Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review: Titus Crow Bk 1 by Brian Lumley

Brian Lumley's Titus Crow is actually a compilation of two novellas: "The Burrowers Beneath" and "The Transition of Titus Crow." They connect as larger texts, in that the events from one lead directly into the other, but there is a rather rapid shift in subject, in tone, and somewhat in style between the two.

"The Burrowers Beneath" is a horror/fantasy story, that wears its Lovecraftian influences very prominently. The titular character, Titus Crow, stumbles onto a Chthullian world of tentacled, menacing ur-creatures bent on enslaving humanity and ruling the world. The narration is provided by Henri-Laurent de Marigny, his sidekick from another tradition entirely, that of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It's a slight genre mashing, which becomes more evident later, when they become involved with the global efforts to limit the advances of Chthullian forces. It does well in capturing the general mood of the Lovecraft horror stories, and at its best has a great "horror" atmosphere. At its worst, it's hampered by bland characters (de Marigny is a little TOO like Watson in that department, and Crow himself is little better), ex machina intervention, and a climax that seems separate from its stakes: the novella spends a great of time explaining that the battle for control of the planet has reached a desperate turning point, but the end fight is between the two main characters and low-level broodlings.

"The Transition of Titus Crow" suffers from many of the same problems--climax has been jettisoned to make room for exposition; the character roster now includes Tiania, the innocent, beautiful girl Not of This World, who comes off a little cliched; and random earthquakes, last minute escapes, and intervening godly intelligences are part of the norm--all arguably forgiveable, given the genre Lumley has chosen to write in. What's interesting is that the good elements have shifted considerably, arguably to another genre entirely. Without giving away too much of the previous story, Titus Crow is taken on an adventure through time and space, so it's less of a novel as a series of vignettes. As one of the blurbs on the back mentions, it is as much H. G. Wells as Lovecraft at this point, as Titus outwits dinosaurs, is resurrected by robots, flees from monsters beyond time (okay, there's still some Lovecraft), and meets the woman of his dreams in the place of his dreams. There's a real sense of adventure to the second story, and Lumley deserves full credit for that.

Essentially, then, it's two stories for the price of one, but from an author who seems better at capturing locale and mood than character. If you're a fan of Lovecraft, you need to check this out-- but whether you'll like it another matter. I think I've mentioned before that I sat in on a cyberpunk class last term, and the class started at Frankenstein, then jumped to the genre's inception in the 1980s. I'd like to posit the subgenre of Lovecraft themed fantasy as a missing link between the two. It's clearly got some of the same themes: they're male oriented, nonheroic, and based on the accumulation of knowledge and power. More importantly, the accumulation of knowledge of power is portrayed as ambiguous at best: as in Frankenstein, there's a definite strain of "Man is not meant to know." It needs some ironing out, but I think there's a definite case to be made for adding these works to the pre-cyberpunk canon.

The question at hand, though, is whether "Titus Crow" is really a Lovecraft story. In the cyberpunk class, we looked at the movie "the Matrix," which featured a lot of definitive cyberpunk traits: it was big on technology, yet with a retro spin, it had hyper masculine and feminine characters, it was slick and smooth, it featured man bonding with machine. And yet, it wasn't quite cyberpunk, for the simple reason that a cyberpunk main character is never the one--he is one of many. He does not play the hero. Likewise, the Lovecraftian main hero may attempt to play the hero, but he can't win anything beyond a pyrrhic victory--the forces of evil are too strong, and the corruption that comes with the knowledge necessary to face them is too absolute. And yet it Titus Crow, we see in the first story a massive, global organization centered around fighting the Cthonic forces, and in the second, we see Elysians, the good, equally powerful counterparts to the Cthonians. I'm somewhat interested in the symmetry that this depiction presents, but... I think it might cross the line between bending the rules of the genre and breaking them.

Final Verdict: A flawed book, but it raises interesting questions--if you're predisposed to these sorts of questions to begin with.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Space: the Only Frontier

One of the things I've appreciated most about my last three years of graduate studies is that you always come out of it with something. Sometimes what you take from it is a larger understanding of literature as a whole, like the class on Woolfe (not to detract from the point, but I wrote Woofle the first time, and felt I needed to mention that) and modernism I sat in on last year. Sometimes what you get out of it seems mainly to be fodder for other papers--JJ Rousseau, I'm looking at you here. And sometimes you don't know what you get out of it, other than a pretty awesome set of books to read--like the cyberpunk course this term.

And all of this, of course, is the preamble to the discussion at hand. One of the main things I got out of the spatial theory and practice course I took this term (last term, almost, now) is a greater level of observation when it comes to my own interaction with space.

I used to take a perverse pride in being the sort of guy who doesn't care a lot about his personal surroundings. In a small way, that was a necessity: I went straight from three years of a one room dorm to four years with a guy who was somewhat less than open when it came to sharing models of decor (I picked the wallpaper once, and I still have not been forgiven.). But there's some truth in me just not caring: since my initial move here, I haven't contributed anything new to my apartment's furniture, and I don't really feel the need to do so. It's my space, but I personalize it through inhabiting it, and that's it.

At the same time, I think to say for any person that space isn't important to him or her rings false. It's like saying that air isn't important. You may not notice it all the time, but change it significantly enough, and suddenly it'll be the most important thing in the world. I think from this blog, my lovely readers could quickly put together a list of all the spaces important to me. There's cyberspace, the very medium we're communicating on. There's home space. But does that mean my oft-talked about home in Saskatchewan (and which home in Saskatchewan?), or my apartment in Ontario? Or just some abstract idea of home that can't be made into reality? There's the university, both the physical, concrete spaces where I take my classes and try to avoid dancing in the halls, and there's the university in the abstract sense, the institution of rules and strictures (again, not to digress, but I was almost sure I was making the word 'stricture' up) that regulate acceptable behaviour.

Then again, every space has its own set of rules of behaviour, even if it's just the rules you make up for it. Which is another way of me saying we're going to edge a little closer to the real topic. (And note the use of spatial metaphor to describe progression through a discussion that occupies space in that metaphoric sense, as well as the physical space the text takes up in the screen and the storage space the actual bits and bytes take up elsewhere.) I went out to a friend's birthday celebration last night, and, given that friend's predilections, it's no surprise that the night's plans centered heavily around dancing at a club. And the number of spatial issues just seemed to multiply. First, the weather at Blank was cats-and-dogs level raining, so it looked for a bit like it was going to be cancelled. Then there was the cab ride over to another friend's place for pre-dancing festivities. This came with its own set of perscribed social rules. Would I bring something to drink beforehand, and is this the expected social protocol? (No and Yes, as it turns out.) Then, because there was a concert at the club, we didn't bother going out until the concert was over. In other words, until that concert was over, it was a different space than the one we wanted to inhabit.

Finally, we get to club, and at this point, I make up one of my own socio-spatial rules. The appropriate behaviour for a dance club, of course, is dancing. But it's not the only appropriate behaviour. You are allowed to step outside to smoke, to the washrooms to answer nature's call, to the more secluded areas to chat up pretty young things, and to the tables to drink. Any space proximate to alcohol makes a man's washroom a place you don't want to be, so that was out. Out of all the reasons to take up smoking, most of which are fairly poor, avoiding dancing seems like a particularly bad move. And chatting up pretty young things will require the development of a skill set at least as elaborate as the dancing itself. So that lead to the formulation of my spatial rule: as long as I had a drink in front of me, I didn't have to dance.

Now, the interesting thing about a rule like that is that six long island ice teas later, all the other socio-spatial practices that one ruled out suddenly become more appealing. Chatting up pretty young things becomes simpler when you lose your inhibition not to talk about sci-fi in front of them (note I said simpler, not more productive). The washroom becomes a necessity. Even dance loses some of its horror. I still don't smoke, though. Don't see the point, frankly.

And somewhere around that last drink, your spatial awareness becomes such that it seems like a really, really good idea to show that physical environment who's boss and run home in the pouring rain. And so you do. And, despite all logical arguments you have the next day, it was a good idea.

...I'm trying to draw all these threads together here, but it seems kind of loose. Hmm. Let's try this: Spend time in spaces filled with interesting people and Long Island Ice Teas. The other details take care of themselves.
Yeah, that works.

Later Days.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Take your youthful exuberence and get out.

In part of my ongoing efforts to stave off the ogre that is boredom, I've taken to running to the U of Blank and back every day to check my mail. And while wandering the backhalls to get to the mailroom (profs aren't really impressed running into students that are dripping sweat, you know), I inevitably must push my way through a small ocean of prepubescent, often giggling, girls.

The English department, along with most of the other arts departments on campus, are in a building that includes a large theatre, a theatre that the university rents out on a fairly regular basis, as part of an ongoing plan to stay in touch with the community at large and profit from doing so. At the moment, that means for the past week or so, the halls have been filled with young girls preparing for dance recitals. And how are the esteemed professors reacting to this invasion of space? Well, as people who have devoted their lives to the greater understanding of the human condition, surely they are intrigued by the option to experience a widespread social phenomenon first hand, right?

Good lord, no.

In the professors' defence, it IS April, which means quite a lot of them are here to do marking and grading in peace and quiet, and if there's one word to describe an eleven year old girl at a dance recital, "quiet" is not it. But I'm not quite sure they needed to go so far as produce signs:

Please avoid any and all dancing in the halls.
Faculty and staff are trying to work.

The emphasis, by the way, is not mine. The best part, I think, is that it is a warning to everyone, not just the kids, not to dance in the halls. And whether the signs are necessary or not, and whether they have produced the desired effect or not, I personally am very, very glad that they are there. I especially hope they stay up after the little girls have packed up their tights and gone home. Wouldn't you want to work in a department where it was necessary to have a sign like that up all year round? Just in case someone burst spontaneously into dance?

I know I would.

And I don't even like dancing.

Later Days.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kids, Always Remember to Wear Gloves

I've been looking back over "review" style posts, and one thing that seems to be relatively scarce is reviews of TV shows that I'm watching, which, frankly, is odd, because between you, me, and the lamppost, I watch a lot of TV. It's possible that I've spent more time watching TV in a given week than reading books (you know, my actual work), reading comics, and playing video games and watching movies all together. I justify this huge time-hole by the statement (and truth, BTW) that the driving impetus behind virtually all my academic work is the observation and dissection of narrative discourse, and TV falls into that category (well, technically, all experience falls into that category, but TV gets included.) At the moment, I'm deeply committed to a plethora of shows that includes Big Bang Theory, Full Metal Alchemist, and Batman: Brave and the Bold, all quality television. But the big *MOMENT* of this week (and I'll admit, the week's not over yet, there's still the big Thursday Night shows) comes from a fond favorite, Chuck.

Not a lot of people know about Chuck, which is always disappointing to me. It's a great show. It combines romance, comedy, and action in a way that hasn't been done consistently on television since Alias started sucking a few years back. The plot is fairly simple: through the show's one and usually only sci-fi twist, Chuck Bartowski, nice-guy and all-around loser who's wasting his life at a low level tech job at a Future Shop equivalent--accidentally gets the CIA mainframe hardwired into his brain. Now, he has a secret life as a government James Bond-esque spy that he needs to balance with his regular life, and two handlers: the romantic/platonic interest, Sarah, and the gruff Casey (played by the always great Adam Baldwin). The show is deftly supported by a wonderful supporting cast, which includes the general giving them their marching orders, Chuck's high achieving doctor/sister and her boyfriend Captain Awesome (long story) and Chuck's fellow BuyMore employees, which include a post Arrested Development Tony Hale. Other current, ridiculously cool guest stars include Quantum Leap's Scott Bakula (we don't talk about Enterprise) as Chuck's father, and Chevy Chase as the leader of the evil terrorist group Fulcrum.

And that's part of the show's current problem. For reasons that I can't fathom, the show's ratings have struggled this season--I blame the fact that it's been shackled to its partner show, the great big bowl of suck that Heroes has become. And rumour has it that it needs to cut down on its huge, awesome cast, because it takes up a lot of cash. So it's got two things against it. But it's a Josh Schwartz production, and, season 3 of the OC beside, that means between this and his other show, Gossip Girl, you're guaranteed an hour of goodness.

Normally, even though the episode of Chuck will be good in a given week, it will be eclipsed by the sheer incredible genius of Gossip Girl. But this week, it was the other way around. Aside from vast, show-altering spoiler-ridden developments, my favorite part came in the early scenes. The platonic relationship between Chuck and Sara suddenly becomes much less platonic. They're currently on the lam, and do the traditionally charged "bed sharing moment," and wake up with the comedy gold that is unintentional spooning--and then the show goes somewhere else. I found a video that I'm putting below:

As you can see, the comedy transitions into saccharine hand-holding, which in turn goes to hot-and-heavy, which goes back to comedy, with the traditional "IOU one Condom." I'm not sure if this clip can entirely convey what is basically the end result of two seasons of build-up, but it really struck me as a wonderful scene. It's the sweetest thing on television since Pushing Daisies was canceled, and it segues into the most erotically charged scene on television since... um... well, since the last episode of Gossip Girl.
The whole thing reminds me of an episode of another wonderful Monday night show, which I'll be blogging about sooner or later at much greater length: How I Met Your Mother. Specifically, the episode where Ted gives a toned-down version of Marshall and Lily's reunion, featuring them hanging out in a bar at a very reasonable time, drinking glasses of "milk," and "holding hands," which builds until another character goes to the washroom, and catches them "holding hands" in a bathroom stall.

HIMYM: classiest show on television.

Two good shows. Watch 'em, and know quality.

Later Days.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Review: A Saving Grace by Lorna Crozier

First: Went to a Karaoke bar last night. A fun time was had by all. I sang "Everything You Want" by Vertical Horizon, and a tragically shortened version of the "Muppet Show." I had put in a bid to sing "Pretty Fly For a White Guy," but my ride and I left at 2:00 am before the song was called. Moral: bribe the MC.

And now the review!

This is one of those reviews that is going to take some background. A Saving Grace by Lorna Crozier is a book of poems that goes by the conceit that they were all written by the main character of Sinclair Ross' As For Me and My House, Mrs Bentley. For those who haven't read the latter book, its conceit is that it's a journal written by Mrs Bentley, wife to the preacher Philip Bentley, and tells of their life in a small town rural prairie community some time in the early 20th century. It's a tale of crippling isolation on a number of fronts--Mrs Bentley (who never receives a first name, by the way) is desperately in love with a husband who can barely stand her, forced into a community that finds her odd, and trapped in a prairie climate that seems hellbent on removing humanity altogether.

It's not a very happy book. And it's hard to defend it against accusations of misogyny and the like. And you will, very often, find yourself wanting to shake Mrs Bentley and tell her to wise up. But what it does expertly is capture the intense isolation that rural prairie life can entail--I think that everyone who has lived it has felt that isolation at one time or another, and can relate very well to Mrs Bentley's experience.

I sat in on a grad course devoted entirely to As For Me and My House--which meant it was the only work we looked at for three straight months. You can entirely tell who has and has not read the book by this statement alone, as anyone who has read it will react with absolute horror on hearing that previous sentence. However, the main focus of the course was the secondary material on the book. The professor's "operating thesis" was that you could trace the entire body of Canadian literary criticism based on the criticism for this book, and that's largely the case--there are papers on Canadian literary canon, psychoanalysis, feminist perspectives, landscape theory, aesthetics, queer theory, realism, modernism, and even a little bit of postcolonial. Honestly, the most interesting part of the book is how important it has become in terms of prairie and national literary identity.

And that would be why Lorna Crozier chose to write a book of poems based on it. Crozier is, hands down, my favorite living poet. She's in British Columbia now, but large swathes of her poetry are based on prairie experiences, from a poem on what winter would do if it ruled the world, to a poem comparing gophers to prophets (both rely on great faith to stick their heads up!). She also heavily uses the dramatic monologue, which leans on my poetical preferences, and suits the subject matter well. I can't imagine reading this book of poems without having read As For Me and My House--there would be so much lost that I don't know if what's gained would be worth having.

But how are the poems themselves? Well, first and most importantly, Crozier nails the Mrs Bentley voice. It's a mix of bitterness and optimism, and a brittle hope. At the absolute worst, it seems to dip slightly into fan fiction (Did she and Paul...?), but even then it's witty (Paul, the philogist, was very good with his tongue.) and poignant:
I made him promise
not to say a word
And I wrote nothing down.

I wanted it to be

This passage taps into the key element of the original: ultimately, Mrs Bentley's journal--and by extension, Mrs Bentley herself-- is nothing but words, nothing but writing. We only see the parts of her she chooses to show, and an omission can be as significant as entry of a dozen pages.

Other highlights (for me) include "That Kind of Woman" in which one of the townsfolk is found in a well, clutching her baby after disappearing for three days, never crying out to be rescued. "The Painted Door," which gives Mrs Bentley's opinion on the other classic prairie story. "Sins of Omission," which gives a quick, pointform list of things she left out of her journal. "Mrs Bentley," in which she reflects on being the narrating character, yet still invisible and nameless. And "Judith," the poem that comes half way through the novel. I'm not going to spoil the significance of Judith if you hadn't read the original book, but suffice to say, I actually felt the pressure building up to this poem throughout the book, and at its first words, it bursts open like a floodgate:
It's taken me this long to write it.
Judith. A strong biblical name
for such a girl. I should say
woman, Miss Judith West.

And man, does it keep going from there. All in all, it's a wonderful book of poetry--horribly depressing though, much like the original. If you ever read As For Me and My House, and find the memory of it lingering, then I recommend reading this book, one poem at a time, until Mrs Bentley is finished with you.

Later Days.

A Taste of What's to Come


Later Days.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Happy Tedium (?)

I turned in my final paper of the term, which means I am now a free agent until May, when the next term starts. This is somewhat of a daunting proposition, as I have absolutely nothing to do from now till then. Traditionally, I don't handle this lack of structure well. During the year I wrote my thesis, I had to keep myself focused with a number of little tasks: I was auditing two courses, I was TAing a first year English course, and I was marking two third year math courses. And I was still bored for long stretches.

I realize that having too little to do is not big on the list of pressing world issues, and many, if not most, people will rightfully resent me if I dwell too long on this topic. (The PoC from three weeks ago, for example, would probably cheerfully throttle me, with little to no regard for the implications of the time-space violations.) I just want to spend this time doing something productive--something I can look back on without thinking, "Man, that was a waste." I suppose now would have been the perfect time for a trip back west, but I've already booked that for the first week of June, to go to a friend's wedding. (Oh--that reminds me: Family. Guess what? I'm going to back from June 4 to June 8th! Can I bunk with you? You don't mind, right?) So we'll have to find something else--preferably something that's not "and then he played video-games for 8 straight days."
I think I'll be okay, though. As long as I don't start doing weird and abnormal things out of sheer boredom.

You know what tastes good on pizza? Banana slices.

Later Days.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What a Nice Day

It's absolutely beautiful outside right now--so much so that I am actually debating whether to play video games or go walk to the park and read under a tree. And it's been a very productive day: I was up at 6:00, went for a run (7.2 km in 39 minutes, not too shabby), then walked to the university. I talked to my prof about my one remaining essay, wrote a quarter of it (which puts me at half-done), and had lunch with a friend on a restaurant patio.

Walking in such weather is actually really nice; for once, I felt like I was privileged to do so, rather than being punished for owning the World Most Accident-Prone Bicycle.

And the essay's going great--more on that when it's finished, but I figured out what I was writing about on the walk to school, and I nearly broke out in giggles over how cool that was. You know what's fun stuff? Applying Rousseauvian educational theory to turn of the century moral novels, that's what's fun stuff.

Lunch with the friend was great too. I haven't really got a chance to talk to her in a while, so it was interesting. Both of us picked up threads from our last luncheon that the other didn't quite remember until it was mentioned. It's funny how that works. I do it all the time--although usually, the other person doesn't remember the original conversation at all. It really drives home how a conversation is really a subjective experience--if I had been asked what we talked about a week later, my answer would have been totally different from hers. And a week after that, my answer would be different from original answer. Even though the words we said are still the words we said, as the context they are recalled in and the recollector shifts, the discourse itself shifts. And the best part is that this, this constant shifting and churning of meaning, happens all the time, with every conversation we have--up to and including this post.

Okay, that's not the best part. The best part is that I get paid to think stuff like this.

Later Days.

Comic Book Wednesday: Brand New Dismay

Comics, comics, comics!

Amazing Spider-Man 591. By Dan Slott & Barry Kitson, Jesse Delpergang, and Dale Eaglesham. Man, Bendis really cut this one off at the kneecaps, huh? Plot: Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four save the day in the Macroverse, after accidentally disrupting the day to begin with. But it's the subplots that are the pride and joy here. The main one is Johnny Storm's attempts to get Spider-Man to come clean with his secret identity. The other is that, due to some questionable time ratios, months pass in New York while the heroes are in the Macroverse--that means we get months of subplots advancing for Peter Parker's supporting cast, while he's missing in action. Basically, everyone's story gets pushed along--including Jonah's, in a big way.

But the elephant in the room: the dramatic impetus of the story is supposed to be that Spider-Man is addressing his secret identity for the first time. The problem is, Bendis already did that in the last issue of New Avengers--and in such a manner that it directly contradicts all the resistance and excuses that Spider-Man is making here. Luckily, Slott has enough over things going on--the supporting cast scenes and the wonderfully scripted banter between the FF and Spidey--that it's easy enough to just squint up the eyes and pretend nothing's wrong. But, editorially: something's a little wrong.

Captain America 49. By Ed Brubaker and Luke Ross. There was a lot of buzz a while back when the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, was killed off. He's been gone for a while now, and it's entirely thanks to Brubaker that, in terms of great story, he has not been missed. In this issue, Sharon Carter, the woman brainwashed into doing the deed, deals with some of the fall-out of her unintended actions and gets a step closer to finding out the secret behind the new erhatz Captain America that's shown up. (Not Bucky; another erhatz Captain America.) The art is great--it's got a semi-realistic style that fits well with the tone of the stories Brubaker is telling. And the story itself is very solid. The only fault I've got with the issue is the fault I currently have with the series as a whole--it's not that accessible. I mean, this issue will make sense if you haven't read the previous ones, but you will be left with the lingering sense that you're missing the bigger story. I still feel that way, and I've read the last dozen issues. It's great that Brubaker is creating something on such an epic scale, but if a new reader asked whether this was worth buying, I'd steer him or her towards the trade paperbacks first.

Fables 83. Bill Willingham, Matt Sturges, and Mark Buckingham. Here starts the Great Fables Crossover. (No, really, that's what it's called.) It's something of an anticlimatic start, as, well, it doesn't actually start at all. Jack phones up the Fables and tells them trouble's coming; the Fables send Snow and Big after the Literals. End. (And if you want the explanation for just who and what the Literals are, you should have been reading the last issue of Jack of Fables. which, even though it is more about the crossover than this is, is not part of the crossover at all.) Other than that, it seems like business as usual. Luckily for us, business as usual for the Fables is pretty awesome. A religion springs up over Blue's passing, the uncharacteristic fight that ended last issue is resolved in such a manner that ties it nicely to the destruction of Fabletown, and in New York, Mr Dark consolidates his hold as the murder rate skyrockets. I'm hoping he figures into the crossover--and not in some cheap manner in which he's sacrificed quickly to show how uber the Literals are. Time will tell, I suppose.

Later Days.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


We've reached a momentous occasion on Experimental Progress. What is it? Well, just add together the total number of posts. Go ahead. I'll wait. Carry the ones over. That's it.
Yeah. You counted right. Cool, huh? And I couldn't have done it without my loyal audience. Well, I could've, but then it wouldn't have been as much fun, right?
Truth be told, I thought I had reached this point earlier this week, but I was counting from the total number of posts plus the total number of unpublished drafts. That's right--I have four unpublished drafts that have never seen the electronic, metaphoric light of day...until now. As a special anniversary event, I'm going to post all four here and now. The original text is in plain font, the original creation dates are in bold, and the commentary is in italics.
Lisa Nakamura's Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet is another one of those books I stumbled across in my readings for the oft-mentioned online writing course. At just under 150 pages, it's a quick read, and it's very accessible. Anyone with a basic understanding of the internet (and if you're reading this, that probably includes you) would be able to follow this book without much difficulty.
What's the book about? Basically, it's a study of how concepts of race have been integrated into the internet. Nakamura coined the phrase "cybertype" in order to, as she puts it, "describe the distinct ways the Internet propagates, disseminates, and commodifies of race and racism" (3). To this end, the book consists of five chapters, which are divided mostly by the medium. Chapter 1 is a general overview, while Chapter 2 focuses more on chat rooms. Chapter 3 looks at race and cybertechnology through the cyperpunk fiction genre, specifically focusing on Neil Stephenson, Neuromancer, Blade Runner, and the Matrix. Chapter 4 examines print media ads based on the Internet, and Chapter 5 returns to the Internet as primary material, with emphasis on form-based applications and email racial lists ("You know you're Japanese-American if...). A quick conclusion wraps matters up.

Given my background, it's no surprise that I found Chapter 3 the most interesting, especially since I'd read/watched all the works, with the exception of Neuromancer. Her comments on Stephenson are particularly interesting in the context of Hiro Protagonist and the Western concept of Asian as seen through cyberpunk. She also puts her finger on exactly what I found annoying in Diamond Age: (SPOILER) the Chinese horde that comes to the rescue of the female protagonist, and how it feels very "how may we serve you, white mistress?" (Nakamura phrases this a lot better).

Nakamura's focus on different media is part of her overall move to counter the utopic view of the Internet as a colour-free zone where there are no races, and in that, she's very successful. As with any focus on race, she had to make choices about what to include and what to leave out; as a result, we get Asian and African viewpoints here, but not a lot of anything else. Also, given that the chapters are divided into material, the rhetoric presented is more or less consistent throughout, which is a good thing generally, but means there's some repetition.

Bottom line, though, the good far outweighs the bad. In a literature that tends towards the jargon-heavy, this book manages to embrace the theorists without going overboard, and raises a lot of interesting issues in a short span. And even though it was written in 2002, it doesn't feel dated or inconsequential. Worth a look, if that's where your interests lie.

I wrote this review while we were still in the original "blog for the sake of the blogging class" days. I didn't publish it because: 1) there was a strict "no blogging on what you're reading" rule, which still seems somewhat silly, and 2) I was planning to use an abridged version for the annotated bibliography assignment, and I didn't want to tip my hand. Which was also a silly reason. But it's one of my better reviews, so here it is.
First, I think it's important to establish that I am, by and by large, a grade grubber. Since about midschool, I defined myself in part based on the marks I got in school. (Granted, back in those days, they were some pretty bad-assed marks.) That motif has pretty well stuck, and let me tell you, by grad-school and the mid-twenties, it's wearing a little thin. (Actually, it may even have played a role as to why I'm STILL in school, while I'm in my mid-twenties. Although, to turn that around, I imagine anyone who wasn't good at the grade stuff probably wouldn't be in grad school.)
Where was I?
Oh yeah,
Did I mention not all the drafts are complete? I think, in an interesting coincidence, this post was prompted by the mark I received on my annotated bibliography, which was decidedly Not Good. And that meant that at the time, the majority of the marks I had received in both of the courses I was in were Not Good, and I was busy having a "What am I doing in Grad School?" crisis. (It didn't help that I was working on the blog class final paper at the time, and discussing it with a friend in a coffee shop only to have the philosophy undergraduate student sitting beside us interrupt the convseration to tell me what I was doing wrong with my paper.)
Everything worked out fine in both classes (far better than I deserved in the 18th century course), but that's not really the point. It's still kind of disturbing to me how much my self-esteem is tied into purely quantitative things: how many fiends I have, what marks I get, how many hits my blog has. (Keep reloading!) It's funny that this term, I'm in the opposite place: I've received really good marks going into the last stretch of both courses (especially the theory-based one, which I'm inordinately proud of because I think of theory as the weak part of my game), but I have a sneaking suspicion that the final papers in both aren't going to turn out very well. I guess the reason for me not finishing the post originally is that, first of all, it's not really a flattering picture of myself, and second, on a practical level, complaining about the blog course in a blog created for the blog course seems like a Not Good idea.

Comic Book Wednesdays: Now on Random Days!
I'm going to keep the title, but it's time I admitted it: there's very little Wednesday in my Wednesday Comic Book Review posts.

Completely unrelated note: Like I said earlier this week, I sent out my first query letter. I got the reply today, which means we can officially start the count:

Rejections: 1

I think the reason for not posting this one is fairly self-evident: I wasn't quite ready to face bitter disappointment. And the rejection count is now up to 2, BTW.

Something happened today, and I'm not really sure how I feel about it, so I thought I'd talk it out here.

Back in last September, in what was basically a spur-of-the-moment thing, I looked up every single person with the same name as me in the town of Blank on Facebook--and then proceeded to "friend" them, on that basis that: "

Let's continue with this. On the basis that, as I told each of them, "I don't actually know you, but the presence of two (PoC's Real Name Here) residing in (Blank's Real Name) seemed like to big a coincidence to pass up."
And no, alcohol was not involved here. As you can imagine, males aren't exactly overly eager to befriend strangers of the same sex that send them messages at 2:00 am in the morning, so I didn't receive any replies--until March 12th, when I received a message from one of them, telling me that it was their daughter replying, and her father had passed away two weeks before I sent the message. And she finished the post " Now you can be the only (PoC's Real Name Here)."
I sent back a reply apologizing for the intrusion. But, because I'm a self-centered narcissist, what really threw me for a loop was her last sentence. It really made me feel like... well, like an intruder. And on some level, that's what I was: none of these people asked me to send out messages, after all. But her phrasing made me question my motives for this; it felt like my intention had been to start some stupid internet trolling war over my name. And nothing could have been further from the truth. Back at the time, I had just moved to Blank, and I really didn't know anyone here. The only intention I had in sending out those messages was to move outside my comfort zone, make some new friends, and have some fun in doing so. Instead, I had just brought up feelings of grief and regret for a family that had lost a father. If there was a message there, it was to think twice before doing something impulsive. But I don't like that message--I've spent my life thinking and rethinking, to the point where I often don't end up doing anything at all. Maybe there is no message. Maybe it's just something that happened. That's why I wanted to do this post--to work out how I felt about it, and maybe get an outside perspective.
I wound up NOT finishing the post also because I felt so conflicted about it. And just doing it added a new level of intrusion--I may not have intended anything wrong in the original message, but in using someone else's grief as a launching board in my own blog--that's a different level, isn't it?

Isn't it?

I knew this was going to end on sort of a dour note, which is why I went for the happier post yesterday. Despite anything to the contrary, I've really enjoyed writing here, and the last 100 posts have been a blast. Here's to a hundred more, and a hundred more after that.

Later Days.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

As For Me and My Apes

I was going to do a post on the book of poems I'm currently reading, Lorna Crozier's A Saving Grace. But that was going to be a very depressing post. I don't think there's any helping that. The idea behind the poems is that they were all written by Mrs Bentley from Sinclair Ross's As For Me and My House, and pretty much the only non-depressing thing you can say about this book is "... and then I stopped reading As For Me and My House. For reasons that will become clear next post, I wanted this one to be nice and light. And, most importantly, fun. So, here's my favorite European music video, Alles Neu by Peter Fox. No, I have no idea what he's saying, and no, I don't want to know.


Later Days!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Book Review: We Never Talk about My Brother by Peter S. Beagle

To put simply as possible, Peter Beagle is an excellent story teller.

His best known work is probably The Last Unicorn, and for good reason. I finally got around to reading that book about a year ago, and since I started this blog, this is the third book of his that I've read since. (The Innkeeper's Song is great; A Fine & Private Place is... more of an acquired taste.) The book at hand, We Never Talk About My Brother, is a book of short stories, which plays to Beagle's strong point--while the stories vary in quality, there is always one moment in each one where you realize you're reading something special.
Spook & Chandail: Both stories based in fantasy worlds Beagle's already established. Spook is part of the Joe Farrell stories (I've never really read any of them, so I can't judge that aspect). It's a duel betwen Joe and a ghost, using bad poetry as the weapon of choice. It's a lighthearted story, although you probably get more out of it if you're familiar with the poetry. Pretty much the opposite in tone, Chandail is a story of Lal from The Innkeeper's Song. It gives some pretty significant closure on the character, but it definitely requires the former book to be read to get the full effect.
The Last and Only, or Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French. Oddly as it sounds, the title pretty much is the plot here. An ordinary man turns French. It starts off as a sterotypical poke at what it is to be French, and ends with a deep, meaningful examination of what it means to be French. There's a real sense of wistfulness, that something perhaps not important, but irretrievable, has been lost.
By Moonlight. A highwayman stumbles upon a retired preacher who just spent a hundred years with the Queen of the Fairies. This story really shows how Beagle is a storyteller, as opposed to just a writer. He could have presented the preacher's story directly as a third person narrative. But by turning it into a story told to the highwayman, it subtly changes the tenor. Rather than watching over the preacher's shoulder, we sit at the campfire with him. (Plus, it's a total Midsummer Night's Dream story, for those that like that sort of thing.)
We Never Talk About My Brother. The title story. Brothers get a real bad rap in the Bible, don't they? Kane and Abel decidedly don't get along. Joseph's brothers toss him in a well. The prodigal son's brother is portrayed as a jealous jerk. Even Aaron, Moses' brother, is characterized as someone who just couldn't live up to his brother's standard. In this story, we get a version of the other brother story: the older brother Jacob realises that his brother Eseu has mystical powers of life and death--and only uses them for death. What can a brother do? What does a brother have to do? Not the longest story by any means, I think this was the story that will stay with me the longest. I like the way it blends Biblical legend with a modern day family.
That's about half the stories in the book. The others are more or less of the same quality. I have to admit, there's no story here I'd single out as great, but each one is good enough to be worth reading. It's not the first book by Beagle I'd recommend--Try The Innkeeper's Song, or The Last Unicorn--but if you liked those, then this won't disappoint.

Later Days.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: If Deadpool's the New Wolverine, then Captain %^&* has to be the new Deadpool.

It's not like he's done anything since Nextwave, right?
Seriously, in the past month, Deadpool has appeared in the Thunderbolts crossover, the X-Force/Cable crossover, his own series, a one-shot, and now a five issue mini-series. You'd think he's the one with the movie coming out next month.
Oh, and remember last time 'round when I was all cocky and arrogant over how my presentation went? Got the mark back, and yeah: justified. It's just like I always say: pressure makes diamonds. Losing the memory card? Wrecking the bike? Getting chased by a dog? All part of the master plan.
...All right, I've veering off into crazy talk, so let's get to business.
Deadpool: Suicide Kings 1 of 5. By Mike Benson & Carlo Barberi. Deadpool gets hired by rich gambler Conrad to take out Conrad's bookie. But said bookie's got plans of his own for Deadpool... Yeah, so that's pretty vague, but honestly, this issue's all set up: the only action is Deadpool against two nameless thugs, and I think you can guess how that turns out. I still don't like the way Deadpool seems to have two internal dialogue voices, both of which are his split personalities, but I guess that's the way he's written in the main series. Additional fact: I call Deadpool's employer Conrad, but that's just the name Deadpool calls him--as far as I can tell, he never actually introduces himself. Oopsie. It's ok, but given how much Deadpool is flooding the market at the moment, either of the crossovers he's participating in is a better read.
Green Lantern 39. Geoff Johns and Philip Tan. Hal copes with his new unwanted ring, while the Controllers accidentally awaken the Orange Lantern Corps. There's some nice work with the various colours here; Johns and co. are certainly making the best out of their ensemble of new corps. Unfortunately, like the Red Corps, the Orange Corps seem pretty one-note, only motivated by greed rather than rage. But maybe that will change. While not reaching a hugely deep philsophical point or anything, the arguments between the Blue Corps of Hope and the Green Lanterns add some depth to the various fistfights. It does feel like Johns is just going through the motions a bit though, like we're just going through the motions until he's finished setting up all the various corps he wants to play with. It's good, but it does have a "treading water" feel.
Dark Reign: Hawkeye 1. By Andy Diggle and Tom Raney. In the midst of Osborn's new reign of Avengers, Bullseye decides NOT to adjust to being a hero. This marks the first (besides Dark Avengers) issue of the new Dark Reign-based series; I'm not sure how you can make an entire line out of it, since so far, all of the imposters' schticks seem to be "we're not very good at repressing our villain sides," but I liked this issue in itself. I do find it kind of funny, retroactively, that all this happened because once upon a time, some reckless kid heroes blew up a city, and now it's led to the most reckless Avengers team ever, but the book itself is an interesting read. Diggle's proven that he can write these characters, and--provided the other Dark Reign titles bring something fresh to the table--I'd like to see where he's going with these.

That's all he wrote. Coming tomorrow: (or possibly the day after) a review of a Peter S. Beagle. What will it be? The Last Unicorn? A Fine & Private Place? The Innkeeper's Song? There's only one way to find out!

Later Days.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Squinty McGee and His Near-Sighted Notions: Update Part II

Memory Card Redux. On Wednesday, after the presentation, a friend takes me to Future Shop and I buy a new memory card. It's very strange, because when I go to pop it in, I learn it has been used. And not just pre-shipping stuff a company may include. I mean, it is very obviously pre-owned. It contained virtually every facet of its previous owner's life: personal photos, a resume, and payroll information for his business. Some very confidental stuff. I contact Future Shop to complain, and send the former owner an email. But before either get back to me, the point becomes largely moot, because on my way home on Thursday, I lost the card. In exactly the same circumstances that I lost the first. I'm assuming my pockets have a hole in them that sews itself up when I'm looking at it.
So: today I got yet another memory card. And to make sure this one stays safe, I've attached it to my key chain. And nothing could possibly go wrong there, right? (I'd add another link to the post where I speculate that I do this sort of thing deliberately, but... it's depressing enough, frankly, and it'll be worse by the time we're through here.)
Saturday Night.
After that week, you can imagine that I wanted to let off some steam. So I went out with some friends on Saturday night, to celebrate one friend's recent B-Day. (Happy Birthday, said friend! May your twenty-fifth year be less prone to object-oriented mishaps than mine.)
It was a night of discourse, drinking,and dancing. While my opinion on dancing is somewhere very close to Stephen Fry's--because at heart I am a man in his late fifties--I wouldn't have traded the other components for the return of my memory sticks. (Well, maybe not the first memory stick. That was not a happy couple of days. But the second one, anyway.) Usually, social gatherings like that make me go into "bolt" mode an hour or two in, but this stime, I stayed out to the bitter end, and I'm glad I did. Gang, to mix metaphors, you're all top drawer in my book.
Current Status.
I wish I could end on that happy note, but the autobiographical pact created by Philip Lejuene that we studied in the blogging class that instigated this blog compels me to be honest. My internet was giving me trouble today, but I needed to turn in a school assignment, so I had to get it to the university, one way or another. So, I trudged through the snow, picked up the latest memory card, and trudged back home to transfer the appropriate files. Now, on the first trip out that day, I had worn my glasses because I was trying to be conservative with my remaining contact lenses. But the snow was coming down at such a rate that I decided to wear my mask toque for the longer walk to the university. And if you're wearing a mask toque, you're not wearing glasses, because they don't fit well underneath it, your ears aren't there to allow you to wear them over it, and they'll fog up anyway from the temperature difference between your breath and the outside air. So I put the glasses into a case, tossed them in my bag, and walked to school.

Once I got to school, though, I was in for a surprise: the glasses weren't there, and I had forgotten them at home. (Or, alternatively, they're there, but I can't see them. Yes, I am THAT nearsighted.) So for the past hours, I have been sitting at a computer, with a monitor inches from my face. Because that is how dedicated I am to this blog.
Alternative ending for the previous sentence: dedicated I am to preserving chances to complain.

Take your pick between them. One is probably more accurate.

Later Days.

Sorry, sorry....: Update Part 1

Once again, I've fallen behind in blogging duties. This changes now. Things have been very hectic of late, so I'll try to summarize. First:
HORRIBLE BIKE NEWS. I think it's about time this got its own tag, don't you? Anyway, the latest disaster came when the bike--fell over. That's it, that's all that happened. It fell over in exactly the wrong manner, and the chain got tangled in the little space between the wheel and the shifter. An hour of effort, and tangling the chain up even further in the attempt, convinced me that, no, this falls quite squarely under the category of things I can't fix myself. It's not like I could have ridden my bike anyway, since Blank is under a heavy-snow fall today (that's right, snow at the beginning of April, I brought Saskatchewan weather patterns with me), but it's still annoying.
I complained about my frequent bike malfunctions to a friend, and he commented that I should just buy a car already. I gaped at him in horror. Personally, I am convinced that I project a human entropy field that destroys mechanical objects. (Before you dismiss this out of hand, ask my parents how much they paid in repairs to the Dodge Stratus while I was living with them.) I can only imagine the horrible things that would happen to a car I owned solely.
School Work Frustration.
But it's basically gotten to the point now where the bicycle problems are so routine that they can't even hope to take the title of "worst disaster of the week." That title came last Monday. I had spent approximately 20 hours over the past two days working on my 35-slide presentation for my English class. (I know that seems like a lot, but since it was a hypertext, I was assuming we'd never get to about half the slides to begin with.) I left in a hurry that day, but I distinctly remember thinking "you know, if I lost this memory stick, I would be horribly, horribly screwed."
Guess what happened on the way home?
So I wound up back at the school a few hours later, starting the 35 slides again, from scratch. Fun. More fun came with coping with the loss of the other files I had on the stick: my novel, my MA thesis, and my students' grades for the term. Problems resulted. (Long story short: all solved now.)
Then, last Wednesday, the morning of my presentation, the aforementioned bike disaster ensued. For reasons that were not entirely clear, it seemed God aws deadset against me giving this presentation. So, I walk to school, get chased about four blocks by a really large canine (although given the size and breed, it may have been an errant wolf), and finally make it to my office in time to change into my suit. (That was my one act of foresight: assuming that something would go horribly wrong over the next few days, I had been bringing pieces of my suit into my office for the past week. As it turned out: wise decision.)
Then I gave my presentation, and did fine, because despite all the setbacks placed in my way by canines, my own stupidity, and the Almighty, I am really good at what I do.

Further updates in the second post.

Later Days.