book review: roughneck

Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is, like his classic Essex County, a story featuring a hockey player. Derek Ouellette had a stint with the Rangers where he was aviolent goon, and now he lives in a small shitty town in northern Ontario working at a diner and beating people up. When his sister comes to town to get away from a terrible boyfriend things change. Sort of.

What I love about this story is its handling of violence. It’s not a hugely complicated story, but the resolution shows exactly the kind of earned change I want to see in fiction.

The thing I feel weirdest about this book is that Jeff Lemire is a white guy telling stories about indigenous people. In this article he says:

“For me, these were a way to educate myself, that’s what it comes down to. And I hope my experiences up there allowed me to create something and reflect what I saw and show other people.”

For me that makes sense, but like Lemire I need to work out my thoughts in writing and I’m not from a community that has my story told for me, so I’m kind of primed to be sympathetic. I understand that it’s shitty to have white dudes in all these spaces. Don’t read white people’s writing about indigenous people: read (and pay) indigenous people telling their own stories. If you like comics a good anthology for finding some new creators would be Moonshot (here’s an article with some blurbs and examples of artists featured in that book, and Moonshot vol. 2 should be coming out soon).

But as far as Roughneck goes I do like this specific story, even if it’s a symptom of greater terribleness in the world.

book review: this is how you die

This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death is a collection of short stories about people who know how they will die as predicted by a Machine. It is, of course, a sequel anthology to Machine of Death (in which I had a story).

Matthew Bennardo, Ryan North and David Malki ! have put together a great collection of stories. As is usual with an anthology some are more to my taste than others. I quite enjoyed the stories that played with the idea of “unkillable” people (who’d all have cancer or something non-violent) and putting them into badass commando roles. My favourite of these was probably Tom Francis’ “Lazarus Fission Reactor Sequence” which also combined some office comedy as part of being a henchman for a supervillain in there too, but the grim science fictiony “Not Applicable” by Kyle Schoenfeld was also pretty great.

Rhiannon Kelly’s “Natural Causes” was my favourite of the more “realistic” stories because of how it dealt with small-town issues of appearances and conformity. And Ryan North’s “Cancer” laid down some real science and feelings.

So yes, this book did feel a bit more diverse than the first one. The stories covered a wider range of settings and people were definitely playing with some more meta-ish concepts surrounding the Machine. You should totally read it. (And if you participated in the Summer 2013 Humble Ebook Bundle you probably have a copy of the first volume to whet your appetite, so go read it first!)

book review: american elsewhere

Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere is about a little town in New Mexico called Wink. Wink is full of white picket fences and lots of rules, one of the most important of which is “stay inside at night.” Mona Bright has just inherited a house in Wink and the day she arrives is the day of the funeral of one of the town’s oldest residents. Oh, and thrity years ago there was some sort of accident at the lab up on the mesa. And Wink isn’t on any maps (because of that lab and its sensitive government work from decades past).

This all sounds like a pretty standard Stephen King-ish horror novel, and in a lot of ways it is. There’s nothing frighteningly innovative going on with the text. Challenges mount, characters rise to meet them in the face of sanity blasting beings we would go mad to perceive. Occasionally as a reader, you’re a few steps ahead of Mona, which can be annoying as you wait for her to catch up. But Bennett is very good at telling the story. The “seeing something impossible and it wrecks your brain” is described in a way that makes it sound scary rather than just a magic eye or what have you. It’s good neo-Lovecraft.

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

The viewpoint shifts between a number of characters and even the drug dealers are basically root-for-ably written (apart from one character who is quite vile, but he’s mostly there so Mona can get a high-powered rifle in the final third of the book). If you like Stephen King novels, this is less dark than those (though there’s a lot of death around the climax), but similar. It’s less about mythic resonance than a Tim Powers book, but there’s a lot of shared DNA between them. What I liked best about it was that it was a fairly serious examination of how we (people and pandimensional beings) try to be happy. That probably excludes it from a real Lovecraftian vibe, since by the end the monstrosities are somewhat knowable.

I received my copy of American Elsewhere as an Advance Reading Copy through LibraryThing.com‘s Early Reviewers program.

book review: incognegro

I really liked Mat Johnson’s comic, Incognegro. It’s about a light-skinned black journalist going undercover as a white man to cover lynchings in the south in the 1930s. Well, that’s kind of the setup. In this story he’s going south to stop the lynching of his own jackass twin brother (who isn’t light-skinned at all).

It’s a tight little small-town mystery with more ins and outs than I’d expected at first. There’s moonshine and backwoods religion and klansmen, and it all hangs together pretty magnificently. One of the themes running through the story is that white people assume we’re the default, that our food isn’t ethnic food, that we don’t have accents, all of which makes us easy to fool. Obviously this is set in a different time with lynchings and much stronger threats of violence based on race, but it’s interesting how much of that “looking like you’re a minority or not” still plays into how people are treated.

Anyway, I recommend this one pretty highly.

twitterbrary review: bracebridge public library

Bracebridge Public Library is the next up on the list. How well does this small town public library integrate Twitter into its webpresence? We shall see.

If one were to stumble upon Bracebridge’s Library homepage without the benefit of a list of Twittering Libraries, it would be very easy to think they had no Twitter presence. On the home page there are hours of operation and contact information, but nothing indicating Twitter at all. There’s an icon at the bottom of the page with the familiar @ symbol followed by letters, a clear Twitter indicator, but that icon isn’t a link (in this case it says @yourlibrary, which would be a good Twitter account name). The “Wireless @yourlibrary” button in the left-hand navigation menu doesn’t point to Twitter either. It’s only when you go to the Events Calendar that you see the link to follow Bracebridge Public Library on Twitter. It’s a simple URL, that is, thank deities, clickable. It’s possible that this is the best place for Bracebridge patrons to have this kind of thing, if the events calendar is the most checked page of the website, perhaps. Otherwise it seems too hidden to be much good.

Since the actual Twitteriness is off on the Twitter site, any deficiencies in design over there belong to Twitter. They do have a user image, which is the outside of the building, and the background image is made up of tiled spines of leatherbound books. It looks very libraryish. There isn’t much direction on how to use Twitter, either back on the Bracebridge website or on Twitter, but the big Follow button isn’t too hidden. If someone just wanted to read about what’s up with the library, that’s certainly possible.

There is very little integration of Twitter into the main page of the library, but they do appear to use Twitter as a decent promotional tool. As of today they’re advertising their downloadable e-books and letting people know about an upcoming event, but you can also read about new resources in the library.

The biggest problem here seems to be the sporadicness of the updates. Before the two posts from the beginning of November, the most recent was in June. There’s also a bit of a sense of forlornness about a tweet saying Stumped? Curious? Have a question? We are here to save the day! For your information needs email us at … being the first post in months and the next one being a month later (and the fact that they’re using Twitter to ask for emails seems a bit like it’s missing some of the possibilities of the medium). So the usefulness to users is a bit lower than you might like.

My suggestions would be to make the Twitter account more visible on the home page. They wouldn’t have to do much, just add a link to their contact information, maybe use the actual Twitter icon for brand recognition. If there’s some problem with the userbase not knowing about Twitter, maybe some form of quick instructional page would be useful. That could be linked to off the contact page. Finally, more consistent posting is key to making any of these blogging or micro-blogging tools useful. There are some good bits up there but in my opinion Twitter seems to work better when it’s constantly dripping information.

I do understand that this is a tiny library and really, good on them for trying.

(Hello Inuk! image by Eric Heupel)

book review: the nobody

Jeff Lemire’s The Nobody is a pretty excellent “Drifter comes to town and bad things happen tale.” The fact that he’s wrapped in bandages makes it just that much odder and gives the 16-year-old narrator a good hook to get into the story. If you hear “wrapped in bandages” and you’re thinking mummy, well, that’s what he looks like but it’s the other classic sf reference going on here. More importantly, the book’s about blending in or fading away. The art’s black and white with pale blue washes and is good, kind of reminiscent of Blankets but a bit less flowy. The dialogue is excellent. The main characters aren’t tremendously talkative but nothing really clunks. I liked it.