Friday, September 17, 2010

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Lydia Millet
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Soft Skull, 2005

Ann, an odd librarian, one night has a dream: in the desert in New Mexico, a man falls to his knees, and on that background there is an explosion of the atomic bomb. Sleep does not bode anything abnormal: Ann and her husband Ben, working as a gardener, live in Santa Fe, near the spot where in 1945th were the first tests of nuclear weapons, and Ann is well aware of who is the man in a dream - father of atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer. However, the dream does not leave it up until on the street she meets the man she unerringly recognizes by the photos, available in all the history books. Oppenheimer and two other scientists who worked on the atomic bomb - Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard – are replaced in our time right after the first test explosion in New Mexico. Each of them feels that he is transported in time not alone, but all three, so they quickly find each other. Ann tracks and finds them, too. She tells them that she had a dream about a man in the desert. Each of the scientists has some money, but money is out, and the inventors of the atomic weapons transported in our time need somewhere to live. Anne offers the three of them to stay at their (with her husband) home. Scientists agree.

They eagerly start to absorb information about themselves, about how nuclear weapons were used after 1945, and how in general the world has changed over the years that followed their sudden transfer in time. They make excursions into the desert where the tests were passed, then all together fly to Japan to look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There they get acquainted with the son of one of the richest people in the world, and opens to him the secret of the three scientists. Shortly after returning to the States around the trio a cult has been created.

This Lydia Millet’s novel is both hilarious satire on all in the world and in the same way a completely serious novel. Those who are inclined to reading this book as a satire will find here a large-scale ridicule of modern religion (Christian fanatics see Oppenheimer as Christ), intelligence, science fiction, politics. This is indeed a very funny book: Szilard surfs the Internet, uses teen slang, Oppie smokes marijuana, Fermi closer to the end of the novel differs little from autist - but not with his language. Millet has a very lyrical style; some chapters without exaggeration are finished poems in prose.

The book is written very even: not in the sense that it is not able to awaken the senses (it is able), but that throughout its length the novel does not sag, nor drops into to patter, does not slow down like a train before the station; plot is not stalled.

This can be called a collage-novel, too. Chapters, moving a story, interspersed with chapters, telling about real events: about scientists, the bomb, the U.S. foreign policy. So Millet combines facts and fiction in a wonderfully poetic book.

The author is also a delightful portraitist: each of the heroes of the book is described with love. Also in the background of thinking on God, history and loneliness heroes of the book are not lost, each of them is very memorable character.
«Oh Pure and Radiant Heart» acts with the effect of the atomic bomb: First, the book blows off and tears, like an explosion, and then left a long aftertaste, like radiation. After reading this book it is quite possible to become Hibakusha.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Word of God

Thomas M. Disch
The Word of God

Tachyon Publications, 2008

Reviewing the book written by God through normal review standards is something not quite right and comfortable. And fearful - all written God may deem blasphemous, on the one hand, and on the other - What to fear of if God who wrote a book is not worshiped and prayed by you? Disch, like any creator who creates his own world with his commandments, found such a comparison is quite appropriate for a literary game.
This novella can be read as a satirical statement about religion, but it's better to read like quite inventive memoir. Now, when Disch is no longer alive, the book looks like a logical final of writing career. Here is the places about the thoughts on suicide, and Disch-poet (in a book published a few poems), and the plans for the future, and Philip Dick, and the youth of the writer, and his old age, and on creativity, in the end ends. This is quite unevenly written book (sometimes the author forgets where he starts), but it has things for which we read books, including those ones that are not written by gods but by men: fear, hope, love, death, despair, sadness. In the text of the book Disch puts some short stories that make up a coherent story about Disch itself, his mother, Philip Dick, Thomas Mann, 39th year, and of course, this is all science fiction that Dish wrote all his life.
And if at the beginning of reading this book, we still doubt whether the author is God, then at the end we don’t anymore. Now it seems clear: God is.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bound for Evil: Curious Tales of Books Gone Bad

Bound for Evil: Curious Tales of Books Gone Bad
Ed. By Tom English

Dead Letter Press, 2008

The editor of this book Tom English has done the unthinkable job: made an anthology with that name and remained alive. However, it is said that during the editing of this weighty volume he has become obsessed, so that filled, and filled the book with murderous stories, until it reached gigantic proportions. The obsession with this book did not do good.

The editor wanted to pick up as many stories, where books, one way or another, directly or metaphorically kill people. Hence - a very wide scope of authors (although it's worth noting, there are not translated stories in the book and it is yet more frustrating: in the literature of other countries of the world, not just America and Britain, surely there will be significant stories about the books that carry the death) of Lovecraft and Hawthorne to the writers whose stories in this book are their first publications on paper. Obviously, the language of writers who worked a century ago is different from the language of modern horror writers. But here comes the snag: some young authors somehow try to stylize their language to Lovecraft's contemporaries, as if trying to give his works certain, perhaps, validity, thoroughness even. "I'm not worse than Hawthorne!" - exclaimed the young author. In principle he is right: in a story he picks the obsolete words, construct sentences, like the author of the XIX century, that's just more of these techniques is not going. If even nothing came out of reading Hawthorne without teeth gnashing, then the modern authors is also heavier. No other trump cards in reserve there, and to imitate Lovecraft - well, what kind of trump card it is?

Another flaw of this book is that plots of the stories are too similar to each other. It seems to be the murder books are all different, but their actions are similar to each other to extremes. A man got a book, he reads it, and bad things happen to him. Those stories that are at the beginning of the anthology were lucky: it is about funny to read them at least, but when the same story but with different scenery begins to repeat itself from story to story, it is no laughing matter.
However, all written above does not mean that the book is not worth reading: here thickness of the book right goes to help. In addition to the weak, less original stories, there are those that take your breath away for real.

In the "Pact Anthology" by John Teehan Devil comes to an editor (which is also not so simple) and offers him a deal. Naturally, the editor refuses: he does not print pact with the devil stories. However, the devil this time invented a new move: he wants the editor write a story to his anthology. And the editor will be the devil himself. Inventive story, which in this thematic anthology looks very cool. The story of Simon Strantzas "Leather, Dark and Cold" has not entirely original plot, but it can boast of what doesn’t have the overwhelming majority of stories: any kind of prescribed characters. Some authors in anthology are not so interested in their same characters, that sometimes it seems: the books in the stories have more emotion than men. Strantzas before to give his characters to an apparent devoured (figuratively) by the book, lovingly describes narrator and his friend Chris Pace, who lures the hero into questionable dealings with the book of mysterious origin. "Limited Edition" by Andrew Wilson is a story of woman and young man who met at a small sale. The woman collects all copies of the book "Dreams of the City. Its author is grandfather of her, a magician, and each copy of the book can bring harm to others. She with the man, narrator, attempts to gather under one roof all copies of the book to protect people.

The book is pretty grim, but among the stories there are such as to cause laughter. A thief in the story of Rick Moore "The Incomplete Works of William Shakespeare" does not think, when a man named Beck asks him to steal the incomplete collection of works of Shakespeare. He does not care what to steal, and he also spat at British genius, if only work was done. But when the book falls into the hands of the villain Beck and he implements his daring plan, grief-thief is ready to weep. While he is bitter, the reader has fun. Fans of leisurely unfolding stories will be happy with "Happiness" by Ian Shoebridge: in his story all who read a certain book, no longer adequately perceive the world around them. In "The Adder" by the author of numerous collections of short stories and poet Fred Chappell no one will be killed, but the wicked book is here too. And it chooses its victim - or rather, it accidentally becomes - Milton. Necronomicon, or Al Azif, is able to change anything in the book, standing next to it on the shelf. The narrator is aware of this, but he thinks that the Necronomicon is able to change only a specific instance, standing next to, but not in general all publications of the author. At the end of the story a mistake will be corrected by the hero's uncle, although character begins to doubt in this. Rhys Hughes is presented here by two postmodern stories. The final «Lem's Last Book» has some similarities with the Chappell’s, and, I think, the story itself is the fruit of this, of course, fictional book of Lem. In the other story, "Finding the Book of Sand", Book of Sand is literally an inexhaustible source of energy; it can sink up to infinity. True, the hero of a story doubts in the infinity of it and destroys it. (It should be said that Hughes, perhaps, is the most original author of this book) In Gary McMahon’s "Guidance" the book, bought by the protagonist in a shop in Germany, opens the eyes of a hero to his wife. One of the most penetrating stories of the book.

Angeline Hawkes’ story turns out quite disastrous, it is finished as a wish to many authors of the book: "Adapt to the times." In "The Guest Book" by Gary Fry there is absolutely no science fiction, but that is a good detective story. "The Dark and the Young" by Ian Rogers cheerfully begins, but after the middle, unfortunately, sinks into an incredible cliché. Barbara Roden tells in "Association Copy" well written story about childhood, revenge and forgiveness. Her story is perhaps the saddest in the book. Mark Leslie in the story "Browsers" originally opened theme of inattentive or hurried reading: a very strong story behind the curtain of the book.

Having enjoyed the book, I advise you to remove it away: if such a volume, and with that title, falls on someone’s head somewhere off the top shelf, it is quite capable of killing. No kidding.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Music and Cyberliberties

Patrick Burkart
Music and Cyberliberties

Wesleyan University Press, 2010

This book is a 140-page study on how liberties of U.S. citizens in the web have been changing and how music has become the flagship of the movement for information freedom.

This activist’s guide is released by the university press and written by a young professor of the University of Texas, hence the frequent references to works of philosophers. Leaving aside not the easiest for the unprepared reader language and philosophers with social scientists, the book may well be informative and sometimes even fascinating reading for anyone who loves the first half of the book's title, but doubted that he is interested in the second half.

The author in the five chapters describes who is fighting against whom the struggle for free distribution of music, unlimited access to knowledge, the right to have for you to not be watched. Burkart examines in detail what societies, associations, organizations stand for liberties in the digital space, but concludes that there is not single movement still at all, all groups are scattered and irregular. Burkart tracks changes, which are performed by the Big Four (the major record companies of America, producing about 90% of all records), to protect their music from free distribution, but almost all the methods are either limiting the freedom of man, or so absurd as to cause laughter (thus, in the late 90's students were not even allowed to sing popular songs at the campfire). Bureaucracy has become one of the main characters of this book: it is so penetrated all corners of people's lives that prevent developing society as it would become a natural way.
Burkart absolutely is a true eye for what the music was always the first of the arts which brings changes. There are not among readers and moviegoers so many fighters for freedom in the digital space, as there are among music fans and musicians as well.

In "Music and Cyberliberties" there are some flaws. The author mentions that music itself in his work was not touched, noting that it might be completely different genres. Burkart repeatedly mentions that today's movement for cyberliberties originates from DIY-movement, but at the same time, throughout the book, he writes about the struggle with the musical giants of the business. Still, the policy of indie labels is very different from the policy of the Big Four, and in the book they are almost the same. And it is worth noting, the book still managed to somewhat outdated. It is clear that the process of publishing the book is not imminent, but since 2008 the number of changes have already occurred, which, if not radically alter the look and approach, but specify many particulars. Internet is still a very dynamic space.

However, these flaws almost do not spoil the book. Still, freedom is the freedom, whenever and wherever it is. And the author managed to capture the spirit of freedom.

Between the Assassinations

Aravind Adiga
Between the Assassinations

Atlantic Books, 2010

Booker winner Adiga in his second novel (though it seems, “Between the Assassinations” was written before "The White Tiger") makes the main character fictional town Kittur, and builds the plot as a series of almost unrelated stories - seven days of life of the town.

Despite the fact that between the chapters there are not even through characters that appear in one part and then another, and every day in Kittur’s life is a complete story with its beginning and end, "Between the Assassinations" still looks solid product, at least because the city in each chapter is a full-fledged member of stories to tell. Here in the finale ends don’t meet in a melodramatic ending, as, for example, director Iñárritu, and this is understandable: if there had been all the heroes of all chapters of the novel in one place at one time, they simply would not know what to do with each other and unlikely to find a common language.
India of Adiga has not Bollywood colors. The language of his prose is simple and even beggar from the outside like most of his heroes, but with a powerful energy inside: «He was an overweight man entering the final phase of middle age, he breathed through his mouth, and a thicket of hair poked out of his nose. The centerpiece of his body was a massive pot belly, a hard knot of flesh pregnant with a dozen cardiac arrests. To walk, he had to arch his lower back, tilt his head, and screw his brow and nose together in a foul-looking squint. "Ogre," the boys chanted as he passed. "Ogre! Ogre! Ogre!"»

The characters of the novel - the seller of books, a university teacher, bus conductor, a gardener, an editor, a loader, - whatever they might be engaged in, equally aware that to live in India heavily, that caste continues to exist and determine the development of every man, that corruption is large, but they also realize that nothing can be done. And at the same time, all their thoughts are about their country. The professor from one of the parts comes into the theater, sees cracks in the walls and chairs with holes: "The simultaneous advance of decay and decadence: the story of this theatre was the story of the entire country".
And Adiga himself with his characters is sad about his country seeing how poverty and injustice suppress India.

This is a good novel, but it lacks, as the characters are filled in it, self-confidence, a bomb the student in one of the chapters planted in a classroom for his teacher. Adiga is a good observer, but he had problems with the drive. He would, indeed, add the assassinations in the book.

Let's see what will be his third novel.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Living and the Dead

The Living and the Dead

Fantagraphics, 2006

In this novel (2006) a native of Norway the cartoonist Jason does not change itself not a bit: the hero again is a loser; a quiet life in the novel is broken by otherworldly forces, again; the dream of a not available woman; again all the people are animals-like. But this time - and this is for the first time - the usual ingredients, put together as if in the same proportions, do not formed into something that can give pleasure to the reader.

Sad dishwasher from one of cafe, whole life of his stretches from change to change, each time returning home, dreams of a thin prostitute, but only a thick one flirts with him: he does not have enough money for a thin. The girl has not a too sweet life: her pimp beats her, and at home every day a cold bed waits for her. It is obvious, they should finally fall in love with each other, and zombies suddenly began to climb out of their graves help the man and the girl with that.

Besides this romantic story, there are no more in this book. The novel ends so fast (only 50 pages) that there is no question of any details in person relationships. The appearance of zombies is not given any more or less intelligible explanation, so this is just a pretext to bring the single characters together. The final becomes apparent about to the 20th page, which is quite strange, considering how Jason in his other works made a plot more complicated closer to the end. Nothing of the kind: even heroes have no charming in this graphic novel.

It's quite sad, but probably true: even the most talented authors should have sometime failures. This is such a case.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Skyscrapers of the Midwest

Joshua W. Cotter
Skyscrapers of the Midwest

AdHouse Books, 2008

This book is made of several editions of stories, designed in the form of the newspaper \ magazine of the Midwest. For example, an issue is opened by advertising pages, followed by letters from readers, and then graphic stories themselves.
Cotter`s Midwest is human-like cats, costume of robots, god robots and the humanoid robots, as well as everything that is more accustomed to humans and inhabit the world of children: dinner with grandmother, going to the church as the worst that can happen, scout camp, lost favorite toys, small quarrels with brother. Cotter very well captures the theme of childhood. Already in the first part we see how one little boy wasn’t accepted to play football and he was making it up as a giant robot comes to the football field, destroying everything in its path and grabbing the other children. Offended, the boy at the moment presents himself as a savior of people, changing clothes, too, in a robot suit, beats the enemy and becomes a favorite among girls. Here are two brothers help her grandmother prepare dinner, watch TV, and then their grandma goes to the closet and disappears forever. In one of the following parts, we see a school photo album, a fly inside the head as a symbol of the headache. Senior students take away a toy dinosaur and throw it out of the bus window. A boy with parents going back to find the toy all the way, asking does the toy not hurt.

It's always comical stories, but the laughter here is through palm, with a tense face. The only moments of pure and joyful laughter attend only on commercials at the beginning of each part. Cigarettes for kids "Fun": «Doctors recommend!", and it is incredibly funny.

The author (who is also an artist) very skillfully draws, although it is fairly simple black and white pictures, but obtain very funny characters and a lot of juicy details.

All is well with this book, it is written very professionally, but I failed, whatever I wanted this, to love it. The point, apparently, is that the novel consists of individual books, fragments, which are permeated by single spirit, but do not have a single plot, the final puzzle isn’t here. When there is no plot, you can bribe the reader, inviting him something intangible within each part, the mystery that leaves an aftertaste. However, the author does not do this, too: that is a situation with professionally made chairs, but it’s uncomfortable to seat on them.

"Skyscrapers of the Midwest" really skillfully reaches the sky, but to hurt any feelings - it does not work.


Jane Yolen, Mike Cavallaro

First Second, 2010

Jane Yolen is known for her numerous collections of stories for children, and this her book, drawn by Mike Cavallaro, too, for middle and senior school age. Not to say that the story in the book is piercing like a foil but to enchant lovers of fairy tales it could well.

Aliera Carstairs is a loner. Her life is filled with only one passion, fencing. She differs from other students: she is not a jockett, nor a goth, nor a nerd, nor a prep, she is on her own. She is sometimes laughed at, but she pays no attention. But Aliera is very well at fencing. Especially things are going smoothly after Aliera`s mom bought her at discount store a cheap, but elegant foil with a jewel on the handle. Life of the girl may seem boring to someone: school, then with two changes to the fencing, then home, and on Saturdays to go visit Aunt Hannah and her cousin - but Aliera herself is happy about her life. But in school there appears a new boy, the most charming and attractive, and the biology teacher in the classroom gives him a place for one table with Aliera. And after a few lessons, where students must dissect a frog, handsome Avery invites Aliera on a date. The girl, of course, agrees, but he remembers what the coach told her: You must protect your heart, and she knows it's not just about fencing.

If you ask, where the fairy tale is, the answer is: all the magic will begin on the first date at the subway station. It will also include a battle with monsters, magic foil, secret of the handsome prince, and the author's clever move. The whole story is told in two colors (ie, it is almost black and white, though more green and white book), and it is not only the choice of the author and artist, but the effect has a logical explanation: the girl sees the world in only two colors.

If the story itself is too simple, then that helps Yolen out, so it is the abundance of close-ups. The author often shows us the child's face or her full height, at a cost of an entire page, and we see all the emotion on the face of Aliera: it certainly is a mystery in it, but not sealed. All stops in the middle of a sentence: we expect a sequel.