Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Burning with anxiety

Hey, you wanna get weird and esoteric and nitpicky with me for a sec? Of course you do; if you didn't want to do that sort of thing you wouldn't be reading a book blog written by a pedantic jerk with a frighteningly good memory.

This, by the way, has basically nothing to do with the book I'm talking about. It's just weird and esoteric and nitpicky.

So. Anyway. How odd is it for you, as a reader, to come across a self-referential thing in the work of an author you're reading for the first time? Like part of me says it would be kind of cool - you read this late book that makes reference to an early book but then later you read the early book and go "OH MY FUCKING GOD, THAT'S WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT" and your mind is blown. But the larger part of me thinks that it would stand out as something that could have been edited out? Like if you didn't know that one or two throwaway lines were referencing another book by the same author, one that had no other connection to the book you're currently reading and in context sounds weird when juxtaposed with the work you're holding in your hand, would it just confuse you as to why an editor allowed that to go to print?

I bring this up because Joe Hill makes one throwaway reference to NOS4A2 in The Fireman and it made me kind of smirk, because I'd read the book and I got the reference, but it wasn't a particularly graceful reference and also made me cringe a tiny bit because it felt forced.

But maybe that's just me. When you're reading you're supposed to feel empathy toward the characters you're reading about but I have such a surplus of empathy that I step out of the story to try to parse the emotional state of hypothetical other readers.

Yes, I do have social anxiety. How did you know?

Anyway the book is great! I really enjoyed reading it and got so into the story that at one point I had to put the book down and wander away for two days because the fallout that I could feel coming was upsetting me. Which is fantastic when you're reading a thriller. It legitimately got me so invested in the story and the action that I couldn't handle the tension and maybe only made myself more anxious by putting off a sense of resolution for two days.

Also, fun sidenote, the other Joe Hill novels I've read have an issue with rape. As in there's a bit too much of it and it's a bit graphic in a way that seems gratuitous or it makes a too-huge impact on the story (N0S4A2 did not have this issue). This book did not have that problem! There's implied rape/harassment but it's character background for an antagonist instead of character definition for a protagonist. I really appreciated that! It's clear that Hill does not like rape, and doesn't want his readers to think rape is a good thing, but that has led to an unfortunate tendency toward rape-as-backstory OR believed-rape-as-backstory. Again, this doesn't have that! Our protagonist is not a rape survivor; she's had her share of shit to deal with but that is not among her pile of shit.

Also it's pretty goddamned cool to have an apocalyptic novel with (Spoilers! Spoilers!) a pregnant woman, a d/Deaf child, a teenage girl defying gender norms, and a middle-aged black woman as the primary protagonists. I like that a lot, I hope a lot of people like that a lot, and I hope that more white authors will begin putting marginalized characters in their works without being afraid that it'll kick them out of the running for the bestseller list.

Anyway. In general I say fuck yes, this was a tremendously fun book to read. I thought Hill did a great job of handling everything from paranoid reactions to potential threats (Jacob) to cult-like reactions among the infected (Carol) to survivor's guilt (John). The Fireman is a compelling page-turner that I will be reading again at a later date, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it similarly on the second go-round.

     - Alli

Hill, Joe. The Fireman. Harper Collins. New York: New York. 2016.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Prim and proper porn

Look, you don't have to tell me, I'm WELL AWARE of the fact that I read a lot of pornographic comic books. In fact I'm currently excitedly waiting for delivery of THREE smutty comics from Kickstarters I supported. Which is exactly where I got two lovely volumes from Jess Fink's Chester 5000 universe.

Chester 5000 XYV and Isabelle & George are delightful little porno comics, each is made up of beautifully illustrated standalone comic pages that come together into stunning stories full of affection, humor, and lots of fucking. Chester is the story of a Victorian lady who falls hard for the boner-bot her harried husband builds as an outlet for her energy, and Isabelle & George tells the story of that same harried husband beginning a partnership with another inventor and his wife - with some INCREDIBLY unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Both books make for quick reads in some ways - they have no dialogue and very few words pop up on any of the pages. In other ways they're good books to take your time with, at the very least so you don't get the lavishly drawn pages sticky.

These are A+ 100% worth the money I spent on them (and I got a cool enamel pin that nobody understands to wear on my battle vest) and I highly recommend that if you're looking for some classy lady-on-robot fuckin' or some classy dude-and-dude-and-lady fuckin' that you pick these up and spend some time enjoying them.

Also Jess Fink is a rad artist who has done lots of rad things, and she's an independent artist so you should go follow her on social media and check out her stuff and buy things that she sells by clicking anywhere on this sentence.

Fink, Jess. Chester 5000 XYV. Top Shelf Productions. New York: New York. 2015
Fink, Jess. Isabelle & George. Canada. 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Out of the dark

Aliens: The Original Comics Series wasn't what I thought it would be - a straight comic adaptation of the second film of the Alien franchise - it was significantly cooler and more exciting than that.

This series is everything that everything after Aliens should have been. It was a great exploration of characters we're already attached to, has a compelling story and some horrifying visuals, and keeps your pulse up as you turn the pages in a way that rarely happens in comic books and NOW rarely happens in Alien films.

It feels like every bit of it belongs in the franchise in a way that is much more intuitive and fascinating than something like, say, Prometheus. *shudder*

The art is almost unspeakably great in almost every part of the story (the space jockeys look pretty stupid, honestly, and nothing at all like the delirious Geiger biomechanics that populate the rest of the franchise) and really shines in covers and two-page spreads. The introduction talks some about how the art was pulled off using a now-defunct product that allowed for incredibly careful control of halftones and that I find stunning, perplexing, and impossible to visualize. But I don't have to visualize the end results - they're in beautiful black and white on the page and they hold up as great examples of horror/sci-fi comic work in a genre that apparently hasn't had much motivation to improve in 30 years.

I really want to talk about the story but don't really know how to without totally fucking it up for someone who might be coming fresh to it. It's deep and heady and full of twists and turns that build tension and make you sad and scared and carry you along with the characters. It's brilliantly done and I can't wrap my head around the fact that we got Alien Resurrection and fucking Prometheus instead of an adaptation of this comic series. Those movies were bad enough before I knew that there was a fucking genius extension to the canon of the cinematic universe, and that this much more engaging story was passed over for Damon Lindhoff foolishness.

Aliens: The Original Comics Series is a great fast read that I really would strongly recommend to sci-fi fans, Alien fans, and grownups who don't know if comics are a medium they can take seriously, and anybody who's looking for a new series they can eat up all at once. It's really well done, and though I'm sad I didn't know about it before an extra copy showed up in my Dad's Loot Crate a couple months ago, I'm really happy to have read it and think it was well worth the couple of hours it takes to work through the whole thing.

     - Alli

Vernheiden, Mark. Mark A. Nelson. Aliens: The Original Comics Series. Dark Horse Comics.
     Milwauke: Oregon. 2016. (1986).

Men's men

Why didn't anyone tell me that A Streetcar Named Desire includes a character whose husband killed himself once his wife admitted disgust with his sexual orientation?

I really love Williams. I read Glass Menagerie my senior year in high school, and saw a production of Spring Storm in college, but I'd never been all that interested in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley Kowalski just seemed like such a bundle of toxic masculinity that I wasn't all that interested in his narrative.

And that's what I thought it was - Stanley and Stella's story. But it's not, not by a mile.

Blanche, broken, lost, ageing, confused, regretful, Blanche, is the star of the story and that makes it a much more interesting play. Stanley and Stella are healthy people in an unhealthy relationship - they have a vitality and rawness about them that is compelling to read, but it doesn't hold a candle to the fascination I felt as I got to know Blanche and her fragile, failing grip on the world.

Also, in spite of the issue of the bury your gays trope that's discussed so much these days, it's important that Williams has a dead queer character in this story that is such a massive part of building the masculine mythos of the 50s. Without Streetcar we don't get Brando, without Brando we don't get the masculine ideals we're living with now. I can't say for sure what masculinity would have looked like in America in 2016 if we hadn't had Brando in 1957, but stinking, sweating, tee-shirt-tearing Stanley Kowalski is a huge part of what laid the foundations for modern masculinity. And that's why it's so fascinating by the fact that he has a canonical counterweight who is only experienced by the audience through Blanche's shattered memories. Blanche's lover was beautiful, he was refined, he was gentle, he was sweet, he was poetic, and he was gay. This isn't a homosexist exploration that divides the men from the sissies, this is Williams illustrating a kind of masculinity that was deplored and countering it with the gross, abrasive, abusive, violent masculinity of the world he lived in.

Which is important as fuck when you remember that it was written by a man who was queer bashed and attacked for his own presentation of masculinity, who was institutionalized like his shattered protagonist, and who was in many ways adrift in a world that didn't have a space for him.

All of which is lit-major speculation. If you want an actual appraisal of the play I think it's stunning and full of beautiful language that sings off the page and puts hooks in your heart. I think the characters are beautifully sculpted masterpieces who are a joy to watch. I think it's wonderful, that Tennessee Williams was a brilliant playwright, and that I want to read much more of his work.

     - Alli

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New Directions. New York: New York.
     2004. (1947).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Peace at last

I got so worn out reading War and Peace that it took me a couple of days to recover. Part of me had trouble leaving my Kindle behind when I left the house because I was sure I could pound out another 1-2% while in line at the grocery store or while waiting for my laundry to finish. But I was done! There was no more book to read! I could have the weekend to myself and move on. It was time to start another book. But I didn't. I couldn't.

I don't know that I've ever been so exhausted by a book. War and Peace was more tiring than Worm, though about half a million words shorter.

I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I kept wanting to fling the book against the wall. I was so tired of all the court rules and who could and couldn't marry one another, and people making just the most ridiculous self-sacrifices for reasons that must be fundamentally Russian because they sure as hell didn't translate to my experience. But neither did Corsican-Frenchmen. Napoleon was intensely frustrating to read, which I think was the point. I mean really almost the entire book was beautifully crafted and family relationships were moving and just so full of minute details that it hits you in the face like a cannonball.

Also every single word about the Masons seemed like an utter waste of space. I mean I get that it was probably supposed to be a very important illustration of Pierre's wavering nature that would prove to be such a striking contrast to his character after the burning of Moscow, but for fuck's sake I can't bring myself to care about Masons NOW, when they're supposed to be actually controlling the world, how could I work up the shits to give about an organization that was ineffectually laying the groundwork to eventually fail at taking over the world? I couldn't. Fuck the masons. And fuck fraternal orgs in general - let some ladies in on the action.

Was I the only one who was supremely creeped out by the benevolent misogyny of the final chapter, by the way? Probably not, not in the least because it was so jarring. The bizarre shift in Natasha's character threw me for a loop, and Natasha and Mary's conforming to their husbands was unexpected and utterly overwhelming.

I mean I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a book about an era obsessed with class would also be obsessed with making sure people fit into their roles, but I reserve my right to look askance at a novel that tacks happily-ever-after relationships onto the lives of two women who have been interesting and defiant and different every time we've seen them.

I'm glad it's done. I wouldn't say I'm done with Tolstoy, I liked how he crafted characters and his luxuriant wallowing in the scenes he set, but I need a hell of a break.

     - Alli

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Gutenberg.Org. 1869.