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Monday, May 25, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of ChampionsBreakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

THere are a large number of people who aren't too keen on Vonnegut, and for reasons that I can easily understand. On one end Vonnegut is a science fiction/speculative fiction master. He was a moral force, so much so that when speaking of war in his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five, he said, "there is nothing intelligent than can be said about war."


That lone sentence is so powerful and provocative it hurts. Vonnegut says there, in a single sentence, what we all wish to say of violence, destruction, death, and hate. He does it so simply and so easily, as if that were the only thing to say.

Yet, on the other hand we have Vonnegut as the postmodernist. The man who plays with form and structure. The man who flashes from character to character, exposing details about each of them and laying it all bare.

This second side is the one that alienates people.

To many readers Vonnegut seems to be pretentious and nonsensical, yet one need only look at this work or Slaughterhouse Five to see just how important this style of postmodernism is.

Firstly, I will say this. When Vonnegut writes of a car salesmen he does so, in part, from experience. It is because of this that we can feel the realism, the pressures of the world and of society that so press on this man.

Now, Vonnegut is in this story is God. This may seem like an egotistical stance to take, yet, what are authors if not Gods?

It is because of this singular concept we get Vonnegut's brand of postmodernism. He is not merely recounting events and allowing them to be revealed through the actions of the characters, as we are so often accustomed. Instead, he is the creator himself, the one that knows the inner workings of their minds. He knows their past and their future and yet he is condemned only to watch.

This is equal parts genius and comedic, a thing that can be said of much of Vonnegut's works.

Yet another theme at work here is the that, when facing ourselves in the mirror-or leaks-we have only ourselves to face. We are not seeing a reflection but another version of ourselves, one that reflects us. Thus, when Vonnegut breaks the barriers of his world and asks of himself, "You're afraid you'll kill yourself like your mother, aren't you?" He has no chance but to answer, "yes."

Vonnegut's work is one that examines the human condition at its strangest and worst. He reflects us as we are and as we fear we will become and though there was a narrative drag in the story around the middle, this story is all about reflection and how we much be honest with ourselves. And so again, when the author confronts Kilgore Trout and asks him what he desires, he has no choice but to say, "to be young again."

View all my reviews or buy the book here: Breakfast of Champions: A Novel

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Jim Thompson: The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside MeThe Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jim Thompson's career as a pulp crime writer left him without much money, yet he was well renowned among those who were attracted to the demented mind of a serial killer.

Stanley Kubrick had him as a writer on "The Killing," (albeit, not giving him a writers credit) and has called this novel the most disturbing look at a disturb mind. I could not agree more.

Thompson's character of Lou Ford is a reflection of abuse. A character who has suffered at the hands of another and, years later, after having had these feelings of abuse fester like a wound, Lou Ford has become a killer.

Ford is smart, too smart to just be a cop. He reads often and wants to be a doctor, though he fears doing so would expose the monster he is.

He also has a girlfriend, one that he keeps primarily for appearances, but as the story progresses we see the human side of Ford.

What truly makes this novel interesting is just how brutal it is. How unflinching it is at it tackles the concept of sexuality, morality, police brutality, and physical and sexual abuse.

Even today, many have a penchant to blame victims of physical and sexual abuse. "You shouldn't have walked down that alley,"

"Well, wearing that you were asking for it."

Those same concepts are at play here and feed into the psychology of Ford. He is not some deranged maniac who kills for no reason except that he enjoys it. Nor is he some horrible misanthrope. There are many times where he feels himself at odds with the monster inside.

Lou Ford is a product of his upbringing and his environment, just as we all are and Thompson handles these complex themes with grace and finesse.

And if you need more, if it wasn't for this book you wouldn't have Dexter. Hell, Dexter is, at best, a reflection on a shallow pool by comparison to Ford.

View all my reviews or buy the book here: The Killer Inside Me

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fairies Moon: Page One Preview

   It happened, as most wonderful and fantastic things do, in the smallest and most insignificant of towns. Such was the case with the town of Farrow, a lovely little place that finds itself nestled in the heartland, where the hills roll on in endless green and the trees tower above as sentinel towers, ever watchful. Where bluebells, lilies, roses, nightshade, and a garden of other lovely colors dot the land, filling it with that picturesque scenery only found in a painters paintings or a poets poems. It was here, amongst all of this strangely perfect beauty, that the fair people(who seem to be much fairer than other folk) conduct their strange rituals of dancing before odd colored fires in terrific masks, chanting their odd chants.

  The fair townsfolk pull out the fulness of a feast prepared throughout the day during these festivals, conducted only when the moon bares its naked glory to the world. These feasts are filled with the most wonderfully cooked pheasant, with purple plums and pickled delights of all kinds. Rare fruits, brightly colored and possessing the illusion of shifting shades of blue, green, and violet, known as Stardust, populate every plate. Their sweet and intoxicating smell waft through the village, wisps of wind carrying them along and causing every person to salivate in anticipation for this slightly hallucinogenic fruit.

  This scene of townsfolk of all shapes and sizes carrying out tray after tray of beautifully prepared food was what Lisanna Limly returned to, dressed in a fine white lace dress with an academic posture about her. She had been gone for a solid five years to study far and abroad and now, looking out at the strange ritual that she had spent the majority of her life participating in, she felt nostalgia bloom within her. They were, she thought with a lazy smile gracing her lips, glued to their innocent superstitions and frivolous magics. They would never know, as she did, the origin of their words and their importance.

  But, she thought mildly, there is always a surreal comfort in finding a place exactly as it was when you left it.

  With one long and confident step Lisanna walked out into the chaos and called out to a man in black suit and a tall black hat, causing him to drop the tray of food that he was carrying, sending fruit and meat exploding through the air and skittering across the ground.

  “Ma' Lord, girl! Don't go scarin' a man like--wait a damned that you little 'Sanna?” asked the black hatted man, the anger pouring out of his voice as quickly as it had come.

  “Yes it is, Mr. Rutter. It is nice to see you're still as quick to yell as you are to smile,” she said, flashing him a full white smile.

  Carlyle Rutter gave her a broad, toothy grin and said, “Well, ya couldn't have picked a better time to come home, could ya?”

   Lisanna shrugged, “I suppose so.”

  “Now don't go around actin' so indifferent! This is everyone's favorite time-a year! Now why don't you head off an' go find little Neil? I remember he was awfully found of you and he'll be jumpin' and shoutin' when he sees you've come back all grown up and twice as pretty.”

   Lisanna's smile grew wider and brighter, “I suppose he might. Where is he?”

  “He ought to be floatin' around and takin' care of gathering up all the proper salts and dusts. He's apprenticing under the town alchemist, if you can damn well believe that!” exclaimed Carlyle, shooing her away.

   Lisanna strode in the direction of the apothecary, muscle memory taking her where she needed to go. As she went she could hear Carlyle shouting his head off and giving general hell to a couple of boys he had managed to con into cleaning up the mess that he had made.

  It all made Lisanna gloriously exultant. She had missed the chaos that this small town managed to get swept up in and the sweet aroma of the Stardust fruit mixing with the bitter smells of brewed potions, burning salts, and magic dusts of all kinds.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Does Science-Fiction Matter?

Very recently Simon Pegg made some comments about science-fiction and fantasy novels and movies that, more or less, said that all of this over-saturation of comic book movie and science-fiction action film has dumbed down the whole of cinema. Naturally, many people have been hurt by these remarks. After all, Pegg is a nerd hero to many and for him to decry something that so many enjoy, well, it is fucking painful to see.

However, I do not intend to break down or explain his statements. I do not desire to argue, though it may well seem that that is what I am about to do. No, I merely wish to ask, is science-fiction and fantasy as moving or meaningful as the classics, both in regards to film and the novel.

Let us first look at the classics in questions. Before recent memory there was not an overabundance of comic book, superhero, science-fiction/fantasy film. That is not to say that they did not exist. Tim Burton's Batman, a film of over twenty years of age, is of course one of the most beloved superhero movies to ever exist. Yet, Burton does not direct this movie in the style of today's superhero blockbusters. Rather, he brings the training and eye of a classic filmmaker to the table, allowing it to transcend the bonds of the superhero movie and transform into a noir character study.

Yet, barring such examples, what movies really made a big impact on us? Why, it was films such as The Godfather, or Taxi Driver, or Rock, or even Fight Club for a more recent example. These were dark and gritty films that focused on the real as well a the surreal. They forced the viewer into a dark world and demonstrated exactly what the repercussions of a police sate could be, or the importance of personal freedom, of the dangers of a government that spies on us at all turns. They were character studies and were political by nature.

In short, these films challenged the audience to think. There was no other way but to think when you watched such films.

Then, in the blink of an eye, things began to change and that change was called Star Wars. Now, I will not say that Star Wars does not play with themes as it most certainly does, yet even Star Wars is a departure from the other films Lucas had made at that point in his career.

So, what was it about Star Wars that changed everything then? And, further, is there anything wrong with this change?

Well, Star Wars is, in many regards, the film equivalent to Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. Both of these creations had multiple influences, some within the genre they inhabit and some outside of it. However, they were both trying to capture something grand, something that was perhaps lost. Whereas Tolkien hoped to recreate the power and depth of the long lost Epic, Lucas hoped to recapture the spark that was the Pulp story.

Both succeeded in their own rights and both are well loved for good reason.

However, just a Tolkien spawned the likes of Robert Jordan, Lucas wrought his own imitators (which, ironically, was himself in the form of hi prequel films).

Since the creation of such things we have been left with films that try to grasp at the depth and grandiosity of their inspiration, and yet somehow fall short. Yet another parable can be seen in the comic book industry as, since the creation of Watchmen and V for Vendetta, many have sought to get at the heart of Moore's work and yet they always miss out on his literary mind.

So, now that we see the history the question remains, do these new pieces of science-fiction and fantasy hold any water?

On the surface, no. They are pale imitations in most cases and at worst you are watching a Micheal Bay film. However, in many cases, one only need look a little deeper to see that there genres still have much to say and teach.

Without calling out the obvious names of Whedon and Gaiman, I will attempt to show that there are still a great many great things coming from the genres.

In terms of film, with the Marvel universe exploding ever outward, it is a wonder that something a brilliant as Captain America: Winter Solider could be birthed. Simply said, this film expertly tackles the themes of big government, of the danger of surveillance and of the militarization of the police. These are very topical and talked about social issues that we face today and for any movie, let alone a fucking comic book movie, to tackle them with any sort of grace is a miracle. Captain America does it with ease and shows that following orders leads us down a rabbit hole that may well bring our doom.

Even Iron Man deals with the concept of responsibility of the justice system, a theme we will see further explored in the upcoming Civil War arc of films, just as has been done in the Civil War comic books (like below).

Even outside of the superhero movie we have films like Ex Machina that tackle the complex issue of artificial intelligence and what makes someone human. Those Dickan (see: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) themes are ones not often tackled in any form and are best examined in genre films and literature.

In regards to books we have the likes of Susanna Clarke, writer of the elegant and excellent Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell, a novel that inhabits the realm of fantasy yet still manages to be profound, well written, and expertly researched. Hell, even Gaiman proclaimed awe when first meeting and reading Clarke's work.

The likes of Patrick Rothfuss also hold onto the pillars of great fantasy that, be it the authors intent or otherwise, manages to tackle hard themes in clever, subtle ways. Then, for your science-fiction fix we have the likes of William Gibson who, even now, uses his strange and powerful language to tackle themes of technology and our dependance on it, drug use, street life, and cooperation corruption and power. Or Neal Stephenson who tackles similar themes, yet with the same zeal and bat-shit crazy attitude of the likes of comic book master Warren Ellis.

This is, of course, not to say that the classics are not masterful or profound. Or even that all genre film and fiction is a masterwork that deserves praise. Far from. What I am merely saying is that science-fiction and fantasy inhabit a very special world in which they can entertain as well as engage, which is a thing of beauty and rarity.

Were it not for the fantasy slant in Wim Winders film Wings of Desire we would not find any aspect of it to be entertaining as it is, yet were it not for his literary mind and skillful direction we would find that it lacks the depth that makes it such a masterpiece (in fact, if you want proof of that, go watch Wings of Desire and then watch the American butchering of it, City of Angels. No joke),

Everyone wants to be entertained, at least to some extent, yet it is possible that we can think while we are entertained. In fact, it is imperative that both happens at once because, lets face it, some people are not interested in art films. So, yes, there is an oversaturation and a dumbing down that can be linked to genre film, yet there is also an untapped potential that peaks through from time to time and shows that science-fiction and fantasy is not merely an escape, but rather a different route to the same end.

Get the Civil War comic here: Civil War

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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The StrangerThe Stranger by Albert Camus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a hard one to review. One one side of the tracks we have the expectation one has when first hearing of Camus, and especially when first hearing of his seminal work "The Stranger." Then on the other side we have what Camus himself believed of his work, a thought that opposed what his work has been regarded as his entire life and long after.

In the view of many, Camus' "The Stranger," is an existentialist masterpiece. The story of is the most ordinary of men who goes through his own life with little feeling about any one thing. When asked if by his girlfriend if he loves her he replies, "I suppose, but it's all kind of pointless."

The questions is this, why is he so apathetic?

Well, in part, this is because Camus dives into the absurd. The average person is lost in their life. They do not know much of what they want and when they are confronted with the absurd, only then do they find that they seek the truth.

So then, why is it that people believe that Camus to be an existentialist akin to his contemporary and friend Satre? Well, this is in part due to a semblance between the thought behind existentialism and absurdism.

With existentialism we see that it is absurd to betray our own morals and sense of self based on what society has deemed to be acceptable. Absurdism finds that these morals placed on us by society to be, well, absurd. The difference is that, while Camus finds these things absurd and explores what the average person experiences during such events, Sartre asserts that to put an end to these things knowledge and truth must be sought and that the simple act of being allows us to transcend our bonds.

So, what is there to say about Camus "The Stranger?" Is it an existentialist masterpiece like many of claimed, or is it the manifesto of absurdism that Camus believed it to be?

While this answer may seem a cop-out of sorts, the fact remains that "The Stranger," is both an essay on absurdism and existentialism, despite what both Camus and Sartre believed. The two philosophies, though coming from different origins, both come the same conclusion. One can not separate the absurd ideas of social morals and doctrines based on a 2,000 year old book from the existential ideals that come along with the disregard of God and the Christian morals that have been so ingrained in our culture.

View all my reviews or by the book here The Stranger

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Update #2: Moving and writing

So, since my last update I have moved from Florida back to Ohio. It is nice to be home, however there has been a lot of comings-and-goings, some falling outs, and the typical type of drama one expects but nonetheless forgets when returning home after a long time away.

To begin with, I have moved three times in the two weeks that I have been home. If that sounds like a lot that is because it is a lot. Both my lady love and I are exhausted, stressed, and a little angry.

So it goes.

Needless to say, I have neglected my duties to my blog, a fact that saddens me. However, I've returned and will be updating regularly.

Said updates will begin as of today with a book review.

To those that have stuck around, thank you. It means a lot and I hope you continue to support me and this blog as it grows and more content is produced.