Monthly Archives: December 2012

Hound of the Baskervilles!

So, in interests of full disclosure, I’m “friends” with Jamie Chase who did the art in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I shouldn’t even scare quote that, because it could come off as bitchy. I’ve met him several times at Bubonicon, I’m friends with him on facebook, and I’m a pretty enthusiastic fangirl of his art style, but we’re not, like, borrowing each other’s clothes. He’s pretty awesome though, and I had a conversation with him and a bunch of other folk maybe two years ago about this Sherlock Holmes comic he was about to start work on. So I totally squeed when I saw the finished product on Netgalley. I remember when! That never happens for me. 


My art education is pretty heterodox. I worked as a picture framer for nearly two decades, so I have a scatterdash education in print-making techniques so I could identify a lithograph from a giclée – which, fun fact, the word giclée comes from the French word for “spray”, referring to the spray of ink from an ink jet printer. No one has any idea what’s going to happen with ink jet ink in 50 years – it might just fall apart or go blue like photographs – so art buyer beware on that front. Not that this has anything to do with anything, and the point of this paragraph is supposed to be about how I deal with art. 

You frame an incredible amount of populist garbage as a picture framer, so just because I never had an academic education, doesn’t mean I believe the line that fine art world is out of touch with human emotion and too avant garde for its own sake or something. I mean, yes, the fine art world is this ridiculous circle jerk, but popular couch art is depressing too. I ended up gravitating toward abstract and genre art in my second decade framing, and I super appreciate people like Jamie Chase, who are doing these really odd things with vernacular, stuff that looks initially like a straight take, but there’s this cloaked subversion in it. God, I love his stuff so much. 


So, anyway, I also have some deeply held beliefs about Sherlock Holmes. I read the absolute crap out of every single word Conan-Doyle had on the subject when I was a teen, in addition to some words other writers had on the subject too. (Like the series by local historian Larry Millett, which has Holmes solving fun Minnesota mysteries like in Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders.) Holmes, more than a lot of writing which gets fan-fictioned to death (like Jane Austen, for example), lends itself to adaption. Holmes is a pulp serial, and Conan-Doyle himself was seriously lax about chronology and canon. Watson took a bullet magically in both his shoulder and his leg while he was a doc in Afghanistan. You can fall into some serious nerd-fests trying to determine how many times Watson married and when exactly everything happened. Which is hilarious, because obviously Conan-Doyle was writing everything half-drunk, banging it out on a cost-per-word basis. There’s something brilliant about his slovenly prose, the way it rushes and jumps. The number of times he uses the word “ejaculate” to mean “exclaim” is enough to twss the modern reader into teh funnies. But Conan-Doyle’s prose fairly hurtles, immaturity aside, which makes a graphic adaption that excises most of the text a little sad. 

The Hound of the Baskervillesis an odd case, because it’s so incredibly famous, so iconic, but it’s not real typical of Holmes. Or, you know it is in the sense that Holmes tends to be really idiosyncratic. For one, Holmes stories tend to be urban, situated in the colonial crush or London, but there are a couple out in the Gothic hinterland, like the one with the bicycle or the one with the snake. (Sorry, I’m not bothering to look up their real titles.) So there’s precedent. The weird part is how focused on Watson Baskervillesis – how he’s left without Holmes for ages in the moors. Sherlock takes Watson down at the very beginning with the trick with the walking stick, and it’s pretty funny how that works – the authorial intervention of Holmes’s interpretive dick-move unsettling everything Watson observes in the later plot. 

Because, the other thing about Baskervillesis how soapy it is, how domestically Gothic. Stripped of the Doylian prose (sorry for this adjective), Baskervillesreads really Scooby Doo, what with the land deal mechanics of the plot and the fact you meet the villain straight away. (Spoiler alert, sort of, but there are very few characters here, in true Gothic style, and the red herrings are telegraphed in flaming semaphore.) So, on a technical level, I think a graphic version of Hound is a little hamstrung, especially one as faithful as this one, because the whole thing reads sillier than it does long form, what without all of Watson’s ejaculations. 

What? God! Why do you have to be so immature! 

Chase’s art is really sepia, with all the color bled out, and it took me a while to embrace it. I’m on record as a fangirl, but sometimes I have to be lead to the water before I drink. I was expecting something more Frazetta-pulp, more kaleidoscopic, because I think this would really work with stuff like The Sign of the Four what with its blow-darting aborigines and evil Mormons, etc, etc. But we’re in Goth-land here, and the Gothic is the world of the scary, soapy, reaction-shot close-up, and that’s what Chase delivers. Dude knows what I want before I want it. <3

So, anyway, I enjoyed this take on Holmes, but I think it’s a little hobbled by how the source material translates to the image, even with images as strong as this. I felt like the libretto – or whatever it’s called in comics – spent a lot of time hitting the obvious, quotable stuff in Holmes – the game is afoot! elementary! – while kinda missing the stuff that really makes Holmes the shit. But I seriously, seriously can’t wait for other Holmes adaptions from this team, because I think given this practice, they could come up with something mind-blowing. Eeee!

Disappointments: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Most of the time, I prefer to think of the universe as cold, meaningless and without a greater consciousness that imbues our lives with meaning and guides us with an unseen hand. So you can bet your sweet butt that I sat up and took notice when the universe handed me two of my most favorite things, Jane Austen and zombies, together in the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What? Have all my years of fruitless prayers been answered? There truly is a benign and smiling force who animates both undead flesh and my haphazard existence! 

I’ve been waiting on the release of this book for some time with trepidation. The idea is flawless: who doesn’t want to see reanimated corpses intrude upon the landed gentry of Regency England? But the devil is in the details, and I couldn’t know if the execution would match the fevered imaginings of my idle mind. 

Austen has always attracted fan-fic, but it’s usually more along the lines of Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. (And when I say takes a wife, what I mean is takes a wife. Right now, I’m doing that fist-pump thing that the immature use to connote sex.) It makes sense. Despite all of her savage, manly wit, Jane Austen’s stories occur in the carefully delineated world of women. Men must want for a wife, not for combat training and the feel of zombie skulls crunching under the weight of a vorpal sword. The fan-fic takes this all to the logical, romance novel end. Women marry, and then sis-boom-bah, other, more entirely throbbing vorpal swords are sunk into flesh, while toes curl and the gardener rustles below the window. 

Zombies come with their own, ready-packed symbolisms and meanings: consumerism, a sort of post-Marxist fear of the the rising masses, along with a discomfort toward mass media. One zombie is funny, a lumbering inconsequential, quickly dispatched. But many zombies, and there are always many zombies, is a force of crowd-sourcing, a d.d.o.s. attack, the worm eating your email, the end of modern life as we know it. Like scientologists. 

So what happens when we add one symbol cluster to another? Some interesting things, unfortunately done in a less than interesting manner. Many, many people have already noted that while Pride and Prejudicetakes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and soldiers factor prominently in the tale, not one word is breathed about the blood, sucking gunshot wounds and gangrene that is war in the 19th century. (Personally, I’ve always thought this observation was specious. I mean, things are about what they are about, and not about other things. Do we bitch that we don’t know more about Mrs. Lear?) Adding zombies into the story of Lizzie and her Darcy reminds us that life was about more than bonnets and barouches, that people lived and died in service of the motives of the upper classes. Workers of the world unite, and feast on brains. 

However, despite my panegyrics in the the service of the idea of this novel, the execution is maybe less than satisfying. Large, large chunks are lifted verbatim from Austen’s story, which is fine and all, but when the text strays, you can feel the graft. For example, Charlotte is bitten by one of the “unmentionables” and slowly succumbs to zombification during the course of her marriage. It works well as metaphor of the slow smothering of an unfortunate match, but to what end? Other people, in equally crappy marriages, do not zombify and need to be beheaded. So, am I just making all that stuff up about badly matched people? Is the only Zombie on top of mountaintops that which I bring with me?

Braaaaaains. (I couldn’t resist.)

The Zombie Night Before Christmas

Sure, we all hate monster mash-ups of the classics at this point. We’ve gotten jaded since the idea of the monster/classic mash-up first arrived on the scene with Pride and Prejudice and Zombieswith its great cover, hilarious study guide, and boring and dumb everything else. Our opinion faltered when we were confronted by a long string of cash-ins, from sea monsters to robots, hastily and messily stitched into anything and everything in the worst, most mercenary way. Fuck you marketing assholes for teasing us so. These books have always and ever been impulse gift books, the kind of thing squealed about after unwrapping – thank you for knowing I give a shit about classics and/or monsters – and then read on the toilet and dumped at the used bookstore. 

However, The Zombie Night Before Christmas is a cut above your usual monster/classic mash-up. For one, being a pretty short little poem, it doesn’t wear out its welcome. I cannot imagine wading through Anna Kareninaa second time just for android bits, and the concept of changing the roach into cats in The Metamorphosissends me into a rage. But whatever many lines of couplets which might have been plagiarized anyway? Sure. The art is good – really very cromulent – and my only complaint here is that there could be more of it. There are several pages where the slightly tweaked lines stand sadly alone, and a page or two more of the funny, bloody art would be cool. 

But the neatest part? So many of these mash-ups are just a half-assed pun – Android Karenina, Jane Slayre- more concerned with an attractive title and cover than creating anything but the most sopping of bullshit within the covers. But, according to the flap, “H. Parker Kelley was a curious child who wanted to know how Santa was able to bring gifts to children for hundreds of years without aging or dying.” Right before Netflix went down for the entirety of Christmas – I see how all you assholes have the day off, and are on the Netflix hard – my husband and I searched for Xmas movies. Being Netflix, much of what was available on streaming was Finnish horror films about Krampus, who, if you did not grow up Scandinavian, is like evil Santa, the stick to Saint Nicolas’ carrot.

An immortal semi-deity who can see when you’ve been naughty and nice is a scary ass thing, when you get right down to it, a sort of God-lite moral agent. While Coca-Cola, Disney, and the entire American mercantile machine has defanged the Victorian Santa who had no qualms about shoving naughty children into sacks and leaving switches in stockings, his scary, home-invasion sensibility still remains under the treacle and sugar plums. Which is why this book kinda rules. It rules more because it was a gift from someone who knows my proclivites, which maybe isn’t hard given all the shatting about zombies I do on the Internets, but the wrapped gift of one’s obsessions is a joy in any season. But even more so on Christmas Eve, the paper stripped to reveal the perfect book at the perfect moment. 

Thank you, Stephanie. You rule.

Christmas Stars: What to Get Your Younger Brother

When they finally prove the existence of the chronoton – that’s the time particle for you folks who haven’t been wallowing in science fiction lo these many years – no doubt the Christmas season will be involved. Some mad scientist will put together one of those rad boxes with der blinken lights and point it at some American trying harriedly to pack up a bunch of boxes and sign cards and survive the company Christmas party without vomiting up gross milk-based hard alcohol concoctions & anger about the recent massive layoffs on management, and the scientist will actually see the chronotons pouring off this frazzled American. Christmas sucks up all your time. All of it. It’s a black hole; a gravity well; an event horizon of weight gain and family squabbles. 


Given my tendency to misuse science concepts in the service of my Christmas melt-down, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that some enterprising editor put together a truly awesome Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of fictional delights: You got my Christmas in your science fiction! Yum. There are two things that I’m astonished by when think of Christmas Stars: Fantastic Tales of Yuletide Wonder. First, that there are enough science fiction stories about Christmas to warrant a pretty hefty anthology. Second, that some of my favorite SFF Christmas stories – which includes “Santa was” by Neil Gaiman collected in Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders and something by Charles de Lint that was about a talking dog – aren’t even included in this anthology. And third, that I can even think of other stories that could be included, but weren’t. I guess that’s three and not two. I’ll come in again. 

So, science fiction nerds, get your ass in gear and get down to whatever random thrift store has this lurking on its shelves. I’m not one for evil gift guides, but if you haven’t been able to think of anything for your younger brother, and you don’t want to get involved in the specifics of his Warhammer obsessions – honestly, whatever you get him will be wrong – this is the book for you. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he’s got on a little space suit, and so do the reindeer, and the sleigh is a spaceship. Oh, yes.


Revival: Speaking to My Soul

Oh dear. I adored this.

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One’s obsessions are hard to sort for their influence in affection. Revivalcertainly plays to some of my obsessions: the undead, the bleak midwinter Midwestern locale, the Gothic/Noir sensibility that relies on understatement more than worn tropes. Like in Raising Stony Mayhall, these are heartland zombies, flyover zombies, more concerned with the strange (dis)function of small, isolated communities than screaming bloodbaths. This blood creeps instead of splatters. I fairly loved both Revivaland Mayhall, but another should-be slam-dunk for me, Ashes, with its Wisconsin winter and plucky teens, didn’t work at all for me. The play out of one’s personal obsessions doesn’t always run to something that sinks into the skin. 

My mother and I once had a conversation about hometowns, about how people talk about them, and how we take those conversations personally. She’d had a conversation with someone who said some flip disparaging things about her hometown. They were true things to say, as far as observations from outsiders go, but to say those things to the local… maybe this was badly done. I’ve been careful since then about what I say to people about where they grew up. However, I love what I feel like are rightful depictions of the people I grew up with, the land and landscape, blahity blah, &c. Which is maybe why I never cottoned to Ashes: the opening was Wisconsin enough for me, but the whole cult-town thing felt like it was from central casting, one of those fictional places that could be anywhere (but you know, ultimately nowhere). Which is fine, and certainly not every book has to adhere to my sense of regionalism and placement. But good lord, when it happens, I flip the hell right right. When you speak to me from where I’m from, in the idiom of my location, I’m going to lose my shit. 

The undead in Revivalaren’t biters, to steal terminology from Mayhall. One day, the day of revival – and I think only on that day – all of the dead in a small area around Wausau, Wisconsin get back up. It’s not a lot of people – 23 I think the authorities know about – but then there are the undead who aren’t known to be undead – at least the one who’s a main character anyway. There are also…other things. While the perspective is not overly tight on any one character, it’s got that situated near-locality that only glances at the larger picture. This is the locality of trauma, relayed in conversations and status updates in the days and weeks after the event. 

It wasn’t so long ago that I watched horrified while a friend in Bryn Mawr, a neighborhood just on the edge of downtown here in Minneapolis, watched the bloody unfolding of the workplace shooting from split blinds, updating on facebook as it happened. It was awful, and it got worse last week with the school shooting in Connecticut. I stood in the snow waiting to get my kids that day – they the same ages as those gunned down – and the other mom whom I chatter with daily and I couldn’t meet each other’s eyes or we would lose it. “It feels like 9/11,” she said. Yeah, I thought, it does. I’m just as trapped miles from where it happened with my imagination running wild. All those classes letting out, their bodies whole and un-riddled with bullets. 

Civic trauma is local, even when it happens a thousand miles away. The area around Wausau in this book is quarantined, for lack of a better word: CDC roadblocks set up, for fear that this revival might be contagious; local police working through the usual round of domestic disturbances and drunk drivers, while also trying to manage the suspicion of the motivations of the dead. One woman, an elderly revival, pulls her magically regrowing teeth out with a pliers because if she didn’t, her false teeth won’t fit. Shudder. Shudder, shudder. And shudder some more with how her story plays out. The time scale shifts and moves, not with strict linearity, but the bright hardness of events that matter. There’s the thin edge of how the larger world is sorting the local traumas, but it’s just a thin thought, a moment in the larger smallness of how life plays out, the cabin fever of trauma. 

There are points when this civic/personal trauma is maybe cut too obviously in the book, like when the CDC doctor dude – a man whose parents are strict Muslims – notes the parallels between the suspicion for the revived with the suspicion for the Islamic – but it still worked. Especially given his half-out-loud conversation with a near-girlfriend back east, who can tell he’s started smoking again by the quality of his voice, the deepening of utterance in the wake of some fucked up shit. The way no one ever says straight out what they mean, or what is going on between them, this is the left-out communication of my people, my landscape. Mum recently joked about reading Main Street and wondering why no one ever said what they meant, but she’s not a Midwesterner like I have grown to be. Not-saying is the language I understand. 

So, the only complaint I have about this story is that I want MOAR and I want it NOW. This is pretty much the perfect package of my Midwestern cold and avoidance made inevitable and bloody and strange. This is all my obsessions made manifest, their closed mouths saying as much as blood in the snow. Uff da.


The Wishing Cake: Adjusting Expectations

I am probably being overly generous with my starrage – three stars on Goodreads – as I adore what Ellen Meister has done with the Dorothy Parker page on facebook. Seems a weird thing to say (or do), but I follow a number of dead authors on social media. I follow some live ones too, but they tend to be overly chatty for my tastes, and the dead aren’t so much interested in getting you to buy their books. Some of the goodness of the Parker page has to do with Parker’s twitter-ready style; were she alive today, she would have burned up social media. 

“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.”

“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.”

“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

“Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.”

Indeed.

But Meister is to be credited with really fabulous curation of Parker’s jabs and epigrams, along with the occasional longer form bit. Writing such as:

I think I knew first what side I was on when I was about five years old, at which time nobody was safe from buffaloes. It was in a brownstone house in New York, and there was a blizzard, and my rich aunt—a horrible woman then and now—had come to visit. I remember going to the window and seeing the street with the men shovelling snow; their hands were purple on their shovels, and their feet were wrapped with burlap. And my aunt, looking over my shoulder, said, “Now isn’t it nice there’s this blizzard. All those men have work.” And I knew then that it was not nice that men could work for their lives only in desperate weather, that there was no work for them when it was fair.

Which I had never seen, while Parker’s more epigrammatic cut-downs are more ambient and recognizable. Apparently, Meister has written a novel inspired? influenced? by Parker called Farewell, Dorothy Parker, and in the run up to publication early next year, she offered this little story for free. I bit. 

I still think I want to read the Parker novel, because the writing on a technical level was good, and I think given a subject she obviously knows a good deal about, Meister might actually say something in the novel. The Wishing Cakewas far too slight, with too many moving parts and not enough finish. (Ugh, what is that previous sentence about? You suck at the epigrammatic cut-down, Ceridwen.) In a vaguely It’s a Wonderful Life style scenario, a Brooklyn baker is given wishing powder. She wishes herself a man, and then poof! She’s a man. Some things ensue with her shitheel of a boss. 

It’s far too easy to spoil the plot of a story this short, so I’m left being unable to complain about…certain things. The gender change is treated really bathetically, with a failed pissing scene rolling into beers with a dude that made me cringe for the characterization of dudes. The various asides about language use between the sexes weren’t bad, but overall the treatment seemed rom-comedy-esque. To phrase it poorly yet again; God. I didn’t get the deal with the older couple, or their fish/deity, and certain characters were set up too well as shitsnacks for me to believe the 26-page redemption. Altogether, I wish there were more story here, which is occasionally a good thing to want, but not so when the lacunae crater motivation and catharsis. 

Really though, I suspect my problem might be one of being a genre reader in my little cranky, black heart. A gender change in a science fiction or spec fic story is going to be treated a certain way, maybe not always seriously, but with a sense to the larger ramifications. (Whether I agree with the larger ramifications is entirely a separate issue, of course.) In pop fiction, you end up with more nut shots and worn observations about the genders, with a little gay-panic romance thrown in for fun. You know, like Just One of the Guysor Mrs. Doubtfire or Tootsie. Which, blah. I pretty much hate that shit forever. But! I get that this is mostly my feminist hang-ups talking, and cheesy topicality seems to play for people who are not crank nerd feminists. Well, I seem to have found my epigrammatic bitch-face after all. 

So, anyway, I will adjust my expectations of Farewell, Dorothy Parkeraccordingly, which is probably a good effect of reading this story. I will continue to love Meister’s work on the Dorothy Parker page, because she’s very good there. I find the ability or failure of writers to work within various media pretty interesting – I like John Scalzi a ton more as a blogger than a novelist, but I pretty much want to murder his Twitter feed – and Meister might be more like Parker – memorable in the shortest form, and forgettable at the long. Which is again a bitchy thing to say, and I’m sorry. I might be a bang-up review writer and a failure at every other thing I set to paper, so at least there’s that.

Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Story

This may sound meaner than I intend, but the macabre sweetness of Cadaver: A Bittersweet Love Storyby Jonah Ansell made me like it despite the egregious poetry. For example lines such as:

LET IT GO!
Bequeath to me
The organ that was meant for she

Should be strangled with piano wire. I get you’re going for the rhyme word there, what with the she, and I know that English is a rhyme-poor language and all that noise, but it’s her. The organ that was meant for her. Don’t sacrifice grammar for the rhyme, or you sacrifice sense for artifice. That is a direct object, and while we don’t do a lot of case-changes in English, we do them with personal pronouns, and…I’m sorry. I get that my head is coming to a point here, and that this sort of thing will not bother many people. I am, as the kids say, just saying. (I don’t even know if kids say that anymore. Off my lawn.) 

So, now that I’ve begun by flipping out about prosody and grammar, here is why I still liked this odd little book. First, this story was written for a brother for his sister on her first day in med school dissecting cadavers. That’s adorable, and also creepy. I love eavesdropping art – or maybe I just love the idea of it – art that was created by this one person for this other person, and then somehow, it ends up out in the world, and we get to pretend we know something about the artist and the audience of one. It might be that all or most art is eavesdropping art, everyone writing to that audience they imagine, which doesn’t, ultimately, include me but in the abstract, and I listen in behind my book. I like that idea. I like that I thought that while reading this. 

The sister-character with her too-large square glasses and fearful little face cuts open the chest of her first cadaver. (Random aside: while I was taking Russian, I learned there are classes of nouns that are animate, and ones that are inanimate; this only become important when conjugating certain nouns or something? Living things are, obviously, animate. But there are – at least – two words for dead body in Russian, one of which is animate, and one that is inanimate. (Sub-aside: we were reading that Akhmatova poem about the true love who washes up on the beach of the Black Sea, which is why we were talking about this at all. His dead body was the animate kind of corpse, but not, like, in a zombie way.) Point being, we had this long conversation about what the English equivalent would be, and corpse we decided was the animate, andcarrion the inanimate. Cadaver, now that was a trickier case. Obviously inanimate, on one level, used at is almost always in medical or scientific contexts to strip the body and its attendant death of personality. But on another level, there’s this sense of industry and learning in this term, the vessel for occult and revealed knowledge or something.) 

Once the sister-character pulls out the cadaver’s heart, he gets up off the table – but not, like, in a zombie way – and begs to road-trip to see his wife one last time. The road trip with cadaver parts were my favorite, him in his ass-showing medical smock, her at the wheel of a big American convertible. The prosody even tightened up long enough for me to stop hating it every second of my life, and there’s a quatrain or two I thought were honestly funny. Then he meets his wife and…well, the rest here is spoilers. 



The price of admission was probably paid by a link at the end of the book that took me to the short film version of this story, along with a password. The cadaver is voiced by Christopher Lloyd, for chrissakes! One point twenty one gigawatts! The doggerel sounds better coming from voice actors and not my internal Minnesota accent, and some of the switch-backs and reveals work better in moving pictures than still. I suspect the film came first, putting this book in the same category as The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, where the book is more of an artifact of a film than a full-blown work. (Not that I have a problem with that. It is, as the kids say, what it is. Get off my lawn.) Interestingly, or maybe only interesting to me, but I can think of many more books made into film than the other way around, stuff like Lost Thing by Shaun Tan. I pretty much want to eat everything that man does with a spoon, though. But not, like, in a zombie way. 

Just kidding. Totally in a zombie way. 






I received my copy from netgalley.com. 

Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell

Even though I knew full well that a sequel to The Reapers Are the Angels was bound and determined to disappoint a mite, I freaked out anyway and ordered a copy from England. America, why you no publish Exit Kingdom? I fairly loved Reapers, with its blurry genre lines and metaphysical America, a long toothpick poling the detritus in our bloody civic teeth. I can see why some readers wouldn’t cotton to it: the heavy allusiveness and almost overt symbolism, the dialect, the stripped punctuation, the zombies. But I loved Temple. I loved her fierce orphan pragmatism, a child of the apocalypse more easy with wastelands and the dead than nail-bitten civilization and the living. She was all squinting prairie hardness and kudzu tenacity. 

Exit Kingdomis less sequel and more companion novel, a recounting by Moses Todd five years after the events in Reapers of five years before the same. Moses Todd may have been an anchor to the events of Reapers, but he was not the center, and his centrality here is uneasy and reactive. There’s another girl, the Vestal Amata, whose central mystery did not resonate with me, whose femininity and changeability seemed the kind of thing a man would understand about a woman’s nature, but no woman would ever feel inside herself, about herself. That’s fine, on some level: this is a man’s story of a woman, and not her own. People are told in many ways. 

Moses and Abraham Todd are moving aimlessly through the American wasteland. Abraham isn’t right, a predatory monster, and Moses with his unspoken code plays brother’s keeper. They are given charge of a woman, the Vestal Amata, who has a strange thrall on the unquiet dead. The dead are blind to her and her movements. Though there is no section like the hillfolk sequence in Reapers that I actively disliked, the conflicts and personalities here felt more forced throughout, more schematic. The landscape, and especially the dead themselves, that I found even more strong than in the previous novel: Moses’s hands on the bellies of airplanes in a rusting hangar; the eyes of a dead man slowly blinking under ice; the dry bones trying to stand in the desert aridity. 

So, if you enjoyed The Reapers Are the Angels, you will likely enjoy this, but in a worn way, in a way that tries to recapture a dream slipped out like a fish. Now that I write that, I remember with a painful clarity the nightmares I had from this book last night – a nightmare far out of scale from the near placid and resigned tone of this book. There were children – a school room – and so much blood from biting as the infection spread from child to child. Today’s events in Connecticut – I cannot stop crying. I dream nightmares that come true. Oh, America, I fear and grieve for you so much. Moses Todd does too, and that part we can agree on.

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown

Aww, you guys, this is so cute.

 Darth Vader and Sonis not particularly weighty – really more a series of punchlines and moments than a narrative – but got a gentle, almost wistful sensibility in with all the sight gags. Darth Vader, it turns out, has the same kind of distracted, lightly exasperated style of parenting that a lot of us Xers have fallen into. Because it also turns out that kids don’t get irony for a very long time – or ever, if some of the comments I see on reviews are an indication – and sometimes irony is the only defense against potty training.

Sometimes these little toilet reads or impulse books can feel mercenary or half-assed, like they were just slapped together for a buck. I don’t get that vibe here at all, though I could be bringing my love of Jeffrey Brown in from other books I’ve read of his. But no, I’ll go with it: this has the feel of care, and also the near earnestness of Brown’s humor. He’s not sarcastic or mean, but at the same time he stays out of treacle or overt sentiment. God, it’s just so adorable.

I’m totes getting this for my brother-in-law. Shhh, nobody tell him.

Review: Iced by Karen Marie Moning

I’ll give you the take-home before I write this review, because I might get bored and wander off: Dani O’Malley is the Scrappy Doo of the Feververse. Which makes her the Dawn Summers, Jar Jar Binks, or Wesley Crusher of this franchise, if you lack familiarity with the buzzkill that is Scrappy Doo. 

I wanted to give my read of Icedby Karen Marie Moning the most auspicious reading environment possible, so I waited until I was good and sick with a cold that has surely done something terrible and permanent to my lungs to start reading. I hated the crap out of the opening of Darkfeverwhen I read it in full health, and it was only after being softened up by illness that I was able to stop hating Moning’s writing tics and Mac’s voice long enough to get into the story. Darkfeverended up being a solid read for me, definitely not the best thing I’d ever read or anything, but interesting enough to hook me into reading book two. 

Which is when I went completely insane with TEH FEVER and spent some of the most enjoyable lost Sundays of my reading life freaking out about Mac and Barrons and the increasing stakes and deepening darkness of the Fever world. Moning’s got some stones in that series, pitching a full scale armageddon into the third (I think) book, raining death and destruction down on our little attack Barbie, building a complicated mythos, and kicking ass while chewing bubblegum.

Girl-pulp has never especially been my thing, but the Fever books had my number. I am not now, nor have I ever been, anything like MacKayla Lane – had I known her in high school, I would have written evil shit about her in my journal while sitting friendless in the library – but older me certainly appreciated her difficult transformations from helpless bobble-head to someone who managed to be both girlish and powerful. Plus, the Fever books managed to tackle issues of sexuality and trauma in a way I think girl-pulp is essentially attuned to, but usually cocks up because of wish fulfillment or chicken shitting out or something. 

Point being, I knew Dani from the Fever books. I knew how much she bugged the ever-loving fuck out of me. And I knew my shabby track record with book ones of series by Ms. Moning. (I see I have failed to mention that I tried to read the first of her Highlander books and fell asleep with the effort; reheated Outlanderwithout the historical research being the elevator pitch.) I knew I would do better to read this in an uncritical and infected frame of mind, which I duly did. Alas, friends, I think I would have had to have been a lot sicker to have enjoyed this book. Sicker being the operative word. 

Dani O’Malley is living in a post-fae-mageddon Dublin, a parentless street-kid fourteen who is simultaneously pretending to worldliness and younger than her years. Her voice is greatly toned down from her sections in the Fever books, which is fecking good news, because there is absolutely no way I could have taken 400+ pages of that. But it brings me to my first real problem: why in the sam hell do we have a protagonist in a romance series who is fourteen years old

I did a quick check, because I’m anal that way, and I see a notable number of people have shelved this on their “young-adult” or “ya” shelves on Goodreads. Setting aside the fact that the author herself has stated this book is for grown-ups – authorial intent only goes so far with me, and for the thousands of teens that are going to read this book anyway, classifications be damned – for many folk, age of the protagonist is the defining characteristic of young adult literature. And Dani is this obnoxious spaz, literally hyperactive with her ability to move at superhuman speeds: the unkillable, unstoppable force of adolescence. All of her damaged narrator stuff could totally work as a young adult narrative, what with the whole coming to terms with both childhood and childlike cruelty and abuse angle, blahblah blah. 

But for me, it’s not so much the age of the protagonist as the sensibility of the writing, and I firmly believe that that sensibility is pretty well fucked in this book. It’s a pretty standard device of the romance novel to have the protagonist not understand her own desirability, running conversations where dude looks at her with eyes darkened with desire, and she cluelessly wonders, do I have something on my face? (Sookie fucking Stackhouse is the reigning champ of this, despite her alleged psychic powers.) That happens one billion times in this novel, sometimes from point of view sections from dude composing odes to the rigid cock Dani gives him. I’m sorry, what? Come again? No, wait, don’t, because that’s totally fucking gross. Fourteen years old.

It’s not that I don’t think 14 year olds don’t have sexualities. I kissed my first boy at 14, and listened to friends report much more, um, adult interactions at that age. It’s not that I even think that sex or cussing don’t have a place in young adult literature. But I do not like this 14 year old romance heroine in this world of pedophile sex clubs – she keeps thinking back on a club at Chester’s that she zoomed through where the working girls were all dressed in little girl costumes while the customers had their explicit way – a romance heroine who is chained up, stripped to her underpants which are described in detail; a romance heroine who at one point wakes up in a bed with a naked dead woman who was literally fucked to death; a romance heroine who, in an almost laughably cliche section, almost succumbs to hypothermia and must be gotten nude with not one but two dudes whose erections are described as they warm her back to life. This is not young adult content. This is adult content, and I find it alarming in the extreme that 1) I am to identify with Dani as a romance proxy and 2) I’m to find any of this sexy at all. 

I’m not going to entertain arguments that Dani is somehow older than her years because she’s had a traumatic childhood. Her sections are solidly first person, and my impression of her internal age is even younger than 14: the invincibility, the obsession with candy, her childish conceptualization of her relationships (hers with Dancer being the most ridiculous, imao). So an abused child can make herself dinner; that doesn’t mean she’s an adult. That means she’s surviving, and just barely. I’ve even seen apologia that posit that because in “traditional” cultures, women would be married with children at 14, this makes all the penis-rubbing on Dani okay. This makes my head explode with rage. This is an adult book for modern adult readers and that we should find all this sexualization of a character who by her own fucking admission doesn’t get what’s going on around her acceptable is fucking sick. Just, fuck, I hate that I’m even talking about this at all. 

Whether this book is young adult or not, it grosses me out that I’m thinking more about the state of the erect penises around Dani than I am about the very real fucking emotional trauma of her childhood and existence. She was kept in a cage as a child, for chrissakes, and it sicks me right out that I’m obviously supposed to be speculating more about which of the three – count them, three – dudes might finally slip her some dick than I am about how obviously fucked up she is as a person, as a child, and as a nascent woman. God. As either young adult or adult literature, that’s a major fail. And given how well Moning handled Mac’s grief for her sister, despite Barrons walking around like sex-on-a-stick for ages, it feels like a bigger fail. 

Now, that I’ve worked myself up to a froth, back to Scrappy Doo. I think I might have handled all of these pedobear stylins better if there were a story here I gave a shit about, something with emotional weight and teeth. Much as I love Scooby Doo, the reluctant dog detective angle here in Icedis both half-assed and boring: Dani’s trying to figure out how and why parts of Dublin are getting flash-frozen and then exploding. Nothing much happens with this for hundreds of pages, short of Dani coming up against some penises and trying to find candy bars. Mac bugged the shit out of me in Darkfever, but her quest for her sister’s killer felt like something emotionally real, while here it just felt like Dani yelling lemmee at ‘em, I’ll splat ‘em, but without direction, as this long, obnoxious avoidance of real traumas. 

Given the last scene (which is far too spoiler to detail), maybe that’s what Moning is going for – a narrative calculated to show the avoidance mechanisms of trauma – but, if that is true, she’s done a helluva job pissing me off and screwing around before she gets to that in the next book. I’m not saying that ending was a cliffhanger – certainly not the kind of cliffhanger I grudgingly expect from KMM – but it does have the televisual omigod that has you sitting with your thumb up your ass until next week’s episode. (Or, you know, not with the thumb.) I resented the shit out of the cliffhangers in the Fever books because I gave a damn, but here I’m solidly in fuck it, who cares territory. I’m not reading that next book short of miraculous reviews from people I trust, and even if it is miraculous, Icedis disastrous enough for me to warn away everyone but the most avid Fever fan or lover of Scrappy Doo. And to the latter: what is wrong with you? 

And, as a final bitch-move, my alternate cover: 

a pedobear peeking out from broken glass with the Iced: a Dani O'Malley novel written over it