The Living Dead 2

The Living Dead 2
The Living Dead 2

The Living Dead 2 edited by John Joseph Adams

I used this anthology in my Zombies in Popular Media class* this semester, to great acclaim.  The story collection has 44 original zombie stories from a variety of notable writers.  It’s pretty great.  Like the last collection, there’s a mix of different kinds of zombie stories here, from the military action of Joe McKinney to the existential torment of Adam-Troy Castro.  A few highlights, for me:

  • “Zero Tolerance” by Jonathan Mayberry continues the saga started in Patient Zero, but mixes in the question of torture and interrogation in the age of zombies.  Good stuff.
  • “Rural Dead” by Bret Hammond was one of the more clever stories, for me.  It ponders how the ever-pragmatic Amish might handle a zombie outbreak.
  • “Pirates vs. Zombies” by Amanda Beamer hits just the right mix of humor, disgust, pathos, and ethics for me.  A winner.
  • “The Anteroom” by Adam-Troy Castro and “Who We Used to Be” by David Moody both capture the darker side of the zombie apocalypse well.  The latter, particularly, grabs suburban America by the lapels and shakes us.
  • Finally, I think “Good People” by David Wellington strikes the perfect chord for people thinking of how they might survive the zombie apocalypse.

A solid collection of good stories.  A worthy follow up to The Living Dead and well worth the read.

*Full disclosure: I was planning to use this anthology anyway, because I liked the first one, but the publisher sent me a review copy sometime in October 2010.

Turbo Tax has a sense of humor

Teacher Expenses
Teacher Expenses

Check out the friendly little message just below the deduction.

2011-01-30 Tweets

  • "Little Lion Man" from Mumford & Sons kicks all kinds of ass. Why aren't you listening to it RIGHT NOW? #
  • Finn is ready to come out of his room. Through the monitor, I'm hearing "AWOOOOO AWOOOO ahhhhWOOOOO!" #
  • Just updated my Blackberry–now a whole new interface to get used to. #
  • @TravisCharon bwa ha ha! in reply to TravisCharon #
  • Watching THE INCREDIBLES w/ the kids. Avery: "There's his work stuff. His desk is messy like yours." #
  • Watching Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. It's already awesomely bad! #

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IT Crowd, series 4

The IT Crowd
The IT Crowd

Have you been watching The IT Crowd?  If not, why not?  It’s one of the best geek friendly britcoms I’ve seen.  Every series has been great, and this one is no exception (though the final ep. didn’t have the awesomeness that some of the previous seasons have had).  Series four is more of the same: Moss, Roy, Jen, and Mr. Reynhom continue their awesome shenanigans.  A few highlights:

  • One of the early episodes has perhaps the best depiction of both the innate hilarity of role playing games and the real sense of excitement and suspense that is generated by players of such games.  Both funny and sympathetic, the episode laughs AT and WITH the geeks.
  • Another highlight is Roy’s embarrassing lawsuit against the masseur who violates the sacred trust of the massager/massaged contract.
  • The amusing absurdist nature of the stories in the show continues to pay off.  We can enjoy exaggerated sequences, like the one where Moss gets trapped in a vending machine, without breaking the suspension of disbelief.

Excellent.  Worth watching (and available via Netflix streaming).

See also: IT Crowd, series 2 and 3; IT Crowd

Blindspot

Blindspot
Blindspot

Blindspot by Kevin C. Pyle

Pyle’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel tells the story about how a boy who was sort-of a loner came to see the value of his family and their life.  It’s a nice read.

A few quick thoughts:

  • Pyle does a great job capturing the vigor of young imagination.  I remember these kinds of experiences (though “army” wasn’t really a game I played) and see my children starting to have similar ones.
  • There’s also an excellent treatment of the way children underestimate the impact their thoughtless acts have on adults.  As adult readers, we can see how the old woman shrieking about her stolen laundry has every right to be angry.  But we also probably remember being a child and having similar experiences–the thrill of illicit adventure surely outweighs any feelings of guilt we had, at the time anyhow.
  • I also like the theme of the adventure space that the kids feel they own.  The protagonist’s access to the forest near his house gives him the space to have adventures that give him the room to grow and actually endanger him as well.  We often don’t realize how dangerous the world can be until it suddenly gets very dangerous.
  • Pyle’s art is solid, shifting styles (along with excellent coloring) to move between the imaginary world and the real one.

A fine read, but I’d probably suggest you borrow rather than buy this one.

Pontypool

Pontypool
Shut up or die

Pontypool

If you enjoy zombie films and you haven’t seen Pontypool, move it to the top of your queue.  The film tells the story of a strange outbreak of violence in the eponymous town in northern Ontario.  All the action takes place inside the radio station that serves the town, relying on the old Shakespearean trick of having the best events occur off-stage(screen) and be relayed to us.  It’s incredible to have such an intense movie where much of the screen time is filled with people in headphones looking confused, frightened, or both.

A few thoughts:

  • The innovation in Pontypool is to make the zombie virus linguistic — it spreads through speech.  So to listen is to endanger yourself, to talk is to endanger others.  It’s really a frightening idea that plays with some of the very basic things we think about how we communicate.  The use of violence in the movie is also excellent, putting minimal imagery to maximum effect.  In that way, this is much like an old-school horror movie, with lots of buildup and suspense.
  • I couldn’t help but think of the passages in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash about the linguistic divide of literate versus pre-literate people in which it’s suggested that the Tower of Babel myth refers to an actual event that finally broke the herd communication of humans and allowed for the individual ego to emerge.  The violent people in Pontypool seem to travel in herds.
  • It’s also very much like a radio play.  One of my students was inspired by this film (he’d seen it before we watched it in class) to make a War of the Worlds-style broadcast depicting the beginning of a zombie outbreak in downtown Chicago.
  • The best part of the movie is the wizened, crackly face of Stephen McHattie as the deejay Grant Mazzy, who reminds me a lot of Fred Ward.  McHattie embodies the outsider perspective (being new to the community) and has enough life and verve to carry all those scenes of him staring into a microphone while he listens to the reports coming in over phone and wire.
  • Finally, Pontypool engages with the question of how the media covers disasters.  Early in the film, Mazzy and his cohorts report on an incident without being able to confirm any of the events or really knowing what’s going on.  Throughout the movie, there’s a constant tension between the need for reporters to “let people know what’s going on” and the risk of doing so without adequate information about the events they’re covering.  It wouldn’t be hard to connect the notion of the zombie outbreak to the kinds of mass hysteria that emerge during chaotic times.

If you watch it, be sure to watch through to the end of the credits.

Stay safe out there
Stay safe out there

From A to : Keywords of Markup

From A to <A>: Keywords of Markup, eds Bradley Dilger and Jeff Rice

Looking for that great Valentine’s day gift for an academic in your life?  Look no further than this collection of essays about HTML, writing, and culture.  Note, especially, chapter 5: “Style guide to the secrets of <style>” by yours truly.

That is all.

Snapshots of traffic police in Chicago

traffic

I don’t envy the job of traffic police in Chicago.  People drive fast, they ignore signals, they honk, they text, they act like idiots.  And your job is to stand there in the middle of the street and make them drive more sensibly.  Yikes.  That said, I’ve also seen a couple things that were alternately funny and somewhat disturbing.  Here are two memorable police moments (in reverse order of timeliness), all from my walk between LaSalle station and my building on Congress parkway:

  1. Last week, I walked toward a street where I had the light and was planning to cross.  In front of me, another pedestrian had just made his way across the street in front of a CPD SUV sitting at the stoplight with its emergency lights flashing blue.  I saw the officer inside scowling at the pedestrian, as I would have if I were the officer.  He’d walked in front of a police car with its emergency lights on.  What the heck! So I stopped on the corner, waiting for the officer to proceed into the intersection.  Instead, the officer looks up, sees me waiting, and then turns off the emergency lights.  I still had a walk signal, so I crossed the street, reassessing my initial reaction — what had the officer been scowling at?
  2. The heroic traffic conductors working State and Congress are awesome.  Daily I see them pointing, blowing whistles, and shepherding traffic faster than the lights can.  My favorite moments come when they holler at inattentive drivers, trilling their whistles at cars who should be moving but aren’t or waving back over-eager stoplight waiters edging forward before their time.

In Pursuit of Other Interests

In Pursuit of Other Interests
In Pursuit of Other Interests

In Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris

In Pursuit of Other Interests isn’t the sort of book I’d normally choose to read. The novel follows a difficult few months in the life of Charlie Barker, a manic workaholic who gets fired from his position at the head of a big ad agency in Chicago only to find that his home life is already in as much of a shambles as his career.  He discovers that he’s been ignoring his wife and she’s on the verge of leaving him, and his son has grown up without his input at all.  Growth ensues.

A few thoughts:

  • The novel is well-written, walking a line between letting providing a glimpse  of Charlie as a person (yikes!) deserving of our scorn and an image of a man desperate for connection for whom we can feel some empathy.  It never drifts too far in one direction or another, though the beginning quickly uses up most of the goodwill I inherently have for a protagonist.
  • The hardest thing about this novel, for me, was the fact that I really did not like the protagonist.  A dislikable main character, even one slotted by the genre to grow and become a better person by the end of the book, makes it difficult for me to keep on keepin’ on.  And Charlie, for at least the first third of the novel, is an AWFUL person.
  • A novel of our times, Charlie’s search for a new job is certainly a scary prospect.  Kokoris does a great job capturing the difficult landscape of the unemployed in today’s grim job market.  The placement office where Charlie finds himself is a particularly terrifying kind of place, with “networking” meetings and grim conversations with people crushed by the search for a new job.
  • The best part of the book, for me, is the slow burn of potential traumas such as his wife’s (possible) infidelity and his son’s estrangement.  The small moments where Charlie’s wife begins to reconnect to him really make the second half of the novel shine.
  • Some of the blurbs paint the novel as comedic, and certainly there are moments of comedy, but overall this isn’t a funny book.  I wouldn’t read this as a light-hearted romp.  Go get some Carl Hiaasen if that’s what you want.

Well-written and ultimately worthwhile, but I wouldn’t probably recommend it unless you tend to like real-world novels about people growing and stuff.

Tu Sherlock den Angel

From Sherlock to Angel, in Vietnamese
From Sherlock to Angel, in Vietnamese

I just got a copy of the Vietnamese translation of my essay that appeared in the Journal of Popular Culture in 2009.  Wowsers.  If you want a copy, drop me an email.  (I’m happy to send a copy in English too, if that’s your preferred mode of reading.)

2011-01-23 Tweets

  • An hour @ the bookstore then lunch and a movie. Love day dates with my lady. #
  • Avery: Daddy! Look what I'm doing: I'm covering my ears like a taco. #
  • Fourth viewing of [REC], fourth time getting the heebie jeebies from it. #
  • Sacrilarious! http://is.gd/8lrp3N #
  • Playing LAST NIGHT ON EARTH w/ my zombie class. #
  • @neuroflora sounds BAAtastic. in reply to neuroflora #

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Google Alerts brings a dose of death and sexism

Brendan Riley Obit
Brendan Riley Obit (click to enlarge)

I guess the downside to having an eponymous Google Alert is that you occasionally get stuff about other people who share your name.  In this case, instead of the usual football or soccer reports (my younger namesakes seem to be very sporty!), I got an obit.  It’s a little off-putting, but since he seems to have had a good life and passed away naturally, I guess that’s the best I could hope to read about.  Peacefully in bed at 91 years old wouldn’t be a bad way to go.  Good one, my friend; happy sailing.

As a bonus, the Boston Globe also brings us one of the more blatant and unnecessary uses of cleavage for advertising I’ve seen.  Unlike ads for online dating or other things that might have a contextual reason to include a busty woman, the ad for Mortgage Rates in the lower right corner includes an animated gif of a woman working out, for no reason that I can divine (other than “sex sells”).  Maybe those rates are only available to buyers with home workout equipment?

A very Zombie Christmas

I realized that I forgot to mention these two lovely zombie books I got for Christmas this year.  They’re both delightful!

Zombie Night Before Christmas

The Zombie Night Before Christmas by H. Parker Kelley

An amusing romp through Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” with a zombie twist.  Essentially, Santa visits a house infected with zombies and, despite his best efforts, is bitten.  Henceforth, Santa is a zombie.

While the poem works pretty much as it had before, the art is what makes this adaptation zing along.  My favorite part is the zombie who clings to the reindeer as Santa tries to get away, chawing down on that tasty, tasty flying reindeer flesh.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies: A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols by Michael P. Spradlin

Exactly what it appears to be, Spradlin’s book takes familiar Christmas Carols and re-writes them to have a zombie theme.  An essential part of your seasonal celebrations next year, if you enjoy integrating shambling, putrid, ravenous corpses into your holiday gatherings.  And who doesn’t?

Young Sherlock Holmes

Underage smoking was a severe problem in Victorian London
Underage smoking was a severe problem in Victorian London

I first saw this movie once or twice as a child, probably as a video rental.  I doubt that I saw it in the theaters.  But I didn’t remember it much at all, except as being something I was fond of.  Sigh.

Young Sherlock Holmes tells the story of the real first meeting of Holmes and Watson, at a public school in London, where Holmes has already developed himself as a detective (not much learning to do here) and Watson just wants to be a doctor in his future life.  The mystery turns on missing girls and a strange Egyptian sect operating in central London.

Some thoughts:

  • The script is by Chris Columbus, whose work I’ve come to dislike on instinct.  When I moaned at seeing his name in the credits, Jenny told me to give it a rest.  Nonetheless, I cling to my cantankerous dislike as an affectation at this point. By contrast, it was directed by Barry Levinson.
  • This adaptation’s Watson has the cowardly or comical bent most close to that of the Watson in the 1950s television version of the show instead of the competent Watson of the books or the better adaptations.  To be fair, though, Watson appears to be between 12 and 14 in this film, so it’s hard to say how brave or competent he should be.
  • One of the minor characters is a rascally mentor of Holmes, an inventor and former headmaster of the school who is working on a DaVincian flying machine.  Of course, Holmes is able to fix the machine and use it at a crucial moment.  Boy did this bug the shit out of me because the machine does not come close to meeting the physics burden of an actual flying machine.  They could have changed the design a little bit, but no.
  • The actors playing both Holmes and Watson have full, soft lips.  They remind me of Macaulay Culkin in that way.  C.F. James Kincaid’s book Erotic Innocence.  Creepy!  Interesting side note: all three main actors (Holmes, Watson, and Elizabeth) have continued working quite regularly.
  • The hallucination scenes in the film are the best part, with the creepy Gothic scenery of London coming alive and menacing the poisoned people.  Elizabeth falls in an open grave and finds herself pawed by skeletons.  Mwa ha ha!
  • The image above could only be a publicity photo, since one minor scene involves Watson buying the pipe after being coerced to make a purchase at a curio shop.  He later gives it to Holmes.  Why is it that movies about Sherlock Holmes often get cute about how he acquires his trademark Deerstalker cap, overcoat, and pipe?  I think there’s something like that in the dinosaur-laden Sherlock Holmes, and I’m pretty sure there’s a similar scene in Sherlock: Case of Evil.

Not bad, but not great either.