Poppy Z. Brite, Plastic Jesus (Subterranean Press, 2000)
I tried not to be negatively influenced when reading Plastic Jesus by the fact that it is, ess...morePoppy Z. Brite, Plastic Jesus (Subterranean Press, 2000)
I tried not to be negatively influenced when reading Plastic Jesus by the fact that it is, essentially, a piece of fan fiction about one of the most ridiculously hyped, and the single most overrated, band in music history. Unfortunately, I don't think I succeeded.
Plastic Jesus is the story of the two founding members of a sixties rock sensation called the Kydds. (Oh, let's drop it. It's John and Paul. I mean, even the illustrations are... you know.) The book jacket gives away the whole thing, but I'll just sketch here; the story opens with one of them being shot dead in New York in 1980. (Guess which?) It then goes back and traces the genesis of the band to that point, while attempting to explain why he got shot. The fictional part of it is that, pursuant to Brite's usual obsessions, he's shot because of homophobia, because the two of them are gay.
Well, little surprise there. And when I can divorce myself from the subject matter, it's workable, if workmanlike, Brite; quick, easy reading, pages turning at a decent pace. The characters are believable (though one tends to suspect that's because they're based on real people here, rather than any native authorial skill), the plot plausible. The theme less so, but then, this is a work of fantasy, so we'll allow a little leeway. On this level, at least.
And this is where it breaks down. The line between professional work and fan fiction is usually more a chasm than a line, but sometimes it gets blurry. Plastic Jesus is very much one of those times. While it's quite obviously the work of Poppy Z. Brite (and thus as polished and professional as anything she puts out), it still treads uncomfortably close to the slash line too many times.(Again, I cause myself to wonder if I'd have had this problem were it, say, X-Files fan fiction or John Lee Hooker fan fiction or... you get the idea.)
The bottom line is it's readable. Whether you will find its subject matter to your taste is likely a matter of personal choice. I can't stand the Beatles, never could, and that negatively affected my ability to read this. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. *** (less)
The first thing the average reader is going to notice about this little volume is the size (just shy of two...moreChristoph Wille, Presenting C# (Sams, 2000)
The first thing the average reader is going to notice about this little volume is the size (just shy of two hundred pages) in relation to the price (twenty-five bucks). To say it's a little out of character for the computer book industry is roughly akin to saying that Calista Flockheart is "a tad on the thin side." Most computer programmers shelling out that kind of moolah expect eight hundred pages, a companion CD-ROM, and an online community. Books of this sort generally go for about half the price. At a guess, the expense here is going to curtail the readership quite a bit.
That's too bad, because as an introductory book, this one's pretty good. It's definitely of the survey school of computer book writing, and it's a very high-level overview. If you're hoping to find gobs of sample code and step-by-step tutorials, you've come to the wrong place. This is the more abstract material that will help you understand what's going on in the more general, theoretical world. As such, it's probably going to be of limited use at best for those who don't have one of those larger, slightly more expensive books. It makes a great companion volume, but to what I'm not yet sure. ** ½ (less)
The resolution of the “Conan's mother” storyline, one of the best in the series so far, is followed up wi...moreGosho Aoyama, Case Closed, vol. 6 (ViZ, 1994)
The resolution of the “Conan's mother” storyline, one of the best in the series so far, is followed up with a standard adultery/murder mystery story, after which the series distinguishes itself again with the formation of the Junior Detective League, which gives us a little more insight into Conan's classmates. The book ends with another strong one, a story of a writer's murder at the Tenkaichi Festival. Maybe the easiest of the stories so far to guess the ending beforehand, but it's well-written and fast-paced. Good stuff. ****(less)
Gemma Files, Words Written Backwards (Burning Effigy Press, 2007)
The Gemma Files is not yet recognized as one of Canada's premier storytellers can onl...moreGemma Files, Words Written Backwards (Burning Effigy Press, 2007)
The Gemma Files is not yet recognized as one of Canada's premier storytellers can only be explained, as I see it, by the fact that she's just not prolific enough yet; certainly most who have read her two collections of short stories have sung her praises pretty much uniformly. So where's the love from the New York Times and the Guardian and Booklist and Publisher's Weekly and Bookslut? No idea. But “Words Written Backwards” should be dangled in front of them to show them how wrong they are in continuing to ignore such a talent.
This is a one-story chapbook published by Burning Effigy, a very small press whose editors seem to have very good taste, judging by the stable of names one can find on their webpage. The story itself is more, how shall I say, “mainstream” than the stuff you can find in Files' two wonderful books of short stories (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart, which every one of you should read if you haven't already), though that's not what I mean, and you know it. It's less icky. When you read a Gemma Files story, all the character depth and emotional resonance is there, it's usually just got some interesting (and disgusting) viscous fluids it's coated in. Not so much here, to the point where one might call this “dark fantasy” in the Tanith Lee vein, but without Lee's oh-my-goth patina; it's substituted with the hard, cold realism of a Brad Smith (why this story reminded me continually of All Hat I will probably never understand) or a Giles Blunt (on the other hand, the parallels to the neverending snowstorm of Forty Words for Sorrow are pretty obvious).
The story: an Indian mystic has been sent to attempt to cleanse an abandoned, and seemingly haunted, mine of evil spirits. The night before he's about to get started, however, a young woman from Toronto stumbles into his camp, only slightly frostbitten despite being dressed for the mall instead of a snowstorm. Once they start talking, the mystic starts suspecting her presence here may be more than coincidence.
It's tough to pin down what it is about Gemma Files' stories that makes them so good, and maybe that's part of the attraction; all the authorial trickery washes into the background, leaving you satisfied without knowing exactly why. There's no place where the author pops up and says “look here! Characterization!” or the like. The great Billy Wilder once said that the best director is the one you don't see; it holds true for writers, as well.
What can I do to convince you to read Gemma Files? Tell me. I'll do it. **** (less)
Seth, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (Drawn and Quarterly, 2005)
Amusing dig at the obsessive collector mentality (cen...moreSeth, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (Drawn and Quarterly, 2005)
Amusing dig at the obsessive collector mentality (centered on comics, of course, but the obsession is universal; viz. Dork Tower and the like). The titular antihero (note to self: change word before posting to Amazon, for “titular” contains a-- gasp!-- seeming reference to the female breast) is a greedy scumsucking pig who always seems to show up where the good stuff is, and get to it before anyone else. Soon, a gang of his rivals get together and form a society; perhaps they can combat him in numbers where they have failed individually. The story is told in anecdote and flashback, for the most part, with threads of plot interweaved in a number of concurrent storylines; it's the kind of thing Chris Ware does (and Seth, in fact, credits his inspiration for the book to Ware), but I liked this better than I've liked the Ware I've read. I do wish it had been slightly less impressionist, but you can't have everything. A must for collector-types with thick enough skins to be able to laugh at themselves. ***
Hayden Carruth, Brothers, I Loved You All (Faculty Press, 1978)
Why must it be such a truism that the best books of any relatively prolific poet must b...moreHayden Carruth, Brothers, I Loved You All (Faculty Press, 1978)
Why must it be such a truism that the best books of any relatively prolific poet must be published by small, out-of-the-way presses with no distribution? Bukowski's Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window, for example, or Lifshin's A New Film in Love with the Dead. Simic's Nine Poems, Cronshey's Afternoon in the Museum of Late Things. The whole catalog of Liz Willis. It's all brilliant and all impossibly hard to find.
Add Carruth's "wow"-inducing Brothers, I Loved You All, published by Faculty Press, to the list. Now almost impossible to find (though most of it can be found in Collected Shorter and Collected Longer, published in the early nineties by Copper Canyon and must-haves for any poetry fan), Brothers is one of the rarest birds to be found in all of poetry.
Poetry has long been considered a dying art form, and there are valid arguments to be made to that effect. Song has taken the province that poetry trod before it, and in all honesty does much of it better. But the solid image is still, for the most part, the exclusive province of poetry, save for a few surrealist novels and a handful of consistently amazing songwriters. The niche for poetry, since the time of Eliot and Williams, has been the image. (Would that more would-be poets understood this and stopped penning second-rate song lyrics. But I digress.) The poet who persists in formal poetry, or poetry that strays outside the bounds of image, is wading in a pool of hip-deep slime from which ninety-nine percent of poets fail to emerge at all. (Your current author is very much included in this, when he chooses to venture into such dangerous waters.) Of those who do, they may manage a few short pieces that manage to both take the narrative quality of earlier works and add to it the polish necessary to captivate today's reader of poetry, unutterably jaded after years of having schoolroom elephant dung shoved down their throats. A handful of poets are consistently fantastic at this. But very, very few after World War II would ever have even considered trying to do it with the long poem. Hayden Carruth has tried a number of times, usually with less than stellar results compared to his finest short work; in "Vermont," the centerpiece of Brothers, he has succeeded in such a way that, had he never written a single other word in his career that will be remembered, he has etched himself in the canon of American writers.
"Vermont" is an astounding piece of work that traverses history, politics, quirky personalities, the gradual paving of the state, and everything in between, the whole mess. Carruth switches voices as effortlessly as Rich Little roasting Mel Blanc, with subtle changes in diction to bring the whole thing off. Part formal, part free, "Vermont" is, quite simply, must reading for poets, aspiring poets, and poetry fans.
"...Why, hell, I knew a man living in Coos Junction who wouldn't take a twenty-dollar bill; he couldn't stand to carry Andrew Jackson in his back pocket. 'Gimme two tens,' he said. 'Ain't it just like them fathead red-tape artists? They design the twenty for a red, then put a great man like Hamilton on the tens...."
I have no illusions that reading "Vermont" will suddenly turn a nation with millions of wannabes for every real working poet into a nation of Carruths; most people are simply too dull, or too unschooled, to pick up the subtle differences between the brilliance that Carruth displays here and the random, unpoetic barkings of the "socially conscious" poets that never fail to land with such a dull thud. (I know. I've already tried to get them to read Carolyn Forche.) But at least they will have been exposed to such great brilliance. **** ½ (less)
Claudia Emerson, Late Wife (Louisiana State University Press, 2005)
I've had very little patience with review-writing for the past six weeks or so, and...moreClaudia Emerson, Late Wife (Louisiana State University Press, 2005)
I've had very little patience with review-writing for the past six weeks or so, and thus I let this review go unconscionably long (I finished the book on April 30th and am writing this on June 10th). Thus, I've forgotten most of the phrases I was turning over in my mind. I do know, however, they all involved heaping a great deal of praise on Late Wife, Claudia Emerson's most recent book and the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. I often find myself wondering what the judges were thinking giving the prize to book X instead of book Y; not in this case. The details may be a little fuzzy in my head this far after the fact, but the book itself is pure gold, that much I remember. Emerson has a wonderful eye for detail and that all-too-rare quality in a poet of not letting the story get in the way of the description:
“I'd run that course/so many times I imagined myself/a goat encircling an invisible stake//of the baseball diamond's off-season/desolation, scoreboard blank before/the lightening sky.” (“The Practice Cage”)
That, right there, is some language, folks. This is a book you want to read. Likely to be on my ten best reads of the year list. **** ½
Realms of Valor was the first short story collection to showcase the continuing adventures of various we...moreJames Lowder, ed., Realms of Valor (TSR, 1993)
Realms of Valor was the first short story collection to showcase the continuing adventures of various well-known personages in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons world of the Forgotten Realms (a second, Realms of Infamy, appeared later). Each of the stories is written by someone who was instrumental in the creation of the original characters, e.g. Scott Ciencin, who wrote parts of the Avatar Trilogy under the name Richard Awlinson, gives us a tale about Adon, the priest from the adventuring party in those books, and Robert Salvatore brings back Drizzt Do'Urden, who's spent time on the New York Times bestseller list on quite a few occasions over the past decade.
The book's probably not a starting point for reading about the Realms, but for those who have a few series' worth under their belts, it's great to see one's old friends again. The stories, in general, live up to the novels that introduced the various characters within. They do so well enough, in fact, that some characters with which the reader might not yet be familiar may inspire the more industrious reader to go looking for the books that the characters came from. Very good stuff. *** ½ (less)
And here we are-- it's time for the big test to get into Tokyo U. And is Naru the girl Kitaro made his...moreKen Akamatsu, Love Hina vol. 3 (Tokyopop, 2002)
And here we are-- it's time for the big test to get into Tokyo U. And is Naru the girl Kitaro made his promise to fifteen years earlier? He can't quite recall, but when she lets slip she's trying because of a promise she made as well, Kitaro's feelings get to falling all over each other as much as his feet do. Series remains strong and witty. **** (less)