I'm sort of alarmed that my brother gave me this and Dylan Horrocks' The Magic Pen for my birthday, both books by comics artists I love who are now miI'm sort of alarmed that my brother gave me this and Dylan Horrocks' The Magic Pen for my birthday, both books by comics artists I love who are now middle-aged, both books about middle-career artists dealing with stagnation and to some degree sexual frustration. What are you trying to tell me, Tomio?!
The Sculptor is probably the most fully-formed work I've read from McCloud. It's a beautiful love story, and while it would probably be a bit maudlin as a film or a novel (make that really maudlin), comics is a medium that handles simple extremes well, maybe because of its history as adventure fodder for kids, maybe because it's so quiet, maybe because there's so much more action and emotion to interpret in the art that the plot can be comparatively simple. I fell in love with Meg a bit, which I think speaks to the fact that the whole works. Or it speaks to the fact that I'm a sap.
It is, I have to say, a bit hard to read McCloud without thinking back to Understanding Comics and his nerdy classification of panel types and cartooning styles and such. So many of his transitions read like examples from UC (particularly the aspect-to-aspect transitions that lead most chapters and time breaks), as do many of the manga idioms he employs (the way most of his corner panels bleed to the edge of the page seems very Japanese to me, though I'm not sure why). UC taught me to think about these things, and I appreciate McCloud's masterful use of them, particularly in scenes like the beginning where Harry reveals his identity or shows David non-existence, but it is a bit demystifying to see your professor use all the techniques he taught you about.
Anyway, a beautiful little book, though I hope McCloud and Horrocks have worked out there stymied artist stuff and are on to other things.
I didn't know about Manic Pixie Dream Girls until reading other reviews of this book. Now I feel bad, or ambiguously bad, since the term has had so much backlash and backbacklash. In McCloud's defense, Meg does address this stereotype explicitly, but that doesn't really keep her from embodying it. Meg has plenty of personality but I'm not sure she has much of an internal life in this book, so maybe the label is apt. Is that a problem if the book is mostly about David? What would the book be like without Meg, and what would the book be like if Meg and David were given equal treatment, or if the book was called The Actor and was about Meg?
Sigh. I did enjoy the book. Now I just feel worse about doing so....more
Well, I'm going to be up-front and admit I sped through this and enjoyed every sentence except for the one totally extraneous sexy bit which *could* hWell, I'm going to be up-front and admit I sped through this and enjoyed every sentence except for the one totally extraneous sexy bit which *could* have had something to do with the plot or the characters or water but didn't. Like Windup Girl, this is set in a sort of post-collapse future, but one within reach of our lifetimes, in which America is disintegrating west of the Rockies as the region's minimal water has become too minimal to partition peacefully. It's Cadillac Desert: The Scifi Sequel, and indeed that book makes a significant appearance here.
Like so much speculative fiction, this book is basically a good premise and some serviceable characters bolted together by reliable plot devices, with, alas, many acre feet of symbolic potential left totally squandered. I wanted to riff on flood irrigation there, but that would imply that this potential is used to ill effect, when in fact, Bacigalupi seems totally uninterested with emotional scarcity, with how individuals address glaring problems that have obvious solutions with complete denial and ultimately suffer (just like governments and societies do), with the personal consequences of taking life's essentials for granted. If there's any kind of ideological underpinning it's that ruthless pragmatism trumps idealism and only the powerful and "clear-sighted" survive, which is fine, but less than what this novel could have been. The first page of sweat stuff had me thinking this was going to be a bit more meaningful, but in the end I think it was merely fun.
Ugh, this seems to be the pattern of my recent reviews: enjoy the book, then find all the reasons I should not have enjoyed the book....more
Hicksville is probably my favorite single graphic novel, so I was delighted to receive this book as a gift a few weeks ago. It seems to largely concerHicksville is probably my favorite single graphic novel, so I was delighted to receive this book as a gift a few weeks ago. It seems to largely concern the risks and responsibilities of authors (and readers) of fantasy: how deeply do we indulge, how much freedom do we allow ourselves, what are the moral stakes. I liked that (though I think it could have delved a little more deeply into the risks), and Horrocks' outstanding cartooning, but there's also a lot of midlife crisis artist's block and sexual frustration (not to mention a whole lot of green naked ladies that, while appreciated by this gynephilic reader, makes this book a bit tricky to read on public transit, at least for uptight self-conscious gynephiles afraid of looking excessively pervy, exemplum gratis yrs. trly.), and that, I don't know, wasn't exactly tedious, but was not quite as interesting to me as the storytelling stuff.
I really loved the original Lady Night / Lou Goldman bits, as I did in Hicksville. Part of me would love to see those stories fleshed out, but another part of me think Borges was right and the best books are best only alluded to by other books.
I hope Horrocks finishes and publishes Atlas some day!...more
Jon's mental health issues are a bit frustrating, not sure why. Not fleshed out enough? They make him a bit more fully human than Suzie, so I feel likJon's mental health issues are a bit frustrating, not sure why. Not fleshed out enough? They make him a bit more fully human than Suzie, so I feel like she kind of fades into the background in this one. Still funny, though I fear this series is going to suffer the same fate as Y: The Last Man: good for the laffs, but no real plan for the plot....more
As much as I enjoy Austen, it's hard for me not to become a bit frustrated with the characters and the author for their lack of 21st century feministAs much as I enjoy Austen, it's hard for me not to become a bit frustrated with the characters and the author for their lack of 21st century feminist principles, and then to become frustrated with myself for experiencing frustration over such an absurd expectation, and then to become further frustrated when I realize I am about the 50 millionth reader to experience these frustrations and that most of these readers have just gotten over it and enjoyed the story, you know, some time in high school when they first read it (and then, of course, I become self-conscious about my use of the word "feminist"). That said, I think Emma might be particularly frustrating because she is so close to being a feminist protagonist: she's willful, intelligent, talented, she has her own opinions and acts on them. And yet, every single opinion she has and every single action she takes ends up being wrong, and on every occasion Mr. Knightly has a chance to voice his take on the issues, he is inevitably right. Things don't really go well for her until she realizes Knightly's superior judgement in all matters and that she should just do what he wants (i.e. marry him).
Anyway, weird anachronistic moral judgement aside, fun stuff. Not quite as fun as P&P for me (where's the anger?), but whatever. Mr. Woodhouse's hypochondria was pretty great. Ak tells me this is the Austen novel most lauded by critics, though it's hard to say why. Time to see what Gwynneth Paltrow and Alicia Silverstone think....more
I gave it 100 pages and decided I did not give a flying fig what was going on in Area X, what was going to happen to any of these characters, or why aI gave it 100 pages and decided I did not give a flying fig what was going on in Area X, what was going to happen to any of these characters, or why an author would spend so much time *just* cultivating a vague sense of unease....more
Pretty hilarious, fun concept, worth all the awards? Not sure. The guy at the comic book store upsold me on the second one, claiming it would be imposPretty hilarious, fun concept, worth all the awards? Not sure. The guy at the comic book store upsold me on the second one, claiming it would be impossible to resist getting after finishing the first so might as well get it now. He was basically right. +1 for salesmanship....more
Considered as a first effort by a NASA software engineer who wrote it for fun, posted it online, and got famous, it's actually really good. PerfectlyConsidered as a first effort by a NASA software engineer who wrote it for fun, posted it online, and got famous, it's actually really good. Perfectly readable, technologically interesting, generally a fun time. Considered as a novel, I found much to be wanting: characters cut from card stock too thin for the suffix "-board" and a plot as insubstantial as a breath of Martian air. Watney is unbelievably, maddeningly, grindingly optimistic. His blithe, glass-isn't-half-empty-it's-110%-full attitude just made me write him off entirely as a being I recognized as human. I suppose I've met a few people like that but I always assumed they were aliens in skin suits or time traveling robots studying how our species destroyed itself or something. Overbearing despair and introspection would have been equally dull, but that is kind of the nature of survival stories, and leaving them out is, apparently, equally frustrating. Almost every other character was essentially interchangeable, to the point that I just stopped paying attention to names and just considered them all to be not-Watney.
Which is not to say I disliked it, per se. It's nice that he paid such attention to technical detail, and it was super interesting considering how, exactly humans might be able to visit Mars. It's just that I might have felt more than the absence of dislike if this hadn't landed so squarely in the "hard SF" camp, which I use here pejoratively to describe science fiction that obsesses over scientific plausibility and cares not a jot for social and emotional plausibility. I feel weird saying that b/c my critique of most generic fiction is essentially that of Marvin Minsky, that it's about how people screw up their relationships and science fiction is about everything else, but really what I want are stories that achieve all of these things, and this wasn't quite it....more
You know the kind of book that warps your mind, makes you see colors that don't exist, transports you to places you couldn't have imagined imagining,You know the kind of book that warps your mind, makes you see colors that don't exist, transports you to places you couldn't have imagined imagining, the kind of book that makes you realize that the things you thought you knew were not, in fact, things at all? The kind of book that seems like a supernatural gift, a book that lets you to turn your life in directions that you can only even perceive after such a book has opened your eyes to reality's heretofore hidden alternate dimensions?
This book, right here, is the opposite of that book.
In this book, we learn that the rigid social structure our protagonist has been laboring under is, in fact, a lie perpetuated by hidden forces in the name of stability and control. Few even think to question this order, except, of course, for our protagonist.
In this book, a young man from humble origins learns that he has unexpected abilities when forces beyond his reckoning whisk him away from old life and place him in a school where his powers will be refined. This school has different "houses," each with different personality traits, and he will have to learn how to build alliances both within and between houses.
In this book, a bunch of kids are thrown together in a contrived landscape by sadistic adults from a sadistic society and forced to fight each other sadistically until only one triumphs. Their exploits are broadcast for spectators, and they have benefactors who give them little presents when they do well. Only by upending the very premise of the game can our heros ever truly achieve victory.
Did I mention everyone is stunningly beautiful? So beautiful the author feels it necessary to tell us? Repeatedly?
Red Rising is probably the trashiest pornoviolence masquerading under the category of "science fiction" I've encountered in recent years, so if you decide to give it a try, don't go in expecting, say, Kim Stanley Robinson, or even Andy Weir. Red Rising has exactly nothing to do with Mars, space exploration, or much of anything regarding our civilization's future. Expecting something like the Hunger Games would be closer to the mark, unless of course that implies an expectation of that series' thoughtful and timely examination image-management and perception, and its unequivocal condemnation of violence.
What you *should* expect is pretty much non-stop, compulsively readable action that almost makes you forget about the choose-your-own-adventure-level abuse of YA tropes and the wafer-thin character development. I *sped* through reading this, and will probably gleefully, albeit shamefully, speed through the sequel when I can get my hands on a copy. It is problematic in just about every way, but sometimes problematic is just what the people want.
I know I'm being super harsh here, perhaps overly harsh, since Red Rising doesn't really have aspirations beyond entertainment. It's an entertaining book, so let's call it a win, one that at least lacks the nipple-tweaking and long-windedness of another series that I couldn't stop reading....more
I was unaware of the hype surrounding this book, but was made immediately so when my dad, newly literate in his retirement, was baffled that no one elI was unaware of the hype surrounding this book, but was made immediately so when my dad, newly literate in his retirement, was baffled that no one else in the family had heard of it. If other people like it then it can't be good, so I went in a skeptic, but came out pretty pleased. This is a solid, well-researched history of the personal computer and the Internet that does a reasonably good job of arguing that technical innovation is not about singular geniuses who pluck inventions from the aether and bestow them upon us, the knuckle-dragging plebeians, but about small teams of collaborators who manage to catch the wave of their cultural and technological moment. Historians call the former notion the Great Man theory and, to my knowledge, discredited it as absurdly simplistic long ago. Technologists, however, have been slow to catch up, and we still worship the idea of far-sighted founders gazing deeply into the Platonic flames they've lit in the deep, darkened depths of some suburban garage (will I stop mixing metaphors? Probably not.). Isaacson himself has written several such works of idolatry-I-mean-biography (I suppose they pay the bills, but... does he really still need to pay the bills?), and explicitly says in the intro that he's trying to get away from all that, so good on him for bringing an old idea to a field that needs it (even if it's not, itself, that innovative).
Interestingly, I often found myself thinking of Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and now that I've reminded myself what that was all about, it seems kind of obvious. Among other things, Dennett, argued that what we think of as engineering and design are not like evolution by natural selection, they are in fact essentially the same process. Just as one does not simply jump directly from bacteria to dolphins in a single step, Isaacson argues that you don't just get Macintoshes out of nowhere. They were built on a long history of experimentation, collaboration, failure, success, and selection (by the market as much as by simple functionality).
I liked his repeated deemphasis of the importance of ideas. In his own words, "conception is just the first step. What really matters is execution" (p. 365). In this case he was citing Steve Jobs' admission that he'd "always been shameless about stealing great ideas," specifically that Apple stole Xerox's GUI concept, as an example of a good idea poorly executed by the people who thought it up. I basically agree with this, even though it's taken me a while to get there, since I believe pretty strongly in giving credit where it's due. I really only have a few "innovations" to which I could lay some claim, but none of them are really very innovative. What sets them apart is that my collaborators and I actually implemented them. Ideas are cheap, and talented labor isn't, so I've lost a lot of sympathy for people who claim they thought of something first. Who cares. Acting on good ideas is what matters.
Isaacson also took some occasional dips into describing different leadership styles among innovators, which seemed intriguing at first given that I've recently found myself in the rather bizarre situation of managing two people (sort of), but most of his commentary boiled down to platitudes like "One useful leadership talent is knowing when to push ahead against doubters and when to heed them" (p. 163). Indeed. Not quite "actionable," in the parlance of such folk.
I found his techno-utopianism and unwillingness to even mention some of the downsides of all this innovation to be somewhat off-putting, which is why The Word Exchange (a novel in which the purveyors of smartphone-like DNA computers infect humanity with a DNA virus that makes them unable to use language) made an excellent pairing for simultaneous reading. I would have appreciated more investigation into the failure of innovators to guard against the unprecedented control personal computers and the Internet allow centralized powers (corporations, governments) to have over us, especially given their origins in the dream of expanding personal powers of organization and computation, and survival of outside attack through decentralization. What about the innovations in culture, in practice, in beliefs that have been fostered by the Internet, and how are they faring in the privatized, undemocratic corporate fora of Facebook, Twitter, etc. that we've come to rely on for community, information dissemination, and political discussion? He touches on open source technologies and where Wikipedia came from, but why haven't those values of freedom, self-determination, and collaboration permeated the Internet more broadly?
You could easily read this history as a tragedy of the counterculture, how the innovative work of anti-capitalist anarchists has been almost entirely co-opted and diluted by profiteers. Instead of The Well we have Facebook. Instead of a culture of empowered hackers we've become dead-eyed iPhone junkies ghost-lit and hunched, thumbing mindlessly for the next hit of content. A cynic might claim that the cultural innovations died, and the technological innovations that persist increasingly serve to re-enforce the old culture of central authority and control. We are not Vanevar Bush's connected intellectuals, or homebrew hackers who "believe in rough consensus and running code", so what happened?
These are largely cavils from a bitter, bitter old man (me). On the whole this is interesting history, well worth learning for people who don't know it, and worth re-learning for those who think they do. There was a recent TTBOOK episode on similar themes for those interested.
"Certainly a computer is nothing but a huge concentration of trivial matters." J. Presper Eckert, from http://purl.umn.edu/107275, p. 74
One of Isaacson's more interesting side points was that property has served innovation well for hardware, but not for software (at least software related to the Internet). He thinks this is because large corporations were better able to combine the multiple requirements for innovations in hardware, from materials science to logistics to marketing to sales, whereas software had fewer costs and requirements. Does the advent of small-scale manufacturing technologies, community hackerspaces, and the maker movement change that at all?
p. 341 Bill gates wrote this letter to hobbyists that were appropriating his proprietary software in 1976. I laughed, both because it seems perfectly reasonable, and because people have been stealing his software ever since.
Isaacson writes that "The rise of Apple marked a decline of hobbyist culture," (p. 353) which he finds lamentable, but I'm not sure he goes far enough. It's interesting that some of the most revolutionary hardware devices in personal computing also hinder further revolutions because the people who use them cannot understand how they work (have you ever tried to pry open an iPhone?). In some ways the maker movement is a reaction to that trend in hardware, but is it leading to new technological revolutions?
"The WELL was a model of the type of intimate, thoughtful community that the Internet used to feature." I know I basically made a similar argument above re: Facebook, but it's slightly different: I actually think intimate, thoughtful communities exist on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet. I feel like by being somewhat choosy with my Facebook friends, I can have interesting and substantial discussions there (not often, I'll grant, but sometimes). What bothers me is that I have no control over the the venue for such discussion. If I don't like the fact that Facebook can sell ads based on what I say there, I can't change that, and I can't really just go to another social network, because those friends aren't all on other social networks. It's a centralized, undemocratic system. Which, I know, is ironic, since I run a similar system, but I try to be a benevolent despot with an open ear.