thought diary and beaconspace blog," and I found her as compelling as the next psychopathic character. But I can't help being bothered by this too. Artemis is a character created by a man, after all, and her hyper-perfection at the classically male skills of genocide, murder, assault, and all forms of violence make me wonder if this is really, truly, what my mother's generation of feminists were hoping for. Was that what they wanted? To have characters (and people in the real world) whose power was the same sort of awful power that they knew was wrong and were fighting against, or was there another way they were striving for, a feminine way, that has been co-opted into a feminine masculinity that is just as nasty as the boys they were fighting against? I don't have the answer, but I am thinking of the questions, and this story has increased my discomfort about those questions.
Reaction #3 -- This would make a spectacular HBO or Showtime or Netflix series. An episodic retelling of this one 400 page Artemis tale, broken into four or five seasons would be magnificent. The action is breakneck, the violence is operatice, the terraformed planets and asteroid prisons could lower production costs, and the room left to jiggle and tweek and improve and expand upon fragmentary episodes within Palmer's narrative would make any head writer tremble with the delight of potential. We've plenty of kick ass fantasy out there. How about some nasty Sci-Fi? Bring it on, says I. ...more
It is about the homegrown terrorists we make through our capitalist greed, our ever increasing inequality, our casting aside of those who don't fit into our neat ideas of a "normal" society.
It is about the ideological terrorists who fight for a cause that isn't ours with whatever tools are at their disposal, tearing apart flesh and bone with bombs, blasting holes into skulls with bullets projected from sniper rifles, using their bodies as delivery systems for death -- all to make a point they feel can't be made any other way.
It is about the terrorists who own us and rule us and manipulate us using the apparatus of government, unjust laws, and armed security forces to keep us in line.
It is about the armies that we send out to kill and maim and destroy in our names.
It is about how we move through our world surrounded by terrorists, maybe even being these terrorists ourselves, and how we can keep some modicum of what we like to imagine is our "humanity" in the face of it all.
Leonard Kollberg and Martin Beck, Gunn Kollberg and Rhea Olsson manage to keep some of that humanity. I think Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wished a portion of it upon us all....more
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time wi Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time without computers and modern gadgets, but apart from those conveniences themselves, the books could have been written yesterday.
These books are about everything that continues to be wrong in our societies. They are about carceration, misplaced conceptions of justice and the omnipresence of injustice. They are about the militarization of police forces and police culpability in the crimes they are expressly formed to fight. They are about an environment under siege by our way of living. They are about our fears of sexuality and society's role in controlling our desires. They are about rape culture and the fight of women to control their bodies and own their sexuality. They are about the disaffection of our children and young adults. They are about failing economies, people without work, the haves having more and the have-nots having so little that they turn to crime in despair. They are about the need for forgiveness. They are about guilt and conscience and ethics. And they show that not a damn thing has changed (at least in the Canada of today, the country I live in, it hasn't. Canada right now is the Sweden of the seventies and that is fucking depressing).
Into all of these issues, spanning nine years a this point, are thrust Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg. They solve murders for the National Police Squad. They are men of conscience, actively struggling everyday with the issues Sjöwall & Wahlöö drop in their path. By the close of the book, one of them resigns from the force he once loved and now disdains. The other goes wearily on. People die over the course of Cop Killer, even a cop (though the "actual" cop killer is rather surprising). The wrong man is railroaded into prison to await trial for a crime he didn't commit simply because it is the path of least resistance. Other men are hunted and ear-marked for death because of coincidence. A girl is bitten repeatedly in the groin by an attack dog because she helped some friends (though she'd already surrendered when the dog attacked). A cop and a man he helped convict of murder (now free after serving his sentence) sit down over a seltzer water and an aquavit to share their guilt over the people they've killed. And one cop looks forward to eating a meal with the woman he loves. It's all here in this marvellous book.
Make no mistake, these books are not to be taken lightly; they are literature. They should be the canon of police procedurals. If you love detective stories and you've not read the Martin Beck books you need to get started. You'll see why.
p.s. If you decide to read this series take my advice and reread Roseanna just before you read this for the first time. I did quite by accident and a happy accident it was....more
Confession: I am of the opinion that Quentin Tarantino is overrated. He is a poor director and an overly self-indulgent screenwriter with a flare forConfession: I am of the opinion that Quentin Tarantino is overrated. He is a poor director and an overly self-indulgent screenwriter with a flare for dialogue. This doesn't mean that I hate his films or his screenplays, yet when I've offered this confession to Tarantino lovers in the past, they tend to assume that I do. I've enjoyed most of the Tarantino movies I've seen, but I don't understand the adoration of his work.
In fact, I think the two best Tarantino movies are those made by other (dare I say "real") directors. Tony Scott's True Romance was excellent. A film that benefited greatly from Scott's slick style and Hollywood sensibility. It is Oliver Stone's version of Natural Born Killers, however, that is the very best of Tarantino's stories on film.
Tarantino's tale spent way too much time "telling" us the story of Mickey and Mallory rather than showing us their story, and to do that he made Wayne Gale -- the douchebag Geraldo Rivera stand-in -- the star of the show. Moreover, Tarantino's telling falls squarely on the "nature" side of the nature vs. nurture debate, which undermines his stated determination to critique America's media culture.
Stone saw the flaws and addressed them in his adaptation of the story. He made the tale about Mickey and Mallory, putting them front and center, recasting Wayne Gale as the supporting character he needed to be, and those changes allowed Stone to make the story about "nurture" (making the title appropriately ironic) which also ensured that the story could become an actual critique of America's media culture. And Stone did all this with a fractured, hyperactive style that presaged the coming of the internet. He dragged amazing performances out of unlikely actors like Juliette Lewis and Rodney Dangerfield, added some impressive scenes on the nature (or nurture) of evil, and experimented with his craft in ways that Tarantino would eventually mimic in Kill Bill. And Stone did all of this without Tarantino's blessing, pissing off the young filmmaker so much that he wanted his name removed from the film.
To be fair, I've not yet seen Inglourious Basterds, so perhaps Tarantino has worked himself into being as good a writer/director as he thinks he is, and I'd love for Django Unchained to kick some serious ass, but for now I'd much rather spend my time with Tarantino movies Tarantino didn't direct. ...more
When I finished Roseanna again last night I thought I should write a review talking about how rare it is for me to reread a book, and how Sjöwall &When I finished Roseanna again last night I thought I should write a review talking about how rare it is for me to reread a book, and how Sjöwall & Wahloo have conjured something exceptional from me as a reader. When I started thinking about how rare it is for me to reread, however, I realized what a load of crap that is.
So rereading Roseanna isn't so special after all. It isn't some rare occurrence. It's business as usual when I find something worth reading again and again. And this book is that.
I have been listening to these books for my "first reading" and I recently reached the seventh book, The Abominable Man, wherein the interdependence of Sjöwall & Wahloo tales suddenly focused into a clear picture. They wrote ten books in their Martin Beck series, and it struck me that it is one of the only series I've read (apart from Lord of the Rings) where the authors had the entire series mapped out before they started.
I decided to test that theory by actually reading Roseanna (rather than listening), and it appears that I was correct. Beck and Kollberg are fully conceived from the first moment. There is no authorial searching for what these men will be, no feeling out their relationship and personalities. Everything is there. Everything is ready, and everything that is coming for these men (the two constants in the series so far) are there waiting for them. I can see it in their decisions, their emotions, their concerns, their actions -- everything.
I gave this book four stars when I first read it, but loved it enough to pass it on to a good friend (she loved it too). Now I have to give it five stars. I think the series itself constitutes a masterpiece, but as first chapters go, Roseanna is perfection....more
When I read this back in 1988, while everyone was still wetting themselves over Frank Miller's Dark Knight concept from 1986, I was wetting myself oveWhen I read this back in 1988, while everyone was still wetting themselves over Frank Miller's Dark Knight concept from 1986, I was wetting myself over Alan Moore's one-shot bit of Joker genius, Batman The Killing Joke.
I read it numerous times during the nineties, then put it away (my reading copy nestled next to my mint, Mylar-bagged, first edition) and kept hold of my memories.
For me Killing Joke was much more interesting than Dark Knight because Batman was interested in understanding his enemy (and reconciliation) -- a concept that is much more foreign to literary figures (and real life people) than one might think -- and because I understood where Joker was coming from, and I thought that humanizing a dastardly villain like Joker was a brave thing to do.
Today I am a massive fan of From Hell, I've taught Watchmen and V for Vendetta countless times, and I fully expected Moore's Killing Joke to be as wonderful today as I remembered. I was confident I would still love it at least as much as Watchmen and V and maybe even as much as From Hell, but it was not to be.
It's good. Batman's attempted reconciliation with Joker is there. Joker is still struggling to make the world see that anyone could become him under the right circumstances. Barbara Gordon's shooting is still a shock (and important since it was the birth of Oracle). And Batman keeping his fists to himself when faced with Joker is an impressive achievement of the author's imagination.
But it doesn't do it for me anymore. It is good. Better than most writers can pull off, and the art is lush. But it's impossible for me to avoid comparing Killing Joke with Moore's other work, and it doesn't achieve Moore's personal level of excellence. Good for more is great for others, but it isn't great for Moore, and I expect great.
In 1988 this got ★★★★★ stars. Today, if this were anyone but Alan Moore, it would get ★★★★ stars. But it is Alan Moore, so it only gets ★★★....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
I kept a watchful eye open for anything that hinted at a quality on par with Papa or Scott, but once the book started to take shape, I found myself trying, instead, to find a comparison that could accurately describe how it felt to be reading The Day of the Locust.
Imagine a clean and sober Jack Kerouac writing a novel about insane circus freaks who've escaped a mental institution, while attempting to retell The Sun Also Rises with cock fights instead of bull fights (and all the hamfistedness of the resulting metaphors), and channelling and morphing Fitzgerald's love of party-life decadence into party-life decrepitude, with a whole lot of abuse, a little bit of OCD and never-ending soap-box rants, and you've got a good picture of how The Day of the Locust feels to read.
It's not bad, but it's not good either, and I bet it would make a much better film than a novel.
The most interesting part of the book, for me, is its evocation of violence. In Faye, the book contains the only genuinely abusive female character I can remember reading, and it is frightening to watch the way she harms Homer Simpson (yep, that's really his name) both physically and emotionally. But her violence is inherited, inbred, an ineluctable part of her humanity, and just another manifestation of violence in a book full of violence. In fact, every act in the book is an act of violence. Love is violence, weakness is violence, quiet is violence, stoicism is violence, art is violence, caring is violence, kindness is violence, desire is violence, everything is violence.
I feel like all that violence could have been dealt with more effectively -- and been more meaningful -- in a short story. A story culminating in the stomping (a literal jumping up and down on the victim's back) of the little boy, Adore, by Homer (insane, at the time, and beyond any kind of responsible control) without all the crap to get us there and minus the over-the-top riot would have been an exceptional achievement rather than the meandering mess that West left us with.
Nathanael West does not belong in the pantheon of great American writers. He is no Hemingway, no Faulkner, no Steinbeck (but then I don't think F. Scott Fitzgerald belongs in the same league as those writers either). But West's interesting all the same, and if you are interested in reading about one man's vision of violence during the Great Depression in the United States, The Day of the Locust will work for you.
Or you could just read something by a drunk and stoned Jack Kerouac and really enjoy yourself....more
Many of the kids books I've been revisiting are filled with specific, vivid memories of my childhood that are almost narratives unto themselves. ReadiMany of the kids books I've been revisiting are filled with specific, vivid memories of my childhood that are almost narratives unto themselves. Reading them transports me back to those (probably apocryphal) moments in my brain, leaving me full of a sort of joyful melancholy for things past and a hunger for more of those memories, a desire to relive all those locked up personal stories, so I grab another book I have always loved and devour it looking for more.
I found that this story, with its beautiful illustrations and its little bull turned big bull who just wants to live peacefully and smell his flowers, made me think about people I care about rather than remembering some synapsy tale of them.
It made me think of my mother, Chris. I always called her "Chris," which drove my father crazy because of how "disrespectful" it was. I thought of Chris and guessed that she probably read this book to me first. And I thought of how every book I touch and word I write is her gift to me, for teaching me too read, then teaching me to challenge myself with books that were "inappropriate," then sharing our reading when we were older.
It made me think of my cousin, Fred, who I called Ferdinand behind his back. I thought of his moustache and 80s hair. I thought of how we both had brutally abusive fathers, but have never talked about it, even now, so many years after escaping their fists.
It made me think of K.I. Hope, and how the anger of her writing -- that wonderful, necessary, emotional, ethical rage -- would cringe at the other bulls, Ferdinand's friends and family, showing off in the hopes of travelling to Madrid to be slaughtered in the bullfights. I thought of what a true friend she is and how unlikely it is to find a genuine friend on something like this social media platform, and how I have found so many.
It made me think of Brontë and Miloš and Scoutie, and how much they love The Story of Ferdinand, and how Miloš is always trying to mimic the light Spanish accent I use to read them the book aloud, and how Brontë loves the art, and how Scoutie babbles the story back to me with her incomprehensible toddler language, punctuated by a "Ferdie-and" or "cow."
And it made me think of Munroe Leaf. She and all the other authors I've had a relationship over my life. They have been my best friends. And each book that I love ... it's a gift written by them just for me. Thanks, Munroe. I love you too. ...more
There is a redress going on in modern popular culture with which I am fascinated. Rape tales, tales of torturing women, tales of violence against womeThere is a redress going on in modern popular culture with which I am fascinated. Rape tales, tales of torturing women, tales of violence against women have been told for years with graphic detail. Many of these tales have been saying (either explicitly or implicitly) that these brands of violence are wrong or even evil, but many of them still offer up the vision of this violence to illustrate the wrongs and evils.
Now a redress has come, and we have Lisbeth Salander avenging herself on her tormentor, and The Walking Dead's Michonne brutalising her brutalizer. It's the latter I am concerned with here.
The extended sequence of Michonne's revenge is, perhaps, the most disturbing thing I've seen since I read the Habitrail sequence in American Psycho (though it is still a shade behind). It is an illustrated torture session with most of the tortures happening right there in front of us, happening "on camera." There is a genital mutilation, an anal rape with a spoon, power drilling, pliers ripping parts away from the Governor's body, an amputation and cauterization, a half-blinding. It is up there with the killings of Patrick Bateman for sheer brutality, but it was perpetrated by a woman wronged, not a man doing the wronging, and it would be awfully hard to suggest (and I am not) that the Governor didn't deserve what he got.
But even though the Governor deserved it, I am not sure that showing us images of Michonne's vengeance does anything to really redress the injustices of the past. I imagine that is the reason we accept such images today -- the hope or possibility of redress.
I am not angry at Kirkman for showing Michonne's vengeance. I don't even really know what I am trying to say. I think American Psycho is a masterpiece, and I appreciate Stieg Larsson's books, and what Michonne did is precisely what her character -- as offered to us -- would do. And I would defend any author's right to self-expression, even in cases of brutality. I guess it is just that what I got from Robert Kirkman here was totally unexpected. I expected ultra-violence on Zombies, former humans shambling about in a state of perma-rot, not ultra-violence on humans by humans. But then why should I be okay watching brutal fantasy creatures be brutalized and not brutal humans being brutalized? Where th fuck do we draw the line? Can any violence stop so long as any violence is accepted and acceptable? Or do we need violence like we need air?
I dunno what to say about the brutality. I am just rambling now, so it's time to stop. But I will read on, even though the series has taken a much more serious turn than I ever expected. How on earth will they incorporate this into the TV series? I'm guessing it will all be off screen -- or most of it will....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
This book is widely considered one of Hemingways worst, and there's even a tale floating around that he told director Howard Hawks that he thought itThis book is widely considered one of Hemingways worst, and there's even a tale floating around that he told director Howard Hawks that he thought it was a pile of shit. It's not, though. It's neither his worst nor a pile of shit. Nor is it his best. But there is much to admire in To Have and Have Not, and those things are amplified by Will Patton's award worthy vocal performance in the audio version.
Patton's quiet, simmering rhythm, and his hushed tones -- even in the most violent moments -- bring out the story's melancholy, its hopelessness, its pity, its hope.
And it makes it much easier to see the love and respect Hemingway has for his characters in a way that might not be so clear when the words are sitting stagnant on a page. It really feels like this book, more than any except The Old Man and the Sea, was meant to be heard. Pick up your copy and read yourself Chapter 12, then flip over and read yourself Chapter 19 right away. Read it slowly and calmly. Can you feel the intentional flow? Can you feel the way Hemingway loves Marie?
He does. Hemingway loves Marie the way he loves Pilar in For Whom The Bell Tolls, and it is beautiful -- especially the way its read by Will Patton.
For me, this time, To Have and Have Not was about Marie, and by the end I am sure she's going to be just fine. I really wish Hemingway had gone and told us more about Marie Morgan. But I love what he have. ...more
One doesn't go to Slavoj Žižek for answers. One goes to him for questions. He raises them, then raises some more, and asks us to raise questions for eOne doesn't go to Slavoj Žižek for answers. One goes to him for questions. He raises them, then raises some more, and asks us to raise questions for every answer we get. That is his genius, and that's what makes him worth while. The interrogatives -- Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? -- are his and our most powerful tools, and he challenges us to use them.
When I was a 4 year old boy, I wore a helmet for a year because I fractured my skull. That's the story I grew up with. "I" fractured my skull. I was running down the hallway in our apartment, I was wearing socks, and I smacked my head against the protruding corner of the wall; my skull cracked.
I always accepted that story.
I accepted that story even after my father punched me so hard that he knocked me out of the cast I had on my broken hand.
I accepted that story even after my father punched me in the face (while we were boxing) and my head hit a similar corner in what was then our house; it took seven stiches to close the cut.
I accepted that story even after my father fucked up my back by pulling a dangerous wrestling move on me (he was a high school wrestling champ in Upstate NY) when I made the mistake of putting him in a playful full nelson.
I accepted that story when he knocked me into our shoe closet with a punch that permanently scarred my mouth; it took 6 internal stiches and fourteen external stitches to repair the damage.
I accepted the story after repeated gut shots, rib shots (which have led to arthritis where my ribs join my sternum), spankings with paddles (with holes drilled in them to lower the resistance and increase the speed of the blow), humiliations and slaps.
And then a few years ago my mother and I were coming out of a Mexican restaurant with my twins. Miloš loved to swing between us back then. He'd grab our hands, take a little run and swing his legs out, and we (me and any other adult I happened to be with), would swing him and set him down as many times as he liked. That day my Mom's hands were wet. Miloš grabbed our hands, started his swing, and when he reached the apex my Mom's grip gave way. Miloš went flying. I couldn't hold on, and there he went, about six feet in the air. His body flipped, he turned face first, and his head hit the sidewalk at speed with a sickening thud.
It freaked me out. Freaked him out too, of course. And we spent a stressful afternoon in the hospital while they observed him and ran tests and interrogated me as a possible abuser. Miloš has never wanted to swing again. But he was fine. He had a minor concussion, a big scrape where he hit the pavement, and a goose egg. But that was it. One of the most horrifying head injuries I had ever been witness to, and it was almost nothing.
It got me thinking about my fractured skull.
Had "I" broken it? Or was that just the story I was told? How many times had I heard the comment, "Brad's got a head like a rock. Nothing hurts that kid"? And it seemed to be true but for that one time. Why had I gone to stay with my grandparents for a little while after the damage was done? Where was my Dad when it happened? What if it wasn't me who was to blame at all? Did "I" really do it when my Dad was at work?
I wanted to know; I still want to know, but I never will. My Mom died before I worked up the courage to ask her. I wasn't worried about offending her, but I don't know if I could have handled the potential lie. My Dad is still alive, so I could confront him, but he can't be trusted to tell the truth about anything that has to do with me. My grandparents are all dead, so I don't know the answer, and I will always only suspect. And suspect I do.
You can see now why I am fascinated by violence, and why Žižek's work would call to me. And why the final sentence of Violence Six Sideways Reflections would have a powerful personal impact:
Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.
Which is the act I place squarely in the hands of my mother. I do not exonerate my father and his subjective violence in any way, but my mother's embrace of systemic violence shouldn't be ignored either. Even if she didn't cover up a fractured skull, even if "I" really did slip into the corner of the wall, even if a wispy four year old's weight and inertia was somehow enough to literally crack his skull, even if my father had no hand in that long ago wound, she did know about many of the others. She knew, and she had options (unlike so many women), and she had potential support systems and escape routes (unlike too many women), and she did nothing. And I am fairly sure that even when I was four and had to wear a helmet ... even then when escape and safety was at its easiest ... I am fairly sure she did nothing.
Luckily, though, she and I resolved the issue of her tacit guilt for the acts of violence she knew about before she died. We had a falling out, then we had a coming together, and we were able to become very close -- closer than we'd ever been. We just never got to what I suspect was the biggest lie of all: that she had covered up the earliest and most dangerous piece of abuse in my life.
Quick thought it is, Žižek tries to dig into the whys and hows and wherefores of systemic violence. He takes his thought and ours beyond the subjective acts we see and ponders what lies beneath it all. He demystifies our mystification and asks us dispel our own illusions as much as we can. He spends an awfully long time talking about the big moments of violence -- the Holocaust, the Collectivisation, 9-11, etc., etc. -- which is fine, but and I, for one, would have liked this book better had he focused his mind blowing brain on the everyday acts of violence that are at the root of it all.
That's my own selfishness talking, however, and the book is important regardless of Žižek's focus. I will be coming back to this book again. Next time, though, I will only come back after I've brushed up on my Lacan and Kant and Hegel and Heidegger and Freud.
Stop name dropping, Slavoj, you beautiful sonuvabitch. ...more
I am left vacant as a weed covered gravel pad. I've watched the downfall of a friend in a moment that seems heroic on its face but is the birth of hisI am left vacant as a weed covered gravel pad. I've watched the downfall of a friend in a moment that seems heroic on its face but is the birth of his own terrible fate, and there is nothing I can do because my friend is a character on a page. All I can do is wait for his final descent and watch as he falls.
Richard K. Morgan is special. When I read these stories of Ringil, Archeth and Egar, I am captivated in a way I haven't felt since Lord of the Rings in my teens. He's speaking to me now, me and all my cynicism, in a way Tolkien spoke to my simpler idealism and teen imagination. Morgan is the writer of my current moment, and I place A Land Fit for Heroes on par with Lord of the Rings. It is a story that should -- though it probably will not -- take its place amongst the truly great works of fantasy.
And for that, and my sadness, and the fact that I must wait for the final chapter, I will now curl up in a ball and imagine that Morgan isn't trying to tell us something deep & telling about our ugly humanity, that he is just spinning an adventure tale to entertain. But that is a lie, as anyone who has read these books must know. ...more
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