Koja's UNDER THE POPPY: dark, epic and erotic novel of war and intrigue

Kathe Koja's Under the Poppy is a novel unlike any other -- even unlike any other of Kathe Koja's books, which are a marvellous genre unto themselves. In some ways, Poppy marks a return to the early-period Koja, the purveyor of dark, erotic poesie, horror novels that dripped blood and fluids and explored the way that art and love and eros twine around themselves, in bottomless tragedy from which joy and beauty shine like pennies in the sewer.

Poppy has all the emotional sophistication of the late Koja, author of spare and lean young adult novels like Buddha Boy, but it also has an epic sweep that is entirely new here, a kind of vastness that breaks free of the claustrophobia through which her people fight and love.

Poppy opens in a middle-European town on the eve of war, sometime in the late 19th century: a disreputable and dirty town full of brothels and cutpurses and spies and intrigue. One such brothel, Under the Poppy, stands apart from the others: it is more than seller of sex: it is a stage where every night, whores act out fantastic playlets, spurred on by the virtuoso piano-playing of a tongueless player who expresses himself in mime and music.

To the Poppy comes Istvan, a puppeteer whose mecs -- elaborate clockwork automata -- are perfectly suited to the Poppy's stage, being endowed with enormous clockwork organs and Istvan's bawdy and funny-cruel ventriloquism. But Istvan isn't just a travelling jongleur; he is the long-lost brother of Decca, the madame of the house, and the long-lost lover of Rupert, the front-of-the-house man. All three were orphans together in the long-ago, until love and anger drove them apart. Now, reunited, they might have all they ever wanted.

Except for the war. The war, threatening from the distance, is coming to town. With it come conspirators and commanders: Jurgen Vidor, a sexually sadistic mercantile empire-builder; Mr Arrowsmith, the special aide to to the coming forces, and the General, commander of the armies and participant in the vast conspiracy that seeks to take all of Europe for a small cabal of rich and secretive men.

War descends, dreams are smashed, old friendships split at the seams, blood is spilled, the brave are braver, the cowards cover themselves in shame, and coarse soldiers take up residence in the Poppy. When the players and the whores flee for Brussels, the dream is at an end.

This is just the first act, and it's merely the setup for a second act that's long enough to be a book in its own right, in which the stories of minor and major characters retwine: love and betrayal, blackmail and beatings, sex and death, all in that gummy blackness of stained cobbles and old blood.

This book made me drunk. Koja's language is at its poetic best, and the epic drama had me digging my nails into my palms. It's like a Tom Waits hurdy-gurdy loser's lament come to life, as sinister as a dark circus.

Under the Poppy

Wonderful scans from a 1962 book of tech predictions for1975

Here's Meat Puppets drummer Derrick Bostrom's scans from Arnold B. Barach's 1962 book, 1975 and the Changes to Come. In addition to the usual hopes for space colonies and some prescient looks at things like pacemakers, there's also a healthy dose of wonderfully goofy, super-modernist TV designs and the ever-popular Kitchen of the Future (shown here).

1975 And The Changes To Come (via Paleofuture)

Verminous Dickens cake banned from Melbourne cake show

"Great Expectations, the Miss Havisham Cake," a remarkable, vermin-infested entry from the Hotham Street Ladies art collective was excluded from the Melbourne Cake Show on grounds of "bad taste." Boo!

Contraband Cake (Thanks, Ansible, via Submitterator)

Luke's mini-Catfish experience on PostSecret

My pal Luke Pebler was an unwitting PostSecret card, and he hopes the sender will get in touch with him.
201010151308On Saturday night, I received a frantic text from my wife instructing me to check postsecret.com "seriously right now." Although I was peripherally aware of the site, full of anonymous secrets collaged onto postcards, I had never visited.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the page loaded and the first postcard was me. Specifically, an old picture of me standing in my living room, wearing a Denver Broncos jersey and giving the camera a thumbs-up. The following handwritten secret had been overlaid:

To impress a girl
I rooted for the Denver Broncos
I hate myself for it

Over the next couple days I received many messages from friends and family, all ZOMGing over my appearance. The reactions broke cleanly into two camps -- about half thought it was hilarious and assumed that I or someone close to me had submitted it as a goof; the other half were convinced that a stranger had used the photo, and found that bizarre and slightly creepy. My wife, a media scholar, immediately pointed out that I was a "creator" whose work has been "poached and reinterpreted."

I wasn't sure what to feel, at first. Tickled? Flattered? Sketched out?

The more I think about it, the more I believe the author must be a stranger with an earnest secret, and not a friend playing a prank. As unlikely as it would be for a random someone to find and use the old pic (public on Flickr since 2006), it makes more sense than someone trying to tease me, through a site that I never read, by suggesting that I faked Broncos fandom (Preposterous!) in order to impress my (NFL-agnostic) wife.

I'm fascinated by the idea of someone using an amateur photograph of a stranger in such a fashion, when most PostSecrets make use of professional imagery from print ads or magazines. This person went to the trouble to find my picture online, print it out, add their secret, and snail mail it to PostSecret -- where it was rescanned and put back online, thus completing the social-media-compost Circle of Life.

I've gotten over my initial case of the willies. I'm dying to meet this person.

Which is, of course, antithetical to everything PostSecret stands for -- but I don't care. If you're out there, sir or madam -- I admire your sense of humor and taste in stock imagery. Please consider getting in touch.

The world according to San Francisco

As Homer Simpson once said, "It's funny cause it's true!" The World According to San Francisco (Thanks, Ted Weinstein!)

My Princess Boy

Five-year-old Dyson Kilodavis is a little boy who loves sparkly things: princess gowns, hot pink socks, glittery jewelry. Deal with it.

Richard Metzger over at Dangerous Minds points to a lovely children's book by Dyson's mom, titled My Princess Boy, and shares a surprisingly non-exploitative television interview with the boy's mom, dad, and older brother.

Richard says:

This child, I think it's clear, is going to be who and what he'll be. But unlike many kids like him, he's not going to grow up thinking there is anything wrong with who he is. This kid is FABULOUS and nothing less! With all of the gay bullying, suicides and the general anti-gay bigotry going on in rightwing circles, Cheryl, Dean and their older song Dkobe, deserve admiration and gratitude from the rest of us, for being such an amazing, wise examples for other people in their situation, with their loving parenting of their "Princess Boy."

You have to watch the video. Have some kleenex handy. I sure cried. It's right here: My Princess Boy: Meet the most awesome family in America
(Dangerous Minds, thanks Tara McGinley)

Amazon Link for the book.

Surf's Up. In Gaza. For Girls.

In the Atlantic, a piece about teen girls who enjoy surfing. In Gaza. An uplifting tale of gnarly waves, until you hit the punch line: They'll have to drop the hobby when they're 17, in accordance with cultural norms. (via @legalnomads)

What's it like to be incarcerated in a US prison?

I could not stop reading this series of posts from a 99chan forum regular who returns after a 2 year prison sentence until I'd finished every last word. Terrifying, dehumanizing stuff. But is it real, or fiction? The "chans" aren't exactly where one goes for fact-checked documentaries. (via @mala)

Insane Clown Posse: Stealth Evangelical Christians (bonus: Juggalo Buffet Hut)

A one-two punch for you Boing Boing readers in the juggalo department. First, a faux video ad for Buffet Hut, which perfectly mimics the production style of actual, official "Gathering of the Juggalos" informercials we've blogged here before.
(Thanks, Cheap Little Films, via Submitterator).

When you're done with the free Faygo refills there, read this Guardian UK interview with Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, which proclaims bluntly what's been tossed around online for some time: the duo say they are Evangelical Christians, and kept their faith in the closet for two decades.

They indulged in violent/shock/sexually explicit lyrics on the earlier records to attract a devoted cult of fans, the story goes— then dropped The God Shizz on 'em with "Miracles" and more recent material.

The Guardian interview is funny and disturbing, whatever the truth is—just like the band. As an aside: The interview takes place in Milwaukee. I love how the London-based writer feels compelled to hammer into our heads that ICP is violent by reminding us in the very first graf that Jeffrey Dahmer is from Milwaukee. Eye-roll. I bet he was getting ready for his flight to Wisconsin and Wikipedia'd that, and was like, "Aha! Got 'em!"

Hey, bub. Know who else is from Milwaukee? Laverne and Shirley. Also, Fonzie.

Anyway, it's a fun piece. For me, the news here is not that ICP are evangelicals seeking to convert fans to Christ. It's that despite all the frontin', they're emo souls: comment trolls and bad reviews on Livejournal get under their greasepainted skin:

"I get anxiety and shit a lot," [Shaggy] says. "And reading that stuff people write about us... It hurts."

"Least talented band in the world," Violent J says. "No talent. When I hear that I think, 'Damn. Are we that different from people?'"

He looks as if he means it - as if he sometimes feels hopelessly stuck being him.

It's just a terrible twist of fate for Insane Clown Posse that theirs is a form of creative expression that millions of people find ridiculous. But then suddenly, palpably, Violent J pulls himself out of his introspection. They're about to go on stage and he doesn't want to be maudlin. He wants to be on the offensive. He shoots me a defiant look and says, "You know Miracles? Let me tell you, if Alanis Morissette had done that fucking song everyone would have called it fucking genius."

So next time a Juggalo tosses a bowling ball into your windshield and yells "faggot" at you, then blesses you in the name of Christ—before you scream back at him, remember that he is a sensitive person with deep feelings.

Insane Clown Posse: And God created controversy

Read the rest

Norway's grassy roofs

Here's a nice little collection of rural Norwegian homes whose roofs have been given over to the traditional turf -- and even small forests.
Turf roofs in Norway are a tradition and you will see them everywhere. Roofs in Scandinavia have probably been covered with birch bark and sod since prehistory. During the Viking and Middle Ages most houses had sod roofs. In rural areas sod roofs were almost universal until the beginning of the 18th century. Tile roofs, which appeared much earlier in towns and on rural manors, gradually superseded sod roofs except in remote inland areas during the 19th century. Corrugated iron and other industrial materials also became a threat to ancient traditions. But just before extinction, the national romantics proclaimed a revival of vernacular traditions, including sod roofs. A new market was opened by the demand for mountain lodges and holiday homes. At the same time, open air museums and the preservation movement created a reservation for ancient building traditions. From these reservations, sod roofs have begun to reappear as an alternative to modern materials.

Every year, since 2000, an award is also given to the best green roof proje

The Grass Roofs of Norway (via Geisha Asobi)

Art foundation has a pot farm to fund art projects

A northern California art foundation called Life is Art funds projects from the proceeds of its marijuana farm. From the New York Times:
Pot-Farm-Art At a going wholesale rate of $200 or more an ounce in the Bay Area for high-quality medical marijuana, it’s a lot simpler than raising money the traditional way, the project’s organizers point out. And – except for the nagging fact that selling marijuana remains a crime under federal law – it even feels more honest to the people behind Life Is Art. They see it as a way of supporting the cause with physical labor and the fruits of the land instead of the wheedling of donors, an especially appealing prospect in an economy where raising money has become more difficult than ever.

Photo slide show by Jim Wilson

In California, Pot Is Now an Art Patron

Chilean miners got 99 problems, unfortunately this *is* one

You think the Chilean miners have it bad while trapped? For some, their wives and (sometimes multiple) mistresses are just now discovering one other's existence, and catfighting over both the returning men and anticipated monetary compensation. Uh-oh. (thanks EeyoreX)

Tom Waits and Preservation Hall Jazz Band release limited-edition 78RPM record and matching limited edition record-player

Tom Waits and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band recorded a pair of songs to benefit the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program and they're releasing them as a limited-edition 78RPM album. Donate $200 and you can get a gorgeous, custom 78RPM record player to go with it (alas, the first-day sales are limited to in-person customers at Preservation Hall in NOLA, and I'm guessing everything will be snapped up for eBay resale by the time the official online sales open up the next day).

I'm really interested in the creative use of premium physical objects that trade on the value of digital art. It seems to me that the more widely copied and well-loved a digital piece is, the more the limited physical premium will be. Alas, many of the physical premiums offered by bands and authors and so on look like they came out of a Skymall catalog. But stuff like this, well, it's so far in my sweet spot that I'm wondering if I can get back to NOLA for the sale.

Mr. Waits traveled to New Orleans in 2009 to record two songs with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for the critically acclaimed project Preservation: An album to benefit Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program, "Tootie Ma Was A Big Fine Thing" , and "Corrine Died On The Battlefield". Originally recorded by Danny Barker in 1947, these two selections are the earliest known recorded examples of Mardi Gras Indian chants.

The two tracks will now be packaged in a special limited edition 78 rpm format record, each signed and numbered by Preservation Hall Creative Director Ben Jaffe. The first one hundred records will be accompanied by a custom-made Preservation Hall 78rpm record player as part of a Deluxe Donation package. The remaining four hundred and four will be available as a standalone record for the Basic Donation package.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Tom Waits On 78 rpm Vinyl (TomWaits.com)

Tom Waits Releases 78 RPM Record and Player (Pitchfork.com)

(Thanks, Stuart, via Submitterator!)

Fannish Disneyland blueprints

Flickr user Enfilm creates insanely detailed, beautiful blueprints for rides and buildings at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Paris (including plans for lost favorites, such as If You Had Wings). Shown here, the Disneyland Enchanted Tiki Room.

Disneyland Drawings (via A Whole Lotta Nothing)

Science fiction charity auction

Matthew from NYC's KGB science fiction reading series sez, "Ellen Datlow and I are currently holding a raffle to support the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading series in NY. We are raffling off prizes from such notables as Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Nancy Kress, Catherynne M. Valente, George R.R. Martin, Ellen Kushner, & dozens more. We also have carnivorous plants. (We also may be raffling off wormholes, signed by physicist Michio Kaku, but we are awaiting confirmation.) Raffle tickets are $1 each." I've got a prize or two in there too! (Thanks, Matthew!)