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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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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

Master Dog Grooming Tools

I've used this tool, for about 6 months on a long-haired Chow/Labrador mix and on a Corgi. They both shed like crazy and the undercoat is a serious challenge with the Chow. This grooming tool takes care of the undercoat like nothing I've ever used. It's also apparently less painful for the dogs, as it doesn't have the tendency to dig straight in like the previously reviewed Furminator, which I liked well enough before trying this one. I have the 16-blade version. It gets down deep and pulls the undercoat and dander OUT. The blades are much more robust than the Furminator, and there's no chance of bending. It's a VERY well-built device, and the rubber handle looks weird but feels good in the hand. I can't think of a single improvement I'd make.

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Rocker Mike Doughty recounts travails in memoir

We needle our cultural heroes and then are delighted when they dissolve in front of us. It happens again and again, in Whitney Houston and in Michael Jackson and in Don Cornelius.

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The Snowfield: A game of small mercies

On Play This Thing, Greg Costikyan reviews The Snowfield, a game developed as a student project at the Singapore MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. It sounds like a very odd and compelling experience: in The Snowfield, you're tasked with gathering up the survivors of a brutal battle on the eastern front in WWII and coaxing them to gather at a ruined house where a fire will keep them from freezing to death. Greg calls it "a game of small mercies."

You begin on what was clearly a battlefield not long ago, strewn with corpses, barbed wire, and broken fences, covered in snow. You are huddled and obviously freezing. There are some other soldiers in the area, mostly standing in a daze, shell-shocked; they speak to you (a handful of catch-phrases repeated), in German; evidently, this is the Eastern Front in World War II, though none of the corpses are wearing Russian uniforms. The setting is stark, and emotionally impactful.

Movement is via WASD; some items can be picked up, though only one at a time, and handed to others. In a ruined house nearby is a fire; if you spend too much time away from it, you freeze to death, the view becoming blurry about the edges and what seem like ice cracks appearing in your vision as warning. It's easy to lose your bearings in the snow and freeze to death; the controls are also a bit awkward and you cannot climb even a fairly shallow slope, so you sometimes find it hard to extricate yourself from your current position.

The Snowfield

eBook Review: Ex-Heroes

Talk about crazy eBook genres -- I started with Zombie novels; survive the apocalypse, rebuild society after the apocalypse, zombie break-outs through history -- you name it we got it. Then I was reading super-hero fiction that was surprisingly similar to the teen-angst magical powers; just replace the dark and brooding black outfits with capes and cowls. One totally mind-bending jumble of genres, however, is Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.

Meet a whole bunch of super-heroes! Think they were useful before the zombie apocalypse? They seem to be the only thing standing between humanity and a really bad ending. We meet and learn the backstory of 5 or 6 varied heroes with great names like "Zzzap!" He has the power to make electricity! Very useful when the zimbos have shut down your generator. Anyways this LA-based group of heroes gathers a bunch of survivors at Paramount Studios and sets up a society. They fight off Zombies, LA Gangs, former LA Gangs turned Zombie and other heroes turned zombie.

This one is fun. I laughed out loud at how ridiculous the genre could get -- but the story telling is great and I was entertained.

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Ken MacLeod's Intrusion: a surveillance and bioscience dystopia with the best of intentions

Ken MacLeod’s new novel Intrusion is a new kind of dystopian novel: a vision of a near future “benevolent dictatorship” run by Tony Blair-style technocrats who believe freedom isn’t the right to choose, it’s the right to have the government decide what you would choose, if only you knew what they knew.

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Wonder: tearjerking novel is an inspiring meditation on kindness

RJ Palacio’s new book Wonder is a middle-grades novel about August (“Auggie”), a young boy born with severe facial abnormalities who, at the age of 10, leaves the safety of his parents’ homeschooling and begins attending a New York private school.

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Truth and consequences: FRONTLINE's brilliant documentary on Fukushima

Nuclear Aftershocks is a new FRONTLINE documentary, airing tomorrow, January 17, at 10:00 pm Eastern. I watched an advance screener yesterday.

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Douglas Rushkoff's ADD: tight, smart graphic novel delivers a scathing critique of the commodification of youth culture

Douglas Rushkoff’s graphic novel debut, “A.D.D.” (Adolescent Demo Division) is a tight, action-packed comic wrapped around a serious, thought-provoking critique of the commodification of youth culture.

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Distrust That Particular Flavor: William Gibson's long-overdue essay collection

The remarkable thing about Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson’s debut essay collection, is that it was so long in coming, collecting two-and-a-half decades’ worth of nonfiction, opinion, travelogue, memoir, media theory, speeches, criticism, and miscellania.

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Empire State: a phildickian noir detective/superhero/pocket universe novel

Adam Christopher’s debut novel Empire State is a noir, Philip K Dick-ish science fiction superhero story about a pocket universe that’s created when two battling New York superheroes open a vent through spacetime.

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Walking Dead 15: We Find Ourselves - a moment's respite after years of grinding, terrifying hopelessness

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead comic series for years now, with the kind of sick, compulsive horror that is the mark of great dramatic tension in narrative.

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Patry's How to Fix Copyright: deftly argued, incandescent book on the evidence-free state of copyright law

William Patry is no copyright radical. He’s the author of some of the major reference texts on copyright, books that most copyright lawyers would have on their bookcases, books like Patry on Copyright.

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Rumpole at Christmas: curmudgeonly stories for a heartwarming holiday

I’m a lifelong fan of Rumpole, John Mortimer’s grumpy, poetry-spouting criminal defense barrister, star of books, TV, and radio. John Mortimer died in 2009, and Rumpole at Christmas was published last Christmas season, but I missed it then.

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Yellow Kid Weil: Autobiography of the greatest con man in American history

Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil may have been the greatest American swindler of all time. The Yellow Kid operated in the gold age of the American con, from the late 19th century up to WWII, and became a legend in his own time, immortalized in such books as The Big Con (the sociological study of con artists that was the basis for the movie The Sting).

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Moving House, sweet picture book about a house that lobbies to keep its family from moving out

Mark Siegel’s Moving House is a picture book about a house that decides to keep its family from moving away by aggressively lobbying the children.

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Paintwork: cyberpunk++ stories of killer augmented reality mechas and QR code graffiti writers

Tim Maughan’s self-published short story collection Paintwork collects three of his stories, including the British Science Fiction Award-nominated story “Havana Augmented.”

In an era of “post-cyberpunk” science fiction, Maughan is firmly cyberpunk — or maybe “cyberpunk++,” a genre that captures all the grit and glory of technology with a higher degree of plausibility and respect for real computers and networks than the genre had in its glory days.

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