and a post-apocalyptic, biohazardous America will be filled with EXTREME GORE and a man will travel across the land, guided by a voice in his head tha...moreand a post-apocalyptic, biohazardous America will be filled with EXTREME GORE and a man will travel across the land, guided by a voice in his head that he will inexplicably name "The Shape" and he will be pursued by a rapacious squirming telepathic living virus known as "Medusa" and he will encounter a lot of EXTREME GORE and he will make friends of psychopaths and other annoying people as well as two women who are of course totally hot and he will fuck both of them even though I would think they would be turned off by all of the EXTREME GORE and so this merry band will meet all sorts of horrible things like the savage marauders The Hatchet Clan and insane mutated crazies called Scabs and giant flesh worms and giant mutated insects and mutated birds and mutated rats and things that live in sewers called Trogs and other assorted monsters and of course the radioactive tykes known as The Children, all of which dole out oodles of EXTREME GORE and the descriptions are really vivid and full of words like "xanthic" and "scabrid" because Curran is surely a very descriptive writer and he particularly enjoys writing about all the horrific things a virus can do to the body, on and on with those descriptions, Curran certainly has his schtick down, he just loves to describe his EXTREME GORE and of course you gotta wonder why I even read these sorts of novels filled with EXTREME GORE and well I do love horror and I love reading about post-apocalyptic horrorlands where you have to fight to survive, so I suppose that's the reason why, I'm not ashamed of my tastes, not at all, and so I read page after page after page of EXTREME GORE and after a while I do have to admit... it can all grow a bit tiring.
"By an axiom of cultural anthropology, the more isolated a community, the more idiosyncratic become its customs and conventions. This of course is not necessarily disadvantageous."
The Rhune are an aloof and eccentric culture. Lords of a beautiful, mountainous realm on the planet Marune of the Alastor Cluster, their extreme elegance and insistence on formality belie a nature so prone to aggression and martial conflict that they have been banned ownership of energy weapons and flying vehicles. The Rhune regard sexuality as repulsively decadent; they view the act of consumption as they do the act of excretion: as something vaguely shameful, to be done in private; hand-to-hand combat is considered an embarrassingly intimate act. All of this changes during the times known as mirk: shadows fall and doors are either bolted tight or left hopefully unlocked as men bare their chests, don capes and "man-masks" to roam the night, bringing violence upon each other and entering the chambers of women with a more mutually pleasurable sort of violence in mind.
Jack Vance is well-known for his expertise in portraying a host of exotic cultures with an often ironic distance. He really outdid himself with his conception of the fascinating Rhune. Marune: Alastor 933 is the story of a young man who finds himself stranded, with no memory intact, slowly realizing that some villain has attempted to forestall his ascent to the lordly position of clan Kaiark, of the Rhunes. And so back to Marune he must go, to solve that mystery and many more.
That's the plot, but as always with Vance, the plot is just one thing happening in the novel. This book is also a thoughtful and amusing analysis of "culture": how they create biases and often automatic responses in humans, how restrictive cultures often reject individuality, how an insular culture can be viewed from the outside as bizarrely narrow, and how that insular culture can in turn view the outside world as repugnantly alien. Vance portrays the Rhune with his usual detachment, but he is also clearly enchanted by his creation. As was I.
The novel features icy, Machiavellian women and an art form based on scent-scapes and people willing to kill for the sake of propriety and a gothic castle filled with secret 'mirk-passages' that honeycomb its walls. Ah, mirk! So tantalizing.
It also features standard Vance prose. And by "standard" I mean prose that takes me right to my happy place. Vance's elegance, his slyness and his artfulness and his dryness, his consummate ability to say so much with so little, his interest in using obscure words and his mastery in constructing the perfect sentence, his easy ability to make the most understated of dialogue come across as oddly sinister or charmingly humorous or intriguingly multi-leveled, or all of that at the same time... top-notch. He's one of a kind - his own sort of unique, insular, idiosyncratic culture. I read his books and I rarely stop smiling.
Here was the milieu he loved: conversation! Supple sentences, with first and second meanings and overtones beyond, outrageous challenges with cleverly planned slip-points, rebuttals of elegant brevity; deceptions and guiles, patient explanations of the obvious, fleeting allusions to the unthinkable.
it is a perfect home, a perfect life. late at night, a man hears a noise. it is a wife talking on the phone, whispering, giggles. domestic bliss darke...moreit is a perfect home, a perfect life. late at night, a man hears a noise. it is a wife talking on the phone, whispering, giggles. domestic bliss darkens into horror story. it is a masterfully written sequence.
it is a horror story, but what stakes? an affair, a foolish relationship? an angry husband? who cares? this is horror? it has minor stakes. but it does become more... it becomes A Christmas Carol. it is the past, the present, the future. it is death in three directions; it is death as the only path.
it is well-written. the author is a writer, a writer's writer. he is no dum-dum. he loves his Dickens. he also loves his David Lynch, his Mulholland Dr. and his Lost Highway. there is a slight nod, a sneaky hint, it is there to be found. but it is both more and less than homage, I think. it feels like theft. that doesn't bother me. "property is theft", or so they say. people, take what you will. but no reviewers notice this Lynch-theft, this Lynch-homage. are these reviewers dum-dums? hard to say.
it takes from A Christmas Carol and it takes from Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway... but what does it give back? what does it make of its own? is the combination and transformation of those sources a reason for being? it brings death to the table, yes. but that is to be expected: this is a horror story.
its Christmas Past: it is an exercise in pathos, then bathos. it is moving, and then not so moving - irritating. it made me itch.
its Christmas Present: it takes from Mulholland Dr, it takes the stage show. and then a gallery of atrocities. it made me scratch.
its Christmas Future: it is time for embarrassingly overripe gore. it has become an open wound. I put a band-aid on it by skimming past that goofy gore, gore for dum-dums only.
it has an ending: it is maudlin, in extremis. shattered lives, the real world, they came through the looking glass and shattered themselves, their lives, their future, during their journey.
it has a perfect old man: who would have, if only, he could have, why didn't they, why couldn't they, why did they have to, what a tragedy, oh the humanity, oh the living death of it all.
it is a unique experience for me. a story I grew to loathe; an author who began to intrigue. its creativity is questionable but the author's skills are undeniable. I throw the story away but not the author. I want to read more: I want to read a story he cared about writing, where he wasn't exercising or playing games. I look through the books he has written. I have found one! will I be rewarded, or will it turn out that I am the dum-dum for continuing this relationship?
oh dear! what's a broke Regency era heroine to do? her lack of funds are intolerable - she can barely stay warm or well-fed - and whatever is to be do...moreoh dear! what's a broke Regency era heroine to do? her lack of funds are intolerable - she can barely stay warm or well-fed - and whatever is to be done about the ever faithful servants? she's a "poor relation" to infinitely wealthier noble relations - why can't they help out? she's a senior citizen; is there no pity amongst the upper classes for their forgotten elders? perhaps she should steal a trinket or two from those relatives? or perhaps she should rally, collect other "poor relations" to pool their resources, maybe they should all band together and jump-start a new hotel - one that caters to all of those wealthy assholes?
oh dear! what's a reader who expects more from an author to do? he wanted a deliciously heartless and deviously ironic trifle in the vein of E.F. Benson's Queen Lucia; should he be satisfied with less? why is he ever so grumpy about lackluster prose and a less than thrilling narrative? is he projecting his yearnings unfairly? should he just read more Benson? better yet, can't he just be satisfied with what he has in this novel, its undeniably loveable and amusing pleasures? can't he be happy with a bland writing style that goes through its various predictable but still charming motions... while still surprising him on the regular with disturbingly real mentions of how horribly anti-woman and anti-lower classes the entire period actually was? shouldn't he be impressed by an author who placidly spins a feel-good yarn of poor relations banding together while still making sure the reader is aware of the basic terribleness of the era in question - at least in regards to women, to the poor, to convicts, to anyone who is not an enfranchised member of the ruling class - or even in regards to hygiene?
oh dear! has the reviewer become enchanted despite his reservations? will he continue to read this series?
build a bridge, bridge builder, build a bridge. to where? to yourself, of course. to other people. build a bridge across the mist, the alien mist, thi...morebuild a bridge, bridge builder, build a bridge. to where? to yourself, of course. to other people. build a bridge across the mist, the alien mist, thick and full of life and toxic to the touch. build a bridge to bridge two lands, to make one empire whole. build a bridge that makes change. build a bridge to the you of your story, build a bridge back into your life, into your past and then out again, to your future. build a bridge to your fellows, to love; build a bridge and keep it, keep the connection, for once. there are all sorts of bridges. make one that lasts. you can do it!
the fantasy elements are minor. the mist is one such element. a river of it, an ocean of it. small un-fish swim in it, big ones too, big ones that rise with the mist, that make things disappear.
looking for action, reader? don't look here. looking for a novella that gets deep into its fully three-dimensional protagonist's head - a story built around character? looking for the kind of tale that has an exquisite sort of tension based on things that may or may not happen to characters that you have come to understand, admire, even love? pick this one, pick it! looking for a whole world that is fully contained in a finite number of pages? a story that actually ends... but the best kind of ending! an ending that promises more, off the page, a bridge to a place that you will have to imagine yourself. you can do it!
The Man Who Bridged the Mist won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella in 2011. a well-earned win.
the story intrigued me, it saddened me, it made me happy and hopeful and it made me think about myself and the choices I've made in my life. it was excellent. smart prose, smart characterization, smart and sensitive author. also, a lot of technical detail about building a giant bridge in the sky, across a strange and terrible and fascinating mist.
"Everything means something," Lyra said severely. "We just have to find out how to read it."
Lyra the little liar is back in full force. she gets to us...more"Everything means something," Lyra said severely. "We just have to find out how to read it."
Lyra the little liar is back in full force. she gets to use her special power of super-lying at least twice, so it's clear that despite the amazing and horrible and life-changing adventures of the preceding trilogy, some things will never change. a witch and an alchemist cameo, and naturally her daemon Pantalaimon remains by her side. all is well in Golden Compass Land, at least for this reader. things are actually especially well, now that I know the author is working on a couple follow-up books that promise to be elephantine in size and scope. yay for elephantine! and yay for little liars and adorable little daemons who are quite handy at sneaking up on other daemons and quickly grabbing them so that Lyra can do some impromptu interrogation.
yay for Philip Pullman too. he really is the best. it's great how a slim children's book like this one is able to cast such an all-encompassing spell on its reader so quickly. the combination of idiosyncratic heroine and perfectly chosen details of her Oxford world all worked out just right. plus some sweet bonuses such as a map and snippets of a catalog, a guidebook, a postcard, etc. overall this was a trifle, but such an appealing one.
oh and the moral of the tale: see first paragraph.(less)
back in 1995, Simon Clark wrote a nifty post-apocalyptic novel called Blood Crazy, featuring the adventures of a young man in England as he meets othe...moreback in 1995, Simon Clark wrote a nifty post-apocalyptic novel called Blood Crazy, featuring the adventures of a young man in England as he meets other survivors and evades groups of murderous not-quite-zombies. I loved it. seven years later, Clark wrote Stranger, an irritating post-apocalyptic novel featuring the adventures of a young man in America as he meets other survivors and evades groups of murderous not-quite-zombies. well I suppose it is true that every writer revisits the themes and stories that define them as a writer, so I wasn't particularly annoyed at seeing the old story given new clothes. nor did I mind its lack of focus; that worked perfectly fine in Blood Crazy and I don't think its presence in Stranger is all that problematic. there's an excitement in randomness and not quite knowing where a story will be going, even if that unpredictability is due to lack of focus. what frustrated me about the novel was that it felt like it was written during one long weekend. a clumsy novel.
perhaps the switch to America served Clark badly. he has no grasp of how Americans talk. for example, few 10-year olds casually use the word "lovely" and use of the word "niggardly" is fairly rare (for obvious reasons). but I don't think it was just the problems with American vernacular because there was so much that was off throughout the entire novel in how the characters thought, spoke, and related to each other. people laughing at jokes that made no sense. a monstrous villain's oddly-timed rant about how he was bullied as a teen. the hero wondering about "mating" with a romantic interest and later flirting with her by saying she has to live so she can give him children. huh? an execution about a third of the way through the book bothered me not just because of its ridiculous brutality but because it was a genuinely ridiculous way to kill a person.
fortunately the novel wasn't a waste of time. I did like the oddly erratic approach to storytelling and Clark knows a thing or two about pacing. a book that features a youthful hero who flies into an uncontrollable murderous haze whenever someone infected is near him made for some surprising scenes. and Clark still has some creative juices. I would say that a room-sized jell-o mold apparently made of blood and other fluids and that contains malevolent floating body parts is certainly creative.(less)
a charming and swiftly-paced romp through 18th century Europe, featuring a fearsome but sweet golem and his skittish but brave fairy companion. painte...morea charming and swiftly-paced romp through 18th century Europe, featuring a fearsome but sweet golem and his skittish but brave fairy companion. painted with bright, vibrant colors with the not infrequent splash of darkness and blood. part picaresque and part uncertain quest. quest for a soul, quest for the meaning of existence? perhaps. and hey, they also visit Hell. yay for traveling and yay for unusual destinations!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ 3 Stars for the writing. I liked it. Aguirre is a talented writer who is quite at home when detailing the odd and the strange in prose that is often equally odd and strange. I quite enjoyed the off-kilter directions that sentences sometimes went, the unusual phrasings, the quirky quality to the prose. the chapters from the fairy Pomp's perspective are in the present tense, which is a clever way to illustrate her unique view of the world. the writing is not perfect: there was some clumsiness here and there and a rather rushed feeling at the end - things that might have been fixed by a harsh taskmaster of an editor. but I'm not sure I would have wanted them fixed because the clumsiness blends in with the delightfulness in a way that is all of a piece. Aguirre is an idiosyncratic and stylish writer; I was pleasantly reminded of other smart, quirky, and sometimes flawed authors I've enjoyed. I admire those sorts of writers.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 4 Stars for the story. I really liked it. I haven't read any other books with this setting and it completely fascinated me. at times it felt like the best sort of travelogue - one from the distant past, set in places I've read about but have never actually immersed myself into when reading fiction. Aguirre has a certain way of describing places like old Prague, Vienna, and Istanbul... a light touch with the description, using just enough for me to feel like I was in the actual place. but the story is not only a travelogue - it has deeper, more emotional goals. Heraclix & Pomp is about two completely different people trying to figure out who they are and what they can be. there was such a tenderness in the depiction of Pomp and the golem Heraclix's journeys and their frequent soul-searching, their need to be good and kind and just. this is a book for adults, definitely, but there was a lovely purity to the underlying theme of the book that often made me feel like I was reading a fable for children.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 5 Stars for Forrest Aguirre! I met this gent on Goodreads. I think he's the bee's knees. quite a charming fellow, and check out those stylish shoes. charming and stylish, just like his novel. I'm looking forward to reading more from him.(less)
Rick Remender's man vs. alien saga is a fun and often surprising throwback to similar adventures from the mid-twentieth century. you've got dastardly...moreRick Remender's man vs. alien saga is a fun and often surprising throwback to similar adventures from the mid-twentieth century. you've got dastardly extraterrestrials devastating earth. you've got a hard-bitten and cynical hero who loves cash but has the occasional sensitive side. you've got a babe who flirts with our main man, at least when she isn't busy putting him down. you have adventures happening back and forth in time, and occurring all over the galaxy. you have constant ACTION, ACTION, ACTION! it is all quite enjoyably old-fashioned.
there are some amazing twists and turns in Fear Agent. I suppose this is a bit spoilery, but I can't help but point out that this is a series where the hero "dies" more than once and the devastation of earth is much more than it seems - and it also happens more than once. other surprises abound. Heath Huston may be a traditional type of old school protagonist, but I was taken aback at the depth and constancy of his alcoholism; I was also impressed by the sheer horribleness of one of his past actions. one particular flashback is given a wish fulfillment treatment and then a realistic one - the two versions together creating something genuinely moving. and most things - Heath, the two female characters, the multiple alien races, the narrative itself - turn out to be quite different from how they first appear.
I usually tend to talk more about writers than illustrators in my reviews of various comics, and this review is no exception. but I have to make this clear: except for an issue noted below, the art is awesome. I was impressed again and again.
unfortunately, Fear Agent has some very noticeable flaws. although each of the alien races are quite different from each other, most of them have an annoying and confusing sameness in how they are illustrated. clearly Remender and primary illustrator Tony Moore have a thing about brain-type aliens because they appear in various formats, including mega-sized. more annoying is the writing's frequent stupidity and crassness. they occur infrequently during the actual story arcs, but they are rife throughout the many self-contained back-up stories that close out this deluxe edition. they really left a bad taste in my mouth and do not exactly inspire me to purchase the second volume. sigh. I probably still will.
of all the genres I dabble in, Queer Fiction is the one where I often have the most issues with what I am reading. maybe because I am a bad, disloyal...moreof all the genres I dabble in, Queer Fiction is the one where I often have the most issues with what I am reading. maybe because I am a bad, disloyal queer? I hope that's not the case. I like to think it is because I don't have a lot of sentimentality when it comes to my queer brothers and sisters; if anything, my viewpoint is especially critical because I am also looking at myself, as a queer, with the same critical regard. or who knows, maybe it is because I live in the queer mecca of San Francisco and I'm just over it - specifically, I'm over seeing "queer" as especially different than "not queer", and I'm over seeing people defined by who they sleep with. well whatever the case may be, I came to this guide ready to be annoyed.
happily, I wasn't too annoyed. this is an interesting book, even a challenging one at times. although a bit predictable as well.
I want to get the predictable part out of the way first. so by now I'm sure everyone's familiar with or has at least heard of the "Queer Eye"... maybe from the old Bravo show, but hopefully more along the lines of looking at supposedly straight things and seeing the hidden meaning, the secret text, the signs & wonders of what is being looked at - and recognizing the queerness there. and so various classic musicals and cheap sword & sandal epics are queered. macho sports like football can be queered. everything from Flaubert to Art Deco to the entire filmography of Parker Posey can be queered. and hey I just queered the biblical phrase "signs & wonders" in this here paragraph. sorta.
this guidebook does its fair share of queering the text - a fairly common gay sport. we have The Bible (tl;dnr), specifically David & Jonathan. we have Plato and Walpole and Melville and that poor repressed queen, Proust. we even have the Epic of Gilgamesh! that was a new one. but these particular essays were not particularly interesting to me; they suffered from a certain amount of silliness and shallowness. my problem was not with their basic point - i.e. these are also queer texts - but rather with the superficiality of the writing and how overemphatic the authors were when explaining their positions. fortunately those sorts of essays are in the minority.
so back to why this was an interesting book.
one of the hallmarks of classic Queer Fiction (and by classic, I suppose I mean Modern Classics - openly queer books written from the mid-20th century up through the 90s) is that these texts blur the line between Fiction and Personal Narrative. many classics of the genre are stories taken from their authors' lives and feature fictionalized accounts of their own trials and tribulations. being queer has often meant being rejected and so writing a book about being gay or lesbian is often writing a book where the author stakes a claim on their own identity. they are exploring their identity and what makes them who they are, through fiction. every book of fiction, queer or otherwise, is a reflection of their author in some way; because of what queers have had to deal with in their lives - especially in the 20th century - the personal is automatically made political and so queer authors are blessed (cursed?) with automatically having a story to tell. the story of their life, the story of how they came to be the person who is writing a book. the telling of that story, that combining of the author's personal life with a piece of fiction that they are writing, becomes many things: a challenge and a political stance; a personal stance and a way to share stories that emphasize the universality of experience; a rejection of the supposed Objective in favor of the Subjective; and of course a narrative where the author is not just the writer of the piece, they are a character in that piece - the book as a direct reflection and exploration of the author. meta-fiction, of sorts. I do this myself, the insertion of the author's experiences, in many of my own reviews - I have a whole shelf dedicated to those sorts of reviews. but hey, I'm a queer, so self-absorbed self-reflection and of course insertion of myself in all sorts of places comes naturally to me. ba-dum ching?
anyway, I was challenged in surprising, often positive ways by many of these essays. a lot of them are personal narratives about the essay writers, their own experiences as a queer, and how the book in question impacted them on a personal level. this may not be the right guide for the reader who wants a survey of Queer Fiction. but it is a good book for those who are interested in how a book can impact a person, or how a person came to be the person who is loving or disliking the book in question. for a guidebook, it is remarkably personal and at times it reads like a series of journal entries written by a lot of very different people who have one thing in common - namely, their queerness.
and so the book rises or falls on how much interest the reader has in the personality of each essay writer. it was a mixed bag for me. I was enchanted by Brian Bouldrey writing on Ronald Firbank, Jane DeLynn writing on Virginia Woolf, and Tania Katan writing on Audre Lourde - but only because I found each of these essayists to be an intriguing person in their own right. I liked their personal stories. conversely, I found Kevin Killian's, Mark Behr's and V.G. Lee's respective pieces on Rimbaud, Alice Walker, and Jeanette Winterson to be practically intolerable, probably because I didn't especially enjoy the personalities or stylistic decisions on display.
there are a number of straightforward critical appreciations in the book as well. although most get rather lost in the mix of all the personal stories, my two favorite essays were actually standard book reviews. the estimable Edmund White does a splendid job writing on Marguerite Yourcenar. and Eric Karl Anderson's appreciation of Djuna Barnes' brilliant, difficult Nightwood stood out as particularly marvelous. I'll read both of those again; I'm not sure I can say the same for the rest. nonetheless, overall it was an enjoyable experience reading this book. so many voices and life stories - I felt like I was at a retreat for queer authors, listening in on their share sessions.(less)