Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Patience!

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.

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.

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.

Cheers,
     - Alli
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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. 
  • WHICH MIGHT BE YOU.
  • 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.

GOOD FUCKING JOB. I LOVE YOU.

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.

Cheers,
     - Alli

ORDER IT HERE.

(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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
    - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

However.

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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

http://thepunchlineismachismo.com/archives/comic/not-many-cyborgs-do

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.

Cheers,
     Alli

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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - 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.

Cheers,
     - Alli

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

Like Stephenson without the scifi


Maximalism is a term to describe literature that I hadn't heard until a couple of years ago and I have no idea why it didn't occur to me that it applied to Michael Chabon. While I haven't read Wonderboys I know that one character criticizes another for the fact that he was incapable of editing details out of his book - she accuses him of not making any choices.

Telegraph Avenue is actually only the second Chabon novel I've read, the first was a copy of The Yiddish Policeman's Union that I had picked up as a free book on a buy-two-get-one-free sale and actually now that I think about it the only reason I got Telegraph Avenue was because I found it at the 99 Cents Only store.

Good news: It's totally worth a dollar.

I really enjoyed reading the book it just seemed to drag a lot. I wasn't as interested Archy, the central figure of the novel, as I was in all of the characters surrounding him but I'm sure that was intentional. Archy is a lost man who doesn't know what to make of his life while the people around him are all very sure of what they want. His wife wants to make midwifery and intimacy with pregnancy more accessible to women of color than it is to her granola-infused customers; his father Luther wants very very badly to make a sequel to the film that was the centerpiece of his glory days; his business partner wants to sell records and keep a sense of community; his business competitor wants to create an empire. Archy is lost while being surrounded by people who know exactly what they want and that contrast serves to make ALL of the characters more interesting.

There's a lot going on on every page, and a lot of cool details, but it sometimes the writing felt like it was showing off for the sake of showing off. There's a whole chapter that is about ten pages long and all one sentence and it almost made me tear the pages out of the book. That's some Hawthorne bullshit right there and I will not stand for it.

But other than some ostentation and a drifting center the book is a fine read and, again, totally worth the dollar I paid for it.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Chabon, Michael. Telegraph Avenue. Harper. New York: New York. 2012.

Missing pieces and quiet pages


Better Days and Other Stories is basically a collection of Firefly vignettes. None of the stories is long enough for an arc on its own but all of them are worth adding to the Firefly Universe.

That said, you can probably skip it. I liked reading these little bits and bobs that filled in details of the 'Verse, but none of them really seemed to give any extra dimension or depth to the characters. We know Wash is awesome. We know he kicks ass. We're all sad he's gone. Turns out the characters are sad too. Okay.

Zoe's story about being a resistance fighter after the peace was signed is probably the most interesting add-on, but even that is something that viewers could have put together from the materials in the TV series and Serenity. Having extra details doesn't make her more compelling, it just gives you extra details.

I have one more Firefly collection to review and I think that's it for me. I'm bored with these books to the point that I'm glad the series got cancelled. If it had continued like this instead of progressing as a story I'd have given up on it. When I finished watching the show I wanted more, when I saw Serenity it felt like not enough, but after having read these comics I feel like the movie was really all the closure that fans needed. These comics could theoretically run forever and that's a daunting, depressing thing to contemplate. I don't need to see Zoe coping with single motherhood, I don't need to see Mal and Inara bickering over her work forever, I don't need to watch Kailee tinkering with a ship. River and Simon are interesting characters who DO have a lot that could be done with them, maybe tracking down other kids who were experimented on like River or finding help for her that could also cure the Reavers or *something* but that's not the sort of story I'm seeing from these comics and so I sort of don't want to continue reading them.

Which is a bummer. But also kind of a relief.

Cheers,
     - Alli

I'm pretty sure no one is using this blog as reference so I don't give a shit about putting together an MLA-correct citation for this book here's the Amazon link.