Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters - Review

I figured out how I can make footnotes work!  Having the numbers be a mouse-over works a lot better than linking to a footnote at the bottom, the HTML doesn't like me.  Also, I've started doing spoilers in white, if you don't care about spoilers highlight to read. 

Tracks for this Evening: Love 2012, The main theme from Melancholia, Everything is Ending, Until the End of the Worldsome zYnthetic, take your pick.  Oh, and while it doesn't fit the mood, I think everyone should listen to this at least once.  

Man, I love me some good detective fiction.  There’s just something thoroughly compelling about someone pounding the streets and using nothing more than his wits and charisma to get answers out of people who only sorta have to answer.  Thing is, in the words of Miss Mazeppa1, you’ve gotta get a gimmick.  Eg, the detective is a sweet old lady2, or a medieval monk3, or it’s set in England during the War Years4.  And what’s a better gimmick than the apocalypse? 

Our Primary Antagonist for the series will be measured in
Astronomical Units away. 
That’s where this week’s book comes in.  Written by Ben H. Winters, The Last Policeman tells the story of a policeman solving a murder as the world prepares to end.  A few months ago, the world got the bad news:  Asteroid 2011GV1, Maia, is hurtling towards the planet and there’s nothing that’s gonna stop it.  And so the human race threw up its hands and cursed the sky, and society started to crumble.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Up Jumped The Devil by Michael Poore - Review

Tracks for the Evening: Up Jumped the Devil, Cry Little Sister, People of the South Windmaybe a little bit of this cover of "Crossroad Blues".  Also, quite a bit of this.  Warning, light spoilers.

It’s the car that really won it for me. 

To explain:  In Michael Poore’s new rapscallion of a novel Up Jumps the Devil[1], the Devil is the classic, deal making, guitar playing, crossroads meeting Devil.  He’s got all the evil you’d expect of, well, the first person ever to shake a fist at the Lord God Almighty.  But he does bad with such style.  He smokes most things in the book.  He has sleazy love-affairs on live TV with Not!Miley Cyrus.  And he drives a Midnight Blue 1961 Lincoln Continental.
It's the one in front.
See, it’s easy to write an evil character.  You give him some puppies to kick, give her some orphans to smack, it’s easy.  What’s hard is writing fun, creative evil.  That said, Michael Poore’s Devil isn’t all that evil.  He’s not even sinister.  It’s more that he’s just very Chaotic Neutral[2].  He gives no real care to issues of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ but more to things like ‘this is fun’ or ‘that guy’s an asshole.’  It’s a rather Blue-and-Orange Morality, and it does a great job of making the Devil a likable character.  But he’s also fairly deep too.  There’s a heavy undercurrent of sadness in him, a world weariness.  And quite a lot of anger.  After all, “he got kicked out of HEavEN! And had his true love stolen by GOD! And his true love had let him four different times and he hadn’t seen her for three hundred YEARS!”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cold Days, and its Unintentional Stoicism

Warning:  This essay contains Spoilers for Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files[1]by Jim Butcher.  While the dramatic conclusion is left unrevealed, I would advise buying and reading first.  Note, this is Book 14 of an Ongoing Series, so it may take some time to get there, but believe me the journey is worth it for the intricate, immersive and at once grim and riotously funny world that Butcher crafts.

When one hears the word “Stoic”, one’s first thought is of calm, rational, unmoved thinking, something like this:
He comes up if you Google "Stoic"
However, the old term was a bit more complicated.  It did stress the rational calm of our modern conception of the word, but it also had a certain element of fatalistic determinism to it.  The Stoics Philosophy can be summed up thusly: “Virtue consists in a Will that is in agreement with Nature.”[2]  For the Stoics, a person had a certain role to play, certain actions they were bound to undertake in any situation, and certain fates that were bound to befall them, and happiness came from accepting that fact.  Later stoics took it a step further, for them if you acted without great passion you would never find yourself in unfortunate circumstances. 

This does not seem like a philosophical standpoint that would relate to Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Protagonist of The Dresden Files, the man who answers insults with conjured conflagration, who will leap directly into the path of danger because a lady is in trouble[3] and who once started narration with “The Building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault.”[4]

The Zombie T-Rex powered by Polka
makes perfect sense in context. 
However, while the main character of the series is about as stoic as Spock is emotionally driven, the series as a whole has become extremely Stoicist in its philosophies, particularly in the most recent book in the series, Cold Days.

Geeking out about Books. For Credit!

This is how it goes. You get on Facebook after class and you put up as a status the second you get to your computer something like “I’m really rather excited to be writing an essay about Marxism and Pokémon for HIST 234.” And people like, comment, ask to read. And it’s great. And then you write it and its fun and you come away with a better understanding of both Marxism and Pokémon, and your appreciation for both goes up. The best part is getting to present it to the class, because you get to share the things you learned.
A delightful bit of Detective Fiction.
Murder, British Countryfolk, Cults,
what more do you need?
I was in a class last semester where, for final presentations, people got to present about Religion and [a thing], where [a thing] usually turned out to be whatever it was they enjoyed and wanted to share. For me it was The Wicker Man, a 1973 Cult Classic Film, for another friend it was Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And it was cool and we got to share our thoughts and geek out. For me however, the best part wasn’t talking about the film itself, but reading about the production, the history, the book it was based on (Ritual, by David Pinner, if you were curious), etc. I got to geek out about books and reading them in front of class, for credit.

 I see no reason that shouldn’t be the attitude of anyone on the internet who likes books, just as much as it is for people who like Tv, Movies, Vidjagames. But, as I’ve been soberingly reminded both in Novel Writing last semester and in Literary Citizenship this semester, the world of books is declining, being swallowed up. That oughta stop, I think. I’d like to be involved in the defense of it, like to help advocate for reading. I’d like to continue that feeling from middle school where it was fine to geek out about Harry Potter, The Amulet of Samarkand, Animorphs. No, you can’t really hold any of those up as Literary Novels, but you can hold them up and say “I read these. I like them and want to share my feels about Nathaniel/John Mandrake.”

 So, this class that I’m taking, on Literary Citizenship, which is about being involved in the world of readers and writers.  For more information, follow that link. It’s going to force us to start actively being involved in this mission, this “I like books, you like books too? Let’s talk about them” universe that exists on the internet. It’s going to force us to start bridging the gap between “Readers” and “Writers.” And that’s a good thing, a great thing. I’m hoping this class will help get me actually involved in things, get me away from my general complacency and assuming that simply buying books occasionally will mean they’ll keep being around.

This blog is going to me mostly a place for me to geek out about reading and writing, but also to be intellectual in my geekery. It’s easy to say “Wow I like this book.” but it’s not so easy to say “I like this book, and here’s what I get from it, and what you can get from it too.” It’s important to be actively engaged in learning from what we read, as opposed to just observing, because then we get true, deep sustenance from a book, the sustenance that lets us grow. Especially as writers.