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Sheep in books

Three Bags Full A Wild Sheep Chase The Android's Dream

In the last six months, I read three different mysteries (loosely defined) centered on sheep.

Three Bags Full – a murder mystery in which a flock of sheep tries to find out who killed their shepherd.  The author does a great job channeling the sheepish worldview, imagining what it’s like to be a constrained, fenced in animal.  There’s a black sheep who has learned to live on its own and a group of meat sheep that are like the jocks of the pasture.  But most of this plays for amusement rather than something deeper.

Wild Sheep Chase – an existential detective story in which a lazy adman goes on a journey to track down a missing friend and a strange sheep.  Odd and ephemeral, the novel blends the modernist novel worldview (think Graham Greene) with odd twists on detective stories.  And on top of it is a woman who looks plain until she sweeps her hair back behind her ears, after which she is gorgeous.  She makes a living as an ear model.

Android’s Dream – a science-fiction thriller in which a lazy diplomat super-soldier goes on a journey to track down a missing sheep.  In this case, it’s a bio-engineered sheep that’s needed for a political ceremony on an alien planet.  It makes sense, really.  The best part is that one can’t help but imagine the book will be in conversation with the Philip K. Dick novel to which it’s title refers, when in fact there’s very little to connect them.  (There are some overlaps, just not many.)

My hope was that after having read these three novels I would have something significant to say about sheep and mysteries and novels and life.  Alas, I got nothin.  All three books were enjoyable in their own ways, so I’d recommend them if they sound interesting.  But don’t expect your life to change.

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I’m back, Baby

In early February of 2014, my blogs got hit with an automated hack that took them down, hard.  I was in the middle of preparing for the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association conference, so I took them offline (along with most of my website) “until I had time to deal with the situation.”  Now we’re six months later and I’m only now getting the ol’ beast running again.  Nonetheless, here we are.

"north sydney lamppost 2" by Jaqi

“north sydney lamppost 2″ by Jaqi

I’m going to post-date a couple posts to fill in brief news from February – today, and after that it’s back to blogging.

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July 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

July was a fun month.  We took a family trip in the pop up camper to Mackinac Island and the UP before joining friends at a campground in eastern Wisconsin.  Highlights:

  • Playing cards in the camper in the rain (no tents for us!)
  • Watching the kids enjoy a swingset in a downpour.
  • Over-reacting to a swollen bugbite and thus getting to visit the ER in a distant place.
  • The Pictured Rocks.  Pretty sweet.

At the end of the month, Jenny and I went to ComicCon so I could participate in the Zombie Research Society panel there.  UBER fun.  Highlights

  • I acquitted myself admirably on the panel, representing my school well and providing solid answers.  Most satisfying moment — when Max Brooks, author of World War Z, said “YES!” at my suggestion that members of the audience would be well-treated by reading Day of the Triffid.  Also, met some ZRS advisory board members and found they are awesome people.
  • Met Colin Anderson and J. August Richards in person.  Very cool.
  • Saw panels with Adam Baldwin, Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Chris Hardwick, Joel McHale (and the Community crowd), and John Barrowman.
  • Hung out with friends Scott Kenemore and Matt Mogk.
  • Met many comic book writers, including Eric Powell, Mike Mignola, and Rick Geary.

Books this month:

  • A Treasury of Victorian Murder by Rick Geary
  • The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary
  • Lexicon by Max Berry
  • Southern Gods by John Horner Jacobs

Last, my class appeared as a clue on Jeopardy!

Zombies on Jeopardy!

Zombies on Jeopardy!

June 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

June was a relatively calm month around the Riley manse.  A few highlights:

  • The PCA conference year is nearly at an end.  Glad to be done with that — on to other work!
  • Enjoying the early summer with the kids.  Lots of board gaming.

Books this month:

  • A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin
  • Deadpool Vol 1 by Brian Posehn
  • Incognito: The Classified Edition byEd Brubaker
  • Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce
  • Hitman, Vol 1 by Garth Ennis
  • Bob Howard: Plumber of the Unknown, Vol 1 by Rapfael Nieves
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

May 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

The end of the semester arrives and summer begins.  A few highlights:

  • With the end of the semester, I’ve been able to start playing board games with the gaming group again.  Looking forward to doing this more this summer.
  • Wrapped up my classes nicely.  I appreciate their help and work.
  • The school’s choirs sang a cool arrangement of “Happy” by Pharrell at this year’s graduation.  It was great.

Books I read:

  • The Neon Rain by James Burke
  • The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

April 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

April was a busy month:

  • The PCA conference happened this month.  The conference itself went very well, but the politics of the governing board were very unpleasant.
  • Courses continue well at Columbia.  Yay my students!

Books I read:

  • A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
  • Fatale, Vol 1 by Ed Brubaker
  • A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin
  • Redshirts by John Scalzi


Zombie, Indiana

Zombie, Indiana, due out May 6

Zombie, Indiana, due out May 6

Zombie, Indiana
by Scott Kenemore

When zombies start crawling out of the ground across the Hoosier state, it’s all people can do to keep society from falling apart.  Kenemore tells the story from three perspectives, following: Hank Burleson, the corrupt and myopic Governor of Indiana; James Nolan, the former star athlete / police officer who works as the Governor’s fixer; and Kesha Washington, an Indianapolis high school student trapped in the scary rural zombiescape.  With this third novel (which belongs to the series I suggest he begins calling “The state of the zombie”), Kenemore refines his technique and finds another great story to tell.

A few thoughts:

  • I like that Kenemore continues to write about slow zombies, usually emerging mysteriously from the ground. It gives a purity to the stories that makes them universal.  It also fits the written story better.  With slow zombies, the protagonist doesn’t need to be a military super-commando (as in Jonathan Mayberry’s Patient Zero) to survive.
  • I’ve always liked that this series imagines cities and governmental structures surviving on some level.  Kenemore continues exploring the idea that humans helping humans will win out over isolated survivalists or rural communities.  This emerged in both the previous Zombie novels.
  • Like Zombie, Illinois, this novel brings biting satire and political edge to the story.  The particular target here is the governor, a free-market conservative of the tea-party bent with delusions of grandeur.  His storyline makes Indiana itself into the “rural” part of the country, trying to stand on its own, unwilling to ask for help and suffering for it.  For people who like their zombie stories without any social commentary (and why would you want that?), this aspect of the tale will probably grate a bit.  But the corruption and short-sightedness of the character echoes the long history of selfish villains in zombie tales, like Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead or the human villains in the Return of the Living Dead movies.
  • The three main characters in the novel each have diverse perspectives that shape the way they view the world.  These differences make their narratives move in separate ways, and reflect careful character construction.  I found the police officer and the high school student pretty believable, but the governor got a bit cartoonish toward the end.  That said, individuals under extreme stress could certainly go “off the deep end” the way he does.
  • One of my favorite things about Kenemore’s writing is that he uses words I don’t know.  It’s too common in mainstream commercial writing for authors to dumb down their vocabulary rather than using the mots juste.  One word I noticed and looked up: spavined, meaning something like ‘misshapen from disease or age.’

The State of the Zombie novels don’t explicitly happen in the same universe, but they also don’t rule out one another.  (I may be mis-remembering this about Zombie, Illinois.) At some point, I’d love to see what Kenemore would do with a larger-scale story, trying to understand the zombie outbreak in these novels from a wider perspective.  It’s hard to see how one would do that without aping World War Z, but I’d enjoy seeing Kenemore try.  Maybe he’s already doing it in longitudinal form — one state at a time.

Zombie, Indiana hits the sweet spot between entertainment and insight. Kenemore has written an enjoyable romp for the reader with brains.  Highly recommended.

Full disclosure: Kenemore has been to visit my zombie class a number of times, and we’re both members of the Advisory Board for the Zombie Research Society.  This review is based on a preview copy of the novel, which goes on sale May 1st.

March 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

March in Chicago.  What fun!

  • Nothing much to report from March, except that things continue apace.  Courses go well, PCA planning for the conference goes … along, anyhow.

Books I read:

  • The Windup Girl by Paulo Gacigalupi
  • Champagne for One by Rex Stout

February 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

A chilly winter in Chicago.

  • Preparations continue apace for the PCA/ACA 2014 conference.  It’s going to be very big.
  • Enjoying the new Spring semester courses at CCC.
  • Swim meets, swim meets, swim meets.

Books I read:

  • Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
  • The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch
  • Broxo by Zack Giallongo
  • League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru


January 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

A cold month, but another great time teaching Zombies in Popular Media.  YAY!

Books I read:

  • Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! by Otto Penzler
  • A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
  • Code Monkey Save World by Greg Pak and Jonathan Coulton
  • The Chatham School Affair by Thomas Cook

Tweets from 2013-12-29 to 2014-01-04

Tweets from 2013-12-22 to 2013-12-28

Peace and Joy



Here’s hoping you have a lovely holiday season, stay warm, and drink plenty of A&P’s delicious coffee, just like the big guy here.

But seriously, the best from the whole team at Digital Sextant to our dear readers.


Found via Geek.Failbook

Found via Geek.Failbook

In which I explain America’s Obsession with Zombies

A very nice piece on Chicago Talks by Shanice Harris explores zombies a bit, using everyone’s favorite zombie expert, yours truly.  Check it out!

…Dr. Brendan Riley is an English professor at Columbia College Chicago and teaches a class entitled Zombies in Popular Media, which has been in existence since 2007. According to the course description on Columbia’s website, it is “a course exploring the history, cultural significance and horrifying circumstances of zombies as they appear in film, television, books, etc”.

The idea of no self control seems to be what drives fans of the epidemic.

“Zombies, as a horror figure, are particularly interesting and exciting because at our core one of the things that is very scary is the idea of not being in control of ourselves anymore,” said Riley. “And I think Zombies represent that menace: the fear that we would lose control of ourselves to either animal instinct or being without sense and without knowing what’s going on.”

Riley asserts that there is a difference between the fascinations of zombies versus the fascination with the zombie apocalypse.

“The zombie apocalypse is frightening, not only because of the fear of the zombies, but also the fear of the breakdown of the social order…the need to survive and the need to protect yourself is a particularly frightening ordeal.” … (Read the rest)