Steven Johnson: the flashbulb and urban poverty

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Over at Medium, Steven Johnson, author of How We Got To Now, writes about how the 19th century invention of flash photography shined a light on poverty.

"Flash Forward: How We Got To Know"

Ten worst opening lines in novels

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The American Scholar presents a list of the ten worst opening lines in novels. I don't agree with all their choices, but I agree that most are awful enough to make me abandon the book after reading the first sentence.

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Kidscomic Shakespeare: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

Adapting Shakespeare for kids is an age-old tradition stretching back almost to the time of Shakespeare itself. But as Cory Doctorow discovered, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth brings The Scottish Play to life for audiences young and old in kids-comic form with a lot of broad humor and some grisly murder besides.

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Medievalists on Disney's middle ages

A fascinating new scholarly essay collection, The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past, looks at Disney's portrayal of the middle ages and reflects on how these are inextricably linked to other Disney settings, from Tomorrowland to Frontierland, and how the "Americanized" medieval narrative has played out over the decades.

John McChesney-Young sent me a great review of the book by Yale historian Paul Freedman, which is in the current issue of The Medieval Review (but not yet in its online archive):

Fantasyland is the home of neo-medieval stories, especially of princesses and their accoutrements; it has been gendered female. Adventureland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland incline towards a male audience, or at least they did in their heyday. Changing public perceptions have meant that the Old West as a setting for the making of rugged American character runs up against an appreciation of the fate of Native Americans, while with the fading allure of pre-internet "Gee Whiz" technology, Tomorrowland has been partially reinvented as "Retroland," a kind of self-mocking "Jetsons" take on what we once thought the future would look like (p. 69).

Fantasyland remains the core of the Disney imagination, and it is lightly dusted with medieval fairy-sparkle. It can't really call to mind even a first-order artificial nineteenth-century romantic Middle Ages, because that would interfere with the goal of presenting Disney's modern world as "the happiest place on earth," a happiness that is more goal-oriented and, one might say, middle-class values-centered than escapist or expressive of discontent with the present. The pastness of Disney's fantasies is tempered and in effect denied by anti-elitist, can-do characters. Amy Foster in "Futuristic Medievalism" shows how the medieval past is shaped by American anti-elitism and the promise of technology. Unidentified Flying Oddball was a 1979 reworking of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in which a NASA engineer is transported to Camelot. Not only does he amaze the court with his scientific knowledge and gadgetry, his "regular guy" nature is paramount. He treats peasants, servants and King Arthur alike, for example. Bob Gossedge, in an essay devoted to the 1963 animation of The Sword in the Stone, points out that young "Wart," the future King Arthur, is the only principal character in that film with an American accent. Merlin, in a cultivated English voice, instructs Wart that he needs to get "these medieval ideas out of your head--clear the way for new ideas: knowledge of man's fabulous discoveries in the centuries ahead" (pp. 127-128). One sees similarities in the all-American rendering of underdog heroes like Zorro in the 1957-1959 television series or Remy in Ratatouille (2007). Disney's principal characters tend to be resourceful Americans (whatever their putative nationality) stuck in a past that is attractively fantastic, but irritatingly hierarchical and behind-the-times.

Disney's egalitarianism is about universal opportunity, not economic equality. It amounts to what Foster (p. 164) refers to as "sentimental populism" based on Horatio Alger, not Marx. Anyone can be a princess, anyone can cook (in the non-medieval Ratatouille). The mistreated Snow White and Cinderella are eventually exalted and not only does "happily ever after happen every day," but it happens to anyone receptive to the Disney message or "magic."

The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past [Pugh and Aronstein, eds]

(Thanks, John!)

Cory's In Real Life book-tour!


I'm heading out on tour with my new graphic novel In Real Life, adapted by Jen Wang from my story Anda's Game -- I hope you'll come out and see us!

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Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books to be adapted for TV

The books, which are among the best science fiction ever written, have been picked up by Game of Thrones co-producer Vince Gerardis, which bodes very well for the adaptation.

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Help fund Last Gasp Books!

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For 45 years, our friends at Last Gasp have kept the counterculture busy with books, publishing wild, weird, wonderful, and subversive works by R Crumb, Robert Wilson, Diane di Prima, Mark Ryden, Timothy Leary, and a slew of other greats; Now they need our help. Last Gasp has launched a Kickstarter to fund the printing of their next season of books, a stellar line-up of projects by the likes of Camille Rose Garcia, Ron English, the Thanatos Archive, and Mike Davis. The awards are fantastic!

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Neil Gaiman on the quiet rage of Terry Pratchett


Neil Gaiman's introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of Terry Pratchett's nonfiction essays, exposes a little-known side of the writer than many think of as a "twinkly old elf" -- the rage that is Pratchett's engine, driving him to write deceptively simple stories that decry unfairness and make virtue from bravery.

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Monster Manual: bestiaries from 16th Century/1977/2014

Robert sez, "Dungeons & Dragons, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is about to release its new Monster Manual -- the original Monster Manual was a watershed moment in human history, part of a history that includes a 16th century bestiary, the Augsburg Book of Miracles; bestiaries reveal our profoundly human desire for an enchanted, magical world."

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Revisiting the first Tiptree Award anthology

It's Banned Books Week, and what better way to celebrate than with a review of the first James Tiptree Award Anthology, published in 2004 by the committee who award the Tiptree each year for excellence in science fiction and fantasy that celebrates, explores and expands gender roles?

Lastly, I’d also like to give special “related to short-fiction” mention to the inclusion of “Everything But the Signature is Me” by Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.—the letter that was written after the person behind the Tiptree persona came to light. It’s friendly, jovial, and almost polished to a shine in its style of conversational discourse; it makes the whole situation of masks, gender, and outing seem gentle or trivial. Read in context with the biography of Sheldon and with other primary materials about how strongly she felt about her gender, her sexuality, and her experience with occupying the persona of a man, though… It’s an interesting counterpoint to all of that, a fascinating way of looking at how one person frames their difficult and complex relationships to the world as a gendered subject. And, more significantly, how that frame can differ depending on audience and intimacy. It’s an interesting piece, one I’d recommend giving a look alongside further reading about the enigmatic Sheldon/Tiptree.

As for the first half of this anthology: judging by my reactions, I’d say that the judges for this award and the editors of this volume are correct in noting that the pieces they’ve chosen are designed to provoke thought and conversation more than to be comfortable and easy to take in. I appreciate stories that give me a complex response, and stories that are trying to do hard work with narrative and gender. I do find myself often struck by a desire for them to go further, do more—but there’s room for all the types of stories on the narrative spectrum.

Short Fiction Spotlight: The James Tiptree Award Anthology (Part 1) [Brit Mandelo/Tor.com]

Science fiction fanzines, 1940s-1970s

Over at Thought Catalog, Mark Dery ruminates on Lenny Kaye's legendary collection of science fiction fanzines from the 1940s-1970s, on display next weekend at the New York Art Book Fair.

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Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel: Bad romance, Russia and writer's angst

Anya Ulinich’s 2008 debut novel Petropolis, marked her out as a master of tragicomic romance; now she’s back with a huge, hilarious, bitter graphic novel about sex, immigration, the Russian soul, and heartbreak. Cory Doctorow reviews Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel.

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Interview with Lauren "Broken Monsters" Beukes


Rick Kleffel from the Agony Column podcast interviews Lauren Beukes -- author of Broken Monsters (see this week's review) -- in fascinating detail, "Lauren Beukes discusses Broken Monsters, The Shining Girls, the supernatural and the all-too-natural, as well as the Internet and why her latest is not a criticism thereof."

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Wendy and Richard Pini's Complete Elfquest

The Complete Elfquest is a mammoth graphic novel collecting the entire original series, as self-published by Wendy and Richard Pini from 1978-1985. Rob Beschizza sums up what’s so great about it.

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The Jesus Lizard Book – The story of the ’90s influential and iconic indie-rock band

You don’t need to be a fan of The Jesus Lizard or even the indie-rock genre to appreciate what this iconic band accomplished. They recorded seven albums in eight years, created dynamic and inimitable music, and played 1000+ legendary live shows. Their superhuman touring schedule is captured perfectly on the first page in a photo of the band’s tour van odometer, turning over from 99,999 to 00000. The story of this influential '90s band transcends rock memorabilia or memoir, and unfolds an instructive tale of artistic triumph in the delicate balance between commerce and art.

It’s the victory of the underdog, it’s David vs. the Goliath of the major label record industry. It’s an inside look at the creative and business choices artists in any field must face as they work toward that elusive stage that defines success.

Steve Albini, famous for his work recording Nirvana’s last album, In Utero, said this of the band: “When I think of The Jesus Lizard, I think of them as the greatest band I’ve ever seen, as the best musicians I’ve ever worked with, and as the purest melding of the sublime and the profane.”

The Jesus Lizard Book was designed by vocalist and artist David Yow, with most of the content painstakingly recorded by the band’s exacting bassist, David Wm. Sims. All four band members contribute their perspective and experiences, in a loose structure starting with the band members’ backgrounds, how the band formed, each studio recording, and their astounding performance chronology. This template is peppered colorfully and playfully throughout with concert posters by the iconic Frank Kozik, recipes by singer David Yow (his Chocolate Bourbon Bread Pudding sounds delicious!) and photographs ranging from backstage polaroids to professionally shot panoramas.

The epic shot from the band’s perspective onstage at Reading Festival – one of the largest rock festivals in the world – speaks volumes of what this band built up with sheer tenacity, inventive musicianship – and a sense of humor which draws the reader playfully into their world.

Anchoring the book throughout are well-written, vivid and poignant anecdotes and tributes from those whose lives they touched, and who touched theirs. Characters like Steve Albini, Mike Watt, JG Thirlwell, Hank Williams III, Frank Kozik, and Gang of Four’s Andy Gill all provide a full spectrum take on the band’s history.

The range of different perspectives from all four band members on the same record is telling of the creative process and compromises that abound in collaborative art. For example, bassist David Wm. Sims strongly touts Shot as the best album he’s ever played on, but the Steve Albini-engineered Goat is ubiquitously considered their masterpiece. But as a reader, you don’t need to hear the songs to appreciate the story – and Book delivers the band right to your coffee table loud and clear.

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

The Jesus Lizard Book
by The Jesus Lizard
Akashic Books
2014, 176 pages, 13.4 x 8.4 x 1.2 inches