John Dies at the End: The Movie [NSFW]

Someone on Reddit just shared the Rated-R trailer for the new John Dies at the End movie:

Honestly, I am super-excited.

Generally, I don't like horror movies.  I am easily scared ,and on the rare occasion where I make the ill-advised decision to look into some creepypasta I generally spend weeks afterwards more than usually afraid of the dark.

I read John Dies at the End years ago, when it was still available for free on the internet.  (I got the recommendation from a friend, who opened with "Normally I never read anything, but...", which was a pretty stellar start.  I mean, it turned out that he read it because his ex-girlfriend had listed it as a thing she likes on MySpace, so he thought it was a death threat, but still.)

John Dies at the End is one of those incredibly rare new things, a book that fuses 90's humor, aesthetic, and cynicism with desensitization and video game logic.  David Wong pulled together genre conventions that, up to that point, hadn't existed in written fiction.  And he did it incredibly well. 

From what I've seen of the trailers, the movie is going to live up to that standard, not pull apart the structure of the book to fit a traditional three-act horror structure.  Also:  I love Paul Giamatti as the reporter.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell TV show!

I heard some important news this weekend.  So important, in fact, that I nearly dropped everything I was doing to write a post about it, and schedule it for Monday.  Unfortunately, I was busy at the time.  Even more unfortunately, I later forgot what the important news was. So I spent much of today trying to figure out what it was.  I couldn't remember where I'd seen it. I couldn't remember what I might have done with it.  I seem to have forgotten to write anything down about it.

But I found it.

The BBC is making a TV series of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. 

(News via io9)

It's going to be 6 episodes long, hopefully hour-long installments or longer -- a much better division of the story than a movie, which had been discussed before, because this book is very long, very rich in detail, and not entirely singular in narrative.  Also:  the book is divided into three major parts, which would fit six episodes nicely.

It's being directed by Toby Haynes, who io9 praises as the director of key episodes of Doctor Who and Sherlock. Those episodes, according to Den of Geek, are The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, for Doctor Who, and The Reichenbach Fall, for Sherlock.

Oh my crap this is going to be so awesome I can't even begin to imagine how great this is going to be.

the RGB Colorspace Atlas

(via Silliestlovesongs on tumblr)

This book, by artist Tauba Auerbach, contains every color producible by combining red, green and blue.    In theory, at least.  I'm not sure whether it's strictly accurate.  Still, it's an incredibly beautiful book, and I want one.

I've pretty much always believed that books are extraordinary items, but the categories of books that are extraordinary not for the stories in them but for the physical qualities of the books themselves is a lot bigger than I realized.  There's the Google Dictionary, which, instead of definitions, contains the first Google image search result for every word.  And there are books like House of Leaves, which requires the book's form to tell the story it contains.

I'm not any good at predicting the future, but my guess is that the transition towards ebooks and cheap publishing is going to free up a lot more space for a broader selection of kinds of art -- of books that depend more on their book-ness, and stories of broader selection and style.

Inspired love

I wasn't a huge fan of the Great Gatsby in high school.  I mean, I liked it, but I din't love it.  And while I knew it was a famous book for a reason, it never really grabbed me. Then, I started watching Vlogbrothers videos, and I saw John Green's videos about the Great Gatsby.

The way John Green talks about the Great Gatsby persuaded me to see the book in a new light.  I've read it again since, and found it significantly more compelling.

Which, to my mind, raises a question:  is my affection for the Great Gatsby less legitimate because it's inspired by the evangelism of a vlogger I admire?

I would imagine not.  When I first read Gatsby I was a teenage high schooler, insufficiently aware of the existence of the wealthy to contextualize them and, at the time, sufficiently uninspired by the American dream (and not yet sufficiently contemptuous of it) to connect with Gatsby's struggle in a meaningful way.

John's videos persuaded me to look at the story again, this time during the Occupy Wall Street movement and after the market crash.  The first time I read it was during the exact parallel of economic times to the time in which it's set, but I didn't yet have that context.

On the other hand, it's not hard to imagine people sneering at me, calling it an affectation that I've come to like a classic book more only after I learned that someone I admire likes it.  Considering the frequency with which people raise that sort of criticism (first in a sort of scattershot across the internet, and then, more pointedly, in <sarcasm> serious conversations among friends about my character flaws </sarcasm>) it's hard not to consider whether there's something to it.  It's not as though I don't have the insecurity necessary to hammer in wedges of doubt about the things I like and care about.

By the way, this post was inspired by my discovery that there's a Great Gatsby video game.  Check it out.

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book to read a chapter of before I went to sleep tonight. The same thing happened with Will Grayson, Will Grayson -- something about John Green's books resist the effort to stop reading. This book is so saturated with depths and resonances, I can't imagine how a person could read it and not feel deeply moved and changed, or at least reinforced in their most worthwhile convictions.

I also feel it's very important to point out how much I absolutely adore the methods by which John Green grants himself license in this book to write like he's writing the Great American Novel, and still keep the tongue-in-cheek tone of playfulness that surrounds those speeches of depth and resonance, managing to avoid letting either undermine or overpower the other. Characters at a few points call it pretentious, but I don't think that's what it is. The Fault in Our Stars, especially with regard to Augustus Waters, takes real, unashamed and unselfconscious joy in noticing the world and human life, and in using language and behavior to share that experience in a beautiful way.

I found this book deeply moving, and I can't wait to read more of John Green's work.

View all my reviews

Review: Moxyland

MoxylandMoxyland by Lauren Beukes My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was pretty good. I didn't think it was world-shaking, maybe that's because I've been exposed to a lot of these ideas before, maybe it's because I've written about them myself. Maybe that's one of the things about dystopian fiction -- it's always amazing if it's the first book you've read about that particular kind of dystopia.

I found it kind of hard to follow, but it was easier once I got a handle on the characters' relationships to each other. And once I got enough of a grip to follow the story, I found the disorientation more appropriate than annoying.

I'd recommend it if you're looking for cyberpunk dystopia, but I'm not going to be telling all my friends to read it.

View all my reviews

House of Leaves: what is a book?

I said back in October that I was going to write about the nature of the book House of Leaves, then never got around to it.  So I think I'm going to dump out some of my thoughts on that now.  Book might not be the right word for what I'm getting at, though.  It might be more accurate to ask, is House of Leaves a novel? One of my favorite things about writing as art is that it's the only form of art that doesn't directly interact with any of the senses.  Not that I think that makes it better than other art forms, but I do think it makes it sort of special.  You can take most books -- Pride and Prejudice, say -- and change the font, put them on a scroll, publish them as a single, long web page, and as long as you follow a minimum of formatting guidelines (paragraph breaks, faithful punctuation) it's still, pretty much unarguably, the same book.  Like, very few books couldn't be printed as an eBook.

House of Leaves, though, definitely couldn't.  You could maybe roughly approximate it with a series of images of the pages, but the formatting matters.  The colors matter.  The fonts matter, the placement of the pages in relation to each other matters -- there's simply no way to boil House of Leaves down into a format that could be neatly copied and pasted across multiple platforms.

My first thought, when trying to work out what House of Leaves is, was that it's a sculpture -- an intensely immersive sculpture.  But another, much better category somewhat recently occurred to me:  It's a graphic novel.

I mean, it's the wordiest graphic novel I've ever read.  There are almost no pictures at all.  But I think it's definitely closer to a graphic novel than any other form I can think of.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Reviews: Will Grayson, Will Grayson; Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Today has been a very reading-ish day.  I started it off finishing Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, one of Douglas Adams's masterpieces.*  Here's the review I posted on my goodreads account:

This book is amazing in so many ways. It starts off being funny, and that doesn't stop pretty much for the entire book. Then it gets a little confusing, but in a good way, and then sort of chords of sense and organization start peppering throughout the book, until it hits a crescendo of weird logic in the most beautifully well written way possible.

Then I started reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which is about two teens in the Chicago area who happen to have the same name.  I don't know if it was the way their writing works together or if both John Green and David Levithan are just that brilliant,** but this book never gives you a point where you want to put it down.  Here's my review of that one:

Brilliant book. Packed with angst, but in an incredibly effective and accessible way. Green and Levithan do an amazing job of weaving the deep, resonant subject matter together with the funny, clever and beautiful characters themselves and their interactions. The ideas never overpower the plot, and the plot never overpowers the ideas -- and neither any of the ideas nor any of the characters overpower each other. Absolutely excellent.

I gave both of these books 5 stars, which might suggest that my 5 stars isn't worth much, but I hope it suggests that they're both totally worth reading -- definitely books to get your hands on.

*All of Douglas Adams's books are masterpieces. **I haven't read any of either of their other books, though I intend for that to change.

The Hunger Games Trilogy: my initial thoughts upon completion

I just finished Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Spoilers ahead.

Like, seriously, the first sentence of the next paragraph is a major spoiler for the third book; if you haven't read them, leave this post now.

...

I can't believe Prim died.  The books were amazing, and I stayed up all night last night to finish this last one.  But that, I think, was one of the most depressing character deaths in fiction.  After everything Katniss went through, after all the horrible things that had happened to her, the reason the series happened at all -- the one person Katniss was consistently trying to save, the one person she consistently cared about throughout the book, is killed, in a ruthless political move of ambiguous origin.

It seems so pointless.  It hurts, I think the reason it hurts a lot is because I can see what Collins is getting at in these books.  They're books I want kids to read, because they teach important lessons about the ruthlessness of tyrants and the fragility of freedom.  They teach the lesson that if you stand up against injustice, the unjust will go after the things you love.  That people who don't deserve to will die, and that you should still fight.

It hurts because I don't want it to be true.  Because finishing this book, and knowing how brilliant the books were throughout, I'm forced either to convince myself that it's an error, a scar on an otherwise excellent book, or to acknowledge that Suzanne Collins is right about that aspect of humanity.  I don't want the world to be that horrible.  I don't want it to be possible.  But it can be, and it is, and that knowledge is painful.

I

As some of you may be aware, I have a webcomic -- of poor quality and infrequent updates -- where I toyed around with plot for a while, experimented with autobiographical stick figures, and played around with absurdism a bit.  I wouldn't call myself an artist, but I'm interested in art, and I'm passionate about comics as a form for storytelling.  My comic is sort of my sandbox for that. I just finished my first read-through of Scott McCloud's "Making Comics."  And, to be honest, his textbooks on the craft and philosophy of comics are, themselves, some of my favorite comics.  I love what he does.  I love the way he uses the form to impart information in an unavoidably engaging way.  I love the way he manipulates the reader's perception of the medium so that he can draw attention to it when he needs to, and let it fade back into the background when he's talking about something else.

Those are the sort of comics I want to do.  I'd love to write textbooks that took on his comic form.  His style is so richly experimental, it seems like it's almost a whiteboard for experiments -- experiments in comics, thought experiments, or walk-throughs of actual scientific experimentation.

I don't know for certain that I'm going to be able to complete any printworthy comics very soon (and I've decided I'd rather leave the page unupdated for a month or more than publish any more unworthy comics) but when I do, I think I'm going to be experimenting with comics as a medium of clear communication of ideas.  And I'm very much looking forward to that sort of playing around.

Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother"

I finished reading "Little Brother" about twenty minutes ago, so it's all still sort of bouncing around in my head, but here are some of my initial thoughts. Spoilers ahead.

I love the way Doctorow weaves in lessons about security online and computer technology, but I love even more the way he weaves in crystal-clear explanations for why it's not just criminals who have something to fear from increased security systems.  The central narrative of the book is driven by one massive, glaring example of this, but throughout, subsequent moments of people getting screwed over or punished for nothing more than living in a high-security area are weaved in every few pages.  And, as the book makes dramatically clear, it's not like it ever did anything to catch the terrorists -- I can't recall a single instance of terrorism being uncovered, or even showing up, in the book beyond the attacks that drive the plot in the first place.

He does a great job of touring through the injustice that PATRIOT Act style security can bring down on the citizenry by dragging the main character through it, more than once, but I think the more important lesson he imparts, after making it visceral through Marcus's experiences, is showing the many, many other people dragged through the same systems, for little or no reason (he makes the point near the end that it's mostly because they're brown) and left in there longer and more painfully, all in the interests of stopping those terrorists they didn't catch.

I'm not sure I totally believe the ending, though.  I mean, I'm glad the book had a happy ending, and I guess I can conceive of the possibility of a governor kicking the federal government out of his or her state.  But maybe it's just that I'm too over-acclimated to our current, tragically inept system, but it just doesn't ring true to me.

Still, the lessons in this book are valuable and important, and I'm glad they're getting into the hands of our nation's children.

Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is awesome

I can't really multitask my work, because pretty much all of my work-like obligations are either writing or reading, and neither are activities one can perform half-mindedly. What I can do, though, is multitask my leisure.

So last night, I (accidentally) stayed up all night, playing Minecraft (because the official edition just came out and I wanted to play with enchantments) and listening to the free audiobook of Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." 

There's a free audiobook of Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." 

Low-spoiler concept summary:  The book is set in the future, seems like one or two hundred years from now.  (If they gave a date, I missed it.) The setting is post-scarcity, scientific immortality has been achieved, and the economic system has been replaced with "Whuffie," a money-substitute that directly reflects one's social capitol -- good standing with other people.  This tech level and culture is collectively known as "The Bitchun Society." The book  follows the narrator, Julius, who's over 100 years old and grew up in the early years of the Bitchun Society.  It takes place mostly in Disney World.

Warning: Spoilers follow.  Skip to asterisks to skip light spoilers.

My favorite thing about the book is that the narrator, Julius, is not at the top of the setting.  Quite the opposite -- he's an emotionally irregular, somewhat damaged, impulsive and hard-to-like person within the Bitchun Society, and while he's talented enough to make occasional grabs at significant amounts of Whuffie, he tends to scrape by near the bottom.

Because of this, Doctorow manages to avoid making the advanced state and post-scarcity luxuries of the Bitchun Society look like a Utopian daydream.  This doesn't seem to have been the thrust of the message, but it remains true and important that no amount of freely available goods can completely eliminate emotional pain or dissonant personalities.

He also slips in philosophical discourse on the merits of the Bitchun Society in Julius's first-person narration, and in his conversations with his best friend, Dan.

Dan and Julius's relationship is deep and human, and the arc of the book shows both the usually high-Whuffie Dan at near rock-bottom, and the usually Whuffie-poor Julius way above his norm.  It's portrayed as at least a little abnormal in the Bitchun Society that their friendship consistently transcends consideration of each others' reputational poverty.  But they're both also very not-perfect, and while at times it begins to feel like we should be looking at one or the other as saintlike avatars of the Bitchun Society's highest ambitions, Doctorow consistently undercuts that appearance with acts of genuine, deeply flawed humanity.

***

In summary, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is an excellent example of optimistic futurism in Science Fiction without descending into cheap Utopianism.  The characters are genuinely human, and the book sticks to what matters -- human beings and their relationships and struggles -- while casually exploring a vision of the future.  It's a great book, in every way I can think of.

And it's free.

Perdido Street Station

I finished reading Perdido Street Station today.  Finally.  It's been months. It's a fantastic book, and I'd recommend it to anyone.  ...Well, okay, not everyone.  It's a difficult book, and I know some people who might not be able to wade through it.  But if you're in the mood for some very literary SF/F/Horror writing, Perdido Street Station should be near the top of your list.

And now:  Spoilers.

In the book, Miéville runs circles around genre conventions, seemingly doing everything wrong.  It's a very black-and-gray morality work, where it's made clear it would be impossible to do anything right in this setting without doing some things horribly, horribly wrong.

One of the most extraordinary things about Miéville's writing is his use of deus ex machina -- the plot of Perdido Street Station is riddled with much more powerful entities than any of the major characters -- the Weaver, the Council, Jack Half-A-Prayer, who show up out of nowhere to save the day at every seemingly insoluble plot point.  But their inscrutability and complex motives are consistently explored, and their strange behaviors are consistently justified -- and they have consequences reaching past the moment of their intervention.

Altogether I was thoroughly impressed with this book, and recommend it highly.

Perdido Street Station: an update

So, for the last two months or so, I've been reading one book.  This is because I'm a slow reader.  Not that I read very slowly when reading, but because I tend to peck away at a book in small chunks over long periods of time, rather than devoting large chunks of time to finishing a book in a reasonable number of weeks. This is not dissimilar to my writing style, as followers of my twitter feed will have noticed. Bot the other reason I've been reading this book for so long is that it's Perdido Street Station, China Miéville's monstrously long New Weird novel.  The book started out great, and has continued to get awesomer by the page.  [[Spoilers]]:  So far, it includes dream-eating moths, giant extraplanar superspiders,  revolutionary magicky-science, artificially intelligent roombas and a flying dog.  Yes, he's making it work.

I intend to start writing reviews about what I'm reading on here, partially to shame myself into increasing my rate of fiction consumption.  (Shame is an incredibly useful device.  See: future post.)  But apart from that, I recommend Perdido Street Station to anyone who likes weird, and doesn't want a book that will eat your brain quite as badly as House of Leaves.  (The City and The City is a bit of a trip, though.  It'll change the way you see the world, at least a little.  Like 1984.  See, future post.)