Archive for August, 2013

Review: I Wear The Black Hat

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

When I talked about Eating The Dinosaur, I said:

Klosterman is a man who takes ephemeral and sometimes frivolous things seriously, and then subjects them to a meticulous dissection under the light of a strong intellect.  Then he composes those thoughts in a way that is compelling and diverting.

That’s an apt a description of I Wear The Black Hat as it is of Dinosaur. These essays are somewhat more thematically related, as they are all about villainy in one form or another, but I wouldn’t say that they cohere into a book-long discussion of the topic.  That doesn’t trouble me much.  I’ll pretty much read a pack of Klosterman essays for any reason at all.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: Dead Pig Collector

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Dead Pig Collector is a novella or short story or some form of short fiction from Warren Ellis.  He should call it whatever he gets paid most for writing. Whatever one decides to call it, Collector is an excellent one.

Ellis paints the picture of a man doing a very distateful job very well. As with many undertakings that make the average person queasy, Ellis has thought through the details carefully.  More to his credit, he has created the sort of character would realistically do that job for a living and brought him to life for us.  He’s not likeable, really, but he is believable.

The action follows our realistic character through a – nearly every adjective I considered here was an unfortunate double entendre – complicated day.  It’s a day worth checking out.  If you have never read any of Ellis’s fiction, this is a pretty good starting point.

Stongly recommended.





Review: Traveler Of The Century

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Andres Neuman’s Traveler of the Century  is a self-consciously literary novel. Its characters all serve clear symbolic roles, the central romance is carried out in an intellectual salon, and the main plot follows the seasons. Such a set-up can easily turn boring and pretentious; for my money, Neuman manages the opposite.

From the beginning Neuman engages the reader by not giving anything away.  Even the setting in mid-1800s Germany slowly peeks out of comments and allusions rather than beng dropped in some exposition bomb. The characters similarly reveal what they reveal about theselves slowly.  The titular traveler is a point-of-view character whose mysterious nature remains in the shadows for quite some time. That’s true even though we spend some time falling in love with him.

Neuman is not shy about using his characters and the salon setting to take the reader down some intellectual side trips. The romance at the center of the narrative is explicity a romance of the mind, and Neuman makes that work by taking us through the arguments and mental jousting that makes up such a romance.

The salon and the romance also provide a backdrop for Neuman to talk about literature and writing in the novel itself. This is all nicely metafictional – commenting on setting inside his setting at the same time he’s explaining how and why setting affects a work, for example. Neuman finds the right tone to make this interesting. He winks enough to show the reader that he knows he’s commenting on himself, while also keeping the analysis and literary argument sensible and engaging.  Even that has two levels: the argument makes sense in the abstract, and also in the setting coming out of the mouths of the characters. It’s not an easy thing to pull off, and he does it while keeping the whole thing engaging.  First rate work.

An important sidelight of that is the amount of time and space his characters spend talking about translation, which is because they’re translators.  Of course I read the work in translation, which adds aother nice loop.  The translation discussions are some of the most diverting in the book, even without realizing that I was reading them in translation.

There are some places where the plot rambles a bit, and some bits that one could read as extraneous. It’s not a maximally tight tale.  I found the diversions more interesting than distracting, but I can clearly see the other position.

In many ways, how much a reader likes this work is going to depend on how well the  reader thinks Neuman has executed this writing.  I think he’s written a very engaging, multi-layered work that lives up to the literary aspirations it wears on its sleeve.  I can easily imagine a reader being less charmed than I was.  But they’re wrong.

Strongly recommended.


Review: Off To Be The Wizard

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

I know Scott Meyer from his excellent webcomic, The Basic Instructions. Instructions showcases Meyer’s snappy dialog, so when he published a novel I checked it out.

Off To Be the Wizard shares Twilight‘s strong wish-fulfillment component. Wizard is about nerds who learn to control reality with their cell phones and become medieval wizards and Twilight‘s about a teen girl who falls in love with a magical brooding vampire.  Clearly these are authors giving their audience a world they want to live in more than a literary experience. I enjoyed both Wizard and Twilight, so maybe I’m a target for this stuff.

It was a fun story.  There were twists and turns, and the characters were all likeable and reasonable as well. There’s even some commentary on the social dynamics of the tech world.

Basically, it’s a pretty well done fantasy story for nerds, heavy on the wish fulfillment.  It’ll make an airline flight more pleasant.

So Long, Good Boy

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

We had to put our friend Jackson to sleep this week.  He was our unique 14 year-old cat, as singular a breed as he was in every other way.

He was beautiful. Mostly white with beautiful brown markings and white socks.  When Brenda and I were at the shelter looking for cats to adopt, he was, to my eye, the most gorgeous cat in there.  For that matter, he may have been the most gorgeous in the city. He was never the most graceful cat, but when he sat just so, looking out the window with the sun on him, he was the most majestic snow leopard in a fantasy world.

Jackson looked at the world in a state of relaxed confusion.  He generally walked around with a look of wonderment that undercut his movie star good looks.  It was the kind of look that says, “huh, I wonder what that is.  Maybe I’ll have a look after lunch.” It is an incredibly endearing look, and we wanted to put it on billboards and car wraps so the rest of the world could enjoy it with us.  I’d give a lot to see it again.

His relaxed demeanor was unflappable.  On the rare occasions that he was upset or uncomfortable it was often hard to tell until he peed in your shoes. He was more vocal with me, the junior member of his staff.  He’d recline leisurely with Brenda, overseeing whatever she was doing contentedly with a sleepy eye until I came home.  When I appeared he’d amble over and list out the things I needed to do – generally fill the food bowl.

He did love to eat. Because his hunting skills were hilariously sub-par, that meant he loved the Ted & Brenda restaurant experience.

He knew all the sounds of food preparation, and would stroll into the kitchen to let you know the current state of the meal timer.  That timer ran from following closely and maybe rubbing a leg (“I know you just fed me, but I’m sure there are treats”), to standing underfoot and purring (“it’s time to eat, and here I am in case you missed me”), to a kindly reprimand (“Hey, it’s dark and the bowl’s empty.  I’m hungry and can’t make it myself”). He did this all with his same cheerful demeanor – all those quotes are missing a “my good man” as an address. If mealtime had come and no one showed signs of noticing, he would walk loudly into the kitchen. Not many cats can stomp, but he had it down.  When he was fed, he could sneak up on you pretty well; when he was hungry you heard him coming.

I can’t really do his quirks, beauty, and nature justice with a few paragraphs.  He was a bright spot of joy in my life for 14 years and I’ll miss him for 14 more. Just seeing that handsome face with its confused but cheerful look brightened many a long day.

When you lose a cat who loved to eat, every mealtime is a reminder.  When I sit down to eat, I still hear that purr that says “My good man: in case you forgot, I’m here, and I wouldn’t mind a spot of food at all.”  I hope I hear it for a while.