Monday, August 30, 2010

Perdido Street Station

by China Mieville (2000).

The book which, if not launched, then anchored the sub-genre "urban fantasy." I've also seen this book categorized as "cyberpunk" elsewhere, as well as the slightly more understandable "steampunk." Guess this a book everyone wants under their banner, then. This forms, along with The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston and City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer, one of the key texts of the "New Weird" fantasy fiction "New Weird" style-movement.  And, by virtue of having some canon authors and a nickname, I suppose its the 00s version of the 80/90s cyberpunks and the 60s/70s new wave (I still find the Cyberpunk literary putsch the most compelling, mainly because its core writers most resembled an old school "literary circle" - friends first, perhaps, before genre-mates. I feel this is born-out by the divergent paths the key five have taken since roughly the mid-80s).


Perdido has a really lush setting in the city of New Crobuzon, a bustling, crowded, powerful, industrial city-state full of all the problems which are indemic to such places.  There are immigrant populations (who are ghettoized), labor disputes, government oppression and spying and the fear thereof and resistance thereto thereon.  All of this comes completely unraveled with the unleashing of a batch of nightmarish, unstoppable Slake Moths via a combination of government experiment and the underworld drug trade.

By far my favorite part involves the government's attempt to combat the Slake Moth crisis once its underway.  A plan is concocted which involves two people, each controlled by a symbiotic host which resembles a big slug, strapped back to back, flying, one blindfolded and the other looking backwards via a helmet mounted with rear-facing mirrors.  Sound strange?  Well, yeah.  But Mieville makes it work.

Anyways, a good chunk of a chapter goes by detailing this plan and launching its first patrol to go and kill some Slake Moths, and you're kinda saying to yourself, "yeah, hey, this is a pretty good plan," and then its like OOPS, SHIT, OH SHIT, MAYBE?, NOPE, SHIT.  A total fucking failure.

This book has this reputation as somehow having a radical socialist political bent to it.  And besides sequences such as the above (government's most elaborate scheme to stop crisis of its own doing results in hapless disaster), I'm kind of at a loss to see the radical edges.  Maybe I'm too lefty to begin with? That's my conclusion.  That, or most sci-fi/fantasy fans are more righty than they'd care to admit.  I guess the lead character being in love with a lady with a giant beetle for a head might put people on edge, but I found that love story quite sweet and compelling (and heartbreaking, in the end).

Required reading.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals: The Evil Monkey Dialogues

by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer (2010)

Descriptions of 36 fantastical creature in about 90 pages, usual a page of description followed by a brief back-and-forth dialogue between Ann Vandermeer (the editor of Weird Tales) and Evil Monkey (her husband Jeff Vandermeer's jackass mouthpiece). To put it simply, there's a pretty clever joke on every page, and this entire little book is very clever and makes you want to lend it to people.

My favorite is still the entry for the Biblical Behemoth, which includes the following snippet of dialog:
Evil Monkey: "Surely this think is kosher, though?"

Ann: "As a matter of fact, it is, but only under certain conditions."

Evil Monkey: "What conditions?"

Ann: "The end of the world."
A fun, light-read-without-being-dumb addition to any library.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Old Men Bickering Like Old Queens Since 2006

Digging the Neilsen-background I put together (for all that you can see it) - but not totally sold on the Robida-professors babbling amongst themselves on the masthead up there...

Neilsen Background

New reviews on the way soon!

Reviewiera still plugging along since 2006. Wow.


Friday, August 06, 2010

this is hip-hop

If I had any--and I mean ANY--ability to make beats, I would make some beats and sample her heavily over the top of them, the beats, and I would make what the kids are almost certainly not calling a club banger out of the beats and her samples and I would become very, very famous and I would buy myself and my awesome girlfriend some plane tickets to exciting and interesting places and I would struggle hard with coming up with a followup club banger and my difficult second album wouldn't sell for shit and we'd be half-broke again and I'd try to return to my roots with the third record and it wouldn't work and it would just be sad sad sad and it would get terrible reviews and eventually I'd give up music and occasionally somebody would wonder hey what happened to that guy and they wouldn't know but I'd be happy, my career reversals notwithstanding.

A couple full-disclosure moments.

  • The video link up there came from William Gibson's Twitter feed.
    Gibson is my favorite living writer and, based on his social media and his incredible gentleness with bad questions at a reading in Portland a couple years back, a truly nice guy.

    Kind of my life model, except that he's a brilliant writer, very, very smart and a nice guy.
  • Speaking of hip-hop: my buddy Abe got me into Aesop Rock a couple years back. The following are three of my alltime favorite pieces of art, followed by a couple great songs. Okay, one great song, on account of my battery is dying and the competition for outlets here at the coffee shop is fierce and tending toward the extinction of me.
  • 9-5ers Anthem
  • None Shall Pass
    Dig that Alan Parsons Project sample!
  • Pigs
    A video of seriously untouchable brilliance and a song that's pretty dope also.
    Can I pull off calling things "dope"? No, not really.
  • "one large coffee fuck you please" goes through my head like a lot.
    Fun fact! The first thousand times I heard this song I thought the voice at the end was some awful horrible neo-soul singer chick. Apparently I'm not hip enough to identify a Mountain Goat by voice.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

is this as bad as it's ever been?

Eternally adolescent, I still sleep on a mattress on the floor, grumble hard about not compromising and never owning anything I can't lift and refuse to cover my (mostly asinine) tattoos when I go to a job interview. But, as Seneca argued, you don't have to be a dick just because you refuse either to have a career or to succumb to responsibilities. Among the few things I think I know about the world are these:

  • being nice to the people around you is a good move

  • making an effort in relationships is good on a lot of levels


This latter point means in practical terms that, because right now I have The Awesomest Girlfriend in the World, I spend a lot more time trying to keep my room clean than I used to. I mean, sure, I hate living in filth as much as the next ageing rocker dude with a half-ton of indispensable media crammed into a tiny space, but I have never minded navigating piles of paper trash. Clutter doesn't bother me. Items are for accumulating; horizontal surfaces are for harbouring items. Piles of shirts on the couch both bolster* the cushioning properties of the cushions of/on the couch and facilitate shirt-selection activities in the early afternoons that plague me by superheating my hovel such that without hesitation or recourse I must find clothes and flee a space that's often comfortable and pleasant but that in the afternoons is basically just a goddamned oven except how it's big enough for a man.

For some reason, I have an incredible ability to sleep in an imaginary cylinder that's exactly one Collision Contradiction long by one Collision Collision shoulder-span in diameter, so it never bothers me that the vast swathes of bed-space that I'm not sleeping in are covered in discarded magazines, comic books, manuals for over-challenging video games or whatever. And let's not even get into why I can't use my turntable. (Okay, okay: it's because it's absolutely covered in shit. Usually shit=unpaid bills & other unopened mail + empty cases for non-vinyl media + 2 empties + in years past a spit cup.)

Clean ALL the Things by Allie Brosh

Most of the time, this bothers me not at all. Then one day a couple times any given year it bothers me and I, like Allie Brosh, decide to clean ALL the things. In practice, cleaning means a savage sortie into the kitchen, with angry counter-swipes, fridge-detritus-annihilation, and usually a half-dozen trips out to the garbage/recycling. Half-dozen trips is, for the record, in no wise an exaggeration. My roommate and I generate a lot of recycling.

After the dishes end up piled high and drippy, clean as they'll ever be, after the counters glister pristine under no empty tuna cans and littering wrappers, after the apartment again has a supply of clean forks, I turn to my own space. I'm usually pretty beat by this point. My endurance is legendary, but that's the kind of endurance that allows me to stay up drinking really really late or the kind of endurance that allows me to plan to sit through the entire Cremaster cycle in a single day: it's the kind of endurance that's endurance for good and pleasant things. When it comes to cleaning, if I can manage to fight past my ADD-fueled brain hunger for an hour or so, that's pretty good.

That's why the kitchen or the bathroom are pretty easy: you crank the HEAVY TUNES and you just fucking scrape the schmutz off shit. You can't get too distracted when you're naked in the shower, grimly grinding a half a salted grapefruit around the brown Pangaea shapes and soap scum--at least, not as distracted as you can get when you're like "I'm going to pile up these magazines somewhere other than on my floor-mattress no wait I should actually put them in that cardboard box over there but if I do that I should put them in order and I don't remember this cover story so I better read that real quick because after all I already paid for the goddamned magazine and if I don't read it it's like they're ripping me off" and then it's 2 and a half hours later and you've moved the pile of magazines from the bed into the only clear floorspace you had before you started cleaning.

Your legs are stiff and sore b/c you've been sitting cross-legged on the floor for 150 minutes, in strict contravention of anything that resembles a good idea for your 35-year-old ass and it's all of a sudden late enough in the day to start drinking without any guilt at all. 12 hours later, you pass out on your mattress on the floor, magazines still festooning the once-clear floorspace, four videogame cases newly strewn and a metric shit-ton of empties generated and discarded, abandoned soldiers leaking where they fell.

Morning comes, about 3 hours after you pass out. You ignore it, lumpish, inert and miserable on the mattress. Luckily, you're pretty together this year, so you've been mostly on top of your laundry situation, rather than sleeping mostly on top of your actual laundry. And it's summer, so you're just sheet+blanketed, instead of sleeping in your sleeping bag on the mattress, like you do all winter every winter because you threw away your comforter when you moved to California, because: hey, it's California! Eventually you manage to secure the remote and wave it around in despair until your Sony-pile starts cooperating and filling your room with whatever nightmarish skronk will actually get you off of mattress. You get off of mattress.

You slip on a glossy magazine cover, noticing that you managed to pull your hamstring a little bit by sitting crosslegged the day before and you begin to feel a quiet itch atop your mouth's roof, the kind of itch that only the barrel of a revolver can scratch.

Before medicating yourself with a lead pill, however, you finish the inch and a half of beer that's left over from last night. After pissing thickly (you can just tell it's sickly sweet from all the yellow beer) you wander into the kitchen. It's clean! It's wonderful. You decide to celebrate with a fantastic and huge breakfast because it's clean and you are a world-class cooker of breakfast.

You quickly discover that while you're possessed of a clean and inviting kitchen with no festering piles of empties or anything, you haven't bought anything except Queso Ruffles and beer for a couple weeks. You have 2 eggs and an onion left. You drink one of your roommate's beers while you contemplate whether or not you can go to the store to buy groceries without a breakfast.

You totally can't.

You crack another one of your roommate's beers and fry half an onion. Halfway through the process you fuck it and crack the two eggs onto the onion-bits and start burning the stale corn tortilla you found on your shelf in the fridge over the open flame of a burner. Half the tortilla will crumble away because it's stale. The other half will be unevenly distributed between carbonized and clammily moist/raw. Cover the tortilla fragments in egg/onion goop and take a couple sad bites. Drench it in hot sauce. At least you still have hot sauce.

Drink a huge amount of water and feel kinda water-balloony. Remind yourself that you've got a LOT to do today; you can't just grab a beer and watch one of your Star Trek DVDs.

Grab one of your roommate's beers and put on a Star Trek DVD. Just in the background--it's better than the radio and you'll seriously never manage to sort through all your records to find something to listen to. Watch the first 20 minutes of Nemesis, remembering that everybody thinks it sucks but that some bits of it are actually pretty okay. Go back to the kitchen to reload your water. The cutting board is balanced on the sink under a half an onion and your dull knife. Your water filter pitcher is empty. Use your roommate's. Refill yours but not his. Go back to your room.

Sweep all the magazines into one undifferentiated pile and shove them in a cardboard box. Take out all the empties, including the two that you peed in the night before because you couldn't be bothered to go all the way to the bathroom. Put all the videogames back in their cases, and stow those. You have now restored your room to the condition it was in before you started cleaning. You have also destroyed the kitchen.

When you get back from peeing again, you realize your room has a really weird scent to it. Open the blackout curtain and shove the window all the way open. Realize there's so much work to do that you seriously can't contemplate doing it without a cup of coffee. There's no coffee in the house. Realize you can't leave the house looking like you do.

When was that last shower, anyways? Anyways. Rummage and root for a black t-shirt that looks clean and doesn't smell because you're not going to put a clean shirt on your dirty body but you're not going to the coffee shop reeking of beersweat, covered in headgrease. While rummaging and rooting, create huge pile of needs-to-be-washed on the couch. Realize you're not as on top of laundry as maybe you'd thought. You're totally fucking doing laundry today. You've got a plan: grab your coffee, clean the room, take all the laundry down to the laundromat, wash the shit out of that laundry, come home to your super-clean room with a whole mess of clean laundry and put that shit away.

It's going to be so awesome. You could even probably do some pushups at the laundromat while your entire life gets sudsy and appealing. Grab your mammoth bag and bike and roll down to the coffee shop.

Better check your email. What's going on on Twitter? Any earth-shaking hockey news? Is today one of the days when the comics get updated? What day is it, anyhow?

Better get a refill.

Write a couple emails. Delete a shit-ton more. Poke around on your hard drive for unfinished projects. Think about moving images from your phone to your hard drive. Don't. Wonder why you take pictures with your phone anyway because it's such a savagely useless piece of shit that generates almost unlookatable images. Now you're hungry.


You decide to go someplace where you can grab a beer with lunch. Then you grab like five more beers after lunch and you're solidly buzzed and have read like half a mystery novel and you feel pretty accomplished as you ride home wobbily.

You walk into a room that appears--yes--to be a teenaged boy's room exploding into yours. Media everywhere. Filthy black tshirts moulder. The smell has not dissipated. It may have concentrated.

Somehow a four-hour sojourn into the wide world has plucked the scales from your eyes: your entire life looks and feels like a disaster.

It's too late for laundry.

The only thing to be done, the only thing that can salvage this worthless failcluster of a day, is playing some videogames. Finishing something will give you something to write about, and you could really use that. You never even hit STOP on the DVD player when you left. What the hell. What the hell is wrong with you? You think about firing up the Wii, but that's not going to work because your brain is way too hungry for that little stimulus.

You grab the DS. Restart Nemesis in the background with the radio providing the soundtrack. Fiddle with the DS for a while. Get to some point in like three separate goddamned games where you had to quit because you couldn't get any farther. Be frustrated that not playing the game for six months or whatever didn't make you good enough at the game to beat the hard thing. End up just dicking around with some stupid puzzle game for an hour before getting disgusted with life and disgusted with everyone and disgusted with yourself and tossing the DS onto the bed and firing up the Wii and playing some game for a couple hours that everybody in the entire world except for you thinks is complete garbage. Go to bed mattress kinda satisfied because you made some progress in your game and you have taste and discernment that others don't have and so if you ever finish this one you're gonna be able to write a really really good blog post about it.

Grab a magazine and hop onto mattress. Read a paragraph. This magazine is stupid, so you'll want to abandon it. Do. Roll your eyes at the radio. Stand half-naked in front of your huge tower of uncategorized CDs until your shivering forces you to grab something off the top that you put away because you were sick of it because it was on the top and you've been listening to it and nothing else for three weeks. Put it in. Grab your video game's manual to study up so you can finish it quickly and tuck it and yourself snugly into mattress.

The unit interactions are kinda complicated in this game. Get up and find a pad of graph paper. Find a pencil. Start making charts. Chart-making is some thirsty work, so you'll definitely need a beer for that.

Shit. You're out of beer. That's probably why you knocked off playing your game and started moving towards mattress, hunh. Well, grab another beer of your roommate's. You'll totally buy him a 12pack in the morning.

Once you're back in your room, it's a good idea to pass out with the light still on. Nosweat: you'll probably wake up in a couple hours--that's when you can throw your glasses onto the graph paper and pencil and manual and magazine. Wake up like 5 hours later and ruthlessly triage the mounds of life-generated kipple choking off your room like arterial plaque. All the dirty laundry? Into the laundromat-journey bags. Empties? You--are--out--of--here!

Giant pile of paperbacks in front of the bookcase because there's no room on the shelves for more books? Tidied! Put a couple of them into a box of to-be-given-away, then put that box under the remaining books. Get all that shit off your stupid turntable** and play a record. Whoa. How many records do you have in that box, anyway? Because that's the box of records you bought at shows and never listened to. Shit. That's a lot of records. You should totally record a couple of those onto CDs, so you can dig out your old laptop, the one w/ the CD drive, so you can rip those CDs and put them on your .mp3 player so you can listen to them on your bike.

You start in on this project.

Shit, now you have to pee. Are your sideburns too long? Too wide? Shit. What's Genevieve gonna think of your sideburns? Shove the to-be-recorded albums in between the bags of to-be-done laundry on the couch. Be thereby reminded that you've got bags of to-be-done laundry. Cram those mounds of bagged laundry onto your bike's rack and tie them down there. Prop the heaps of records in front of a speaker. Look around. Gaze in wide wonder.

You've cleaned your room!

*You'll get that in the morning.

**Oh, fuck. That's your get-your-check unemployment paperwork, and it's...three weeks overdue. Well, that's no good.