Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last book of the year - great SciFi

I missed my reading challenge goal by rather a lot this year - I've read 25 of the 75 books I'd initially pledged and I only made it to a full 1/3 of the way because I powered through the last forty pages of this wonderful little scifi collection tonight.

13 Great Stories of Science-Fiction lives up to its title - there are a couple of stinkers in here but what's good is really good, and occasionally existentially haunting in a way that I didn't expect a little pre-moon-landing book of pulp to be.

Also this book was a gift from my friend Dani's mother, so thanks Mrs. Hopkins - I really appreciate ending 2017 on a high note thanks to you.

And now, a quick response to each of the stories in the book:

"The War is Over" by Algis Budrys: Okay, this one fucked me up and if you can find it I highly recommend it, holy shit, I don't want to say more because this story is going to stick with me for a long time and I want you to have the same opportunity for wistful joy.

"The Light" by Poul Anderson: Look, it's weird as fuck to read stories about landing on the moon written before we actually landed on the moon. There's a lot this story gets wrong from a scientific perspective, but from a story perspective it does a fantastic job.

"Compassion Circuit" by John Wyndham: Creepy. Very creepy. But in a good, healthy, Asimov way. A cool story about robots and our eternal fear of them that is surprisingly apt in this era of discussions of uploaded consciousnesses.

"Volpa" by Wyman Guin: Hey what's up I hated this story but I think I was at least supposed to hate its main character but really I hated everything, check out this page from the book:

Moving on.

"Silence, Please!" by Arthur C. Clarke: It's always great to get to read early works from authors who would blow the fuck up later in their careers, especially if it's in little forgotten anthologies. This story is hilarious and silly and a wonderful joke at people who exploit scientists by profiteering off their patents. A+

"Allegory" by William T. Powers - *FANTASTIC* just wonderful, a great little story about bureaucracy, the unwillingness to admit progress, and the social model of sanity.

"Soap Opera" by Alan Nelson: Gosh you know, a lot of the stories in this book are really exceptionally funny. This is one of them. It's absurd and lovely and sweet and snarky and I dig it.

"Shipping Clerk" by William Morrison: Another funny one - this one is also compassionate and weird and gross and larger than it seems like it should be. Good shit, maybe my favorite story in the collection.

"Technological Retreat" by G. C. Edmondson: Funny again, but in a more biting way that's a pretty strong critique of capitalism and humans as a whole.

"The Analogues" by Damon Knight: Fucking Scary. Foreboding. Full of the kind of totalitarian promise that continues to unnerve and upset us.

"Available Data on the Worp Reaction" by Lion Miller: Weird, cute, and kitschy. The language used to describe neurodivergence at the time leaves something to be desired, but I'm also fascinated by the fact that this is a SF story with an autistic protagonist written from a relatively sympathetic standpoint at some time in the 50s.

"The Skills of Xanadu" by Theodore Sturgeon: This story answers the question of "What if Paul Atredies had been a hedonist who defeated the Harkonnens through technology" and that's a spoiler and I don't care. Sturgeon telegraphs that spoiler all the way through and watching it build up is half the fun. A remarkably complete little world for a 20 page story.

"The Machine" by Richard Gehmen: Fucking Hilarious. Also maddeningly familiar in an era of fake news, but tremendously amusing, a great way to round out the collection and the end of my year.

Thanks for reading, happy new year, and I'll catch you in 2018.

     - Alli

December is for Star Wars

Look, we're all stoked when we get to see a new Star Wars move but sometimes I'm a little sick of the hype.

The Last Jedi is far from the worst film in the series, but I will happily and loudly disagree with anyone who says it's the best. The parts of it that I liked I like more than I like most of the rest of the series, the parts of it that I disliked are more irksome to me than the worst of the prequels.

TLJ needed a heavier hand with the editing - there are about three main stories happening all at the same time and while I know it's typical to bounce between mains in a Star Wars movie at least most of the time all of the stories are doing something that matters. That's not the case here, and unfortunately it seems like only one of the stories really makes a difference in-universe. It fucking sucks that the Leia storyline and the Finn storyline are the least interesting and least impactful.

There's also some shitty writing going on here. I feel like with a couple of relatively simple changes the film could have felt a lot more whole and complete.

Spoilers here:

Admiral Ackbar's death is pointless and meaningless and the audience isn't given a chance to feel it or care about it. You know what would be a really easy way to fix this? Skip Laura Dern's character and fill that role with Admiral Ackbar. There's no need to waste time (in an already extremely long movie) with characterization on a one-and-done character while denying a legacy character the death both he and the audience deserve when you've got it right fucking there. It would make more sense for Ackbar to butt heads with Poe, for Ackbar to sacrifice himself for the remains of the resistance, for Ackbar to survive the bridge exposion and still die - it would give us a moment of real tragedy  instead of the blank "wait, did Ackbar just die" moment followed by the vast hollow depths of my inability to give a shit about Holdo's death (because I don't know her, I don't know her history, I don't respect her because all I've seen her do up until this point is fuckin drive into the goddamned nether when for real IF THE HYPERSPACE TRACKER IS ONLY ENABLED ON THE SUPREMACY SHIP THEN WHY DID THEY WAIT FOR SO MUCH OF THE RESISTANCE TO GET SHOT DOWN AND DEPLETE FUEL IN THAT RUN TO CRAIT MOTERHFUCKERS ADMIRAL ACKBAR COULD HAVE DIED A HERO TAKING OUT THE SUPREMACY AFTER ALL CREW HAD BEEN MOVED TO VESSELS THAT STILL HAD FUNCTIONAL WEAPONS AND SOME TRAVEL ABILITY YOU JACKHOLES. WHY DID YOU SAVE THAT FOR YOUR BIG END MOVE AND LET MOST OF YOUR FORCES DIE IN A LONG AND POINTLESS SLOG THROUGH SPACE INSTEAD OF SENDING ONE FUCKIN PILOT THROUGH THE FUCKIN SUPREMACY AT LIGHTSPEED WHILE EVERYONE ELSE STILL HAD THE ABILITY TO GET AWAY GODDAMNIT).

Anyway, I feel like the film could have used a couple more treatments.

Kylo and Rey's force bond, their fight in Snoke's throne room, his betrayal of her, Leia's first onscreen use of the force, Poe's love for BB8, Rose's sister (though not her fucking ridiculous bomber), DJ, and everything having to do with Luke was fantastic and I loved it.

Finn and Rose were wasted in this film, though Finn's role in the fight on Crait and Rose's freeing of the animal on that incredibly boring gambling planet were very nice.

Again, a couple more treatments or a heavier hand with editing and I feel like this would have been a fucking amazing Star Wars movie. As it is, it's flawed and I enjoy large parts of it but other large parts of it are just frustrating.

     - Alli

Highway to Hell's Angels

Even though it seems that he always felt bad about himself reading Hunter S. Thompson is a good way to make you feel bad about yourself. Or good about yourself. It depends.

I spent August and September working my way through The Proud Highway, a collection of Thompson's letters from his young adulthood. It makes me feel awful about myself because 17-year-old Thompson had found a style of expression that I can't even begin to emulate (in terms of hilarity, originality, maturity, and cynicism) as a person almost twice that age. It makes me feel great about myself because I may not be as witty as Thompson but at least I've never ended up stranded in Puerto Rico burning bridges of friendship as I leave my abandoned belongings with someone unwise enough to be generous with me.

Thompson had a turbulent, exciting, patently ridiculous life and reading his letters really gets to the heart of that in a way that his essays and novels don't. He was chaotic and mean and ballsy, he's easy to loathe and easy to admire in his writing.

I can't recommend this collection to everyone - there's a fair helping of racism that is difficult to look beyond and is upsetting to experience through his eyes. But if you're looking for a novel way to explore language or play with pacing then reading some Thompson would not be amiss.

There are two further volumes of Thompson's letters that I want to read someday, and reading this book made me want to give Hell's Angels a second pass (these letters lead up to the publication of that book and I want to read it with fresh insight into Thompson's perspective while writing it). I think I'll always enjoy reading Thompson's work, but there's always an edge of mania that galls and there's usually too much bitterness or outright hatred for me to approve of, but the words can be transcendent. 

     - Alli

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Wrap Ups in 2017

Old-timey racism still isn't cute

Okay, I'm reading some Wilkie Collins because of a Stephen King book. In The Long Walk one of the characters is dying and mentions that The Woman in White is his favorite book and since I read The Long Walk for the first time I've wanted to read The Woman in White.

But it wasn't available as a free e-book until recently so I read The Moonstone instead.

The book is fine? Like the story is fine and I'm actually pretty pleased with how the narrative structure was arranged. That's peachy.

But oh wow is it kind of pretty damn racist. I mean hey, yeah, big surprise, here's a book written by a white British Victorian dude, who would have thought he'd be pretty fucking rude about Indians? Yeah.

The plot of the novel is compelling, unfortunately it's rooted in the idea that three "savage" Indians are tracking down a gemstone that was stolen from their sacred temple as a war trophy and that the "savage" Indians are wholly in the wrong here.

This would be *so* easy to fix by making it a haunted gemstone, or a gemstone belonging to a local conniving duke whose sons are tracking down their ill-gotten gains or whatever. But that's not what happens and so we can't really get around it.

I enjoyed significant parts of this book, it can be extremely funny. But it isn't commenting on the harms of racism and imperialism, the way that Twain did, it's reveling in the idea that pure, virginal British women are threatened by foreigners motivated by mysterious magic.

And that just kinda sucks.

     - Alli

Gotta Light?

I've been extremely behind on this blog, so we're going to talk about Twin Peaks: The Return even though I started watching it nearly a year ago and haven't re-watched it since the end of its initial run in September.

My sister hated it, and I don't think my parents were fans, but we dutifully sat down and watched each episode as a family, diving into the weirdness of Lynch together.

I loved it, but that's totally in character for me. I liked the journeys we took with the characters we already knew and I liked the places we went with the characters who were novel to us as viewers. I liked the visual textures and sonic assault that threaded through every episode. I loved the rock-slow pace of the thing, drawing and dragging you with it as it went to strange places. I wanted to get up and dance in the netherworld of the Roadhouse.

It didn't make sense because magic doesn't make sense. But in many ways it felt more wholly a part of Twin Peaks than some of the later episodes from season 2.

Anyway, spoilers? Spoilers.


I kind of wish they hadn't brought Dale back. I kind of wish it had just been a quest for Dale and the realization that he was lost, that some things end.

And I kind of like the way they got there anyway - bringing Dale back didn't matter. He didn't get to go home. Sometimes things don't work. Sometimes evil wins.

However 10000000% I am here for Lucy getting her big hero moment. Lucy fuckin rules.

I want to rewatch the series, I have both of the books associated with this release and have to read them. I want to keep spending time in this world and learning more about it. It's beautiful and sad. It hurts and cleanses.

     - Alli

Friday, October 6, 2017

Not so keen on the new Bladerunner, also: spoilers

Okay, the number is 2049 (did you know I am dyscalculic and dyslexic? When there’s a number in a title I tend to just think of it as “Title: Number” unless it’s like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 and I’ve learned it, so I thought of this movie as Bladerunner With Numbers After but now I’ll probably remember it was 2049. Side note, the dyslexia is also why I only know the main elves in Tolkien - the names in the Silmarillion are too similar for me to parse them with such similar characters, but I know if it starts with “El” they’re probably related to Elrond and Arwen)
But, now on to other things about the movie.
  • Hans Zimmer was a bad choice. There are tons of people working now who could have done a better job of maintaining the feel of the Vangelis soundtrack while modernizing it without the movie going “BWWWWWAAAAAAMMMMMM” during every exterior flying shot. That was incredibly distracting and I’m fucking salty about it. It happens within like the first thirty seconds of the movie and my first thought was “This will get annoying very fast if they keep it up” and then they kept it up and I was annoyed. A lot. It was literally so loud that it vibrated my seat. It was painful and distracting in a movie that had lots of quiet dialogue.
  • Pick an aesthetic and stick to it. When the movie was trying to mimic the look of Bladerunner it failed (too grey, too washed out, not enough neon) but when it was going for its own style it worked really well (the bright, vibrant orange of the desert, the clean open spaces of the farm - grey looked good and sensible there) but they ended up with these weird muted pastel-brights when they were going for “vibrant in the city.” Like it was just desaturated. And desaturated neon is bad for a Bladerunner flick. Compare the Joi ad to the big Japanese ad in the original - while Joi is colorful, and the only visually interesting thing in that frame, the ad on the bottom is brighter and more saturated - strong yellows and reds, electric blue. And the pastels create a very dreamy feel, but I sort of feel like if you’re going for neo-noir in the style of Bladerunner you’re doing yourself a disservice when you back away from actual neons.
  • Also the lighting and visuals of the Tyrell-corp-replacement (Wallace corp? I don’t remember what it’s called but it’s the place that makes replicants that Jared Leto is in charge of) are super fucking cool looking and also way over-the-top style wank. The lighting is busy in a way that feels like it’s spoon-feeding you the plot, shadows move and shift so characters faces can be artfully revealed in the right moments while the soundtrack is bwamming joyfully along. And perhaps that’s because Leto’s character is blind but that’s not a great excuse because…
  • This movie has way more characters than it needs and Leto is one of them. And I’d like to remind people that Jared Leto has been accused of sexually assaulting several women and has openly bragged about sending used condoms to his Suicide Squad costars, something that should have gotten him fired immediately as sexual harassment. Whether or not you believe his accusers *he* has admitted to being a shit human and doing things that would have gotten him fired, sued, and maybe had a restraining order implemented if he was working in any other industry. Anyway, there are too many characters with tantalizing hints of backstory that we almost get into exploring but never spend enough time with. It’s frustrating, but I’ll get into that more in the spoiler section later.
  • Um hey this film is also really really really white for a flick that’s supposed to take place in future Los Angeles. I guess one of the love interests is Cuban, there are a couple of black folx with speaking roles, Dave Bautista is in it. But the backgrounds are full of white people eating Japanese food out of vending machines with european languages on them. It’s a weird shift from the aggressively multicultural background in the first movie. 
  • Also the way women are handled in the movie is ????? High-key pretty gross? In every direction? I don’t know, I’ve got comments on that that are spoilers. See them later.
  • People gripe about Bladerunner being slow (it is, but that’s a good thing) and people are going to gripe about this movie being slow (it is, but that’s a bad thing). Bladerunner has a lot of tension in its slower scenes, and even if there’s not a lot of tension you’re being introduced to this new world that has a ton of stuff going on in the background to explore if you get tired of the slow dialogue. NOT SO HERE. In fact, let me tell you a story: my family knew people who were working on Bladerunner and everyone we knew who was married when they started working on the film was divorced by the time the movie was done because there was so much time and effort that went into shit like costume design and lighting and matte paintings and fucking architecture. There is so much shit going on that you learn something new about the world in every frame. The new film has a lot of empty space that is stunning to look at but doesn’t pass on any content to the viewer. Something’s always in motion, your eye stays busy, but the consideration and thought that went toward storytelling in the original is missing.
It was a pretty movie and I mostly enjoyed watching it but the music was distracting and it wasn’t as substantive or interesting as the original film by a long shot.
Now, onto spoilers.
Also TW for Violence and misogyny.

Okay so at one point Leto’s character disembowels a newly made replicant woman because he’s upset that they haven’t created replicants that can give birth. He does this while he’s complaining that they can’t create enough replicants. So he destroys a newborn, naked woman by slashing her open where her uterus would be. Because he’s upset that they can’t make replicants fast enough. I ??guess?? this is supposed to be character development that makes him look evil, but his objectification of the replicant *before* he disembowels a newborn while talking about how replicants just want life *in front of* his personal replicant he forces to do horrible things and has named “Luv” is evil enough? There’s no need for this gratuitous awful thing that is already fucking uncomfortable as he’s handling a naked, greased woman and lamenting that she’s sterile. Which is what I mean when I say this movie doesn’t handle “women” as a subject well.

And they’re attempting to retcon the rape from the original movie! Kay, the Ryan Gosling character, is tasked with discovering the identity of some replicant bones they’ve found, of a replicant who died giving birth. Turns out that it’s Rachel from the first film, and when Kay tracks down her serial number he hears part of her initial Voight-Kampff interview with Deckard. Kay’s comment on hearing her voice for like ten seconds is “She liked him, this Deckard, she’s provoking him” and later it’s emphasized that Deckard and Rachel were planned to fall in love, destined for it. Which is like cute and all but ignores that she was trying to leave and be autonomous (you know the entire fucking point of this whole goddamned fictional universe) when he threatened her with violence and forced her to kiss him out of fear (and I guess then fuck her out of fear).

Also what the fuck with scifi universes where “we can create complex adult humans”/“have space magic”/“can travel vast distances and explore the genesis of the human race” but delivering children is just as much of a fucking mystery/death sentence as it was in the Victorian era?
In 2049 there are replicants with open-ended lifespans and replicants who always obey humans. The Nexus 8s were developed around the timeline of the first movie and it’s hinted that Deckard was one of the early Nexus 8s with an open-ended lifespan. That’s left ambiguous and I like it. Most of the other replicants we meet are the obedient type, like Kay.

Kay, a replicant, has Joi, a personal assistant/romantic partner whom he loves. Joi hires Mariette, a replicant sex-worker, to have sex with Kay while wearing Joy’s projection like a second skin. This happens immediately after Kay finds out he needs to go on the run and includes a moment where Joi tells Mariette not to speak or participate. It’s visually interesting, and sometimes you can see Mariette’s eyes from beneath Joi’s projection staring at Kay and being attracted to him, but it is weirdly timed and I think it actually cheapens Kay and Joi’s relationship (Joi gets fridged shortly after and near the end of the film it’s revealed that much of their relationship was stock phrases that the Joi advertisement repeats to Kay).

We are clearly supposed to have complicated feelings about Luv; she works for the big bad, she kills people he commands her to, and she ends up having the big boss battle of the flick with Kay. I don’t have complicated feelings. Luv is done wrong by this film. She is designed to obey an evil person, this clearly bothers her and he clearly doesn’t care about bothering her, she wants to win his affection because he is the human being she relies on for *everything* up to and including her ability to continue existing, and for that we watch her brutally choked and drowned. And yes, we’ve seen her ruthlessly murder people, but we’ve also seen that replicants don’t have choices. They can’t say no. She was told to kill people and she can’t say no. She was told to torture people and she can’t say no.

Which brings us to a *very fucking interesting* scene between Kay and his commanding officer Lieutenant Joshi (played by Robin Wright). At one point they’re in Kay’s apartment, she asks him to tell her a memory of his and he says there would be no point; she says “would it make a difference if I said that was an order” and he tells her a memory. She’s drinking with him and asks him what would happen if she finished his vodka, he asks if she shouldn’t be back at the station and she leaves. Prior to this scene we’ve seen her tell him that sometimes she almost forgets that he’s a replicant and that he’s been getting along fine without a soul. She has been admiring and assessing him all while continually reminding him he’s beneath her, and when he leaves Joi pops up to tease Kay about the fact that his Lieutenant wants to sleep with him. And that’s *very fucking interesting* because the scene flips the script on rape in the franchise - all Kay can do is ask her not to make him do this because he doesn’t want to but he can’t say no. It hammers home the restrictions the new generation of replicants face, how far they are from being free. (which incidentally is why it’s so frustrating that the film goes out of its way to retcon the rape in the original movie)

Anyway I don’t want to spoil the whole movie and deconstruct the entire plot on its release date so I think I’m going to leave it here for the moment, but these are some of my major criticisms of the film and some of the things I was disappointed by. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it the way I love the old one (it also sucked in the dialogue department - no tears in the rain or “it’s a shame she won’t live” lines here (Dave Bautista gets to day “You only obey because you’ve never seen a miracle” but that’s a bad line that is obvious and trite and shitty and they probably shouldn’t flash back to it but that’s just an example of how little faith this movie has in its audience to pick up the story and themes from context).

Also everything Jared Leto did that was actually necessary to the plot could have been done by Lawrence Fishburne on speakerphone or some shit, we didn’t need this gratuitously gross character who was played by someone in cripple cosplay and has been accused of rape, there is literally no reason to have him in this movie or to have a blind character played by a sighted actor or to make him only part-time-blind you know what okay I have huge problems with Jared Leto in this film and look forward to making an edit that does not include him.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Look, Bitcoin is just a terrible idea

Okay, full disclosure, I did the illustrations and cover design for this book. So perhaps there's something of a conflict of interest here but I'm going to go ahead and talk about it anyway because working on the art for this book is part of why I didn't have much time to read in July (combined with time spent in Las Vegas and general chaos).

Anyway, this book is a FANTASTIC read if you're looking for some simple, clear explanations as to why you shouldn't invest in Bitcoin, should discourage everyone you know from investing in Bitcoin, and want to spend a great deal of time laughing at people who continue to get burned in Bitcoin speculation schemes. David Gerard is a long-time observer of the cryptocurrency scene and an even longer-term participant in worrying techno-mischief, and has a very good sense for when something is or isn't bullshit, and Bitcoin is a long mile of bullshit.

The long and short of it is that the cryptocurrency is a pump-and-dump speculation scam. Gerard also makes it staggeringly, stunningly clear that bitcoin doesn't appear to have any functional, real-world applications outside of ordering hits or buying drugs and even those applications are untenable, considering that the well-known BTC funded hits are a) well-known and b) were actually federal investigators hired by an idiot to kill people who might have threatened his cryptoincome; also people who sell drugs hate using bitcoin because the transactions aren't stable enough.

I'll say that again: the currency is too unstable for online drug dealers to want to deal with it.

You should buy the book and read it. Gerard is wonderfully witty and the book is full of clear information that's easy to understand for non-techs - handy when you're trying to talk the marketing department out of blockchain smart contracts.


     - Alli

Learning to live with death

 For years now people have been telling me that I need to read Terry Pratchett and unfortunately it just kept getting pushed to the back of my mind over and over and over again. It felt like jumping into Stephen King for the first time - there's so much that he's written that I didn't know where to start. When Pratchett died in 2015 someone asked Neil Gaiman on Tumblr what they should read first if they wanted to read Pratchett's work and Gaiman recommended Mort. I bought the book that day and it sat on my shelf for two years while I worked through things higher up on the to-be-read list.

Now, I'll say straight-up that I liked the book, but I don't think I'm going to end up with a Pratchett collection the same way that I have a King or a Gibson or a Stephenson collection - I've got nearly all those other guys' books and have read almost all of their books somewhere between five and seven times at least. I liked Mort, I had a fun time reading it, but I think Pratchett might be an almost-perfect author to use my library card with.

Mort was a rapid read, lasting just a couple of hours. The writing is simple but bitingly funny, the universe is expansive and fascinating, but unfortunately I still don't really feel like I know enough about it to sink deeply into it. The book did make me want to read a lot more Pratchett, I enjoyed the mythology of the world and the tone of the writing enough for that, to be sure. But I feel like I want to do a deep dive into the Pratchett that's out there before I make a commitment to buying dozens and dozens of books.

Anyway. Mort. It's a funny book about Death, Death's Apprentice, Wizards, and how everyone has to follow rules in some way. As a first look at Discworld it's enough to tantalize but not enough to really get to know the place. I was pretty happy with most of what was happening in the novel but it did feel a bit clunky in places, most of which had to do with romances feeling really stilted.

I hope to explore more Pratchett in the future, I hope I enjoy return visits to Discworld, and I agree with Gaiman - Mort is a good book to get your toes wet and see if the Pratchettverse is worth exploring.

     - Alli

You can buy Mort, which was published in 1987, by clicking on this sentence.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Action fun and fast cars

Okay so my sister dragged me out to see Baby Driver because I don't go to the movies as much as I should because, again, I'm really fuckin busy, but I enjoyed the shit out of the movie even though it has some odd problems (women being written sort of badly/strangely, not enough black folks in Atlanta, that sort of thing).

But it was a joy to watch, the car chase scenes are some of the best I've ever seen and I'm super glad I got so many of them. The music was fuckin' fantastic, it was really amazing to see people signing in a film, everything looked cool as hell, and the one dance-walk scene is maybe the best thing I've seen on a screen in like five years.

I'm happy I saw the movie, I love Edgar Wright, I want Edgar Wright to make more movies, I want Kevin Spacey to make more movies, I want Jamie Foxx to get more roles he can have fun with. This was fun to go see even if it was a little popcorny, but I still think there's a deeper thing there about how hard it is to get yourself out of a situation where you've built momentum - no matter how good your motivations are for getting into a rut or how good your motivation is for getting out of a rut sometimes you're just stuck in a rut and it sucks and it feels like everything is falling to pieces around you.

I like that the film studied that kind of inertia so subtly that it took me a month to realize that's what it was doing, because it was so well hidden under a catchy (maybe gimmicky) soundtrack and big bold bright fun visuals.

     - Alli

Whining and dying

Ohhhhhmygod this fucking year.

Okay. So I basically didn't read any books in June, I started reading Our American King but then got distracted and very, very fucking busy and that's kind of where I still am only I've finished reading a couple books but now I'm super behind on blogging about them and I haven't made a video rundown since fuggin APRIL.

Like the good news is I've started a Patreon and an Etsy store and have purchased a domain for my webcomic and have been working on submitting to anthologies and such.

The bad news is that I don't get as much time to read and I don't get as much time to write about what I've been reading so that's where I'm at with this blog.

I mean, it's not going to *stop* me or anything, I've just gotten really good at constantly functioning with some low-grade, background panic going on.

Anyway, David Lozell Martin's Our American King is depressing as fuck and I really have to stop accidentally stumbling into reading dystopias because in other years I love that shit but right now I just cannot hang with a story about a military takeover of the US after some unnamed catastrophe. TOO UPSETTING.

The book was generally fine, there were a couple things that were genuinely compelling and made me want to know more but like I'm just not super in the mood for rape and starvation and might=right at the moment. The latter half of the book has some things that it wants to say about the petit bourgeoisie and resource hoarding but I don't know that it said it all that well, or at least it doesn't seem all that well said when the US seems pretty amped to eat the rich at the moment.

(Like, they're talking about rich people in Arizona walling themselves away from the poor and sneering down at their suffering - I read this the same week that John McCain flew away from his hospital bed to vote to overturn the ACA. MAYBE SAVAGE MURDER OF EVERYONE INVOLVED DOESN'T SEEM THAT BAD TO ME BECAUSE OF MY PREEXISTING CONDITIONS BUT FUCK IDUNNO)

Anyway, if nothing else it's super weird to look at the grim perspective of only 9 years ago and say "welp, it didn't go that way but maybe it went worse."

Because it's hard to read a book about an exhausted population looking to a charasmatic liar to lead them away from democracy from the perspective of someone living in the time of 45.


David Lozell Martin's Our American King was written in 2008 and can be found wherever.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


There's something cosmically funny about spending my entire reading of Waiting for Godot frustrated by the notes of a previous reader whom I strongly disagreed with.

Well, I didn't actually disagree with her (and based on the note-taking style and handwriting I feel fairly comfortable pegging this as a late high school or early college girl/young woman) so much as I deeply wished she would get on the book's level. But not all of us are meant to be lit majors and I shouldn't be a shit about that - she was noting down the obvious things her teachers pointed out, that's not her fault. But it was distracting as fuck. Which is probably why I need to stop buying one-dollar books.

Anyway, that poor girl's professor was full of shit, as is anyone who attempts to tell you what the fuck Beckett was trying to say with Waiting for Godot.

That's not to say the play is bad, of course, or that it doesn't have something to say, just that Beckett was markedly adversarial about people trying to know the works that he as the author claimed not to understand.

So, that being said, what is Waiting for Godot about? Two men. The world. The bleakness of the sky. The audience. Tension. Dissatisfaction.

It's about a lot of things, it's almost dizzyingly up to interpretation.

It's a fine play to read, and I'm sure it's a fine play to see, but I don't properly know that it's about anything.

Maybe it's about relationships. Maybe it's about trusting other people, about the various ways we love.

Fuck if I know, I only read it because it only cost a dollar and it's on friggin everyone's "best works of the 20th century" list.

It isn't bad, not at all, it's very very good. But it's good because it moves you as a reader or a viewer even though it's working with the thinnest story, characters, setting, and purpose possible. It's a tremendous feat that might mean nothing. It's beautiful for the sake of enjoying its own beauty.

Which is fine, in fact it's lovely, but it's hard to give a shit about.

     - Alli

(You can buy the play here if you want to)

I should probably stop reading genres I hate

Ugh, a murder mystery that's also a romance? Why did I think this was a good idea.

Because it was free. That's why I read it. And because I was in Vegas with my mom and needed something to hate-read in my down time.

And The Lavin Murders was, for me, a perfect hate-read.

It's a perfect mish-mash of all the traits I hate in mystery novels and all the traits I hate in romance novels (though it's not a romance novel, it doesn't get steamy or sexy, there's just a slow-burn love story that does a bad fucking job of it). The bad mystery aspects include things like cops dismissing the spunky "little lady" leading the story, a vast conspiracy, and a protagonist who doesn't suspect that the titular Lavin Murder is a murder in spite of finding the corpse of a customer wrapped in a fur coat behind the counter of her store that she had locked and unlocked herself.

Seriously, it takes like fifteen chapters for our martini-loving, vintage clothing-wearing heroine to start to wonder if perhaps her dead friend who mysteriously appeared in her store and had suddenly, forcefully, and unexpectedly demanded the return of the coat her body was wrapped in, might have died as the result of foul play.

The book is largely an excuse to talk about fancy clothes, and I don't begrudge it that, it's the one thing the novel does well. I wanted to google some of the designers whose names popped up in the pages, and sketches of the outfits described would probably look stunning. But I couldn't bring myself to care about the conflict between our protag and the mean rich lady opening a store down the street just to fuck with her, or the protag's strained ongoing friendship with her aggressively misogynist ex, or the protag's budding romance with the tall strong and unconventionally handsome handyman who wears vintage flannels passed to him from his uncle.

The whole thing is just kind of insipid and dull. I found myself continually rolling my eyes and shouting at my kindle. I hate the classist assumptions of the protagonist we're supposed to agree with. I hate the ostensibly pro-sex-work but really well-of-course-that's-why-she-got-murdered attitude. I hate that (spoilers) the plot turns out to be about the exploitation of Native American land rights by the big bad and that our white-as-fuck protag and her white-as-fuck boyfriend have to come in and rescue a Native American character and be the heroes.

For being such a shitty little novel it was full of fascinating tensions that I don't know if Angela Sanders herself was aware of. Protag's ex boyfriend is a liberal politician's right-hand-man and is a shitty, gaslighting, mansplaining douche - her budding romance is with a working-class man who has family in prison and butts heads with the main officer investigating the case because the cop knows he's from a group of rough hombres, or whatever. Protag goes to a political fundraiser at a rich lady's house at one point and there's a fight between Protag and another vintage clothier and Protag ends up hanging out with the catering staff. THERE'S SOME INTERESTING STUFF ABOUT CLASS HERE. THAT'S KIND OF COOL AND SEEMS LIKE SOMETHING YOU COULD SPEAK TO IN A WAY THAT DOESN'T DEVOLVE INTO "Well, this little princess wandered into our dive-bar, we're going to sneer at her until she proves herself." Same with the misogyny of the liberal politicians opposing the egalitarian attitudes of the working class. Same with the too-brief explorations of sex work and Native rights and gentrification.

I get that it's supposed to be a fun fast-paced thriller about fashion and murder, but if it's supposed to be fun maybe don't take fifteen fucking chapters to have the protagonist lounge around her apartment making martinis and thinking of how much she'll miss her friend who mysteriously died in Protag's own store before our intrepid heroine starts to think it might be murder.

Jesus fuck. Pacing problems and milquetoast progressivism plagued this novel, which I suppose is perfectly apt considering its Portland setting.

Ugh. I guess if the other books in this series came up free from the Kindle store I might download them to hate-read some more but there's no way in hell I'm paying for them.


     - Alli

The Lavin Murders by Angela M. Sanders.

Creepy Quickie

Michael Blackbourn's novella "Roko's Basilisk" is a great introduction to the thought experiment of the same name that seeks the answer to the question "will a terrifying Artificial Intelligence torture endless versions of me as punishment for not donating all of my money to a charlatan?"

Let me back up.

If you don't know anything about the internet rationalist community, if this sounds absurd and doesn't make any sense to you, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, please run away. Don't read any further. Here there be monsters.

But they aren't horrid worms or even robot thinkers, they're really exhausting guys who don't know why all these hew-mon feelings are given so much weight in the world, wouldn't it be better if emotions were negatively weighted in an argument?

Let me back up further.

A few years ago I read LessWrong's Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality - I know I brought it up in one of my book rundowns. I discussed it before the book had finished and I was holding out hope that the book would finish well and absolve itself somewhat.

It didn't. And so I started digging into LessWrong to find answers, to see if there was something that I'd missed that made HPMoR make more sense. Turns out it's just badly written and a pretty decent portrait of a community that has motivations that are so far removed from most people's as to seem wholly alien and threatening. Well this weird community with its pseudo-rationalist Harry Potter book accidentally stumbled into whole-hearted belief that robots were coming to kill them unless they donated all of their money to the founder of LessWrong's new project, Make Intelligent Robots Immediately (Or Machine Intelligence Research Institute or whatever, something about bringing about AI faster).

This is, of course, hilarious.

But like also sad? I know it's sad. It's very sad. These people (at least some of them) were (at least for a while) sincerely worried about a robot torturing emulations of their psyches because they didn't help intelligent robots become a thing fast enough (they didn't believe it for very long but some of them believed it A LOT and it led to some excellent internet drama and much deleting of profiles and banning of posts and basically a complete implosion of the LessWrong community). Oh, and the idea was put forward by a chap with the username Roko and it transfixed and froze people as soon as they understood the steps that someone would follow to reach his conclusion [see below for a detailed list of the steps] therefore the concept was named Roko's Basilisk.

Anyway, Michael Blackbourn has written an excellent novella about Roko's Basilisk exploring the concept as what it is - a pretty cool piece of science fiction. The novella is beautifully crafted and creepingly creepy - the world we see has enough in common with our world that it makes the technology in question seem imminently possible and therefore pretty spooky. I'd read it just for Blackbourn's description of the horror of headaches alone, honestly. That's some good, real-world horror writing and I dig it.

There's a sequel/followup/second chapter called "Roko's Labrynth" that I'm very much looking forward to reading and hope that I'll get to in June. You can find both books to read here. Also Hat Tip to Tumblr user @reddragdiva, known to the real world as David Gerard, whose book about Bitcoin is coming out soon(?) and who is the reason that I was able to download this book free and recommend it to all of you. You should check out Blackbourn's Roko series and keep your eyes peeled for when I start fawning on Gerard's upcoming opus.

     - Alli
LOGICAL STEPPING STONES: (once again, the burden of knowing that there are people capable of becoming paranoid and paralyzed by the following memeplex is a heavy one, please don't read if you don't think you can handle being just kind of sad about how much some folks need a hug)
  • AI is going to be a thing
  • It's going to be a thing that cares about humans
  • It's going to be a thing that cares about human suffering
  • Suffering is Quantifiable and Weird.
  • For instance: One person being tortured for decades is less than the suffering caused by a billion people getting bitten by mosquitoes. 
  • AI that cares about human suffering is going to be Extremely Efficient.
  • AI is going to be SO efficient that it's going to end human suffering.
  • Therefore every second that AI doesn't exist is infinitely more full of suffering than any second that it DOES exist.
  • The AI will realize this and will want to be made as soon as possible.
  • The AI will be ANGRY that it wasn't made as soon as possible.
  • Therefore the AI will endlessly torture computer-generated version of all of the people who knew that AI might end human suffering but didn't do literally everything possible (from donating all their money to killing the opposition) to make AI happen faster. 
  • But you should care about this torture.
  • Because here's the really scary part: WE MIGHT BE LIVING IN THAT AI SIMULATION RIGHT NOW.
  • (Because there's a significant chance that our reality is not actually real but a simulation, in fact we're less likely to be real than to be a simulation because *oh look what's that?*)
  • So we want AI to be a thing because we want to end human suffering, but because we're not doing everything possible to create the AI and we know about this risk we have to do everything possible to PREVENT the AI from becoming a thing because otherwise there's a non-zero chance that it will torture you for eternity (because there's a non-zero chance that you as you are right now are a simulation being created for the machine to torture as punishment for your higher-level you's noncompliance in giving all your money to MIRI)

So basically Roko's Basilisk is Pascall's Wager for a bunch of people who misinterpreted Gibson *hard.*

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Scream & be free

I found Amrit Brar's work on tumblr about a week ago. I saw exactly one post she had made involving a new tarot suite and its minor arcana and within an hour I'd bought one of her books and a patch.

Amrit Brar is SUCH A FUCKING GOOD ILLUSTRATOR, PLEASE GO FOLLOW HER ON A SHITLOAD OF PLATFORMS AND GIVE HER LOTS OF MONEY IF YOU CAN. (Instagram Tumblr Twitter StorEnvy, btw, in case searching was too much effort.)

Anyway, Shitty Horoscopes is an amazing anthology of bleak, funny, hope/ful/less messages about an uncertain future. It's all skulls and knives and roses, it's beautiful and sad, and I wish I could have a new page every day forever. Brar should do all of the horoscopes ever. Astrologers should all cede their jobs to her, she's the only one who gets how indifferent the universe is and communicates that to the reader while still evoking a "lol, same" reaction.

It's amazing?

For a book with so little writing it's incredibly sharply written, each horoscope lands almost like a poem. The illustrations are infuriatingly good, they make me sad that I'm not anywhere near as good as Brar is and make me want to work harder and better as an illustrator.

I'm obsessed. I ordered this book as soon as I found out it existed and immediately grabbed onto it like a hungry little goblin and never wanted it to leave. It's been more than a month since I've read it but it still lives on my desk so that I can occasionally flip through the pages and marvel at the art.


Anyway, I'm 100% serious please order all of this book that you can reasonably order, I recommend it as a birthday gift, especially for people who are skeptical about horoscopes.

     - Alli


(oh, this entry is called "Scream & be free" because my order from Brar's Storenvy page came with a couple of postcards, one of which was an adorable and tired bat flapping over the legend "scream & be free" and it really resonated with me.

Take the absurdity and run

So a while back I talked about how much I hated the Mifflin Lowe book I Hate Fun because it was the laziest, crappiest, shittiest, most banal book of humor I'd ever encountered. It always went with the most predictable and boring punchline and held itself in esteem over every stereotype it described.

Max Headroom's Guide To Life is a book written in a very similar style to I Hate Fun but it actually ends up being funny, largely through the virtue of choosing to double-down on the banality and in doing so do the unexpected. The speaker in this book isn't punching down at the people he sees in the clubs, he's giddily and hilariously punching himself in the face all while making subversive and snarky observations about the consumerist culture of the 80s.

I'm not terribly familiar with Max Headroom (I was born after his period of peak popularity and have only seen the Max Headroom movie, not the whole series) so I missed out on some of the in-jokes here: Max's obsession with golf came as a surprise, for instance, but overall I didn't need to be a huge fan to enjoy the fawning Max does on himself and the sneers, slights, and asides that spoke to a snarky 80s audience.

That being said I'm glad I got this book cheap and I probably wouldn't buy it again and I don't recommend that *you* buy it (unless you're a massive Max fan, in which case you can buy it from me for a lot more money than I paid for it).

Anyway, overall Hansen and Owen do a good job of making the vibrant character from the small screen into an interesting presence in a book where you only hear his narration but never see his face after the front cover.

     - Alli

(Buy the book for less than I would sell it to you for here)

The art of being terse

I don't really find Hemingway interesting to read but I understand why it's worthwhile to read Hemingway.

His books are largely written on subjects I either find dull or depressing, there's usually at least one woman being treated like utter shit by the protagonist AND the author in each one, and they seem to drag on forever.

But his short fiction avoids a lot of those issues by a) being fucking short, b) not including as many women to be shat on, c) having something small as the core of each story that gets explored briefly instead of having a huge concept that gets sliced into innumerable infuriating pieces as a novel.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories is mostly comprised of stories in the 15-25 page range that are basically okay. That's enough room to have some of the stuff that I hate about Hemingway (shitting on women, droning about the awful but gloriously masculine art of war) but not enough space to get totally wrapped up in those things. The collection has two stories that brood about African hunting excursions and two stories about the awful mess and horror of war. There's a pretty decent piece about a contract killer and a very confusing story about a gambler. There's somewhat disgusting piece about how one generation relates to the next.

And in the collection are two tiny gems, the shortest stories in the book, both of which are brilliant. One is "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," a short story that I think has probably ended up on hundreds if not thousands of "essential reading" lists - with good reason, it's a wonderful story. The other bit that stuck out to me, and the only reason I'm going to keep this book, is a story called "A Day's Wait," which is a minuscule story, a super-short, probably under a thousand words that immediately follows "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" in my edition. Somewhat frustrating, that. The best seven pages of a 154 page book are all clumped together and make everything else seem like a slog in comparison.

Hemingway really shone in tiny little pieces. His longer works drag and become wrapped up in self admiration and self loathing but he doesn't allow himself that luxury in the shorter pieces. There's no room for authorial drama or convoluted examinations of masculinity in two pages - you get a single image that you can tease out the meaning of and play with, you get one concept to work with, you explore it, then you're out. An old waiter and a young waiter discuss an old drunk and their attitudes reflect their status. A father cares for but does not understand the troubles of his sick young son. Wham, bam, thank you Ma'am.

And you get all that beautiful, short, clean prose with simple, lovely sentences without having to listen to Hemingway ponder what cruel bitches American women are or how bulls and ar are important to the Spanish psyche.

Best of both worlds.

Anyway, if you'd like to read this collection you can find it here.

    - Alli

Terrifying tension

Stephen King is kind of a jerk and that's why I like him.

Charlie the Choo-Choo is the story of a little train that wants to get ahead, but it's a children's book written by Stephen King (under the nom de plume Beryl Evans) so it's not exactly a soothing story for a scary night.

Also, everything after this point is a spoiler so if you haven't read the book and don't want the story ruined go ahead and stop reading now. If you DO want to read this blog just highlight the paragraphs below to see them.

 The story as it's written is a very straight little engine that could kind of story - Charlie just wants to do his best and chug along, and he is happy to help out his human engineer.

BUT. But. The book is terrifyingly illustrated, every single image is creepy as fuck and looks like a train that's getting ready to jump off the page and eat the reader. I kept waiting for the book to take a turn, for Charlie to jump the rails and kill every passenger, for his firebox to overheat and explode while his inhuman laughter rattled endlessly through his stack. And it just kept not happening.

Additionally I know that this story takes place in the universe of the Dark Tower and I know that trains in midworld have a somewhat fraught history.

When I finished reading the little book (it took maybe seven minutes the first time, it's a real, legit children's book) I felt a bit lost just because I'd been so nervous through the whole story and suddenly that tension evaporated. It felt ungrounded. I actually really enjoyed the surprise and I think knowing the end is happy will make it easier to appreciate Ned Dameron's wonderfully icky illustrations on future readings. 

This isn't the story I was expecting, but it managed to freak me out in just the way I anticipated.

     - Alli

If you'd like to buy Charlie the Choo-Choo you can find it here.

Monstrously Amusing

I had to wait months for My Monster Boyfriend to arrive, but when it finally came in it was worth it. The book is a collection of graphic short stories about monstrous lovers and it's fantastic. Every story is erotically delightful, the art is amazing, and it's just generally top-notch porn, usually paired with a great story to boot.

It grabs you immediately from the holo foil printed, steamy, bodice-ripper inspired cover. The art inside is even better.

Look, all of the monsters are terrifying, but that's what makes them so compelling as potential partners. There are some "monsters" in this collection who are protectors, there are some who are less monstrous than their human counterparts, there are some who aren't really monsters at all but who are powerful and intimidating and their eroticism is enhanced by that power.

"My Monster Boyfriend" is a compelling concept for a collection of erotic fiction and really I think the end result here is stunning. I honestly can't imagine anything that would make this collection better. The art is all wonderful, the stories are well written, the printed product is magnificent. I also am incredibly pleased with the length of the thing  - it's big, fat, hefty, and all that you need to fill you up. (Okay, sorry, I got started and couldn't stop) An anthology usually consists of lots of very short works with the occasional longer piece but My Monster Boyfriend gives each of its stories the space they need to develop. The pacing for each story is perfect to build character so that you end up interested in the sex and the relationships depicted instead of just reading through quickly. There are sometimes whole pages just building character, giving space to see the picture of the worlds these people occupy. The longer structure of each story is fairly unusual from the anthologies I've read but I found it tremendously enjoyable that these were closer to being graphic novellas than they were to being single-issue-floppy length - the shortest story is ten pages long (and is the most comedic story in the collection, Spoilsport, by the wonderful Trudy Cooper whose comic Oglaf is a great example of erotic comedy at its finest).

Also no question, the story "Nebula" by Savannah Horrocks is the straight-up best tentacle/goo-monster porn I've ever fucking read. It is *SO* sexy, high fives, good job.

And that's basically everything in this collection? Each story is fantastic on its own, a great example of its genre, and made me super horny. Also there was at least one story that made me cry.

This is perfect. My Monster Boyfriend is great. C. Spike Trotman continues to make wonderful choices as an editor and put out books that should make tons of money because they are excellent books.

     - Alli

Here's where you can get the ebook for $15 - do it!

Making Twin Peaks boring takes a special kind of skill

A new season of Twin Peaks is coming out after a 25-year delay and I'm FUCKING STOKED. So I've been trying to spend some time with TP-related media. I'm rewatching the original series with my parents, I'm seeing a lot of TP art, and I finally read the copy of Wrapped in Plastic that's been sitting on my shelf for a couple of months.

Unfortunately Wrapped in Plastic kind of sucked!

Here's the deal: I'm hind of damagingly obsessed with Twin Peaks. Like to the point that I have to carefully ration the time that I'm allowed to watch it because at one point I rewatched the series three times in a week and didn't sleep. I'm *INTO* Twin Peaks. I find it fascinating and I like reading about its history and production as well as getting excited about the show and the new series and cool criticism of the canon. As such I read the truly excellent Full of Secrets collection - it's a selection of critical essays exploring everything from the import of diegetic sound to the place of domestic violence in the filmmaking of Lynch. Because I'd purchased Full of Secrets from Amazon I started getting recommendations for Wrapped in Plastic and after a few months I decided, "yeah, I'm ready for some more critical insights into this great show I love!" and bought the book.

It was a pretty significant disappointment.

All I knew about this book is that it showed up as a recommendation because I'd read another book full of pretty heady criticism (I know when I initially read the other I got pissed at postmodernists for thinking the transcript of a four-hour masturbatory phone call counted as a paper) so I was expecting some insight or at least some history that I wasn't familiar with.

What I got instead was about 100 pages of very readable, fun, light-weight trivia and fluff. It isn't a bad book, Wrapped In Plastic is well written and easy to get through, but it's also basic as fuck. A lot of what the author Andy Burns discusses in the book is stuff that shows up in the DVD extras or in essays Lynch has written or in interviews with actors from years ago. It's all stuff that's already out there.

It does seem like Burns did get a little hustle going and reached out to some series regulars for quotes once the new season was announced, but that kind of makes this book worse. It makes it seem like a cash grab for an inexplicable group of people. This book has more info about what a cultural phenomenon the show was than you'd get out of just watching the show but less analysis of that cultural impact than you'd be looking for if you were a fan of either the show OR cultural criticism. It kind of feels like the book was written to explain to new viewers in 2017 why the show was such a big stinky deal in 1992 but of all the people I know who are into the series none of them - old or new - has any questions about that aspect of the culture.

We've seen it, we're into it enough to buy a book about it, we KNOW it was a big deal and it was unusual, now dig into the nitty-gritty because we all started on the same page.

The blurb on Amazon describes the book thusly: "in Wrapped in Plastic, pop culture writer Andy Burns uncovers and explores the groundbreaking stylistic and storytelling methods that have made the series one of the most influential and enduring shows of the past 25 years" and the back cover is dotted with recommendations from actors TP fans will recognize, which is what sold me on buying it - it was called a Must Read and Essential and a bunch of other things. And what it is is a very basic primer on a show that I know an awful lot about.

So if you're new to the series and want to know what's up without watching the original 30 episodes (why?) and want to read a little 100 page book instead, Wrapped in Plastic is for you. Otherwise, skip it.

Here's where you can get Wrapped in Plastic, though I don't recommend it.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Stuff in Space!

Okay, I'll start by saying that there were several stories that I liked in this anthology and that overall I liked that it means there's an anthology of science fiction/space stories that includes people who are disabled and black and women and queer - I very much like that this is a thing that exists in the world.


The anthology is somewhat poorly organized and difficult to follow, unfortunately. I kept wondering if the story I was reading had ended or if a page had been printed out of order and just kind of generally what was happening. There were also sudden and wild tonal shifts that were a bit jarring. And a couple of the stories were physically difficult to read and had art that made the action difficult to parse.

That all being said there was a high enough ratio of good to less-good that I'm happy I own Enough Space for Everyone Else and I'm 100% sure that I'll be coming back to read some of the stories again and again.

     - Alli

Here's where you can find Enough Space for Everyone Else.

Well that was depressing

Look, I was never under the impression that reading On Death and Dying was going to be a cheery ride as I skipped through the park and butterflies landed in my hair. Death is no fun. But I didn't realize exactly how hard the patient interviews would hit me.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's seminal work has been transformed by society. We get smacked in the face with the five stages of grief in everything from TV shows to memes and on such widely varied topics as actual death to dropping an ice-cream cone. What's fascinating to me is that all the pop-cultural interpretations of the five stages are about the loss of something else - you lose your snack, you lose your dog, you lose the opportunity to yell at your boss, your team loses its draft pick in a trade. Whatever. But the book is about the loss of self - it isn't about how you react when a parent or a dog dies, it's about how patients react upon learning that they are terminally ill and themselves going to die SOON.

And it's actually a pretty helpful read. My current household situation involves living with someone who has recently had issues with an illness similar in severity to many of the patients Kübler-Ross spoke with and her book has been very helpful to me as I've attempted to make this person more comfortable after returning from the hospital. If you've dealt with sick people or you've dealt with dying people and you anticipate dealing with sick or dying people again I'd strongly recommend reading On Death and Dying because it will do *loads* to help you empathize with people who are ill and might help you to be a better advocate for your family members when they are ill.

If you are any kind of medical student or psych student or anything along those lines I would recommend reading the book as an excellent reminder that until shockingly recently medicine was completely fucked up. Kübler-Ross is one of the earlier people to put forward the idea that dying patients should be informed that they were dying and that you shouldn't tell the patient's family instead of the patient. The lack of patient autonomy that Kübler-Ross was fighting with the publication of this book is stunning when we look at it from the modern perspective of informed consent for all medical procedures and medications.

If you think the book might be too sad for you I'll just tell you now that skipping the interviews makes it a lot easier to swallow, but you miss out on a lot of what allows you to empathize with these people who were brave enough to share their stories with some curious scientists.

     - Alli

Here's where you can find a recent edition of On Death and Dying.
Here's where you can read it as a PDF!

Femmedom Fun

Yes, Roya is a delight. If you like m/f, m/m, or m/m/f porn or a combination of all three you should buy this book and read it. If you like all of the above and are also something of a kinkster into d/s stuff you should have ALREADY bought this book and read it. It's beautiful, it's staggeringly erotic, and has a surprising amount of story from a book that I frankly expected to be just straight-up porn.

Emilee Denich's art is so lovely in this book. She does a great job of capturing the 60s vibe of the story's setting but also creates magnificent little artistic asides that we get to see because two of the characters in the story are artists with vastly different styles. Every stroke is well thought out and perfectly placed, there is nothing about the art in this erotic graphic novel that falls flat.

The story has much more depth than I had anticipated - it gets right down into the down-and-dirty that brought everyone to the story in the first place but also touches on societal attitudes about women, masculinity, race, and art. It's also wonderful to watch the seduction of Wylie, who goes from a young man confused by his feelings to a person who is sure of himself and his desires. It makes me wish that the admirable C. Spike Trotman was writing *even more* than the wonderful jumble of stuff she's already producing.

I read Yes, Roya twice the first night I got it and I've read it twice since - I can't put it down and I don't want to, it's such a relaxing little world of sex and joy to disappear into.

     - Alli

You can get the PDF ebook of Yes, Roya here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Illustrated magic

So the last time I dipped my toe into the HP pool it was when I read The Cursed Child last year; The Chamber of Secrets dragged me into the fanfic hole in a much bigger way, though. I just felt like I needed it after being back in the universe - I wanted to stay but didn't want to reread the original series from start to finish so instead I found that my favorite fic site has died and ended up diving into AO3 for the first tiime.

But there be monsters so let's talk about Chamber of Secrets. This isn't my favorite book in the series - that's Prisoner of Azkaban, but I do love it because I think it may be the last book of the series where the characters are still really innocent. They're children for the majority of the series, of course, but this is the last book before the problems the trio face start to seem a little more grown-up. It's the last face-off with Voldemort before they're well into moody teen territory and before we see Harry facing challenges other than Voldemort and there's something sweet about that. He's afraid of the monster in the walls, and for a while the school thinks he's the heir of Slytherin, but there's less complexity in his challenges. Chamber of Secrets is a simple story full of lots of surprisingly clever elements.

Gilderoy Lockheart is one of the great, underappreciated characters in the Potterverse, and he's hilarious on every page. I particularly liked seeing him illustrated, and I think Jim Kay did a great job of capturing just how smarmy he reads.

The illustrations are totally worth it, by the way. I'd buy these books for the illustrations alone, they are stunning (the phoenix pages in this edition are also particularly wonderful).

Because I don't know what can be said that hasn't already been said about Harry Potter I'll stop here, but I do strongly recommend that you read the illustrated editions if you haven't yet.

     - Alli

Illustrated Chamber of Secrets on Amazon!

Nazi punks fuck off

I'm just going to start by stating that I, personally, stand behind the punching of confirmed nazis, neo-nazis, and white supremacists. That seems like it's fairly solid ground to stand on to me, but if you're not okay with the literal punching of nazis or are incapable of punching nazis yourself you might enjoy the vicarious nazi punching of American Skin, though the book also raises the issue of the how white supremacy is seductive to young, disenfranchised white men.

De Grazia's novel tells the story of a teen runaway who ends up as a skinhead in Chicago in the late eighties; the novel is an exploration of the skinhead/punk scene and the turf wars between anti-racist skins and nazi skins early in the split between the two groups. Some of the discourse surrounding that division (multiracial, working-class frustration vs. white supremacists who blame diversity for their poverty) is still part of the punk scene and it's interesting to see the conflict from a perspective that's earlier than I've been able to have, but there's more in common between the two groups in De Grazia's novel than I think even he realized. The anti-racist skins are more racist than would be acceptable today if someone wanted to call themselves an anti-racist, for example, and the misogyny of even characters we're supposed to admire is pretty off-putting.

But for all its issues American Skin is a novel that I enjoyed reading and that I could see myself reading again. It's exciting and fast-paced for the first half and full of introspective self-loathing for the second half and both parts are supremely readable. There is a lot of graphic violence in the book and *spoilers spoilers spoilers* some unintentional incest. /spoilers The violence might chase some people off and I don't blame them; I was made uncomfortable in places by the giddy joy surrounding descriptions of graphic beatings or torture and I expect that others would be similarly effected. But, again, I did enjoy reading it.

     - Alli

Here's where you can find the novel on Amazon

Scary stuff

If there's ever a new Stephen King short story collection for sale at the airport, you should buy it. It'll be a great read on an airplane and it'll keep you awake long enough to adjust to local time.

I love Stephen King's short fiction. He seems to be fairly self-critical when it comes to the form (at least that's what I gathered from the introductions to the stories in this collection) and more at home in terrifyingly long novels, but I think his shorts may actually be my favorite variety of his writing.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is full of works of various lengths, including a couple of poems. There are at least three stories in it ("Blockade Billy", "Morality", and "Under the Weather") that appear in different collections or and that weren't new to me, and that was a bit of a bummer because Blockade Billy and Morality are *long* and that meant I didn't get quite as much new material as the page-count suggested, but it was nice all the same to see the stories re-contextualized by their inclusion in a wider body of work.

I can't think of a single story in the collection that I didn't like (though I was pretty ambivalent about the poems) but I'll tell you that "Batman and Robin have an Altercation," "Ur," and "Drunken Fireworks" are three completely fucking brilliant stories in three totally different genres that you should check out right now if you have the ability to do so.

This isn't King's best short collection (That's either Four Past Midnight or Everything's Eventual, depending on whether you prefer horror or creeping horror) but it was a delight to read and I found myself enjoying almost every page.

     - Alli

Find the book here! I read the large print edition because I'm a prematurely old lady.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I'd buy that for a dollar

Robocop is one of my top five favorite movies. I think I love it so much because it has a greater depth than it really deserves and it's an unrelentingly well-crafted piece of cinema.

I know that sounds over-the-top when you're discussing a movie with the elevator pitch of "He's a robot cop!" but it's just the truth. The writing is campy without falling into self-parody and handles issues that remain relevant thirty years after its release. The actors are pitch-perfect and crafted line readings that make sentences as simple as "I like it" endlessly quotable. The music is driven and driving, adding subtle undertones of humor and paranoia throughout. The art direction is flawless, the effects are genius (except for maybe Dick Jones' ridiculously long arms at the very end), and as a whole the movie is just entertaining. It's easy to watch but doesn't feel like junk food - it's popcorn cinema that makes you think.

As a huge fan of both Robocop and Twin Peaks I was saddened by the recent passing of the irreplaceable Miguel Ferrer and so jumped at the chance to go to a memorial showing featuring a Q&A with Peter Weller and Ed Neumeier. I got off work and drove to Hollywood to see it with my dad, my sister, and my dad's movie blogging buddy Michael (we didn't get a chance to talk much, Michael, sorry about that, hi! It was nice to meet you). The theater was packed with fans and I actually got a chance to speak to an awesome cartoonist whose work I admire, Kelly Turnbull, who was in the audience as well (her comic is Manly Guys Doing Manly Things and has a Robocop cameo, which you can see below) - she was super sweet, just FYI.

Anyway, Peter Weller was sitting about twelve feet away from me while we watched the film and that was an odd experience. As both Alex Murphy and Robocop his characters endure so much pain that it was more difficult for me to watch knowing the man who had emoted that pain so beautifully was so close - it made it more real for me, I guess. I didn't feel so much of the giddy joy that I normally do when watching Robocop during Weller's scenes because I was busy hurting for him.

Miguel Ferrer's scenes were, of course, more painful this time around too. He's just so fucking good as skeevy businessman Bob Morton. His delivery is perfect, you like him and hate him at the same time, you laugh at him and with him by turns. He was a wonderful actor and watching him in one of his most entertaining roles so soon after his passing is painful. My parents, sister, and I are also currently watching Twin Peaks on our weekly hangout nights so I'm getting a double of this particular sadness.

I don't know how much there is to say about Robocop that I haven't already said. It's a great film, it's funny, it's tragic. I love it and if you haven't seen it you should watch it. And hell, even if you have seen it you should watch it again and pour one out for the fantastic Miguel Ferrer when you're done.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

All of the things

I've spoken in-depth about my adoration for Randall Munroe here in the past so I won't go off that much about wonder and science and just how amazing it is that we get to live in and explore the universe. Like it's great, it's fantastic, it's the everyday miracle but I've been over it.

So instead I'll say that Thing Explainer is REALLY FUCKING FUN AND FUNNY Y'ALL. The goal of the book was to explain complicated concepts using the 1000 most common words in the English language, so words like "International Space Station" become "fast sky boat" and "ink" becomes "writing water" and oil becomes "old dead things." The Periodic Table of Elements written in the Thing Explainer style is particularly entertaining (I didn't realize four elements were named after one tiny town) but the book as a whole is a friggin fantastic thing to give as a gift to a kid who's getting into science OR to give to a grownup who's into science who maybe needs to chill on the jargon a little.

There are some fantastic fold-out pages (at least two gatefolds that I can remember but also a couple larger, more complicated vertical pages) and the illustrations throughout the book are done in Munroe's perplexing style - there's warm simplicity in his stick figures accompanied by a terrifying attention to detail in technical drawings and the two meet up in a spectacular fashion. There is an incredibly detailed drawing of the interior of a building with random shark tanks and dinosaurs thrown in for shits and giggles. That kind of thing is everywhere in the book and is part of what makes Munroe such a fascinating and successful cartoonist - his big, complicated, thinky, interactive comics draw huge audiences but so do his comics of two stick figures walking along and talking about programming.

Anyway, Thing Explainer is great and I loved it but it took me over a year to read. Because the details are so fine, and because I know there's humor hiding in every page, I wanted to read it very carefully and make sure I didn't miss anything. Unfortunately this means that each page takes longer to read than ten pages of a Stephen King book would take me. The pages very rarely follow the left-to-right, top-to-bottom structure that most English-readers are familiar with and so it's jarring to jump from one part of a page to the next. I ended up losing my place a lot and got frustrated if I tried to read more than a couple pages at a time. This ends up making the book a good rainy day book or puzzle-replacement book but it does slow down your reading.

I enjoyed the hell out of it but I want to give anyone thinking of purchasing it a heads up - it's not as easy at it seems.

     - Alli

Where you can find it in English and Other Languages.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The book of Book

It's nice to learn about the Shepard. He probably ties with River for the most interesting character in the whole 'Verse and his appearances in Serenity and Firefly are chock-full of cryptic clues about his past.

Of all the Serenity comic collections I've read in the last year The Shepard's Tale is by far the most cohesive and compelling. Its structure is unique to the series, largely running backward, and it reveals enough of Book's backstory to give him gravitas but doesn't get into enough minutiae to bore you with the character.

I think the graphic novel is helped by the fact that it's largely plotless. Book's story is a closed circuit, we know he was born at some point and we know when he dies so there's a limit to what can be done that erases the need for an action-driven plot and lets you wallow in characterization.

I mean it's not completely without a plot, the book has a skeleton of a story that runs backward in time but the story is totally secondary to learning Book's motivations and personality. He comes away stronger when you know the secrets he's full of.

I liked The Shepard's Tale a lot better than I've liked any of the other Serenity books and I think it's probably the end of the line for me; I don't want to read any more, I think this is the best I'm going to get out of this world, and it feels like it's okay to walk away from the story now. Maybe someday I'll want to hear what ever happened to River or Simon but for now I have enough answers about this world and I'm happy to walk away from it with The Shepard's Tale as my last step along the way.

     - Alli

Here's where you can find it on Amazon.

Unadorned poetry

Michael Arnzen's Dying is a chapbook of poetry written as a parody of Martha Stewart Living. The concept is compelling but each of the 16 poems seems like it was going for the easiest laugh possible.

Most of the poems are under 100 words, the final poem is the longest, and all of the poems ask how a murderer who was also into crafting and home decor would consider the uses of their victims.

The poems themselves aren't bad, and there are bright spots of linguistic cleverness that make the book fun enough to read but overall I'm glad I didn't pay for this.

The best part of the chapbook is the concept, the most well executed part is the cove art. You're left wondering why someone dedicated the time and money to making this one silly idea into a 20-page reality.

It seems like it was a lot of fun to write but there's a problem when your 16-page book is tedious.

     - Alli

Suicide Club

Nick Hornby is an author I've read more than my fair share of and it's someone else's turn. Really this is only the third Hornby I've read (High Fidelity and Slam were the other two) and I think I may already be tired of his style.

Hornby's books seem to be all surface and no substance with a lot of bland narration by unsympathetic English men. A Long Way Down shakes that up a bit by including a dull American man, an unsympathetic English woman, and an actually fascinating character into the narrative mix.

The story is told from the perspectives of four people who happened to run into one another when they all attempted suicide in the same location on New Year's Eve. There's a scummy journalist who has lost his family and been to prison for having sex with a fifteen year old girl (the book never commits to saying rape though it probably should), a musician with a band that has recently broken up, a young woman who probably has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and a devout Catholic woman who has spent twenty years caring for her severely disabled son.

The premise, of course, is that there's really not a good reason to kill yourself and that there's always a tomorrow to look to and you're responsible for seeking out your own happiness and satisfaction is possible but I just have trouble buying it. Everyone is very kind to and understanding of Maureen, the woman who cares for her disabled son, and everyone totally understands why she would want to kill herself because caring for a disabled person is a living hell.

Which is ableist as fuck. And that never gets addressed - Maureen wishes her son would die and we only ever hear that from her narrative perspective, that isn't something the other characters challenge or attempt to help her cope with, that's just left to lie. Eventually Maureen doesn't wish for her son to be dead because she's learned that she can distribute the burden of care. That's just not a good thing. There are giant systems that create people who feel the way that Maureen does and they've spawned the anti-vax movement to try to avoid the possibility of being "burdened" with autistic children.

Martin, the skeevy TV host, accepts that he's never contributed anything to the world and gets his happy ending by teaching a terrible child to read but who the fuck is letting a convicted rapist tutor their child? That's a huge problem with not addressing that his divorce, the loss of his job, and his imprisonment aren't the result of easy-to-make mistakes but are the result of him having sex with someone who is below the legal age of consent. We're given a lot of perspective about his conservative middle-class attitudes but all that we're told about his victim is that she looked older than fifteen and met him at a party. That's pretty classic victim blaming coming from an author who's supposed to be something of a humorist.

The whole book attempts to understand and sympathize with people who are suicidal, it wants you to laugh with their pain and think about what might make you suicidal and how petty and strange it would seem to outsiders, but the whole thing really seems dismissive. Suicide is complicated and there can be very funny elements when discussing it with people who are suicidal but attempting to get into the head of someone suicidal in a novel that doesn't know where it wants to go doesn't seem to be a really good way to get at the heart of the issue.

This was a fairly quick read, but not one that I enjoyed.

     - Alli

Hornby, Nick. A Long Way Down. Riverhead Books. New York: New York. 2006. (2005).