Holmes and Burn Victims

Sherlock Holmes and The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Sherlock The Gargoyle Holmes
Sherlock The Gargoyle Holmes

A double-review since I have two things to write up, but also individual reviews because both works deserve them.  First, Sherlock Holmes, a re-imagining of the classic character as a bit more rough-and-tumble, with a badass Watson at his side.  They investigate a series of murders and supernatural happenings surrounding the mysterious Lord Blackwood. Thoughts:

  • I like the re-thinking of Holmes as a bit of a goof plagued by his observant habits. Jenny and I agree that casting Watson as younger, more athletic, and more intelligent fits much more with the idea of a medical army man than do the dopey or fat or old Watsons we see more often.
  • The ambiance had the grimy feel of cinematic late-Victorian London.  Of course, real late-Victorian London probably had its own, different problems.  There were no clumps of feces stuck to Holmes and Watson after their swim in the Thames, for instance.  Jenny and I wondered how much of the environment was green screened and how much was set work.
  • I like the alchemy and other secret-society stuff woven throughout the movie.  Entertaining and properly provocative.  The effects and prop-work around it reminded me a lot of Sleepy Hollow.
  • I don’t have any complaints about how they depicted Holmes as a figure.  The idea that he’s more of a rogue, more able to fight and rumble, etc works just fine.  And all those old hoary Holmes movies had fight scenes too, they just didn’t have all the new fx to apply.

Solitary review of The Gargoyle, a novel about a former pornographer burned nearly to death in a car accident.  He meets a woman, possibly crazy, who says that they were lovers in the 14th century and that she’s been waiting for him since.  As he works his way toward health again, she tells him stories of lost loves and their own past.  Some thoughts:

  • The novel is well-written and compelling, but not something I would have picked up without the recommendation of a friend.  I can see why a lot of book clubs have read and talked about this book — much grist for the mill in the multiple stories of love and sacrifice, the conflicting allegiances to God, loves, knowledge, and so on.  And then there’s the title — what does it mean to be a “gargoyle?”  Is Madeline carving the narrator as well?
  • Another case of a novel in which I don’t really like the main character.  But unlike I just want my pants back, I was compelled by the writing to continue.  It seems like the narrator in The Gargoyle is a pretty big jerk, but he’s also viciously sarcastic and detached (as opposed to whiny).  It’s that last element that kept me going, I think.  Once I got past the halfway point, though, I was interested to continue.
  • I love all the stuff about old books and the scriptorium.  The mix of modern and medieval stories drives the narrative nicely, with each leaving you wanting more of the other.  I often had to actively stop reading because I always wanted to find out what happened in the next chapter.
  • Davidson hinges a key part of the novel on Dante’s journey through Hell in The Inferno.  It’s probably worth reviewing that text (or a summary thereof) before you spend too much time on the last part of this one.
  • Overall, a little too much romance for me, but otherwise good.

Double-review

  • Both stories focus on men who learn about the world through observing it.  Because he’s confined to a bed in the first half of the novel and to his pressure suit in the second half, Davidson’s narrator spends most of his time watching the world around him and observing it.  Then he acts in careful controlled bursts because that’s all he can manage.  Holmes is the same way, but his pressure suit is his own body.
  • Both men also begin the story insensitive to others and unable to connect.  They grow as the stories progress.
  • Both stories hinge on supernatural events observed by rational-minded characters.  In each, the resolution could work out either way. Each also includes a clue that perhaps things are not as neat and pat as the narrator would like to think — keep an eye out for the creepy crow in Sherlock Holmes and the ancient manuscripts in The Gargoyle.  There’s another book club question: is Madeline’s story real?

A little work around the house

The four projects I did as part of the “get stuff done cuz I have some free days” bonanza:

  1. Installed new lights in all three upstairs rooms. I bought a new light for my office about 2 years ago, and Jenny bought lights for the guest room and the “reading nook” a couple months ago.  I busted out the stepladder and installed them.  The reading nook one looked like crap so I unhooked it, returned it, and tried again.
  2. Installed my father-in-law’s television. My FIL laments that he never gets to watch football when he visits, since the living room television is always surrounded by kids and other people who don’t care.  So for Christmas, my Mother-in-law bought him a television and had it sent to our house.  I went into the crawlspace and wired the reading nook for cable, then set up the television.
  3. Installed my new eco-friendly shower head. I got for a nice massaging eco-friendly shower head for Christmas.  It’s installed.
  4. Put plastic on the upstairs windows.  Sure, I’m six weeks late, but better now than never, eh?  Now maybe I can stop wearing a stocking cap in my office.

Year in Review: Best posts

I’m not going to spend a long time building the arguments for these posts, but rather just skim through and pick out the ones that strike me as having been really good.

As a side note, here are the top posts visited according to WordPress stats:

2009 visitor stats
2009 visitor stats

Alas, most of the really high ranking visits are brought to me by Google Image search.

Student comment

I just discovered this in my notes from this semester’s “Detective Fiction” class, during a student-led exercise in which small groups come up with an idea for a murder mystery:

Student 1: We were tossing around the idea that the killer only kills people with cats.  And then he shaves one of them…

Student 2: Well, he was tossing that around.

And on another day, regarding hard-boiled detectives:

They solve their problems through punching.

The Man Who Loved China

The Man Who Loved China
The Man Who Loved China

The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom
written and narrated by Simon Winchester

I like SW’s books quite a bit.  I’ve read several of them, and continue to enjoy his mix of entertaining facts, astute history, strong biography, and good writing.  The Man Who Loved China doesn’t stand out as his greatest book, but it’s a good one that brings to light a person I’d never heard of before.  Winchester tells the story of Joseph Needham, a biologist who fell in love with China and proceeded to produce a monumental work (Science and Civilization in China), which sought to document China’s vast history of intellectual growth.  A few thoughts:

  • Needham was an interesting man in his own right, driven to work all the time, but also liberal in his proclivities both political and sexual.  He was married for fifty years and had a mistress that whole time, something his wife apparently didn’t mind at all.
  • He had lots of interesting adventures in China during WW2, and the language and description Winchester uses to describe this part of the book is the best passage.  Particularly compelling was Needham’s race to cross a bridge before the Japanese advance cut him off.  They made it across just two days before they would have been captured.
  • As always, Winchester peppers the book with little asides about arcane subjects that are tangentially related to the story, but not completely.  In this case, I was fascinated by the digression on rooms at Cambridge and how they’re parceled out.
  • Also stunning was the tale of the German historian who plundered some ancient caves of hundreds or thousands of documents by bribing a local guy charged with keeping people away from the caves.
  • I love the idea of Needham working his way through China, accumulating tons of manuscripts, scrolls, and other artifacts and sending them back by diplomatic purse.  He ended up with a giant archive of stuff.
  • Did you know historians of china are called Sinologists?

As always, Winchester’s narration sparkles and dances along under his refined accent.  A delight, as usual.

Do you know what are you doing January 14th?

Don't tell me
Don't tell me (Tony Nagelmann)

Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me what you’re doing.  I don’t want to know.  But I know what I’m doing.

Jenny gave me the tickets as a Christmas present this year.  Woot.

In which I pontificate and prognosticate

I was recently interviewed via email for a graduate student paper.  The interview questions are block-quoted below, with my answers left-aligned.

1) For how many years has your class been running?

Four.  This coming January will be the fourth time I teach it.

2) Do you know of any similar classes being taught at other universities?

I know that Andrea Wood has taught a section of the english lit class at Georgia Tech focused on Zombies:
http://engl1102zombies.pbworks.com/

There are lots of horror film classes and vampire classes, but I haven’t encountered any other courses focused strictly on zombies.

3) Has your course become more popular over the past few years? Has there been a rise in registration?

The course is capped at 18, so it fills every year.  There has been a growing mania by students trying to enroll, however.  This year, the course filled within 36 hours of registration opening.  I over-enrolled it by three, but that left about two dozen students who asked for those slots and were unsuccessful in getting them.  I don’t know how many tried to register and stopped when they found it was full.

4) Many attribute popular understandings of the zombie to Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and it seems that since the 60s this image has been upheld. However, over the past two years it seems this image is being recreated (take for instance, Zombieland and the book Pride & Prejudice and Zombies). Would you agree that there seems to be a new type of zombie evolving? Perhaps a comic one? If so, to what would you attribute this to?

Most genres go through a number of phases once they mature, from burlesque to de- and re-contextualization (to use James Cawelti’s terms).  I see stories like Zombieland and PaPaZ as part of the natural ebb and flow of a trope that has become part of culture.

5) In the NPR interview you posted on your blog you mentioned that the rise of zombies in popular culture could be attributed to this postmodern identity conflict created through internet presence and our lack of control in this presence.  Do you think there is anything particularly American behind this idea? Perhaps something on Americans’ inability to settle with an identity?

I’m inclined to think the identity crisis rises from the saturation of the postmodern condition (via digital media).  If it’s an American problem, it’s because we’ve brought entertainment and media into nearly every facet of our lives.  But I think South Korean online gamers probably struggle with similar questions about which identity is really theirs.

Perhaps the American obsession with individualism exacerbates this effect, though.  Our culture spends a lot of time and energy on defining and shaping ourselves, and we buy heavily into the idea that we have control over that identity.

6) In relation to the above, while I realize the idea of zombies has been traced back to African and Haitian cultures, it seems that the current zombie phenomenon is becoming particularly American. In fact, from what I’ve seen, it seems the rise in zombie literature and movies is coming from the US. Do you find anything particularly “American” about zombies? Especially contemporary ideas of zombies?

The essential point, for me, is that cinema is still heavily American. And zombies are a cinematic monster.  If you compare the zombie to all the other big monster tropes, zombies are the only ones that emerged after cinema came into play.  I think this is, in part, because the visual aspect of the monster plays such a key role in shaping the way we fear it.  The rotting corpse is the unheimlich, the uncanny almost-human but-not-quite that sends shivers along our spines.  So yes, insofaras cinema is still strongly American, the zombie is strongly American.

My point about individualism returns here too — the zombie is the ultimate anti-individualistic monster.  In a country obsessed with standing out, zombies do not stand out.

7) I’ve been thinking about the past decade and the rise of zombies in popular culture and I’ve been wondering if there is a correlation with Americans’ fears of infection. With SARS, bird flu and recently, H1N1, I wonder if we may be playing our fears out in zombies in pop culture. While this seems a bit of a simplistic connection, I wonder if there is something behind it. Can you tell me some of your thoughts regarding this?

Many of the current zombie films absolutely play on our recent fears of infectious diseases.  I’m divided, however, on whether that’s an essential part of the zombie story or if it’s just a convenience related to our current fears.  The recent explosion of direct-to-video zombie movies reveals an interesting set of cultural fears tied up in the source of the outbreak: some are diseases, some are cosmetics, there’s even a film that involves zombies springing from bad meat,

8) Dan Vato noted that “Zombies are not uniquely American but I think they are uniquely working class. Guys got to eat, right? Everything you do is sort of driven towards making sure you have something to eat. The zombie just do it out of necessity. Vampires, just needlessly cruel.”  What are your thoughts on this?

I agree.  The nature of the zombie as a collective monster stands in contrast to the elitist vampire.  A study emerged sometime in the last two years that tracked the number of zombie and vampire movies being produced,  The simple corollary was that when Republicans were in power, zombie movies were popular, when Democrats were in power, vampire movies were on the rise.  It’s a cheap read, but I’m satisfied wit the idea of the zombies as the menacing working class and vampires as elitist bloodsuckers.

9) Do you see this zombie obsession as a phase like vampires and Twilight or do you think there is something stronger behind it?

While I’d like to think that zombies are more interesting or important, I think it’s likely just about the ebb and flow of symbols and memes. While it does seem like there are lots of zombie movies and books right now, I’m not sure how much of that is genuine and how much is the The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (I’ve got zombies on my mind, so I see them a lot).

As an aside, I’m of the opinion that Twilight isn’t really about vampires, because Meyer changes the basic rules of the creatures so much that she falls outside the boundaries of the genre.  But that’s just being snarky.

Comics Roundup: Eat or Be Eaten

Chew
Chew

Chew, issues 1-6, by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Chew tells the story of Tony Chu, a “cibopathic” detective who learns clues by eating things.  It’s pretty yucky, but funny.  The story takes place in a post bird-flu world where chicken has been outlawed.  Chu and his partner work for the FDA tracking down black market chicken and catching murderers.  Some thoughts on the first six issues:

  • The comic has a great sense of the genre, building a police procedural using a bunch of stereotypical detective tropes, like the cranky boss, the fish-out-of-water story, and the mysterious new partner gimmicks.
  • The art of the comic has a humorous, somewhat cartoonish style with a scratchy edge to it.  I think the human figures look a bit like Ashley Wood’s people might if he drew them more carefully; the spindly arms and rotund bellies on the men and the odd busts on the women remind me of Angel Medina’s work on Sam and Twitch‘s early issues.
  • The comic dances around the idea of cannibalism by making Chu’s method of doing detective work depend on him sampling the clues.  It’s a pretty good gimmick, made worse by the fact that his boss hates him and does his best to ruin the man.

Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

Hicks crafts a delightful, silly little comic in which zombies rise up and come up against, Scream-style, an expert in zombie movies.  Some thoughts:

  • The shtick about the zombie rules is funny, but should have been a bit more played out.  Two rules does not make a rule set.
  • I would also have liked the movie they’re talking about at the beginning to be a real movie.  At first it appears to be Return of the Living Dead, as the zombies are moaning “Brains!” and a character takes off her clothes.  But then there’s something about a teacher in her underwear — this isn’t in the movie!  C’mon, Faith!
  • The characters are funny and nice — these seem like the hipster cool kids you’d want to hang out with if you were in college.  I thought the moment when the two women ask their buddy’s opinion was particularly nice, as he gleefully acknowledges, “You never ask my opinion!  Wow!”
  • The main character is obsessed with London, using British slang and so on.  I love this trick — I did similar things in college, picking up bits of dialogue from movies and working them into my lexicon.  For a couple years, I whistled like Hawkeye from M*A*S*H*.
  • The art has a silly cuteness to it.  The zombies bumble around and goof, much like the Shaun of the Dead zombies.
The Rules of the Zombie movie
The Rules of the Zombie movie

Overall, a great comic.  I do have one more thought, but it’s a spoiler, so I’ll put it below the fold.

We Are Not Amused
We Are Not Amused

Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma

…is terrible.  I understand that the dialogue might be a bit stiff, since it’s been translated and might have lost some of its verve.  But the art is terrible.  Even if I don’t like the effect of the art, I should be able to admire the skill it took to craft it.  Not the case with Tokyo Zombie.  I understand that there’s a large audience for Manga and so some crap gets published, but really, this is terrible.

The story follows two wrestling/fighters who find themselves beseiged by zombies, which take over Japan, leaving the world in a capitalist dystopia similar to Soylent Green or Land of the Dead.  One of our two wrestlers has become a zombie-fighting gladiator, but one everyone hates because he has no showmanship, like Maximus in Gladiator.  In fact, one of the old ladies even answers Russell Crowe’s eternal question “Are you not entertained?”  Well I am not.

Continue reading Comics Roundup: Eat or Be Eaten

Year in Review: Fiction

I read a whole bunch of books this year, and these are among the best.

CalibreCalibre by Ken Bruen
Tells the story of a group of police officers in Wales(?) investigating a variety of cases.  Refers to and models itself on the Ed McBain 87th precinct series, with a nod to Jim Thompson as well.  Fast-paced and quick, with solid dialog and excellent characters. Great meta-detective fiction as well.

The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Excellent and gripping, a murder mystery in the cold air of Sweden. Financial scams, awesome punk rock computer hacker girls, journalist excitement. Lives up to the hype.  Is particularly good at uncovering the seething underbelly of Swedish wealth and privilege.  Also brings the characters alive by making them interesting and rounded.  There’s a 100 page section about 1/3 of the way through that you won’t be able to put down.

Roger AckroydThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
The story of a poisoning (I think) with a bunch of suspects and a monumentally good conclusion.  Poirot comes out as a fussy little Belgian (which he is); reading the book thoroughly reinforced the Platonic Ideal of Poirot and its resemblance to David Souchet.  This has often been hailed as one of the best Classical detective novels written, or at least one of Christie’s best. I agree.

InfectedInfected by Scott Sigler
Alien spores strafe the U.S. Midwest, springing up blue triangles that take over their host’s thoughts and grow into horrible monsters.  One ex-football player with anger problems finds the experience intolerable, and awesomeness ensues.  A taught, delicious medical/sf/horror thriller with gruesome gore and memorable characters.  I enjoyed the sequel, Contagious, as well.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
On the mysterious planet Hyperion lives the extra-dimensional warrior god Shrike; capricious and violent, the deadly enigma offers hope for five pilgrims pursuing the legend that the Shrike will grant a wish and life to one person from each party.  Like the Canterbury tales, but in space. Could have been several delightful short novels. I’m holding off reading the other books for fear that they won’t be as good.

AnathemAnathem by Neal Stephenson
A huge doorstop of a book, but one that combines Stephenson’s brilliance at mixing ideas with fiction to his old skill at weaving excellent SF tales. Anathem describes an alternate future Earth in which civilization has risen and fallen many times, impressing on man the need for timeless institutions that revere knowledge.  These institutions, called Maths, are like science monasteries, where pure research combines with ascetic life and contemplative existence.  But when a ship from another universe shows up and starts the worlds’ sabers rattling, our young hero must join with other Devout to help save the world.  Probably not for a Stephenson newbie, but fantastic for an old hand like me.

Happy Christmas

Editor’s Note: Okay, I’m back-dating this, posting on the 28th of December but back dating to the 25th. Too bad.

We spent the 21st through the 27th in Minnesota visiting my family. A couple highlight photos. More on our family blog. If you don’t have that address and want it, drop me a line and I’ll probably give it to you; it’s just not “public” in the way this blog is.

Photo Highlights:

A Ninja Turtle!
A Ninja Turtle!

Avery was more impressed that Santa ate cookies than that he brought the Michaelangelo Ninja Turtle she’d asked for.

Finder's keeper's
Finder's keeper's

Finn was just happy to find a cookie.

Mo's Bacon bar
Mo's Bacon bar

I got a bacon bar.  Chocolate and bacon.  You heard me.

Musical Highlights:

On the drive up and back, we listened to quite a bit of Christmas music, and a few things emerged as this year’s favorites:

  • Straight No Chaser is an a capella group with a delightful Christmas album.  Check out the Christmas can can.
  • I got the Crash Test Dummies’ creepy Christmas album, Jingle All the Way from emusic this month.  Brad Roberts’ voice is downright eerie on White Christmas, and both Jenny and Avery found the CTD “Jingle Bells” compelling.  Personally, I love it but think it sounds like Christmas on the Siberian Gulag.  Take a listen: Jingle Bells
  • We also listened to the CDs I burned from Cover Lay Down‘s holiday posts.  The Sugarland cover of “I’m gettin’ nothin’ for Christmas” is amazing.  You must listen and enjoy: I’m gettin nuttin for Christmas

Minnesota got a huge load of snow that arrived just in time to give us a nice white Christmas without getting in our way.  We got to see lots of family (but not as many friends as usual), and had great times.  Wassailing and all that.  I hope you had a lovely holiday too.

Yikes! Trickery

A Treasury of Deception
A Treasury of Deception

A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History’s Greatest Hoaxes, Fakes and Frauds by Michael Farquhar

I read this book very slowly over a long time, which is how it’s meant to be read, I’d guess.  Farquhar  crafts a variety of short essays exploring/explaining a whole bunch of deceptions throughout history.  He tells of liars, frauds, etc etc.  It’s a great book to put in a bathroom for people to read while they, um, bathe.  It’s got that light tone to it.

Not a lot more to say about it, except that a few of the frauds were completely new to me while most were things I’d heard of before.  One that sticks out in my mind right here from the end of the reading is Samson’s betrayal by his lady friend.  I hadn’t remembered that he lied to her three times and three times she tried to exploit his weakness.  Then she convinced him to tell her his real secret.  What a dope!

Farquhar does a good job writing with humor and verve, but the book’s more about breadth than depth.

Dead Man’s Diary and A Taste for Cognac

Dead Man's Diary and A Taste for Cognac

Year in Review: cinema and television

I watched just over five dozen films this year; here are my favorites (among the movies I saw for the first time):

Cinema

  • Star Trek – I enjoyed this rollicking rethinking of the original space adventure.  I loved the way Abrams kept the old continuity and erased it at the same time–it’s a cute plot trick that lets them violate all sorts of old tropes about the Star Trek universe.  Awesome stuff.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceI’m a sucker for these movies, I’ll admit, but the last couple have been very good.  I’d put this movie at position #2 in my list of favorites, just following the incomparable Prisoner of Azkaban.  I particularly liked the over-used trailer line, “I’m afraid I must once again ask too much of you, Harry.”  Good ol’ Michael Gambon.
  • The Invention of LyingI’m a sucker for Ricky Gervais.  I love his Office, of course, but his mellower characters who brim with humility and shabbiness are even better.  The Invention of Lying captures this brilliantly, and it has a skewering vision of religion to boot.  Rob Lowe hasn’t played smarmy this brilliantly since Wayne’s World.
  • [REC] – I only recently watched this film, so it seems a little strange to put in on the Year in Review, but it’s so darn good!  The intensity of the through-the-camera view gives it some real zest.

Television

  • The IT Crowd – This britcom delights me with its cheesy canned laughter, its over-the-top characters, and its crazy boss.  Like Black Books, it operates within the genre of the sitcom, not tweaking it but making it sing.  Like jazz.
  • The Lost Room – We watched this SciFi miniseries on DVD and were delighted with it.  The show tells the story of a mysterious room where something horrible happened.  The objects that were in the room each have mystical powers which amplify as they’re brought together.  Secret cabals compete to collect the objects, and villains wait around every corner.  Awesome stuff.
  • Psych – My favorite television show, I think.  It’s not complicated or mentally challenging, but more like popcorn.  It’s buttery and good and you want more as soon as you’ve finished.  It’s the one show that makes me smile pretty much every time I watch it, and whose commercials I stop fast forwarding to watch.  Check out the promo at the bottom of the page.
  • Dollhouse, Epitaph One – Bar none the best episode of television I watched this year.  So what if I saw it on DVD?  It’s a great post-apocalyptic story that pulls new ideas and emotions from characters who were settling into defined roles.  It demands that we think about the show in ways that were getting covered over by melodrama, and it makes everyday life in the series a bit more fragile.  Cracking good job, Joss!
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3ipGZ4H3Qg]

Ralph Nader vs. Zombies (and Robots)

An Unreasonable Man
Zombies vs. Robots Complete
by Chris Ryall and Ashley Wood

An Unreasonable Man vs. Zombies vs. Robots
An Unreasonable Man vs. Zombies vs. Robots

For my double reviews, I try to pair two texts I’ve finished closely together and review them as if they were meant to connect.  As perhaps my strangest connection yet, I’m now reviewing Zombies vs. Robots and An Unreasonable Man.  First, a bit about each because these texts are great on their own and worth looking at.

An Unreasonable Man
This film takes a hard look at Ralph Nader, his rise to prominence as an advocate for consumer change, his twenty year crusade against the corporatization of Washington, and his two presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004.  Nader is a complicated man who speaks truth to power and has done a lot for the people of our country.  I admire him a lot and nearly voted for him in 2000 (when I lived in Florida!).  I decided not to for political gamesmanship reasons, but I strongly disagree with the people who blame him for Bush.  I feel like the two party system is terrible and we need change, and we won’t get it voting for the same old same old.

My favorite moment in the film is the oscillation between the bitter former Nader fans who blame Nader for spoiling the election and the political scientist who studied Nader’s movements and declared that his strategy was not at all about spoiling.  Rabid opinion versus hard fact always makes for good cinema.

Zombies vs. Robots
Ashley Wood has stood out for a while now as one of my favorite comic artist, based mostly on his anarchic, surreal Automatic Kafka.  Wood wields the same crazy pen and brush in this delicious apocalyptic comic.  ZVR tells the story of mankind’s demise at our own hands, a zombie outbreak that leaves the world populated only by the robots we created to help us before we (un)died.  Amazons arrive to play a role as well, as do other mythical creatures as the story goes along. It’s crazy and silly and grotesque, and I love it.

Double Review
Both works focus on a single character standing alone in the face of insurmountable odds.  In one story, it’s a warbot beseiged by the undead–in the other, it’s a lawyer beseiged by the undead congressional lobby.  The solitary character is painted as both a hero and a villain–Nader’s supporters point to the reams of positive legislation he helped pass and lament his factor in helping Bush gain the Presidency; Ryall and Wood follow the Warbot as he nukes the world to save the planet, and then oscillates between being a savior and a destructor.

  • Other similarities — the side characters come and go, leaving only the protagonist to travel the whole story.
  • Neither protagonist repents at all; Warbot shows no more regret than Nader does, though some might argue that each helped propagate a lot of death.
  • Both ultimately seek to help people, though Nader doesn’t shoot many people and Warbot spends very little time lobbying congress.
  • Both stories have a prurient side.  The queen of the Amazons and most of her army are trapped and eaten by zombies in flagrante delicto, while we learn that GM early on sought to smear Nader by sending lovely ladies to entrap him.

Ultimately, both stories focus on the folly of people and our inability to defend ourselves from our own mischief.  “Humans begat robots begat zombies, and together they begat planetwide nuclear holocaust.”  That’s really a summary of both stories.  Only in the Ralph Nader one, you substitute “robots” and “zombies” for “dangerous consumer products” and “aggressive capital lobbies.”  Totally works.

The Innocence of Father Brown

The Innocence of Father Brown
The Innocence of Father Brown

by G.K. Chesterton; Narrated by Brian Roberg for Librivox.org

Obviously, I enjoy mystery stories.  And I understand that G.K. Chesterton is a revered and honored British writer, and that his father brown mysteries are most enduring and likeable.  But they didn’t do much for me.

Don’t get me wrong, they were clever enough, with some nice reparte between the eponymous mystery-solving priest and his quarry, but the action was almost always removed from the story, and the solving of the mystery was as often as not done by F.B. in his mind at some date or place far away from the telling of the events.  In one story, he purported to have solved an age-old murder mystery and be journeying the country to determine if ethics demanded that he reveal his sources.

The stories are also laced through with a religiosity that doesn’t really make sense to me–Father Brown returns to “reason” a lot as justification for faith, but doesn’t really explain what he means other than that the world is mysterious.  Sigh.  Perhaps I’m just doomed not to understand GKC books — I had the same problems with The Man Who Was Thursday.

Father Brown fits that genre, of course, of the old biddy detective, like Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher, people count him out because he’s round-faced and wears a funny hat–but unlike the odious Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, Father Brown keeps a brain under his.   His constant companion and friend is the former-thief turned private investigator, Flambeaux.  I like the relationship these two have, though it makes you wonder how Flambeaux makes any money, if Father Brown is always around mooching cases and solving them.

Librivox’s reader, Brian Roberg, did a fine job making his way through the text.  He read with precision and emotion, but didn’t go overboard with the whole production.  Just solid work.