I am a car in neutral with my wheels in a metal track, covered in the mud and salt and grime of the roads that scar Orbus, Planet Blue, Earth. I am dr...moreI am a car in neutral with my wheels in a metal track, covered in the mud and salt and grime of the roads that scar Orbus, Planet Blue, Earth. I am dragged into position; the chemicals hit my shell. Acidic, corrosive, an unsubtle back and forth to knock loose the corruption I've picked up in my travels. The wash cares not at all about delicacy. It shoots it fine mist of torture and hustles me into the frame. Once in that frame, that frame of hanging, dangling mitters, multi-coloured tassels, twin maypoles to conjure festival days of sometime and someplace, the thrumming beat of fabric begins. Up and over and down and beside. One way and back. Massaging me with circadian beat of my mother machines, soothing me into a belief that all can be okay. Then the water blasts me: shocking, hard, cleansing, a roar of pressure to slough off all that had been chemically burned and lovingly knocked loose on my metallic skin. Water poisoned to clean me, falling onto the pollution that is concrete, spilling down the pipes to soak into the groundwater somewhere. Clean me. Dirty everything. Now the ROAR of air. The rubber tires hitting my glass. The air firing like a jet against my shell. Water beads and blows away. A scream of anguish too loud for me to hear. Much too loud to make out what I am being told, but the air angles up and away from, and I am nudged off the rails and back into the road. I travel despite what I've learned. There's nothing for it but to roll on as hopeless as can be. (less)
My first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters liste...moreMy first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters listened to; three chapters read, two chapters listened to; and on. Teaching this book in a town in a different province than the town I live in, across a straight, over a bridge (my adopted country's longest, the adopted country that plays such an important role in the piece, which is itself a nation sandwiched between nations in our always); a soccer game was played with four teams and two balls, simultaneously filling the same grosstopography, unseeing each other, unseeing the other game, but there was I in net, in perpetual Breach, defending one goal from two teams, and my fellows from Breach were busy removing those who Breached during play. And I found myself loving the mystery of the book then thinking it was too weak then loving it all over again when the twist I'd forgotten reminded me of Miéville's genius and why the mystery really does work. And I found myself loving and loving and loving the alterity of the spaces that Tyador and Corwi and Dhatt navigated with their unseeing, unhearing, unknowing senses as they were forced to see and hear and know. The City and the City is a masterpiece. One hundred years from now this book, and others of Miéville's ouevre will be canon. He's the first writer I've discovered, and long before others had, that I can say that about. And one of the few of the future canon with whom I am contemporary. I am lucky to be reading him now, in his pomp, the way little boys were lucky to see Wayne Gretzky play hockey live. I will never see Miéville's like again.(less)
Sometimes all a book needs to excel is the proper reading method. Although we all have our preferred way of reading, usually in our head as fast as we...moreSometimes all a book needs to excel is the proper reading method. Although we all have our preferred way of reading, usually in our head as fast as we can, there are other ways to read.
I always loved The Old Man and the Sea, but when I first read it aloud to my baby girl, the morning after she was born, I discovered that the writing is even better when it can be heard in the world. The rhythms were the rhythms of real speech, poetic speech, and they need to be heard to be fully appreciated.
Just recently I started Jeff Vandermeer's Shriek for the third time, and the experience began as poorly as my first two attempts, but I stumbled upon a way to circumvent my issues. I started reading it in the shower one morning, shortly after my restart, and since I was only able to read a couple of pages, I would put the book away, let the misted pages dry, and wait for the next day. It became a morning ritual for six months of the year, and I found that I loved reading it that way. I lived with the book for a long time, as long (relatively) as I imagine the grey caps would plot the overthrow of Ambergris, and that long relationship, my days spent thinking about a very small, specific moment in the text, created a love for the book that is stronger than anyone else's I know.
I know Max Barry has turned Machine Man into a novel, but I'll have none of that. I bought my own serial feed, and I don't ever want to know what "happened" in the novelization. For me, this is the book the way it was meant to be, and reading it in serialized installments was part of its brilliance.
Much like my time spent with the Shrieks, my time spent with Dr. Charlie Neumann, Cassandra, Lola and Carl was richer for its methodical unfolding. It was conceived as a serial. It was meant to be read as a serial. I would have it no other way. Each development in the story was more intense for my day long, or weekend long wait. The nature of Barry's cliffhangers, over a hundred of them, kept me guessing and fully invested me in the story. I doubt I'd have felt the same way if I had read this as a standard novel.
I need more serial, true serials. I need to read more books (not have them read to me) that were meant to be read out loud. Perhaps it is time to break out Wordsworth's Preludes and do both. Thanks to you, Max, I may just do that. (less)
• The main idea of iZombie vol. 1 Dead to the World is a thing of beauty if you're a horror fan (especially if you dig zombies). Gwen dies, wakes up undead and discovers that she has to feast on a brain a month or become a shambling mass of rotting flesh with an insatiable appetite. She is not just cute, she's hot (as David pointed out in his review, this is a wonderful change from the zombies we're used to seeing), and she has to navigate our everyday world while fighting and feeding her hunger. The premise is gangbusters!
• At the back of the book, we're treated to a gallery of Michael Allred's beautiful black & white pencils. Most of them are potential covers for future issues, and they reveal a real depth before the colours are added. It's really a shame that they chose to colour iZombie at all
• Revenants. If you are a horror fan and don't know what this is, you're not really a horror fan. I'm not sure where they are taking this yet, and I am not convinced I like Chris Roberson's take on the Revenant, but the fact that it is there at all impresses the hell out of me.
• Mummies rock.
• The plot went in too many directions for me -- which is a symptom of the crappiest part of this book (see below) -- but when the story stays with Gwen's survival and out of the Diner, it is worth reading. I hope the second volume does a better job of sticking to what's good, but I know that's too much to ask. Whatever, I liked it enough to keep going, even with its faults.
• There's some pseudo-nudity that bothered me a bit. If the story had been more adult oriented, if it hadn't felt like a monster prequel to Friends, if its tone had been more Sookie than undead-Veronica Mars, I would have cheered on the sexuality and looked forward to more, but iZombie was too cute for that, and as long as it stays too cute any nudity is too much nudity. It just doesn't fit.
• I hated -- and I mean HATED -- most of the supporting characters. Wereterrier-boy, Sandra Dee Ghost-girl, the Asian geeks, the Vampire chicks, the Corporation Monster Hunters -- they all sucked the life out of the story. When things were focused on Gwen, things were great. I loved her digging up and eating brains. I loved her having to cope with the memories of the brains she's eaten. I loved her learning what she really is from Amon. I loved her whenever she was on her own. But when she was surrounded by her pack of idiot friends, it was like being stuck in a supernatural Riverdale High.
• I was not impressed with Laura Allred's colours. In fact, I think her colouring work wrecked Michael Allred's pencils. Compare and contrast the black and white work in the back with the glossy, fully coloured panels of the graphic novel. The depth and texture is suddenly missing, and it makes the M. Allred's drawings look like cheap, low-budget TV animation. Granted, there are some bits that her colours can't ruin, but most of it was ruined for me.
• I fucking hate Jughead and anything that reminds me of him! Have I mentioned that Gwen's friends are a pack of Riverdale rejects?(less)
WARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't plan...moreWARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planning to read it for some time.
Star Trekiteuthis: The Original Series Episode: TOS 061 - Spock's Brain Season 3 Ep. 1 Air Date: 09/20/1968 Stardate: 5431.4
The U.S.S. Architeuthis is on a routine mission in its preservative bottle when a riffling, ink stained, paper tiger beams into the National History Museum. Without a word, the tiger reorders the ink of its pages and everyone is rendered unconscious. It moves around the Museum until finally it comes to Miéville. Smiling an inky smile, it lays a hand on the author's head, as if it's found what it was looking for.
When Wati Kirk awakes, Miéville is gone from the Museum. Before the labour organizer can find out where his author has gone, Dane Parnell calls, demanding his presence immediately. Miéville's body lays on a diagnostic table, on full life support. Dane Parnell explains that his brain is gone ... miraculously removed with some technology that the Kraken Agent has never seen before. Every nerve was sealed and there was no blood lost. However, Parnell tells him if the author's brain isn't returned to his body within 24 hours, Miéville will die.
Wati Kirk orders the city's familiars to pursue the paper tiger. By following its lack, the Architeuthis arrives at the Sea's embassy in Varmin Way. When Wati Kirk and party shift inside, they find a soaked, underwater world inhabited by two villains: Grisamentum, who is comprised of ink and paper, and the Tattoo, a crime lord tattoed onto the back of a man named Paul. While Grisamentum is resurrected in the liquid body of ink, he doesn't fully understand the power of metaphor. Only the "Great Prophet" -- a.k.a. Billy Harrow -- has this knowledge, and he was left behind by ancient squid cultists (or bottle angels) who once lived on the planet.
Dane, having borrowed a device which will control Miéville's body without the aid of his brain, goes with the author to join Wati Kirk and his party. They find Grisamentum, the tiger who came into the Museum. They quickly realize that Gris doesn't have the skill or knowledge to have understood the operation on Miéville, and the Londonmancers tell them about the Great Prophet.
Finally, Wati Kirk finds Miéville's brain. The Tattoo has hooked it up to control his main thug, Goss and Subby. The brain is now revered by the thug as the "Controller," which the thug hopes will fulfill his (its? their?) murderous thirst for the next 10,000 years. After trying unsuccessfully to get Gris to repeat the operation on Miéville in reverse, Dane submits to the Great Prophet and gains the knowledge of metaphor needed to restore Miéville's brain and save both the author's life and all their existences.
Without his Controller, Goss and Subby succumb to the wrath of Paul who conquers his Tattoo. Wati Kirk suggests the familiars go on strike once more, and Grisamentum's attack on Miéville never-was.
Embassytown is about reality. Embassytown is about how we make reality. Embassytown is about how we speak reality. Embassytown...moreWhat is Embassytown about?
Embassytown is about reality. Embassytown is about how we make reality. Embassytown is about how we speak reality. Embassytown is reality. Embassytown is unreal. Embassytown is about religion. Embassytown is about the spirit. Embassytown is about being incorruptible. Embassytown is about corruption. Embassytown is corruption. Embassytown is about the opiated masses. Embassytown is about what opiates the masses. Embassytown is about any opiates for any masses. Embassytown is opiates. Embassytown is the masses. Embassytown is a mass. Embassytown is about Language. Embassytown is about language. Embassytown is Language/language. Embassytown is about simile. Embassytown is like a simile. Embassytown is metaphor. Metaphor is Embassytown. Metaphor is a lie. Metaphors lie. Embassytown is a lie. Embassytown is metaphor. Metaphor uncovers truth. Truth is a lie. Lying is truth. Embassytown is about us. We are Embassytown. We are metaphor. Metaphor. (less)
We live in a culture that desires fragmented stories; stories that are told quickly and compellingly, so we can move on to the next tale. It is why we...moreWe live in a culture that desires fragmented stories; stories that are told quickly and compellingly, so we can move on to the next tale. It is why we love visual forms so much. It is why YA fiction is increasingly popular with older crowds. It is why graphic novels are on the rise as a literary form. But where are the novellas? Where are books like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Old Man and the Sea, Heart of Darkness, The Awakening, A Clockwork Orange?
I have been looking, waiting, hoping, for a resurgence of the novella as a popular form, but it doesn’t seem to be coming. Roth’s The Humbling was a novella and so was Meyer’s The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, but novellas from a literary giant like Roth and a throwaway sequel by a hack like Meyer hardly suggest a healthy return of the form. So I’ve been growing despondent, wanting desperately to see the form I love become a form of choice once again.
But then I noticed something. The novella isn’t gone. It’s just hiding.
I’ve discovered the novella is still out there; only now it is hidden in the middle of bigger works. Publishers are unwilling willing to publish novellas because publishers think novels are the safer, more familiar bet for the consumer. Novellas, after all, are for University students and academics; they are not for everyday teenagers, housewives and grumpy old men. But when novellas are hidden, they’re no threat at all. Sometimes they can be a part of a novel, and sometimes they lie in combination with other novellas to create a loosely linked group of stories posing as a novel (see the works of David Mitchell) – but they’re out there still; they just don’t look like novellas.
Case in point is one of the finest novellas ever written ... by anyone ... anywhen -- anamnesis: The Perpetual Train. This unparalleled tale is hidden in the center of China Mieville’s most ambitious Bas-Lag novel – Iron Council – and it is a breathtaking display of everything that makes the novella a beautiful form.
Its prose is sparing; its story is tight, compact, compelling and rich. It focuses on one man, Judah Low, and his journey from corporate funded adventurer to anti-imperialist somaturge to founding iron counsellor is perfect and complete all by itself. Nothing more is needed than anamnesis: The Perpetual Train’s cancerous spread across the land turned iconic standard for worker solidarity. The rest of Iron Council is superfluous.
Which leaves me even more in awe of Mieville than I have ever been, but a little frustrated with him too. The events in Iron Council, which sprawl around anamnesis: The Perpetual Train like suburbs, are beautiful in their own right. They bravely incorporate sexual politics, economics, uprising, war, poverty and corruption, fleshing out Bas-Lag with a perspective that raises a middle finger to the more conservative traditions of speculative fiction. But, as impressive as it all is, I don’t think it was necessary, and I wish that Mieville had simply left good enough – actually, great enough – alone.
anamnesis: The Perpetual Train would have been one of the greatest books ever written. I really believe that. But we’ll have to settle for Iron Council being merely excellent.
Jabber be praised! After two months, !TWO MONTHS!, my copy finally arrived today. I love what Lulu does, but it blows to buy from Lulu when you're in...moreJabber be praised! After two months, !TWO MONTHS!, my copy finally arrived today. I love what Lulu does, but it blows to buy from Lulu when you're in Canada.
Hector is not a novel. Nor a poem. Nor a work of entertainment. Nor even a manifesto.
It’s an act of violence. A sadistic, intentional, deliberate assault on the reader.
It is a gash torn into the fleshy, well fed belly of the leviathan that is us. A long suppurating, infected wound that stinks to the top of every peak, so that all we can smell is the gangrenous waft of its corruption, puss filled and rank. It is a gross thing meant for suffering.
It is a harpoon lancing into the hump on our backs and biting deeply and painfully. Screaming through bone, fragmenting shards as it plunges, shunting aside flesh and blubber, to catch us on the end of a rope that will lead to our disembowelment and the spilling of our ambergris to some creature better than us.
It is a the decapitation of our noble heads and the insect larvae housing themselves in the gore of our exsanguinated husks, the pulsating spew of ichor into dirt to make red mud -- ourselves as the iron source.
It is hatred, a hatred of hubris that makes us most human. It is a hatred of ourselves, a self-loathing, an admission of guilt and an accusation and an endless, spewing, projectile vomit of black tar from the core of our nastiness.
It is the screaming, iced urine from a chamber pot, light burning our eyes, fists against our skull awakening from the nightmare zombification of our mundanity. The bruising and scar tissue we see in the mirrors and cover with cosmetics or hats or sunglasses.
It is our shame. And it all comes from a place that is the reverse.
It's powerful and I love the woman who made it. Can we meet someday and scream from a cliff against the waves? The waves will beat us. There’s nothing to be done about that. But the screaming will be something. Something at least.(less)
Glen Runciter is dead, or maybe he's not. All the people who work for him in...moreThe concept behind Ubik is as brilliant as any of Philip K. Dick's ideas.
Glen Runciter is dead, or maybe he's not. All the people who work for him in his anti-paranormal "Prudence Organization" are dead, or maybe they're not. But even if they're dead (having been attacked by the big Kahuna of paranormal activity), they're being kept in half-life at a Swiss cryogenic facility where they may now be under attack from a soul predator who sucks the vitality out of their half-life, devouring them to power his own half-life. Maybe. We find out the answer in the end. Or maybe not.
This uncertainty is, of course, on purpose. The author is Philip K. Dick, after all, and bending our minds was always one of his greatest talents.
The problem for me, though, is that Ubik's execution doesn't match the brilliance of the idea it's trying to express. It feels like a lesser episode of The Twilight Zone; one of those episodes that couldn't transcend the time of its making, so we're too aware of its post-Nuclear War, pre-Space Age placement. Ubik, like its Twilight Zone kin, is too dated, which isn't unique in the oeuvre of Dick. Even Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep suffers the same fate, making it one of the rare occasions when many readers find themselves admiring the movie (Blade Runner) more than its source.
I wanted to like this more, and I can imagine an updated film of Ubik (maybe directed by Christopher Nolan) knocking my flip-flops off, but the book was disappointing. What a bummer. (less)
I've been teaching the beginning of Rocannon's World for many years now. I found it as the short story Semley's Necklace in a Sci-Fi anthology, and I...moreI've been teaching the beginning of Rocannon's World for many years now. I found it as the short story Semley's Necklace in a Sci-Fi anthology, and I always meant to track down its source, but whenever I remembered to look for it at used book stores it was never there. I recently discovered it had been reprinted, so I finally scored a copy and gave it a much belated read.
It started as I expected (odd that, isn't it?), and the early moments of Rocannon's time on the world that would be named for him were fascinating, then things took a strange meandering turn. Rocannon was off to destroy the ansible of a rebellious alien species who were making their base on the world he'd been studying, using it as a launching pad for war against the Hainish Federation, so he has to get from point A to point B. And that's what the book was, a journey around this world, meeting new alien races, meeting races we already knew, and generally watching Rocannon make myths for the natives with his strange looks and powerful (though simple to him) technology. It was good, I was digging the ride, but there was none of that transcendent LeGuin stamp.
Then came the denoument, and there it was -- the LeGuin greatness. Rocannon's victory. It was potent in an unexpected way. It was tainted, as it had to be, by its very effectiveness. It made me cry. It opened a whole new path of thought in my brain. I love it when she does that to me. Damn she's good. I can't say anything more for fear of wrecking the moment for anyone who decides to read Rocannon's world, but I will say this: "Wow." (less)
I've been meaning to read a Blish novel for years, having read and liked a short story of his -- How Beautiful With Banners -- in a Sci-Fi class years ago, but Blish isn't carried in the book stores within my sphere of contact, and he's never been the first author I think of when I have money to spend online.
I lucked out, though, and found an old, thrashed copy of Black Easter in a used bookstore down the street from where I work. I tossed it in my glove box (because it is always a good idea to have a back up book handy in case of emergencies) and forgot about it.
My emergency came up last week when, before I left for work, I couldn't find the book I was reading, so I needed something to read at lunch. I dug Black Easter out and was quickly knocked on my ass.
I am not usually a fan of fiction that explicitly discusses good and evil. I usually find their philosophy pedestrian and reductive. Too black and white. But Black Easter isn't a pedestrian book, nor is Blish a pedestrian author. I had know idea how talented the man was, but I know now.
Black Easter is a book about black & white magic that is full of demons and ends with the release of Armageddon. Yet it remains Science Fiction. How is that possible? It's possible because Blish offers us the theological science that called magic, which, in its ancient forms (you pick the "-emy" or "-mancy") was the root of all secular sciences. The magicians who practice this theoscience take their work as seriously as a nuclear physicist would, and their practices are as rigorous, their laboratories as specialized, their tools and books as important, their minds as honed as any image we have of today's scientists.
And, like so many who apply the sciences, the black & white magicians play with forces beyond their control, doing things because they can rather than because they should. They use and abuse knowledge, and as the myths of Prometheus and the Garden of Eden have tried to teach us, this knowledge is the root of all evil. So evil exists in Blish's Armageddon world, and it is released with a force on the world that ends everything we know mere hours. And good exists. Too benevolent, too bound by honour, too naive to stop the evil. But even those in the book who practice good, those white magicians we'd expect to be pure and beloved of God, are steeped in evil. They are in concert with demons. They are damned. And their paralysis, brought on by goodness, is tainted with evil.
There isn't much gray in Blish's Black Easter, but the black and the white are everywhere, in everyone, and while they may react like oil and vinegar when in contact, while they may not bleed into each other, they make for a deliciously creepy and stunningly realistic take on black magic and Armageddon.
I had no hopes for the book. I read it because it was Blish and I was hard up, but I was blown away. This is the best book about contemporary magic use I have ever read, and far and away the best expression of Armageddon.
What a fantastic idea. A counter-fantastical take on Superman, where the once Clark Kent comes to Earth in a communal farm in the Ukraine, USSR rather...moreWhat a fantastic idea. A counter-fantastical take on Superman, where the once Clark Kent comes to Earth in a communal farm in the Ukraine, USSR rather than the Kent farm outside Smallville, USA. Twelve hours difference in Superman's arrival is twelve hours that make all the difference.
Soviet Superman works for Stalin instead of Eisenhower, and the Cold War takes a very different turn. The Warsaw Pact comes to dominate the Earth. Nixon is assassinated, Kennedy becomes a debauched old fool, Lex Luthor marries Lois Lane, James Olson is a CIA liaison, Milton Friedman becomes US President and ensures that only Chile and the USA maintain a free market economy, and Luthor creates Bizarro, a Green Lantern army, and countless supervillains -- all in an attempt to defeat the great Communist Superman.
Red Superman then takes over the USSR after Stalin is assassinated, creating a world wide Utopia in a bloodless revolution. He makes a pact with Braniac (who shrinks Stalingrad for his great museum), allies with Wonder Woman, eradicates prisons with a futuristic lobotomy, and watches as a bastard son of Stalin gives rise to Batmanovic -- a counter-revolutionary obsessed with independent thought and freedom (Russo-Batman and his philosophical obsession are a pair of the graphic novel's weakest points).
Mike Millar's creativity is undeniable, and the pencils by Johnson and Kilian Plunkett are perfect. But none of this is good enough.
The three issue "prestige format mini-series" is far too small to accommodate a story of such strength and vision. It is merely a skeleton of something that could have been great. If each issue in the mini-series had been a year of comics, if DC had commissioned 36 issues rather than three, Red Son would have been one of the greatest comics ever written; instead, it is merely clever.
I wanted to watch Superman as the Czar of the Warsaw Pact. I wanted to see his relationship with Diana/Wonder Woman unfold. I wanted to follow Lex Luthor's alternate growth as a sanctioned hero, and the ultimate move to his 5000 year Reich (a portion of the story that earned only a few pages). I wanted more of Bizarro and Braniac and the Green Lantern Corp and the Soviet Batman. I wanted MORE!
So the lesson I learned from Red Son is this: less is not always more. I will forever appreciate Mark Millar's attempt at something groundbreaking, but the attempt will never mitigate my disappointment with its execution. Clever just isn't good enough. Sorry, Mr. Millar.(less)
WARNING: This review contains the language of the book it discusses, including a couple of c-words. Please don't read this if you do not want to see t...moreWARNING: This review contains the language of the book it discusses, including a couple of c-words. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the words spelled out or if sick and demented shit makes you want to throw up.
If H.R. Giger was a genetic meat puppet of David Lynch's, and the two of them shared a lovely dream about flesh altered fuck toys with multiple cocks and cunts, it would be something akin to Carlton Mellick III's bizarro-fest, Razor Wire Pubic Hair.
This is the story of a nameless genetically engineered fuck doll, used and abused by a horror show matron named Celsia with multiple cunts and razor wire pubic hair that cuts off penises if she fucks them too hard. Together they live in a surreal world of sexual torture, where sex toys are males genetically altered to carry all genital material (the better to fuck and be fucked with, it seems), where zombies drop rotting flesh from their faces while bathing in mud puddles, where roving bands of rapists threaten to burst through the walls of a flesh fortress and destroy the twisted metal utopia of Celsia, The Sister and the fuck doll, where God, resplendent with his white beard, comes to fuck the fuck doll, where mini, living, crucified Christs are buried deep in The Sister's multiple vaginas calling out their muffled torture, and the great debate of their lives is whether a fuck doll receptacle for birthing a repulsive, bloated baby of decaying cells can have a soul.
The story is full of dripping juices, tangy smells, appalling torture, creative blasphemy, poisonous fluids, and claustrophobic love/hate. It is disgusting, disjointed, filled with strange, pornographic works of art that seem to have no connection to the narrative and it is disdainful of all gender.
But there was no stopping once I'd begun. Like Giger and Lynch, Carlton Mellick III is good at what he does. The Creature/Author can write, make no mistake, and while the Creature/Author's product is about as accessible as a dinner at Titus' table, it is compelling. Worse still, I found it enjoyable. Maybe I shouldn't feel ashamed for finding something marvelous in Razor Wire Pubic Hair, but the indoctrination of my raising has me feeling dirty beyond cleansing for being fascinated by the Creature/Author's poetic use of language and the way my imagination worked Mellick III's world into a real space in my head.
I fear I have been scarred for life by my second foray into the world of Bizarro fiction; I will buy more and continue to sully my soul, shame be damned.(less)
Ghostface Killah's attempt at being an author offends me to the core, but then so does any celebrity who uses their cash and influence to commit artis...moreGhostface Killah's attempt at being an author offends me to the core, but then so does any celebrity who uses their cash and influence to commit artistic masturbation and flaunt it in our faces.
Too many people work too hard for too long to become authors. Most toil in anonymity, some finally self-publish, a lucky few find a small publishing house where their books gain a tiny audience, and the luckiest few hit it big. Not all of these toilers are truly talented, but their work and their commitment are honest.
But then guys like Ghostface Killah come along. They have a name so publishers like the Hachette Book Group publish whatever drivel they spew simply because it will move copies.
It reminds me of Michael Jordan's brief career with the Birmingham Barons. It wasn't that he was terrible, but he wasn't particularly good either. He hit .202 for the White Sox' Double-A affiliate. He had a couple of homers, a decent number of stolen bases, and some RBIs. His biggest impact, however, was in the fans Jordan brought to Regions Park. The park seats just over 10 thousand fans, and during Jordan's tenure the Barons drew 985,185. But some poor right fielder, some kid who'd worked his whole life for the dream of playing professional baseball -- at any level -- missed a season full of games, so that rich and famous Michael Jordan could live his father's dream.
Now I know it is unlikely that Ghostface Killah's crappy graphic novel took the position of a proper graphic novelist, but the frustration is no less potent. I am a writer of graphic novels myself (amongst other things), and I can't find an artist to complete my work. I don't have the money to pay someone, like Mr. Wu-Tang Clan does, and finding someone to collaborate with for free is nearly impossible because they need to work paying gigs so that they can eat and live. And I can't blame them for that.
It doesn't matter that my work is vastly superior to the garbage that Ghostface Killah has stuck us with. I don't have a name. I don't have the money. My stories languish. His don't.
And let me say this quite plainly: Cell Block Z is awful. There are one or two interesting ideas, and in the hands of a talented writer/artist team those ideas could be turned into a pretty impressive ongoing series. There is enough potential material in Cell Block Z, in fact, to fill twelve 100 page graphic novels. But Ghostface Killah and his "writing team" were so taken with Mr. Killah's narcissistic ego trip -- he is the protagonist in his own story after all -- that they ignored everything needed to make a good graphic novel: pace, characterization, plot, originality. Cell Block Z has none of these essentials (not in anything approaching significant quantity and quality).
Ghostface Killah's love letter to himself is a string of ultra-violent cage battles, broken up by short bursts of pontification, all wrapped up in the worst kind of feel good naivete. Oh...and some idiotic connection to terrorists who, we are told, are "the plague" of modern civilization.
Please, please, please, do not buy this book. (less)
Before picking it up, I'd heard that The Colour of Magic was funny. Now that can mean just about anything because, let's face it, comedy is the most s...moreBefore picking it up, I'd heard that The Colour of Magic was funny. Now that can mean just about anything because, let's face it, comedy is the most subjective of arts.
Funny is a deeply personal thing. The "funny peculiar" and the "funny ha-ha" might not be the same from person to person or even to the same person depending on their mood or their place in life. So knowing something is funny ahead of reading it really doesn't tell me much.
I'd read Terry Pratchett's & Neil Gaiman's Good Omens quite a while ago, so I expected at least a hint of satire and politically conscious wit, but I had no idea which of the authors to blame for the smart laughs in Good Omens, and my recollections really shed no illumination on what was to come. So I read The Colour of Magic with as open a mind as I could and hoped for some laughs.
I didn't laugh much and that surprised me. I smiled an awful lot, though. But I didn't laugh. No out loud snickers; no full-out belly laughs; no snorts; no giggles.
But I did smile.
Pratchett's kooky tale (really four tales to make one) of Rincewind, the one-great-spell, wizarding failure, Twoflower, the in-sewer-ants adjuster/tourist, and his Luggage was smart more often than it was stupid, consciously political, satirically silly, more than willing to take the piss out of Fantasy as a genre, but mostly it was exceedingly absurd. And all of this was what made The Colour of Magic good to very good.
Even so, its audience is necessarily limited. I know why I liked The Colour of Magic, and while I imagine there are other reasons to like the story, I think it is probably a fairly inaccessible tale unless you are a reader who falls into a niche of accessibility. This is not a book that can be widely read or widely liked.
So why did I like it? I liked it because I fall into a niche wherein I was able to access memories of drunken, drug-addled, teenage D&D marathons (which were extremely rare since we preferred our gaming sober), where we gave up being serious and descended into near madness.
Those nights are reflected in everything that happens in The Colour of Magic. Obligatory bar fights of fantastic impossibility, Monty Hall swords and treasures, idiotic last second rescues, gods dicing, heroes thinking with the dirk in their pants, dimensional slips and deus ex machinas at every turn make The Colour of Magic a collage of gaming stupidity, and it was nice to take a nostalgic trip back to my adolescence. In fact, Pratchett captures exactly the sort of gaming experience that led our halfling priest of Xyice, God of Mischief, to wish for a foot long penis then fall unconscious from blood loss when he achieved his first erection. So I liked this book...a lot, actually.
But it wasn't the best story I've ever read, and I can't imagine I could sit down and read the entire Discworld cycle without a break. It's fun. It's light. Pratchett writes better than I expected, but I bet there are many folks out there who hate this book. You have my sympathy.
So yes...I was disappointed that I didn't laugh more; I was disappointed that the story wasn't more subtle; I hated the turtle carrying the disc; I wanted The Colour of Magic to be more biting than silly, more critical than absurd, more intelligent than clever. But it was a fun ride that entertained me while I did the dishes, and I couldn't help liking Rincewind, so I will probably go on, and I will likely become a fan of Pratchett's Discworld books...in spite of themselves. (less)
Destiny: Around page two hundred I wondered whether Lukyanenko was going to throw us a Perdido Street Station style curveball and make The Night Watch...moreDestiny: Around page two hundred I wondered whether Lukyanenko was going to throw us a Perdido Street Station style curveball and make The Night Watch about something other than a triple header search for an unsanctioned vampire, her young Other hostage, and the uber-powerful Warlock/Witch responsible for the great black Vortex hovering over the head of a nice, pretty little general practitioner (can you tell I've been reading too many mysteries and watching too much film noir lately? Sorry).
But nope. It wrapped itself up quite nicely and satisfyingly. Our hero Anton Gorodetsky, a Wizard working for the Night Watch (the "good" guys) who is unsure of his powers, delivers an underdog victory against the forces of the Day Watch (the "bad" guys) and their bad ass leader, Zabulon. Anton manages to maintain the all important balance between good and evil (this struggle for balance is one of my favourite parts The Night Watch, by the way), to save the boy, to save Doctor Svetlana and her untapped power (she is a seriously good ass wizard + she has a great name), and to rise in the estimation of his colleagues, despite being tricked into questioning the decisions of his boss, the toughest s.o.b. in Moscow, Boris Ignatievich.
Then it ends. And that's when I turned the page to discover that The Night Watch is really a compilation of three novellas. One down, two to go. Hope they're all as good as the first.
Among His Own Kind: The second novella opens a few months later, and a serial killer named Maxim -- one of the Light -- has escaped detection over the course of his life, and he is busy slaying those of the Dark. He senses their evil, channels his good through a wooden toy dagger, and wipes out the souls of the Dark Ones with righteous fervor.
The Night and Day Watches are then scrambling to put an end to Maxim's reign of terror as it threatens to tip the balance. Lukyanenko keeps us guessing who's really to blame, how Maxim's killings fit into the great chess game that is the Treaty, and the action drives on to yet another satisfying conclusion, but what this second tale is really about is the exploration of the concepts of good and evil from an Eastern European perspective. Neither good nor evil, you see, is about actions. Both the Light and the Dark engage in some pretty questionable behaviour -- murders, killings, betrayals, rule breaking, involuntary sacrifice -- but it is not these actions that make the difference between the Light and Dark in Lukyanenko's Russia; it is the choice between the individual and the group.
The Dark Ones are evil because they believe in the individual. Their greatest selling point for new Others trying to find their way is their belief in absolute freedom. They can and do have happy loving families. They can love, grieve and care regardless of their selfishness, but they are evil because they care about themselves first and foremost.
The Light Ones are good because they believe in the group. They believe in a greater good, and their individual needs and freedoms are second to the needs of everyone else (theoretically). And Lukyanenko, with all this talk about good and evil, makes sure we never lose sight of the balance between the two forces, which is necessary for peace. It's fascinating stuff, wrapped up and well concealed in an exciting urban fantasy. I can't help loving it.
All for My Own Kind: And then it becomes a love story and my love for the book slips into mere appreciation. Although I feel more for Anton in the third episode of The Night Watch and I am impressed by the further muddying of the ethical waters (the boundaries between the actions of the Light Magicians and Dark Magicians are practically non-existent), the final tale was too rushed to succeed.
This part of the story could and should have been a novel all to itself. It is not long enough, and is, therefore, too rushed. I needed more time with Anton as he struggled with the direction of the Light, more time with Gesar and Olga (especially more about her background) and Svetlana to understand the decisions they were making and to develop some sustained suspense, more history of the Light's social experiments (Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany and others), more investment in the peripheral characters so that I cared for something beyond Anton and his philosophical struggles, and much much more of Zabulon and the Dark Ones.
It's a bit of a let down after the genuine entertainment of the first two parts, but not such a let down that I will stop reading Lukyanenko. Still, a couple of days ago I was planning to plow straight into The Day Watch, but now I think I'll wait until I have a long flight ahead of me. I bet it will make the perfect airplane book.(less)
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness.
I'm talking about literal demons here. Demons...moreI was born and raised Roman Catholic, so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness.
I'm talking about literal demons here. Demons with tails and horns and leathery wings, demons of sublime beauty and terrible mien, demons that torment and corrupt. It doesn't matter that I no longer believe in the concepts of good and evil; it doesn't matter that demons are fiction; they are so deeply programmed into me that there is no escaping their intimate hold on portions of my imagination.
So considering my preconceptions of demons, which are predictably Western European, my time spent with Detective Inspector Chen was never likely to be trouble free. I don’t know exactly what trouble I was expecting, but I was surprised to discover that the trouble, if it can be called trouble, came from Liz Williams’ demons feeling shame.
Demons, the way I’ve always imagined them, feel no shame. Indeed, they are shameless creatures of villainy, cruelty, nastiness. They terrorize, torture and punish, delighting in their heartlessness. Clearly my conception of demons is the conception on the walls and ceilings of churches or the popular culture of Christianity.
Thus when Zhu Irzh or Inari showed signs of shame, or when Inari’s brother Tso was motivated by shame, I reacted with annoyance and even tossed the book aside with a snort. But I knew that my reaction was purely emotional, and I found myself considering the idea of demons and shame for most of the day; it didn’t take long for me to see what Williams was doing – and even to absorb it into my personal mythology of demons.
After all, demons being intimately acquainted with shame makes perfect sense.
Those humans who go to Hell, after all, go to Hell to feel shame. No matter their crime, no matter if Hell is eternal or transitory, no matter their punishment, they go to Hell to learn or feel shame. And it doesn’t matter what religion’s Hell one’s talking about. If there is a Hell, it is a place for shame.
Now, if this is a truism of Hell, something we can all agree upon, then demon characters must be able to feel shame. If a demon is to exploit the shame of a human or cause shame in a human, they must be able to understand shame in all its forms, and the only way to do that is to know shame personally.
My brain got that, and I went straight back to reading Snake Agent, but my gut still reacted every time a Demon felt shame, and I fear that my gut got in the way of my fully enjoying of Liz Williams’ creativity, which is one of the reasons I look so forward to The Demon and the City. Once I have had time to fully integrate shame in the world of Singapore Three into my gut, I am sure that I will be able to better appreciate the implausible, surreal, stickily humid Hell Noir landscapes that Detective Inspector Chen and his partner Seneschal Zhu Irzh inhabit.
And if it improves as much as I think it will, this series should become my must read, must buy, must share piece of pulpy goodness.
Previously written: I was surprised by how much I liked this book, and I have much to say about shame in demons, but that will have to wait for another day, maybe even for the next book. I will be going on with this series, though, and soon. It is definitely good enough for that. (less)
It is because while The City and The City is both of those things, it is also -- and more powerfully -- a love letter to his fans and an act of oeuvre snobbery of the first order.
What Miéville has done is to build a story upon his favourite themes, and to require that his audience is familiar with other occurrences of these themes in his work to fully appreciate what he's done (perhaps inadvertently, but there it is). The unseen and the uncity occur throughout his work in varying forms, but they come together in The City and The City with an intensity and concreteness that he has only flirted with before.
Saul Garamond (King Rat), Silas Fennec (The Scar), Toro & Spiral Jacobs (Iron Council), The Weaver (Perdido Street Station), are all characters that move unseen. Each have their own reasons for moving unseen and their own methods for achieving it, but all of them move in and through the spaces that others cannot see or fail to see or choose not to see. And all of the motives and reasons for unseeing these characters culminate in the Beszel/Ul Qoma /Breach unseeing that Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Besz Extreme Crime Squad moves through in his search for the killer of a young American archaeologist.
But the murder mystery, and even the potential conspiracies that swirl around the murder, are nowhere near as important as the way these two cities crosshatch and overlay and grosstopic, and the way people from the mundane to the Breach move through and around and in and outside all the permutations of these places in one place.
And that concept of cities being more than what we are willing to see is the other piece of Miéville's narcissitically intertextual puzzle. In The City & The City it is two cities in the same space with a possible third city in the cracks. In Un-Lun-Dun it is an ab-city for every city. And in Reports Of Certain Events In London, Varmin Way is a rogue street that hides and moves and won't let itself be found, and Miéville himself is the care taker of the files that speak of the streets existence.
And even when Miéville's cities are behaving like cities should, their presence is so powerful, like Armada and New Crobuzon, that they are almost entities in their own right.
The City and The City is the culmination of just over ten years of China Miéville's already impressive career, but it won't receive the love it deserves, at least not for now. Once David Fincher or some other visionary director decides to put it on film, however, it may well become Miéville's most respected work. Too bad Orson Welles wasn't still alive. The City and The City would be right up his dissensi.(less)
I had wanted to read The Sparrow since its release back in 1996/1997. I had seen a review of it and loved the basic idea of future Jesuits being the f...moreI had wanted to read The Sparrow since its release back in 1996/1997. I had seen a review of it and loved the basic idea of future Jesuits being the first “missionaries” to make contact with the first sentient alien species discovered. But I lost that review and was never able to figure out the name of the book or the author. I tried to discover it everywhere I went, and all those I asked were oblivious. I really thought I would have no trouble tracking it down, but I couldn’t, so after a while I gave up.
Now, over ten years later, I discovered Mary Doria Russell’s masterpiece and am disappointed that I didn’t read it sooner.
I feared -- many times over while reading The Sparrow -- that my disappointment would be complete.
The Sparrow is so good, you see, that as I moved from moment to moment, following Father Emilio Sandoz’s broken narrative, I was sure that there was no way Russell could deliver on the promise of her writing. It was so good it was great, and I worried that it was too good to maintain its level throughout. Experience with much literary disappointment was steeling me for a let down.
Creating Suspense -- One of the things Russell did was to create suspense in the story with all the skill and technique of Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock provided an example of how to craft suspense in an interview many years ago, relating this scenario: show the audience a bomb being planted under the seat in the witness stand, then bring the witness in and have him take a seat. The man goes on answering questions, going through the action we expect of him, totally oblivious to what is coming, thus letting the audience worry about the bomb. The audience wonders when the bomb will go off. Who will the bomb injure? Is there a chance for the man to be saved? How will he be saved? How will he die? And the audience’s tension rises for every minute that ticks by without a resolution.
It’s a cinematic version of dramatic irony, and Russell is a master of her own prose version. We the audience are positioned as the tribunal of Jesuits, listening to Father Sandoz’s history of the mission to Rakhat, but we are given droplets of information ahead of our brethren that none but Sandoz and Father General Guiliani have access to. These droplets set up Russell’s entire narrative structure, making the story compulsively readable by piquing our need to know more, our need to understand how these terrible things we know must happen actually happened.
Complete Characters -- But this need to turn pages, this desire Russell kindled in me to know it all and know it all as quickly as possible, was steadily tempered by my desire to stay with the characters she crafted. I didn’t want to leave Emilio Sandoz to his torment; I wanted to prolong my stay in his presence. I wanted to remain with Anne and George, D.W., Marc Robichaux, Sophia, Jimmy, Father Behr, Father Candotti, Father Reyes, Father General Guiliani and even Father Voelker and the Jana’ata trader Supaari. I wanted to stay with them so much that I found myself slowing down my reading, setting the book aside even while another part of my mind tugged me back to turn the pages.
The reason was how deeply Russell made me feel her people. They were real for me in a way that few characters have been (really...it’s only my favourite books that have achieved what Russell achieved, character being more important to me than anything). Their decisions made sense, their love for one another made sense, their desires and cares, their anger and frustration, their actions and reactions. They were real and true. And I felt them as though they were real people in my world.
Morality -- Then there was The Sparrow's struggle with morality. I am not a moral person; but I am an highly ethical one, and Russell’s management of the big moral questions moved me.
Contemporary or futuristic moral struggles in literature often bore me, or even anger me with their preachiness or closed minded simplicity, but not the struggles of the priests in The Sparrow. These men were struggling with their morality and their God in passionate, energetic, complex and vital ways. And the heart of the struggle was Emilio Sandoz, the man who loved his God the deepest and had his faith and love shattered in the worst possible ways.
He described the struggle best when he said: “...[That:] is my dilemma. Because if I was led by God to love God, step by step, as it seemed, if I accept that the beauty and the rapture were real and true, the rest of it was God’s will too, and that gentlemen is cause for bitterness. But if I am simply a deluded ape who took a lot of old folktales far too seriously, then I brought all this on myself and my companions and the whole business becomes farcical, doesn’t it.”
This meditation on responsibility is pivotal for all of the characters’ morality, not just the Jesuits, but this pivot is most emotionally raw for Father Sandoz, and his position as our narrator makes his struggle, to some extent, our own.
Disappointment? -- I expected that all this excellence was too good to be true. I expected Russell to lose her nerve in the end, to take the easy route of evil, thereby absolving all of the missionaries from their own responsibilities based on the scapegoating of the VaRakhati -- more specifically the Jana’ata. And for one moment, during one act of Jana’ata brutality, I thought she had done what I feared, but Russell stood fast and said what needed to be said through Sandoz: “There are no beggars on Rakhat. There is no unemployment. There is no overcrowding. No starvation. No environmental degradation. There is no genetic disease. The elderly do not suffer decline. Those with terminal illness do not linger. They pay a terrible price for this system, but we too pay...and the coin we use is the suffering of children. How many kids starved to death this afternoon, while we sat here? Just because their corpses aren’t eaten doesn’t make our species any more moral!”
This moment is an act of true authorial bravery, solidifying The Sparrow's place in my pantheon of books while ensuring that no disappointment could taint Russell's fine work.
There are quibblous moments in the book that stroked my fur backwards, such as Russell’s tendency to focus on her characters joyous moments of laughter and rejoicing (I’ve never seen people laugh so much or so easily as the Jesuit missionaries and their party, except in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel) or the veneration of Anne by every being she met, but these are meaningless when faced with the triumphs of The Sparrow.
I could go on -- discussing linguistics, the clear link between Mary Doria Russell and the great Ursula LeGuin, the subtly handled science, the concepts of culture and race, the manifestations of violence, rape, prostitution, art, love and scent -- but all of that would be superfluous. As is most of what I have written.
Suffice to say that The Sparrow is a masterpiece that Russell will likely never better. I wish I had written her words. And I hope to meet her one day so I can thank her properly for the experience. (less)
*WARNING: This is not really a review, but City of Saints and Madmen requires something else entirely, and there may be a spoiler or two, but consider...more*WARNING: This is not really a review, but City of Saints and Madmen requires something else entirely, and there may be a spoiler or two, but considering the book's form I doubt that will matter.*
Dradin, In Love As Dradin experiences the rain, I am straining with the brightness of our first sunny day reflecting off the silky pages of City of Saints and Madmen, and I am struck by the sensuality of the experience a mere forty pages into VanderMeer’s opus. The weight of the book is comfortable in my hand, and it seems to reflect the weightiness of what VanderMeer is trying to achieve. And those pages. I don’t think I have ever felt a book whose pages made me want to open the covers just to run my fingers over the paper. It is the Bantam Trade Paperback Spectra Edition for any who’d like to feel what I am talking about.
If this book becomes any more sensory, I don’t know if I will be able to handle it.
So Dradin is as mad as his Mother, maybe madder (assuming she was really mad, of course).
It just struck me that the murderousness of Ambergris during The Festival of the Freshwater Squid, might not have happened at all. What if Dradin had a full psychotic break after he killed Dvorak? What if the murderousness of the Festival was in his mind? What if the woman he loved wasn’t a mannequin at all? What if he killed his love himself so that he could keep her with him, dismembering her as he did his sweaty Priestess from the jungle?
Even if all of these questions are answered in the negative, the story of Dradin, In Love is a frighteningly cool kick off to the City of Saints and Madmen. The murderousness of the Festival reminded me of a spookier, chillier version of the classic Star Trek episode, The Return of the Archons. It makes me wonder if the bloodletting of the Festival is convention. Do people attending the Festival expect it to be so sanguinary? If so, many of them enter the streets to sacrifice themselves, so what does that tell us about Ambergris and the people who inhabit its streets?
Dradin’s naiveté is positively shocking if he is not psychotic. To trust Dvorak, to expect aid from Cadimon, to wander unwittingly and boldly through the streets, to pass through the Mushroom Dwellers (Gray Caps), to fall in love with a mannequin, even to expect her to join him at The Drunken Boat, Dradin’s innocence seems almost impossible, but it does make him sympathetic despite his flaws. Of course, innocence and psychosis are often complimentary states. Many psychotics have an odd innocence about them, almost a weird light of unassailable optimism.
Whether the entire story is an expression of Dradin’s psychosis or Dradin is merely psychotic within a crazy story, madness, as the title of VanderMeer’s book suggests, is an integral part of Ambergris. I can’t wait to move on to the History.
The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris
Fictional histories of fictional worlds always throw me straight into Baudrillard mode, and Duncan Shriek’s overindulgence in footnotes sounds so real that the model seems better than the real could ever be. As fictional historians go, moreover, Shriek is one of the most likable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. His commentary is far more interesting than the Manzikerts’ creation of Ambergris on the backs of their genocidal destruction of the Mushroom Dwellers and Cinsorium, although the story of early Ambergris is damn good too.
But before I leave behind what seems an intentional use of hyperreality on VanderMeer’s part I must mention the succession of Manzikerts, the early Festivals of the Fresh Water Squid, and the Saint of Saints. All very hyperreal and all very cool.
Shriek is playful, witty and fun; his most fun footnote indulgence is the war of words he seems to have going with his more extreme competitors: the state supporting, conservative Sabon and the state criticizing, “functional anarchist” Lacond.
The Lacond-Sabon-Shriek tension is the actual story in The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris. I wish these characters were hidden in some University nearby so that I could take them all out to the pub, order up a pitcher and let them fight out their debate over Tonsure’s true identity or the role of Sophia in her husband’s and son’s decision making processes.
Voss Bender is everywhere; he is a sort of Mozart-like figure, or a Shakespearean figure; the popular culture that ties all of Ambergris, and possibly all the city states, together.
The Silence. I didn’t find it as chilling as I was, perhaps, supposed to, but I found the telling of the Silence compelling. VanderMeer as Shriek has a voice that rivals the best historians in our supposedly real world, and I find myself not wanting this history nor Shriek’s commentary to end.
Mix ingredients well. Read in the dark of night. Allow your imagination to embrace terror. Expect any trust you have ever had in historians to be shaken to its core. Cook until done. Serves many.
The Strange Case of X
I started out not liking this chapter. First I was annoyed, then I was angry, but then I was captivated, and I kept going until the wee hours until I finished it and loved it. I could say more, but I don’t want to for fear of revealing too much of myself.
Letter and Notes: Straight away, I see that this story is not truly a tale of Ambergris and Ambergris alone, but a tale of how a city comes into existence. Is it imagined into existence? Does it exist before it is imagined? Does the imagining of a city already in existence overcome the real city, is it replaced by its “operational double,” as Baudrillard would have it? In order my answers would be: Yes; Yes; Yes. So it becomes a story of Ambergris, but of an hyperreal Ambergris made hyperreal by X (or VanderMeer, if you will), therefore it is also a story of X.
Ambergris + X = X + Ambergris = X = Ambergris.
And I am expecting the appendix to only deepen that relationship.
The Release of Bellacqua: To be a cognizant mind, an enlivened soul, then to be told you have only existed as a story, as another mind/soul’s written tale, then to be written away. Back into the nothingness from whence we all come and go. It is not just a tragic story for Bellacqua, but a sad "what if" for anyone, for everyone. What if X is God? What if we are nothing but God’s characters in a story It chooses to tell? Is that more comforting than being an independent, living being with only oblivion to look forward to?
King Squid: Every step is making me feel mad, as if the entirety of City of Saints and Madmen is a manifestation of madness, which is, of course, no stretch at all. Utter paranoia.
The Hoegbotton Family History & The Cage: So much detail. Everything about this book is in the details. The title of the book the Cage appears in is Details of a Tyrant & Other Stories, but we're only told by being observant of the header, the fonts, the pseudo-intertextuality, the hints of a unifying voice in the repetition of “X” and “pathetic” and “sour,” these are all powerful details that offer countless possibilities for interpretation. Are they clues? Are they red herrings? Are they intentional? Are they mere quirks of the real life VanderMeer? Do they mean anything? Is the hand in the Cage from the sweaty priestess? Did the cage belong to Dradin? Does it matter? I’m not sure that I care if any of this means anything. I know that I am loving my complete immersion in the waters of Ambergris, and I think that may be all that matters.
In the Hours After Death: Is Nicholas Sporlender the Ambergris manifestation of X? Possibly. But that doesn’t go far in helping me discern the meaning of In the Hours After Death. This is the only story where I feel cut adrift. They hyperreal elements are undeniable, coming as they do from a literary magazine, but what of the walking dead, the adrift soul? Perhaps that is what it means. I wonder if it will come clearer next time I read City of Saints and Madmen.
The Man Who Had No Eyes: This was mind-blowingly compelling. I stayed up until 3:30 am decoding the last paragraph. The act itself, the writing, as X tells us, is a bringing into existence and a prolonging of what already exists. The writer as god, and all of us as the writer. That X/VanderMeer implicates us in his own creation, in this his greatest moment of genius. The readers are the writers are the madmen are the saints are the gods of Ambergris and Earth.
The Exchange: Suddenly the bonds that separate the worlds are slipping, flipping and flapping in the wind like a skein of canvas giving glimpses of the opposing sides that slip between worlds like the rippling of cloth in the elements. Sporlender is X is VanderMeer (who exists in both worlds) + Verden is Schaller (who also exists in both worlds) and this slippage continues right into Learning to Leave the Flesh, wherein Ambergris is infected by Florida and the rest of our reality. The Victorian, the Rosetta Stone, ‘50s b-grade vegetable movies, cars (referred to for the first time in the language we would use), The Gainseville Sun and The Independent Florida Alligator all seep into Ambergris, and our world and the city seem closer to one than they could possibly have been with only X/VanderMeer(Sporlender?) stuck in the Voss Bender Memorial Mental Institute. I am exhausted and drained by this book. I must come back to Ambergris and dip into the puzzle all over again.
The Ambergris Glossary: Back to the lovably cantankerous Duncan Shriek and a nice burst of humour to finish off this mind-numbing ride of world creation. The glossary also marks the first time an author’s “building” work has felt appropriate for publication. Many authors add work like this to the story itself, thereby destroying any hope of pace and readability, but VanderMeer’s decision to shift the background work to a glossary eradicates the dangers this sort of generative work could do to the stories, and then makes it an enjoyable cool-down as you pull out of Ambergris and go back to the mundane worlds of other authors. Then A Note on Fonts gives us one last “taste” of sensuality, filling us with the flavours of word shapes. I’ll be keeping my eyes in my palms and hope to make a VanderMeer sighting/citing, although I’m not sure Bantam Trade Paperback Spectra Edition Books will really care. Or maybe they will.(less)
They can be fun if you approach them correctly. You need to find a small section of the orgy and focus on that spot. Thi...moreHave you ever been to an orgy?
They can be fun if you approach them correctly. You need to find a small section of the orgy and focus on that spot. Think about your pleasure first and don’t be tempted into straying from the spot you’ve chosen. But if you are unable to find your spot, if you are unable to focus your sexual energy in that spot, you are more likely to have an overwhelming and, ultimately, unfulfilling experience.
You'll see beauty, you'll feel pleasure, you'll probably even have an orgasm, but you’re also sure to wind up with the most unattractive swinger in the room, feel a whole bunch of discomfort and find yourself on your knees a lot more often than you’ll like.
That's also what you'll get with Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air. It is the closest thing to a literary orgy I’ve ever read. It is like a particularly horny night in the bedchambers of Caligula. I loved it; I hated it; I liked it; I disliked it; I hated it; I loved it; I disliked it; I liked it. It was too much. It wasn’t enough. It was all over the place.
There were some absolutely gorgeous moments of original prose and inventive creativity, but these were matched by painfully clichéd prose and derivative banality. Hunt’s diametric proclivities create maximum frustration. Who would put together pseudo-Aztec gods with fey-misted mutants, or barely veiled Marxists with undying steammen? But then how could he allow his characters to speak with every tired metaphor known to modern man, and let those tired words flow from the mouths of characters stripped from Mel Gibson movies, Marvel Comics and Stephen King’s longest monstrosity? The competition between these two Stephen Hunts is a constant irritant for the reader, and it turns The Court of the Air into a bit of a slog.
Furthermore, there was one constant in The Court of the Air, that further degraded my enjoyment of the book, and that was Hunt's constant need for action. There is very little downtime. Hunt sets up a dual narrative, flipping between Molly and Oliver as they try to stay alive and come together (even though neither knows they are looking for the other). This leads to action sequence after action sequence, escape after escape, and each time one of the main characters thinks they might be safe they are suddenly caught in another trap. It's like a Saturday Movie Serial without the week long break to catch your breath. It's like moving from group to group in an orgy without taking any time out to replenish your fluids or take a pee. It just increases your discomfort and makes you long for quiet.
And Hunt's orgy of action doesn't do his characters any favours. There is very little depth of emotion; they all have minuscule interior lives, and that makes them very difficult to care about.
In the end, I don’t know what to make of The Court of the Air, and I don’t really know what I think. It is going to take another reading to be firm in my opinion, but that extra reading is going to be a long time coming. I would much rather reread The Anubis Gates or Perdido Street Station.
So will I really get back to it? Someday, but I don’t know when.(less)
More time travel than steampunk, although it has been categorized as the latter, Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates is fun, but it leaves one feeling a litt...moreMore time travel than steampunk, although it has been categorized as the latter, Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates is fun, but it leaves one feeling a little short changed.
The problem is that Powers' story has the narrative scope of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, but it is packed into a mere 380-ish pages. Beggar's guilds, Egyptian wizards, Romantic poets, business magnates, and prize fighters mix with cross dressing vengeance seekers, mad clowns, body snatchers, fire elementals and gypsies. Time slips from 1983 to 1810 to 1660-something and back to 1811, seemingly following a linear path of cause and effect, then spilling paradoxically into a strange whirlpool motion where effect can be cause before effect.
And all of this is tremendously effective.
It generates curiosity, makes one read at high speed, fills the imagination with wonder and provides great entertainment, but it is not enough.
There are huge gaps in the tale, like Brendan Doyle's/William Ashbless' time in Egypt, where the story jumps too quickly, leaving the promise of more adventure -- sweeping adventure, epic adventure -- unfulfilled.
Powers creates characters so compelling, even his supporting characters, that one finds oneself wanting more, but the more never comes. We spend a tantalizing amount of time with Horrabin, the puppeteer-clown-beggar master, but it is never enough. We barely get to know Powers' versions of Lord Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and then they are gone. There is simply never enough of these characters, and it leaves one feeling cheated.
So in case you haven't already guessed, the great failing of The Anubis Gates is that it leaves the reader wanting more -- too much more. Occasionally that feeling can be healthy, but in this case it is mostly frustrating. Had Powers reduced the scale of The Anubis Gates, or increased the size of his story to match the scale, it could very well have been his masterpiece. But without serious alterations, The Anubis Gates is little more than an entertaining sci-fantasy confection that is difficult to recommend.
But recommend it I shall, to anyone who likes time travel or creepy clowns or good, old fashioned chases. No matter how frustrating The Anubis Gates is, it is never boring nor a waste of time.(less)
I imagine that some people will complain that Butcher's Storm Front is misogynist, and I can see where they're coming from -- to a point. There is a b...moreI imagine that some people will complain that Butcher's Storm Front is misogynist, and I can see where they're coming from -- to a point. There is a bad Vampiress who runs a brothel, there are a couple of prostitutes, a sexually abused woman, a sexy journalist, and a tough, rough-cut female cop. I can see these characters striking a nerve with some women, thereby stripping any enjoyment of the book for them.
And fair enough.
But these characters are classic archetypes in the fictions Jim Butcher is bringing together, and his Magic Noir wouldn't work fully without them.
If one pays too close attention to the "chauvinism" of Harry Dresden, one can miss impressively fun stuff that is going on elsewhere in the tale.
Not only does Butcher come at magic from a fascinating direction, not only does Butcher capture the Noir feel of old dime store novels, not only does Butcher create an entertaining treat, which amounts to a really fun read, but Butcher manages to deal with Black and White Magic, Dark and Light forces, without simplifying motives and ethics to a simple and unrealistic battle between good and evil. By my count the word "evil" only appears in Storm Front once. This book has a bad ass wizard blowing people's hearts out of their bodies, summoning demons and addicting the denizens of Chicago to a new "magic drug"; it also has a Mob boss and a Vampiress in charge of the town's organized crime; yet, none of these characters are tossed into the rotten "evil" barrel.
They are just folks with anger issues, greed issues, power issues, bloodlust issues, etc. And to maintain such an ethical stance over the course of a novel, albeit a pulpy, fantasy/detective novel, is impressive.
Beyond that, Storm Front and Harry Dresden are ideas I wish I had thought of first. What a cool spin on some classic forms of fiction.(less)
If you've never read him before make sure you pick up one of his books this week so that you can get a taste of one of tho...moreWe lost J.G. Ballard today.
If you've never read him before make sure you pick up one of his books this week so that you can get a taste of one of those rare, truly unique artists.
For the first time in a long time, I am completely baffled by a book. The fourth and last installment of JG Ballard's psychopathology cycle, Kingdom Come, has left me full of questions and my mind racing for answers.
Straight away I wonder what Ballard is saying about psychopathy? Is it the root of human greatness, or is it the stain of human malevolence? Is psychopathy what makes certain people brilliant and action oriented? And if so how can that be a bad thing? Certainly the psychopaths in Kingdom Come are drawn together, which mitigates the seeming unlikelihood of so many people thinking similar things about the world in one place not so unlikely. Paticualrlary when those people share many of the same ideas but no one agrees with any other. This eventually leads to their downfall, but is that downfall a cautionary tale for Ballard or simply the logical end to their story with a wish that it could be otherwise?
And what about fascism? Is Ballard suggesting that fascism is the end "ism" of humanity, or simply the inescapable "ism" that all roads lead to. He sees it as a psychopathic "ism," that much is clear, but is he saying it is necessarily a bad thing? At times he almost seems to be suggesting that a "soft fascism" would be a good thing, or is a good thing. In fact, Ballard seems to be suggesting that we are already deep into a fascism that we simply can't see for being in it. Or are we?
Then there is consumerism, an "ism" bound tight to Ballard's soft fascism. Is consumerism a good thing? Is it necessarily bad? Does it replace our gods? Is that how our religions are making a comeback, by turning their religions into something that can be consumed like any other commodity. Is that the true method of today's politics. Does consumerism define everything we are today? If it does is there any escape? And do we even want to escape?
And violence. Ballard seems to be saying that violence is the only place where humans truly excel, and a necessary part of what makes us human. It also seems to be the key to the full exploration of our senses. So what is Ballard's position on all this? There is a lot of forgiveness for violence in Kingdom Come, an unreal forgiveness, but is Ballard suggesting the key to using violence and allowing it? Or is he condemning violence and showing that forgiveness is a potential path for overcoming violence?
There is a brief interview with Ballard at the back of my edition of Kingdom Come that does nothing to clear up these questions, and that's a good thing. I don't want these questions cleared up. I don't want to be fed with an i.v. tube. I want to remain frustrated and wondering, and I imagine Ballard wants that too.
I am considering using this in class soon, but I know it will meet with great resistance from my students. Most students prefer the answers to be clear. No matter how much healthy debate is raised by this book, and it would conjure a semesters worth of debate, most students would rather not take the trouble. Indeed, I expect very few students to finish reading the book at all. But I may still use it anyway. It's always worth a try. (less)
There is little plot in The Road, and that is good; the story is tedious, repetitious and slow, and that too is good; the story is about two character...moreThere is little plot in The Road, and that is good; the story is tedious, repetitious and slow, and that too is good; the story is about two characters and the way they love each other, and this is very good; all the information you need about McCarthy's future world is there if you want to do the work, and doing the work is also good; when it comes down to it The Road is very good no matter the complaints you may read or hear to the contrary.
That is all I can say for now. I need to let The Road settle in my consciousness to see where it will land in my pantheon of books.
What I can say is that it moved me deeply, the prose was a wonder, and I think it is one of the best father/son relationships I have ever encountered.
If my strong feelings deepen this book will rise in my estimation; if my feelings weaken it may wound this book terminally for me. Only time will tell.
But one final comment I must make is that anyone who compares The Road to Blindness -- or worse states that the latter is greater than the former -- is one whose opinions are necessarily suspect. The former is genuine, realistic, stark, unwavering; the latter is an unimaginative debacle posing as deep allegory. Read the former and steer clear of the latter.(less)