Tag Archives: Reviews

Book Review: Inverted World

Young Helward graduates into manhood and responsibility at the age of “650 miles old.” For him, this means helping guide the city his civilization lives in north to safety on 4 giant rails. To the south,a terrible secret danger grows, always more powerful, always dragging anything too slow backwards into it.

We follow Helward through an inverted story on an inverted world. The hero is not the iconoclast, but tries his best to prop up the calcified old order. Over time we learn more about the danger behind them. The descriptions of Helward’s journey down south into the past is a highlight of the book. It is hard to tell you about this without giving too much away, but if you liked “Flatland”, you will like this.

Ok, that is nice, but the book feels always a little styled, a little uncomfortable and I found out why at the end of the book. The story arc is as twisted as the physics are. Also, the book was written in the 70s, there is a flavor of writing from that time that is unfamiliar on my inner ear. It is strange to reflect that in such a short time, the rhythms of writing have changed enough to make a noticeable difference, but they have. I can’t quite sort out what it is, but it is there. If you have any idea what it is, please comment.

Alas, it is a good book, but not a great book. I found myself appreciating the weirdness, but waiting for it to get even weirder. Perhaps this is because the book was written in a time where people were beginning to really feel the old order collapse, while I live in an age of change both exponential and fractal. I think you should read great books, and there are so many. You’ll die far far before you read all the great books, which is why I drink.

Books: Neonomicon

cover of neonomiconAnother fin del mundo comes as Alan Moore’s Neonomicon. While Supergod is almost plotless – more a series of provocative ideas strung together, Neonomicon is a train on rails to hell. Every page brings you closer to Cthulhu in an FBI investigation of a Lovecraft copy-cult in Brooklyn. Instead of hitting all of the high notes of a Cthulhu story like Nick Mamatas did in Move Underground, Moore brings you the creeping dread, the knowledge of the potential coming. There’s one monster in the book (other than the people) but most of it is more about the dark at the top of the stairs rather than the monster stomping into view. Also, a secret about Alan Moore I have noticed: the secret to horror is killing real people. When a person with no connection to you dies, it means nothing to you. So, before Moore begins killing people in his stories, he connects them to you. Most writers don’t want to waste character time and exposition on people that they know are going to disappear later – they are having enough trouble getting you to care about the main character. Moore is fast at fleshing out people, so he has the time to make his secondary characters real characters with just hints and flashes of their past.
For me, the Brooklyn setting is icing. My adopted city is perfect for this sort of story, and if Moore gets some of the details of BK wrong, it is still creepier to read a horror story written WHERE YOU LIVE! Imagine “The Wilderness Downtown“, but after dark on a moonless night. That gives me another idea for a project – a short story set in your house, right where you live.

Books: SUPERGOD

supergod coverSupergod is a Warren Ellis blaspheme with a great concept. As the world ends and falls into chaos and darkness, a researcher narrates how we reached this sad state by weaponizing gods that we built ourselves. It’s explicitly about the superhero myths: why would these hyper-intelligent, superpowerful beings love us and care about our happiness?

The art is sweeping, raging battles between the weaponized gods of India, Russia, America, etc., or the blighted scavenged ruins of the apocalyptic end. In the foreground, the researcher – a Warren Ellis mouthpiece – raves about why people want gods, why gods would want us, how our flaws would lead us to misuse them in the first place. He’s got good points – we claimed the power to destroy the world with nuclear weapons and haven’t done so yet, but it often seems more an accident than our inherent goodness. I’ve got a soft spot for Ellis, ever since Transmetropolitan and Scars, and this is a good romp in his best style.

Back from Africa!

We got back Sunday at 6 in the morning and have been frantic since.  This weekend we can hopefully get some brewing done and sort through the huge pile of pictures.

We got to see many many things during our two 15 hour flights, 4 days in Kruger National Reserve, 4 hour bus ride, and all the rest of the excitement. We’ve met an amazing amount really good folks and had some fantastic experiences but on the flight back I was shocked at how many books and movies I’d consumed during just the travel and downtime.

Animals

  • Spotted Ginnet
  • White Rhinocerous – Last chance to see, I find it hard to imagine they will be around for my grandchildren.
  • African Elephant – Nothing prepares you for how huge and awesome these are.  Also, I was disappointed to find out they are jerks.
  • African Buffalo
  • Kudu
  • Impala
  • Batalieur (Short Tailed) Hawk
  • Lion – These murder machines are intensely powerful up close.  I had one eyeball me for 30 seconds and it was all terror.
  • Giraffe – Surreal in person.
  • Monkey
  • Hippopotamus
  • Warthog
  • Steenbok

Movies

  • Thor
  • Jozi – A really great South African comedy about drugs, recovery, and one man’s relationship with Johannesburg
  • The Beaver – Sam and I loved this movie, which does not mean we want to hang out with Mel Gibson.
  • Midnight in Paris – This was brilliant. Particularly Hemingway.
  • Bride Wars – Trapped on a bus. This occupied time and kept us from hearing the incessant beeping of the bus falling apart.
  • Tyler Perry’s The Family that Preys – Ditto.
  • Green Lantern – less than 15 minutes. Amazing that it was released.
  • Hangover 2 – I can’t believe this is happening again.
  • The Departed
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – This finally helped me get some sleep. Thank you soundtrack made of drones!

Books

  • Tucker Max Assholes Finish First – A male heavy drinking narcissist tells funny stories about his horrible behavior. Very funny. A bunch of great stories that belong in a bar at 2 am. His only redeeming quality is his honesty.
  • Dan Ariely The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home
  • Lauren Beukes Zoo City – Great! Loved this Noir detective story set in a Johannesburg full of people who get familiars when they commit a crime. Feels like Robert Parker meets Philip Pullman in South Africa.
  • David Cross  I Drink for a Reason – Without his delivery, his routines are less compelling.
  • Lev Grossman The Magicians – Best thing I read. A Harry Potter style story that has real people, with actual characters. What would a magic academy full of actual teenagers be like? What happens once you actually graduate? Also, great villains and call outs to Narnia.
  • Chelsea Handler  My Horizontal Life – A female heavy drinking narcissist tells funny stories about her horrible behavior. Very funny, but I wonder if gender roles limit the pride that shines through in Tucker’s stories.
  • Christopher Hitchens  The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever – Worth it for the bits of Lucretius.
  • Richard Kadrey Butcher Bird – I had read a previous version for free online. It’s still good and very weird.
  • Sir Terry Pratchet  The Wee Free Men – I don’t even know that it’s very funny, but I think I will read these books till he dies.
  • Sir Terry Pratchet  Wintersmith
  • Cherie Priest  Boneshaker – It’s got all the elements of steampunk, but it didn’t feel like it had a heart.
  • Philip Pullman  The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – I like Pullman and I like inversions of religious stories. Why couldn’t I get into this book?
  • Kathryn Stockett  The Help – Second best thing I read. I read this out loud to Sam while I was sick in bed for a few days. Full of great mysteries and little gold coins all along the way.

Book Review: Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Rule 34 and Halting State are breakneck police procedurals set 20 minutes into the future. Charlie Stross has made his authorial mark the imagining of plausible, realistic worlds that push the back of your skull into the wall. They are better written and more speculative than Daniel Suarez’s books set in the future now – but they also deal with harder material.

The plot is so ridiculous and yet perfectly put together that I can’t tell you because you’ll think it’s a crappy stupid idea. I keep typing oblique plot summaries and they all sound like the absolute worst book ideas. You’ll miss out on some really mind-blowing fun writing.

In the most abstract sense Rule 34  (named after the infamous pornography postulate) is a serial killer hunt and Halting State is a heist novel (named after a term in a mathematical problem that breaks the premise that the world is a solvable problem). The biggest criticism is that these are idea novels – you aren’t getting into serious emotional relationships with these characters. If you read a lot of Sci-Fi, you won’t notice, but if you read more literature you’ll probably be annoyed that the emphasis is always on the breathless action.

A fun punchy read and a good sign in someone who’s become a professional prognosticator. You should also check out Charlie Stross’s frequently updated blog, where he regularly bitches about how the future keeps happening and stealing plot points out from under him as he writes.

Book Review: Bedpants and Bossywetting

I read “The Bedwetter” by Sarah Silverman within a few months of reading “Bossypants” by Tina Fey. I don’t read a lot of autobiography, but I like comics so I figured these would both be fun for beach and subway.

It is obvious that people are writing memoirs to cash in on current fame not as a reflection on a life fully lived. Have I told you to read “Between Silk and Cyanide” by Leo Marks? It’s the sort of thing you get when people have done great things and had a long time to think about their story. Reads much like a Feynman. These two comics are funny people, and they are funny now. They are in their fighting days and they are fighting now. Tina Fey’s 30 Rock is still airing. These books are necessarily a collection of anecdotes – the funniest things they remember as they got to the peak 1 of their careers.

Of those anecdotes, it seems like Tina Fey has a little more heart and thought behind it while Sarah seems more scattershot. I didn’t know much about either beyond a few examples of their recent work. They seem like fine people, at least from what they’ve told me about themselves… Hang on, that doesn’t seem to mean anything.

I do enjoy some autobiography – Halima Bashir’s “Tears of the Desert” was very good.

Now I’m off to read a little more about brain-damaged people with Oliver Sacks’s The Mind’s Eye.

  1. or maybe not even the peak. Who knows? They aren’t telling their story, just “Hey, here’s what I remember so far.”   (back)

Book Review: Move Underground by Nick Mamatas


In the darkness, Kerouac dreamed of cultists and the dread ovipositor of Lovecraft pushed into his ear, punching eggs softly into the fat membrane in his skull.

Years later, these dream children wormed forth through time into the deep voids of Nick Mamatas’s heart, wrapping their slimy tentacles around his ribs and working his arms. He made this.

It’s a book that tells of an america turning sick after the events of “On the Road” and the grim dreams of Lovecraft rotting it hollow. But it isn’t really much about Lovecraft, is it? The adventure is about the changes of the later years after adventure has dried up and withered.

It ends less than 200 pages later, in the only way it could and it is a warm, shining, genius masterwork. If he continues to produce work like this we will have to kill him so the other writers have something to do.

Books: James Gleick’s “The Information: a history, a theory, a flood”

the cover for "The Information" I just started reading “The Information “, and the beginning has some very interesting passages that support Julian Jayne’s theory in “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” – that consciousness did not originate in the pre-literate era, but that we became thinkers only partway through the greeks. It’s madness, sure. But it is increasingly seductive madness.

Book Review: “Star Island” by Carl Hiaasen

You have a friend who you see rarely, but always in a time loop. You tell the same stories, the same jokes, you laugh and drink the same beers. It sounds lame, but really these are some of the best friends to have.

Every Carl Hiaasen book is the same book and they are all great. They have righteous rage at evildoers and they have a strange hero that stands strong where others cower. They have a few good people and many many scum. They are funny as hell and they are full of violence and tragedy.

In Star Island you see Skink, the ex governor who lives in the everglades again, but he isn’t at the center of the book. He’s barely in it. There is a good woman, named Ann, and she’s in danger, sort of. There are a bunch of scum, and they behave poorly to each other and the world. A real estate developer has a sea urchin strapped to his scrotum. It’s a Carl Hiaasen book, how could that not happen?

 

Let’s call it a night after this beer, I’ve got to get going. But I hope to see you again next year, buddy.