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Monday, June 26, 2017

The Sellout

By: Paul Beatty

Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 1, 2016)

Softcover 304 pages

Finished 6/25/2017

Amazon Listing  




        “We lived in Dickens, a ghetto community on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, and as odd as it may sound, I grew up on a farm in the inner city. Founded in 1868, Dickens, like most California towns except for Irvine, which was established as a breeding ground for stupid, fat, ugly, white, Republicans and the chihuahuas and East Asian refugees that love them, started out as an agrarian community. The city’s original charter stipulated that ‘Dickens shall remain free of Chinamen, Spanish of all shades, dialects, and hats, Frenchmen, redheads, city slickers, and unskilled Jews’ However the founders, in their somewhat limited wisdom, also provided that the five hundred acres bordering the canal be forever zoned for something referred to as ‘residential agriculture’, and thus my neighborhood, a ten square section of Dickens unofficially known as The Farms was born.”
        An incredibly satirical novel about a black man who tries to reestablish his town, after it is invisibly absorbed by the greater city of Los Angeles. That’s the simple summary, the text is much, much more.  Keep in mind this is a “read”- not a toss out in two nights book. It has an intense, dense style, where nearly every page, every line, is filled with a satirical comment or bizarre observation, which creates a broad picture of this world, flushing out ridiculous characters in a lifelike portrait. This is a book that needs time to digest.
         The text does, as I’m sure you can tell from the quote provided above, discuss race and race relations all through it’s 304 pages, but it is not a “get whitey” novel by a black male author- where the protagonist is the best at what he does, but is just brought down by “the man” and a racist society. It casts equal aspersions at the educated black community, paying token homage to the plight of their “brothers” once a month at a donut shop, before driving back to their ivory towers, and the poorer ones looking to get by. The last is personified by the character of Hominy Jenkins, last of the surviving Little Rascals, who demands to become the protagonist’s slave so that he doesn’t have to worry about life or the future anymore. “This is the very bus from which Hominy Jenkins, the last Little Rascal, asserted that the rights of African-Americans were neither God-given nor constitutional, but immaterial.”
Author Paul Beatty
        The protagonist is caught between these two extremes, presenting his world in a nihilistic tongue-in-cheek manner. Growing up with an maniac social scientist father who spent the main character’s childhood performing various Jungian experiments on him, the rest of the older educated black community dump on him for not parroting their rhetoric, calling him “The Sellout”, and the poorer folks who are under the impression that he is bougie, believing that he is better than them. The protagonist seems to identify with neither side, and perceives the problem of race relations in that the black society is too wrapped up in white perspective.
His solution is to bring back those elements that defined blackness in America: slavery and segregation. This inevitably brings about protests, riots, arrests, culminating in a Supreme Court hearing- all of which parody many Civil Rights moments.
         If there is a drawback in the style is the overuse of cultural references, political, social, and entertainment allusions are rampant through the text. Which may be a problem with those too lazy to google the terms, and doing such things always reduces a text’s shelf life in my opinion. Eventually causing it to be dated that much faster. But that’s just my point of view, and as I recognized what he was referring to most of the time, and wikipedia filled in the gaps, it may not have a problem with your reading enjoyment.

 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Complete Elfquest Volume 3

By: Wendy & Richard Pini

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (November 15, 2016)

Softcover 432 pages

Finished 6/14/2017

Amazon Listing
 


         Say what you want about Elfquest but they are a style, and nearly a genre, of their own. And it has staying power, being nearly 40 years since the publication of their first black and white magazine in 1978. They are now currently wrapping up the series in The Final Quest arc, but that’s not what this review’s about. If it must be given a label, I suppose you could call it fantasy (with some Sci-Fi elements in there), but it is not your standard fantasy series. It stands as a truly unique product.
          The Complete Elfquest Vol. 3 collects various issues of the Hidden Years series, which came out right after Kings of the Broken Wheel,  but for some reason excludes issues 6 and 7- not that it is much of a loss, after issue five the series took a serious downward spiral. The Pini’s, overworked from simultaneous projects, farmed out the writing and art to new people with a mixed bag of results. The writing was actually good, however without Wendy Pini’s art Elfquest loses its flavor. And the art in issues 8 and 9 here, compared to the five before it, feels flat and lifeless, and just off from what a reader of the series is used to. I know all comic art is technically flat, but it shouldn’t feel that way.

          The first five issues however are some of the best art I’ve ever seen Elfquest produce. They are in full color, designed to be in full color, which is a rarity for the series. And beautifully mesh art, action, story, and words together. It took me awhile to get through these issues due to my stopping and staring at for half an hour at each gorgeous page. I was so swept up in the art that I sometimes forgot the plot to the story.
          The Hidden Years issues do not compromise a story arc, but are independent stories which focus on a different character in the times between when Kings of the Broken Wheel concluded. But it is not necessary to have read any of those previous issues in order to enjoy the stories. Just keep on and you will pick up the gist of the meta-plot. They are well crafted stories in their own right.
          The last 150 pages are taken up by the Dreamtime story, originally published in Elfquest II in the mid 1990s. It is a string of stories, in black and white, each focusing on a different member of the Wolfrider tribe and the dreams they had during the long sleep (over 10,000 years) they endured chasing the villain Rayek. It is a fun story, very dreamlike as it should be, and utilizes different artistic styles and points of view than the rest of the series. Some may find it to become tedious after about fifty pages, I certainly did, only because I was expecting something to happen, but this story is more about character introspection than character action.
          This is more a collection of interlude stories. The next main arc Shards should be included in the next collected volume. Despite that, there are some fantastic tales in this volume and I encourage you to take a look.
 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"

By William S. Burroughs (with the 1952 & 1977 introductions by Alan Ginseburg) (and the 1953 & 1964 forwards by Carl Solomon)

Publisher: Grove Press (November 13, 2012) (originally published by Ace Books in 1953)

Softcover 256 pages

Finished 6/10/2017

Amazon Listing



          “The questions of course could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default. I tried it as a matter of curiosity. I drifted along taking shots when I could score. I ended up hooked. Most addicts I have talked to report a similar experience. They did not start using any reason they can remember. They just drifted along until they got hooked. If you have never been addicted, you can have no clear idea what it means to need junk with the addict’s special need. You don’t decide to be an addict. One morning you wake up sick and you’re an addict.”
          Thus begins William S. Burroughs’s first published book, dedicated to his one true love, drugs. This work is unlike any of his other writings (except for a few selected essays) in that it maintains a coherent focus and timeline. It does not devolve into hallucinogenic insanity as does his later texts. Though we do see a few precursor snippets of Naked Lunch within the story. The pusher Bill Gains and the narco cop Hauser appear, both the same brutal caricatures. The Mexican drug queen Lupita is a prominent figure in the later parts of Junky. Never seen, she is constantly lurking in the background, controlling his supply of morphine. The police detective trailing someone in a white trenchcoat, making him easy for others to spot, occurs here as well. These are all small, but memorable parts, of what will be his seminal work.
Author William S. Burroughs
            Junky came out at a time when a series of lurid tell-all books appeared on the subject- H is for Heroin and The Man with the Golden Arm. This book differed significantly because the tone is so flat, almost amoral. The heavy handed morality play or exploitation luridness is nonexistent. “Here are the facts,” Burroughs writes and he gives them, without social comment and without emotion.
          In a sense this is not an autobiographical work, as you do not get a sense of eh man behind the pen. He is in fact a dead slate. It comes as a surprise later in the work when it is revealed that he has a wife. And you would never guess that, except in one throwaway line, that there were two children dragged along into the gays bars and shooting galleries of New York, New Orleans, and Mexico City. A line near the end of the text, “My wife and I were separated,” is the only cryptic indicator of the infamous William Tell incident, where he drunkenly shot her in the head. This separation is permanent. All that is presented is one man and his junk.
          This is not uncommon for old school autobiographies, the fifties were just beginning to tilt that narrative. Despite his rejection of it, the Victorian values of upper crust educated WASP society had left an indelible mark on Burrough’s style. Simply put, you do not air your family laundry in public. Being gay and a drug user was one thing, that was him, but the rest of the family was out of bounds. 
Original cover, title, and nom de plume from the 1953 Ace publication.
          Burroughs loves his drug habit. “Junk does not cause addiction,” he writes, “exposure does.” A very thin hair there. The only emotion he displays here is anger towards those who prevent him from scoring and the psychiatrists who regularly ask him why he feels he needs it. “I need it to get up in the morning,” is part of the standard reply. As I have said previously in my review of his other book and that of his son's, had no one prevented him from getting drugs, Burroughs would almost have no opinions on anything at all.
          His views on homosexuals are interesting. He seems to have an absolute dislike for them, despite being gay himself. “A room full of fags gives me the horrors. They jerk around like puppets on invisible strings, galvanized into hideous activity that is the negation of everything living and spontaneous.” He reports on this several times, only seeming to go to such places when drunk and horny, but otherwise abjuring them in preference to dark junk filled holes and bars on the outskirts of poor areas. His disregard for women is also well know. Even his common law wife. “We give them too much power. It’s some left over Southern chivalry that we need to jettison.”
          Included is the glossary that was part of the original edition. Nowadays it’s rather laughable because all of the hip slang terms of the time are now so ingrained in our common vocabulary that an explanation isn’t needed. Idioms like “cold turkey”, “kick a habit”, “coke”, “weed” are all spelled out for the 1950’s “square”.  
Cover the 1977 edition
        Two additional chapters written for the original version have been included. One detailing a stop Burroughs makes between New Orleans and Mexico City, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He goes on for some length detailing its decay over the years and its cultural stagnation. The tone is totally different from the rest of the text. In the second he details the idiot ideas of Wilhelm Reich and how the orgone accumulator could cure cancer, as well as number of other illnesses. These assertions of Reich eventually lead to the death of several children and the burning of all of his works, ordered by the FDA. He describes building an orgone accumulator and curing a junk habit with its use. It also was removed due to its tonal shift from the rest of the text and for repetition, as parts of what he states in the chapter has distributed elsewhere in the book.
          In becoming the “definitive” edition the book has ironically left something out. In the original edition there were copious editors notes placed in the text, which clarified or disagreed with the facts that Burroughs put forth. These were omitted as they were not the author’s words. I still would have liked an appendix which stated what these editorial blurbs stated.

         

Friday, June 2, 2017

Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography

By: Roger Shattuck

Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (September 15, 1997)

Softcover 384 pages

Finished 6/1/2017

Amazon Listing  



          “A contradiction or paradox lies buried in the title of this book, Forbidden Knowledge. If we are familiar enough with any entity or domain to call the result “knowledge” then we already know too much about it to apply the adjective forbidden. The taboo or prohibition has already been broken, the obstacle or risk of knowledge still unlocated, unnamed, unexplored, possibly closed to us. ‘How,’ Meno asked Socrates, ‘will you look for something when you don’t in the least know what it is?’ These paradoxes do not disqualify the phrase ‘forbidden knowledge’ On the contrary, the phrase remains with us and carries meaning by its long association with particular stories and case histories.”
          Many claim that this book is somewhat overwritten, I disagree. It is a heavy read, but it is easy to see that the author enjoyed crafting aspects of the text very much and was genuinely interested in the intellectual debate. Be that as it may, the first portion of the text does rely heavily on assumed knowledge. The author expects that the reader is familiar with various literary texts. That they have read Faust, Doctor Faustus, Frankenstein, Billy Budd, The Stranger the poems of Emily Dickenson, the essays of Michel de Montaigne- or at least have a working idea of the thematic elements present in each one. If you do not, you may want to skip the first five chapters and go straight to Part Two, which deals with case histories of the arguments surrounding forbidden knowledge.
          The book begins with a classic examination of the ancient’s attitudes towards man’s pursuit of knowledge and what limitations should be placed upon it. Essentially we have the cautionary tales of man giving into his curiosity, reaching too far, offending the divine, and being slapped down by the Almighty. Stories like Pandora, the Garden of Eden, and the Tower of Babel all warn mankind to curb their inquisitiveness lest it lead them into ruin.  
Author Roger Shattuck
          Until modern times these ideas of forbidden knowledge meant less about scientific discoveries and focused almost exclusively on heretical religious ideas and philosophies. For this the banned registry of the Catholic Church was founded, on which texts were alternately placed on and removed from over the centuries. The common herd must be protected from dangerous ideas and heretical thoughts. It’s why so many of the enlightenment liberals were against the idea. That a free flow of ideas was most important.
          However the idea of forbidden knowledge changes as medical and scientific breakthroughs create physically dangerous concoctions and devices. All of a sudden it becomes important to restrict that information. Should everyone know how to make dynamite, or refine heroin, or modify an assault rifle to become fully automatic?
          The author expressed this notion with two examples, the atomic bomb and the Human Genome Project (which was still being mapped when the text was published). These two present different aspects of the scientific question, one having been finished and many of its creators horrified by the results. The other has many fears swirling around it, about the dangers that might be done in meddling with the fundamental aspects of humanity.
          When it comes to the atomic bomb and all its offspring, the scientists who developed it have put blinkers on their eyes. They knew they were developing a weapon during war time. What did they think was going to be done with the device? As for the Human Genome Project, X-files linking it to an alien invasion aside, it really hasn’t yielded all that much. It has considerably sped up some aspects of cancer research and investigation into various other diseases and physical disorders, plus it added to the development of evolutionary theory. But no monsters or super-viruses have resulted from the project.
          The question of whether knowledge should be sought after becomes a moot point.  Inevitably if the information is within grasp, man, like Eve plucking the apple, will search it out. Time has shown us this. The idea of remaining ignorant is almost universally rejected by anyone who is curious.
          The enquiry becomes more interesting when it is applied to the most extreme examples of literature, namely the books of the Marquis De Sade. These books paradoxically have never been out of print since first being published in the late 18th century, but also very rarely were available to the general public. There have been many attempts over the 20th century to rehabilitate the image of the Divine Marquis, Camille Paglia being the most recent, and cast his evil shadow in a different light. However as the author points out, and I completely agree, all attempts at this fall flat upon a cursory glance at the actual text. The morality of DeSade’s work is immorality. It is sadistic porn, a glorification of cruelty and narcissism, with a half digested attempt at a philosophical reasoning tacked on. After reading all of his work myself I can say, sexual violence and rape is not presented in the work to emphasize a moral, political, or philosophical point. The point of his work is sexual violence and rape which occurs at length on nearly every third page. The rest is just framing.
Only known portrait of De Sade circa1760
          As such do we limit access to the works of De Sade, who essentially was the first and worst murder-porn writer. Do we create a new registry and have the texts locked away for only a chosen few to gaze upon? Or should it be freely available to all at all libraries? If neither option appeals to you, then what is the middle ground? Should there be an age limit? If so, then what is to prevent other age limits being slapped on other works, perhaps for religious or political reasons? The best answer seems to lie in a free market censorship. Publishers are reluctant to put out the book due to bad publicity, book stores are likewise resultant to stock the book, so distribution is limited. Thus reducing the chances of someone who is not looking for the text to accidently stumble across it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology

By: Marc Headley (with a foreward by Mark "Marty" Rathbun)

Publisher: BFG Books Inc; BFG 1st Edition Paperback edition (2010)

Softcover 396

Finished 5/18/2017

Amazon Listing


          In this book we get a different perspective of the cult known as Scientology. When a person is mistreated by a cult, either religious or political, often we have the mentality that it was partially the person’s own fault for being stupid enough to hook up with such obvious psychos and frauds. But what happens when a person is born into a cult? Or is indoctrinated into one before they are old enough to take control of their life? With no other options, they have to go along with it. This is such a story. The author entered Scientology at 13 and did not escape until he was 32.
          Scientology is a religion of money! Perhaps this is true with all faiths, but Scientology has refined it down to an art. Those who give big are treated as royalty- pampered, sucked up to, given access to slave labor. The rest below, especially those who sign the billion year contract and join their Sea Org, are worker drones, scuttling about to fulfill their duties, cast aside when they were useless. One line from L. Ron Hubbard quoted in the text sums up their attitude, “We’d rather have you dead than incapacitated.”
          The book shows the Scientology body in a high level of disorganization and incompetence. This makes sense as the people were given positions, technical and administrative, based on their willingness to put up with mental abuse, exhaustion, malnourishment, and adhere to the rules, rather than any ability. I say rules here, rather than doctrine, because for lower level Scientologists there seems to be a lack of ability to learn more on their own faith. For a person to rise in the ranks they have to pay for a series of courses. If you can’t afford it, well sucks to be you asshole. You’re stuck were you are. And in an organization where being paid minimum wage is a premium job, it isn’t likely that you will advance any time soon.
Author Marc Headley

          As the Scientology higher-ups were too paranoid to hire the necessary technical workers from the unwashed, their organization was strung together by a series of jury rigging and few mechanically minded people who kind of knew what they were doing. This constantly left them behind, technologically speaking. For example, they were still using the old VAX/VMS computer systems, the huge wall units with magnetic tape and punch cards into the 1990s. Additionally they continued to mass produce their audio propaganda on cassette tapes well after CDs had become the staple. This was mostly due to no one “cleared” by Scientology knowing how to convert the mediums over.
          I’ve often wondered how so many people could fall for the Xenu story which form the core of Scientology’s mythology. The one about the people of the overcrowded confederation of planets being sent to Earth (then known as Teegeeack) aboard ships that were subconsciously expressed in the design of the Douglas DC-8, the only difference being that "the DC8 had fans, propellers on it and the space plane didn't". Then using H-Bombs they were killed, their souls vacuumed up and brainwashed using “three-D, super colossal motion picture" for thirty-six days. The souls were then merged and implanted in prisons made of flesh- that’s us by the way. Only through Scientology can one strip off these souls and become “clear”. It’s so obviously schlocky science fiction. But this book illuminates that most of the lower level drones never heard it. The story is only for OTIII types, big spenders who have already sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the organization. People who aren’t willing to throw everything away on some silly story that couldn’t possibly be true.
          Most the venom is directed at David Miscavage, the psychotic pope of Scientology, heir to L. Ron Hubbard’s legacy, and best pals with Tom Cruise. Miscavage is depicted as a person who manipulated his way into power and then suppressed all those who could challenge him, like a miniature Joseph Stalin. Using the threat of his power to send any one who disagrees with him to the Rehabilitation Project Force (Scientology punishment and “re-education” cells and gulags), he has created a communist dictatorship within the Scientology community. With the religion running just as efficiently as its counterpart. 
Scientology COO David Miscavage
          He is characterized as a violent, incompetent, sadistic, unable to handle the pressures of power, a perfectionist without the ability to properly communicate what he wants, with no ability to actually advance what he wants. He is presented as an incompetent who believes he is the smartest guy in the room with no organizational skills, orders everything at the last minute, causes disasters and havoc, while blaming everyone else for his mistakes. 
          The author’s bitterness comes across in every page, having spent a decade and a half amongst an organization that he sacrificed and gave more to than any other, only to realize how he was abused is a harsh pill to swallow.  Over this time he saw hardworking dedicated people who had worked longer than him crushed down and destroyed by Miscavage and his ilk. Decades of service meant nothing, all of their successes would be invalidated in a heartbeat over minor disagreements or executive fiat. It was not an atmosphere where one could thrive.
          A few celebrities are mentioned along the way, the author Neil Gaiman being one. Apparently he was listed as a “suppressive person” until he became famous, then the label was quickly revoked. As is no surprise to anyone, Tom Cruise pops up a lot. He had nothing to do with the day to day running, but was a good friend of Miscavage (the latter being his best man at Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes) and the highest contribute to Scientology in the world. Much of their financing comes from helping to produce his films. There is also an amusing story where the crew at Int base (a Scientology headquarters) were piecing together clips and headshots of Scientology actresses to become Cruise’s girlfriend. After the actor’s bust up with Penelope Cruz over her refusal to join the religion, he realized that he could be with someone in the faith, so they began a pimping process to get him a woman.
Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard
           The book is not the best written and could have used an editor to clean up sentence structure and delete and replace repetitive words. But I was sucked into the story immediately. The plot overriding any minor technical issues. The day I picked it up, I chowed down eighty pages in one gulp. Scientology has a large vocabulary built into its structure, which seems to mostly consist of abbreviations of Scientology terms, so the author includes a glossary. However it is somewhat inadequate, largely missing many terms such as “preclear”, “suppressive person”, and so on. But I supposed being raised in a cult these idioms become second nature and the author doesn’t think to explain them. Luckily the internet is around to fill in the gaps.

 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Le Gun 1-3

By: Various

Publisher: Mark Batty Publisher (October 28, 2008)

Hardcover 456 pages

Finished 5/11/2017

Amazon Listing











          An art book put out by the various personalities from London’s Royal College of Arts Department of Communication Art and Design (usually when they slap that many words on a title or department it’s a deflection to ward people off from questioning a department’s usefulness). It began life as an annual magazine, I believe they are up to issue six, the first three of which are collected here (hence the name).
         This isn’t for someone who is looking for a story or some guys beating up on each other. This is a collection and as such the art varies greatly from page to page. One flip you find incredible piece rendered in amazing detail, next flip you come across something that is below amateurish, next flip an item that feels like a filler sketch.
          This is essentially a cult publication, popular among the English visual arts community, but unavailable at most stores. I only managed to run across it in a second hand book shop when I was doing my yearly purge of my collection. It’s a quick read, those illustrations which grabbed my eye and caused me to pause, being few and far between. But I believe a person would get out of this book what they bring to it. And in that sense it succeeds. Looking through this, every person would be inspired by a different page and long fruitful discussions could come from the disagreements.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Anomaly

By:  Skip Brittenham & Brian Hablerlin

Publisher: Anomaly Publishing; Box edition (November 28, 2012)

Hardcover 370 pages

Finished 5/7/2017

Amazon Listing




          Anomaly is a large scale graphic novel that comes with an app of fully voiced interactive graphic novel, a background to the universe app, and apparently has been options for a film by Relativity Media- who must have been looking for derivative properties.
          The book is massive, some might think it unwieldy, 16.5 x 1.5 x 11.5 inches, stretched out into a rectangle to give it a widescreen cinematic feel. And while I may complain it is not a cheap product. Time and care was put into it, and the publisher made sure that enough space was given to make sure that a story of such scope was done right. That’s the real tragedy of this book, it could have been amazing.
          The art is the best thing about the book, but even that feels a little lacking in originality. You can tell that a lot of care was taken here. It is painted with computer graphic enhancements. The best scenes being panoramic shots of alien worlds and vistas depicting a massive battle. They are beautifully rendered and detailed, giving a massive scope to the stage. While the illustrators do make errors here and there in terms of pacing and action.

          The alien races, animals, and landscapes are good, but the humans are weak. Painted in an uninteresting style and without much distinction. Several of them look so much alike, that I confused a minor character with the hero. And, as often as not, a character will disappear for fifty pages then return, and they were so bland it took me awhile to remember which character they were again.
          Anomaly, art aside, doesn’t have a very compelling story. It mashes up old sci-fi and fantasy tropes to attempt a catch-all experience, but ultimately feels like a lackluster hodgepodge of the two genres. The author forgot the basic rules of writing, if you’re offering nothing new in the setting then you’ve got to have engrossing characters, which they author also failed to do.
          We have our intrepid protagonists abandoned on a primitive planet, where a fungus eats polymers use in technology, by an evil all-controlling conglomerate corporation. Earth has been evacuated due to environmental poisoning and only the very poor are left to wallow in its filth. The conglomerate expands onto other planets by suppressing the native species, either through relocation or extermination. Anomaly is the planet the protagonists are stranded on, dubbed so because it hosts numerous sentient races co-existing in it. Odd as usually one species usually rises up to club the others out of existence.
          Once they reach the planet the story delves then into fantasy, and we are given the standard cast of characters. The chosen-one hero who destined to destroy the evil-one and unite the races of the planet. The privileged woman, who dislikes the hero at first but eventually comes around to admire him.  The bald, fat, and cowardly Dr. Smith type. The betrayer character who regrets his decisions in the end. The magic using evil Sauron character who commands armies of hideous monstrous creatures (ugly = evil). The scientist who is considered puny by the locals, but wins them over with technological skill and invention. The warrior woman who becomes attracted to the scientist despite her thinking him “weak” at first. The important alien that the hero meets and frees (like the mouse taking the thorn from the lion’s paw fable) only to have his input be very very important in getting his race to decide to join the hero’s cause.
          And so on. None of the character’s personalities go beyond this. I’ve read it all before and so have you.
          There are extensive notes after the story, taking up 30 of the 370 pages on the human race and the development of the future society of Earth, much having little to do with the main story on Anomaly. There are several graphs and charters about the races which may be of some interest and character biographies that add detail, but don’t have any impact on what’s happening. And often enough you just don’t give a damn. It’s quite clear that a lot of time was spent developing this background, when they should have directed their efforts to character development.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories


by: Ben Katchor

Publisher: Pantheon (March 5, 2013)

Hardcover 160 pages

Finished 5/2/2017

Amazon Listing  




          The Extension Fallacy is when an arguer takes a statement and exaggerates the parameters so much that it becomes completely ridiculous idea. This perfectly defines the humor in Hand Drying in America. The strips revolve around the nuances of city life. Much of them are concerned the variances of architecture in a New York City-esque environment. The constant raising and destruction of buildings, as depicted in this books paints a picture of a city landscape that drifts back and forth like an ocean current, where the occupants try to find stability and meaning in a chaotic ever shifting concrete jungle.
          The stories take mundane aspects and illuminate them to ridiculous heights. Such as the couple tired of the sealed wrapping in these new condiment styles that hire people to open up the packets for them. To the man who is obsessed with BTU outputs and heat sinks so that he marries a woman that radiates a lot of warmth. To a man who is preoccupied with the gravel in his driveway being taken away by strangers that he eventually has his daughter’s fiancée arrested for theft.  
Author Ben Katchor
          Katchor’s artistic style adds to the surrealist element. Colored in muted tones, the charterers are drawn as almost grotesque caricatures of people. Rigid smiles that reek of false friendliness, like off-center candid stills where the participant was caught in an awkward moment. Stiff limbs, like an old timey photograph where a person had to stand rigid for 10 minutes before the shutter snapped. These all add to his dry sense of humor and make a reader believe that we are just one beat away from some of his stories being true.
          It is a beautiful oversized book, 11.8 x 0.9 x 12.3 inches, with each page containing one of Katchor full strips. All of these were originally published in Metropolis, an architectural magazine, which this strip had been published in from 1998 until it recently ending in December of 2016.
 

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics

By: Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis 

Publisher: Harper Collins (July 25, 2014) (Original version 1983 by Barnes and Noble Books)

Softcover 224 pages 

Finished 4/27/2017

Amazon Listing



          Larry Gonick, author of the wonderful Cartoon Guide to the Universe, has found his niche with educational comics and this book is a great example of it. He’s tackled many subjects and I found this to be thoroughly researched and presented in an easy to understand manner. And a bibliography is provided if you want to delve deeper into the subject- which I did not.
          This is as much a history of genetic research as it is about the basics of the subject. He begins with primitive man, moving on to the early philosophers such as Aristotle, before arriving at the real breakthrough moment with the research of Gregor Mendel- the Catholic monk, gardener and scientist.
Larry Gonick
          The book is a good primer and the basics of genetics- DNA, amino acids, proteins etc.- are not going to change. When I was a middle school English teacher I used to stock up my classroom library with his books: The Cartoon Guide to the Universe, to the Modern World, Statistics, Biology and so on. And they were always well received by my students, often being one of the first ones stolen from classroom.
          What I disagree with in this text is that he promotes the “theory” that “primitive man”, whether he means homo sapiens or an ancestor species is unclear, could not differentiate between sex and procreation. After reading his source material, this is about as spurious a theory as I’ve ever read. Evidence is nearly nonexistent and conjecture abounds. It’s almost conspiracy level leaps the author takes to piece this together.
1983 edition of the book
          The other problem with the book is that often the information is out of date or, most common, there are discoveries and breakthroughs not recorded by the text. The version I have is from 1991 so there is a gap of 16 years of information. For instance it states that it was believed by scientists to be over 200,000 genes, but it is now known to be only around 20 to 30,000 of them.
          Still as a beginning delve into the subject this would be a good place to start and, apart from what I mentioned earlier, the bibliography is solid. Offering a person a good point to keep learning if they are so inclined.
 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane

By Philippe Druillet

Publisher: Titan Comics (August 18, 2015) (originally published in English in 1973).

Hardcover 72 pages

Finished 4/25/2017

Amazon Listing


       “The year 804 of the new era. After the great scare, men decided to spread their power over the universe. The infinite sea of stars wore the seal of the human empire. Great caravans of iron were launched to conquer the skies. Time passed and few came back. The universe was keeping its secrets. But a terran, a rogue among his kin, a loner sails to the outer reaches of the great cosmic ocean”
          Lone Sloane was first published in the 1966 French magazine Mystère des Abîmes and continued onto the Belgium comic Pilote (which also gave us the smurfs) Along with its French contemporaries, the author was incredibly influential especially in the field of science fiction comic artistry, eventually bleeding over into American art in the 1970s. Honestly, I am kicking myself that I haven’t read this author before. He is truly a master of his craft. Each panel is intense and precise. It is a crime more of his work hasn’t been translated into English.

          These collected stories are science fantasy. there are space ships and alien worlds yes, but it is rife with magic and alien gods. In the first three pages, Lone Sloane’s ship is destroyed by the alien Throne of the Black God. He is carried on it to a world whose priests plan to use his soul to reignite an ancient personification of destruction. The Earth has been stolen away by alien gods and repopulated with its own worshipers, Sloane eventually begins looking for it. And so on. All of the plots could easily fit into a fantasy setting.
          Each story is loosely tied, with the events or aftermath of the previous tale mentioned in the next episode. But there is no over arcing metaplot, except for a theme of alien gods, whose appearance takes up most of a page are everywhere in this universe. But the story is not why you should buy this book.
 
          As you can see from above, the art is absolutely superb! the author brilliantly plays with the page, taking as much space as he wants to, creating a psychedelic experience where what is actually happening fades into the background. The images capture your mind and I found myself staring intently at each page before remembering that it was part of a story. In fact, it took me a long time to get through this book as I spent half an hour on each page, just drinking in the cosmic insanity presented to me. Throwing restraint aside, Druillet overawes us with his scope and imagination. Detail is dense, but flowing. Meaning gives way to symbolic madness. Just take a look at the pictures presented and tell me that it does not suck you in.
          And if you do, I’ll call you a liar!

                 
 

 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs

By: Daniel Odier & William S. Burroughs

Published: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (March 4, 1989)

Softcover 224 pages

Finished 4/24/2017

Amazon Listing 







          “I advance the theory that in the electronic revolution a virus is a very small unit of word and image. I have suggested how such units can be biologically activated to act as communicable virus strains. Let us staring with three tape recorders in the Garden of Eden. Tape recorder one is Adam. Tape recorder two is Eve. Tape recorder three is God, who deteriorated into the Ugly American. Or to return to our primeval scene: tape recorder one is the male ape in a helpless sexual frenzy as the virus strangles him. Tape recorder two is a cooing female ape who straddles him. Tape recorder three is DEATH.”
          The book begins with the sort piece “Playback from Eden to Watergate”, originally published by Harpers in 1973. In it he describes the concept of the word virus. As per Genesis, the word came first. Burroughs interprets this as the written word which infested man and evolved into perfect symbiosis with him, manifesting as human speech. He goes on into his playback reality manipulation method involving three tape recorders and/or a camera (this was written in the early 70s remember, cutting edge stuff then). By splicing various sounds from an area from the first two devices and then adding an idea with the third, one can manipulate an effect where you aim the playback, like a high tech voodoo curse. He claims that he has used this to start fires on buildings and shut down restaurants with health care violations and so on. Whether he believes this to be true,  it is just wishful thinking, or him mixing up correlation with causation is anyone’s guess.
          I can never tell how much Burroughs believes his theories (to misuse the term). Are they exultations of a true believer or an intellectual exercise penned with a sardonic smirk? He has always come across as rather intelligent, but susceptible to various weird alternate scientific and therapeutic ideas. His involvement with Scientology and adherence to Wilhelm Reich’s orgone chamber being a few examples.
 
William S. Burroughs

          “Translate the Mayan control calendar into modern terms. The mass media of newspapers, radio, television, magazines form a ceremonial calendar to which all citizens are subjected. The “priests” wisely conceal themselves behind masses of contradictory data and vociferously deny that they exist. Like the Mayan priests they can reconstruct the past and predict the future on a statistical basis through manipulation of media. It is the dates preserved in newspaper morgues that makes detailed reconstruction of past dates possible. How can modern priests predict seemingly random future events?”
          The interviews in The Job take place in 1968 and as such several of his views are out of date. For example all of the technology he describes in his splicing technique are obsolete, replaced long ago by smartphones and pcs. Well before the silicon revolution, computers at the time were wall sized monstrosities operating on punch cards and magnetic tape. Your phone now has more computing power than the most sophisticated machine of the day. But don’t knock it, they put a man on the moon with this tech. 
Daniel Odier
          For those who are Burroughs aficionados there isn’t must new here. The book may well have been called a William S. Burroughs’s primer as he primarily reiterates all of his previous philosophical and sociological opinions from previous writings. In fact several times he simply substituted passages from the Nova Trilogy as his answers.
          He makes several good points, as the second quote above demonstrates, on the manipulation of the media to create a false reality and the reshaping of history through images. However again he is out of date. He envisioned one right-wing message (whom he was afraid would use the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as an excuse to take away our guns) tapered across all mediums, controlled by hidden masters. He didn’t foresee the YouTube age with its constant multiple manipulative narratives overlapping and conflicting where one can create their own narrative and illusionary image of the world. At the time, the masses were only a group of receivers, he did not envision a day where everyone could input as well, thus becoming their own illusionary master. I think he would have approved. 
First English Translation of The Job
          But there is a lot in here that many would disagree with, his praise of Reich and Hubbard being mentioned earlier. He asserts that the concept of a  nuclear family should be ended and that all children should be raised by state run institutions- the same institutions he describes as essentially amoral and evil a few pages earlier. As we all know, this idea worked out so well in its real life applications. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and their Killing Fields and the Romanian orphanages under Ceaușescu that festered with AIDS and mental disorders, being a few instances. Burroughs practiced what he preached however, having abandoned his own son at the age of six.
          He continues on by stating all prisons should be abolished, with no more reasons given than they don’t really do anything more than punish. And eventually wraps up his criticism of the “American Nightmare” by stating that all institutions of Western Civilization must be destroyed. Ho-hum.
          He is most eloquent on the subject of drugs. Advocating a general legalization of all drugs. Heroin, cocaine, and so on should be back to being over-the-counter medications as it was in the early 20th century before the Harrison Narcotics Act. However he believes that this is impossible due to the media’s scare and the money making industry that has sprung up around incarceration and treatment of addicts.
          Drugs are not addictive, according to him, but the exposure to them is, if you can tell the difference. He deconstructs a bit here, by saying that the lifestyle associated with it. The clarity, the lack of responsibility, the absolute focus of your life on the next high means that your life will always have focus.
          However if one wants to kick the habit he devotes fifteen pages to the apomorphine treatment, which he claims is a metabolic stabilizer and reduces the desire for the drug. In 1968 Apomorphine was primarily used to treat erectile dysfunction and, briefly, as a psychiatric cure for homosexuality. At a private clinic Burroughs and several others were administered the drug and said it was the best cure he ever experienced. There have been no clinical trials of the drug ever made. Currently it is used primarily to combat the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
          Burroughs writes here with his characteristic fluid style, though rarely becoming as hallucinogenic as in other works. He truly is a master of the word and is certainly one of the most poetic writers I have ever read, even when I am shaking my head at nearly all of his arguments. On reflection, I have never more enjoyed reading a person’s opinion that I almost completely disagreed with more.