Category Archives: shills up and down my spine

unsafe on any screen

Unsafe on Any Screen by Scott Phillips

I’m really trying here to come up with a Walter Benjamin quote about media studies and engagement with popular culture, and I’m totally failing, which is about right. Obviously, I spend waaaay too much time reading all of y’alls lovely, personal reviews of all kinds of books. Books I would never read; books I have been warned away from; books I’ve been ordered to read; books I have on the long and growing list that I will never complete because some day I’m going to die.
Even though I have less engagement with movies, as an art form, I compulsively read movie reviews as well. I have the reviewers I trust, and the reviewers I know that I can take anything they say and turn it inside out, so that a bad review becomes a recommendation. I have a passing interest in trash movies, but not a full-blown love affair. Mostly my affection for bad movies leads back to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the times I spent with my family watching MST3K. My immediate family, growing up, was all-female, and I still have the warmest of memories of watching bad movies on Thanksgiving, with my mother & sister, in lieu of the football that was de rigueur in most co-ed households.

Scott Phillips doesn’t just have nostalgia to warm him when he watches grindhouse trash, he has a full-blown and well articulated love. This is awesome, and makes for a fine collection of movie reviews. Leonard Maltin, you may fu*k yourself. Many of the movies reviewed in this slender volume cannot be found on Netflix or even in your local video store, should you have such antiquated things in your location. You have to seek these movies out. They are made by people on no budget, with a group of friends, and a maniacal laugh. Or they were made on a budget and then disappeared. Phillips has an encyclopedic knowledge of the pedigree and taxonomy of trash cinema, so that he can draw lines between this director and that, this actor, this imprint, etc. Awesome.

I get the impression that Unsafe on Any Screen started life as a blog, so some of the reviews are annoyingly short. Kind of like my – and many people’s – early reviews. But once he starts cooking, man, what a joy to behold. He has really weird grading scales: one about how many greased gorillas he’d fight to watch the film in question, and one about how many scotches, or whiskeys? it takes to get through the film. I endorse this. The scotch metric in particular, not because I especially love scotch, but because it can be either a bad or a good thing that a particular film is awarded the high scotch metric. I feel this way about a thousand things: that they are awesome, but they make me drink, or that they are terrible, and they make me drink. Or they are nothing at all and I remain sober. It gets at the whole deep ambivalence I feel towards so much stuff, even the stuff I love, in an intensely satisfying way. My only real complaint is that there is no index. At least the reviews are alphabetical.

What it comes down to is that I’m as fascinated by the critical process as I am with the art/trash in question, and this book is as much a love letter to the silly fun we have while watching bad movies as it is to the movies themselves. His exuberance is infectious, like an alien pathogen beamed down to a small Italian village that infects a scantily clad babe. It’s going to eat someone’s brains, but it might just take its top off before it does so.

Keep circulating the tapes.

Also, P.S., Scott is a friend of mine, which is how come I read this, in interests of full disclosure. I never know where to put these disclosures: at the front, like I’m defensive, or at the close, like I’m sneaking? I guess I’m going with sneaking this time. The thing is, there’s no such thing as objectivity, so I’m not even going to pretend that the fact I think Scott, personally, is awesome didn’t have an effect on my read. It did. But in this case, his balls-out love of his subject, his total commitment to  the barrel-bottom of sleaze and cheese movies resonated for me. I know love when I see it, and he loves this shit. Amen.

Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder

So, I got a message from a friend of mine who lives out of town. “You, like, read, right?” My friend asked. (I’m being hugely unfair here in my characterization of Emily; she and I have swapped many a book.) Turns out, Steve Ulfelder is a friend of her husband’s from college, and he was going to be here in Minneapolis doing press for the newest book in this series, Shotgun Lullaby, and maybe I’d be interested in checking out the signing? Sure, I said, because even though mysteries are pretty far out of my reading interest, I’m game. I like playing desultory ambassador of my city. Plus, it gave me an excuse to visit in Once Upon a Crime, a mystery bookstore which is walking distance from the house I grew up in, but (because of my reading proclivities) I’ve never steeped foot in.

Boy, what a cute little bookstore: pin-neat, well-curated, with a large section of local mysteries festooned with signed stickers and little hand-written notes. It’s the kind of place that I suspect will close when the aging proprietors – who were incredibly chatty and informative – retire, and it will not be replaced. I would like us all to pour some out to the fading animal that are the corner bookstores. I’m still stinging from the loss of Orr Books, and I would like to extend a middle finger to the people who tore down and evicted that entire block so they could put in a piece of shit furniture store made out of tick-tack and coolness. They don’t make brownstones or bookstores like that anymore, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

But before I start frothing at the mouth about city politics and preservation, I should probably remember I’m trying to write a book review. I ended up talking to the small collection of folk at the signing. There were the proprietors, and Ulfelder, a smattering of non-talkers, and a dude who might have been some kind of publishing flack? I demurred that I knew next to nothing about the mystery genre, which prompted pretty fantastic sermonettes from all and sundry about the various sub-genres, and some cool observations about genre jumping and the like. It sounded a lot like conversations I’ve haddelivering the sermonette about science fiction, but with wholly different referents and traditions. You may not be my people, mystery readers, but I pound my heart at you. 

Conway Sax in Purgatory Chasm is one of those dudes whose wallets undoubtedly is emblazoned with the words bad motherfucker, who, I would not be surprised to learn, occasionally rode a shark into a volcano once or twice in his drinking days. He’s ten years into sobriety, a meeting-after-the-meeting member of an AA group known as the Barnburners. Started as a non-national-charter AA group for badasses and ex-cons, it’s since neatened up and gone national, but not entirely. Conway’s been an enforcer over the years for Barnburner business, and half-sketched kneecappings and even a manslaughter two conviction dot his past. When a Barnburner asks for help, Conway provides it. 

dude flying a shark into a volcano

So when Tander Phigg, congenital asshole and Barnburner, asks Sax with help getting his Mercedes back from a second rate auto outfit, Sax steps up. It’s all super sketchy, Sax doesn’t trust anything Phigg says for a second, and it all turns into a big mess pretty fast. Sax was a NASCAR also-ran – before the drinking ruined his career – and a mechanic afterwards, and one of the funnest parts of this novel, for me, was the industry insider observations about cars, customers, how the car trade works, and the like. I work in the building trades, and while my cast of characters is slightly different, there are still a fair number of anecdotes that sound like bullshit when I go to tell them. 

I once knew a dude named Sean – and I swear on a pile of bibles this is true – who had an identical twin brother named Shawn. They pronounced Sean as seen to differentiate. Every day he listened diligently to KQ92 because he and his brother always put in for some daily contest thing. When I asked how he would know they were reading his name and not his brother’s, he was like, I don’t follow you. I didn’t rephrase. Good luck, Sean pronounced seen. There’s some folk like this, and some more ordinary folk, and they rub up against each other in a plot. It’s cool. I like the idiomatic style and the badassery. 

I also liked the Boston / New Hampshire locale, which, given my limited dealings with the area, felt kinda accurate to the social milieu. There’s maybe way too much driving around, but then when you’re dealing with NH, state-shaped suburb of Boston, that’s probably accurate too. I spent some time laughing and shuddering about the NH survivalist brothers, as they were more or less my in-laws’ neighbors for a while in rural New Hampshire. Live free or die, man. I was less enamored by all the daddy crises in the book – Conway’s own deal with his dad felt…maybe forced is the wrong word, let’s call it shoehorned – but then, as I’ve noted, I’ve never had the bother of being a boy growing into a man and all. I did appreciate all the declensions of recovery – many of the players are alcoholics in various relationships to the wagon, and there’s this low-grade conversation about how that all works, or doesn’t. 

Anyway, so I’m glad Emily dropped me a line, and I’m glad I read this. It turned out I can like this hard-boiled business, because I like profanity-laced choppy prose about fuckups and weirdos that isn’t trying too hard. It did me right fine for a Sunday porch read. 

Starglass by Phoebe North

The Italian cover for Paradises Lost,
the generation ship novella by UKL

The whole concept of the generation ship flips me out. I’m not even that comfortable with the idea of being on a spaceship (or a submarine) not because of claustrophobia, but because is there air out there?? NO THERE IS NOT. I just spent nearly four days in a blackout that had me boiling water for baths and kiting power from the neighbors (who had power due to the inexplicable ways of the city grid), and I’m keenly aware of how tenuous our systems are, how it took thousands of technicians pulled from as far away as Colorado to get me back into hot water and an icebox. And with my power outage I won’t be screaming silently into space as my lungs freeze

While most stories occurring on generation ships don’t focus on the technological fragility of a ship ginned up and sent out for hundreds of years into the void, that trapped and helpless feeling is in everything. Here are a thousand people whose living space was chosen for them, irrevocably; there will be no technicians from Colorado when things go wrong. Power structures, of all kinds, must be managed and cared for by people whose lives are by needs insular and rigid. Everyone must do their part because the alternative is not chaos, but death. (Just as a sidebar, this argument gets made politically here on Spaceship America a lot, which is part of the reason that the extremity of the generation ship resonates for me so well. Just because all members of society must contribute what they can doesn’t mean injustice has to be a part of that contribution, etc.) 

Starglass starts, fittingly, with the letter of one of the first generation, the earth-born who left a doomed planet Earth, writing to her daughter about her lost planet and the unknown future. I kinda don’t get book trailers – or maybe it’s just the ones I’ve seen are a little dopey – but this book trailer captures the elegiac tone quite well. We then meet 12 year old Terra on the morning of her mother’s funeral, the very beginnings of the grief and fracture which will color all the events of the novel, the relationships and personalities. 

The heart of this novel is grief, and as such, it makes for a more musing and introspective young adult novel than I think is typical. We meet Terra again at 16, on the eve of her graduation, where the government of Asherah metes out the living assignments for the graduating class. Her home life has turned into a cold war punctuated by emotional violence, an emotionally distant and voluminously alcoholic father clinging to his concept of societal mitzvah in lieu of real parental connection. The dad kind of killed me, the way it seemed obvious to me that on some level he loved his daughter, but he was so badly broken that it came out in these awful, inexcusably cruel ways. That I can have sympathy for him and still hate him and the things he does to Terra speaks to subtle characterization, this horrible, sad, broken, dutiful man who has pasted himself back together using his most selfish instincts. 

As befits a coming of age novel in a locked room society – remember, there are no technicians from Colorado – much of the plot centers on Terra’s growing political sense as she adjusts to her new work life. (And her work placement is an almost clustercuss of mistakes and silences that flow out of her learned self-containment as a result of her mother’s death. Say it with me: the personal is the political.) The people of the starship Asherah are Jews of a post-apocalyptic diaspora, who are, in a way, looking forward to yet another diaspora when they reach the new chosen land of their target planet. That day is coming soon, and the tensions between various factions, who will lead, and who has the right to all comes to bear not just on Terra, but everyone around her in ways that are confusing and personal. 

I feel much more closed-mouth about books I review beforethey are published, so I will just gesture to my contentment about how Terra manages her romantic life. The society on Asherah is rigid in the ways it constructs family life – everyone will marry, and have two children, a girl and boy, when they are told to do so – and that this does not and cannot work for many is maybe only a surprise to the young, who have been locked into their own family failures, cut off by silence and fear that they are the only ones. Here on starship My House, I have a girl and a boy and a husband, and a series of conflicts that I live with without ever updating to facebook or disgorging to the uninitiated. We lock ourselves into our choices and habits, and some of those choices are beautiful, and some of them abrade, and we pick our ways between the two as best we can. 

Anyway, as a conclusion, I just want to note that, as much I loved the shit out of the careful, grieving tone of this story, the personality driven conflicts, and the slow understandings that unfold, as the first part in a duology, the ending might be abrupt for some readers. Really though, it is my firm belief that in young adult novels, the leap is as important as the landing, and Terra’s leap is a sight to behold. I’m more than interested in seeing where she lands, but I’ll hold her there, in the darkness, struggling towards the promised land. 

Full disclosure: I am friends with Phoebe North on Goodreads, and I received an ARC from the publisher, but no cookies were promised or exchanged for my review or opinion, which is decidedly my own.

Unforeseen: Journey Through Rust and Ruin by Sarah Bartsch

I swear by all that is holy that I’m going to figure out how to punch the Goodreads search engine right in the freaking neck. Twice. Hard.

Why, you ask? (Or maybe you don’t, but uncaring bystanders are next on my list when my blood is up.)

Let me explain. 

It all started a couple years ago when my husband dragged me to Bubonicon so we could see his boyfriend and hang out with other nerds. Being a somewhat reticent girl – don’t let my shouting online fool you; I am naturally a homebody and an introvert – I was maybe not all that jazzed about this in the abstract. But it was pretty much like coming home, because nerds (or more importantly, bookish, writerly nerds) are my people. One of those people I met was Sarah, and she is absolutely one of my favorites. 

So, it was with some trepidation I picked up her novella, Unforeseen: Journey Through Rust and Ruin, because I know what a horrible bitch I am in reviews sometimes. And she knows that too, which makes this whole process a little awkward. Mostly I just don’t write reviews for friends’ books that I dislike – truth is beauty and all that, but we all gotta live on this globe, and friends are better than any critique. But – phew! – I honestly liked this. 

Miyako is a samurai-daughter in an alt-Japan, c. 1915. My Japanese history is a little furry, but it seems that the reforms instituted in the Meiji Restoration never happened, and samurai continued on into the run-up to the first world war, but spreading out to the gentry and merchant classes in a way your more daimyo types wouldn’t have particularly liked. Miyako is one of these: trained into a system of honor and warfare, but not exactly comfortable there because of her class and gender. This Japan, not unlike the real 1915 Japan, is isolated from Western technology, but worried about the war brewing. She is sent on a mission into one of the semi-magical portals managed by the military to scavenge technology from whatever she finds on the other side. 

She walks through the glowing door into a world of scorched air and bandits, a dome city and automata. Which, oorah. This is deeply fun stuff, the kind of play through harsh, alien environments by competent but still uncomfortable girls that turns my crank as a reader. Miyako blusters her way through an environment alien to her sensibility, managing to keep from goggling at cars and trains and showers, but just barely. I want to ride on one of those, she thinks, again, and again, about all the wonders that this more modern, but still alternate Japanese city provides. Which is why I love science fiction, when you get down to it: the barely held-down freak-out about all the very cool things we can imagine and then walk through, as readers. Miyako supplies wonder to even the terrible things in the harsh world she ends up in.

But here’s my problem: two alternate history Japans are a lot of alternate history Japans to manage in a novella. So I did some googling, and it turns out that Unforeseen is one of a number of shared world novel/las, which start with Gateway to Rust and Ruin. From the Empires of Steam and Rust website:

It is 1915, but not the one you know.

In Europe, the old empires stand on the brink of war, and war zeppelins darken the skies. In the East, China has spread its influence as far as the South American Coast, and may soon come into conflict with America, which has annexed Mexico, and is looking further south. But the plans of the great powers may all soon come to naught, for something new has come into the world.

On every continent, in every nation, holes have appeared, in the sky, in the ground, in the water, that seem to lead to another world. Some are no more than pin-pricks in reality. Some could swallow a battleship whole. Some seem to provide an instant conduit from place to place. A man entering one in Zurich might well come out another in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies an instant later. Others have no exit, and those who enter them are never seen again.

All are leaking.

Some emit strange gasses. Others birth weird animals and insects. Still others alter the environment around them in subtle, unsettling ways, and may eventually change the whole world.

Which, cool. I’m all in. I find the whole idea of shared world writing – where different authors bring their craft to a world with specific parameters – totally worthy. It’s such a friendly, personable way of writing fiction; a call and response between people who are often congenital introverts. But I would have really appreciated this introduction to the Steam & Rust world when I began reading Sarah’s story as some sort of preface or introduction. I am absolutely willing to sort all this stuff out on my own as a reader, and I did, but I admit my default is laziness.

So, you’re welcome, Steam & Rust readers. I went in and tried to make an Empires of Steam and Rust series on Goodreads, so you could see in in one place all of the shared world novel/las, but I ran into the absolute freaking shittiness of the Goodreads search function. Even though I was able to add three of the fictions, for some reasons Goodreads couldn’t cough up Revolution of Air and Rusteven though I can find the damn novella on a google search and it looks like Summers even did a godamn Goodreads giveaway. Double-you the actual fuck here? Why can’t Goodreads even see this novel? Rarrrrrrrrr, and then the throat punch.

Miyako makes her way through her adventure in her own alternate history with wit and some badass sword skills, learning the way the young often do that her world is more complex and crappy than she thought. Here’s my next criticism, and it’s the best one: I want more about her. Having established not one alt-Japan but two, and a set of characters and even a robot I admire, I would kill to see how this all plays out and what happens next. More, please, Sarah. <3

Squirrel Eyes by Scott S. Phillips

Scott Phillips posted this video of The Blue Man, which is the short film the protagonist made as a kid in the book, and Scott made in real life as a kid in, um, real life. Super 8mm done by kids about a post-apoc wasteland in the 70s! <3

….

Oh man, Squirrel Eyeswas so fun to read. I didn’t really know what to expect, because I’ve seen a few of Scott’s movies, which are definitely more on the grindhouse end of things. Fight scenes, blood splatter, some boobies, maybe some zombies, and off they go. They’re fun, if you are into zombies, boobies, and/or blood splatter, but maybe aren’t for everyone. I don’t mean that as a dis; genre tastes are what they are. 

This is not a grindhouse book, whatever the hell that might mean. This is an affecting, anecdotal story about dreams deferred. Our first person protagonist, Alvin, starts the story by slinking back to Albuquerque from LA after his girlfriend leaves him and his film-writing career goes to shit. He drunkenly hits on the idea of making it with his high school girlfriend as the way of getting his mojo back. This is an incredibly bad idea – we all know this – but it makes pretty perfect sense in the stew of shame and loss that Alvin is living in. He falls into re-making a short film that had been an aborted project as a teen, and the sections detailing the process have a lived-it feel & good physicality. 

Alvin’s voice is just fantastic, and the chapters read like personal anecdotes told by someone who is an excellent anecdotalist. I have this friend Mewes who is the master of the personal anecdote, and he has a couple that I beg him to tell me whenever he’s drunk enough. Many of them are from his time in the Peace Corps, and all of them center on vomit and/or diarrhea. At some point, you know he’s going to say, “So there I was…” I’m already giggling thinking about them, and I’m sorry I will not relate them right now, because I’ll just botch them.

Anyway, Alvin reminds me of Mewes, not because of stories of vomit – although there is one funny interlude in this book about the technicolor yawn – but because he’s got this great conversational style that knows how to take the folk idiom and twist it. (One example I can think of without looking it up: “She was built like a brick shithouse full of bobcats.” Hahaha! Wonderful extension of the brick shithouse folk metaphor.) He’s got great timing, and the chapters often end with a nice knife twist, not one that draws readerly blood in an act of cruelty, but one intended to make you look at the situation in a slightly different way. 

I found myself laughing a lot while I read this, which is funny on exactly two levels, bitches. It was funny because it was funny, of course, but then it was funny because there’s this profound core of loss and pain in this story. The sections that deal with Alvin’s family – his mother and brother – rang especially with a kind of truth of disappointment and love, and hung uneasily with the ways family can be wonderful and awful in the same moment. There’s this running gag where Alvin starts sobbing every time he gets into a shower – something about the running water unleashing the floodgates – and while this is written semi-comically, it’s that sort of Chekhovian comedy that is not funny at all

This is what kind of kicked the shit out me in the end: talent is not the same as success; and passion does not translate from one medium to another. I totally apologize for this dorky allusion, but I kept thinking of Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto” as I read this, especially at the end. Browning’s poem is one of his dramatic monologues, about a lesser know Renaissance painter named *cough cough* Andrea del Sarto. He’s a failure only of sorts, destined to be a footnote to Michelangelo, Raphael, da Vinci, but a powerful painter of his own. Browning writes del Sarto’s monologue as he begs his wife not to cuckold him again, but only in the most euphemistic of terms. The way he talks about his art with both deprecation and longing cleaves me: 

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for? All is silver-grey,
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

Alvin’s a sort of novelistic Andrea del Sarto: a successful vision of loss and failure; conversational and complete on its own, but still bending to the incompleteness that is the lives of all of us who are not stunning geniuses of whatever form. Does that make any sense? It might not. I guess I’m trying to say that I liked how Alvin struggled, finding his joys in the wreckage, remembering what drove him to his life choices, the passions that drive him, etc. The ending was a little rushed for me – I feel like there was a missing scene or two, especially that final, missing confrontation with the ex-girlfriend – but it was otherwise a sensible ending. A good book. 

And a last note: I know Scott, and he sent me a copy of this book to read, for full disclosure. It was only available as an ebook at that point – this has changed – and this precipitated a huge crisis for me as I tried to make my phone into an ereader. A completely ridiculous amount of gnashing of teeth and emails ensued, until I thrust my phone on my friend Jeremy, and demanded he make the Nook application work. Success! I didn’t mind reading it on the little screen too much, but it ran down my batteries like crazy, and I still prefer paper. So there.

clownfucker – why can’t i find a link? also, drinking

Wooooo! 

I’ve been drinking!

Wooo!

Time to review some shit that’s been sitting around on my read-but-not-reviewed pile for some time. Part of this is that I feel like, sober, I need to run this huge apology for reading monster porn and reviewing it on the internets. I am friends with my mother, my father, some of their colleagues, my sister, my husband, some of my neighbors, their relations, people I went to high school with, ex-boyfriends, college friends, internet friends, et freaking cetera. Hi guys! I totes read a book called clownfucker

You’re welcome. 

Also, hey, I’ve been drinking! 

If I had the energy to do a google image search, for sure I would have a funny picture here. For sure googling “clown” and “fucker” is a bad idea, and even in my current state, I know that. You’re welcome again.

I blame karen. She started down the path of monster porn – what is going on with people writing about fucking monsters? – and I loves her reviews of such a creature so much I got pulled into the wake. If you are looking for hot sex scenes with monsters – you don’t have to admit it, because you’re not drinking and befriended to, like, everyone in your life, so that tomorrow when you wake up and think, fuck, what have I done? you don’t care – you are not going to find hot sex scenes with monsters here. I have been a part of a romance reading group for a coupla years now, and I have never once seen the words “labia majora” used unironically until now. I haven’t even seen them used ironically. I’m not sure there is enough irony in the world to make term “labia majora” ironic. It’s like fucking a text book. 

However, clownfucker - which used to be available on Smashwords, but now I can’t find a link –  is seriously fucking awesome. Or awesome while fucking? A woman – maybe; it’s been a while – works for one of those evil multinational corporations, and learns that they are working on a “productivity dildo”: a thing that you shove up your ass which will secrete hormones and drugs and stuff to make you more productive for the company. Of course, this is notmandated, but you can see how in not very long, the productivity dildo will be a de facto requirement of employment. And then a couple of girls double-team a clown!1!!

Shudder. 

Shudder.

Anyway, I want to give the whole concept of the productivity dildo – something my brain wants to call the prosperity dildo in a seriously extra-perverse way – one million stars. I want to give the term “labia majora” negative stars, so I’m left somewhere in the middle. Not that I’m starring anything tonight, in my current state. 

Wooo!

We’ll see how many of you irl folk I unfriend before the email goes out tomorrow. 

Wooo!

Pete: Drinker of Blood: Who’s Got Your Belly?

I was recently telling a friend of mine about Pete, Drinker of Bloodby Scott S. Phillips – a friend who isn’t really big on genre fiction – describing the lovable schlub of a vampire who is our Pete, how he’s the antithesis of cool or fancy or popular, kinda stuck in the 70s classic rock milieu that existed when he turned. (I’ve been joking with my man about how my brain keeps calling this “Pee-Drinker of Blood,” which doesn’t really work grammatically, but the brain wants what it wants. Like Bear Grylls.) And my friend was like, you know? That’s actually really clever.
And it is pretty clever, and I hadn’t really noticed. Vampires in the modern vernacular tend to be these aristocratic fancypantses, whose long life is synonymous with compound interest and vast holdings, the long con of wealth in its longest form. The vamps in urban fantasy or its kissing cousin, paranormal romance – which is UF with sex scenes, as far as I’m concerned – tend to be these tragic, fopsy folk, mired in apologetic noblesse oblige, who get thrown a bang by wide-eyed waitresses and students for being soooo soorrry that they raped and murdered their way into wealth and long life. Let me pull my sexy sadface long enough for the ladies to drop trou.
Which can be awesome, don’t get me wrong. I kinda love the parts in Buffy when Angel gets all emo about how evil he was as Angelus, eating rats all soulful-like. (I might love it more when they flashback to when he was Angelus, because Boreanaz’s really bad Irish accent plus the serious television-budget minimalism of the “gradeur” makes for an unintentionally funny mix.) Nobody really writes blue collar comedies anymore – I think the last one of note was Roseanne, though I don’t really follow sit-coms – but they are especially thin on the ground in UF/PNR. A case could be made for the Sookie books, what with the fangbangers and all the folksiness of Sookie’s Wal*Mart fashions, but that’s not really a comedy, right? Certainly not intentionally, the inherent funniness of banana clips factoring into a love scene with a straight face notwithstanding. 
So, Pete’s a hopeless dork long before he became a vampire, and a hopeless dork for decades after. He’s plugging along in a hopeless job, in a hopeless apartment, with hopeless and moldering interests. And I’m making this sound like a drag, but it’s so not. Pete is finally working up to hitting on a cheerful waitress when the dude who turned him comes back to town with fell and dire purpose. Apparently, killing regular folk isn’t working anymore, so Pete’s sire has to pee-drink the blood of vampires to stay alive. (Or undead, whatever.) Pete’s gotta get the band back together, which means heading to Club Emoglobin (seriously, best vamp club name ever) to deal with the dickweeds who constitute the sire vamp’s gets. Which doesn’t go that well. 
Here’s where the really great class commentary comes in, because there are all of these beautiful, hilarious, bathetic character sketches for hipsters vampires who have self-styled with the douchiest of names, things like Lord Greystoke, only that’s not really one of them. You know what I mean, because I’m not looking it up. Pete woos his lady and does some goat-sucking, drives around in a tragic, classic car, and generally is the kind of dude who has a lot of band tee-shirts and heart. He manages to get a lot of people wearing way too much velvet to go kick some sire ass, and it’s wonderful and simple and ordinary how he comes into his gross new powers and love and stuff. I just want to rub Pete on his belly. Who’s got your belly, Pete?
I was writing along with the installments as Pete, Drinker of Bloodwas coming out as a serial novel – though I understand that the individual parts are coming down now that this is completed and edited for minor continuity errors and the like. Gotta say, I’m jazzed I don’t have to do that anymore, because, boy, does that get spoilerful after about the fourth. Anyway, here’s my disclosure: Scott is a friend, and my man did the layout for the final cover. (And all of the covers for the serializations are collected in the final draft, which is pretty adorable.) Pete, Drinker of Blood is an awesome, hilarious, funny bit of splatterstick horror-comedy, and I just had a blast reading it out over the last whatever months. Halloween is a-coming in. Maybe this’ll do you right. 

Day by Day: Groundhog Day for Science Fiction Nerds

If you’ve been paying attention to the Mayans and watching a lot of programs on the History Channel about Ancient Aliens – good lord, I love how the History Channel has morphed from all WWII all the time to seriously lunacy – you know that the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. Day by Day by the Brothers Kollin imagines that end of the world as a sort of Groundhog Day writ large: instead of just one man waking up reset on a single day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it is everyone everywhere. 

This is seriously old school science fiction, and as such, was an absolute treat for me to read. At some point too long ago to remember any googlable details, I read an article about the serious philosophical and psychological implication of Harold Ramis’s little goofy comedy, complete with estimates for how long weatherman Phil Connors would have taken to learn all the skills he does in the film. If you spend any time thinking about it, the idea of being stuck in a single day is an absolute nightmare once you’ve done all the goofing and hedonistic stuff such a scenario presents. 

When I originally watched the film many years ago – though I saw it just again last month, coincidentally – I laughed myself to tears over the suicide sequence. There is something objectively hilarious about a man getting up, ripping a toaster out of the wall in the dining room, and then tossing it into the bath. ZZZt zzt. And it’s funny precisely because the whole situation has so completely destroyed the concept of the meaningful act. I don’t know, because I’m not looking it up, but I would imagine that people who consider suicide tend to work out a series of symbolic acts – this one meal, this last note, a gesture, whatever – and that Phil just wakes up and kills himself without preamble is funny precisely because it’s the godamn worst. Haha, graveyard! I whistle past you! 

Point being, the implication of a whole planet full of people who are stuck in a Groundhog day scenario is the kind of thing that science fiction was made for. I love the thought experiment, love it, and I love it even more when the thought experiments anticipate my “but…what! what about this?” thoughts and then answer them. In a scenario where everyone resets to the same physical situation, but they hold memories from every single reset single day, what happens to babies? What happens to fiction? What about the different time zones? Etc. Etc. All of my questions were answered in a satisfying manner, even if I’m inclined to disagree about certain implications. (Not that I do too much – just, I respect that in a narrative arc, certain things will out, even if they’re not, like, wholly plausible. That they are plausible at all is enough.) 

The other thing I’m grooving on in this story is how topical it is; we’re two months from the Mayan Apocalypse. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the world will not end in any fashion, let alone the one laid out here, on December 21, 2012, but exact date of the end of the world has always been a sucker’s bet. Zero percent of end times’ prophesies have been right so far, though I know it just takes the one. But I love anachronistic science fiction, like the short story collected in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Bagombo Snuff Box written before space flight that imagines the ether around planet earth as filled with the ghosts of our ancestors. And holy god, what a nightmare that is – your mother-in-law able to reach out from beyond the grave and keep telling you what to do. Blah. That this story will be anachronistic fast is delicious, like watching Y2K: The Movie (Planes falling from the sky! Ken Olin’s huge sweater!) in the month before December 31, 1999, only not terribly stupid like that. 

Anyway, get on this short story before the clock expires, nerds who like classically minded science fiction short stories. Or don’t, which could be fun in its own way too, reading this while the zombie hordes bang at the barricades. Haha! Those assholes Kollin got the Mayan doomsday entirely wrong! Could someone hand me a machete? I have to clear the fences again. And by way of full disclosure, Dani Kollin is a friend of mine, and my husband designed the website for his first novel. But we’ll be taking you up on those surfing lessons, Dani, if the world ends in the kind of stasis posited in this thought experiment. If I’ve got nothing but time before the despair sets in, I’m going to get as much as possible in. And I don’t even like being wet all that much. Twss. 

Pete, Drinker of Blood, Part 1

Sometimes I get the impression the universe is messing with me. A couple months ago, I was invited to a group which has as its mandate reading serialized novels – like Dickens or wait, holy cats, Madame Bovary was serialized? (so sayeth wiki) – in the manner they were originally published and consumed. I did my thing where I joined, lurked a bit, thought about serial fiction for a while, and then decided the whole thing was too much like work for me. Now, I’m not calling you weird, Serial Reading Cats, I just lack the patience to read a million page Dickens novel, let alone to take 4987 weeks to get through one. (I know. I am a total philistine when it comes to Dickens, and I’m very sorry for it.) (And I know you’re reading other stuff too.) 

But I think the exercise of trying to experience a completed work of art as originally experienced is worthy, if maybe a little doomed. My main experience with serial fiction is television, of course. (Comics are another heavily serialized contemporary form, but I almost always come at them well after the serial arc has been completed.) Though this is changing as the Internets and on-demand media fracture viewerships and toss a barrage of media at us so we’re always bound to miss a continuing series as it unfolds, some of my funnest watching experiences have happened in ongoing serial television. The X-Files was a Friday night destination for me, as was Star Trek, Buffy, BSG, and a bunch of other stuff that will only make me look even more nerdy than I have already freely admitted to. Half of the joy was the addictive buzz of turning down the lights, watching like a maniac, and then squealing like an idiot when the drama was enacted and then set up for the next week. There’s no cheating there. I’ve certainly gulped down series after the fact – Deadwood, Carnivale, even re-watches of Buffy or Firefly (whose on-air experience was seriously screwed in the first place, airing out of order) – but there’s something very different about consuming something that is understood to be finished (if not completed) as it happens versus after the fact. That the wait isn’t really enforced, that the conversation doesn’t have the same unknowing…

Dangit, it sounds like I’m totally bagging this group, and I’m not – I’m just bloviating out loud. The joys of consuming serial art while it’s being produced are social, on another level – these were fictions being consumed by other people too, and the week before the next fix would be punctuated by conversations with other viewers, chopping it up, predicting, nerding out, complaining. That group could function that way for those involved, and that is the beauty of the Internet. (The AVClub’s TV Club does some interesting articles as its critics re-watch series television.) My main serial television right now is Walking Dead, and it’s almost a sport for me to bitch about everyone and everything on that show – good lawd, the dialogue! the “characters”! – only to tune in the next week to see if Walking Dead can pull off another sublime action sequence in among all the godamn stupid whining. And then they do! And then I bitch and praise to everyone who will listen. I didn’t even watch much Sopranos, but I’ve gone to the homes of the HBO’d to eat junk food and watch along with the screaming fans, because it was totally fun. 

So, anyway, how the world is messing with me: Scott S. Phillips – who is a friend, in interests of full disclosure – sent me this opening bit of a serial novel he’s just put out. I spent some time checking for cameras, because, seriously, that’s creepy that I’d been thinking about the serial format in contemporary media, and then bang! Here it is. And, based on somewhat limited research by moi, it seems like the serial novel is having a comeback in teh age of teh Internet. It makes sense: bit-sized bits that are easily and cheaply downloadable, which can function as their own advertisement, or let you know without a full commitment that you don’t want any more of that. Instead of putting all your eggs in one basket, and then watching that basket, the writer can sell some eggs and keep laying. And then you can scramble them and…forget it, this metaphor officially does not work. You dig what I’m saying though, right? 

Pete, Drinker of Blood begins the story of the titular Pete, a sad-sack vampire who is schlubbing his way through a less than glamorous LA. The principles are established: Pete, the bartender he’s smitten with, and the badass vamp who is likely the antagonist of this story. The pace is good: bang! slowly revealing character and world-building, then bang! I’m admittedly biased, but I love the way Phillips tells stories, the way he turns idiom halfway so it’s surprising, the tragicomic defeatism of his main character. Pete’s obviously not in with the cool crowd, the Anne Riceian dudes in leather pants, who frequent a bar call the Emoglobin (hee!). He’s like a rat-eating Angel, before he got cool again and found Buffy, only he’s never ever been cool in the first place. There’s uneaten hamburgers and classic rock, and an interlude with a tiny model windshield. I guess I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers, which is a little silly because it’s not like I can spoil something that isn’t even completed. But, you know. 

And now the long wait until next month…

Unsafe on Any Screen

I’m really trying here to come up with a Walter Benjamin quote about media studies and engagement with popular culture, and I’m totally failing, which is about right. Obviously, I spend waaaay too much time reading all of y’alls lovely, personal reviews of all kinds of books. Books I would never read; books I have been warned away from; books I’ve been ordered to read; books I have on the long and growing list that I will never complete because some day I’m going to die. 

Even though I have less engagement with movies, as an art form, I compulsively read movie reviews as well. I have the reviewers I trust, and the reviewers I know that I can take anything they say and turn it inside out, so that a bad review becomes a recommendation. I have a passing interest in trash movies, but not a full-blown love affair. Mostly my affection for bad movies leads back to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the times I spent with my family watching MST3K. My immediate family, growing up, was all-female, and I still have the warmest of memories of watching bad movies on Thanksgiving, with my mother & sister, in lieu of the football that was de rigueur in most co-ed households.

Scott S. Phillips doesn’t just have nostalgia to warm him when he watches grindhouse trash, he has a full-blown and well articulated love. This is awesome, and makes for a fine collection of movie reviews. Leonard Maltin, you may fu*k yourself. Many of the movies reviewed in this slender volume cannot be found on Netflix or even in your local video store, should you have such antiquated things in your location. You have to seek these movies out. They are made by people on no budget, with a group of friends, and a maniacal laugh. Or they were made on a budget and then disappeared. Phillips has an encyclopedic knowledge of the pedigree and taxonomy of trash cinema, so that he can draw lines between this director and that, this actor, this imprint, etc. Awesome. 

I get the impression that this book started life as a blog, so some of the reviews are annoying short. Kind of like my – and many people’s – early Goodreads reviews. But once he starts cooking, man, what a joy to behold. He has really weird grading scales: one about how many greased gorillas he’d fight to watch the film in question, and one about how many scotches, or whiskeys? it takes to get through the film. I endorse this. The scotch metric in particular, not because I especially love scotch, but because it can be either a bad or a good thing that a particular film is awarded the high scotch metric. I feel this way about a thousand things: that they are awesome, but they make me drink, or that they are terrible, and they make me drink. Or they are nothing at all and I remain sober. It gets at the whole deep ambivalence I feel towards so much stuff, even the stuff I love, in an intensely satisfying way. My only real complaint is that there is no index. At least the reviews are alphabetical. 

What it comes down to is that I’m as fascinated by the critical process as I am with the art/trash in question, and this book is as much a love letter to the silly fun we have while watching bad movies as it is to the movies themselves. His exuberance is infectious, like an alien pathogen beamed down to a small Italian village that infects a scantily clad babe. It’s going to eat someone’s brains, but it might just take its top off before it does so. 

Keep circulating the tapes.

Unsafe on Any Screen: Cinematic Sleaze and Cheese