Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Many Faces of... MITCHELL!!






I really need to watch this episode again. Always get seduced by some other, newer re-released episode or set whenever I'm about to take the plunge.

Fat says this episode always makes him cry (its Joel's last), the big ol' softie.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

a cheap paperback life


locusts, rain and the cosmic thwart

I've lived in Santa Destroy for coming up on 10 months now. I'm preparing to move for the second time. It's been raining for days.

I live pretty close to the bone here: I wasn't working those first four months, the surround be 'spensive* and I don't exactly have the best job ever had by dog, man or boy. One of the biggest structure hits I've taken involves my DVD player. The second I got it uncrated, I discovered that the remote had become one with the infinite. Its functionality is thus down to play/pause, stop, and open/close.**

It's been raining for days. A specific kind of rain unknown, basically, in Portland: hard, loud, spatters and pools. Melancholy and drunk in the afternoon, trying to pack without any boxes to speak of, I throw movies on in the background. The rain and the lack and the muted emotional palette put me in the mind of Evangelion, never afraid to give you a half-minute of raindrops pounding slick city streets or the desolate, isolated drone of locusts.

Alas, my copy defaults to the dubbed version, and I can't change that. I made it all the way until Shinji opened his mouth, but I absolutely can't tolerate the wrong voices this time around. All I want is my friends in the background, half-distracting me from the tedium of cramming my preposterous piles of prized possessions into more mobile configurations. Cold blusters outside, I'm blowing spit bubbles, strangely drained, out of both beer and hope. 10 months. Ready for that new life any day now...

Couple weeks ago, I picked up Super Dodgeball Brawlers for my DS. Like so many of the modern-era Nintendo products I've picked up, it's optimized for multiplayer. Like half the world at the moment, "optimized for multiplayer" actually means "pig-fucking useless in single player". Took maybe two couple-hour sessions to complete,

Not terrible, though: I'm a sucker for the Kunio steez, and the game plays at an excellent pace, both quick and heavy. There's the predictable amount of micromanaging possible, with mostly pointless items and accessories, and I have to admit that I had ridiculous fun making a custom squad.

That's Collision, me, DDT and Silken Thomas there. Good stuff. Thoroughly mediocre experience, but there's very much a time and a place for mediocre experiences. Here in Santa Destroy, in the rain.

It's been raining for days.

*Makes me pensive.
**I've tried two separate low-rent universal remotes. Neither supports my mighty Coby model.

Here come the dreams that are split at the seams

John Shirley

In Eclipse, many of my favorite things about John Shirley dovetail together, creating a sort of Janus-faced monstrous representation of my tastes in writing, culture, and politics. Eclipse portrays the near-future unfolding of a neo-fascist supra-national empire in the wake of a non-nuclear World War III. Europe is in ruins, but armistice has been achieved (or at least stalemate), and to bring stability to the ruins of France a third-party security megacorporation called Second Alliance (SA) is contracted to begin the rebuilding. Of course, it turns out the SA is part of a complex and broad-sweeping neo-fascist plot of world domination, headed by an American evangelical Christian.

In opposition to this plot is the New Resistance ("NR"), headed by an ex-Mossad higher-up named Steinfeld and financed by an American billionaire who is also SA's chief economic rival. The book mainly traces the paths of several individuals who become part of the NR for a myriad of reasons, and this volume also features a parallel storyline involving the SA takeover of FirStep, the space colony orbiting the earth.

As great as Shirley is at sketching the insidiousness of this neo-fascist plot (there's a great sequence where these two neo-nazis from Idaho show up at the SA compound, dressed out in full Third Reich regalia, and one of the upper-level SA execs summarily shoots them in the woods while explaining to them that the whole Nazi-model is both stupid and not ambitious enough, and of the effect of the war (or crisis, generally, I suppose) on the modern world (a great bit by one character, "Hard Eyes," about how before the war he didn't care about much, just when the next new digital music player was coming out – the pointless but comforting rhythms of consumerism), the heart and soul of this book is Rick Rickenharp.

Rickenharp is a washed-up rock star of the 1970s-1980s mould: long hair, blue jeans, leather jackets. But his preferred music form fell out of style long ago (except for a short retro craze), and the book finds him playing a gig in FreeZone, a floating city somewhere near the Canary Islands. Rickenharp and the band realize they're playing their last show together, and then Rickenharp runs off with a younger blue-haired girl and her friends to join the NR. Later, Rickenharp confesses of feeling "awake" or "alive" for the first time in a long time, if not ever. The book's must-be-read-to-be-believed conclusion revolves around Rick's last performance.

Eclipse Prenumbra
John Shirley

Eclipse Corona
John Shirley

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the second and third volumes of this series as strongly as the first. As mentioned elsewhere1, Shirley has integrated several of his short stories into the narrative of both these novels, especially Eclipse Prenumbra. Still, Prenumbra includes more of the FirStep storyline, which is actually quite compelling, and I almost wish all of that arch could be collected in one volume. Shirley also forays into pretty straight combat narrative for brief spells. And although I was disappointed to discover he had conscripted previous short stories into the Eclipse narrative, Shirley really did a superb job stitching those stories and characters together into a larger narrative – for the most part you are only dimly aware that the narrative has gone a bit tangential.

In Corona three things stand out: a fantastic sequence about an SA diehard who comes up to the brink of the SA's true purpose (genocide) and finds that he cannot follow through. Secondly, a compelling tale of an undesirable confined to an SA version of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the unfortunate circumstances of his escape. And lastly, of course, the NR Strikes Back to bring the sequence to its end.


1 See my notes on Shirley's short-story collection Heatseeker.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

never a simple chimaera

It has been a while, and then a while. In the doldrums, becalmed by a season in which my local Warriors are tepid whilst bland. My ancient ways of loyalty to Denver have been sorely strained by their unintriguing competence; I retreat to my tent with a stack of novels.*

Through the summer, I fattened myself on the works of Steve Gerber, as Collision's interest spurted into obsession. Mostly I found Marvel Essentials collections--volumes containing 20-some issues, & the only way to read comics in these revolting times. In order:

  • Howard the Duck
  • Man-Thing
  • Man-Thing 2
  • Hard Times: 50 to Life
  • Omega the Unknown
  • Howard the Duck MAX
  • Dr Fate: Countdown to Mystery

All this in something like 6 or 7 weeks.

Gerber is the echt humanist--angry, frustrated, despairing, depressed, energetic. I like him less than Collision does, b/c I'm nearly as interested in things as I am in people. (Also, unlike Collision, I haven't that much use for those works mainly about comics: HtD, Omega the Unknown... For me, his greater achievements were not primarily critical: Dr Fate, Hard Times, HtD MAX, and above all, Man-Thing.)

Still, though nothing here topples V for Vendetta from Fat's Throne, I do now suspect that Moore, for all his mammoth achievements and indisputable genius...doesn't actually have very much to say. Or, anyway, anything much to say about things other than books. Gerber at his best is at least talking about life, the intercourse of those sad, confused apes & the tragedies, hijinx, frequent lived nightmares & occasional connections they variously chase and endure, like so many mad, desperate pinballs.

I have since summer sworn off buying comics for the remainder of 2009--a protest against bad products delivered thru an absolutely asinine business model. My swan song (of myself) was American Flagg.

This monumental little triumph displaced from Fat's Throne of recommendations the Dark Knight. Turns out, a couple years before Miller, Chaykin had done everything Miller would do, only more inventively & much, much funnier. Also, his characters are closer to actually, interestingly fucked up (impotent, drunken, violent in sex & friendship) than Miller's cartoons of fucked up (grimjawed revengey solitude).

Stunning piece of work, and an essential experience whether or not comics (or cyberpunk) is of interest to you.**

I also had a long engagement with Michael Moorcock. I'm not quite ready to blurb on this, however I note for the moment that one conquering facet is his combination of a set of explicit politics with a set of aesthetics, this combination forming what I'd call the ethic of these books.

Moody bastard heroes, strong & mostly aloof, generally looking out into lives suffused with doom like ashes freshly on a tongue; yet arguing to & for truth, fumbling towards good & the good; trying.

Also, this cover sells itself.

*There is going to be a notion about how nobody is paying attention to the Nuggets, so lookout, West! This will inflate right quick into a widespread belief--and a positive raft of posts--that nobody is talking about the Nuggets, thus the dark horse in the spot light.

**One big success for Miller, though, was the Spirit. Here, he mangaged to combine Eisner's slapstick (schlubs, schmucks, & schlemiels) with Eisner & Miller's noir (dolls, molls, thugs, fists bricks & breasts). Somehow, it worked marvellously, this blending of two quite distinct refractions of life.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Hanging at street lamps looking for action

Pat Cadigan

I was pretty stoked when I found this paperback at the Goodwill for a buck, since I'd heard about Cadigan as a kind of o.g. cyberpunk, and I had recently become a bit self-aware of the lack of female authors in my library. The premise is certainly interesting: when technology can interact with the human brain, then a multitude of pleasures will be generated using that technology, and, as with all pleasures, some will cross over in the realm of vice. And were there is vice, you essentially get… social workers. Our protag is one of these psych-social workers, who uses tech to actually get inside her patients' heads. Includes a fave insight from a novel ever: that our delusions are precious to us. Personally I found it difficult to read. Cadigan's prose doesn't work that well for me, and the afterword reveals it was originally a series of short stories, which might explain some difficulties I had keeping my attention on the plot.

When Gravity Fails
George Alec Effinger

The first of Effinger's Marid Audran novels, set in the Budayeen pleasure district of a fictitious desert Arabic city.1 In a future where almost all enjoy the varied benefits of "chipped-in" neuro-enhancements2, Marid Audran opts instead for wily street-smarts and a steady diet of pills and alcohol. Marid is a fixer, always hoping to mediate or facilitate his next few months rent, and is quite good at it, in a way. Then Friedlander Bey, the city's own criminal godfather, as it were, taps him to look into a murder. Along the way Marid must become the things he most prided himself for not being, though, in the process, one has to question whether he was much at all in the first place. The Budayeen, it turns out, is almost exclusively the territory of sex-changes and the heavily physically modified; various ex-pats and the faux-couture. No one really amounts to much, however, and most are merely the pawns of men like Bey. I regularly regret the untimely passing of Effinger in 2002.

Islands in the Net
Bruce Sterling

Previous to this book3, I think the only work by Sterling I had read was the anthology Mirror Shades, A Good Old Fashioned Future, Schismatrix Plus, and his Gibson collaborative effort, The Difference Engine.4 In short, he was mainly an editor on Mirror Shades, Old Fashioned is easy to like, being both short stories and a particular good collection of the same, and Schismatrix Plus is a cyberpunkian-spin on Stapledon-flavored space opera, so none of these are particular indicative of Sterling Just Being Sterling. Islands in the Net, however, gives you a strong sense of why he was the Cyberpunks' guru-in-residence. At face, this is a story about a married mother who is part of a near-future national-level co-op business, who is selected to represent her company in Granada. Events with potential world-shaking consequences follow, taking her on the patented Sterling Candid-esque journey 'round the world: Galveston, Texas – Granada – Singapore – Africa. At each stop we are given a sketch of some new model of the world. Models, which, in some standard "futuristic" sci-fi story, would be the (paternalistic) "hero" of the story: hi-tech super-soldier rebels in Granada, a tiny city-state with the tech and the will to power in Singapore, or bigger-than-life warrior-poets playing Laurence of Arabia on dune buggies in the Sahara. But in each case these models lose out our maternal protag. A sobering and thoughtful (and hopeful) look at the future.


1 This city, but specifically the Budayeen, is heavily modeled on New Orleans, Effinger's adopted home. An odd pairing, to be sure – a barely concealed Bourbon Street mapped onto a well-researched Islamic future.
2 But the 'Net is oddly (and kind of refreshingly) absent, or at least not mentioned.
3This book along with When Gravity Fails consist of Exhibits A and B in cover art my wife makes fun of me for. Gravity Fails' rendition of Audran (we can suppose) is a bit on the effete side, and Islands features cleavage. Obviously, there can be nothing serious to contemplate in these books, to judge by the covers.
4 I have come to grips with my feelings that the Difference Engine is not a very good novel. Mind you, it's actually much better than a ton of stuff out there, and is actually pretty marvelously detailed, but I don’t think it plays particularly well to Gibson or Sterling's strengths. Sadly, I think I've actually read this book THREE times, which probably makes it Exhibit A in the criminality that can result from re-reading books in your personal collection.