The second book of The Walking Dead is the one where the survivors find a prison and set up camp inside. We meet Michonne, who has a couple of pet zombies that she executes when she comes inside the gates. With her sword. ‘Cause she’s kind of awesome. But then she ruins a romantic relationship. Some people have sex. Some kill themselves. Others are eaten by zombies. A few people are shot. There’s an amputation. Rick goes and digs up Shane’s body and shoots it once he finds out that it’s not the zombies that infect people. As long as you die (without being headshot), you’ll come back.
I like reading this book in these larger collections than the trade paperbacks. And keeping a bit ahead of what’s happening in the TV show (since I see recaps and stuff all over the internet these days, not because I’m watching the show).
The Hourman and the Python is another pair of Sandman Mystery Theatre stories. In these ones, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont have become romantically involved and one of the things I loved about this book is all the unmarried sex they have. It’s not something I’m used to in stories about that time.
Another interesting thing is that Dian knows Wesley is the Sandman and they actually have a somewhat realistic relationship along with the vigilantism. The difficulties of that kind of life are dealt with in a thoughtful way, which I appreciated.
The Hourman is also introduced in this book. He’s another DC superhero, who uses drugs to give himself amazing strength but only for an hour at a time. There’s some interesting comparison between how he and the Sandman operate, but it does throw some of the noirish tone off a bit. I do appreciate how the Hourman’s meddling causes a lot of problems that punching something can’t solve.
Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite writers. I make no secret of this, so take this review with that in mind. I really liked 1Q84 (though I still don’t know how to say the title in English – it’s Ichi Kyu Hachi Yon in Japanese – maybe Nine-Cue-Eighty-Four).
One of the things about knowing an author’s work pretty well is you can see the recurrent characters and themes from other works. 1Q84 feels a bit like a greatest hits collection of Murakami themes. We have (and here thar be spoilers): two worlds being traversed (Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Sputnik Sweetheart), disappearing women (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), affairs with an older married woman (Sputnik Sweetheart), mystical people with weird powers (TV People), Ushikawa (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), a cynical older peer figure (Norwegian Wood), a piece of classical music with great significance (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The Second Bakery Attack), cults (Underground), becoming a writer (Norwegian Wood), a thirty year old narrator vaguely disconnected from life (almost every thing Murakami’s ever written) and there are probably more. In any case, a lot of the book felt familiar, but it was all rearranged into a more or less pleasing form.
There is a fakeout ending that isn’t so severe if you read the three volumes in one shot the way my translation is put together, which was robbed somewhat of its impact. And I feel like the whole thing ended too easily. There was a lot of time spent talking about issues, restating them and not pushing forward. I feel like this could have been a leaner story, and it’s not going to be the first Murakami book I’d recommend to someone. For me so much of the pleasure was in the interplay of the old stories and seeing how these characters behaved differently from their previous incarnations.
For my money I’m still pegging Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World as my favourite Murakami novel. The themes are very similar to 1Q84′s but I think it’s a better working of them.
None of this is to suggest I think 1Q84 was a bad book. I loved it as I read it. The page-numbering goes up and down the margins, flipping into horizontal reflections as they pass the midpoint. That’s the kind of beautiful little detail emphasizing the characters’ situations that I loved to pieces, and really only gets to happen in a book by a famous writer who keeps on being in the Nobel Prize conversation.
Actually, a bit about that. I don’t really understand why Murakami would be in the running for a Nobel. I love his books, but they don’t scream “This is the pinnacle of World Literature” to me. They are books that I love but they feel too idiosyncratic to be winners of that kind of award.
Another one for my SFF and YA class, Holly Black’s Tithe started off well, but I liked it less as it went on.
Kaye is a fifteen year old girl who’s kind of weird and when her mother’s boyfriend tries to kill her mom in a bar, Kaye and her mom move back to the Jersey shore where Kaye grew up. She meets a mysterious gothic stranger in the woods/beside the turnpike and helps him and then things keep moving, getting Kaye further and further involved in the hidden Faery world.
What I liked about the book was its lack of a “meet the fae” kind of episode. Kaye’d always talked to faery as a kid, so she kind of knew stuff about them without having to have it explained. There wasn’t a tonne of explanation in the book. In some ways this was good because it felt more like regular life where the meanings of things aren’t expounded upon at great length, but as it went on it all felt a little shallow. At first it seems like you’re being dropped into a world and you’ll figure stuff out later, but aside from the central mystery, that never really happens. You have enough information to go on, but it doesn’t feel deep. There wasn’t a lot of mythic resonance or whatever, even in these scenes where knowing the true name of a faery is holding so much power, and the scenes in the Seelie and Unseelie Courts have been done much better in other places.
My favourite bit in the book is a gay character’s description of coming out to his family:
“Mom, you know the forbidden love Spock has for Kirk? Well, me too.”
Kaye is resourceful and figures shit out on her own, a good protagonist. There’s a bit of sexytime stuff, but nothing crazy. I mean, yes there are some kisses and longing and groping but it’s all pretty relaxed. (I obviously had a British edition, since this girl on the Jersey shore kept on saying “knickers.” Copy-editing is weird.)
The ending of the book felt rushed and there are obviously more in the series since the resolution seemed kind of trivial. I’m not sure I personally would keep reading them. I’ll gladly recommend it though.
Atlantis: Three Tales is a non-SF book by Samuel R. Delany, and one of the reasons I don’t go looking for Delany books systematically. I didn’t know it existed when I found it in a used-book store in Seattle in February.
It contains three stories. “Atlantis: Model 1924″ is about a young black boy who comes to New York City in 1924 to live with his brother. Delany does some interesting parallel text things to represent memory and its strangeness. Sam crosses the Brooklyn Bridge where he maybe watches a man drown after pissing into the river and talks to a queer guy who invites him to his apartment in Brooklyn. “Eric, Gwen and D.H. Lawrence’s Esthetic of Unrectified Feeling” is about art and feeling and profanity. There’s an impressive cussing milkman in this one, and stuff about boys introducing boys to sex. “Citre et Trans” is about a queer young writer travelling in Greece who gets raped by a couple of sailors and his relationships with a bunch of expatriates, and a dog.
The thing that affected me most about the last story is how the rape was violent but more importantly, complicated. It wasn’t “These terrible sailors raped this writer” it was very complicated, even with the blood and the theft and the downplaying of the situation afterwards. It was the kind of story that sticks with you. Yeah. Delany’s really good even once he left science fiction behind.
For a very long time I avoided sexytimes in books. I wasn’t a stereotypical undersexed housewife so I didn’t need to spend my time on stupid Harlequin romances. (I’m still not and still don’t.) And isn’t writing about sex like doing math about a sunset or something? But Joey Comeau‘s book of sexy short stories, The Girl Who Couldn’t Come, is pretty great and he brought me around to the world of non-degrading/non-stupid sex fiction. (Well, he and Jess Fink.)
These aren’t grand romance stories filled with angst and yearning; they are funny (in that Joey Comeau kind of way) stories filled with sex. He refers to them, well, here’s his description:
This is a book of dirty stories. It is a book where sex is fun and good and people are kind to each other. Also there are ghosts and there is math and there are obsessive compulsive disorders.
These stories are weird and fun and often bewildering, like sex itself.
There’s rough sex (with a trigger warning, which I didn’t know was a thing till reading this book), gay sex, a werewolf and sex with the titular girl who needs to be listening to Johnny Cash’s voice to orgasm. If you are looking for a short collection of smut you can check out a bunch of the stories here.
I want to be Joey Comeau. I will just say that. His writing is probably the stuff in the world that gets to my emotional core the best. There’s a Murakami story about a really good letter writer who makes you feel like you’re eating the hamburger steak she’s writing about, or so the narrator says. If I could do the stuff Comeau does, I would be a hell of a writer. His weird funny tales just dig into you and take your fucking heart and break it. In Bible Camp Bloodbath that’s almost not a metaphor. The ad copy for the book is “Child Murder: Anything this fun should be illegal.”
The book’s about a weird quiet kid named Martin. His mom works in horror movies and he goes to Bible Camp. At this Bible Camp nearly everyone is murdered in fantastically escalating gory ways. This is not a spoiler. The book is saved from being a self-conscious “Dude, we’re in a horror movie” wank-fest (note that there is some wanking in the book) by the refusal to really engage in the cliches of the “reflexive about horror tropes” sub-genre. Instead of winking and nodding at the reader the book revels in gory description that is painful, terrifying, ludicrous and oh so fucking graphic.
The terror of the victims plays into it, sure, but that’s not where the book’s heart is, at least, not for me. It’s almost a novel about the joy of being a weirdo, which is a common Joey Comeau theme, and one I’m happy to embrace. The victory condition achieved in the end of Bible Camp Bloodbath is beautiful. It’s not sentimental. It doesn’t fuck around with the novel’s rules. It just makes you cry. Made me cry. Although I did read it on the plane going to a funeral, so I may have been in a weird emotional state.
Anyway. If you want, you can read the whole thing for free here (at the bottom of each chapter just click Newer Post to read it in order from there). I bought it because it’s cheap and Joey Comeau deserves encouragement to keep on making these weird heartwrenching things. (Also, it has an index of murders which is a hilarious summary of the book.)
Blindsight was fucking incredible. Peter Watts put it out under a Creative Commons license so you can go download and read it now if you want. The book has sort of a backgrounder website, which I’d also recommend. If you like hard science fiction that deals with first contact, sentience vs intelligence, predator-prey relationships, people being superfluous so they upload themselves to Heaven, sex, relationships with a person who doesn’t understand empathy, all sorts of awesome brainhacking, the wondrous effects of electromagnets on the human nervous system and vampires, or even a substantial subset of those, you need to read it right the fuck now.
I’ll warn you; there aren’t a lot of likeable characters. One of the blurbs for the book is by James Nicoll:
Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts.
The story is told by a man whose brain has been half removed and filled with machinery that helps him analyze what people are thinking based on their body language. But he’s pretty severely lacking, not in social skills, because those are skills you can learn and that he did learn, but in the motivations behind those skills. He’s also hilarious. There’s a great bit where he tells the story of Sperm and Egg and the war they are constantly fighting and he tells this story after presenting his girlfriend with flowers, commenting on the oddness of presenting another species’ severed genitalia as a token of affection, just before they are to fuck.
The best part of this book was all the stuff about intelligence and what human consciousness is worth and what it costs. It’s amazing, and the kind of thing that’s hard to find outside of science fiction. The afterword is filled with the references Watts used (he’s a marine biologist so is used to doing science) and I kind of want to read the huge dense one he mentioned. The one that actually tries to sort out where our consciousness is in our meat.
It’s not for the faint of heart, or for people who like warm fuzzies, but it’s awesome.
A heartwarming tale of good old Section 22 by my friend Mary. Thanks for letting me post this. It reminds me of doing my time.
A customer told us there was a woman passed out on the floor in the washroom, so two staff from the desk hurried off with the cordless phone. What with the recent high on god knows what kids and my poor overdosed suicide attempt patron, people have expectations now.
She was in a cubicle (ewww) and not exactly on the floor, but her legs, said one of my coworkers, were stretched out as if she were perhaps sliding down on the way to passing out. She called security rather than explore on her own without gloves.
Two security guards arrived a few minutes later (it takes the security head several tries to detach himself from his chair but as you will see that turned out to be a good thing for washroom person) with those big green rubber gloves that you notice even before his stomach. They were mostly expecting to find one of the regulars and the smell of alcohol.
They didn’t. Turns out my coworkers can’t count. There were four legs – not two. Half female and half male. Clothing optional. And that explains the two kids who hurtled out of the stacks and down the stairs a few moments before Security showed up at the desk.
WPL – truly the living room of the community.
Overqualified is a novel told in job application cover letters. It’s by Joey Comeau, who does the comic A Softer World and wrote the zombie novel One Bloody Thing After Another. (I haven’t read his latest, Bible Camp Bloodbath yet, but I will.)
When I told my girlfriend about the concept of this book she thought it sounded neat. Then I read her one of the letters and she said “Oh. It’s not very realistic. It’s just a gimmick. No one would actually write that.” And I was a little thrown off. I must have read it wrong, or prefaced it wrong. I mean, of course no one actually would write about their dead brother and throwing lightbulbs off an apartment building in a job application to GE, but it’s beautiful and sad. Or beautiful and angry like his letter to Gillette about razor-blades and sex. Or beautiful and cynical like his Hallmark greeting card ideas:
Front cover is a picture of a puppy dog with big, sad eyes. A Golden Retriever, maybe. Some breed that everyone loves, something vulnerable. The text on the front reads: “You think love has to last forever for it to be real. You think it isn’t true love unless it lasts until one of us is dead.” Inside text: “That isn’t love. That’s dog fighting.”
In every case there’s this desperation and weirdness that was weird and painful and amazing.
It’s not a clever story, which you might think it would be, with the tagline I gave it above. It’s just a weirdly emotional one about a man who’se trying to hold on to some sort of memory or reality by writing to corporations to the nonhuman beings that have all the power in our world. Reality shifts about him as he talks about all his many qualifications, but his pain remains constant.
So I should revise my original words. Overqualified is a dark, funny story about pain. Told in cover letters.