In a world of superpowers, if you could choose to be hero or villain, which would you pick? Or is this a question with no easy answer... can we be both heroic and villainous, kind and mean spirited? Wouldn't surviving high school make us both?
Monday, November 29, 2010
Welcome to He Said, She Said, a feature for GuysLitWire in which a guy (Book Chic, a recent college graduate) and a gal (Little Willow, a bookseller) discuss books that will appeal to both genders.
Today, we'll be discussing Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. This collaborative novel is a perfect fit for He Said, She Said. Levithan and Cohn wrote alternating chapters, each from his or her main character's point of view, following the model they set up in previous bestselling novels Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely's No-Kiss List. (Little Willow adds: I found Dash & Lily to be just as amazing as Nick & Norah. This novel is absolutely delightful - a true holiday treat!)
When Dash discovers a red Moleskine notebook on the shelf of The Strand bookstore, he opens it and finds questions and challenges inside. Lily, the girl who left the notebook, wants to liven up her holiday break. The two teenagers start a lively game of dares, each writing in the notebook and leaving it in designated locations for the other person to discover. Along the way, they challenge themselves just as much as they challenge each other. Will they ever dare to meet in person? You have to read the book to find out!
Now we challenge you to read our roundtable. It's simple, really. Just keep going...
Friday, November 26, 2010
Somehow, the holiday season tends to turn my mind to the subject of zombies. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the hordes of blank-eyed people shuffling through stores for products that television has told them to buy.
One thing we've been told to buy recently are zombie and vampire stories. They're "bigger than ever" according to film and publishing executives -- some of whom seem a little like zombies themselves for pursuing the fad with a grim mindlessness: The Walking Dead, 30 Days of Night, Twilight, 28 Days Later, The Crazies, Resident Evil, Shaun of the Dead, World War Z. Some of these are excellent explorations of what undeath might mean, and others...aren't so much.
Regardless of the "quality," there's no denying that stories in which sentience must contend with instinct appeal to many of us at a base level -- maybe as some kind of primal memory from the time not so long ago when we fought that battle a lot more often. They're also reminders of the price of surrendering that sentience for consumer culture or jingoism or rage or love any of the other forces that appeal more to our brain stem than to our frontal lobe.
It's no coincidence that zombies want our brains, the one thing that differentiates us from them. And it's no coincidence that our politicians want them, too.
Perhaps one of the better novels of the undead is Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. It is often thought of as a vampire novel given the biological constraints of the undead depicted in it (only emerging at night, susceptible to religious icons, and so on), but I think it may well be the clearest and most compelling performance of the zombie myth.
In the novel (not to be confused with ANY of the terrible adaptations of it), Robert Neville finds himself struggling to survive long after human civilization has collapsed. By night, he barricades himself in his home from a siege of zombie-like creatures, many of them calling his name, all of them desperate for his flesh. By day, he patrols the neighborhood, looking for the creatures as they repose during the day to stake them through the heart.
At its simplest, I Am Legend is a handbook for comporting yourself after a zombie apocalypse. There are handy tips here for growing your own food, providing your own power, sealing off those pesky windows and doors, and pursuing scientific experiments to eradicate the plague or those who suffer it.
In fact, Neville's scientific bent may be most instructive of all. He reminds us that calm reason is often our only hope in any disaster -- the calm reason required for isolating variables, testing hypotheses, and proceeding with new information.
But the vampire/zombie/undead metaphor is at its best in this book when we're thinking about the role of an individual on the edges of society. Is it okay to do as the Romans (or zombies) do when in Rome? What do you do when you're a minority of one? What becomes of your culture or your morality? For all its adventuresome coolness, I Am Legend addresses heady questions like these, too.
If you're hungry for brains during the zombie holiday season, you may find I Am Legend to be a feast.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
There have been a lot of urban fantasy novels published lately. It is possible that some readers may be just a teensy bit done with them for a while. I promise you that Dust City, by Robert Paul Weston, is special. I also promise that there are no werewolves in this book. Honest. You should read it, and not just because the cover is so awesome which will make you want to carry it around, facing out, as you walk down the street, stopping every so often to spend a little time staring into the spooky wolf eyes. You should read it because it is gripping, clever, richly imagined and thematically complex.
Henry Whelp isn't just any wolf. His father is the wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother. It's hard enough to be a wolf in Dust City to begin with, but it's way harder when everyone expects you have murder in your blood, and they're just waiting for you to lose it, like your dad. For a while, Henry has been keeping quiet in a Home for Wayward Wolves outside the city, but after a murder in the home he breaks out. He's looking for answers. He wants to find out once and for all what really happened the night his father became a murderer, and he thinks it may have something to do with Dust, a mind-altering drug sold on the black-market in the city. He also hopes he might discover what happened to the fairies, who disappeared and took their powerful fairy dust with them, inspiring thaumaturgical companies to create an entire industry to provide synthetic dust to an increasingly addicted populace.
I will read just about any reworking of a fairy tale. Love 'em. I was extra excited about Dust City because Robert Paul Weston is uber-creative and accomplished. (His debut verse novel, Zorgamazoo was phenomenal and so much fun. Anyone who can write in iambic pentameter for close to 300 pages without a misstep is a rockstar in my books). The Big Bad Wolf is not the only fairy tale character who makes an appearance here. Henry's best friend is Jack, a notorious thief with a bag of beans. The gutsy, ass-kicking detective on Henry's tail is Inspector White, with cherry-red lips and skin white as snow. There are more clever surprises, but I'll let you discover those yourself. I was prepared for dark, and it was.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Dropping down through the clouds, silent like a spider on a web, is a massive black sphere.At 5:00 in the morning, just days from his sixteenth birthday, a painfully loud metallic noise jarred Josh from his sleep. Hundreds of miles to the south, twelve-year-old Megs was already awake, waiting in a car for her mother to return from a job interview. The noise that shook them both, as well as millions of other people, announced the arrival of giant spaceships capable of making people and cars on the street disappear in a second.
It's a mile away, at least, but even from this distance it dwarfs the neighborhoods below. I brace myself for the horror of watching houses crushed with people inside. But it stops well above the trees, maybe five hundred feet off the ground. It hovers soundlessly. (p. 14)
Friday, November 19, 2010
One of my favorite aspects of this trilogy is the fact that the world Cornish has created is so rich and so utterly unlike anything else, down to the use of language at the individual word level. It's not just that characters and places are named in an unusual way (like J.K. Rowling, he's got a talent for naming people), but even the terminology for technology and social structures in this semi-industrialized setting is unique to this book. Words are put to use in new and connotative ways, related to the meanings we might already be familiar with, but not quite the same, with a pure enjoyment of the very sounds of the words themselves. The words are decontextualized, but somehow all of this adds to the feeling of atmosphere in these books—and, as an unrepentant word nerd, you'd think that would annoy me, but instead, I'm happy to go along for the ride.
I don't want to give too much away about this book, but the one of the central themes revolves around the definition of what is, in fact, a monster—and whether in fact all monsters are nefarious and to be universally reviled, or if there may be some (as we learned in book 2) that help humankind and coexist peacefully.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
In a speech at a convention on open source last year, Karl Schroeder mentioned the idea, discovered by cognitive scientists studying ship navigation, that there are some cognitive activities that cannot be accomplished by a single cognitive entity. What does that mean?
Put another way, sometimes humans act as a hive mind, rather than a collection of individual thinkers. Hearing that blew my mind. You can find out more about this on his website, where you'll also see that he's a writer. As you may guess, he's a Science Fiction writer, with a heavy emphasis on the science.
It's his love of trippy science, and of following a single scientific idea down the rabbit hole, that lead to one of the coolest sf fictional worlds to come along in a long, long time.
Sun of Suns, the first book in Schroeder's Virga series, is as bizarre as it is scientifically accurate. Imagine a five thousand mile diameter sphere orbiting a star, and the inside is filled with air, water, and chunks of rock big and small. Now populate that space with people. Give them early 20th century technology. What you get is mindbending physics jammed into a swashbuckling adventure: inhabitants experience atmosphere but not gravity, so they create spinning city states and miniature fusion suns and do battle like it's 1799 in wooden space ships.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
With the recent popularity of e-readers and smartphone reading apps, some writers have been having a lot of fun with the freedom and interactivity provided by the new technology. Here's three writers pushing the envelope on how books are published and how they're experienced.
I reviewed Reinhard Kleist's fantastic graphic novel biography of Johnny Cash, I See a Darkness, last month. Now Ave! Comics has put out a downloadable "soundtrack" edition for the iPhone and iPad. Along with the full novel, the app has a soundtrack feature which will search your music library for appropriate songs to fit the section you're reading. (And if you don't have the songs in your library already, it gives you the option of buying them through iTunes.) This is a really simple integration of words, pictures, and music that makes all three much more vivid.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
I’m suddenly reconsidering, and re-exploring the short story. I haven’t put aside my big-ass (they are always big-ass when you’re writing them) novel that I posted about over the summer; in fact, I’m between drafts, as they say.
Monday, November 15, 2010
It sounds so grab to go to school in a mall. But what would you say if your every move is watched by the marketing executives that run the school? In Rae Mariz's The Unidentified, there is no funding for schools, so a group of corporations are happy to run them in order to get the inside track on trends of music, fashion and more.
Katey, who goes by Kid, is getting average grades, average hits on her profile and has just a few followers on her intouch. At this rate she is never going to be branded and receive all of the perks of being a trendsetter and worshiped by the other teens. Really though, she isn't certain that she even cares.
Things change when a stunt takes place in the lunchroom. In a simulated suicide, a dummy is pushed over the balcony. The note pinned to it says, "UNIDENTIFIED. CHOOSE YOUR SUICIDE." Kid is stunned, shaken and wonders what in the Google this is all about, but no one else seems to care. She is now driven to find out who the Unidentified are and what they are trying to say.
This novel is very much in the vein of Cory Doctorow's books and stories. Though fashion and popularity are a big part of this book, there is a lot here for boys, including the technology of the near dystopian future, the rebellion against the marketers and strong male characters like the daring Mikey and the mysterious leader of the Unidentified.
This was an incredibly intriguing book and will appeal to those who enjoyed Jennifer Government by Max Barry, Rash by Pete Hautman and anything by Cory Doctorow.
Friday, November 12, 2010
The canon is a problematic concept. Its attendant implications of an homogenous heritage and dominant cultural norms tend to legitimate only a fairly narrow field of experience. But there can be canons cultural and personal. My high school English class reading lists featured the occasional play, always Shakespeare or Miller. For the most part, I was on my own to explore the rich history of the form, sometimes latching onto famous titles and but open to anything that looked interesting. The core requirement as my personal canon formed was that a work resonated in such a way that it became essential to my understanding of the form, resulting in a list that encompassed everyone from Ibsen to Joe Orton and Christopher Durang. And of course, there were the plays that bridged between the personal and common canons. Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is an undisputed monument of American drama, but it was just another play when I first encountered it.
One of the most valuable services provided by a cultural canon is the expectation of a shared familiarity with a given body of works. Knowledge of a certain set of material provides a necessary basis for approaching new works. It would be impossible to pass judgment on where within the form a contemporary play about strained families falls without grounding in Long Day’s Journey. O’Neill is as essential to understanding works like Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County—laden as both plays are with concerns about parents, siblings, addiction, and secrets—as Howard’s End is to reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.
But there’s a more personal value to works of literature, too.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
I don't know... this book doesn't have any vampires or werewolves or zombies. Who'd want to read a book like that?
Well, YOU might. How Angel Peterson Got His Name, by Gary Paulsen, is dedicated by the author "to all boys in their thirteenth year; the miracle is that we live through it."
Paulsen writes about some of the stunts he and his friends tried at that young age: shooting a waterfall in a barrel (He would have drowned, but the barrel hit a sharp rock and shattered.), breaking the world speed record on skis (pulled behind a car), hang gliding with an army surplus kite, inventing the skateboard, jumping a bike through a hoop of fire, and, well, you get the picture, right?
His buddy, Wayne, received a shock from the family's new television, which "slammed him back into the wall and left him unconscious for several minutes. He later claimed that the incident was what made him the only one in our group who could actually talk to girls."
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Fifteen is the age of maturity, and that means getting a part-time job in order to continue receiving rations. Benny, like many teens, doesn't really want to work, and he certainly doesn't want to take up the family business of becoming a bounty hunter of the undead. Worse, his brother Tom is legendary, but all Benny knows and remembers of his much-older brother is that he was a coward who ran away and left their parents to become zombies.
There are plenty of other bounty hunters though, guys like Charlie and The Hammer who told war stories of their times in the Rot and Ruin and talked up their kills in ways Tom never did. Benny could never understand why his brother never talked about work, or why Tom was so revered by town elders, but he finds out quick enough when he finally agrees to become his brother's apprentice after failing at pretty much every other job he attempts. One trip into the Rot and Ruin changes everything Benny ever knew, or thought he knew, about what it means to be human, both living and undead.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Remember ZOMBIE HAIKU, with all its humor and gorey details? Well, Ryan Mecum returns to that particular form with WEREWOLF HAIKU, in which a mild-mannered mailman is bitten by a (not) dog while on his daily rounds and finds himself a werewolf.
Turns out there are pros and cons to being a werewolf:
I can hear better,The poor mailman develops a unibrow and a lot of other hairy areas - ears, chest, tongue. And a tendency to chase cars and rabbits, howl at sirens, and hump legs. He's also become more of an attraction for dogs, which now follow him like the pied piper.
even though both my ear holes
are clogged with whiskers.
Spiders have eight legs,
each of which I hear stomping
on my hardwood floors.
With heightened hearing,
current pop songs hurt my ears
more than they used to.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Soft Skull just sent me a couple of very cool little books: THEY LIVE by Jonathan Lethem and DEATH WISH by Christopher Sorrentino. These are the first two books in the new "Deep Focus" series which takes self-defined "hip" authors and gives them carte blanche to write about any film they want. Lethem talked to NYMag recently about his choice and how delighted he was to get the go-ahead on writing about the B-movie classic:
It's a great movie — we're talking about it, and not just because I wrote this book. Go and look at its cultural life as traceable on Google. Look at what it does to people, look at how it emboldens and provokes. It's just not a classy or comfortable or ennobling experience to watch it. It's disturbing and ridiculous and outrageous and uncomfortable, but I think it's the kind of great movie that doesn't really need defense, it just needs to be given the air.
Friday, November 5, 2010
...or has the publisher just released a book with a male teen protagonist that is really aimed at female readers? Here's the description from the pub:
Across four sun-kissed drama-drenched summers at his family's beach house, Chase tries to come to grips with his family's slow dissolution while also finding himself in a chaotic love triangle, pitted against his own brother in pursuit of the girl next door. Invincible Summer is a gritty, sexy, page-turning read from a talented teenaged author that readers won't want to miss.
Or is this a cover that boys will actually love?
[Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz, due from S&S on April 19, 2011.]
Other than his own admittedly impressive¹ combat skills, his even-more-impressively-skilled partner and a cheerful obnoxious poetry-spouting AI implant in his brain, 17-year-old Durango (that would be his age in Earth years, in Mars, it's calculated differently) doesn't have a lot going for him. His father is in prison, he doesn't have enough money to eat regularly, and his status as a dalit marks him as the lowest of the low.
Despite that, he holds firm to the Regulator tenets of honor. He protects the weak even if they can't pay well, he is loyal to his crew, he always fights fair.
Well... he mostly holds firm. After all, one isn't made dalit for a minor deviation from the Regulator code.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft
"When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman? No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.
In life. In death.
Since the death of his brother, Jonathan’s been losing his grip on reality. Last year’s Best Young Poet and gifted guitarist is now Taft High School’s resident tortured artist, when he bothers to show up. He's on track to repeat eleventh grade, but his English teacher, his principal, and his crew of Thicks (who refuse to be seniors without him) won’t sit back and let him fail."- summary from Amazon
Before I start to get in too deep, the last sentence of the summary makes this book sound much more after-school special than it really is. This is a thoroughly realistic debut that doesn't sugarcoat anything and does a great job of dealing with Jonathan's emotions regarding his twin brother's death and the pressure he feels from everyone around him.
However, I will say there were times where I was thinking to myself "Oh my god, just get over it already and stop moping around!" but having not lost someone that close to me, I feel like I have no place to say anything.
I really loved the musical and poetic aspects of the novel because it made the character richer and more three-dimensional. But at the same time, Jonathan was so wrapped up in himself and his problems that the people most important to him (his friends and mother) kind of fell by the wayside, which meant way less characterization of them. The new people he meets at Delphi, a hospice, are given more room to be fleshed out.
The climax of the book seemed to be written almost stream-of-consciously and it just flowed so well. That's one thing I loved about the prose in the book- it was accessible but philosphical and just superb.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Way back in February I wrote about Mark Waid's Irredeemable, a twist on the classic Superman-style superhero comic where the pristine, nigh-indestructible good guy (called The Plutonian) finally gets fed up with the world and unleashes all of his pent up demons upon it. Irredeemable is an object lesson in the old adage, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," and it works because of its willingness to pervert our notions of good and evil.
While Incorruptible continues as a monthly series (and a nice back library of collected trade paperbacks) Waid has added another title and storyline to the mix with Incorruptible. Occurring at the same time and same continuity as Irredeemable, Incorruptible tells the story of Max Damage (where does he get these character names?) another indestructible, super-strong character who has devoted his life to debauchery, crime and a general maladjusted sense of self. At least, Max DID live a life of crime, until The Plutonian nutted up and destroyed an entire city. Max disappears following the disaster, only to return a significantly changed man - no more illicit sex (with his underaged sidekick, no less), drugs or crime of any kind. In most respects, Max undergoes a religious transformation, minus the religion (Waid may eventually take the series in this direction, but don't look for it in the first collected trade). He returns, in essence, as a super powered monk.
Never one to let a character off the hook easily, Waid challenges Max's transformation over and over again with multiple temptations. Turning good, it seems, has as many negative implications as suddenly becoming evil, and there are few, if any, who accept or believe in Max as a newly-incarnated super-savior. Thus, this new series allows Waid to further explore the odd, often unstable line between what we consider good and bad, right and wrong, and our own willingness to accept change in others.
It's not a perfect series, and in many ways it is inferior to Irredeemable - most notably because it all but requires that you have read the other series - but it is intriguing to see Waid play out a "Saul of Tarsus"-like conversion in a landscape filled with comic book conventions. Can we accept that someone so bad can suddenly embrace goodness? If we can't, what does that say about us?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
In the opening scene of Reckless, the first volume in Cornelia Funke’s new series, we are introduced to Jacob Reckless whose father has disappeared. Jacob, feeling abandoned and angry, searches his father’s room for clues as to what might have happened to him. What he finds instead is a mirror which serves as a portal to another world. As soon as crosses into this world, he is attacked by a grotesque spider like being. He barely escapes and finds his younger brother, Will, afraid, searching for him back in his own world.
The story then jumps ahead twelve years. Jacob, not deterred by the violence he met in the Mirror world has, over the years, spent more and more time there. The Mirrorworld is a place full of dangerous and enticing magic. In his time behind the mirror Jacob has become a successful, even famous, hunter of magical treasures and, like his father before him, has largely abandoned his family in his home world, forever making excuses for his long absences. But one mistake has allowed his brother to follow him through the mirror and tragedy has struck. A race of stone-skinned people called Goyl, at war with various human nations, has attacked the Reckless brothers and, because of the curse of a dark fairy that the Goyl use as a weapon of war, Will is slowly growing stone skin himself, turning into one of the creatures out to destroy the Mirrorworld’s humans. Jacob is certain he can find a cure for his brother, but the skin is changing quickly and with it Will is losing his human mind and soul.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Which makes it a cryin' shame that the author died this year. On a more positive note, she's written quite a few books, including a few I've even heard of (by title if not by author's name)--The Anvil of the World, The Empress of Mars. I, for one, will be looking for more of her work.
The Bird of the River was, I believe, released posthumously. It was her newest fantasy work, set in the same universe as The Anvil of the World. As this was my first entry into that universe, I wasn't sure if I'd be at a disadvantage for not having read the other books. However, I didn't feel lost at all; the book works well as a stand-alone. Baker provides a measured introduction to the world through the eyes of its characters, specifically the main protagonist, the teenaged Eliss.
We start with Eliss and her family—her mother, Falena, and her half-brother, Alder—in an unfortunate situation: Falena is a drug addict, and she's using again. Hoping to help her mother get clean, Eliss finds Falena a job as a diver on a river cleanup barge, the Bird of the River.