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 refuse to look at what I said about this book the last time I read it for fear of influencing what I have to say this time around, but I will certaiI refuse to look at what I said about this book the last time I read it for fear of influencing what I have to say this time around, but I will certainly do so once I have posted my thoughts.
My thoughts: total bafflement that my second time through Jhereg was like the first time through. The only two things I remembered about the story were Vlad Taltos, our first-person narrating criminal mastermind/assassin and his Lockheed-like dragon, Loiosh. Other than that I didn't remember a thing. It was like reading it for the first time, and I have to say the experience was a touch off-putting.
It is rare for me to reread a book without the entire plot, most of the characterization and even some of the dialogue flooding back, but so little of Jhereg stuck with me that it all felt new. It makes me wonder about the authorial skill of Steven Brust. I have introduced countless friends to his work, specifically his collaboration Freedom and Necessity, but to the Taltos books too, yet I found myself wondering all the way through this if he is as sustaining as a bowl of fried rice at an MSG-laden Chinese Food restaurant. Is he just hollow calories? Perhaps.
But I can't help thinking, "Who cares?" I love fried rice at bad Chinese food restaurants. Sure it isn't real Chinese food. It doesn't stick with me. But I fucking love it while I am eating it, and I find myself craving it again and again. The same holds true for me with Vlad Taltos and his machinations in Adrilankha.
I am going to go out on a limb here, though, and say something potentially inciting to super-Brust-fans: I get a feeling good old Steve writes his Taltos books as hollow reading calories on purpose. I think he wants us to forget what happened beyond our fondness for the books so we can read them fresh every time. I think his hack-i-ness, for want of a better term, is absolutely intentional. So he isn't an author of hollow calories, but a Chef who knows when to make an airy special for the night in the hopes of packing the booths with bums.
Be offended if you like, but keep this in mind: if what I have said is true I love him for it even more than I already did. And if you read Freedom and Necessity you'll see where that true love comes from. ...more
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
What makes this comic fly is that it feels as though it is a genuine episode bridging the gap between Firefly and Serenity. I don't mean that it is meWhat makes this comic fly is that it feels as though it is a genuine episode bridging the gap between Firefly and Serenity. I don't mean that it is merely a story that bridges the gap between television series and film, which it is, but that it actually feels like its very own live action episode.
Now I imagine that I feel so strongly because I am a fan of Firefly / Serenity, but I am pretty sure that you're not reading Serenity Those Left Behind or my review unless you are a fan too (if you are reading this without having seen the shows, howeover, stop what you are doing right now, fire up your Netflix and start watching), so you probably get my drift.
Those Left Behind could be a three act episode or it could be the basis for a season we were never able to see. It was probably precisely what it is, though, a prelude to the movie, wrapping up loose ends, surprising us with things almost forgotten, and prepping us for the coolness that was to come on the big screen. Regardless, it is an excellent entry into the Firefly / Serenity canon for a full blown brownshirt, a newbie brownshirt or a brownshirt in the making.
I'd sure like to see more ... on the tv, on the screen or even in the comics. C'mon, Joss. Take a break from Marvel and head on back to the 'verse. You really can come home again. ...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
Thor #360 -- "Into the Valley of Death": If my memory serves, my favourite stretch of Walt Simonson's The Mighty Thor is about to begin, but before weThor #360 -- "Into the Valley of Death": If my memory serves, my favourite stretch of Walt Simonson's The Mighty Thor is about to begin, but before we get there Simonson needs to tie up the loose ends of the Surtur battle and add some new stitches for what's to come. To that end, we get the Asgardians returning from Midgard to begin the rebuilding of the Golden Realm; we get Frigga holding onto Odin's Great Sceptre until a new ruler can be chosen; we get Sif pouting over being punched by Thor, even though she knows he struck her because he was under the spell of Loki (apparently this thread is going to need more time to be tied off); we get the Warriors Three back bearing cheesy gifts; and we get -- oddest of all -- the Einherjar adopting the automatic weapons of the US Army. Now we have gun toting Asgardians. But all of this (well ... most of it) is about to be put aside for Thor's journey to Hel. Sweet.
Thor #361 -- "The Quick and the Dead": For fans of Norse Mythology, Thor's journey to Hel is one of the best issues written by Simonson. Garm guards the gates of Hel, while Hel(a) rules the lowest reaches of Yggdrasil with her decaying touch. Balder's wife Nan[n]a shows up in a cool cameo, and we even see creepy Modgud who's busy guarding Gjallarbrú, the bridge to Hel. And for fans of the comics we get the horrific scarring of Thor's beautiful face. It's a moment that I remember most fondly from all those years ago, and I've always loved the way Simonson chose to render the horror. It's all left to our imagination. Thor's face, mangled and mauled during his wrestling match with Hel, is all in black shadow. We can't tell how bad the damage is by looking at Thor, but we can tell how bad the damage is by watching the reactions (and reading the thoughts) of those around him. Their reactions ain't pretty, and neither is Thor anymore.
Thor #362 -- "Like a Bat Out of Hell": Thor is entering his grim phase now that his face is destroyed, which is a big plus for the coming issues, but this issue is most interesting because of the Executioner's (Skurge's) redemptive act of sacrifice. He destroys Naglfar (the ship made from the toe and fingernails of the dead) with his axe, then he holds the rear of Thor's column, fighting off the hordes of the dead that Hel sends against the Asgardians. It's pretty cool, actually, though not as emotionally stirring as it sounds. Skurge is a bit of a putz, after all.
Thor #363 -- "This Kursed Earth": If there is anything I hate about comics, it is when Marvel or DC decide to do a multi-issue, multi-title cross over series. Money grab aside, I've never found that style of storytelling coherent enough to be a complete success. Even the Civil War (which I consider the best of the bunch) was too uneven to be called truly exceptional. As far as I know, though, Secret Wars II and all its crossovers, of which this issue of The Mighty Thor is one, is where all this multi-madness began. So we get the Beyonder wandering around Earth, fucking with superheroes to educate himself, and blah blah blah. The issue is pretty poor. It's mostly a slug fest between Thor and Kurse (with cameos from Beta Ray Bill and Power Pack), and it's a huge disappointment after Thor's kick ass journey to hell. At least we get brooding, wounded, scarred up Thor when he's not duking it out with Kurse, and Thor in this state is about as compelling as Thor gets, so the hint of this Thor mitigates the Secret Wars tie in just a touch.
It's not a great issue, but it sets up something very, very cool: the last page sees a Loki spell, channeling the power of Surtur's sword, coming to fruition. A charmed woman walks up to Thor and gives him a smooch. And the next thing you know ... Thor's a frog. Super sweet!
Thor #364 -- "Thor Croaks!": So my friend Manny Rayner is reading Ulysses, and I am reading The Mighty Thor. At least my book has a talking frog, and that frog is Thor himself. As the issue opens, Frigga declares the "Great Althing" to decide on a new ruler of Asgard will take place in a fortnight. Loki shows up with a smile on his face, certain that Thor won't make it because he's become an amphibian. Meanwhile, Thor finds himself embroiled in a Central Park war between the Rats and the Frogs, and giant, ass-kicking Bull Frog that Thor is, he lends his power to the battle and aids the Frogs. A fortnight later, he's engaged in a plan to attack the Rats in their sewer home, when he stumbles upon a Pied Piper. The lilting tones of the Piper's pipe enslave Thor, and we leave him jumping into the mouths of a dozen sewer alligators. While back in Asgard, Loki steps up at the Althing only to find Thor (Thor?) join him on stage (a plan cooked up by Heimdall and Harokin). What the fuck is going on? I'll fill you in tomorrow.
Thor #365 -- "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, or It's Not Easy Being Green.": Turns out the Piper is a Morlock, and when it comes down to it he admires the big bullfrog's determination (even Frog Thor is tenatious), so he recovers his pipe and sets his alligators on the rat armies to aid the Frog of Thunder. It's easy to mock this strange detour in the Thor story, but my fondness has been reiforced during this rereading. I love this story. I love Thor as a frog fighting a war against the rats. Moreover, the spell cast by Loki seems to fit with the sort of mischief Loki was famous for in the real Norse Myths, giving this a touch of old world charm that many of the other Thor stories could use. To finish this disjointed entry: the best part of the issue is when Frog Thor lifts Mjolnir and becomes a 6'6" Frog Thor, standing tall and driving his chariot into the heavens. Thor has never looked better. Really.
Thor #366 -- "Sir!": Loki's plans are about to come to fruition. He turns the tables on Heimdall's ruse to buy time, lifting Harokin's fake Mjolnir (Harokin is standing in for the missing Thor), thus proving himself worthy of the power of Thor to the huddled masses of Asgard. So who should rule Asgard? Loki, of course. Not so fast, though. Frog Thor shows up and starts kicking Loki's ass. The God of Mischief is about to end up in Hel, but elsewhere in Asgard, Volstagg bumps into a mountainside and drops an avalanche onto the magic machine that is tapping the mystic energies of Surtur's sword, thus making the Frog spell work. The spell breaks, Thor is restored, Loki is saved, and the "brothers" head back to the Althing where the people of Asgard offer Thor the Asgardian crown. He refuses, though, because his vow to protect Midgard is too important to break. So he declares Balder the true ruler. Cue a drawing of Loki's brain at work. You're in deep doo doo, Balder. The end.
Too bad Frog Thor is gone :( I loved Frog Thor.
Thor #367 -- "The Harvest of the Seasons": I like to think of this as the coming of Thor's beard. Balder is set to be the new Liege Lord of Asgard, and Thor is free to brood over his love for Sif and grow a neatly trimmed blonde beard to cover Hela's devastation to his face. So he does. And while other things happen in this issue, like the return of Beyonder's buddy, Kurse, the return of Malekith, the obligatory scheming of Loki, and Sif's most recent decision to run off with Horse-Face Bill, all that really matters to me is Thor's beard. Nice choice, Walt. It fit Thor so well, he was sporting the beard this past summer.
Thor #368 -- "The Eye of the Beholder": All that Kurse and Malekith stuff is resolved as this issue opens, but Balder still hasn't arrived to be crowned, so Thor drags Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun out of Asgard to search for the Brave one who has fallen prey to yet another bit of Loki scheming (shocking isn't it?).
But that is when things get really good because I was able to twist everything in my mind. I turned Thor #368 into Star Trek - The Original Series, Season 4, Episode 1. Captain Kirk (Balder) is tricked into the lair of some Big Bad Alien (Slaggnbir the Troll), where he is forced to fight the BBA to save three Beautiful Space Women -- Gertha, Unn and Kossi -- who turn out to be the real danger because as soon as Kirk has killed the BBA, the BSW trigger amnesia in Kirk and turn him into their sex slave. Meanwhile, Mr. Spock (Bearded Thor) stumbles upon the Spaceship of the BBA (the castle), and when he walks into the ship, he finds the BSW controlling his Captain. Cue cliffhanger music and the half time commercial. Conclusion of TOS 4.1 tomorrow in my recounting of Thor #369. Bet you're as excited as I am.
Thor #368 -- "For Whom the Belles Troll": Captain's Log, Stardate 6125.6, First Officer Spock reporting: Following Captain Kirk's disappearance while investigating the derelict vessel of the Big Bad Alien, I proceeded to the ship to conduct my own investigation. It was there that I discovered Captain Kirk in thrall to three Alien Women, undoubtedly they would be subjectively beautiful to humans. I was quick to assess the situation and realized that the Alien Women had used a set of Aesirian bobbles containing a Thrall-field and Illusion Projector. Once I destroyed their bobbles, the Alien Women were revealed as Jotnir (Trolls). Captain Kirk and I were forced to terminate them once they attacked us with murderous intent.
Then Captain Balder and Mr. Thor fly off into the sunset to have that drink to honour their dead comrade, Lt. Skurge, which ends the long, long arc of Asgardian tales in Simonson's Thor. Back to Midgard next time, home of more "super-hero" driven tales; it will be a nice change, but I'm going to miss the Asgardian stuff....more
My introduction to the X-Men, many years ago, was the Dark Phoenix Saga (even though it was already a couple of years old when I found it). Up until tMy introduction to the X-Men, many years ago, was the Dark Phoenix Saga (even though it was already a couple of years old when I found it). Up until then I'd been consuming Namor and the staples: Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spiderman. My starting place was not a bad place to start; it was, in fact, a pretty fine place to start. Maybe too fine. Starting with one of the finest chapters of the X-Men might be why I've mostly been a passing fan of Marvel's mutants over the years. Nothing could quite live up to the excellence of the Chris Claremont & John Byrne partnership.
I'd pop into the X-Men for a visit if I heard an arc was worth reading or if a crossover made a visit essential, or even buy a mini-series with an X-Man I liked, but I was never an avid reader.
I had no idea until recently that my introduction to the X-Men was as significant to my personal mythology as it was and is, but somewhere in my squishy brain bits that first moment with the X-Men planted some seeds that germinated into my contribution to our youngest daughter's name.
When I chose the name nine years ago (a name which was supposed to be my son Milos' when he and his twin sister Bronte were born, but he was a boy, "Damn it!" and he screwed up my plans), everyone wondered why I would chose a name like the one I chose, especially when I instantly replaced it with a nickname. I couldn't provide an answer beyond, "I dunno. I've always just loved those names." The name and the nickname felt right.
As soon as I started reading I was greeted by an old, old friend -- Shadowcat. She's late for her return to Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, and she finds an empty school upon her arrival, so she starts walking through walls and sinking through floors trying to figure out where everyone's gone (she can phase through anything, in case you didn't know). And I am thrilled. I instantly remember how much I've loved Shadowcat through the years, and I hope that she'll bump into Wolverine soon (in the movies, Rogue's relationship with Wolvie is based on the comic book relationship between him and Shadowcat). Instead, she stumbles into a school assembly and shrugs off the embarrassment at her lateness when the new Headmistress, Emma Frost (former White Queen of the Hellfire Club), mocks her. She gives Emma a sassy tongue lashing and reminds the White Queen that the first time they met Emma tried to kill her, derailing her search for the X-Men and unleashing a Dark Phoenix. I snort at Shadowcat's telling blow, then remember that Dark Phoenix was indeed the first appearance of Kitty Pryde.
And I start to wonder without any serious thought whether "Kitty" has anything to do with my Kitty Kat's nickname; something is shaking those roots, but I ignore it and keep reading until it comes clear.
You see ... another old favourite appears right near the end(view spoiler)[ Colossus, resurrected from the dead by alien baddy, Ord (hide spoiler)], and he calls Kitty by the name only he calls her -- "Katya" -- and I know the source of my contribution to Scoutie's name: Katya Gwendolyn Scout. I should have known all along, but somehow the source slipped away from me only to be revealed in the best X-Man comic since the Dark Phoenix Saga.
I think they're fabulous. Both the comic and the revelation it catalyzed. And I love comics. And Joss Whedon. And most of all I love my Scoutie Kat.
*For all you oldsters out there: did you know that Joss Whedon's Dad, Tom Whedon, was the head writer for The Electric Company? How fucking cool is that?...more
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
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
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 from all those years ago (although square brackets indicate some additional information for the sake of readability). It is one of my lost reviews.
An epic fantasy of Tolkien-like scope?! Sounds good for a novel's back cover, doesn't it? But it is almost true with the Dragonlance Chronicles. Almost.
The key to that "almost" is the characters (cause there's no way it could be the prose). I'll begin with the character I hate, Tanis Half-Elven. He is the weakest link in the novel, yet he's the novel's chief protagonist. His apparent depth comes from his duality and its manifestation in his love for Kitiara and Laurana, but who cares? The other characters are much, much better. Laurana, Flint, Gilthanis, Alhana, Tika, Fizban, Tasslehoff, Caramon and Raistlin are all superior to the Chronicles' hero. And the last two are even better in their own series.
But the character who is the true Hero of the Lance is Sturm Brightblade. He is the best character that Weis & Hickman created because his tale is complete. He is complex without being cliché; he loves his honour, his destiny and Alahana, and he fights to fulfil all three right to the end. He is a straight-up, no-joke hero, and I love him -- which shocks me, to be honest. Sturm Brightblade. The Black Rose. A hero I love. Go figure....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
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
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
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
This is one of the greatest comic book story arcs ever told.
It has early, rough around the back-hair Wolverine. It has Cyclops at his leadership best.This is one of the greatest comic book story arcs ever told.
It has early, rough around the back-hair Wolverine. It has Cyclops at his leadership best. It has Colossus and Nightcrawler and Storm -- the Russian, the German and the African woman -- at their eighties expectation-blowing pomp. It has the Hellfire Club, the Avengers (embodied by Beast) and the Shi'ar. It has Angel and Professor X. And it has Jean Grey - Phoenix - Dark Phoenix.
Did I mention it has Jean Grey - Phoenix - Dark Phoenix? It does.
It is perfect but for the end. I mean perfect.
Chris Claremont is one of the all time great Marvel writers. His dialogue works, his plotting works, his mind scores multiple hits when it comes to what needs to be said and done. He was the Hitchcock of the Marvel Universe. And his partner was John Byrne. I don't know what tastes are today. I don't care. What I do know is that John Byrne's art spoke to me like no other's. Byrne was a Calgarian (my home town) and he gave birth both to Canada's greatest hero -- Wolvie -- and our greatest superteam -- Alpha Flight -- but he also pencilled some of the greatest sequences in comic history -- and the Dark Phoenix saga was the best of them all.
I hated the ending (and all its humanist drivel), but the rest of the story was unparalleled. I am so glad I reread this after rereading Secret Wars. I would have hated the reread of the latter if I'd reread the former first.
Now, though, I must take a break. If I were to read another comic now, it would suffer by comparison, and there is no way I could be fair. The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the best stories ever told. What a shame they fucked it up in the X-Men movies. I'd have given anything to see it done right. ...more
I was worried about reading the Secret Wars again after all these years. Would my rereading destroy its mystique? Would it turn out to be unqualifiedI was worried about reading the Secret Wars again after all these years. Would my rereading destroy its mystique? Would it turn out to be unqualified crap? Would it hurt my love of Marvel? Would it taint other memories of other comics from the same period? Despite my fears, I was compelled to try it anyway.
I had recently repacked my comics, and I'd come across my wrapped and cared for originals, and days later I discovered the Marvel app for my iPod. I bought it and the first thing I saw was the Secret Wars. It was fated, so I started reading.
The story is pretty weak, much weaker than I remembered. I'm not going to cover up its flaws. It is too straightforward to be brilliant. Too deus ex machina to be fully satisfying. And it lacks the metaphysical depths of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths (their excellent attempt to compete with Marvel's surprising success, or to clean-up the mess that was their continuity -- whichever you prefer to believe). The women in Secret Wars were not treated well. The choice of supervillains was too arbitrary. The battle lines were silly. There is plenty to complain about.
There are some brilliant moments, and here are my five faves -- the five that make me dig this story even with all its flaws:
1. Magneto Fighting with the Heroes: I loved this just as much today as I did the first time I read the story. This was the moment Magneto, always my favourite "villain" became my favourite all around character. His "terrorist" activities, motivated by a desire to save his mutant brethren, were finally recognized as grey enough in motivation to be almost altruistic, and watching the "heroes" have to deal with that revelation was one of the best threads of the series. Much more could have been done with this, but Jim Shooter's decision to do this at all was a Marvel Universe changer.
2. Captain America at His Best: There's this scene where Dr. Doom, now beyond powerful, is kicking the heroes need to take off and save themselves. Captain America gives the order for retreat, then he goes back into their crumbling base and releases all the super-villains from their captivity. He's joined by a surprised and impressed Woverine. That is the Captain America I know in love. The same Captain America who would eventually fight Iron Man in the Civil War and die on the courthouse steps. It's easy to see that Jim Shooter loved Cap as much as I did.
3. Reed & Doom: I never cared much for the Fantastic Four and their nemesis before Secret Wars, but Doom was the perfect egomaniacal choice to challenge the Beyonder's power, and Reed Richard's steady brainiac self was an excellent compliment to Captain America's leadership.
4. Galactus: C'mon?! The guy eats worlds. And he had a great moment or two with Reed. What a pleasure to see Galactus dwarfed in power too, and without Silver Surfer around to piss him off. Excellent.
5. The Birth of Venom: If you're a Marvel fan, or even just a Spidey fan, you know what this means. 'Nuff said.
In the end, this journey into the mind of the fourteen year old Brad kicked ass. Secret Wars is as good and as bad as I remember. And I love it (even if I can only give it four stars) just the same. Next up: The Dark Phoenix Saga; X-Men #129-138....more
Three stars is all I could muster, but I did have fun with this book. It was a great way to rest my brain after finishing Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward.Three stars is all I could muster, but I did have fun with this book. It was a great way to rest my brain after finishing Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward.
★★: This was the finest episode of Corellia 90210 EVER! I had no idea until rereading this that Young Han Solo was actually played (at least in the mind of A.C. Crispin) by a Young Luke Perry. Bad boy Han hanging out with the richies from Corellia (some family, and some family of the girl he loves), and he's so handsome and dashing and such a great surfer (oops ... pilot).
+★: Han himself was pretty damn groovy. You can tell that Crispin really has an affinity for his character (or else a love for Harrison Ford), and she delivers a pretty satisfying childhood full of Oliver Twist-y incidents (can you say F8-GN? Clever name for a droid, eh?), abuse at the hands of a bounty hunting bully, and believable dreams of becoming an Imperial Officer. There are some disappointments though ...
-★: ...and those come with the language Han uses. Yeah, yeah, Han says "Sweetheart" plenty in the Trilogy, but does he have to say "Honey" and "Sweetheart" so bloody much? I'd say know. And if I had to read about how "scruffy looking" he was one more time I would have thrown the book across the room (then dutifully picked it up and continued).
-★★: Did Han really need a giant black tiger man as his sidekick/bodyguard? Muuurgh was cool enough, but he was so blatantly a replacement for Chewbacca, and so cheesily a part of another "utopian" society being oppressed by the Empire, that I was more than a little pissed. I was a lot pissed actually, and with Han already spending time with his foster mother, Dewlanna (a fierce old Wookie woman who dies for his freedom), I thought there was more than enough Chewie related idiocy for one book.
+★: But Coruscant was super fucking cool. I kept waiting for a Replicant to leap out from behind a building and break Deckerd's fingers.
+★★★: And I really loved the spice processing planet of Ylesia. The fact that most of the book was set there, with its weak-ass Hutt overlord, Zavval, its Exultation inducing Rhino Priests, the T'landa Til, its Glitterstim factory, its uber-fungus and mud pits, and "High Priest" Teroenza's museum of galactic artifacts -- giving Crispin a chance to weave in some Indiana Jones -- it was a fun place to spend my fantasy hours for a couple of days. I am not entirely convinced the T'landa Til were as "evil" as Crispin wanted them to be -- even for slavers -- but they were still a good set of antagonists for Han.
-★: There was no need for the Princess Leia cameo. Enough of the fangirl crap already. :P
So ... lots of fun, and I'm very glad I gave this a second read. Candy for the brain is good.
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.
I do an ass kicking impersonation of Grover. Just ask my kids.
Actually, I can do any of the Muppets voiced by Frank Oz -- Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Sam theI do an ass kicking impersonation of Grover. Just ask my kids.
Actually, I can do any of the Muppets voiced by Frank Oz -- Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Sam the Eagle, Cookie Monster, Bert, even Yoda (which is my son's fave), but Grover is my best.
So when I was looking for a book for my little Scoutie a couple of months ago, something that I could hide away and save for just her and me, and I stumbled upon a little board book version of this Little Golden Book classic, I had to have it.
I'd forgotten all about it, but when I was a little kid this was one of my favourite books. When our twins came, and even when they started to like classic Sesame Street (they've still never seen an episode with Elmo and Zoe, or anything post 1979 ... what a proud Papa I am!), this book never crossed my mind. But when I saw the lone copy sitting up on that shelf, I snatched it and headed for the cashier.
As soon as I was in my car, I had the book out and I read it out loud, as Grover, to myself.
I love this book because Scoutie loves to hear me read it to her, and who doesn't love to have their babe waddle up with her favourite book in hand before climbing awkwardly onto your lap and saying "wead!"?
I love this book because it reminds me that I was once a little we babe crawling up onto my Mom's lap so she could read it to me.
I love this book because Grover is, for me, the most magical Sesame Street Muppet.
But mostly I love this book because I love this book. It is clever and cute and fun, which is exactly what Grover is. If you've never read this yourself, you should. And if you have kids and haven't read it to them, you must. ...more
I know, I know, I hear you saying this is the poorest Indiana Jones film, but I disagree, and here is why:
1. The Opening Sequence -- From the Busby Be
I know, I know, I hear you saying this is the poorest Indiana Jones film, but I disagree, and here is why:
1. The Opening Sequence -- From the Busby Berkeley Club Obi Wan dance sequence to Lao Che's menacing, "Goodbye, Dr. Jones," it is the finest set piece in all of Indiana Jones films. It gives us Indy at his best as an early James Bond. We see that he's a grave robbing cad. He steals Lao Che's girl and kills one of his boys. He loses Wu Han. Beats the poison trap. Escapes a rain of bullets. Joins Short Round for a race through Shanghai and winds up jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It kicks ass.
2. Genuine character development -- Huyck and Katz actually give us some Indiana Jones character development. All he cares about at the beginning is "fortune and glory," and we see him grow into the character who might actually care about the "International Treaty for the Protection of Antiquities" in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He comes to care about more than himself and Shorty, and there is even a hint that he cares about Willy Scott.
3. Willy Scott and Short Round -- If anything was missing in Raiders of the Lost Ark it was a true damsel in distress and an energetic kiddie sidekick. Indy got them in Temple of Doom, and they are perfect. Willy's hot and more concerned about her nails, voice, and diamonds than anything else, and Shorty just wants to be Indy. Maybe they don't work for you, but they sure work for me. I always had a crush on Willy, the one with whom I think Indiana Jones had the most interesting relationship, and I wanted to be Short Round kicking ass and saving Indy. Hell, I still do on both counts. And as screenplays go, this one is a cracker, even if it didn't always turn out that way on the screen.
4. Chilled Monkey Brains -- Nuff said.
5. Villains -- C'mon. You know you love Mola Ram in spite of yourself, and Lao Che is right up there with Belloq as best villain in the series.
6. You say ... -- The mine cars are silly, you say? I say they are rollicking good fun. The fight in the jewel quarry is dumb, you say? I say it's a necessity of the homage, and the voodoo doll makes it fun. The chamber of insects is unoriginal and lame, you say? I say it is the perfect way to generate some screwball comedy between the leads. The pumping heart being torn out of a chest is too gruesome, you say? I say it's creepy cool. The portrayal of Indians is racist, you say? I say ... okay, you're right about that, but no more or less so than the racism in the other movies (except, perhaps, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Hmmm. Interesting.)
There's a travel weariness in Right to the Edge that has begun to diminish the shine that was so much a part of his earlier journeys. In the past, Boorman's trips had very specific boundaries that forced him or his team to tough out everything from impassable stretches of road and bad accidents to racing against self-imposed timetables or the elements. This led to genuine moments of adventure that were formed and shaped within the journeys themselves.
In Long Way Round, Ewan and Charley found themselves taking a train to the Road of Bones because Siberia was just too damn huge; in Race to Dakar, Charley broke both his wrists early in the race, but stayed to chronicle the progress of the team he'd assembled, giving the Dakar a different face than is usually seen; in Long Way Down, the boys were faced with tough decisions brought on by having Americans with them on the trip, decisions that kept part of their crew out of Libya, changed their already tight schedule, and created team tension that bore some genuine drama; in By Any Means, Charley's dedication to using as many means of transportation as possible -- excluding commercial aircraft -- led to two harrowing experiences on the ocean, a thrilling water-ski from one country to another, and some tropically drenched dirt bike rides through South-East Asian jungles.
These adventures made for compelling reading, even if they weren't always as entertaining as they could have been. But Boorman's Right to the Edge (an embarrassingly misleading title) is more comfortable than compelling -- both for him and us. Charley pretends to have the same conviction to use anything other than a commercial airplane to travel, but he is more than happy to hop on a plane if there's even a whiff of high seas or rough weather or pirates. And while he does spend a little time playing around with modes of transportation that are unique to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines, he spends most of his time with his beloved motorcycles. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but it is safe and comfortable, and for the first time, one of Charley's trips felt more like an extended vacation than an adventure.
It's kind of nice to spend some mellow time with Charley Boorman, especially because his own relaxation led to an increase in the time he spent getting to know the people he met along the way rather than putting all his focus on the machinery he was using to move from place to place. I think, though, that he needs a break from his trips, some real time away so that his wonder of the world can be restored. Charley Boorman is now a bonafide world traveler, and while there is still much out there to see and do, his traveling innocence is gone.
Sure he'll never get the innocence back, but a breath or two away from his experience will cut down on his jadedness and the readers'. This is worth a read if you're a fan of Charley Boorman, but if you're coming to his travels for the first time make sure you start at the beginning. Long Way Round is still his best. ...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.
I don't know how true these memories are, but they are my memories, so they are true enough for this. Around 34 or 35 years ago, I went into my elemenI don't know how true these memories are, but they are my memories, so they are true enough for this. Around 34 or 35 years ago, I went into my elementary school library and talked to Mrs. Dogleash (surely Mrs. Dalgliesh, like the famous Liverpool footballer and manager, but we always thought of her as Dogleash). I needed a book. She gave me Owls in the Family.
I remember the orange-gold shag carpet of my bedroom where I sat and read in the evening. I remember a flashlight and my crocheted blanket -- the one that sent out sparks in the dark if I rubbed it against my hair -- as I read past my bedtime. I remember riding my bike up the hill, deeper into our community, to get my Mom smokes (back when Canadian neighbourhoods embedded their little strip malls rather than top loading them at the entrance to their communities). I remember what was left of the prairies if I rode my bike in the other direction, passing cattle and a little slough on some nameless ranch.
And as I nostalgically reread Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family, I found myself remembering the entire story as though I had only read it last week. I would start a chapter and know exactly what Wol and Weeps -- the titular owls -- would be getting up to.
I imagine at least part of this is because I can still contextualize it all, since I lived my own version, sans exotic pets, in my own Canadian childhood. Mowat's Saskatchewan was not all that different from my Alberta. And all of the things Billy (Mowat's youthful self) did, riding his bike through the prairies, drinking from open water sources (mine was the river near our house), getting himself in danger without infantilizing laws and regulations of hyper-protection, these were all things I had done myself, in my own way. So maybe the memory of Billy Mowat's adventures were, thus, burned more deeply in my synapses.
I dunno why, but I had to explore the reasons for my memory a bit here. What I do know is that this book was as excellent today as it was when I read it all those years ago, and I hope my son, who's standing over my shoulder as I type this, will enjoy it as much as I have -- even if our oceanside existence and our socially driven infantilization mean that he will never have the connections with Owls in the Family that I had, I hope his imagination will find wonder in a book that is all about exploration of oneself in the bigger world all around. Maybe his owls can be the crabs of Red Bum Point....more
I have a Harrison Ford tattoo. Yes. You read that correctly. On my right shoulder I have a blue rebel symbol with the call sign "echo vii" in GalacticI have a Harrison Ford tattoo. Yes. You read that correctly. On my right shoulder I have a blue rebel symbol with the call sign "echo vii" in Galactic Base. I have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark over a thousand times. I teach Blade Runner every chance I get.
Now you know where I stand.
I read this book over ten years ago, and I have been sharing an anecdote from this book ever since (who knows how accurate it is now, after so long).
During the filming of American Graffiti, when GEORGE LUCAS was merely George Lucas, and Harrison was an unknown cabinet maker, and the biggest names were Paul Le Mat and Richard Dreyfuss, Paul and Harrison got pissed up in a third floor hotel room. They were obnoxious good ol' boys, throwing bottles from the balcony, raising a ruckus, being a pain in the ass, and generally having a good time. Dick came into their room in the middle of their debauch and got all moralistic, calling them childish, unprofessional, etc., and generally being a condescending prick. So Harrison picked up Dick, carried him to the balcony and threw him into the pool three floors down.
I bet Bill Murray would love that.
I don't know how true that is, but when I read it, I loved Harrison more than I already did. Those are the balls that shot Greedo first. Those are the cojones that took out the Arab Swordsmen. Those are the family jewels that locked guerrillas in an ice house. Those are the testicles that can't be found in his performances today. But damn were they cool when they were there.
If you dig Harrison this is a book for you. ...more
I always seem to forget how good Jurassic Park is. I blast through it once every few years, throw it on my shelf and the distance slowly makes me deriI always seem to forget how good Jurassic Park is. I blast through it once every few years, throw it on my shelf and the distance slowly makes me derisive, and then something forces me to pick it up again when my brain needs a little peanut butter and jelly dipped in hot chocolate, and I am forced to admit that Jurassic Park is a damn fine novel.
Sure it's packed with Michael Crichton's usual band of screenplay-adaptation-friendly archetypes, sure it derives much of its plot and thought from Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells and Mary Shelley, sure it's pulpy and quick to read, but those things aren't necessarily bad, and Crichton does enough to elevate or alter these elements to make Jurassic Park a fine piece of popular Sci-Fi in its own right.
Yes, the characters are there to serve the plot. Each has an important skill or skill-set -- Muldoon is the "Great White Hunter," Malcolm is the chaos theoretician, Grant and Saddler are the paleontologists, Tim and Lex are the kids in peril, etc., etc. -- and who they are and the how their stories unfold are easily altered or even cut entirely in the shift from book to screen because they are less important than their skills, yet Crichton still manages to make them likable enough that we care about what happens to them. None of the characters are dynamic or round, but their static flatness makes them no less interesting than a character like Ian Fleming's James Bond. They may not be as memorable as Bond (although Ian Malcolm has some pretty impressive popularity for a supporting character), but they don't really have to be. We can forget them after the book is over, then enjoy them anew when we go back to the book later. They aren't Hamlet, but they work.
And yes Crichton borrows liberally, but he borrows from the stars. He uses Shelley's classic creation-gone-mad trope, and he blatantly thieves from Doyle's Lost World and Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, but he does it with style. Granted it's a pulpy style, but that pulpiness is an asset. It takes those pieces he's combined and lets the reader catch mere glimpses of them outside the roller coaster car as he takes us into drops and curves and spins and loop-de-loops. The speed and pace nearly makes us forget from whom he's borrowing. And that is by design. Crichton's pulpiness is pacing, conscious pacing, and as literary action-oriented plotters go, Crichton is a master of speedy obfuscation.
Add to all that some memorable tirades about science and reason and the environment, some kick ass Velociraptors and T-rexes, an excellent scene with toxic eggs, and some rather insightful criticism of "great men," and Jurassic Park is a book that I predict will stand the test of time. We may not see its future today, but fifty to a hundred years from now it will be taught in schools and remembered, while other, more literary books will be forgotten.
later -- It just struck me that if I forget the quality of this book between readings, and I do, then my prophecy concerning Jurassic Park's staying power is probably flawed. I think I may be more Nostradumbass than Nostradamus. ...more
The reasons are myriad: my mother hated Austen (a disdFor a lover of books, I came to Pride and Prejudice (P&P from now on) very, very, very late.
The reasons are myriad: my mother hated Austen (a disdain she took to the grave without ever explaining), so she never recommended her to me; I was a boy in the '70s and a teen in the '80s and even though I loved Barbra Streisand, ABBA, Wham!, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran (and...yes...I still do) I wasn't about to let people know that, and since I carried whatever book I was reading with me wherever I went, I wasn't about to let myself get caught in possession of a literary chick flick; I played tons of D&D and there's no room for P&P when you're busy writing new spells and fragging Orcs with exploding eggs; and when I began studying literature in earnest, in my undergrad years, I was more taken with the Lost Generation than any other generation, so I spent most of my time steeped in the early-Twentieth Century.
I finally bumped into Ms. Austen in grad school. I took a course that covered all her novels, but even there I skipped over P&P. The reading list was her entire body of work, and the A&E P&P miniseries, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle -- which remains an excellent adaptation of P&P -- was big at the time; it saved me from having to read P&P along with S and S and E and P and NA and MP. I took part in the P&P discussions, albeit sparingly, and wrote my papers on E and P, eschewing P&P for the books I knew well.
But P&P wasn't about to let me off that easily. You see...my wife was a former stage manager turned accountant who wanted to get back into theatre, and one of the profs at school was putting on Love's Labour's Lost. There was a bit of an emergency, and she put out a call to the entire grad community for a stage manager, with any level of skill, to save the production. Enter my wife (who is an amazing stage manager). I gave her the heads up; she became the s.m.; two weeks later I found myself rushing to learn the lines and blocking for Nathaniel to save the show from a second emergency, and suddenly I was an actor.
I was actually pretty darn good (I have only recently bowed out of the craft), and I found myself cast as Mr. Darcy early the following year. Now I had to read P&P.
So I did. And I read Bridget Jones's Diary. And I watched every version of P&P I could get my hands on. And I grew out my mutton chops. And I learned how to dance. And I improved my posture. And I had the most miserable time I have ever had on stage anywhere. My Elizabeth and I grew to loathe one another (I have never worked with a more selfish actress). Our director cast herself in a fairly important role and lost track of actually directing, so the performances were terribly imbalanced. The play adaptation we were working from was butchered beyond recognition, which horrified the writer in me as the playwright was never consulted. And the rehearsals were utterly excruciating.
But that acting gig gave me some great things too. It gave me one of my finest moments on stage (I fell off the thrust in the middle of my first dance with Elizabeth, climbed back on stage and rejoined the dance, never missing a line or breaking character. Whew!) It gave me my first leading role and the confidence that comes along with that. It made me a better playwright (showing me what was actually doable); it made me a better director (teaching me what not to do when in charge of a show); it gave me some everlasting friendships; and, despite all the impediments thrown up by the play, it made me love P&P.
These days I teach P&P every semester or two, and it gets better every time I read it. My twins, now 6, recently watched the mini series for the first time, and they, too, have fallen in love with Darcy and Elizabeth. P&P looks to continue its popularity well beyond my lifetime, and there are few books that deserve such sustained readership as P&P.