Tuesday, September 30, 2014

USDA certified cruelty-free porn

I think porn is just peachy but sometimes I have trouble finding ethical porn. I know that a lot of the actors in pornographic films are exploited or addicted or not given too many choices in life outside of doing porn, and so porn with real people in it is kind of a hard pill to swallow. So if exploitation kills your lady-boner (or regular boner) what can you do? Well, one option would be to pick up this excellent collection of pornographic short comics by some of my all-time favorite webcomic artists.

There are actually only a few of my favorite artists featured in Smut Peddler but pretty much all of the art is fantastic. The stories are erotic (and graphic!) while still being silly and sweet and funny.

There's not a hell of a lot to say about this book because so much depends on the audience when you're talking about porn. If you like porn there's a good chance you'll like Smut Peddler but if you don't like porn the book isn't for you. There are a variety of relationships illustrated, from m/m, m/f, m/m/f, to m/tentacle robot and f/android. It's all very fun and sex positive, there are no non-consensual pairings, and pretty much every comic features a moment that's just completely adorable. It's like mixing cupcakes and boners and I don't really see anything wrong with that.

     - Alli
(added bonus - if you flip to the acknowledgements in the waaaaaaaaay back of the book and look under M you'll find MissDemeanor, which means you can thank me for donating money to bring this wonderful book into the world)

Ed. Spike. Various Authors. Smut Peddler. 2012.

Viva Vonnegut

At some point or another someone described Slaughterhouse-Five to me very badly. They told me it was the story of the Dresden firebombing reinterpreted as an alien attack by soldiers who were too shell-shocked to cope with the actual firebombing.

I don't remember who gave me this description but I do know that it prevented me from reading this awesome book for at least a decade.

I'm pretty disappointed in myself for letting someone else's interpretation of a book keep me from reading that book but so far that behavior has served me pretty well - if a book can be tidily explained in a sentence or two I probably don't want to read it unless it was written by Stephen King, is about Harry Potter, or is non-fiction. SciFi and fantasy books that can be explained in the same space as a fortune cookie are even worse than normal books that have short summaries because I don't really think SciFi or fantasy can be engaging unless they're too complicated to explain.

One of the best ways to convince me not to read a book is to tell me what it's about; conversely the very best way to pique my interest in a book (or movie, or TV show) is to say "I can't really explain it without telling you the whole thing - you'll just have to read it." YES. That is what I'm looking for. I want something immersive and complicated and beautiful that relies on each little piece inside the whole to hold it up and make it hang together. If you can cut out huge plot points and whole characters and get the same story out of it you're not reading a book, you're playing Jenga with words. This, by the way, is why so many people get pissed off when movies are made out of books (if you cut out the secret keeper huge chunks of the rest of the series don't make sense and it makes a bunch of other characters look really stupid *cough*AlfonsoCoron*cough*) - because you can't make a move, even a really long and expensive and well-done movie, and have it be the same thing as the book.

But that was all tangent. What it really comes down to is I read Slaughterhouse-Five and I fucking loved it. I'm still doing plenty of kicking myself for not reading more Vonnegut sooner but, damn, I really wish I hadn't gotten spooked all those years ago.

Slaughterhouse-Five isn't about a firebombing, it's about how nothing is about the firebombing, not even the bombing. This book is about coping and questions and reality and it's funny and dark and sad and sweet and it feels like it festered inside Vonnegut so long that it had to hurt its way into being.

I really like it when I read books that remind me to be a better person. And I think that's exactly what Slaughterhouse-Five did.

So it goes,
     - Alli.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. Dell Publishing. New York: New York. 1966.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flamethrowers don't solve every problem

I really wish that fire could fix everything, which seems to be something that I have in common with John and Dave from This Book is full of Spiders - thankfully David Wong is well aware that fire does NOT solve all the problems in the world and writes compellingly about why we should resist the urge to break out the flamethrower at every opportunity. Don't get me wrong, there's going to be no stopping me from shooting fire out of the next flamethrower I come across, but when that doesn't fix everything I'll make a point of remembering that there are other options (hopefully before I manage to fuck up the fate of the entire world).

If John Dies at the End is a funny little monster book that happens to be chock full of human frailty and strength then This Book is full of Spiders is a goofy little book about zombies that happens to raise lots of valid questions. But I'm probably putting that wrong - there's nothing goofy about This Book is full of Spiders (that is a straight-up lie, people die with spaghetti monsters in their ass and there's a Caddie that can't stop playing Creedence even when it gets stolen by turkey monsters) because it's actually a mature and serious examination of post 9/11 paranoia and the meaning of sacrifice that also totally kicks ass and has a gun that can turn things into mashed potatoes.

If I'm not explaining this well it's because the book doesn't lend itself to being broken down into itty-bitty capsules that are easily digested. This book has edges that will bite your throat and make you choke as you try to swallow them because you're yelling at yourself inside your head "no, not me, I'm not like that, it's all those other people" and that's exactly the point.

This Book is full of Spiders is, of course, delightful but it's a lot darker and less funny than John Dies at the End so if you come into the story hoping that it picks up exactly where John Dies left off you'll be at least partially satisfied - events between the two books match up in chronology and there is, in fact, a flamethrower put to awesome use. However neither John nor Dave are the same lighthearted idiots from the first novel and the differences in their characters from one book to the next is a bit startling, though it does create a rounder read.

I enjoy the hell out of Wong's work and even if Spiders isn't as much of a page-turner as John Dies it's still great fun.

     - Alli

Shit the bomb, Molly!

It's really difficult to explain how much I like John Dies at the End. It seems like such a dumb, silly little book - it's full of meat monsters and demons with idiot senses of humor and assless leather chaps - but it's also full of harsh introspection and questions about relationships.

I don't think anyone looks to books like this to be anything other than ridiculous romps but I keep finding more each time I read it. It's a hefty chunk of words for a horror-comedy novel, clocking it at over 450 pages, and I guess if you're going to cover that much ground in a book a lot of it is going to stray outside of what can easily fit into a single genre or a cover blurb. But I never stop feeling surprised when I start paging through it and realizing how sad it's making me while I'm also having a great time reading it.

David Wong is one of my favorite authors at Cracked. He is one of the few writers for a failed Mad Magazine rip-off who has ever made a significant change in the way that I live my life. A lot of his articles are grounded in the way that humans define happiness and the way to make yourself a measurably better person and I suppose someone who writes those sorts of articles for a dick-joke dispensary is the same kind of person who can cram human drama and important questions about life into a book about two idiots taking a drug that lets them fight a Fred Durst fan named Shitload in order to save the world.

If you haven't read this book, please do. It's unspeakably entertaining and way more literary than it has any right to be and full of magic dark and light and all its own. I'm still kicking myself for not reading it when it was first published instead of waiting a few years because that means that I missed out on a few years of having this great story kicking around in my head.

     - Alli

Wong, David. John Dies at the End. Permuted Press. 2012. OP 2007.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Popcorn fiction

I can't quite tell if the Holmes stories are serious literature or something to mindlessly consume. Some of the stories are quite serious and weighty, but an awful lot of them seem too neat and twee to take up much space in my head.

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes appears to have been written long after Conan Doyle was thoroughly sick of writing about everyone's favorite irregular. The stories are all okay, none are really objectionable (except for the painful racism in "The Adventure of the Three Gables") but none of them really shine either.

It may be that I make the mistake of reading huge gluts of Holmes at one time - swallowing up ten stories at a sitting and re-reading the books frequently enough that they always stay fresh (and therefore predictable) in my mind.

One way or another I'm done with Sherlock and Watson for the moment and I'm quite happy to leave them alone in their foggy London, so full of muck and mystery, until the shine has worn off and I can read them as fresh and exciting again.

     - Alli

Monday, September 8, 2014

The best and some other stuff too

Sherlock Holmes lives in dozens of movies, at least three TV shows, endless reams of fan fiction, four short novels and about a hundred wonderful little short stories. A few of my favorite Holmes stories and moments take place outside of His Last Bow, but I think "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" will always be my favorite moment of the original canon.

The well-crafted little story is short but brimming with snark, sass, and mystery. Best of all Watson is there for Holmes and Holmes sticks around for his Watson.

I'm not 100% sold on the idea that Holmes and Watson are homosocial heterosexuals but I am totally on board with the thought that it doesn't matter. What kind of relationship the detective and his biographer have is up for debate but there's no question that, one way or another, John and Sherlock are life partners.

And that's why "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" is my favorite story - more than any other tale it shows how much the two characters rely on and care for one another, no matter how inhuman Holmes can be or how clueless Watson can seem.

The other stories in this collection range from middling to excellent, and all are entertaining.

     - Alli

Doyle, Arthur Conan. "His Last Bow." Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels And 
     Stories, Volume II. Bantam Classics, a division of Random House. New York: New York.
     2003. (Originally Published 1917).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back to the Baskervilles

Sherlock Holmes stories are a perfect example of why I don't like reading mysteries. They're a one-time read for the most part. It's really hard to get more out of a story on a second read-through when pretty much everything about the book is building up to the big reveal.

Arthur Conan Doyle was actually pretty good about that - Holmes and Watson are interesting enough characters on their own that you don't really have to give a shit about the background mystery in order to enjoy the interaction between the two characters.

The Hound of the Baskervilles will never not entertain me. John and Sherlock are wonderful foils for one another. Watson is adorably solid and practical in the face of demon dogs and does a good job of being a friend and defender to Henry Baskerville as well as a spy for Holmes. Sherlock himself is more beautiful, funny, and impressive in Baskervilles than he is in almost any other story. The best view I've ever had of him is as the man on the Tor, hiding out in a primitive hut but keeping a smooth chin and a clean collar in spite of it.

     - Alli

Doyle, Arthur Conan. "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Sherlock Holmes: The Complete 
     Novels And Stories, Volume II. Bantam Classics, a division of Random House. New
     York: New York. 2003. (Originally Published 1902).