This is the greatest fan project ever, and it's too bad it's so hard to find in book form(*). If you like Frank Herbert more than a little bit, read iThis is the greatest fan project ever, and it's too bad it's so hard to find in book form(*). If you like Frank Herbert more than a little bit, read it. It's not the kind of thing to read straight through; just start somewhere and wander around.
I can't imagine a better fit of form and subject. Dune was a not-actually-all-that-complicated fantasy-adventure story made unique by tons of atmosphere and a million little sketch lines of allusive background, giving the illusion that Herbert had actually written 20,000 years of future history. The Dune Encyclopedia turns this around and fills so much of the backstory that the plot of Dune almost disappears (or, in some cases, is contradicted: the encyclopedia is supposed to have been written thousands of years later, and they can't agree on what happened), and adds even more tons of atmosphere with a perfect imitation of Herbert's faux-scholarly epigrams. Some of it is just geeky world-polishing, and some of it is really narrative fiction in a different form (and some of it is both: the story of I.V. Holtzmann is a pretty good story, and the article on the Holtzmann Effect is such good fake science that I'm desperate for those things to be invented in just that way). There are several dozen contributors, and the fictional authors of the encyclopedia articles have unique voices too.
Besides being pretty faithful in its prose style, the encyclopedia also preserves a good sense of the feeling of Herbert's universe, which I would describe as textured, dry, savory, and kind of unpleasant. Nothing's shiny, not even in the so-grungy-it's-shiny mode. You wouldn't want to live there, but you'd really love to visit.
There's much too much of everything, and that's as it should be. Something I love about Dune is that as much as it plays up the Muad'Dib story as the biggest thing that's ever happened, it still (especially in the second and third books, which I like a lot more than most people do) acknowledges that none of these people really have any ultimate perspective, even if they live 3500 years; and that even though the people matter a lot to each other, eventually all their dreams and schemes will be misremembered, embellished or buried in trivia.
(* You can also probably find it online if you search for the title. It looks like the online version was scanned and then run through OCR with no editing, so it has some amusing typos of the kind you get with OCR. My favorites are in the entry on "House of Harkonnen": one guy was "murdered by his wife... when be left her for one of his male stoves", and another was "kilted by gladiators".)...more
Being a non-fan of Derf's strip The City, and having liked but not loved his autobio stories in Trashed, I was happily surprised by his original tinyBeing a non-fan of Derf's strip The City, and having liked but not loved his autobio stories in Trashed, I was happily surprised by his original tiny version of the Dahmer story: it had a raw personal feeling that I hadn't seen him go near before, and his drawing style, which is kind of mannered and knobbly, suddenly seemed perfect for a story about teenage ugliness. In his foreword to this book-length version, Derf says he hated how the shorter comic turned out; I think it was fine, but his instincts about what was lacking were accurate and this really is a better, fuller story. As a straight biography of the young Jeff Dahmer, it's pretty good; as a character portrait of someone who's descending into awfulness and is aware of it, it's very good; as a study of high school and rural adolescence, it's great.
I don't think I've seen any high-school fiction or nonfiction that really gets the non-linear scale of outcastness the way this does— the complicated relationship between people like Derf's friends who are more or less socially competent but not interested in much outside their own circle, people like Jeff's prom date who are "low-caste" in an ordinary way, belligerent weirdos like the huge crazy guy who everyone thinks will become a serial killer (but who ends up just living with his mom and yelling at people from the front yard)... and someone like Jeff who's very clearly messed up, and not in a cute or sympathetic way, but who has enough ugly creativity and desire for connection that he can be adopted as a "friend" by people who don't actually like or respect him. Again and again in the book, Jeff acts out in a way that the others know on some level is really creepy, but they love it because he's unpredictable, shocking, apparently unconcerned with anyone's approval, sort of a rebel if you ignore how obviously miserable he is. Derf and his friends, who are otherwise unremarkable, distinguish themselves by being the guys who can appreciate (or ironically "appreciate") Dahmer— like being the only fans of a really awful punk band.
This is an especially big deal when you live out in the sticks, and Derf is at his best when he's showing the texture of life in this kind of quiet middle-class suburb-beyond-the-suburbs, where you take the beautiful wilderness for granted, you don't see anyone unless you deliberately go to their house, and the height of teenage entertainment is to get some beer and drive around all night. The book is also a nicely specific period piece: the aforementioned stiff-but-bulgy drawing style is well adapted to the personal style of '70s teens, and Derf points out aspects of school culture that we might think of as timeless but aren't, like the schools becoming overcrowded for the first time when the Baby Boom really settled in.
The weakest part of the book, I think, is the narration. The ideas it conveys are good ones, but I find Derf's prose clunky and obvious when he's explaining stuff, and there's a lot of that; it's not enhanced by the bland computer lettering either, or the superhero-comics-style habit of putting lots of words in boldface if they might have any spoken emphasis. On the other hand, his dialogue is excellent, and so is the writing/directing of all the non-verbal parts. The scene where Dahmer's "friends" watch joyfully as he does his best to freak out everyone in a mall in the most self-humiliating way possible is just a couple pages with about a dozen words, but it's beautifully observed and paced, conveying both "this is cool" and "this is horrible" all through character with no explanation required....more
This isn't a well-informed response to the book, because I ended up only reading about two thirds of it, but I'll just say that it's a fascinating reaThis isn't a well-informed response to the book, because I ended up only reading about two thirds of it, but I'll just say that it's a fascinating read even though it falls short in many ways as biography. Basically, all of the background material about 18th-century counterculture is wonderful, whereas nearly all of the material about Blake himself is along the lines of "There's no evidence that Blake actually knew any of these people or did any of these things, but it makes sense that he might have"... which is interesting too, but gets awfully repetitive once it becomes clear that the author is not going to present any such evidence or discuss Blake in any more depth (or at least, she didn't do so in the first two thirds of the book)....more
All of Seth Tobocman's squatter-related stories from World War Three Illustrated and elsewhere. Great as a political polemic, a piece of New York histAll of Seth Tobocman's squatter-related stories from World War Three Illustrated and elsewhere. Great as a political polemic, a piece of New York history, a graphic tour de force, and especially a many-angled study of some real people who couldn't quite live together because no one wanted them to, and because no one really knows how to, yet. I don't know whether to be in awe of Tobocman's achievement, or to conclude that this is what any very good artist should have done after observing those events....more
If you're only familiar with the condensed version of Erikson described in undergraduate psychology and child development classes (the stages of psychIf you're only familiar with the condensed version of Erikson described in undergraduate psychology and child development classes (the stages of psychosocial development, with their neat pairings of opposed forces) then actually reading his defining book may be a surprise. In this mixed bag of personal case studies, theoretical wanderings, and psychological biography, he approaches Freudian theory as if it were a large stalled vehicle, takes it apart to reveal some unusual components, and then reassembles the parts into something that looks a lot like the original but sometimes goes sideways instead of forward. I get the feeling that consistency was not his main interest, and I'm glad, since watching such an inquisitive mind move in so many directions at once is better than any number of little charts....more
Two long interconnected essays revolving around what's been called the "clean-up" of Times Square NYC. Typically for Delany, the approach is both systTwo long interconnected essays revolving around what's been called the "clean-up" of Times Square NYC. Typically for Delany, the approach is both systematic and discursive, both on the larger scale (the first half, "Blue," is closer to a linear essay in form, while "Red" is all over the place) and the smaller ("Red" structures its digressions with the familiar Delanyisms of numbered sections and sidebars-within-sidebars). Although he's clearly outraged by a destructive land-grab disguised as social reform, he also doesn't believe it's anything particularly new; instead of radical rhetoric about a Republican Armageddon, this is a lament for specific people and places being injured by the folly of the moment.
"Red," an expanded version of a lecture he gave at SUNY, discusses the give and take between different forms of social interaction (cross-class "contact" facilitated by public spaces, versus "networking" within interest groups) and urban organization (the diverse old Times Square versus the new corporate monster). Some of the additions serve to tie the two pieces together, and others are large chunks of what looks to my ignorant eye like Theory. The original version was remarkably well suited to being read out loud and followed by ear; this one (no doubt deliberately) much less so. If that sounds like a complaint, it isn't really. But, both in hearing the lecture and reading "Red," I wished for a fuller treatment of something he seems to treat as a foregone conclusion: after discussing the horrors of the crack trade, he says that real estate developers "encouraged" the spread of drugs and prostitution. How? Either I've missed something obvious, or he skipped it in a rare moment of haste.
"Blue" is a similarly expanded version of an article from Out. It looks at public sexual spaces, mostly movie theatres, in the Times Square area: how they worked, who was there, and how the community as a whole has responded to massive changes in the neighborhood. It's lucidly written with a great sense of place and ear for dialogue, both funny and sexy. It's also an interesting node for Delanyologists since it presents in a literal narrative form the real-life template from which a lot of his writing has sprung (I'm thinking of the "runs" in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, some of the street scenes in Triton, dozens of characters from all over, and the dialogue-based laid-back porn style of The Mad Man). It's sprinkled with photographs of the area and its residents, which only hint at the scale of the structures and changes he describes; I wish there were more of these....more
This is a rambling book about the history of science fiction and, especially, how it's affected life in America, by a very good SF writer and poet andThis is a rambling book about the history of science fiction and, especially, how it's affected life in America, by a very good SF writer and poet and critic. It's kind of a bleak picture; Disch didn't see much promise in the current state of SF, and he thought the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Heaven's Gate suicides were inevitable results of the American style of fantasy. But what he loved, he told about well, especially when talking about the '60s and '70s since he was there. Whether or not you agree with his readings of particular authors (skeptical admiration for Philip Dick; impatience with the politics of Delany and Le Guin; less about Theodore Sturgeon's books than about his sex life), it's heady reading, especially when he gets mad. (In particular, the chapters about right-wing SF, from Robert Heinlein to Jerry Pournelle to Newt Gingrich, for all their calm detail, read as if Disch had to keep stopping to laugh hysterically and throw things at the wall.)...more
As per the title, Plant is writing about drugs, and about how others have written about them and/or on them. It's a big maze in which she sometimes geAs per the title, Plant is writing about drugs, and about how others have written about them and/or on them. It's a big maze in which she sometimes gets lost -- partly because the subject and the author's verbal skill are both temptations toward an excess of style -- but the central image of opium & co. as a dragon romping through the world and shaping our history is hard to resist. The obligatory section on Coleridge and De Quincey goes beyond psychological and literary analysis, to the question of whether the Industrial Revolution and the British empire could have happened that way if everyone weren't on tons of opiates. Plant also makes William Burroughs more accessible and interesting than others do, which has the side effect of making nearly every later writer she discusses seem much less interesting....more
I read this book as a nurse working with hepatitis C patients, and as someone without any knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). I'm not surI read this book as a nurse working with hepatitis C patients, and as someone without any knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). I'm not sure who the book's ideal reader would be, but I don't think it's me or my patients. It takes the unusual approach of alternating chapters or half-chapters between Dr. Gish, a GI/hepatology physician of some renown, and Dr. Cohen, a Chinese medicine practitioner at a clinic that sees some of the same patients. The two halves have virtually nothing in common: Gish's side is more or less like other mainstream books on the subject, although not the best-written of them (that's probably Living with Hepatitis C: A Survivor's Guide), while Cohen starts every section with something along the lines of "In TCM, [whatever organ, cell, or other concept Gish just explained] has nothing to do with this disease; it's an imbalance between [nondescriptive name of some principle in TCM] and [another one of those]"... basically a lot of terms that, to anyone who hasn't studied TCM, will just sound like gibberish and not really give any basis for understanding what the doctor thinks you should do. Now I know that that's more or less how even the simplest "Western" medical teaching would sound to someone who's never heard of any of its concepts, but the fact is that just about everyone here has heard of at least the very basic ones, so it's possible to describe even something as complicated as the immune system in simple terms and, if necessary, explain how those concepts can be tested and applied. Gish sort of does that, but - at least for me, and I think for any reader without that training - Cohen doesn't. I'm left with the impression that they have two totally contradictory approaches, and it's not clear whether they really think there's a way that they can both be accurate, or whether they've just decided not to argue. In any case, I'm not sure what a patient would take away from the book itself; it seems more useful as a guide to further reading, or an incentive to ask your doctor more about everything....more
I used to work as a hepatitis C nurse, counseling patients and monitoring their treatment, so I looked at this book both as a resource for self-educatI used to work as a hepatitis C nurse, counseling patients and monitoring their treatment, so I looked at this book both as a resource for self-education of people living with hep C, and as a summary of the current state of medicine for nurses and allied professionals. I recommend it strongly on both counts.
The writing is clear and engaging, uses patient testimonials nicely to get across the variety of experiences, and offers several levels of detail: most sections should be easy enough for any high-school graduate, but there are more technical descriptions of research findings for readers who want to dig deeper. (Really the only problem I have with the presentation is that those levels are closely mingled throughout, so someone who just wants the big picture will have to skip sections pretty often; it might be better to move things like clinical trial data into an appendix, since the writers' paraphrases of the data are to my eye very clear and fair.) There's a good balance between discussion of antiviral treatment options and practical measures for improving health without the treatment. They're careful not to imply that we know more than we do, and this is a field with a lot of unknowns and some quickly-moving science - but I don't think the 2006 edition has anything that's out of date, except for clinical trials that were ongoing at that time, some of which have gone to the next phase or been stopped (good sources for the most recent developments are hcvadvocate.org and hivandhepatitisc.com).
Note, this is a book about the current consensus in (for lack of a better term) Western medicine; the authors acknowledge that they don't know much about Chinese medicine or other alternatives, and neither do I. One book I've read that does explore these in some depth is The Hepatitis C Help Book, which I don't think I would recommend unless you really know your TCM terminology....more