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).

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.

     - 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.

     - 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.