Capsule Review: This is a funny, often-offensive book that winds up being more than it says on the tin. Our protag narrates his awful predicament (yesCapsule Review: This is a funny, often-offensive book that winds up being more than it says on the tin. Our protag narrates his awful predicament (yes, he really is being eaten by a bear) and intercuts flashbacks and explanations as he tries to convince the reader to be sympathetic. It is short enough that the schtick doesn't get old and the real story is handled delicately enough that it works well. There is more here than simple laughs at the protag's expense and he is neither the simple schlimazel nor the Brett Easton Ellis-esque ass that he seems. This is a great book in the Unreliable Narrator space; it's also a good and accessible introduction to the Bizarro world.
Full Review: Simple summary: Marv Pushkin brought his employees, his wife, and his mistress into the woods on a team building exercise. Now he's trapped under his SUV (a jack slipped while changing a tire) and a bear is chewing on his foot. He narrates, explaining his circumstances and trying to explain how it happened without it ever looking like it was his fault, revisiting events as necessary when his omissions or outright lies fail.
I'm going to 5 stars on this one. I admit to being influenced by my love of Bizarro Lit, but there is more to it than that. The book has to work on several levels.
It's a joke, of course, and that has to stay fresh. Hansen keeps the joke going by mixing it up: the bear wanders off to do whatever it is bears do in the woods, the bear comes back, the bear eats the protagonist's beef jerky instead of the protagonist, a different bear comes by--and our protagonist is angry at the slight to his bear. He fantasizes about killing the bear but promises us that he would do so with respect. As the book proceeds the painkillers he's taking leave him less cognizant and more loquacious, giving us hallucinations, dreams, and paranoia to break up any monotony in the narration.
Of course, if it were just a joke, you'd give it about 15 pages and give up. We also get a mystery story. Marv intimates early on that something happened and that he had plans and goals that weren't obvious. He doesn't really want to reveal anything about these, but his urge to confess--or at least to explain, since he isn't always certain that he's done anything wrong--keeps revealing pieces of the story: What happened with his wife? What was done to his pants and jacket? Was anyone else in the car when he went to change the tire? How did the tire come to need changing? Why hasn't his team sent for help? The mystery is handled very well, with pieces revealed that lead to other pieces and Marv's awareness of how much he's revealing about himself varying with his medications.
That sort of mystery also leaves an opening for character study: Marv is a drug-addled, philandering, racist, narcissistic, power-mad ass terrified of being exposed as a fraud. As he reveals what led him to his predicament, both what he says and what he doesn't say reveal his deepest feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. To Hansen's credit, Marv stays an ass: there is no attempt to excuse any of his actions. If anything, we see how he's turned away from every offer of help and support. When we reach the end--a one-two punch of understated revelation and consequence--Marv's character study is complete. Rather than just the "this is the guy and this is why he is that way" that some stories offer, we have a more complete picture: Here is the guy and his past and his psychology, and here is a new situation for you to watch and see how it all affects him.
And there needs to be a story. A guy waking up, getting gnawed on, and going to sleep over and over is barely a vignette, much less a story. We have Marv's personal life story (which may be coming to an end, given the circumstances), his marriage, his career, his affair, and his potential psychological insight and transformation/breakthrough--as well as the bear's story, actually--which need to progress and, to some degree, resolve. These all do so successfully and some are much, much more than successful. The revelations ramp up towards the end of the story: Where was he driving and why? What was on his pants? What happened to his SUV? What will Marv do after he's rescued (if he's rescued)?
The resolutions are handled gently, without calling too much attention away from Marv. This is good, because we have two well-handled shocks in the climax that elevate this above the "joke" story or "shockingly foul" story and remind us that Bizarro literature isn't just being show-offy or reactionary or goofy.
At its best, Bizarro fiction mixes language and imagery into metaphors that let the author write about perception, belief, and interpretation directly and allow the reader to experience the metaphors rather than describe them. At the end of the book, Hansen can simply show us what Marv saw and what Marv's reaction was; we know his voice and his past and his fears well enough that trying to describe his emotions would get in the way.
So yeah. I'm going to 5 on this one. Two chapters from the end, I wouldn't have thought so. But the author came through way better than I expect....more
The premise is simple: Insane fans who worship Bruce Campbell use unexplained technology to destroy William Shatner while he's hosting a convention, bThe premise is simple: Insane fans who worship Bruce Campbell use unexplained technology to destroy William Shatner while he's hosting a convention, but instead it pulls many/most of his characters into our world and seals off the convention and pits the characters against "Real" Shatner in a battle to the death.
When you put it that way, how could it fail?
On the plus side: It's a novella, so the joke doesn't have time to fall too flat. It treats the "Real" Shatner kindly. Great running gags about the Singing Shatner. Includes Elizabethan Shatner and Twilight Zone Shatner and others that are easy to miss. Has Denny Crane Shatner, which more stories need.
But there are plenty of minuses, mostly in the world-building. We have a hyper-violent society with unnecessarily explicit torture that only seems to matter once. Convention security are referenced repeatedly but only appear in two scenes. Some thought seems to have gone into how the two high-tech bombs work and how the failure of one leaves the imported characters (Kirk Shatner is able to activate a toy light saber, creating a spectacular crossover at the expense of a deus ex machina), but we get minimal, muddled explanations, as well as other plot devices like a "static field" that keeps anyone from leaving for help. The relationship between the rest of the world and the Campbellians is unclear and hard to believe. Some history about "network wars" and other celebrities being executed feels hand-wavey at best.
The writing was readable, although muddled on any details that weren't action and avoided most action details by describing action after-the-fact. I couldn't tell it if was supposed to be a thriller, a comedy, or satire. The level of violence seemed erratic and probably gratuitous. The writing around the cold, murderous convention organizer was completely different in tone from the earnest, doomed terrorists or the desperate "Real" Shatner or the various parodies of Shatner's characters. Add in a bizarrely superfluous faux-Shatner character and a completely unnecessary and jarring scene with Animated Kirk Shatner and it felt a little like reading a shared-world story.
But really, it's short, it's cheap, and it has Rescue 911 Shatner standing around dying people asking the air to stay tuned and see if paramedics make it in time, while The Negotiator Shatner (from the Priceline commercials) keeps saying he can get them out of here cheaper and every shatner stops to remind you not to interact with Singing Shatner, since "he only does it for the attention."
As a wrapper for some fun fanboy slapstick, it's 3 or 4 stars. As actual science fiction, it's 2.
Call it 3 stars, get the ebook version cheap, and have a fun, quick read....more
This is very fun. It's uneven and often derivative, but that's kind of the point: it's in the "throw a joke a second and some are bound to stick" tradThis is very fun. It's uneven and often derivative, but that's kind of the point: it's in the "throw a joke a second and some are bound to stick" tradition and in the "broad and easy satire by forcing modern life into stock genre" genre, making it a light read filled with some good comic ideas and some light and easy social satire.
The book is billed as the memoir of Captain Freedom, a has-been superhero telling his rags-to-riches-to-washed-up-but-still-rich life story, taking us through his days as a sidekick ("Liberty Bill") to his early hero days, to being the top hero around, and then down to being a nobody and trying to claw his way up.
The recurring theme is around heroism versus self-interest; Captain Freedom is so convinced people only do heroic things for the fame--and the heroes around his agree--that he isn't even able to be cynical. His sidekick, DJ, has a better grasp of the world but no better view of people and the assembly-line, Hollywood studio system-inspired hero industry does nothing to change their minds.
The plot, weak as it is, falls apart a few times and the flashbacks and memoir structure isn't well handled, but none of that gets in the way in this type of book.
I like these light satires and I wish they were more common these days (they come in and out of fashion like most things). Don't expect too much going in, but enjoy the observations and the jokes.
It helps to know a little something about comics, at least in broad terms, but it isn't any more necessary than knowing about psychology is to watching The President's Analyst....more
If you're not in on the joke, you'll find And Your Point Is? a bit of a strange read.
It's a collection of 15 essays critiquing the work of science fiIf you're not in on the joke, you'll find And Your Point Is? a bit of a strange read.
It's a collection of 15 essays critiquing the work of science fiction author Jeff Lint. His stories confounded conventional plot structure and his heroes confounded logic, reason, and etiquette. Several essays compare and contrast him to Kafka, two discuss how his plays and musicals really get the audience involved (one requires setting the theater on fire, another releases live scorpions into the seats, etc.), and many try to explain and dissect his characters' ability--or even compulsion--to commit social non sequitors when confronted with adversity.
Lint was a direct successor to Voltaire, Kafka, Sheckley, Lem, and Juster, propelled from their platform so far into the stratosphere most readers could not see where he was, much less where he was going.
Lint was also completely fictional. He first appeared a couple of years ago in Lint, Aylett's biography of the character. Lint let Aylett's present his "new fabulist" writing philosophy, connect (and appropriate) a wide history of science fiction's more colorful characters (Dick, Ellison, Campbell...) and legends, and entertain us as only Aylett can. Aylett's characters are Lint's characters writ small; putting the most irascible one in the real world gave him all sorts of ways to play.
So this collection of 15 essays with 11 names attached are all by Aylett and they review and analyze fictional stories written in a fictional context by a fictional author. They even cross-reference one another and draw differing conclusions. (Very Stanislau Lem-like)
So... now that I'm in on the joke, is the book fun?
As if you have to ask. Aylett takes literary criticism and makes it laugh-out-loud, stop to write down a quote, SMS-a-line-to-your-friend funny. And you come to know the characters and stories, since even when the characters have different names and appear in different books they are similar enough to see how the "author" works and thinks. Lint isn't the real protagonist of the story behind these essays, Lint's writing is. The abstract story of the world-view expressed by a fictional author--and how it changes over time--might as well appear with essays as its supporting case. They do what secondary characters do in a more traditional story: they give the protagonist a chance to speak, they ask the hard questions, and they wonder at the protagonists' brilliance.
If you like Aylett's more outré books (such as the Accomplice novels), you'll appreciate how And Your Point Is? gives Aylett a chance to dissect his protagonists (say, Barney Juno); if you're a fan of his more accessible work (such as Fain the Sorcerer), you'll see what is just beyond; if you haven't ever read Aylett, you'll get a chance to experience his words, his sentences, and his writing (all three separate entities, trust me) for the first time.
I've always been a fan of the "fictional nonfiction," when well done. Aylett handles it beautifully.