Friday, September 30, 2016

Delicious porn

Megan Rose Gedris got her book, Eat Me, funded on Kickstarter. I supported it, I got the book, and I'm super happy. I donated at a level that got me two books, Eat Me and Darlin' it's Betta. Darlin' it's Betta is more of what you'd traditionally expect when you hear the word "porn" - it doesn't have much plot but it has a TON of sex. Eat Me also has a lot of sex but also has a much deeper level of story that pulls you along and makes the sex more tantalizing as you're taking a break between erotic scenes.

The story is that Rhonda, a low-level employee at a pharmaceutical company, gets a secret formula spilled on her that sends her into a universe where all the food for human is sentient people who need to be seduced before they'll allow a bit of themselves to be eaten. It's a really adorable take on vampire mythology where humans become the supernatural monsters. There ARE bad humans in the foodiverse who will eat the food folks without consent and Rhonda teams up with Lisa to fight the big bad monsters to protect the food folks.

There's more to it but I don't want to spoil anything because the plot is fun to work through and the sex becomes secondary to the story for a large part of the book. There's also a really sweet little love story that is a nice element which builds slowly and makes the book more of a fulfilling meal than just a sugar rush.

Also it's incredibly beautiful - the imagination and artistry that went into creating a sexy food universe is brilliant and really is a great example of why I like Megan Rose Gedris so much as an artist and author. She goes a step further than just straight-up porn and turns it into an immersive experience that switches from high-contrast black-and-white to vibrant, full color pages. It's just fantastic from beginning to end and I can't recommend her work enough - go buy some!

     - Alli

Gedris, Megan Rose. Eat Me. Rosalarian. Chicago: Illinois. 2016.

Great genre mixing

If you like funny books but have trouble finding funny novels I can't recommend enough. Aside from the fact that it's a hilarious humor site it's also a fantastic place to find authors because the Cracked writers are constantly getting book deals.

Chris Bucholz writes bad advice columns and funny articles for Cracked, he's also written a novel called Severance about a generation ship from Earth traveling to an Earth-like planet a couple of hundred years in the future. The novel is a combination of science fiction, murder mystery, comedy, and action/adventure. It's sort of an inverted Sherlock Holmes thing, actually, with minor criminals solving a major crime that could change the future of the human race as a whole.

The story jumps to different points in the process of moving from Earth to a new planet which gives a really interesting perspective on the history set up by the story. There is also a great background discussion of the issues of genetic diversity that would become a problem on any realistic colonizing journey, which is handled very well and brings up the ethics of gene tampering and that's exactly the kind of geeky theoretical ethical dilemma I'm here for.

I really liked the characters and history of the ship, I think a lot of work went into building a believable world. I enjoyed the novel as a whole but it was little details like meat-trees and faulty thermometers that helped create an element of realism for such a speculative setting.

I'd love to see more novels from Bucholz in the future, and I'd definitely be open to reading more of his work.

     - Alli

Bucholz, Chris. Severance. Apex Publications. Lexington: Kentucky. 2014.

Sexy mermaids for miles

I've reviewed Megan Gedris' work before - she's great, click on any part of this sentence to go to her website and buy stuff from her. I recently participated in a Kickstarter campaign for her new book Eat Me, but I purchased a bundle that included her graphic novel Darlin' it's Betta Down Where it's Wetta, which is a story about a girl and a mermaid coming together for sexytimes and then coming together.

It's great! It's beautiful, it's sexy, it's erotic, it's full of lovely illustrated vaginas having a great time getting tickled, titillated, and teased by tentacles. There is some plot, there is a story that progresses, but the story is secondary to watching a whole bunch of women have a great time pleasuring each other and themselves.

If you like women, if you like women who love women, if you like porn, and if you like graphic novel versions of all of the above this is 100% something that you should check out.

Also A+ for including stunning, sexual fat women. I always enjoy it when there are diverse body-types in porn but it felt very special that the main character through the whole comic was a fat woman who enjoyed discovering her body and how to pleasure herself.

There's not a whole lot else to say - this is all just a fun story about sexy girls getting laid.

And it's great!

     - Alli

Gedris, Megan Rose. Darlin' it's Betta Down Where it's Wetta. Rosalarian. Grand Rapids:
     Michigan. 2012

Institutionalized Paranoia

I read Michael Barkun's A Culture of Conspiracy earlier this year and enjoyed the academic look into the world of conspiracists; because I enjoyed that book (and because I am fascinated by the conspiracist mindset) I purchased Chasing Phantoms, which I believed was a book about the growth of a new conspiracist movement since September 11th 2001 - that is not at all what the book was about but just because I bought the wrong book doesn't mean that it wasn't provocative and compelling.

Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11 explores the other side of the coin that Barkun presented in A Culture of Conspiracy. One book takes a look into a paranoid citizenry who sees shadows in their governments, the other examines a paranoid government that considers its citizens as threats. Chasing Phantoms is, at this point, a bit outdated. Several times throughout the book Barkun points out that there haven't been any major terrorist attacks in the US but it was written before the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Charlotte Church shooting, the San Bernadino shooting, and the attack at Pulse Nightclub. But one of the points that Barkun repeatedly makes is that since 9/11 the US government's anti-terrorist forces have placed a large emphasis on WMDs (with special attention paid to biological and radioactive agents) while the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the US before, since, and including 9/11 have been conventional attacks with homebrewed bombs or guns (the one major exception being the anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11, which were determined to be the work of one man who helped run one of the few anthrax research labs in the US and who appears to have mailed anthrax-laced letters to ensure his lab would remain vital in a nation fearful of terrorists). So even though some of Barkun's information has fallen victim to the passage of time his central thesis remains true: current homeland security practice is more focused on difficult-to-detect, hard to manufacture threats from an invisible population of potentially radicalized immigrants than it is on preventing conventional terrorist attacks from known quantities (for instance Dylan Roof had clear white supremacist imagery and attacked a back church with a handgun he legally obtained after a three-day waiting period, but we're all handing over water bottles in the airport because of one failed bombing).

Barkun also dedicates a significant amount of ink to discussing the reasons behind the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and its early missteps in maintaining security - especially the spectacular departmental fumble that was evaluating and evacuating New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Interdepartmental miscommunications, no true chain of command, and jealousy over credit led to an enormous human cost. Changes have been made to that system since the failures during Katrina, but that the unpreparedness for Katrina was allowed to happen at all is sobering when considered against the backdrop of secret-hoarding and lack of communication that kept various agencies from coordinating to potentially prevent the country's largest terrorist event. 9/11 might not have happened if some agency had existed that fostered a culture of sharing information about threats; once such an agency was created the first threat if faced was natural, not human, and the department didn't respond appropriately. The organization has changed since both 9/11 and Katrina but serious questions have been raised about the bureaucracies meant to protect and what their motives are.

Chasing Phantoms is an incredibly dry book, and overall it is probably not the sort of thing that many people will find useful reading. People who care deeply about or who are involved with policy concerning threat prevention should probably all read it, but it's not written for an audience that isn't already familiar with academic discussions of defense policy and security theater. The one exception is the discussion of invisible versus visible threats and folk devils - Barkun does a brilliant job of laying out why the "secretly radicalized terrorist next door" trope is such an effective way of scaring a population and he makes excellent work of explaining why groups on the fringes of society make such excellent targets for and hatred from the local majority (which also just creates a self-perpetuating cycle: the majority fears the radicalization from a minority group and so isolates the minority, who become radicalized because of poor treatment and threats from the majority, on and on, ad infinitum.)

It's not likely that I'll read the book completely through again, but it's nice to have it as part of my reference collection. I do know people in computer security communities I would recommend it to. But it's really, painfully boring at times. I suppose that's the nature of the beast with an academic political science study talking about policy failures.


Barkun, Michael. Chasing Phantoms. University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill:
     North Carolina. 2011.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A haunted past

I don't want to be the kind of person who's super into true crime because I have a strong negative association with people who are into true crime. But that doesn't mean I'm not the sort of person who likes reading about serial killers or manhunts or the messy judicial process of an alleged killer being brought to trial. So basically I'm a snob who thinks true crime "is beneath me" but who is way into true crime.

I don't know, it's complicated. I know like four people who have serial killer tattoos and I live with one person who loves watching true crime but that overlaps with watching Nancy Grace and high profile trials. And that I can't hang with. I think the history of crime is fascinating, I think reading about trials is fascinating, I think reading about serial killers is fascinating, but there's this fannish culture that's grown out of true crime that I find incredibly gross and bloodthirsty and voyeuristic and I just can't hang with it.

But I did enjoy reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood more than many of the other books I've read about murders or tracking down serial rapists or court cases and I think it's because Capote elevates it with a level of sympathy that's hard to pin down for murders without being creepy as fuck. Capote's portrayal of the killers shows them as murderers who made terrible choices and did awful things but who were still people with families or who loved animals or who had been very badly hurt without ever attempting to excuse their crimes.

Which I think gets into the heart of why I don't like the fannishness of true crime as it exists today. Either human murderers are completely dehumanized and turned into demonic monsters (which only serves to terrify viewers and blow up cultural anxiety and give money to Nancy Grace) or the scales get tipped too far toward sympathy and you end up with Charles Manson getting married to a young woman who has been a fan of him her whole life. Worship and abject terror shouldn't be the only two reactions we have to violence or crime - and I think that Capote's detached consideration and curiosity are a more understandable and reasonable reaction.

It's clear that Capote was fascinated by his subjects but remained horrified by their crime while still being contemptuous of both them and the community reaction to them. In Cold Blood is a compelling book because it walks a fine line everywhere it goes - the townspeople are sympathetic but banal, the murdered family were well-loved but elitist, the murderers are admirable but stupid. He portrays multiple shades and angles of all of his subjects and leaves the reader to muddle through the mess of a murder motivated by money, a score that didn't score and left the world more empty.

It's a sad book, and occasionally a very funny book. Capote obviously has his opinions about the people he wrote about but doesn't pass judgement. It seems like a cleaner experience with true crime than I'm used to and I appreciated not feeling like I needed to take a shower when I finished the book.

And it doesn't hurt that Capote is a tremendously competent artist. The landscapes and people spring to life as you read and fill with the rustling of grain and the percussion of empty bottles rocking in the back seat of a stolen car. He leaves you feeling clean but sun-weathered and dust-coated like many of his subjects; you feel the loneliness of a prairie morning and the close comfort of a corrupted game room just as easily as you feel the sparkling waters and thrumming fishing poles of a Mexican resort.

Capote's touch is brilliant in many places throughout this book but it's genius when it comes to setting a scene for the reader to play a part in.


Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. Vintage Books. New York: New York. 2012. (1965).

Remaking in your image

I am dragging ass today (or all of the last two weeks) and don't have the energy to go story-by-story through Trigger Warning and offer an opinion of each piece.

I will say that I enjoyed the book as a whole, and in many ways it was a departure from much of the Gaiman that I've read before. There was a touch of science fiction thrown in, a story about an artist that seemed like a truly dark reversal of Neverwhere, a lovely poem about writer's block and chairs, and a delightful addition to the American Gods universe (that felt perhaps a bit too much like the last delightful addition to the American Gods universe). I can't think of a single story that I hated, and I want to spend a little time talking about a couple of stories that I loved.

 "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains" and "The Sleeper and the Spindle" are both available as standalone illustrated books. I've picked them up and looked through them both in comic shops and bookstores but I haven't had the money to buy both of them and I feel guilty about reading books I can't buy so I just admired the art and set them back down. I had no idea the stories were included in Trigger Warning but I was delighted to finally be able to read both of them and both of them are WONDERFUL.

"The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains" is a spooky folktale about loss and what you're willing to sacrifice to get what you want. It's more of a novella than a short story and it's lovely - you can practically feel the mist condensing on your skin and hear the waves slapping on the shore as you move through the story with Gaiman's characters and they progress toward their questionable goal.

"The Sleeper and the Spindle" is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a side-order of Snow White and it kicks utter ass. I don't want to say anything more than that because it's so delightful and unexpected that I'd hate to spoil any of the surprises the story holds. Suffice it to say that this is really the only version of either of the original stories that I'm capable of giving a shit about anymore. When Gaiman makes a story his own he does it right.

     - Alli

Gaiman, Neil. Trigger Warning. William Morrow. New York: New York. (2015).

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Problems and the bigger ones

There are plenty of books that fuck me up but Kindred fucked me up pretty good. It was painful to read but felt cleansing. Cathartic is the best word for it.

It also made me realize that the best books I've read this year have all been written by black women, a subset of authors who were largely missing from the readings assigned from kindergarten all the way up until I got my BA in English literature.

But Octavia Butler did show up in ONE of my college English Classes. We read a short story of hers in my junior college science fiction survey class. I'm really glad I got the opportunity to read her, but FUCK, why did no one think she belonged in my Modern American Lit survey?

Kindred is amazing and painful. It pulls back the veil on the ugliness of slavery from a 20th century perspective while ALSO illustrating that the 20th century was by no-means a post-racial society. Dana is a brilliantly crafted character who has to struggle with layers and layers of oppression and interpretation of that oppression both in her time and in the antebellum era she is transported to.

There's a lot that I could talk about here; Dana's painful encounters with Rufus, her guilt over her interactions with Sarah, her inability to find her place in either time, but I think one of the most interesting and fraught relationships shown in the novel is Dana's marriage to Kevin. She loves Kevin and he loves her but there's a distance between them that Kevin alone is incapable of seeing. The subtlety of Butler's commentary on 20th century race relations through Kevin's privileged perspective of racism is beautifully done and a tremendous part of what makes the novel so compelling - even when Dana is safe she's never really safe, even when she is recognized as a person she is still a woman, and black, and still seen as somehow "less than."

I'd strongly recommend that anyone reading this blog read Kindred. It's stunning.

     - Alli

Butler, Octavia. Kindred. Beacon Press. Boston: Massachusetts. 2003. (1979).