Corinne Mucha’s comic Freshman was a lot of fun. It did the whole Grade 9 experience in short stories (usually 2-5 pages) following four friends. There are crushes and a band is formed, all the regular high school kind of stuff. The only weird aspect was that they used the word hockey to mean field hockey, but I guess not everyone can be Canadian. I guess.
The short story aspect made it feel much more like regular school, rather than some epic tale. It’s broken into three seasons with the first chunk being about getting used to high school, then the winter section is taken up with stories around the big musical, and then in spring everyone is getting ready for dances and other relationshippy things. This is a book about being in school, but isn’t about classes by any means.
I found Mucha’s art very ziney & charming. This felt like the kind of thing a 15 year old could have been making, but with more perspective than being right in the middle of things.
Anyway, I’m completely bringing it the next time I go booktalking at the middle school. It’s a good peek into their futures.
Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama is Alison Bechdel’s memoir about her relationship with her mother and her therapists and about writing Fun Home. Because it’s about writing the previous book and how much her mother didn’t like that she’d written it, but also about psychoanalysis, it feels more like a meta-book.
She writes and draws a lot about feeling self-conscious, and transcribes so many bits about writing memoir that it feels more like an essay than a story. Which isn’t a bad thing. It makes me want to read her sources.
One of the things I really like about both of Bechdel’s books is how she draws the pages from the things she’s reading. She draws the typewriter font and highlights the interesting text, but leaves the surrounding bits in there for context. She also has people’s letters and her drawings of photographs. This whole layer of drawing and selecting as construction fascinates the hell out of me.
I don’t think I found this one as compelling as Fun Home because the relationship between Bechdel and her mother is ongoing. It’s harder to make it all fit into a book. In any nonfiction you’re making arbitrary endpoints but it’s always easier when you’ve got something natural like a death to crystallize around. In Are You My Mother? there isn’t that one thing, which seems to make it a harder book to create. So in some ways the book becomes about how hard it is to make itself. Which some people might not enjoy, but I did.
Alison Bechdel’s book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a memoir, a genre I don’t find myself reading a lot of. If you’ve read through my archives here you see I’m mostly into things that definitely haven’t happened or couldn’t possibly happen. Travel among the stars, or dealing with mystical artifacts or whatever. But if all memoirs were as good as this, I’d probably be devouring more of them.
Oh, I suppose I should mention it’s a comic too. And I do read a lot of those. So maybe this isn’t that far out of my usual fare.
Bechdel’s book is mostly about growing up and dealing with her father’s homosexuality (at the same time she was coming out as a lesbian) and his criminal behaviour with some of his students, and his death. Which may have been a suicide.
She doesn’t tell it straightforwardly, but circles around events and brings things back and forth through time echoing dreams the way memory does at its best. It starts with the house her father was constantly renovating. It deals with life in a funeral home. There are neglected dreams and OCD episodes. It’s painful and terrible and everything seems fraught with meaning.
It’s very much a personal story. It’s the kind of story that makes you ask “how do the people she wrote about feel about this?” It’s courageous and self-absorbed in a way I can’t help but admire. Really great work.
Dan Clowes’ The Death-Ray is kind of like a superhero story, but a very Dan Clowesian version of one. When Andy starts smoking back in the 70s he learns he’s got super strength. He and his friend try to find people who need beating up, but it’s difficult. Then he finds that his dead father left him a death ray. Using that is even harder.
It’s not a happy book. Andy isn’t a real heroic type. I like the format and how the storybits are fragmented in a less regimented way than Wilson, the last Clowes book I read. Good but not mind-blowing.
When I was eight years old my cousin lived in our house for a year while she did her first year of university. One of the many things that happened was she got me hooked on Star Trek (and eating dinner for breakfast). She was supercool and liked Star Trek: The Next Generation, so TNG was always “my” Star Trek too. I know those episodes backwards and forwards. When I think of examples of leadership Picard is my go-to character. I love TNG the way you love the things you grew up with.
I have a much more complicated relationship with Deep Space 9.
DS9 came out when I was in high school and I just didn’t like it. The plots were boring. Too much political stuff. They couldn’t go anywhere without a ship. I wasn’t a fan. Then they got a ship and Worf joined the crew and I rethought my disapproval. And then the Dominion War began and it was just one ongoing war-story which wasn’t at all what I wanted out of Trek either (I was also watching less television in those days). So I always think about this sweet spot in the middle of the show’s run being where anything good would have happened.
I decided I needed to rewatch DS9 to see if my opinions about it, most of which were made when I was a teenager, still meant anything. I just finished watching the first season and there is so much more I really like about it now.
The biggest thing I like about it (that I used to hate) is its sense of place. DS9 is an Old West frontier town. They’re actually building relationships between the Federation and people who don’t really want them there but need them to keep the peace in a hostile galaxy. There’s colonialism going on, but the ethical issues don’t get quite resolved in a single episode. They’re much more complicated than something the Enterprise could zip in, solve and zip out again. I was used to that kind of story in Star Trek and this was different.
Also, I love the father-son dynamic between Ben and Jake Sisko. The way those two interact makes you feel like people in the Federation are more than just props for ethical stances. The relationships in this show just feel more accurate than the assembly of the best and brightest that you’d see on the Enterprise. I love that Jake doesn’t want to be in Starfleet and that he and Nog make weird business deals. UFP economics didn’t make much sense in TNG (though, to be fair, DS9 hasn’t really tried to deal with them too clearly this season).
Now, there are some crappy episodes in this first season. I have no kind words for “Move Along Home” the episode where Gamma Quadrant aliens pull people into a game that Quark is playing. “The Forsaken” (where Odo gets vulnerable in a turbolift with Lwaxana Troi) was less good than I remember it. I didn’t like “The Storyteller” very much, but it was neat to see that O’Brien and Bashir weren’t best buds right from the beginning of the show.
My favourite episodes of the season have Sisko refusing to be pushed around by forces bigger than him. Though the resolution of “If Wishes Were Horses” was a little pat, it was a good science fictional premise and an interesting episode (I can also see how the lack of sinister motives would have bugged young Justin). “Duet” was about a possible Cardassian war criminal being arrested on the station and was just fucking great.
While DS9 isn’t as dark or bleak as (new) Battlestar Galactica it’s different from the Treks that came before it and yeah, this first season is much better than I remember it. If you put it up against first-season TNG there is absolutely no comparison. I wonder if I’ll like the Dominion War better when I get to it this time around, or if this vastly better opinion is mainly a function of only being 13 when Season 1 aired for the first time. I probably had better taste when I was 17, right?
The Complete Lockpick Pornography is two of Joey Comeau’s short novels (Lockpick Pornography and We All Got It Coming) put together in an attractive pink binding that belies all the violence inside.
The first story is about a guy who tries to overthrow hetero-normative society by stealing from straight people. We first meet him smashing a sex partner’s boyfriend’s TV and then stealing a new one to make up for it. He gets involved with a queer team who come up with a plan to break into elementary schools and leave books about gay grandfathers inside. And through all of this the narrator is calling a stranger in the suburbs and asking her questions to try and destabilize her life. Everyone is hurt and angry and trying to make the world better. There’s lots of sex and people trying to negotiate complicated relationships. It’s kind of like a lighter (and non-science-fictional) Samuel R. Delany story.
We All Got It Coming is a much gentler story about two guys in a relationship. The narrator gets pushed down the stairs at his shit job and he quits and tries to find something new to do with himself. He wants to raise hell and be awesome, but the world isn’t going to make it easy. This one is more about responding to violence and being weak and wanting to be otherwise.
They aren’t direct sequels, but I think reading the two stories right after each other works really well. The violence in We All Got It Coming is handled very differently from Lockpick Pornography – it’s much less of a way to blow off steam and maybe think about a little and more something that completely destabilizes a person. Putting the two together gives good perspective on the idea of violence being omnipresent and how control of that violence empowers and disempowers people.
Joey Comeau writes excellently spiky language to get caught in your brain. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.
I read John Scalzi’s blog but he’s not an author whose books I clamour for on the day of release. This week, though I felt an urge for his non-bloggish writing and got a bunch of books from the library. First up, the YA novel set in the Old Man’s War universe called Zoe’s Tale.
This book is about Zoe, the teenage daughter to two war-heroes turned colonists. She’s got a special relationship with an alien race and is kind of bored with her life on Huckleberry (though there’s a lot of exciting backstory to her life you can read in the other Old Man’s War books about her parents). She and her parents and her alien bodyguards head off to start a new colony. Zoe makes friends, deals with relationship issues and gets embroiled in interstellar politics.
It’s a really interesting book because of what it leaves out. It takes place at the same time as The Last Colony so you read this knowing that yeah you’re missing stuff, or having it summarized because Zoe heard about it secondhand. It had a different feel because of it. You really felt like Zoe was dealing with a world and events out of her control. I liked it a lot.
I was also reading this to see if I could suggest it as a standalone YA novel (I’ve only read the first book in the series and that was a few years ago). I think I can. It doesn’t hit quite the same beats as usual, but it’s different in a good way, and Zoe’s got a good voice and feels funny and real.
I played my first Fiasco game on Saturday with Jonathan (who’s a boardgamer and RPG dabbler) and Jamie (who had never played a tabletop RPG before). I’d just bought it at Emerald City Comicon, so it all seemed very serendipitous.
Fiasco is a GM-less storytelling game and it’s often pitched as “a game for creating a Coen brothers movie.” Unlike a more traditional RPG, the dice are more of a pacing mechanism than strict determinants of success and failure. Characters are generated through the relationships they have with each other before you really get into the specifics of what makes them tick. The other keys to the game are Needs, Objects and Locations. Each of those, along with the Relationships, are supposed to be things that will get the characters into a huge mess of trouble.
The game rotates through scenes focusing on each of the player characters. Halfway through a Tilt element is added, and then in the end you show what happened. Setting things up is done through a mix of choice and randomness based on the charts in each Playset (which are a basic setting).
Our game was set in the old west. We had a sick lazy Sheriff, his “doctor,” and his deputy. The doctor and deputy were trying to steal Widow Tompkins’ inheritance and get away with murder. The sheriff just wanted some pie (and everyone else at his beck and call). In the end, the doctor got away scot-free, the sheriff was an invalid being tended to by a disgraced deputy.
The game is definitely fun. There’s a lot of choice and everything feels pretty meaningful (as far as sitting around telling stories about made-up people can be). I think the next time we play, I’d want to push our scenes to have slightly higher stakes and stronger conflicts. We could have ramped it up to be a bit more madcap by the end. A gun was drawn in anger, a widow was defrauded, but it never got out of control.
Part of that was just because this was our first game and we were learning the ropes. We sometimes stumped ourselves deciding what the next good scene might be, and we could sometimes go a bit overboard in the establishment, leaving little for the scene itself to do. I can see how with a bit of practice and sense of short clear questions that the scene will resolve this game will produce some awesome experiences. I can’t wait to play again.
In Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s novel The Future of Us, it’s 1996 and Emma has just gotten a new computer. Her friend Josh gives her an AOL CD and when she gets it all hooked up she finds a link to something called Facebook. She and Josh investigate it and it appears it’s a webpage where people post all sorts of weird details about their lives. The thing is that they are both on it, fifteen years in the future.
This is great for Josh because Facebook says he’s married to the hottest girl in school who’s never even noticed him before. Emma on Facebook is unhappy though. And then Emma and Josh discover that changes they make affect the future they can see. There’s a good bit of conflict between Josh who wants to maintain that future he sees, and Emma who is scared of what hers holds and wants to make sure it doesn’t come to pass.
It’s a really clever idea for a book of dealing with knowledge of the future. They can’t put together a whole life from what they’re looking at on Facebook, but what they can see is changing things. It’s a good story about relationships and how they work themselves out too. The alternating chapters between Josh and Emma’s perspective worked well, highlighting their different concerns. The rest of their friend group is also well-developed. These kids do a lot of dating and it comes off in a very mature (yet recognizably high-school) way.
What I was less a fan of was the clear signposting of “This is 1996!” I realize that the target audience probably needs the details so they don’t forget why no one is using an iPhone, but especially in the opening chapter it was pretty tedious to read about cool new Windows 95 and cordless phones and “Friends” and listening to Green Day. I mean, I get it, it was just annoying to me. That wears off pretty quick though, and I liked the book as a whole.
M.T. Anderson’s Feed was pretty excellent. It’s about a bunch of American teens in the future where the internet (the Feed) gets pumped into your head without all these bullshit devices to deal with. Well no, it’s not about a bunch of teens, it’s about Titus, an upper-middle-class American kid who goes to the moon and meets this girl, Violet.
The voice to the book is great. It’s told in slang that works, and they’re aware of the fashions around them in a way that isn’t condescending. The parents speak like they grew up on text-messaging, except for Violet’s dad, who is a bit of an eccentric professor.
The book-jacket tries to make it seem like they get involved in some big resistance movement, but it’s not like that. It’s a really personal story about young relationships, that happens to be set in a kind of terrifying world. But the characters don’t think so, because it’s just the way the world is. I think the intimate scope of the book makes the larger world (that’s only barely glimpsed) that much more affecting. And I’m not gonna lie to you, the ending is really sad. Heartily recommended.