Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Birth of Tragedy/The Case of Wagner

The Birth of Tragedy/The Case of WagnerThe Birth of Tragedy/The Case of Wagner by Friedrich Nietzsche
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You say “Tomayto”
I say “Tomahto”
You say “Potayto”
I say “Potahto”
Tomayto, Tomahto, Potayto, Potahto
Let’s call the whole thing off

You spell “Apollonian”
I spell “Apollinian”
You say “Dio-nice-ian”
I say “Dio-niss-ian”
Apollinian, Dionysian, Hegelian Dialectic
Let’s call the whole thing off

You say “Wagnerian”
Nietzsche says “Wankerian”
You say “Romantic”
Nietszche says “Pedantic”
Romantic, pedantic, whatever, Wagner was a wanker
Let’s call the whole thing off


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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Web of the Chozen

The Web of the ChozenThe Web of the Chozen by Jack L. Chalker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First off, a special thanks to the anonymous Goodreader who sent me this book. It arrived right before Christmas, and I didn't open the package until Christmas day, thinking that one of my kids had ordered it and had it shipped directly to my place (we had all the kids home for Christmas). But when I opened the envelope on Christmas day and asked who got me the book, I was rewarded by confusion and blank stares. So someone who is not my child or my wife sent this to me. I had a few conversations with a different people about this book, so I can't chase it down *exactly*. But someone was generous, and I thank you!

Now, on to the text.

The Web of the Chozen is, above all, a novel of ideas, like any well-behaved science fiction book is. It was well-written, by and large, and I really enjoyed the narrative voice of Bar Holliday, the narrator. Bar is a star scout, sent to explore new worlds. He's different from most of humanity, who have now become mind-numbed cattle whose only ambition is to return to their Creatovision. The interstellar civilization, sponsored by a group of corporations, is just too boring for Bar Holliday. So he was assigned to be a scout, the one way out of the malaise-stricken utopia of humankind.

But Bar is in for some surprises.

And so are you. I'm not going to give away any spoilers. Suffice it to say that Bar stumbles on a world named Patmos where his entire conception of himself and of humanity is . . . turned inside out, I guess, is the best way to put it. The book is full of transformations and begs the question, what does it really mean to be human? For that matter, what does it really mean to be at all?

The book isn't without its problems, and the primary issue I had with the book, unfortunately, repeated itself several times - Chalker threw me out of my willing suspension of disbelief not once, but several times. Bar Holliday simply knew too much about what was happening to himself and the world around him, and I couldn't make that leap, not in the first-person narrative voice, anyway. This shaking of my walls of unreality happened again and again. I suppose I was inured to it by the end of the book, but I found it quite jarring, which lessened my enjoyment of the book a great deal.

One thing that this discomfort did for me, though, was caused me to think about what is it exactly that allows us to suspend disbelief or prevents us from doing so? And why is it different for each person? I'm certain that other readers might not have been bothered by Holliday's borderline omniscience as I was. But what makes the difference? A more subtle approach would have worked better for me, even if Chalker had interspersed a few pages of transition at key spots in the novel. It would have added a few thousand words to the whole text, but it would have felt much more natural, as a result. Maybe this is the fault of an overly zealous editor or a publisher that wanted to keep the word count under a certain number for production purposes, I don't know. In any case, I need to think about this whole subject a bit more carefully. What would an "acceptable" leap have looked like to me? Would I take an even larger leap and be okay with it if the tone or voice was different? Was it the presentation or the logic itself that I found fault with subconsciously?

So many questions . . .

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Weathercraft

WeathercraftWeathercraft by Jim Woodring
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's really no halfway about it. You are either going to love this or hate it. In some alternate universe, Albrecht Durer and Robert Crumb dropped bad acid and had a love child. Jim Woodring is his name, and he has brought his observations from beyond the veils of our reality. They are not for the faint of heart or for those who are looking for robust plotting. All the characters are despicable in one way or another, and even Manhog's attempts at do-goodery are vain debacles that result in the same meaninglessness that existed before his failed attempts at charity. Like a sort of reverse-Fisher-King, Manhog's self-sacrifices come full circle as hell, rather than redemption, are reborn from his faux-repentance. This is an irreverent, surreal, utterly meaningless work that is striking in it's bizarre beauty and shocking amorality. You say you don't care? Neither does Woodring. But he doesn't care with panache!

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

All My Friends Are Dead

All My Friends Are DeadAll My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My daughter asked for this for her 21st birthday. Of course, I peeked . . . okay, I'm lying, I read the entire thing in about 10 minutes. This is, in essence, a book for existential children . . . or child existentialists . . . or cynical adults who don't like to read but like grim humor in the form of a children's book. If Sartre had had children (did he? I don't know, but I suspect not), he would have read this to them at bedtime every night. Because any night could be your last . . .

PS: I liked the glue entry the best. Yes, there's really a glue entry . . . and it's funny . . . and morbid . . . just go read it!

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fatale, Vol. 3: West of Hell

Fatale, Vol. 3: West of HellFatale, Vol. 3: West of Hell by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit it, my background as a writer has influenced my enjoyment of this volume a great deal. I started as a short-story writer and themed anthology editor before turning to the novel form. I just felt like a more natural short-story writer. It came quite easily to me, maybe because I was raised in the MTV generation and have a short attention span. Or, perhaps it's because I am a slow reader and a slow writer. Or maybe I'm just lazy.

Whatever the case, I can appreciate a good short-story, well-told. I particularly enjoy a story told as an episodic series of short vignettes that challenges the reader to read between the lines, to tease the story out of their own subconscious through the use of subtle cues. I've used this trope several times, sometimes with great success, sometimes not.

The beauty of the short story is that it frees up the author to focus on style and immediacy and forces her or him to do away with the fluff that is so much a part of many a bad novel. This is a big turn-off to many novel readers. Don't believe me? Try to get a short-story collection published. I dare you. It can be done, but finding a willing publisher for a short-story collection is much, much more difficult than finding a willing publisher for a novel. So, yes, it's pretty difficult.

What Brubaker and Phillips have done here is create a series of stories about a type, almost a Jungian archetype: The Fatale.

Yes, you will see your beloved Josephine here (for those of you wise enough to read the previous two volumes in the series), but you will also meet Mathilda and Bonnie, who may or may not be the same person as Josephine - this is never made clear. And whether they are three separate persons or one-in-the-same doesn't really matter. What matters here is back-story and beauty, and there is plenty of each here. In West of Hell we learn that this world is not what you think it is. And you dare not know the truth. The truth will only kill you or, worse yet, let you know of its presence while allowing you the dubious privilege of life.

My only complaint here is that some of the information was leaked a bit earlier, in the first two volumes. But not all of it. Too much too early would spoil the surprise of it all, but would add something to the feeling of sheer menace that peeks around the corners in other volumes. Still, I can see how the choppy nature of this narrative adds to the flavor of the series as a whole. Not only do we get to peek around the corner at what lurks there, we have moments of stark revelation when we can get a good look at the face of horror in full, though it surreptitiously slides back into the shadows before we can fully figure out what it is doing, what it wants, and where it is going.

The artwork, as always, is beautiful. But this volume is particularly well-structured in a cinematic sense. Take, for example, the image of Jo approaching her vehicle, a 1930's coupe, on a desolate desert highway at night. She has just seen the face of evil, a physical manifestation of her nightmares. She gets in the car and drives off down the highway, past a railroad crossing, disappearing into the night. And standing on the railroad tracks, waiting, hoping to be hit by a train, stands Nelson, Jo's erstwhile lover, staring down the light of the train as it approaches him, promising release from his sorrow, the sorrow brought on by Jo's departure.

Hitchcock couldn't have done it better.

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The Shooting Star

The Shooting Star (Tintin, #10)The Shooting Star by Hergé
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first Tintin adventure. I've seen the movie, been regaled with images of Tintin (the best of which are these Tintin meets Lovecraftian monsters mash-ups, and heard praise heaped upon Herge's head as a pioneer of the comic art. I'm not disappointed, but I'm not wowed either. Herge is no Winsor McCay, but his influence can be seen in Jean Giraud's work, which means that Herge was, at a minimum, influential on today's comic arts.

The Shooting Star is a strange mix: Surreal science fiction which, at the time, must have seemed outrageous, all built on a skeletal plot that is overly predictable and must have been hackneyed, even at the time it was first published. That's not to say that the book is not likeable, I liked it quite a bit, but the tissue-thin plot left me wanting even more strangeness than Herge provided. I'm not one to shy away from reading or writing plotless narrative, so long as there's enough excellent characterization, clever turns of phrase, beautiful sentences, or bizarre devices to keep my attention. I kept hoping for this while reading The Shooting Star, but it came up just a little short of my hopes. Still, a worthwhile read.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for someone to do more than mere covers of Tintin/Cthulhu matchups. Someone should do a kickstarter and do the whole thing as a series of graphic (and I do mean graphic) novels. I'd be first in line to buy in!

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Fatale, Vol. 4: Pray for Rain

Fatale, Vol. 4: Pray for RainFatale, Vol. 4: Pray for Rain by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I graduated high school in '87. After the glam rock of that period (which I despised - I was more on an Anthrax/Motorhead/Metallica kind of guy), the whole grunge scene just seemed pretty flat to me, like it was so anti-poser that it became it's own kind of posing. While I liked that first single by Nirvana (you know the one I'm talking about), I didn't much like anything else they put out. And while Pearl Jam had its moment and Soundgarden made a more lasting impression, with Alice in Chains showing several moments of pure brilliance, I just really didn't get into grunge like many of those around me. In fact, after a short time, I really hated it.

So I naturally recoiled at a story wherein a major part of the plot was centered around, you guessed it, a grunge band in the '90s.

And now you're wondering "why did you give it 5 stars"?

Because my dislike for the whole grunge scene played directly into Brubaker's nefarious plans for me. My sense of internal unease only grew as I read this distressing tale. Josephine, the titular Fatale herself, is stricken with amnesia after being stricken by . . . well, I don't want to give that away. She finds herself at the mansion of a one-hit-wonder grunge band who are down on their luck until she shows up. But what kind of luck does she bring? Good at first, then bad, in spades.

Jo, we find, is a sort of vortex, a center around which death and despondence swirl like bees around a hive. From the band to a cop-turned-serial-killer to a mysterious hell-spawned someone, Jo is the center of everyone's attention, whether they want her to be the center of attention or not. This vortex, by the volume's end, has become a maelstrom.

Honestly, I didn't think that Brubaker could throw me for a loop like he has this time around. The previous volumes of Fatale were already so strange and shrouded in mystery, that I was lulled into a sense of jaded security. I thought "okay, we'll just watch how this thing plays out as we approach the last volume. What other surprises can he throw at me that he hasn't already thrown?"

And then . . . "Wha? Who? Really? But . . ."

That's an exact quote.

I'll spare you the full spoiler, but let's just say that while I expect someone to die in every volume, one of the someones who died this volume was most definitely *not* someone who I expected to die, especially in the way this person was bumped off. Those who have read the previous volumes will know who I'm talking about, and . . .

OK. I'm getting esoteric. I'll stop. But be warned, if you haven't read Volume 1 and Volume 2, you will be thoroughly confused. If you have read them, you will be thoroughly confused and utterly horrified.

And that's just where Brubaker wants you.

Embrace the dark.

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