jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
John M. Ford, From the End of the Twentieth Century

Of /course/ it's brilliant, of /course/ you should find a copy and read it. Pieces that made a serious impact include:
  • "A Little Scene To Monarchize," in which various Elizabethan playwrights perform poems and songs in the guise of monarchs from the Wars of the Roses. Richard III's "A Usurper's Lot Is Not A Happy One" may be the best of the bunch but it's a close thing.
  • "All Our Propagation: A Play for Instruments," which is what you get when you write about Voyager as though you're writing Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood." The language is of course a bit difficult, but bits of it delighted me roughly every other line. "Forgot me already, did you? Well. Hugs parallel to all my prosy robots. Remember me, forget death."
  • "The Lost Dialogue," alternating speeches by Daedalus the artificer and his presumed-lost son, "Lefty." Made me catch my breath a few times.
And so many more . . . the title piece is a meditation on trains, theatre, and the role of art; its companion, "To the Tsiolkovsky Station," goes into great (perhaps excruciating) detail on the lunar rail system in Growing Up Weightless. There's a bit about the space shuttle, a few Liavek and Alternities stories, the eminently creepy "Preflash" ("Regret dies last. But everything dies") . . . I'm happy to have it.

Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things

I dunno. Nothing hit me as hard as the pieces from Smoke and Mirrors. It may be that I'd seen some of the strongest pieces elsewhere ("Study in Emerald," "Monarch of the Glen," "The Problem of Susan"), or maybe just that I've moved beyond. "October in the Chair" was good and atmospheric, as was "Miss Finch." Mostly they just felt lighter than I'd wanted. Nothing as impressive as "The Goldfish Pool" or "Murder Mysteries," or even "Chivalry." Oh well. Still good stuff, but not amazingly so.

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others

An eight-story collection with three Nebulas and a Hugo (and a withdrawn Hugo nomination as well). So, yeah, pretty much everything in here is brilliant. The first story concerns the building of the Tower of Babel, in what looks an awful lot like a Ptolemaic universe. There's also one that does /very/ interesting things with golems and the concept of sperm as tiny people brought to life and sentience by a womb, one that explores what happens if arithmetic is proven demonstrably false, and a beautiful exploration of religion in a world where "faith" isn't an issue. Having read this, I understand why, as John Scalzi put it, "every SF/F writer gets all hushed and respectful speaking Ted Chiang's name." The guy is /good/, in the same way that water is damp.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Searoad

A collection of stories about a small village on the Oregon coast. Reading it I was constantly struck by a sense of unrelenting bleakness. I could practically see the cloud-dark sky over the beach, the wind whipping the reeds, the harsh chill of the breakers. The people have an underlying despair that they don't even recognise. They can see the need to do something different but they can't possibly change anything about their lives. The last piece, a long one, follows several generations of women from the last 1800s through about 1973, and is the least bleak of them: there's still not much hope but the people are cheerier about it. In general this was a difficult book to read. Very good, wonderfully human characters, but difficult. Or maybe I just should have picked up something else while waiting for Granddad.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Will Shetterly, Chimera

I've owned this for ages (four years now?) but put off reading it because it sounded exactly like Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music: hard-boiled detective story set in a near-future world with human/animal genetic hybrids as sub-citizens. I'm not sure what inspired me to pick it up this weekend. It's good, though; Shetterly's a fine writer, and a lot less odd-for-odd's-sake than Lethem, which makes him more readable. Chimera's a fun story with a bit of social commentary underneath. (If I'd read it a few years ago my libertarianism would have gotten holes knocked in it a lot quicker than it finally did.) The Infinite Pocket is a really nifty idea, too.

Dave McKean (dir.), Mirrormask


Mirrormask, as everyone knows, was written by Neil Gaiman and filmed by Dave McKean, and financed by the Hensons who said "So we want you to make a movie like Labyrinth . . . although Labyrinth had a budget of $40 million dollars in 1986, and we can give you, er, a tenth that." And Neil and Dave said "Sounds like fun," and went off and made this gorgeous artsy thing that about twelve people, none of them theatre execs, would like, and somehow it got in at Sundance and even got on a few theatre screens before Sony realised that they'd been givng screentime to something other than Stupid Comedy XI or Blood-N-Gutz V. [And I missed it, not that I'm still bitter or anything.] And eventually it came out on DVD and was bloody gorgeous.

The bulk of the film is very much a dream sequence, with dream-logic and fantastical beasts and "Giants Orbiting" and all, and there are lots of masks (of course) and not a few mirrors, and a Dark Queen and an Anti-Helena and a very Scottish juggler. Attempts to describe the film fail me utterly. (See Zappa, Frank; "dancing about architecture.") If I were a film student or a lit student I could probably write a wonderful paper drawing parallels between this, Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea, and Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-tale about the man who lost his shadow. But I'm not, so all I'll say is that the outside and the shadows aren't evil, any more than Anti-Helena is evil, or Valentine is good, and I think Helena realises that by the end of the film. Subconsciously, at least.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952
The Complete Peanuts: 1953-1954

Yay Peanuts! The first four-plus years of my favorite comic strip collected in one place (starting in October 1950). Watching the characters turn into their familiar selves is fascinating: Lucy in particular grows up from being a baby that Charlie Brown has to keep an eye on to "World's Greatest Fussbudget." Amazing stuff, and still quite funny fifty years later.

Jeph Loeb / Jim Lee, Batman: Hush

Eh. Apparently a super-hyped story with a SOOPER SEKRIT villain. News flash: if you introduce a random new guy from Batman's past, people are going to assume he's the bad guy, because they've seen this schtick before. Other than that, it felt like the typical cavalcade of villains, plus the obligatory fight between Batman and Superman. Unimpressive, especially considering it was released in two volumes. I pity the people who spent money on this.

Jeph Loeb / Tim Sale, Batman: Haunted Knight

Far better. Three (four?) one-shot Halloween stories, including one genuinely creepy one involving Scarecrow. Short Batman stories are generally better than the long arcs, I'm finding. [Obvious exceptions exist, like Year One.] Good to know that Jeph Loeb's reputation isn't wholly unfounded.

Neil Gaiman / Yoshitaka Amano, Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Fantastic take on a traditional Japanese tale ("The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming") with gorgeously painted artwork. The saddest thing I've read in ages.

Jeph Loeb / Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween

An exception to the 'short Batman better' rule I just came up with. Thirteen issues, each about a differnt holiday (well, except that #1 and 13 are both Halloween), each another grisly murder (except for April Fool's). Good stuff, well-written, and a good mystery.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, A Walking Tour of the Shambles

This is the sort of book that says something utterly outrageous, laughs a little too loud, and then abruptly stops laughing and stares directly at you, so that you're pretty sure it wasn't really kidding. It's ostensibly a guidebook through a scary section of Chicago ["mysteriously untouched by the Great Fire. 'Ya can't burn Hell,' one resident joked"'], and is in actuality a chance for Gene and Neil to write something fun and creepy. Probably not worth $16, but what the hell.

David Callahan, The Cheating Culture

Perhaps the most fundamentally depressing book I've read in ages. Callahan explores the widespread epidemic of cheating in modern culture: he looks in-depth at sports, education, and finance, and mentions other areas as well. I found the "how the heck did we get here" section especially enlightening: I'd heard Jonathan expound on the combination of sixties individualism and eighties greed before, but Callahan also excoriates the conservative focus on "values" for its tacit insistence that only results matter. Plus there's the Red Queen effect, where if you don't cheat and everyone else does you're handicapping yourself . . . it's an ugly mess. He offers some potential solutions in the last chapter, but overall this isn't a solution book, it's a problem analysis book. Everyone should read this one.

Ted Naifeh, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things
Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics
Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom

Three wonderful comics featuring a junior-high-school outcast studying witchcraft. "Coraline, only not by Neil Gaiman and a comic book" is how I once described it. Courtney's a far more believable character than the average angst-ridden teen. She's genuinely unpleasant to people, for starters. And when you see her emotional fragility it feels genuinely fragile, and not like something that can be solved by whisking her away to someplace magical.

The first volume is a collection of four short tales; the second is a complete story arc. The third is curiously inbetween: its first issue was a separate story, and then the next three belong together. The second was probably the strongest of the three but I can see an argument for preferring the third one. Good stuff all around, though.

Terry Bisson, Bears Discover Fire

The best short-story collection I have read in a very, very long time. Witty prose and ideas, good characters, and just plain fun. Includes the brilliant title story, as well as "They're Made of Meat" which can be found online, and a weird piece entitled "Coon Suit" that appeared in F&SF when I had a subscription. A lot of the shorter stories in the book have an eco-theme; in the Afterword he says that this is because A) he's conserving paper and B) if they got longer they'd get preachy. I dunno; some of them are a bit preachy already, but it's hard to see thme becoming any more so.

Jeff Smith, Bone

Sixtyish issues of epic comic book story. Originally published in nine volumes. I'd probably feel gypped if I'd had to buy nine books to get the story told here, but in one volume it's worth having. It's at its best when Smith's laying on the funny ("Stupid, stupid rat-creatures!"); about three-fifths of the way through the plot starts to get pretty serious, and I think the story suffers as a result. I do like the art, though.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine: Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Book

Collection of the first two Pearls books, with commentary by Pastis and the Sunday strips in color. Still one of the funniest strips around, and the commentary is pretty good too.

Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, et al, 1602

Neil writes Elizabethan-era Marvel comics. Hilarity ensues. "The four from the ship called Fantastic" were a nice touch, as were young Peter Parquagh's constant brushes with spider-bite. Captain America incarnated as a blond-haired blue-eyed Native American was a bit much, but it all ties together nicely in the end. I had fun with this one even knowing as little about the Marvelverse as I do.

Mark Waid, Barry Kitson, et al, Empire

A comic about life under the bad guy's rule. I remember bits of plot [the daughter, the betrayal] but not how it made me feel, and I have no strong desire to read it again. So I guess it didn't have much impact on me. Oh well.

Steven Brust, Agyar

Still the best book ever. On Steve's advice I watched for the phases of the moon and their correspondences with Jack's behavior this time. Nifty.

Susanna Clarke, three stories

Susanna's a wondrous writer with a flair for capturing the fun of nineteenth-century prose without the dullness. "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" is a fun romp in Gaiman & Vess's Stardust world, and "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" introduces the inimitable Mr Jonathan Strange, about whom more later. The checkerboard story from the NYT whose name escapes me was less cool, but still a good story.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

What a wondrous book. Some of Childermass's actions at the beginning leave me a bit puzzled, but overall I can't think of anything I disliked about it. Except maybe for the fact that it ended. I especially appreciated the description of faeries as having much magic but little reason, as opposed to humans. And the occasional bits of very dry wit. "Mr Norrell, who knew that there were such things in the world as jokes as he had read about them in books, but who had never been introduced to a joke, nor shaken its hand . . ."

[Posted with hblogger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V For Vendetta

I hate the art for this book. Looks too much like newsprint, and there's far too much use of yellows and browns for my taste. Having said that, V is a neat post-nuclear-war Orwellian anarchist fable. It clarifies the distinction between anarchy ["without leaders"] and chaos, it invokes Guy Fawkes and Thomas Pynchon, and it's generally a good story. Not great; ranks behind From Hell and Watchmen. But still quite good.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Black Orchid

I read this when I lived in Apt 6 and had just started getting into Sandman. I remember thinking that it had a great beginning ("I'm just going to shoot you. Now.") and got kind of weird.

It's still got a great beginning, and it still gets kind of weird. Behind the weird is a really effective story about living your life, with references to the DC comics universe strewn hither and yon. Dave McKean's art is first-rate, and Neil's scripting is good but has gotten better over time. I'm glad this is finally back in print.

Jamie Delano and David Lloyd, The Horrorist

I'm not actually clear whether this is a two-part book called The Horrorist, or whether the story is called "Antarctica" and it's part of a larger series called "The Horrorist." With that out of the way . . . David Lloyd's art is a lot more palatable here than it was in V. The story itself is a kind of small Constantine story about how he's dead to the world, can't feel anything, and he encounters a creature that preys on human, well, horror. Sort of interesting but nothing to write home about. I'm not sure whether I keep reading Constantine because I like the character or because I feel vaguely obligated to do so, having gotten this far.

Alan Dean Foster, The Mocking Program

Aborted halfway through.Okay, it's set in a nifty gritty near-future, yes, even cyberpunk world, and it's a murder mystery with cool technology. But the main character is just too perfect. Not only is he the perfect moral cop, but he's an "intuit" [low-level empath], so you can't even lie to him. People he questions tell him things he wants to know after making a token show of resistance-- this includes young street punks, shopkeepers who could get killed for spilling their guts, gangsters about to kill him, etc. The exploding house in Chapter 2 was cool enough that I kept reading, hoping for more stuff that was that cool-- but when Foster interrupted a sex scene for a paragraph-long digression about the technology, I realised that the man simply has no sense of pacing and prepared to give up. Not even the appearance of talking monkeys halfway through was enough to save this one.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Gene Wolfe, "The Death of Doctor Island"

Novella, found in The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, which collection also features "The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories" [which rocks] and "The Doctor of Death Island." "DDI," like all the best sci-fi, uses the trappings of SF as a means to talk about something else; psychology, in this case. Four [well, five] characters, one of whom is the aforementioned Doctor Island [who is, in fact, an island, and who does not die, in the neatest trick of words I've seen in awhile]. I enjoy Wolfe's short stories; they make you think, but not so much that you feel utterly lost. Everything in "DDI" makes perfect sense, albeit sometimes only in retrospect.

Lloyd Alexander, Time Cat

Alexander's first book, in which a cat and a boy travel to nine historical periods and learn valuable life lessons. None of the characters get anywhere near enough development, but the premise is cute and Alexander's prose is quite good. Not one but two precursors to Eilonwy of the red-gold hair, but only one Fflewddur Fflam, and Jason [the boy] is substantially different from Taran.

I think it is now my mission in life to collect copies of all Lloyd Alexander's books. Several of them are long out of print, which saddens me; to the left, I found his translation of Sartre at bookfair.

Neil Gaiman, "A Study in Emerald"

Gaiman's Hugo-nominated short story. I've not read any other nominees, but they'll have to be pretty strong contenders to get past this one. It starts out Victorian, just another Sherlock Holmes story, and the weird bits work their way in very carefully around the edges, until you're suddenly confronted with them head-on, and just sort of gape in awe at how effortlessly Gaiman has turned the story you're reading upside down.

Roger Zelazny, "For a Breath I Tarry"

When I first read this I thought it was the best short story ever. I no longer think that; I no longer even think it's the best Zelazny ever. ["Rose for Ecclesiastes" and "24 Views of Mt Fuji, by Hokusai" both kick far too much ass.] It's still damn good, though. Faust, starring robots and a ruined Earth that's being maintained because Man ordered it to be maintained, and so well written. . . wow. Very cool.
jazzfish: book and quill and keyboard and mouse (Media Log)
Neil Gaiman, "The Monarch of the Glen"

I'd thought it would take me awhile to get into this story (it took two reads for me to really get into American Gods, after all) but right on page two Gaiman is making fun of either Texans or Scots. So, hey. It's an American Gods story, and (despite American Gods feeling like the end of the tale) it works pretty well. If I'd paid more attention over the summer I might even have picked up on some elements as fast as I should have, instead of waiting for them to be spelled out for me. Oh well.

Shadow's a much better character than I originally thought he was. I've said that before, but it bears reiteration.

Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman, Humongous Zits / Big Honkin' Zits / Zits: Supersized

Three treasuries, comprising the first six Zits collections. It's amusing, it's occasionally brilliant, it's got bits I relate to all to well and bits I don't. I prefer Foxtrot but Zits is still decent stuff. Beats the sappiness of For Better or Worse hands down. (And we've got several other Zits collections at work, giving me plenty to do during kiosk shifts.)

Hey, it's a comic strip. You want detailed character analysis? Go read someone's master's thesis on the subject. (Or maybe just Pearls Before Swine from the week of Christmas '03 if it's still in their web archives.)


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Adventures in Mamboland

"Jazz Fish, a saxophone playing wanderer, finds himself in Mamboland at a critical phase in his life." --Howie Green, on his book Jazz Fish Zen

Yeah. That sounds about right.

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