Justine Larbalestier’s Razorhurst is a young adult novel that’s full of the violence and glamor of the real-world Razorwars that drenched Sydney’s Surry Hills ghetto in the run up to World War II, an historical novel that skilfully weaves in a ghost story that puts the action of gang-warfare exactly where it belongs: in the relationship between the living and the dead.Read the rest
In 2002, M.T. Anderson wrote the novel Feed, which featured a future in which humans are all hardwired with computer chips (the eponymous Feeds) so they can shop. Constantly. Back then it was a comment on consumerism. Now, 13 years later, I was curious if he was sick of telling us all "I told you so."
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So many times I'm reading a Victorian plot that revolves around some gentry fop handing a scullery boy a sum of 100 half-whatevers. And I’m left wondering: is that a staggeringly large amount of money or an insultingly small one?
Historical Currency Conversions is a tool for finding the current value of historical currency. Type in an amount you see in a book and it spits out: “100 guineas in 1850 had the same buying power as 14647.25 current dollars.” Sure there are socioeconomic challenges to comparing 1850 London with current times, but you get in the ballpark enough to move on with your book.
In 1994 Gary Kremen (who would later found Match.com) registered a bunch of domain names: jobs.com, housing.com, and, most famously, sex.com. Soon after, a "brilliant con man" named Stephen Cohen gained control of sex.com and sold ads that brought in about a half million dollars a day.
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Read chapter one of "Funereal", an upcoming novel of suicide, plastic surgery, and extreme therapy in Korea
If you have any interest at all in writing produced by the cultural exchange — or culture clash, if you prefer — between the West and Asia, you might consider keeping up with Signal 8 Press. Though a relatively new operation, they've already put out quite a few intriguing books, ranging formally from novels to travel memoirs to short story collections to college guides and geographically from China to Hong Kong to Laos to the Philippines to Korea.
Having read my own writing on Korea for The Guardian, Signal 8 author Giacomo Lee (@elegiacomo) reached out and offered me a chance to read his upcoming novel Funereal, a dark and sometimes surreal exploration of the country's drive for perfection, its unceasing competitiveness, and its conformist beauty culture — especially as they all exist, in lethally concentrated form, in the enormous, shapeshifting capital of Seoul.
Lee, a British former resident of Korea, accomplishes a literary act of which I know no precedent: convincingly rendering Korean characters through Western eyes. His countryman David Mitchell essayed a dystopian Korea in one layer of Cloud Atlas, but he set it in the unrecognizably distant future. Lee writes of the dystopian Korea of today, one that, in his conception, has driven itself nearly to the asylum with its own increasingly impossible standards and hopelessly unrealistic expectations.
Funereal's protagonist, a young lady in her late twenties named Soobin Shin, finds herself plucked from her dead-end donut-shop job by a regular customer, an entrepreneur who has come up with the potential next big thing in a culture perpetually on the lookout for next big things: OneLife, a service that puts on fake funerals for Koreans overwhelmed by their very existences, unwilling to go on, and need of the moment of reflection that only bursting alive out of a coffin in front of one's gathered black-clad friends and family can provide.
Having taken on the role of frontwoman in this fledgling company, Soobin truly believes she has stumbled onto her true calling until everything goes pear-shaped in this enterprise of fake death when real death involves itself — an inevitability, I suppose, in a country with suicide rates second only to those of Lithuania.
Lee didn't make up the fake-funeral thing out of whole cloth. In his article "Does Writing About Suicide Inspire Suicide?", he references famous Korean novelist Kim Young-ha's I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, which "features a ‘suicide counselor’ who helps his depressed clients kill themselves, while the main character I present symbolizes the opposite, a woman who buries her suicidal charges alive so that they can overcome their depression."
"It is, of course, an extreme solution," he adds, "but one inspired by an actual company that operates in the most affluent area of the country’s capital." He also highlights the Vice documentary A Good Day To Die: Fake Funerals in South Korea, which surprised him "by showing not the private services imagined in my novel, as held in living rooms and offices for one person at a time, but by another way of doing business entirely": fake-burying en masse, for maximum efficiency.
Funereal doesn't come out out April 14, 2015, so I asked Lee to hand over the opening chapter so Boing Boing readers can give it a read and see what they think in the meantime. You can download it as a PDF here. As a fellow Korea enthusiast, I think I speak for both Lee and myself when I say that the country has plenty to love. But every country offers plenty not to love, and out of that grim material he as crafted the first Western novel of Korea's dark side.Chapter one of Funereal by Giacomo Lee
I'm a huge fan of Dr. Oliver Sacks. He's led a very interesting life, as a medical researcher, professor of neurology, lover of music, lover of things that explode, and intrepid psychonaut.
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Though I appreciate a well-made physical book, I don't collect the things aggressively as some do. Yet I can't suppress my desire to possess certain, highly specific volumes. At the top of that stack of literary desiderata stands this one by Generation X, Microserfs, and jPod author Douglas Coupland (star of Close Personal Friend, featured here last week).
"In 2000, Mike Howatson, a gifted Vancouver animator, and I produced an illustrated novel called God Hates Japan,” writes Coupland on a blog he briefly kept at the New York Times. "It was published only in Japanese — beautifully and elegantly, I might add — by Kadokawa Shoten in 2001. It’s the story of characters lost in a malaise that swept Japanese culture after the burst of the bubble economy in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It also depicted the way some of these characters lived in the shadow of a death cult’s 1995 sarin-gas assault on Tokyo’s subway system."
Though he seldom deals directly with Japanese themes in his work, Coupland has a history with the country. He first went there in 1983, as an exchange student at the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo. Later, he would return for a degree in Japanese Business Science from the Japan-America Institute of Management Science ("I know, it’s as random as it sounds").
A connection made there put God Hates Japan on the cutting edge of digital publishing. One of Coupland's classmates "owned a mobile phone advertising company in Tokyo, so we simultaneously published the book in a digital form that could be read via cell phone. Images from the book became animated and appeared on screen in between chunks of text as readers clicked their way through. It was kind of crazy, and maybe 11 people finished the whole thing (that’s a lot of clicking), but the illustration and themes lent themselves to the format nicely, and it was definitely some kind of first."
The timing of Coupland's own experience in Japan placed him well to write about that malaise that set in after its seemingly unstoppable postwar economic growth ground to a halt. He worked as a researcher-designer at Magazine House in 1985 and 1986, a period of which he recalls this: "We'd go out for $4,000 lunches. It was obviously unsustainable, and everyone knew it, but it stopped nothing. It was a death spiral."
Still, even a "lost decade" in Japan has more to offer than a prosperous decade in a fair few other countries, and it all looks even more interesting when processed through the Couplandian filter. But will his large English-language readership ever get to read God Hates Japan?
Not before it goes through one further filter still. The publisher must, Coupland says, "find a novice Japanese-English translator, and then publish his or her first, uncorrected translation of the book. It would be such a wonderful piece of Japanglish, those weird contortions of English that the Japanese put on their shirts and products, mostly from the 1980’s into the mid 1990’s, but not anymore, really." Okay, young English Translation Studies majors of Japan: who dares take on this challenge?
A scientist, his dog and an MRI machine. In How Dogs Love Us, Gregory Berns tells the story of how he is seeking to decode the canine brain.
Neuroscientist Gregory Burns, and his off-beat team of researchers, came up with the idea of putting a dog on an MRI. If military trained dogs could help eliminate Osama bin Laden as a terrorist threat, why couldn't they be taught to lay still for an MRI? If Burns and team could just capture that data, they might be able tell us what dogs are really thinking.
Berns loves dogs and he loves his dogs. He does an amazing job of communicating what is special about our relationships with our canine companions and why we should be curious as to how dogs view that bond. This book is more the story of how they got to start collecting data, rather than one that presents hard truths about canine mentation. It is still a wonderful read. I did have a hard time, however, as one of Burns dogs is named Callie. I recently lost a Callie of my own.
I'll be looking forward to the second book, where Berns share more research. This edition was available "free" via Kindle Unlimited.
Marriage is a surprising story about relationships and people by science fiction legend, HG Wells.
Scott McCloud is best known as comics’ most accessible, smartest theorist, thanks to his 1994 classic Understanding Comics. But the other McCloud, of superhero comics like ZOT! is equally beloved by the cognoscenti. With The Sculptor, McCloud reminds us that he is one of the field’s great storytellers, with a story of love, art, madness and death that wrenches, delights and confounds.Read the rest
Here's the never-before-seen cover to Neal Stephenson's highly anticipated forthcoming novel, Seveneves, which goes on sale May 19.
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Greatfall, a take on religion in the world of Hugh Howey's Wool, was my introduction to Jason Gurley's writing, and I was immediately hooked on the fresh take on the Silos inhabited by the specter of an imposing and oppressive cult. Having enjoyed myself I set out to try some of Gurley's original IP through his collection of short stories, Deep Breath Hold Tight, which has become one of my favorite books.
Despite being introduced to Gurley through another author's universe, Greatfall is representative of his work. Gurley has a mind for building compelling speculative worlds, and there's a consistently oppressive, dystopian quality that runs throughout this book of seven short stories. The tone is reminiscent of Black Mirror, if the subject matter wasn't restricted to technology.
The collection is consistently excellent, from Wolf Skin and it's post-apocalyptic survival tale through The Caretaker, a story of a solitary astronaut and her growing realization that she may be the last living human being, on through Onyx, an exploration of guilt and class struggle on a space station as humanity escapes a decaying Earth.
It's The Dark Age that stands out the most for me, not just because it's the final story; the examination of the period surrounding a one hundred and fouty-four year deep space hibernation condenses a crew's lifetime of regret into several dozen pages of gut-wrenching regret. Deep Breath Hold Tight is the perfect book to read on a rainy January day punctuated by bouts of sobbing into a pillow.