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.