Tweets from 2014-11-23 to 2014-11-29

The Colorado Kid

The Colorado KidThe Colorado Kid
by Stephen King

The Colorado Kid is a crime story and a mystery steeped in place.¬† Its setting and its storytellers are the crucial ingredient that makes the tale go.¬† The plot, loosely described, is thus: two veteran journalists in a small town in coastal Maine tell a young journalist about a mysterious case they’d encountered a couple decades ago.¬† A few thoughts:

  • This is actually a tale about how stories are told — the way journalists shape the articles they write and choose the pieces they tell.¬† I’m not sure how true it is in its evaluation of the way journalists work, but it’s amusing.
  • The three main characters are compelling and interesting, and the audience is warmly welcomed into their intimate mentorship.
  • In some ways, this novel feels like King’s attempt at the historical mystery, his own run at The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.¬† Both tales concentrate on a mystery already told, and solutions whose visibility dims as the years go by.
  • Part of what drove me to pick this up was the television show Haven, which purports to be inspired by this novel.¬† Alas, the two stories only overlap in the character of the town and the two reporters.¬† All the things that make Haven interesting are missing from this novel that supposedly inspired it.
  • I read the “Hard Case” edition of the book, which has an hilarious cover that has nothing to do with the novel at all, save that one of the characters is a woman.¬† The other covers I’ve seen on line for later editions of the book all have much more to do with the novel than does this one.

It’s nice to read a Stephen King book that’s not six hundred pages or more.¬† That said, this wasn’t my favorite book — either as a mystery or a King novel.

Dispatches from the Age of Electracy: Beguiled by Spam

As all blog owners do, I regularly clear the spam queue from my blog, rarely giving a second glance to comments so clearly machine generated.¬† I believe early machine comments with non-advertising contents are designed to build a spambot’s reputation on a site so later they can post SEO click content.¬† Anyway, yesterday I got this comment that was so vague it had to be spam:

spam-comment

But it was posted as a comment on a movie review post that I really liked. So I really wanted it to be real.¬† Of course, when I googled the email address, I found it on a list of ‘free email addresses’ for spammers and jerkwads to use.¬† I marked it as spam, but sadly.

*Need context on the Age of Electracy?*

Comics Roundup: Moon Knight, Lady Sabre, Locke and Key Vol 1

Moon Knight, Vol 1 Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft

Moon Knight, Vol 1: From the Dead, by Ellis and Shalvey
I always like Warren Ellis’ work.¬† He brings a jaunty righteousness to his vigilantes that satisfies like a well crafted hamburger.¬† Delicious but not that good for you.¬† At the same time, Ellis is at his best when constructing his own worlds and characters.¬† Thus, my feeling about Moon Knight: From the Dead is mixed — it’s a character that exists already and seems nearly unkillable, that protects people who ‘travel at night’ in the city?¬† So far there just isn’t much there to grab on to.¬† I’ll give it another volume, surely, because it’s Warren Ellis.¬† But so far, it feels like the Punisher but with a dumb mask.

Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, Vol 1, by Rucka and Burchett
Few male comics writers do better writing women than Greg Rucka.¬† His stock in trade has always been the whip-smart woman who defies lazy stereotypes.¬† So it makes sense that he’d shine in a world of pirates, airships, swords, gunslingers, and clockwork.¬† The Lady Sabre story is a great adventure, and I look forward to the next chapter.¬† (I’m not reading it online, so I’ll wait until they release another volume or they announce that they aren’t going to.)

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Hill and Rodriguez
A great start to a creepy comic series.¬† After a tragedy sends them fleeing from their normal lives, the family seeks shelter at their ancestral home, each trying to find solace in their new environment.¬† But it turns out that there are secrets in this old house, fantastical keys that create magical effects.¬† And circling this vulnerable family are forces of darkness, seeking to manipulate and consume the family.¬† This first volume shocks and appalls, and sets the stage for a great story. Also, this is the first time I ever remember getting a ‘jump scare’ from a comic book.¬† I’m looking forward to Vol 2.

Tweets from 2014-11-16 to 2014-11-22

Annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer Annihilation
by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation is the first book in a trilogy about the strange.¬† The premise is delightfully vague — a zone (in the United States?) has become infested with some sort of invading biology that terraforms the land around it, menaces the people living there, and brings the strange in high doses.¬† Into this forbidden zone, which the residents of the “Southern Reach” (is that the U.S. South? seems like) call “Area X,” goes a team of four specialists: a psychologist, an anthropologist, a biologist, and a surveyor.¬† Things go weird quickly.

A few thoughts:

  • This book is mesmerizing and creepy, but it never really grabbed me.¬† By the last third of the book I was keen to find out what was going on, but my experience of it never amped up the way I like a book to do, especially one focused so much on mystery/ magic/ or horror.
  • The book’s shifting tone is one of the most interesting aspects of this book; it revels in complex category allegiances.¬† Like many books of fantasy and weirdness, Annihilation challenges our sense of narrative cohesion and the way we understand what’s happening in the tale.
  • The epistolary form works well given the narrative reveals throughout the story, but at the same time it releases one crucial safety valve, which is whether or not the narrator will make it to the end of the tale.¬† They must.¬† That said, I like the way suspense and fear get worked into the story through foreshadowing and flashbacks.
  • There were several moments in reading the novel where I thought of LOST and its attendant weirdnesses throughout the island.¬† But unlike LOST, Annihilation sticks to a single person’s perspective and a single person’s narrative.¬† This gives Vandermeer a lot more freedom to include story hooks that do not get resolved, as the limited perspective of the narrator necessarily means that not every bump in the night will get investigated.¬† (As opposed to LOST, which followed many perspectives and thus suggested that we might eventually get everything explained to us.)
  • The fantastical elements of the novel are pretty out there — a strange mix of surreal and bizarre, worthy of Clive Barker or similar fantasists.¬† I particularly like the use of a lighthouse as a key location in the story, as that particular kind of structure easily serves a variety of allegorical and storytelling purposes, being isolated, liminal, and kinda creepy.¬† In that way, this book stands as a strong descendant of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, which often turned on groups of people encountering things beyond comprehension, and wrestling with the madness that could follow.

As I read this book, I also couldn’t help but think of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a 1979 movie about a forbidden zone in Russia where a mysterious force, or set of forces, has taken over and driven out the rightful residents.¬† The government in that film has banned any incursions into the place, but the narrator joins a black market coyote who specializes in taking trips into the zone. Both Annihilation and Stalker make use of the eerie state created by modern culture that has been taken over by nature (and by something strange).¬† They both trade on the tendency of the human mind to imagine things hiding in the dark, watching us, and on our propensity for curiosity.¬† Most significantly to me, both texts make strange the everyday (like a lighthouse) through some actual weirdness and a liberal dose of well-crafted mood.

Weird snow space Wolf and the pond Stalker movie poster Dudes in a room

Overall, Annihilation is a compelling tale of mystery and terror, a weird fantasy story in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, with a dose of Clive Barker.  Take someone with you when you read it.

How cold was it?

It’s pretty darn cold in Chicagoland this week.¬† It’s not like the Minnesota of my childhood, but still.

Old "smoking" engine leaves Chicago's Union Station

I remember walking outside in those Minnesota winters, puffing up into the air like a train. As to whether I still do that on the days when my breath condenses in Chicago’s early morning sun? NO COMMENT.

Dispatches from the Age of Electracy: I Zombify Myself to Teach About Zombies

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to Skype in to the Crane River Theater company’s zombie run training session to provide a little information for the zombie participants there.¬† I wasn’t able to do it live, so I sent them a 15 minute video to show instead.¬† They recently sent me a thank you note and a couple photos of my ‘talk.’¬† This line of events struck me as amazing and weird:

  • Unable to work out a time for me to attend the event…
  • I was invited to attend digitally but couldn’t make the time they had in mind…
  • So I sent a video of me talking about zombies…
  • Which their participants watched (and, I’m told, enjoyed)…
  • During which their photographer took photos…
  • Printed those photos…
  • And mailed them to me.

It’s awesome.

Crane River Theater Zombie Run Training Session crane-river-theater02-web

Also, it occurs to me that I’ve enabled some digital zombification of myself.¬† The organizers can take my video and use it in future runs, or distribute it, or do whatever.¬† I suppose nominally they’re limited by copyright law, but I didn’t do much to secure any rights to the video.¬† In my essay “The E-Dead,” I argued that part of the confluence of the zombie genre and the Internet comes in our fear of being out of control of ourselves.¬† As we make and distribute digital artifacts, we all experience the artist’s dilemma more and more (the artist’s dilemma being that you cannot control your work once you release it into the world).¬† And that experience of being controlled by other people feels an awful lot like being a voodoo zombie.

*Need context on the Age of Electracy?*

Dad is Fat

Dad Is Fat
Dad Is Fat

Dad is Fat
by Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan is funny.¬† If you didn’t know that, get thee to Netflix! Gaffigan’s book, Dad is Fat, explores the weird, wild world of the father of five who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City with his apparently amazing wife.¬† It’s a funny book full of brief essays with sharp observations on the parenting life.¬† It’s funny and earnest and simple, and well written.¬† A few thoughts:

  • Gaffigan makes a good argument about our society’s happy willingness to comment on other peoples’ lives.¬† The section on peoples’ reactions to the fact that he has five kids works really well, feeling both earnest and thoughtful.
  • I kept finding myself telling Jenny my favorite bits.¬† A few quick quips: “I’m the kind of guy who dresses up with for Halloween with his kids.¬† I wish I’d known how much Captain Hook looks like Captain Morgan, and how much people in New York like rum.” and “Whoever thought up the phrase ‘terrible twos’ must have felt pretty dumb when his kid turned three.”
  • Gaffigan does a great job explaining how a great marriage should work.¬† He seems like a real partner to Jeannie, and she to him.¬† It’s interesting to compare his approach to the darker honesty of Michael Ian Black in You’re Not Doing It Right.
  • My favorite section in the book is toward the end, when Gaffigan explains how he takes his family on the road with him in the summer, doing shows at night and using a tour bus to “camp” their way across the country.¬† It’s heartwarming and amusing.
  • Throughout the book, Gaffigan maintains his self-depreciating humor and clean approach to comedy.¬† He explores the ups and downs of parenting, of family life in New York, and of parenting-related aspects like babysitters and friendships.

Dad is Fat is a great book, very amusing and earnest and touching.

Tweets from 2014-11-09 to 2014-11-15

Who Put the Roo in the Stew?

Who put the roo in the stew?

“As a fact of life it’s known now,
and we all know that it’s true:
the Colonel put the lickin’ in the chicken,
but who put the roo in the stew?”

The tale of a shady meat dealer, apparently.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bH_6eUlJfac]

The Casual Vacancy – J. R. R. Rowling

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Tom Hollander

When Barry Fairbrother, town counsellor for a tiny English down, dies of an anurysm, the ensuing vicious squabble over the titular opening becomes both intricate, fraught, and nightmarish.¬† The leading lights of the town and their children are all tightly intertwined, and often at odds with one another.¬† It’s a book of strong characters and intense experiences, a meditation on the malaise of middle age, and an exercise in cruelty.¬† It’s also just not a great book.

A few thoughts:

  • Rowling’s biggest strength has always been her ability to create believable characters with intense motivations.¬† She does so in this book as well — the anger you’ll feel toward some characters and the frustration with others marks Rowling doing what she does best.
  • But it’s as if she needed this book to exercise the restraint built up by seven years of YA fiction, in which the universe needs to make sense, because here awful people just breed more awfulness.
  • I suppose it would be a positive to say that even the best people in the book have serious flaws.¬† Life is really like that.¬† But the book turns on people behaving terribly, and continuing to do so.¬† It’s just not redeeming, nor is it vile enough to enjoy the viciousness the characters perform on one another (like, say, House of Cards).
  • The struggle at the heart of the story, over the fate of “The Fields,” a poor part of town reviled by the snooty people of Pagfoot, is the best part of the book.¬† The real arguments Rowling’s story makes for competent, useful social services work really well and are the best takeaway of the book.¬† But then again…
  • …don’t get me started on the end of the book.

It felt a bit like Rowling was “cleaning the pipes” with this book, telling a difficult story so she could move on to better ones.¬† I’m looking forward to the Robert Galbraith books for just that reason.

In which I pontificate for the Southern Hemisphere

Zombie on a bench shrugs at bemused bystander
Photo: Lee Besford, Sydney Morning Herald

I did an interview with Kenji Sato of Sydney, Australia’s 2ser 107.3, on the nature of zombie stories.¬† Take a listen.

Keeping my head above water…

Between writing obligations (revisions and editing), family obligations (three swim meets, trips to Minnesota and Florida), PCA obligations (the 2015 conference is rolling along busily), and CCC obligations (two classes to finish now, a program to coordinate, my zombie class, and an intense committee I was just elected to), the next three months look to be very intense around here.¬† So don’t be surprised if my posting slows down a bit.

Man running through flying paperwork
“Cutting through the paperwork” by Quinn Dombrowski (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Just saying.

Using poems to make shoes

[Evan Jenkins and David Jones, two folk poets from Ffair Rhos, discussing their poems in a cobbler’s workshop]

Evan Jenkins and David Jones in a cobbler's shop

I love the way the cobbler looks in this photo — a mix of malaise and irritation.