All of my friends and most of the people who know me in any capacity have figured out by now that I'm a gross, slobbering Steven Universe fangirl. (IAll of my friends and most of the people who know me in any capacity have figured out by now that I'm a gross, slobbering Steven Universe fangirl. (I mean, really really gross. Embarrassingly so.) So it's kind of weird for me to be giving this a four-star rating instead of a five-star one. But the truth is: while I enjoyed it quite a lot, it did not really capture for me what I love most about the show, and I think there are a few reasons for that. Notably, it's of course missing one of the most important aspects of the animation for me: the voices. That's a personal prejudice, but I just don't enjoy it as much without being able to hear the delivery and inflection from these characters, though I did my best to imagine it.
But beyond that, just as a comic being accepted as a comic, I think the activity was sometimes hard to follow in action scenes and the stories are all in a weird limbo: there's no beginning where new readers can learn about Steven and the other Gems, and the little stories don't build to anything. They're all kind of like teeny filler episodes of the show. Which is, in a way, kinda cool--getting some zany or touching times with the Gems or Steven's family and friends without worrying about meta-plot is a nice break--but it also made the tension low. I would not recommend this book for people who are not already SU fans.
Still, the art by several different artists is lovely (I liked some more than others), and it's pretty clever how there were a couple longer stories and a couple shorter (or single-page) inserts in each issue. And the variant cover gallery at the end was an unexpected treat! I own all the single issues of the comic, but I'm not quite obsessive enough (or rich enough) to collect all the different covers, so it was so sweet to have them in the trade! I liked getting to spend a little extra time with the characters in one-off adventures or sweet moments of their lives, especially Steven's scenes with his dad.
Here is a quick (okay, probably not so quick) run-through of each issue's stories, with notable bits for fans of the show. Keep in mind that the creators have referred to the comics as "Level 2 Canon," which they clarified to mean the show is the top level of canon and if anything in the comics contradicts something stated in the show, you should believe the show--but otherwise, if something happens in the comic, you can assume it could, would, or did happen. I am going to point out some places where I think what I saw in the comics is interesting in terms of the show.
ISSUE ONE contains the comics "Vacation," "Navigation Adventure," "Steven Chew-niverse," and "Birthday Bake-Off."
"Vacation" (Full-length, color): Plot: While on a mission to capture a corrupted Gem, Steven wants to stay and enjoy the beach and the nice weather, since it's raining back where they live. After they conquer and bubble the errant Gem, it's inexplicably resistant to being teleported back to the temple, so Pearl struggles to carry it. Amethyst tries to help her and teases Pearl, which leads to a fight, a burst bubble, and a reformed Gem. Pearl won't let go of it so she gets trapped when it reforms. Amethyst tries different shapeshifting tactics to fight it. With help from the whole team, they reclaim the Gem and finally get to have some fun. Notable: 1. The action's kind of tough to follow sometimes, and it includes Amethyst apparently making fun of Pearl's pointy nose. 2. There's never been a Gem that wouldn't go back to the temple when bubbled, so that's new!
"Navigation Adventure" (One-page short, black and white): Plot: Lars and Sadie get lost on the way home from a wrestling match. Lars won't admit he can't find the way home and they're still wandering until the end of the comic. Notable: The wrestling match included Tiger Millionaire. :3
"Steven Chew-niverse" (One-page short, color): Steven combines the power of bagels and hot dogs! He couldn't decide which to have, so he creates a recipe to include both.
"Birthday Bake-Off" (Short, black and white): It's Steven's birthday and the Gems forgot to get Steven's cake. While Greg is entertaining Steven elsewhere, each of the Gems tries their hand at making a cake. Amethyst's is a disaster because she just threw yummy junk food in a bowl and burned it in the oven. Pearl tries to be scientific about it and bake with the proper chemical reactions, but she doesn't understand that iron and calcium should not involve bolts and chalk, and since she has no concept of what food should taste like, hers is also an unappetizing mess. Garnet's turn yields a perfect, beautiful cake with no explanation. When Steven cuts into it, it turns out to be entirely formed of frosting. Which is perfect because he loves frosting. Notable: 1. Steven's wearing the same "birthday suit" he wore in "So Many Birthdays." 2. The Gems' attempts to make a cake are adorably appropriate for each of their personalities.
ISSUE TWO contains the comics "Bike Race," "Night on the Beach," and "Lion Tamer."
"Bike Race" (Full-length, color): Steven and Connie see Buck Dewey distributing bike race posters, and Steven wants to get a group to enter, but the Gems refuse and Pearl says he shouldn't do it either. When consulting his dad with his disappointment, Greg puts their disinterest and protectiveness in perspective and encourages him to enter. Connie helps him train and the Gems take notice. Worried that he will be hurt, they make modifications to his bike so he'll be protected while still participating. The day of the race comes and Steven's bike goes out of control because the Gems didn't check with each other to make sure their different modifications were compatible. They have to chase him around the world to try to help him, but Steven manages to cross the finish line without interference. Notable: 1. Pearl claims the Gems are "legally too old" to enter the race, which is weird because usually there is not an upper age limit for stuff like this, but even if there was, this implies that the Gems have a legal age in the first place. I think a bigger problem if there were registration specifics would be that they don't have legal identities as citizens of Earth. 2. During a conversation between the Gems about Steven entering the race, Pearl admits determination might be important for his training, and Amethyst says if he gets hurt it'll be no big deal because he'll just reform. Garnet adds that they don't know if he can come back like they can if he dies. It's interesting that according to the comic they don't know if he'll stay dead. 3. Greg's got an adorable line: "They're pretty indestructible and they know you aren't." 4. The race participants appear to be just the Cool Kids (Sour Cream, Jenny, Buck) and Sadie, and Mr. Smiley is the ref. (Connie is in the audience taking pictures.) Sadie comes in first in the race, and Steven is second, and Sour Cream is third. 5. Garnet's future vision is drawn with a very interesting visual effect as she's trying to calculate where they can intercept Steven.
"Night on the Beach" (One-page short, color): A wordless scene of a group picnic on the beach, featuring fireworks in the background and Steven and Connie looking at Steven's mobile device under blankets by the sea.
"Lion Tamer" (Short, black and white): Steven decides to enter a pet contest with Lion. Attempting to train him in obedience, beauty, and talent, Steven eventually decides it's a lost cause, though Pearl reassures him that Lion is special even if he can't win contests. Amethyst hears there's a trophy and shapeshifts into a cat so they can win together.
ISSUE THREE contains the comics "Open Mic," "The Storage War," and "Disco."
"Open Mic" (Full-length, color): Greg and Steven have a picnic planned, but then the Gems cross their path fighting a monster and Steven has to go help, leaving Greg alone. Greg passes the time by going into the donut shop, where he sees a poster for an open mic night and decides to enter. When Steven finally returns, he's worn out from the battle and falls asleep. Greg good-naturedly drinks the melted ice cream and fantasizes about Rose while playing the guitar. His music attracts the monster and the Gems have to fight it again. Greg asks Garnet how Steven's doing with his magic fighting and she says he's doing great. Greg invites Steven to his open mic night by leaving a flyer in his room, but Steven's too busy fighting the monster to attend. They follow the monster to the site of the event, where it interrupts Greg's set. Steven joins forces with his dad to play a sound that helps defeat the monster. Notable: 1. The flyer has a location on it and refers to the city as "Beach City, DV." Looks like "DV" is the postal abbreviation for Delmarva. 2. Amethyst comments that Greg doesn't sound terrible when he's playing, which is odd because she knew him back when he was a career musician before Steven was born, but she's probably just giving a grudging compliment. 3. There is a misspelled word: Some text says "make due" instead of "make do."
"The Storage War" (Short, black and white): Steven and Connie are at Greg's storage unit and they pretend to battle each other using items they find in the shed. Notable: All the items you see could actually have been in his shed, since that place is a total mess.
"Disco" (Short, color): Steven wants to go on a mission with the Gems but they say the Gems they're chasing are too volatile. Garnet gives Steven a disco ball to keep him occupied in their absence, but he mistakes it for a special Gem puzzle and thinks he's being tested. He can't discover its secrets, though, and gives up, admitting defeat when the Gems return. Garnet reveals that it's just a disco ball and plugs it in. He admires it.
ISSUE FOUR contains the comics "Taxi," "Cookie Cat," "Where In Beach City," and "Doppelganger."
"Taxi" (Full-length, color): When Kiki causes her family's car to be impounded because of tickets, no one can do deliveries for Fish Stew Pizza, and Kofi is furious. (Not to mention Jenny can't use the car to take her friends to the movies!) So Steven steps in to save the day with his magical lion. First Steven's got him doing errands and deliveries, but he steps it all the way up to an actual taxi service, complete with a uniform for Lion and Connie taking the reservations. Lion eventually gets fed up with the service and takes off, leaving Steven with a stack of unfulfilled transportation orders. Connie reminds him that Lion didn't agree to participate in the business, but Steven is still annoyed. After failing to borrow Greg's van and failing to figure out the warp pad, Steven tracks Lion down and shouts at him for quitting. Lion just walks away, leaving him to confide in Pearl. When a Gem monster attacks and Lion shows up to help defeat it, Steven realizes he is dependable where it counts. Notable: 1. Some of Lion's errands are really weird. He has normal ones, like taking the Cool Kids to the movies and drive-through food and taking Nanefua to the hair salon, but he also appears to be hired to take Onion to a flowery meadow, where Onion turns a turtle right-side-up after it was stuck on its back. Weird. Lars is with Jenny on the way to the movies, by the way. 2. When the errands start falling through, Ronaldo is flipping out about kale and manganese. 3. Mr. Smiley says he's missing a coffee date. (With who?) 4. A guy who looks like the salesperson in the Suitcase Sam store (very minor background character from the show) seems to be in this issue saying "Ya!" in a crowd, though I couldn't tell if it was actually supposed to be him. (That character has never spoken in the show.) 5. Ronaldo calls Steven by his last name, "Universe," when he's mad at him for messing up his kale situation. He's never done that in the show. 6. There's a misspelling on "refrigeration" in Ronaldo's talk bubble. (It says "refridgeration.") And there is a mistake on the possessive of the word "witches." (It says "witches fingers.") 7. No official holidays have been shown to exist in the alternate world of the Steven Universe TV show, except for New Year's, but in this comic Halloween is explicitly mentioned, as the Gems are watching a cooking show with a Halloween recipe on it and they comment on it. There's a Halloween-like episode of the TV show, "Horror Club," where Ronaldo is dressed up for a spooky movie party and Lars has glow-in-the-dark skulls in his ears, but no mention of actual Halloween happens, and a writer from the show has explicitly said they do NOT have the holidays of Christmas and Halloween. So maybe that's a contradiction.
"Cookie Cat" (One-page short, color): This is a scene featuring Cookie Cat as an alien on a planet crawling with Gem monsters (apparently), and he's holding a gun.
"Where In Beach City" (Two-page short, color): This is just a find-the-thing scene with the premise of Where's Waldo?, but in Beach City. Against a background of donuts and ice monsters and Centipeetles and balloons, you are asked to find the Gems and a bunch of Steven's stuff. Notable: In addition to the Cheeseburger Backpack and Mr. Queasy items to find, you can also see a ton of the recurring characters: Lars, Sadie, Lion, Cookie Cat (the character, not the food), Jamie, Ronaldo, Greg, Connie, Mayor Dewey, Mr. Fryman, and Onion.
"Doppelganger" (Short, black and white): Ronaldo finds a picture in a magazine of a model who he thinks looks like Garnet. He demands that Steven acknowledge that Garnet is a model, but Steven says he doesn't even think it looks like her. Ronaldo, determined to prove his theory, follows them around with a camera all day until Garnet confronts him. Steven insists she's a Gem warrior, not a model. Ronaldo concludes that models are magical creatures and posts that on his blog. Notable: While Steven's spending the day with Garnet, one of the photos Ronaldo takes features Steven and Garnet eating ice cream. She's actually eating the ice cream. It's the first canon image of her eating something.
And the additional "Steven Universe" short by Rebecca Sugar (which is in color): The Gems, after fighting a shapeshifter, bring home an obelisk. Which turns out to be the shapeshifter. It turns into one of Steven's comics, and to stop the Gem, they rip up all his comics, upsetting Steven immensely. They make it up to him by creating a new original comic together, which he loves. Notable: The comic-making roles were as follows: Pearl wrote the comic, Amethyst drew it, and Garnet colored it!
Variant covers: For issue 1 there were NINE variant covers included! 1. The Gems having a picnic on the temple's hand. 2. Steven and Connie in a bubble. 3. Steven and Peedee playing video games while Connie reads and the Gems fight a Centipeetle. 4. The Gems are working on Greg's hair. (Garnet's tying it in a bow, Pearl's braiding it, and Amethyst is standing by with scissors.) 5. Pearl showing Steven how to sword-fight. 6. San Diego Comic Con exclusive: Opal and Garnet are fighting while Steven lies on Lion reading comics. 7. Baltimore con exclusive: The Gems are at a fair. 8. Galaxy nucleus: The Gems and Greg are pictured with Rose in the background. 9. The Gems are watching a meteor shower with a telescope.
For issue 2 there were THREE variant covers. 1. The Gems' midair fighting poses are shown against a pastel background. 2. The Gems are walking on a path in a forest of chopped-down pillars. 3. The Gems are swimming with Amethyst supporting Steven on a surfboard.
For issue 3 there were THREE variant covers. 1. Garnet and Pearl are looking angry as Steven and Amethyst return to shore in a busted-up boat. 2. Steven and Connie are reading Lion-related comics. 3. Steven and Connie are riding a roller coaster. Onion is in front of them. A four-armed fusion is dancing in the background against shooting stars.
For issue 4 there were THREE variant covers. 1. Steven staring up at the clouds and all of them look like fast food. 2. Garnet poses with electric circles around her hands. 3. The Gems are riding bikes downhill. Steven is in the lead with Amethyst behind him, and Pearl and Garnet are on a tandem bike with only Pearl pedaling. ...more
I finally got to read the copy of this book that I got when I went to the North American Asexuality Conference in Toronto in 2015. And though I'd readI finally got to read the copy of this book that I got when I went to the North American Asexuality Conference in Toronto in 2015. And though I'd read most of its text in bits and pieces through the Asexuality Archive site, I wanted to see how it worked as a book.
I like it better as a website in bite-sized chunks. Since a lot of the topics overlap each other and the author makes some of the same points in some of the same ways, it can be a little repetitious when reading all at once, but I don't honestly hold that against it too much--especially since books like this might be read out of order. I think the best thing is the humorous, light tone; you feel like you're hearing a real perspective from a real person, which makes it pretty easy to read. And you kind of want to hang out with the author and play video games or talk about nerdy stuff. If you're that kind of nerd. (I am.)
Now, other than the good stuff about the personality and the relatability, how does it stand up as an informational book? Fairly well, though I have some thoughts on how it could have been better. It's an intro and it knows it's an intro. It covers fairly basic topics, sometimes several times, in accessible language, and it does a good job reminding readers that attitudes vary across the community and across the spectrum on several axes. By the time we're done reading, we know some asexual people enjoy sex, some don't, and some won't try it (and it's all okay). We know some asexual people masturbate and some don't, some fantasize and some don't, some watch porn and some don't, some are religious and some aren't, some want relationships and some don't, some have sex-positive attitudes and some don't.
That's really good, and I think asexual people reading this when they don't know much (or anything) about asexuality might be relieved to see the sections about ace experiences that they will relate to--making up crushes so they can fit in, wondering why you don't think anyone's hot, feeling like everyone's talking about something totally uninteresting, worrying that not being sexually attracted to someone will make them think you don't love them, feeling like sex scenes in media are unnecessary and practically random--that sort of thing. (I totally used to skim the sex scenes in books thinking "okay, they're still boning--when do we get back to the story"--not even realizing that to a lot of people, those were the "good parts"!) And the history info on asexual symbols (the cake, the flag, the ace ring) actually told me some things I didn't already know.
I do have some gentle criticism, though. Probably the most significant thing I'd change was the gender terminology problem throughout the book. Having a penis was pretty consistently conflated with being a man or being male, and having a vagina and a uterus (and periods) was pretty consistently conflated with being a woman or being female--and though nods to agender and neutrois and other nonbinary identities did occur in the book (as well as mentions of being transgender), there were really frequent associations of "male anatomy" and whatnot with gender, and certain arousal experiences with being male, etc. A list of reasons for masturbation included "For women, it can help with period pain" and "For men, it can help with embarrassing issues like spontaneous erections or nocturnal emissions." And phrases like "opposite gender" to describe heterosexual orientations and "both genders" to describe bisexual orientations seemed strange for a book whose author clearly acknowledged the existence of other genders elsewhere. This isn't a problem JUST because a huge percentage of nonbinary people exist in the asexual community; cis people shouldn't be seeing gender in these terms either.
That was probably the biggest issue I had with it because it recurred throughout. But other than that, I'd say sometimes the defenses for or explanations for objections to asexuality were dismissive in one-dimensional ways; the misconceptions section was especially opaque sometimes, like when it said taking hormone supplements categorically doesn't change anything for people who are asexual (even though some asexual people do find that hormones might change their perspective on orientation; I've especially heard that narrative from a subsection of trans people in the community). I would have liked to see more nuance there, and I know the author is capable of it since he does stuff like referring to asexual people having functional genitals and throws in a mention that when an asexual person does NOT have functional genitals, that is not the sole definitive factor of them being asexual.
There are several places where non-asexual people especially might find the author's description of them unflattering, and that could be alienating for people who are trying to learn about asexuality from the book without personal experience or background knowledge. When sarcastically poking holes in misconceptions about asexual people, the author has a tendency to say stuff like "It doesn't mean that they want to be alone forever. It just means that they don't see someone and immediately want to jump their bones." That "immediately jumping their bones" thing comes up a couple times, and though we get that he's kidding and that he understands non-asexual people aren't always lusting after everyone they see or desiring sex with everyone they think is attractive, it's odd that this is contrasted with being asexual.
A couple other smaller things that are just personal pet peeves: He uses the "born this way" narrative (which I don't like for various reasons), and there's a REALLY HEAVY focus on sexual experience and masturbation, and at one point the author describes being asexual as "it's like being straight except I'm not into women," which I didn't understand unless "like being straight" is supposed to be understood as a default, neutral state (and I don't consider someone straight unless they're attracted to cross-sex partners). Writing-wise, the book was quite well-written except that the author has a comma splicing habit and once used "lead" when he meant "led."
But as mentioned, I did like how personal it felt, like someone was willing to let you see a no-holds-barred honest slice of their life to help you understand his asexuality experience, and the sort of off-the-wall personality can really make you chuckle sometimes. (I particularly liked when he made a list of the things he'd rather be doing besides doing sex.) Reading his weird little journey and relating to the atypical but very accessible descriptions of his life can make an asexual person feel like whatever they might have been through, someone else was there once too and came out on the other side happy with his identity. I do recommend a glance through the website and understanding the book as separate essays rather than a cohesive book....more
Now this is how you do it. This is how you write science fiction.
I'm not a science geek, and though I'm a little bit of a space nerd, many of this booNow this is how you do it. This is how you write science fiction.
I'm not a science geek, and though I'm a little bit of a space nerd, many of this book's technical details and physics descriptions were way out of my range of understanding. It didn't matter. There was more than enough context to understand the what and the why even if you couldn't follow the how. Mark's story of surviving on Mars was incredibly entertaining and thrilling while not being constantly scary (which tends to make books too stressful for me if they never let up on the tension). And I loved that there was such a human element here. Most of the story was about the actual physical issues associated with Mark trying not to die, but his humor was usually wacky enough that I could enjoy him despite his having no one else to bounce off of while not feeling too much like he was performing for the narration if you know what I mean. (That said, I was not a huge fan of a couple of his jokes--for instance, "tell them to f themselves" is fine and funny, but "tell them their mothers are prostitutes, and their sisters too" felt unnecessary, though I got that that was just part of his character.)
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised that on the very rare occasions that Mark sank into his thoughts, there was never any cliché mooning about for Her. Some people will know what I mean by that; it's almost inevitable that any story about a male hero will have the character wallowing in Missing Her or fantasizing about Her--the wife, the girlfriend, or the wish-she-was-my-girlfriend. There was ZERO of that in this book. Mark thought about missing women ONE time, sort of jokingly thinking about how long it had been since he'd gotten any, but for once we have a dude protagonist whose homesickness and drive to get back to Earth isn't about an absent woman. He just wants to live because he wants to live. It's so refreshing. His rare but well-placed introspection focused on being alone on a whole planet and so far from home in the quiet moments, and being the first and only to do so many things.
I loved his jokes about naming stuff after himself, being the king of Mars because he planted potatoes there, and needing a new unit of measure because "kilometers-per-Martian-day" was unwieldy so he decided to call that unit "one pirate-ninja." What a nerd. Haha. (I liked the NASA scientists too--calling a secret meeting and referring to it as project Elrond.) On another note, all the equipment required to keep people alive on Mars was amazing, and the precision necessary to keep it from becoming lethal was intimidating. Just goes to show you what phenomenal risks people take to go to space. I'm not enough of a space nerd to figure out whether all of this author's scenarios make sense, but it sounded really authentic to me--like you know how every science fiction book and movie has those science nerds who pick it apart and claim various parts of it are impossible? It was WRITTEN by one of those guys.
I especially liked how the story didn't do all the expected things. There are certain heroics and story manipulations that are par for the course, and he generally didn't do them. There wasn't an Only One Way to do things, and there wasn't an Absolute Nick of Time rescue; Mark did come pretty close to starving on Mars, but he didn't get to the absolute end of his food supply and he didn't Find A Way to do everything he wanted (like taking his rock samples home, etc.). I loved that he knew when to listen to NASA and when to just ignore them, and that his ideas didn't always miraculously work, and that silly coincidences weren't the basis for everything that went right, and that little extra details filtered in here and there that were interesting enough that I thought they were going to be plot points but they weren't. (Mark struggling with whether to take a detour and investigate some abandoned equipment from a previous mission is a particularly good example.) I was so excited when NASA figured out Mark was alive (and pleased that there would be some variety in the storytelling since I wasn't 100% sure I would love a whole novel narrated the way Mark narrates), and worried on his behalf when he was heading into a dust storm and everyone on Earth knew but he didn't, and impressed that the politics on Earth and the obsession with bringing Mark home alive were so true to life. For the time he was stuck on Mars there was even a specific segment of the news devoted to updates on his situation, and it was so typical for humans to ask first for Mark's status report and second for a photograph to accompany the news story. Andy Weir really nailed human nature there.
You can read this book even if you don't like science fiction, but you'll especially like it if you're the particular space geek type of SF fan.
Ahh, good old Sam and Max. I read many of the issues in this book when I was a teenager, and I finally got around to reading this book with all of theAhh, good old Sam and Max. I read many of the issues in this book when I was a teenager, and I finally got around to reading this book with all of them. Now, the first thing you need to know about this book is that you will not find philosophical revelations, touching character development, electrifying plots, competent villains that are thrillingly defeated, or really anything except Sam and Max running around wreaking havoc. That's it. They find out about a poorly conceived crime or vaguely defined supernatural creature; they find it; they punch it or drown it or have it disemboweled; and they they probably go eat delicious food and have a laugh. There is nothing here except zany cartoon ridiculousness in the form of a fun-loving doggie cop in a trench coat and an eternally grinning, always-naked bunny who may either carry a weapon or BE a weapon.
There is no consistency. There is no plot. There is no character arc. There is just a bunch of stuff happening and it makes no sense. Sometimes they go to Ancient Egypt with no explanation to go kick something's butt, or they'll go on an unnecessary road trip and wreck their car, or they'll destroy a volcano-worshiping cult by plugging the sacrifice pit with Max's head. And then there are the running gags: Max wears no clothes so where DOES he keep that gun; Sam says "You crack me up little buddy!" when Max does something horrifying; Sam eats a popsicle; Max's absurd proportions (especially his head) are lovingly invoked in conversation. And the art is cartoony, ridiculous, and frequently a bit disturbing.
It's not something I would usually like. It's stupid.
But I think what really makes it for me is the cleverness of the dialogue. There's just no reason for it to be this funny, but the one-liners just kill me. I would laugh at these until I choked because they'd surprise me so much. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. "Hey kids, plan on spending some time in federal prison?"
2. "We would have bought you all presents but it never even occurred to us."
3. [When Sam and Max are very close to being killed:] "I'm alarmed!"
4. "Here's an experiment you can do! Leave a bag of bread on top of the refrigerator for a long time. It will eventually turn grey and taste bad. Now throw it into the street."
5. "An Elvis-shaped whiskey decanter so you can drink from the neck hole of the King!"
6. [While Sam handles a sack labeled "Bag O' Ham":] "I don't know what this is, but I want it. It feels neat."
7. [When Max is asked for his beverage order:] "Dishwater! And put it in a dirty glass!"
8. [A tattoo artist suggests a tattoo design:] "What about a snake eating a rat with the caption 'Born to watch my snake eat a rat'?"
9. "And that's the story of the Little Engine who gave up because nobody loved him. Goodnight Max!"
10. "This is the most fun I've ever had without being drenched in the blood of my enemies!"
11. "Halloween! I love any holiday that successfully combines ancient Druidic rituals with teeny tiny snicker-bars."...more
You know, it's really nice to see a book where you really believe the characters are in love once in a while. That goes double for books about men inYou know, it's really nice to see a book where you really believe the characters are in love once in a while. That goes double for books about men in love with each other in settings you normally wouldn't see (they're soldiers!). The absolute best thing about this book is that you don't doubt that Sergius loves Bacchus and Bacchus loves Sergius, and their longing for each other while they're apart is definitely palpable; I like that Sergius has nightmares about Bacchus getting killed while yearning for his return, and I love that the author did a really good job with the pacing on their separations (especially the first one, where Sergius does not find the man who saved him on the battlefield until a good two years after they first met). It's not just "wah, I miss him." Their bond leaked into Sergius's every waking thought, and their presentation together was a good mix of physical attraction and emotional tenderness.
I also like the way the author uses description. I usually don't care that much about what people or settings look like, because I'm not a visual reader, but the author has a good sense for how much to describe something to actually give you a sense of the place or person without lingering on it like the background or character is posing for its closeup if you know what I mean. (We all know authors who don't know when to quit with the adjectives.) Oh, and it was cool that Sergius was a soldier that did not in fact love battle. He abhors death and violence even as a competent soldier, doesn't relish killing at all. That made him relatable.
But truth be told, despite liking a couple things about it, I didn't really like the story very much. The overarching idea is okay: Sergius meets Bacchus while defending Julian, he continues to be adviser to Caesar while advancing his career and searching for his love, he establishes a relationship with Bacchus and learns what he's living for, he has a faith crisis, and he ultimately has to learn how to reflect his true values with his actions when his morals are challenged. Some of the faith messages were heavy-handed and it sometimes felt convoluted to me, especially since at first Sergius and Bacchus were concerned about the possibility of converting to the Galilean faith because it might shame them into giving up what they love most but later they seem to credit said faith for sustaining and inspiring their relationship (even though they had it far before they even considered conversion). I love the message that love is what living is for and I liked the search for a love that can transcend death, but the way this message was presented here didn't move me because the words felt more like the characters had become mouthpieces for it. Some of the conversations felt like "no, you can't do that, it's against scripture" / "but Yeshu would want us to embrace love!" / "oh okay well I guess that's all right then."
But no comparable love-based exception was extended to the supposed fairer sex in this book. I don't know quite how to put this but I had this feeling while reading it that I was meant to agree uncritically that women are beneath men and are not full human beings. I could certainly pick up that all of the characters felt this way, and it's hard not to read it as a central message of the book when the narration consistently found unnecessary ways of bringing up how inferior women are. The worst thing that can happen to a man is that he might be treated like a woman; if one man has sex with another then the real problem with that is that one could be seen as feminine. Caesar was spitting with rage at the idea that someone could even suggest he wear some of his wife's jewels for a coronation because that would taint him with female filth; the phrase he used was "Keep my wife's feminine trinkets away from me!" Someone mentions that he'd like to talk about his family, including his daughters, and slides in "even if they are just females." Crying is for girls. Womanliness is the most horrific insult that could be delivered to a man.
The women on screen are simpering, silly, mewling creatures who aren't really people. In a couple places you see sex workers in a brothel and all they do is cower or jockey for attention, and though Sergius wanted to protect one that was a virgin, his only protection was agreeing to not personally have sex with her. (News flash, Sergius: you didn't save her from anything by not being the one to personally deflower her.) Other women, like Helena (Julian's wife), are only shown to think about desiring men, dressing pretty, and having babies, but they're too dim to even be able to figure out where to sit down without a man to tell them what to do. The featured women's inability to function is portrayed as typical, and women basically do not exist in this story except to cause inconvenience to men as they chafe and struggle to tolerate their illogical, vapid values. And of course women also exist to die as a way of forwarding male character development, which was so odd to read since Julian clearly seethed with hatred and was disgusted by his wife but was also somehow destroyed by her fate. She didn't do anything but ruin a great man and inspire a message about how vulnerable love makes a person, which was then transferred onto Sergius and Bacchus's relationship as Julian became critical of it.
We did have one inspiring female character: Macrina. (Though even she as a Galilean leader had to have her thinking on her religion straightened out by guys who were just learning about it, but to be fair Sergius does use his protagonist guy powers to correct everyone, not just the ladies.) What's notable about having one female leader in a book where other women are lesser humans is that the text explicitly marked her as exceptional for a woman. There was a specific line that told us she was not like other women and had distinguished herself through her extraordinary virtue and wisdom as being above her station. Men who are better than other men aren't "better than a man" in this book, but if a woman is smart or good, it's indicated as weird for a woman to be that cool, you know? It really bothered me and I wish I could say it was a minor thing but it really wasn't. In a book where femininity is horrifying and explicitly used several times to shame men as the ultimate insult to their humanity, I was not happy about seeing a competent woman who was not used to challenge these assumptions. She doesn't teach us that there is no law that says women aren't disgusting and beneath men; she's just a special character who is portrayed as great despite her femaleness and has overcome inherent flaws attached to being a woman. Good female characters generally aren't shown as having transcended their womanhood to be great, but the text literally said that's what she did, and we still don't have to question men's superiority.
And of course as a person who is an editor I can't not complain about the poor editing on this book. There were literally hundreds of mistakes in the text, as though it had not been run through a spell checker much less an editor. Misspelled or invented words popped up all over the place ("savoir" is not the same thing as "savior"). There were dozens of instances of homophone confusion (reins/reigns, lead/led, bridal/bridle, taught/taut, its/it's, than/then, cord/chord)--and it wasn't the occasional mistake, because the wrong one was used much more often than the right one. Possessives were consistently used incorrectly (stuff like "Sergius took Bacchus hand"). Incorrect words were substituted when a similar word was clearly the intended term, and this happened a LOT. "Equestrian" was once used instead of "equine"; a horse cannot have an equestrian body part. "Dolling" was used instead of "doling"; you can be "dolling" only if you're dolling someone up, as in making them like a doll. "Arian" was used instead of "Aryan" to describe Bacchus's features, and I know it was meant to be Aryan because it was used correctly a few times too (which also weirded me out). At one point Sergius was said to be "opining for winter," but "opining" means giving one's opinion. There were incorrect plurals, sometimes with apostrophe + S used to indicate more than one of something. And there were tons of glitches like extra letters and people's names being spelled wrong, and quotation marks being forgotten at the end of dialogue. Plus there was my good old friend the unnecessary speech tags; people will say "sorry" and the tag is "he apologized," or they'll offer a compliment and then get tagged "he complimented," or be invited with a tag "he invited," which is always one of my pet peeves because if a piece of dialogue IS an apology, a compliment, or an invitation, the narration does not need to tell me so. (And maybe it's just a personal beef but I got very sick of seeing Sergius's "ebony locks" and Bacchus's "amethyst eyes.") If I see these sorts of problems to this extent in a published book I feel like I'm reading a first draft, and then I don't relax and enjoy it; I read it like an editor instead and sit there on edge watching errors pop out at me. It's extremely distracting and sometimes confusing if the incorrect possessives or misused words are egregious enough that I can't figure out what's being said until I read it over a couple times.
There were also bits where the narration telegraphed stuff to us and then tried to set it up for a reveal, like when Bacchus was preventing a rape or Bacchus was getting tortured and Sergius somehow became really obtuse about who was in front of him because the reveal was coming. Sometimes there were simple editing glitches that could have been caught by a good developmental editor, like one time there was a scene where the narration described five place settings but then six people were eating at the table. And while I like when characters struggle with their faith and I like Sergius's inspiration for wanting to embrace the Galilean faith, it felt externalized somehow--like the Galilean faith idea led him instead of him leading his own authentic exploration of faith. The switch was very abrupt for something he ended up defending so deeply, and his makeshift wedding wasn't as heartfelt as I wanted it to be (or as touching as some of their other moments together). Finally, his relationship with Julian confused me throughout. Julian dropped accolades on Sergius for bravely defending him even though there were many other soldiers who did so and got hurt doing so, and though I guess his philosopher nature was special to Julian, the ascent of Sergius to one of Julian's top dogs and subsequent interaction never felt like it quite matched the statements of loyalty Sergius himself uttered in his narration. I found nearly all of the interactions Sergius had with others to be a little stiff and a little disconnected from his thoughts. It might have benefited from a bit more intimacy with Sergius's inner voice, which the author did occasionally demonstrate that he has the chops to do.
I think I would recommend this book to people who are particularly interested in this historical setting and might be familiar with the saints who inspired it, but for me it wasn't much of a character novel and a lot of the things I described as frustrating me or bothering me were just too much for me to say I actively enjoyed reading it....more
Here we have Arin Andrews, a trans guy who was kind enough to invite us into his world. And though he's trans and that's unfamiliar to a lot of peopleHere we have Arin Andrews, a trans guy who was kind enough to invite us into his world. And though he's trans and that's unfamiliar to a lot of people, his life is about as ordinary as can be, complete with relationship troubles, school stress, prom disasters, and self-consciousness. What's extraordinary about him--and about his journey--is the ease with which he invites us into his world without pretense, refusing to cast himself as "inspirational" while still acknowledging that he knows people will look up to him as he looks up to others who paved the way for him.
I really remembered what it was like to be a teenager when I read his book. I wasn't trans, but I had similar issues with feeling like I was trapped sometimes and that weird feeling of desperation that seems so pointless now--this feeling like you're going to be stuck as a kid forever and other people are always going to control your life, and this bursting sense of impatience and despair that comes with not being able to be YOU. As an adult, it's tempting to look back and say "where was that even coming from?" and "why was I so anxious about it?" but that is your whole reality when you're a teen, and anybody who would try to stand over you and tell you your feelings aren't serious or aren't real or lack perspective would just be part of the problem. This is how teenagers are and it is not silly. It is why trans kids who don't have support commit suicide so often.
I loved that his mom eventually came around and became supportive, and I love that he acknowledged this doesn't happen for everyone and how lucky he is. I love that he acknowledged the heteronormativity and white privilege associated with his and Katie's presentation in the media (how they were "safe" and his disappointment with the way the media never picked up on the other trans kids' stories from his social group), and I love that he always felt a sense of relating to masculinity but didn't really know what to call it. It's a nice break from that "I always knew I was [x gender]" narrative that's so common, even though in a way it was also true for him. He acknowledged the gray area and the murkiness and the effectiveness of the messages that cast him as a girl (and put him in beauty contests and dance lessons!). And I also appreciated that he was aware of his mother's difficulties with his journey too, and that he still realized what her problematic behavior meant while still understanding that it was hard for her.
The book really was everything I was hoping for. It's just so easy to read and presents his childhood, transition, frustrations, and problems both mundane and extraordinary in such an accessible tone that it just seemed like one of the most "real" books I've read. Especially since it contrasted his real life with the media presentation of him. I do a lot of awareness activism for asexuality, and I can't even tell you how many times my name has been associated with a headline that makes me want to crawl under something or how many times I've had well-meaning and kind media representatives interview me for something that turned out so misleading. He labeled these as cheesy or incorrect or sensationalistic without having a rant about it--it came across like "ugh, God, whatever"--and I also loved that his relationships and attraction experiences remained complex, reminding us that now he just gets to be a young man and that's hard by itself even without transitioning and dealing with transphobia. He pinged the milestones and celebrated them and sometimes fixated them, but he didn't make those things seem like they WERE the whole journey.
There is also a helpful trans resources section in the back and a nice guideline to talking to/about trans people. I was already aware of all the pointers, but I recognize that even after reading Arin's book some people might not understand why it's not appropriate to say "when you were a girl" and whatnot. The book is primarily an autobiography and a nice peek in to one trans kid's life, but I'm sure it gets presented as a resource book or an educational tool all the time, so it's good to explicitly declare those pointers at the end even though for the most part it's a useful book because we learn through his eyes....more
Rubyfruit Jungle is one of those books everyone tells you you HAVE to read if you want to claim you know anything about lesbian literature. I finallyRubyfruit Jungle is one of those books everyone tells you you HAVE to read if you want to claim you know anything about lesbian literature. I finally read it and I can see why; it's certainly a pioneering work of fiction from a time when life for queer people was totally different--though some things have remained depressingly the same. And I have to say I really enjoyed Molly's character; she was such a wise-ass and didn't give a damn what anyone thought of her, and that was nice to see for someone who would usually have internalized anti-queer shame from early in her life and learned to be very quiet. She was loud and proud and she got what she wanted, and it was entertaining to watch her try.
The things I didn't like--besides the racial slurs that were probably a product of the time and place but still made me wince--were mostly associated with the weird sort of blanket statements she made about how men are just gross in bed or women who get married and have kids don't have a meaningful or worthwhile life because they're just shepherds of the next generation without inherent value, and the way she stereotyped butch lesbians was kind of strange because her thoughts were basically like "ugh I'm not like THEM, they're like men" even though she didn't appreciate when her college friends conflated her queerness with her athleticism and supposed masculine traits. Sometimes there was some mild kink-shaming too; several fantasies one of Molly's partners had were portrayed as weird and indicative of her having "issues," and also got attached to the inherent repression and twistedness of straight people. I also didn't like that even though Molly had struggles of her own, certain things just fell into her lap and she basically crows regularly about how she never studies and always gets the best of every single thing. She's smart without effort and so pretty that people keep remarking on it (sometimes in the context of "but why be gay when you could have any man!!"). I'm just glad she was poor so there was a disadvantage that she faced in the world besides being a lesbian, though even that is portrayed as something that completely wasn't in her control and therefore helped make her a sympathetic victim. That said, I personally was quite amused by her brashness and her refusal to apologize for her existence. I don't know how believable it is, but I liked seeing it in a character.
Overall it was just very readable and entertaining, even though if you try to describe the plot the closest you can get is saying Molly wants to go to film school without compromising her ideals or her identity, and she tries to do so and ends up meeting only some of her goals and desires. A few bits I thought were especially amusing:
She once shares an observation when male relatives are comforting each other after a death with something like "I had never seen men hold each other. I thought they were only allowed to shake hands or fight." Nice! Also, someone in the story tells her you HAVE to get married because it's just something you have to do, like dying. I liked that when she was a child she was told that her going to medical school would lead to being a nurse, not a doctor, because only boys could be doctors and she wasn't going to change anything or get anywhere as a female child. And finally I liked when a woman asked her "How do you know about lesbian bars?" and she just frankly answered, "I'm a lesbian." It was just really funny how she was happy to be an exception to assumptions about queer people and refused to be secretive about it, and she wasn't afraid to call people out on their misconceptions. Sometimes she did so awfully eloquently (and other people who weren't supposed to be as smart as her could sometimes be just as eloquent), but it was fun nonetheless--especially when she was being cross-examined by a straight woman who just suddenly sprayed ignorance all over her when asking her 101 questions.
Molly's experience as an outsider who refuses to let her queerness completely define her or hold her back was really fun to read and I imagine it is inspiring for many other outsiders. I wish I had read it when I was a kid....more
This book doesn't really have a plot, and let me be the first to say that's okay. I'm more tolerant than most of books that are more about a characterThis book doesn't really have a plot, and let me be the first to say that's okay. I'm more tolerant than most of books that are more about a character's personal growth than about what they accomplish story-wise, externally. But to be perfectly honest, I didn't have much fun with this book or much connection to the protagonist, Davis. What I did like was that he had quite a few relatable characteristics that rang true to real-life experience; he had an anecdote that rang really true about how he is extra careful to avoid getting food on himself and hates it when he does (because of what people assume about fat people with food stains on their clothes). I liked his obsession with opera, and I liked the description of the different ways his mom smells after baking and the different kinds of laughs people have. The mean-girl politics were quite true-to-life without seeming contrived, and I like this one line he has about how he's done so many things wrong at a get-together that he feels like he might as well go punch somebody's dog. But overall, I just didn't much care for the book.
It felt a little too spacey, a little too unfocused for me to care about what was going on. I love seeing characters like Davis, but I think we were in his head a little TOO much sometimes, and the thoughts were really, really spelled out and often went on way too long. I would have liked to have picked up on some of these thoughts of his through more subtle interaction and presentation. I was irritated by this weird tendency to give significant things Capital Letters--the first half especially was littered with these--and there were several places where references to characters' "diversity" seemed random, as if they were there just to tell us "guess what, we have a black friend, and a deaf little sister, and a character who's neurodivergent in some way," with the text making these odd veers to the side to mention them. (Particularly weird to me was that right after a character's being black was revealed, the black girl suggested--as if this is a usual thing to say--that her blackness matched another character's black shoes. What? And I'm super uncomfortable with the deaf little sister being described as being "like a little puppy.") I also did not expect to see a book with a fat main character containing a sentence about how Davis is not THAT fat, just a little husky, because he's not gross or anything. I just didn't quite know what to think.
This book does well at capturing a certain essence of kids' transitions into young adults that most books don't quite hit; that incredible awkwardness was preserved very well and frequently rendered in believable interactions. But Davis spends the majority of this book wandering around being angsty about his friends leaving him out and whether they're doing it on purpose and he takes some of it out on his family in ways that felt odd--there's so much internal narration that I expected the connection between those two problem spheres in his life to be more explicit. And though I appreciate the relationships being messy, I felt like I was reading something that was usually realistic but not really what I would consider interesting subject matter for a whole book. I would have liked to see Davis with less internal monologue and more as a part of something happening outside his head, but I know that's just not the kind of book it is. I did find the style pretty easy to read, but I'd be lying if I said I was never mildly bored. A character can sometimes carry the story all by himself, but in this case I think the character was just carrying himself, without really worrying about the story part....more
For what it was, this pedantic whinge turned useful book was decent. I'm a huge language nerd and I usually really like reading books that discuss howFor what it was, this pedantic whinge turned useful book was decent. I'm a huge language nerd and I usually really like reading books that discuss how and where and why we should use our writing skills in more effective and comprehensible ways. However, I have to admit I was a little bored reading it even though this sort of thing is usually right up my alley. I think the list format in each chapter made it more a desk reference book to look up types of errors as needed rather than functioning as a cover-to-cover read. I'd recommend it more for people who want to have it around to look up whether their pet peeves are in there and shove it in the faces of people who insist on pompously misusing "whom" or "so-and-so AND I" when they're not supposed to.
That said, I sometimes found the corrections a little baffling. Sometimes they were incomplete, assuming more knowledge of English geekery than a person who needs this correction would have. And sometimes the entries over-explained or explained in confusing ways (that last especially when the text contrasted two similar words and chose to put them in the same sentence; cute for those who get it, but not so cute for those who truly don't understand why those frequently confused words aren't interchangeable). It usually felt more like a manual for those of us already in on the joke, and not so much for those who wanted to use it as a guide.
Also, I sometimes disagreed with the advice. There's a section called "Redundancies" in which many phrases or terms are identified as redundant, like "ATM machine" (because ATM stands for "automatic teller machine," so you're essentially saying "automatic teller machine machine"), or "completely surrounded" when "surrounded" already implies the "complete" bit. In this section, the phrase "anonymous stranger" was identified as redundant. But I can completely see how someone who is not anonymous--a person whose name you know but have never met--could still completely be a stranger. Same situation with "breaking and entering" being identified as redundant. You can break without entering, and you can enter without breaking. I don't know why saying someone did both is supposedly redundant.
Other mistakes bothered me too. I'm being incredibly picky about mistakes in this book because a book like this literally has no other purpose except to tell people they're doing language wrong, so it should have spectacular editing. It did not. The section for pronunciation frequently had glitches in which syllable receives emphasis (sometimes indicating, with capitals, the syllable that is frequently mispronounced, while nearly all other times the capitals just indicate emphasis like usual). The italics sometimes missed part of a phrase that they should have included, like when the text discussed why "the hoi polloi" is incorrect and the word "the" was not included even though it was the point.
More mistakes! A particular quote bugged me: "The British sometimes say DIFFERENT TO and some people even say DIFFERENT TO. FROM is normally preferred." If you read that sentence, it looks like they're saying the British aren't people, because they're referring to two groups that might both say "different to." I believe the second one was supposed to be "DIFFERENT THAN."
The phrase "per se" was discussed in the misspellings section. It identified "perse" as the common mistake. I've literally never seen that (though I'm sure people do it); what I've seen far more often is people writing "per say" or "persay." I don't know why the book didn't take the opportunity to mention those errors when it was identifying the common mistakes.
Sometimes the book would explain a rule and then use an example that did not demonstrate the rule. Example:
If quoted matter ends with a question mark or exclamation point, these are placed inside quotation marks: John asked, "When's dinner?" But if it is the enclosing sentence which asks the question, then the question mark comes after the quotation marks: What did she mean, John wondered, by asking "When can you come?"
Like, both of those are the same situation. Question mark inside the quotes as part of a question John spoke or wondered. A better example would have been something like this:
What did she mean, John wondered, by saying "I hope you come soon"?
There were a slew of commonly misspelled words offered with their usual misspelling, but apparently their spell-check program corrected the misspellings here and there, resulting in these:
1. octopus NOT: octopus 2. receive NOT: receive 3. recommend NOT: recommend 4. similar NOT: similar 5. weird NOT: weird
And finally, I did really like that occasionally the author did identify controversies or multiple correct options, like with the bit about spaces in ellipses and certain phrases that have been corrupted to the point of becoming more common than their original forms (and are now accepted by Webster's or Oxford). But there was one that really irritated me. It mentioned a racial slur--gyp--and explicitly identified it as being offensive to some people because it implies that "gypsies" steal and cheat. And then the book stated uncritically that the word is "too entrenched" to be dropped from the lexicon. I'm pretty sure Romani, Rromani, and other groups who are frequently described by this word would be pretty disgusted (as am I) to learn that deeply offensive words are just too much a part of our culture to worry about whether we're offending them. I didn't see the book saying anything similar about "jew" being used as a slur for "jewing someone down" (an offensive term some people use to suggest aggressive, unfair haggling results in a rip-off perpetrated by a selfish, miserly person). And I certainly didn't see it offer any shoutouts for other racial epithets. I find it really strange that the book mentioned some people find the term offensive, why they find it offensive, and then proceeded to basically say "but this is actually okay because it can't really be helped so there you go." Not cool....more