Boing Boing 

Fairest: the women of Willingham's Fables stories get their own comic

Fairest centers around the lives of many of the great women of fabledom: Briar Rose, Sleeping Beauty's fairy godmothers and the frost queen, merging their stories with the tale of Ali Baba (albeit a different Ali Baba than the one you may have encountered in legends). Read the rest

Coding Freedom: an anthropologist understands hacker culture

Biella Coleman is a geek anthropologist, in both senses of the epithet: an anthropologist who studies geeks, and a geek who is an anthropologist. Though she's best known today for her excellent and insightful work on the mechanism and structure underpinning Anonymous and /b/, Coleman is also an expert on the organization, structure, philosophy and struggles of the free software/open source movements. I met Biella while she was doing fieldwork as an intern at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She's also had deep experience with the Debian project and many other hacker/FLOSS subcultures.

Coleman's has published her dissertation, edited and streamlined, under the title of Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, which comes out today from Princeton University Press (Quinn Norton, also well known for her Wired reporting on Anonymous and Occupy, had a hand in the editing). Coding Freedom walks the fine line between popular accessibility and scholarly rigor, and does a very good job of expressing complex ideas without (too much) academic jargon.

Coding Freedom is insightful and fascinating, a superbly observed picture of the motives, divisions and history of the free software and software freedom world. As someone embedded in both those worlds, I found myself surprised by connections I'd never made on my own, but which seemed perfectly right and obvious in hindsight. Coleman's work pulls together a million IRC conversations and mailing list threads and wikiwars and gets to their foundations, the deep discussion evolving through the world of free/open source software.

Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

Future Perfect: an optimistic look at the future of networked politics

I've read and enjoyed innumerable Steven Johnson books; he's one of those great science writers who can gather together disparate phenomena from the technological world and tease out of them a coherent story about what's happening to the world right under our noses.

His latest, Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age, is no exception. Johnson proposes that people who believe in the Internet are not techno-utopians, but rather "peer progressives" -- people who believe that progress is possible when peers work together through non-hierarchical, networked systems.

Johnson lays out the case for peer progressivism as being neither of the right nor the left. It shares some of the right's beliefs in markets -- the idea that the distributed intelligence of lots of people produces better outcomes than centralized decision-making. But it shares some of the left's belief in collective, state-driven spending -- the idea that systems like the Internet don't get produced by advantage-seeking commercial firms (which want to make walled gardens), but rather by governments trying to attain some public-interest goals.

Using this lens of public-spirited, state-sponsored development to create market-driven, individual-centered systems, Johnson lays out his case, showing how the Internet has enabled radical shifts in city management, political campaigning, newsgathering, arts funding, and entrepreneurship. Each of these chapters is well-drawn, and Johnson's careful to label his uncertainties when he has them, rather than trying to shoehorn the facts to fit his thesis.

I was particularly struck by the chapter on news-publishing, in which Johnson suggests that the Internet has demonstrated a capacity to produce fine-grained, intelligent, well-thought-through coverage of various subjects. He suggests that tech news -- the most mature news-subject on the net -- is a template for future subjects. The early days of the Web were particularly hard on tech publications, which struggled to remain relevant with monthly publications in the age of up-to-the-minute Internet coverage, and to continue to pay the bills as online new sources expanded the advertising inventory by orders of magnitude. But over time, a kind of stability emerged, an ecosystem of news coverage that beggars anything of the pre-Internet age. Johnson suggests that the net isn't inherently great at covering tech, but that it was just the first of many news niches the net will cover, and that in time, it will be a model for overall networked newsgathering (he also mentions studies showing that newspaper readers are more likely to inhabit an echo chamber of bias-confirming news than online news junkies).

This is a refreshing, optimistic, level-headed read, and the idea of "peer progressive" is a good one, with the potential to get people thinking outside the Dem/GOP, left/right boxes.

Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland


Fables creator Bill Willingham continues his impossible run of prolific, high-quality, highly varied stories based on the idea that all the fables, myths and stories of the world are secretly true, and that they all live together, hidden among the real, "mundy" world. The hardcover Werewolves tells the back-story of Bibgy Wolf -- his time as a crack Nazi-hunting guerrilla in the dark forests of Germany. This past comes back to haunt him when he discovers a midwestern town populated entirely by werewolves that have been created by a beautiful, ruthless Nazi scientist who isolated a serum from blood that Bigby left behind when he helped foil a Nazi attempt to revive Frankenstein's monster to fight on their side.

Werewolves draws on the likes of EC Comics' Two-Fisted Tales and other hyper-violent war comics, with plenty of gory decapitations, ruthless executions, suicides, immolations, and tough talk. It's just the right kind of story for Bigby, who's one of the best characters from Fables, which has lots of terrific characters to choose from. The book could conceivably stand alone -- it has its own complete storyline -- but it's much richer in the context of the wider Fables universe.

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Tune: Derek Kirk Kim's alien abduction romcom

Today, Derek Kirk Kim's online science fictional rom-com comic Tune has been collected in the first of (I hope) many volumes, with Tune: Vanishing Point. Read the rest

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! an excellent way to get started in Scratch


Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is No Starch Press's excellent adventure to Scratch, the extremely popular (and absolutely wonderful) kids' programming environment from the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group.

Produced with the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is a graphic novel that walks readers through a series of extremely well-designed game-design projects, each of which introduces a new concept or two to young programmers, providing a gentle learning curve for mastering Scratch's many powerful features.

To get a sense of these projects, have a look at No Starch's project site for the book, which provides downloads of all the sprites, artwork and sound for each one (the book encourages you to use these as starting points, and to modify them or create your own from scratch).

I've been interested in the book since Mark reviewed it in September, and was delighted to get a chance to read it myself. My daughter is too young for this one as yet -- Scratch requires basic literacy in order to really work with it. But reading it, I got very excited about the possibility of working with her on it in a year or two (for example, once she's mastered numbers and letter recognition, I'm sure we could have a lot of fun just taking the existing projects and modifying them with her art and voice).

I fell in love with Logo and BASIC games programming when I was 9, and reading through these projects really brought back the excitement. What's more, it feels like Scratch has all the stuff I wished Logo had built in when started out -- for example, you can create if-then loops for sprites that evaluate whether a sprite is touching a certain color ("If I am touching orange, then..."), something that's used in a maze-navigation game where all the maze-walls are orange.

Scratch feels like the second coming of Hypercard, mixing graphics and drag-and-drop code-blobs, but Scratch is all free/open source software, so there's much less danger of a single vendor killing it off. There's even a nascent project to port Scratch to Android, which would be especially fun.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Sweet Tooth 5: Unnatural Habitats, in which the chimeric apocalypse gets even more engrossing

I've just finished Unnatural Habitats, the fifth collection of Jeff Lemire's apocalyptic Sweet Tooth comics, and I continue to be absolutely taken by it, on the grimmest of tenterhooks for the next volume.

Sweet Tooth's is set against a mysterious end-of-the-world, a horrific plague that kills most of humanity, and causes pregnant women to give birth to human/animal chimeras. The protagonist, Sweet Tooth, is a deer/boy, raised by his weirdly religious father in the woods, and then thrown into the brutal outside world when his father dies. He is captured by medical experimenters, escapes, and journeys across America with a shifting band of allies who may or may not have Sweet Tooth's best interests at heart.

Volume 5 proves that Lemire knows what he's doing with his storytelling. He whipsaws the pacing with a multi-part flashback to an early twentieth century Arctic expedition that hints at the plague's origin, then jumps back to the present day and a series of interlocking perils that raise the stakes for Sweet Tooth and his companions.

Lemire is a Dickensian master of the cliff hanger. Each monthly episode collected in the Sweet Tooth books leaves you eager for the next one, and each volume leaves you gutted at the thought of having to wait months for a new collection (I could read the singles, but I prefer to get my comics in concentrated, six-at-once doses). The story of Sweet Tooth is a great adventure, great science fiction, and great comics.

Once again, here's the first volume, in case you'd like to grab all five parts at once and consume a deep, deep draught of the story.

Sweet Tooth 5: Unnatural Habitats

Philip Pullman's Grimm's Fairytales

Philip Pullman -- best know for his Dark Materials series -- has written a new edition of the Brothers Grimm stories, called Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. It's the 200th anniversary of the Grimm collection, and Pullman's edition includes author's notes and Aarne–Thompson classifications.Read the rest

Hilda and the Bird Parade: high adventure kids' comic in the style of Miyazaki & Jansson

Hilda and the Bird Parade is every bit the triumph that the earlier volumes were, full of adventure and mystery.Read the rest

Rookie: Yearbook One - Sassy's second coming

Rookie: Yearbook One is the first book-length anthology of Rookie magazine, spun out of Style Rookie.Read the rest

Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312: a novel that hints at what we might someday have (and lose)

Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 is an insanely ambitious novel of life three hundreds years hence, set in a solar system where the Earth continues to limp along, half-drowned, terrified, precarious -- and only one of many inhabited places.Read the rest

The best cheap, all-purpose juicer: Omega 8003

During my treatment for breast cancer this year, nutrition was a big challenge. Hell, getting any food down was a challenge during chemo and radiation. That's where my interest in fresh juices began. I hunted around for a single, affordable device that could produce a diverse array of juice, and ended up with the Omega J8003. It rocks.Read the rest

Bong: "Live At Roadburn 2010" music review

After enthused hails from the crowd, the first of two loooooong tracks starts up, or seeps in, eerie and airy and understated, quite lovely really, not at all heavy, but nicely hypnotic...Read the rest

Pratchett's Dodger: Dickens by way of Discworld

Terry Pratchett's latest novel, Dodger, isn't a Discworld book, except, well, it kind of is. Nominally, this is an historical novel, a fictionalized account of the fictionalized person who inspired Mr Charlie Dickens to create his much-beloved character The Artful Dodger. But as the story unfolds, the parallels between the early Victorian London of Dickens (and Mayhew) and the Ankh-Morpork of Pratchett's Discworld novels become sharper and clearer, so that by the end, we're reading a story that really could be set in either one of those fantastical places.Read the rest

New York Five: beautifully told coming-of-age comic from Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

DC's Vertigo has published The New York Five, the sequel (and conclusion?) to the original Minx title. I've just finished it and it was worth the wait. The characters from the original story return seasoned by their first semester, wiser and more gunshy, but still filled with the wild, reckless energy that made them so engaging in the first volume.Read the rest

Pinkwater's Bushman Lives: absurdist misfit story is an insightful treatise on art

Daniel Pinkwater's Bushman Lives is another of Pinkwater's marvellous novels for young adults (and adults!) in which a misfit narrator embraces his inner weirdo and finds odd joy. Harold Knishke is a young man in late 1950s Chicago who finds himself with a lot of spare time thanks to weird political patronage at his high-school, which results in him serving as a corrupt hall monitor who can excuse himself from school grounds on his own recognizance. One day, he quits flute lessons, sells his flute to his relieved instructor, and uses the money to take up life-drawing classes at a beatnik art school across the street from a mysterious whitewashed house whose paint is constantly being replenished by mysterious, hissing humanoids all dressed in white wrapping.

Woven into this narrative is the story of Geets Hildebrand, Harold's best friend, who runs away to join the Navy. Geets and Harold share an obsession with Bushman, the Lincoln Park Zoo's storied gorilla, a tragic and dignified figure. Geets is discharged from the Navy and discovers a secret society of rural misfits in a state park who tell him about a hidden castle on a hidden island in the middle of a lake.

Harold's life is one odd thing after another. He meets a young woman training to be a wise-woman who hips him to Willem de Kooning and then gets him a mentor who is obsessed with mural-painting and baking potatoes. He is inducted into an artist's workshop in a mysterious transdimensional building. He learns that there is a folk song about him, but can't make out the lyrics.

But most of all, Harold learns about art -- about the techniques of visual art, about the weird phonies that haunt the art world, but most importantly (and movingly) about the drive to make art and the thing that art does for its audiences.

Daniel Pinkwater and his wife Jill are both visual artists, and Bushman Lives is, more than anything, a book about art, and a very good one. I'd read Pinkwater all day long even if his absurdist fairy tales were nothing more than odd little stories, but as Bushman Lives (and his other works) proves, Pinkwater's absurdism is a delivery system for profound and important insight that stay with you for years and decades.

Bushman Lives was serialized online prior to publication, and really rewards your attention.

Bushman Lives

V/H/S review: The buzz was way more exciting (and likable)

As a big fan of horror, as well as the found-footage subgenre, I was really excited to see V/H/S, a found-footage horror anthology. After it screened at Sundance, it got a lot of buzz -- people were passing out, leaving the theater, men and women gnashing their teeth, etc. So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized I was glad I'd stayed home and paid about half the price of a theater ticket to get it on demand. Despite a few genuinely scary moments, it was hard to get past the fact that I wanted every single character in V/H/S to die a horrible death so I wouldn't have to watch them anymore.

If you have your heart absolutely set on seeing V/H/S, then by all means, see it. But if you're on the fence or having any doubts, let me share what I didn't like, and maybe you'll share my opinion. (If not, that's also cool.)

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Supergod: Warren Ellis's horrific arms-race endtimes


Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny's Supergod is a magnificently grim and horrifying superhero comic, in which a British government scientist narrates the sequence of events that killed the planet Earth, in whose rubble he sits. Supergod is the story of a secret arms-race, in which the major powers of the world all conspired to produce superhuman, godlike beings who were meant to act as their national saviors. Instead, each of these gods becomes a force of ineffable and unstoppable terror, killing and laying waste in unfathomable acts of horrific violence.

The story is pure Ellis. It's both cynical and charming, and pushes out a vision of end-times that goes further over the weirdness frontier than anyone has any right to go. The supergods here are grotesque monsters who are nevertheless lovely and even sometimes sweet (for example, the three British astronauts who are sent into space to be mutated into a godlike state return as a composite fungal hybrid being called Morrigan Lugas, whose spores cause the scientists around it to worship it like a god while masturbating uncontrollably).


Warren Ellis is a strong tonic, and he burns going down, and it's hard to get a good night's sleep if you consume too much before bed, but the burning is a good one, and even a necessary one.

Supergod

Sailor Twain: don't fall in love with the mermaid of the Hudson valley


I wrote about Sailor Twain, Mark Siegel's beautiful, haunting serialized graphic novel when it began. Since then, the story of a New York steamship captain who is haunted by his love for a mermaid has run its course, and today it has been published in a single, handsome hardcover volume from FirstSecond.

Sailor Twain tells the story of Captain Twain of the Lorelei, which plies its trade up and down the Hudson valley, while the ship's owner, a dissolute Frenchman, seduces the wives of the gentry in the owner's cabin. Captain Twain's own beloved wife is wasting with some unspecified disease on land, and he works to raise money to send her to specialists. He's a good man, beset with tragedy, and he has forgotten how to write the poetry he once loved.

And then comes the day when he spies a mermaid clinging to the deck of the Lorelei, gravely wounded. He pulls her from the sea and into his cabin, and everything changes for Sailor Twain. The poetry comes back, and at his request, she never sings for him, never puts him under her siren spell. But still, he is hers.

Out spills a mystery, a story about seduction and duty, mythology and gender, dreams lost and dreams forgotten, and the lure of magic and wonder. Siegel's illustrations are charcoal drawings that fearlessly mix highly detailed, realistic depictions with cartoons, impressionistic smears, and caricature, and they are moody and grey and dreamlike, the perfect match for the story.

This is a stupendous work, a beautiful and sad and lovely thing. If you don't believe me, go read it online for free and see for yourself.

Sailor Twain

eBook review: Blue Skies, Atopia Chronicles

Blue Skies is a great start to Matthew Mather's Atopia Chronicles. In just a few pages he introduces you to believable future and a character I immediately identified with.

Olympia is an advertising exec run out of steam, but she can't admit it. She is past the edge of a nervous breakdown and needs to find some control. She doesn't like to use drugs but agrees to test a new technology, nanobots embed 'smaticles' into her nervous system and give complete control over the reality she perceives -- bots aren't drugs! With the help of her new poly-synthetic sensory interface, or "pssi," Olympia learns one of those "be careful what you wish for" lessons.

Blue Skies, Atopia Chronicles Book 1, by Matthew Mather

or consider the entire collection:

The Complete Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather

A Wrinkle in Time, worthy graphic novel adaptation

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle's justly loved young adult novel about children who must rescue a dimension-hopping physicist who has been trapped by a malignant intelligence bent on bringing conformity to the universe.

Hill and Wang's A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel is Hope Larson's really wonderful and worthy adaptation of the original. Larson is very faithful to the original text, and the graphic form really suits the story, as it allows for direct illustration of some of the more abstract concepts (such as the notion of folding space in higher dimensions to attain faster-than-light transpositions of matter).

But Larson does more than capture the abstract with her graphics. L'Engle's charm and gift was in her ability to marry the abstract with the numinous -- to infuse stories about math and physics with so much heart, heartbreak, bravery, sorrow and joy that they changed everyone who read them. Larson does a brilliant job of capturing this crucial element of L'Engle's style.

I read this book aloud to my four year old daughter over a couple weeks' worth of bedtimes. There were plenty of times when I was sure that the nuances of the story were going over her head (she didn't come out of the experience with any sense of what a tesseract is!) but her interest never, ever wavered. That's because Larson's illustrations do such a fine job of showing the emotional arc of L'Engle's characters that even a small child could not help but be drawn into the drama. In fact, reading this book turned out to be both a treat and a chore, because every night's session ended with her demanding that I read more. And when we finished the book and closed the cover, she took it from my hands, turned it over, handed it back to me and said, "Again."

Hard to argue with that.

Hill and Wang were kind enough to give us exclusive access to chapter two, which you'll find below, past the jump!

A Wrinkle in Time

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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is the long-awaited sequel to Cat Valente's debut novel The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and it delivers on all the promise of that book, which is one of the strongest fantasy novels for young readers I've had the pleasure of getting lost in.

September, the young heroine of Circumnavigated, is back in the mundane world when she chases a green wind across the Nebraska prairie and returns to her beloved Fairyland. But it's not Fairyland as she remembered it: her shadow -- lost on a previous adventure -- has become the Hollow Queen of the Underworld, and is using her minion, the terrible Alleyman, to steal all of Fairyland's shadows and with them, Fairyland's magic. Equipped with a magic ration-book and a few scant adventurer's supplies, September runs to the Underworld for a series of Adventures, in an attempt to foil her shadow's evil and restore the natural order to Fairyland above.

But this is a Valente novel, so nothing is at seems. There's as much Phantom Tollbooth here as there is Narnia, a disorienting but familiar sense of story-ness as September travels slantwise through the underworld, shot through with menace and heroism. You never know what's coming next in Fell Beneath, and the most roundabout and whimsical turns always come back around to the main story and its payoff.

As masterful as the first novel, and with a reprise of Ana Juan's illustrations, this is a most worthy sequel. I'm also excited to note that there's an unabridged, DRM-free MP3CD audiobook edition, because this is one of those fairytales, like Gaiman's Stardust, that you want to have read aloud to you.

If your fancy is tickled by this, don't miss Deathless, Valente's fantasy for adults about the Siege of Leningrad.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

eBook Review: Warm Moonlight

Warm Moonlight is the second Kindle Single I've read by Joseph Wurtenbaugh. I really like his style!

Warm Moonlight reveals a former 20's gun moll turned grandmother, sharing a supernatural story of their family past with her granddaughter. While the story isn't the most original and you've heard it before, Wurtenbaugh does a wonderful job of drawing you in. Do not, however, expect a repeat of Old Soul, which was told from the pov of a microscopic parasite/symbiote, this story is very different.

Joseph Wurtenbaugh's Warm Moonlight

A Medieval Bestiary: When a book breaks your heart

This review is cross-posted on DownloadTheUniverse, a group blog that reviews science-related ebooks and discusses the future of the written word.

An illustration from the The Royal Bestiary, depicting a unicorn laying its head on the lap of a lady. Presumably, the illustrator had never seen a unicorn, nor (one suspects) a lady.

A Medeival Bestiary is just not that into me.

We should have gone so well together. It was a scanned copy of The Royal Bestiary, a 13th century manuscript stored in the British Library, enhanced for the iPad with text and audio interpretation on every page. I was a giant nerd. Clearly, a match made in heaven.

But I don't think it's going to work out.

It's not that the book is terrible. In fact, parts of it are, objectively, pretty damn cool. We are, after all, talking about an opportunity to virtually thumb through the pages of a very old book. And the scans are excellent. You can see stains on the vellum, and the margin lines drawn by the scribe or illustrator to make certain that text and images were put into just the right place on every page. You can zoom in on the beautiful, colored and gilded drawings of bees and eagles, lions and centuars. On every page, there is, indeed, a little tab that you can tap to learn more about the animals you see in the pictures – especially helpful for the book's many imaginary animals, such as the leucrota. Leucrotas, you may be interested to know, happen when a male hyena mates with a female lion. The result of that partnership looks, for some reason, rather like a horse, but with a forked tail and a creepy, Jack Nicholson smile. The Medieval Bestiary assures me that the leucrota's "teeth" are actually a single piece of sharp bone, curved into a U shape. If I tap the "Listen" button, this information will be read to me by a soothing, female, British voice.

Read the rest

Enthralling Books: Towards a Poor Theatre, by Jerzy Grotowski

This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark

NewImageTowards a Poor Theatre, by Jerzy Grotowski

I had not heard of Grotowski until 1977 when I witnessed a film document of his Polish Theatre Lab's performance of Akropolis. As I left Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive screening, I wandered the streets in shock and awe. Though I had eight years' experience performing, writing, and directing experimental theatre, nothing could prepare me for Grotowski's visceral explosive and revelatory "paratheatre." I immediately walked down Telegraph Avenue to Moe's Books and found a copy of Grotowski's book, Towards a Poor Theatre. Sitting there on the floor in the Theatre section, oblivious to the world, I was enthralled and astonished by what I was reading. Grotowski's radical premises were so dynamic, yet so clearly pragmatic, they advanced the culture of theatre beyond the previous gold standard of Stanislavki's method. My young 25-year old heart, mind, and body was on fire! I knew right then and there what I would be doing with the rest of my life and that was: some version of this.

Cut to present time. For the last thirty-five years, I have been in the practice and teaching of a version of paratheatre I have been developing in groups with hundreds of actors, dancers, singers, and martial artists. It's not been a career as much as a calling that brought me to this place. Reading Towards a Poor Theatre lit the fuse on an internal time bomb that was already primed to go off to either send me to prison for very bad behavior or explode my meaningless life into smithereens. The book saved me from myself.

The dog-eared copy became my bible yet I felt that I would betray my early theatrical experience if I followed it to the letter. Instead I chose to relate with the book as a source of inspiration in an ongoing process of developing paratheatrical experiments, new techniques, and eventually finding and defining my own version of paratheatre. I even wrote a book on my paratheatrical research (Towards an Archeology of the Soul; Vertical Pool Publications. 2003). To say Towards a Poor Theatre changed my life may be an understatement. It's more like the book gave me life. And when someone of something gives you life, I don't know about you but I feel like giving life back.

Explaining the content of Grotowski's book is pretty much impossible; its luminous threads of white hot intelligence weave across the fabric of world theatre, the inspired madness of Artaud, numerous practical notes on the Actor's vocal and physical training, all towards a methodical science of the acrobatic body as the final source of energy and text as the critical framework for its articulation. My descriptions here fall way short. They also fail to convey the lucidity by which Grotwoski explains the fundamental principles and premises of his "poor theatre", a place where the actor is left alone without props and tricks, with only his naked self to plumb the depths of humanity and then, finally, share the revitalizing fruits of a terrible labor of love.

Buy Towards a Poor Theatre on Amazon

Team Human: a high-school vampire novel doesn't suck (it rocks)

Team Human is a new young adult novel from Justine Larbalastier and Sarah Rees Brennan, about an ancient vampire who enrolls at a small town high school, where a beautiful young girl falls in love with him.

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Five novels and their occult inspirations

Guido Mina di Sospiro and Joscelyn Godwin, authors of The Forbidden Book, wrote about five novels and their occult inspirations for Boing Boing:

How do you find works of occult fiction that are not just fantasies? We have just published one of them: The Forbidden Book, released as an e-book by The Disinformation Company. It is a murder mystery, a romance, a political conundrum, but above all an account of magick in action. We think of it as belonging to a rare strain of fiction by authors who actually know occult traditions and the philosophies behind them. That way the reader is not just playing "let's pretend" but learning some insights into reality that are potentially life-changing. See below for more about The Forbidden Book.

Here are some other novels that we admire:

Screen Shot 2012 06 04 at 4 19 00 PMZanoni, by Bulwer Lytton, is the premier occult novel of the nineteenth century. Lytton was a novelist and playwright, a dandy, a politician, and eventually a Baron. He is supposed to have been initiated into a German Rosicrucian order, and to have been in the Orphic Circle, a London group that used child clairvoyants. Dickens and Disraeli were his friends, but they didn't follow his arcane interests. For instance, they weren't with him when French occult author and ceremonial magus Eliphas Levi, in Lytton's presence, evoked the spirit of the Greek Neopythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana on a London rooftop. Zanoni is a description of initiations by one who has evidently passed through them. It is famous for introducing the themes of the "Dweller on the Threshold" who tries to block the aspirant's path, and the "augoeides" or luminous self. The novel tells about two men who have gained the secret of eternal life. One of them is content to rest on the accumulated wisdom of his 5,000 years, but Zanoni voluntarily gives up his immortality. He finds that human love is more precious still, even though death is its inexorable price.


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Gone to Amerikay: masterful, heart-tugging Irish immigrant graphic novel

Gone to Amerikay is a masterfully told tear-jerker of a graphic novel that tells the stories of multiple generations of Irish immigrants to New York, skilfully braided together. There's a storyline from 1870, the tale of Ciara O'Dwyer and her baby daughter who arrive in the Five Points slum ahead of Ciara's husband, who is meant to catch the next boat, but does not arrive. There's a storyline from 1960, in which a merchant seaman named Johnny McCormack jumps ship to become an actor, but instead ends up in folk-music-saturated Greenwich Village, discovering turbulent truths about his calling and his sexuality. Finally, there's a 2010 timeline in which a stratospherically wealthy Celtic Tiger CEO named Lewis Healy touches down in New York in his private jet so that his lover can give him a gift for the man who has everything: the secret history of a song that changed his life when he heard it as a child.

Writer Derek McColloch and illustrators Colleen Doran and Jose Villarrubia make this three-way narrative sing (literally, at times) by exploiting the unique visual storytelling capabilities of comics in ways rarely seen. Their masterful treatment boosts an already fine -- if sleight and sentimental -- tale into a higher orbit, giving it a velocity and a mass that makes the book both unstoppable and heart-tugging.

This is a sensitive treatment of race and class, sexuality and art, betrayal and gender, and above all, the immigrant experience in America. Like a great folk song, it is at once simple and complex, a paradoxical confection that could only have been rendered in graphic form.

Gone to Amerikay

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Leo Geo, a lengthwise comic about a journey through the Earth

Jon Chad's Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth is a kids' comic story that blends science and fancy to tell the story of a scientist who goes all the way through the Earth's center from Argentina, headed for Taiwan.

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Brilliant pop. engineering book Sustainable Materials comes to the USA

The brilliant popular engineering Sustainable Materials - with Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, Vehicles, Products and Equipment - Made Efficiently and Made with Less New Material has just been released in the USA. I reviewed this book last November, when it came out in the UK. Here's a brief excerpt from then:

We review a lot of popular science books around here, but Sustainable Materials (like Sustainable Energy) is a popular engineering text, a rare and wonderful kind of book. Sustainable Materials is an engineer's audit of the materials that our world is made of, the processes by which those materials are extracted, refined, used, recycled and disposed of, and the theoretical and practical efficiencies that we could, as a society, realize.

Allwood and Cullen write about engineering with the elegance of the best pop-science writers -- say, James Gleick or Rebecca Skloot -- but while science is never far from their work, their focus is on engineering. They render lucid and comprehensible the processes and calculations needed to make things and improve things, touching on chemistry, physics, materials science, economics and logistics without slowing down or losing the reader.

The authors quickly demonstrate that any effort to improve the sustainability of our materials usage must focus on steel and aluminum, first because of the prominence of these materials in our construction and fabrication, and second because they are characteristic microcosms of our other material usage, and what works for them will be generalizable to other materials.

From there, the book progresses to a fascinating primer on the processes associated with these metals, from ore to finished product and back through recycling, and the history of efficiency gains in these processes, and the theoretical limits on efficiency at each stage. Lavishly illustrated and superbly organized, this section and the ones that follow it are a crash course in the invisible energy embodied in the bones of our built up world.

But the primary work of the book is to look at how small (and large) changes in our society and business could make important gains in the sustainability of our material use, an important subject as developing nations start to copy the rich world's insatiable appetite for material goods and titanic cities.

Sustainable Materials - with Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, Vehicles, Products and Equipment - Made Efficiently and Made with Less New Material