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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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