Saturday, September 05, 2009

Vertigo Crime

In the past several years the crime genre has been prominent in mainstream comics, offering some of the most enjoyable and satisfying stories. This includes Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Criminal series, and Scalped by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra.

My expectations for the Vertigo Crime sub-imprint were high. The first two graphic novels released would be by Brian Azzarello, the writer of the successful crime comic 100 Bullets, and Ian Rankin, the well-known author of the Rebus novels.

But after publishing these first two comics, Vertigo Crime must only seem like a disappointment. Compared to the best crime comic of the year, Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of Richard Stark's The Hunter, the Vertigo Crime books fall well short in presentation, and more importantly, in story and art.

Filthy Rich by Azzarello and illustrated by Victor Santos is a confusing, clichéd-ridden, padded crime story. The plot could have been lifted from any poorly written Mickey Spillane-wannabe-novel; Azzarello is a writer capable of better, crisper work. I can only think that that convoluted story was the result of being told to have the story come in at 200 pages when 100 would have worked more effectively.

Ian Rankin's first foray into comics is strong but certainly not of a quality that would make readers forget that he is primarily a crime novelist. The problem I had with Dark Entries, which features the serviceable art of Werther Dell'Edera, is that it's a John Constantine or Hellblazer story presented as a crime comic. If Dark Entries had been written as a crime story, I wouldn't note this issue but what readers get is a story set literally in Hell. I'd like to see Rankin write an original crime comic; he has potential in comics but his first attempt is ordinary and forgettable.

Next from Vertigo Crime will be stories by Jason Starr, Peter Milligan and Christos N. Gage. If those comics are poor, I don't expect the sub-imprint to have a long shelf-life.


The Unstoppable Bolaño

I'm bad with books. I buy one and sometimes I read it immediately and other times I put on my shelf to be read later (a day, a week, a month, years later).

It's these other times that have left me with shelves of books, stacked high, to be read. It's unfair that I can't read as fast as I can add a book to the shelf.

I need to be in the mood, which is sounds dumb to write but it's true. Earlier this summer (assuming we still consider it's still the summer), I was in the mood for non-fiction. I read two or three. Then a couple of weeks ago I saw two short Roberto Bolaño novels on my shelf. I write as if they just appeared but I remember buying them. I had read Bolaño before, a few short stories from the New Yorker but none of his books.

I thought I could start by getting through a couple of quick, small ones; the towering behemoths - The Savage Detectives and 2666 - where also on my shelf but I didn't feel like starting one of those.

I began Distant Star and I had trouble stopping. Or I didn't stop. Next I was going to read Amulet but the back cover said it was a sequel or a companion to The Savage Detectives, a thick book I previously had not wished to begin. How things change. I felt it was only fair to Bolaño that I begin with the big one.

I ripped through The Savage Detectives at the same time I felt I was taking my time, savouring it, enjoying it. Sometimes I read too quickly. I read just right this time. I finished Amulet the day after I finished The Savage Detectives. And now I'm on to the last giant of Bolaño's I have on my shelf.

I didn't plan to read four Bolaños over the last few weeks but the author made me do it.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

New York Times Subscription

With today's copy of the Sunday Times, the circulation department informed me that as of next month, subscription rates for the New York Times will increase in Canada.

First, while I don't think I need defend myself for subscribing to the Times and not a single Canadian paper, all I would need to do is conduct an objective compare-and-contrast between a typical copy of the Times and a typical copy of one of the Toronto dailies. I could do that, it wouldn't be pretty, but I won't do that because my time will be better spent doing something productive today.

Second, the rate increase is close to $30 each month. That's a lot, especially when I consider my salary, my other expenses (thank you GO Transit), and that the entirety of the New York Times is available free, online, everyday.

Up to today, I had resisted switching to reading the Times online. Sure I'm part of that age where I shouldn't be averse to anything available on the Internet. I watch TV on the Internet. I get/pay for my music online. But when it comes to reading newspapers, I still prefer the printed version.

Unless it comes with a $30 increase to read.

Paying that doesn't make sense. I understand the plight of newspapers. And I hate to take away the money I was giving the Times for its product but I was happy to continue paying the rate I paid last month. I'm not willing to pay the rate the paper wants me to next month.

Online it is. I won't have to worry about my crap delivery guy. I hope my subscription cancellation doesn't mean more lost jobs. But charging your current subscribers more hardly seems like the revolutionary idea that will save the newspaper industry.

NOTE: This isn't the relaunch of the blog. Not yet. I planned to do something this weekend and get things started on this refresh project but I was pulled in other directions, to use corporate-speak excuse of I'm f---ing busy. I haven't forgot my plans. It's coming down. Sit tight.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Let's Make a Change

Faced with two options - continue or stop - I've decided to choose the former in regards to the existence of this blog. 

The last couple of months have been slow for me hear. I've been more occupied with Twitter, probably because it's more immediate and takes much less effort to comment on something. That's all good, but sometime happened this weekend - the details of this I won't bore you with - that made me re-assess things. One of those things was this blog, and the opportunity it affords me.

So to go a bit further: I plan to recall this blog to life over the next couple of months. (I hope this post is not read in the next couple of months as pure bullshit.) What that means? Posts, for starters. And these will be posts where I actually spend some time thinking, then writing. Twitter is for immediate comment. This blog will be for something different. I hope that makes sense and I hope I keep up my end.

No time like the present is the cliché; I hope I can live up to it.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Rematch

Last Prediction for the 2009 Playoffs

I didn't predict a Stanley Cup final rematch, and I don't think many did. But we have one, as rare as it is, and my hope is that Detroit does not repeat.

Looking, however, at these two teams brings me to a different prediction. I see weakness in goal for Pittsburgh, and I believe it's this hole that will allow Detroit to win the Cup in 6 games.

Hope I'm wrong.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Loose Comics

Changing a Habit

Back in April my local comic shop burned down.

OK, not quite.

There was a fire in the shop's plaza, and the store suffered some damage. The damage was severe enough for the owners of the strip to decide to tear down a part of the mall, which included my comic shop. Because of the fire, the comic shop's account with Diamond, the comics distributor, was put on hold, effectively putting my monthly comic reading on hold too.

Last week I learned my comic shop had resolved its insurance claim and had signed off on a new location, which will not open until July. (All of this, I know, is extremely interesting to you.) But because the store's account with Diamond is on hold, it's unlikely I'll see any of the single issues that shipped between April and the new store's opening date.

At first I thought I'd need to search and get those comics I missed. I did and calculated the cost, realizing: a) it would be expensive (my paycheque is hardly thick) and b) there are few comics I have missed to justify that cost. What does this mean? Have I grown out of comics?

To answer the second question: no. 

The answer to the first: I feel I've fallen into that problem of habitual purchases, like what Warren Ellis described in his final "Come in Alone" column back in 2000. If all I'm doing is blindly reading the comic, what's the point? That's not to say all comics I read on a monthly basis are just habitual purchases that never entertain me. But my comic shop burning down gave me the chance to take a break from monthlies and realize there are some I followed for no reason. Not to mention, but I will, that I prefer comics in book format more than their original loose version.

There are some comics that need to be read immediately but the majority can wait. I know because I have a good few by my side that I haven't got to and they're hardly calling out to be read right now. No point buying something only for it to collect dust. 

The end. (That's how you end a blog post, right? It's been a while.)


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Playoff Predictions

NHL Playoffs, Conference Finals

My record is still even at 6 correct predictions and 6 not-so-correct predictions. All of this suggests what I've always insisted: I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.

Conference final predictions follow.

Easter Conference

Pittsburgh vs. Carolina: Will Paul Maurice go from coaching the Leafs last season to coaching the Eastern Conference champion? Will Cam Ward continue his playoff dominance in goal? Will Sidney Crosby continue to play like a Conn Smythe winner? And will Pittsburgh return to the finals a second year in a row? Um, what's my point? I pick Carolina.

Western Conference

Detroit vs. Chicago: I just can't see Chicago beating Detroit. But I didn't see them beating Calgary or Vancouver either. Have I learned my lesson? No, I pick Detroit.

So based on my (likely incorrect) predictions, it'll be a Detroit-Carolina Cup final.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Book Blurb

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk

Christian Moerk's Darling Jim was published in 2007, but only this year made the voyage to North America. Set in Ireland, the novel tells the story of three sisters, their aunt and storyteller/confidence man, Jim, and how his actions lead to several murders.

It's hard to classify Darling Jim. It's part gothic, part horror, part mystery, and perhaps, part romance. Moerk uses third-person and first-person narration; the latter coming in the form of two diaries. My only problem with the novel are the diaries, which based on the circumstances they are written, make them less believable than the rest of the story.

What's enjoyable about Darling Jim is a plot that expands on a small idea. In his acknowledgements at the end, Moerk describes the story that served as the idea for the novel. From that real-life news story that probably came in around 200 words, Moerk has created a 285-page to be read one weekend when you're having trouble deciding on the type of book you'd like to get lost in. Moerk's story is a good one, and it's good to finally have been published here.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Playoff Predictions

NHL Playoffs, Round Two

I went 4-4 in the last round, which suggests you should ignore the predictions below.

Easter Conference

Boston vs. Carolina: Boston but it will be close.
Washington vs. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh and it won't be as close.

Western Conference

Detroit vs. Anaheim: Detroit.
Vancouver vs. Chicago: Vancouver.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Blurb

American Rust by Philipp Meyer

The first time I heard of Philipp Meyer's American Rust was in a Bat Segundo show with Patricia Cornwell, the mystery veteran, who praised the debut novel. I filed the name of the book away. Then some time later I read a glowing review from Michiko Kakutani; if Meyer could please her, could he please anybody? There were other good reviews, which I can't remember specifically, and I was convinced to read American Rust.

Does it live up to the hype? I would say it does. I found it hard to put down: the plot and characters are believable and authentic. It reminded me of Mystic River, who Kakutani mentioned, but Meyer doesn't rely on any twists. Every action seemed inevitable in the way that Meyer was recalling history. It was truth as much as it was fiction.

Verdict: Read this book.


Pulitzer Winner

Why Did Elizabeth Strout Win?

I had read the last two winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction before they won - no literature bandwagon jumper was I. So when Elizabeth Strout won this year's award for her collection of linked stories, Olive Kitteridge, I was a bit disappointed that I hadn't read the book: after all, it had been sitting on my to-read shelf for the last two months. (I'm, obviously, easily disappointed.)

The Pulitzer winner pushed Strout's book to the top of the heap and I read in a couple of sittings this weekend. 

My verdict? It's good, yes; it's well-written, no doubt; but it feels ordinary at the same time. I'm not sure Strout takes any real risks. I guess putting a supposedly unlikeable character at the centre of many of the stories could be seen as a risk but I didn't hate Olive Kitteridge; perhaps I know too many people like her.

Where's my evidence for my less-than-impressed views? That would take a legitimate attempt at reviewing Olive Kitteridge; bit lazy to do that. Instead, know this: there are worse novels than this year's Pulitzer winner and there are better ones. No matter who wins any year, this will always be true.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Vampire Fiction

Not Twilight, but Del Toro

I heard a rumour a while back that Guillermo Del Toro was writing a vampire novel. Not so, a rumour that is. Publisher's Weekly has the first review:
The Strain Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Morrow, $26.99 (416p)
Director Del Toro (who won an Oscar for Pan's Labyrinth) makes a dramatic splash in his fiction debut, the first volume in a vampires vs. humanity trilogy, coauthored with Hogan (Prince of Thieves). Just as a jumbo jet on a flight from Germany to New York is touching down at JFK, something goes terribly wrong. When Ephraim Goodweather, of the Centers for Disease Control, investigates the darkened plane, he finds all but four passengers and crew dead, drained of blood. Despite Goodweather's efforts to keep the survivors segregated, they get discharged into the general population. Soon after, the corpses of the tragedy's victims disappear. The epidemiologist begins to credit the wild stories of Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnbroker who's the book's Van Helsing figure, and concludes that a master vampire has arrived in the U.S. The authors maintain the suspense and tension throughout in a tour de force reminiscent of Whitley Strieber's early work. (June)
It earned a star, too.


Playoff Predictions

NHL Playoffs, Round One

It's that time of year when I make wild guesses because I didn't pay enough attention to the regular season. I might as well be picking these out of a cereal bowl.

Easter Conference

Boston vs. Montreal: Boston, because its fashionable.
Washington vs. New York Rangers: Washington, because they'll lose next round.
New Jersey vs. Carolina: New Jersey, because Brodeur.
Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia: Philly, because the Penguins won't this year.

Western Conference

San Jose vs. Anaheim: San Jose, because I didn't pay any attention to the West.
Detroit vs. Columbus: Detroit, because of experience.
Vancouver vs. St. Louis: Vancouver, because of Mats... Yeah, right.
Chicago vs. Calgary: Calgary, because we need two Canadian teams to move on.


Journalism Problems

A Roundup of Articles

The New York Times Monday Business section covers the media, and this week, with the bad shape newspapers find themselves in, as the media keeps on telling us, the Times offers a number of interesting articles about journalism.
  • "Hyperlocal" news websites: This is an interesting concept, but I have doubts about the long-term viability of this. Or perhaps I just don't care enough about what's going on a street away from my house.
  • Magazines increase cover price: The New Yorker, the only magazine I subscribe to that's mentioned in this article, already charges a large amount for its print subscription in Canada. Would I pay more if they raised it? Likely. Would I pay more if a Canadian magazine raised its subscription fees? No, because I don't read any; none fall under the category of Must-Read.
  • David Carr on how newspapers blew it: The Times' media columnist writes about how some people believe newspapers blew their opportunity to charge readers. The people who make this criticism are mostly right.
  • Boston rallies around the Globe: With the threat of the Boston Globe being closed disclosed, Bostonians have rallied around their city's newspaper (they have more than one, but this one's special). I don't have to wonder whether I would rally around one of the Toronto papers if it was being threatened this way. You can read through my many posts where I express my disdain for most local journalism. And can you blame me? In today's Star, the editors chose a New York Times rip-off story for the front page. Here's the Times story (also a front-pager) from Sunday. Here's the Star's, which makes no reference to the original. Great work, all around.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mavis Gallant

Randy Boyagoda Reviews Gallant's Newest Collection

In today's National Post, Randy Boyagoda reviews the latest collection from Mavis Gallant, a sometimes forgotten Canadian short story writer. Boyagoda's verdict is good:
To describe Going Ashore as a collection of the “missing” stories of Mavis Gallant, as Douglas Gibson does in his prefatory note, is to suggest only two possibilities to the reader: Either these stories have never appeared in book form because they didn’t match the superior quality of those stories that made up Gallant’s earlier works — such lapidary collections as The Pegnitz Junction, From The Fifteenth District and Home Truths, not to mention her 900-page Selected Stories; or, as Douglas himself proposes, there simply wasn’t enough space in any of the prior collections for these uncollected stories, which are just as strong. As a stay against disappointment, one can’t but approach this new collection presuming the former while hoping for the latter. Good news. Going Ashore rewards that hope.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Eleven-hundred-page Epic

Stephen King's Next Novel

The Guardian reports the first details about Stephen King's upcoming, twenty-five-years-in-the-making, eleven-hundred-page epic, Under the Dome:
Set in the town of Chester's Mills, Maine, "on an entirely normal, beautiful fall day", inhabitants suddenly find that the town has been sealed off by an invisible force field. "Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as 'the dome' comes down on it, people running errands in the neighbouring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact," King revealed on his website. "No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when – or if – it will go away."

Characters in the cast of more than 100 include Dale Barbara, a Gulf veteran and now a cook, the town's newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital and three children. They're up against an evil politician, Big Jim Rennie – who's desperate to hold onto power and will stop at nothing, even murder – and his son, who in classic King style, "is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry". Meanwhile, time under the Dome is running out.
I still haven't tackled King's last 600-plus-page epic... Yikes.



Stalin + Martians

Stalin vs. Martians: The Video Game



Hella Nation

The Daily Beast Talks With Evan Wright

Evan Wright, the author of the great Iraq book Generation Kill, has a new one coming out, titled, Hella Nation. The Daily Beast has an interview with him:

What does “Hella Nation” mean?

Basically, it’s stupid slang. It was just a phrase used by one of the anarchists. It’s actually a meaningless phrase. It means fringes. I used a weird, almost meaningless slang phrase because it’s a part of America beyond conventional description. It’s the primordial ooze.

You talk about feeling more calm in Afghanistan as an embedded reporter than you were as a civilian in Los Angeles.

When I’m in a war zone or in a dangerous situation, I don’t know if I’m chasing a high or well-equipped for this because I’ve had a life of such chaos. There are certain stories I’ve done that I don’t know what the social value is. But other things—anarchy, crime, war—it’s important. I went there because I was like, Whoa, my country’s at war, and Iraqis are dying. And it’s a serious thing.

I'll probably get around to reading this at some point. Generation Kill is worth the time, and I have the HBO mini-series based on that book in my queue to view.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Reading Files

Mysteries and the Mystery

So what have I been reading lately? Well, mysteries and some other things. I could go through list but that'd would bore me. Instead I will single out two books.

The first is Liaquat Ahamed's Lord of Finance, which is a history of the world economic collapse of the 1920s. It's a great piece of writing that shows the how the economy can ravage countries and lead to unforeseen problems. It's worth reading to see why solving today's economic crisis is kind of, you know, important.

The second is Stieg Larrson's much-praised and after reading, much-disappointing, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The novel is the first part of a trilogy that was supposed to go 10 novels, but Larrson, a journalist from Sweden, died after he submitted the manuscripts for the first three parts. Perhaps the hype was too great, but I found the prose pedestrian (may be partly the fault of the translation), the mystery not compelling, the twists not what I'd consider twists, the violence not ghastly (am I too desensitized after watching Saw?), and overall, too long, too much of a chore to finish. And this was supposed to be one of the best of the year, a real "page-turner."

But... Yes, Larrson didn't lose me completely. I'm interested in the sequel because I've heard it's better than part one. I won't damn a writer after one book that didn't please me. Maybe if part two sucks, then...


Baseball Season

Actually Excited About the Jays

Yes, I couldn't have expected that in April of 2009 I would be looking forward to the coming baseball season. It's not that I dislike baseball; it's that the Blue Jays disappoint so quickly that I lose interest in the games (in fairness, I've lost interest in the NHL this season and that's why I haven't bothered to write about the Leafs lost season). Sure, I could solve this by supporting a team not based in Toronto, but for me, that seems like abandoning a friend because he's an unemployed loser now.

So the Jays home opener is Monday, and I hope they can surprise everyone and make the playoffs. I have my doubts. In today's Times, there's an enjoyable article about the Jays best pitcher, Roy Halladay. Gives us hope that we have the best pitcher in the league. Unfortunately he only plays one out of every five games.


Short Fiction

A.O. Scott on the American Short Story

From today's Times:
But the conventional wisdom in American letters has always been that size matters, that the big-game hunters and heavyweight fighters — take your pick of Hemingway-Mailer macho sports metaphors — go after the Great American Novel.

But this maximalist ideology may be completely wrong, or at least in serious need of revision. The great American writers of the 19th century, whose novels are now staples of the syllabus, all excelled in the short form. Herman Melville’s “Piazza Tales” are as lively and strange as “Moby-Dick”; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tales and sketches are pithier than “The Scarlet Letter”; Henry James’s stories, supernatural and otherwise, show a gift for concision along with the master’s expected psychological acuity.
He continues:
But if the golden age of American magazines is long gone, the short story itself has shown remarkable durability, and may even be poised for a resurgence. Wells Towers’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” provides the most vivid recent example of the way a good story, or a solid collection of them, can do more than a novel to illuminate the textures of ordinary life and the possibilities of language. And the short story may provide a timely antidote to the cultural bloat of the past decade, when it often seemed that every novel needed to be 500 pages long and every movie had to last three hours — or four years, if it took the form of a cable series.

The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?

The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.
Forgive me for not using brief quotations: this is a great article. I agree with much of what A.O. Scott has to say, chiefly that brevity should be the goal of every writer. As far as my reading habits go, reading doorstops is mentally taxing but I don't mind them when they're worth every page. But I'm not forgiving when the writer has failed to edit their prose to the essentials. Every writer is guilty of this at some point but it's worst kind of mistake. Especially in an age where people have less time to read (or choose to read less).

I don't necessarily agree that the short story is the answer to fiction's problem; I don't need to repeat the known problems of the short story. But I think novelists should aim to write fiction that is consumable in two sittings - something, I believe, Joan Didion said was her aim with her fiction. That typically means less than 300 pages. But if you need 500, that's okay too: just make it good and don't waste a damn word.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Slow Month

Excuses, Excuses And More...

It's been a slow month for blogging mostly because it hasn't been a slow month in everything else I've been doing. That doesn't mean I have nothing to write, but that I just need to find the time to write it.

That means some writing is forthcoming, including:
  • What I've been reading lately
  • The difficulties and joys of reading Pynchon
  • The Maple Leafs lost season
  • U2's latest album
  • Other Music I'm listening to
  • And baseball
All of that, I hope, I will address in the next seven.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cu-jo Cu-jo

Another Night of Classic Joseph

In case you missed Curtis Joseph's great performance - six minutes (five in overtime) and the shootout - you can watch it all here.

As much as this season has been a lost one for the Leafs, there have been some great nights and great moments. Last night was one of them.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Putin's Power

Could it be waning?

So long as Russia's oil-fueled prosperity soared, people accepted Putin's implicit bargain: government corruption and constricted civil rights in exchange for rising living standards. But today, with Russia's economy in shambles, this social contract is fraying. Ordinary Russians are already taking to the streets demanding the type of change Putin is unlikely to deliver. He epitomizes the KGB old guard who got Russia into this mess. Sooner or later, he will become the Russian financial crash's most prominent victim.

Medvedev, a lawyer by training and instinct, offers perhaps the only realistic hope of turning Russia around, but he can't operate freely while Putin is still effectively in charge. Seemingly aware of this, Medvedev has, in recent weeks, taken steps to distance himself from his mentor and might be setting the stage to force him out of government.
Certainly an intriguing development. The economic crisis may have more consequences than originally thought.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Natural

Sugar vs High-Fructose

From the Times:
Sugar, the nutritional pariah that dentists and dietitians have long reviled, is enjoying a second act, dressed up as a natural, healthful ingredient.

From the tomato sauce on a Pizza Hut pie called “The Natural,” to the just-released soda Pepsi Natural, some of the biggest players in the American food business have started, in the last few months, replacing high-fructose corn syrup with old-fashioned sugar.
But the truth of this is much more simple:
Most scientists do not share the perception. Though research is still under way, many nutrition and obesity experts say sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are equally bad in excess. But, as is often the case with competing food claims, the battle is as much about marketing as it is about science.
I used to think what many people do, that high fructose corn syrup is an evil ingredient that needed to be avoided but then I read Lyle McDonald's comprehensive research review of high-fructose corn syrup and learned that high-fructose was simply the latest of many fabricated enemies used to explain why many people are obese.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tony Gilroy

The New Yorker Plays Vanity Fair

It's not very often you see a Vanity Fair-like article in the New Yorker but with ad sales down, I can understand that the New Yorker is trying their best to lure more readers, and thus, more ads, to its pages. It's a good thing though that when the New Yorker plays Vanity Fair, it offers a fun article still worthy of its own pages.

The article in question is D.T. Max's profile of director Tony Gilroy, which can be read here. Gilroy is, of course, the director of the fantastic Michael Clayton, and has a new film out next Friday, Duplicity, which will likely force me to end my moratorium on seeing anything with Julia Roberts in it. Yes, it makes me sick but a guy needs to be entertained.


Watched Watchmen

My Thoughts on the Film

I'm a bit late writing about the film adaption of Watchmen as I saw it in (iMax no less) last Saturday. To say that it didn't impress me to the point that I had to write 1,000 words about it as soon as I came home would be... Well accurate, because I didn't write any words about it then and I'm not even going to come close to a 1,000 now.

Zack Snyder is a good director. Or can be. His remake of Dawn of the Dead is my favourite zombie film from the most recent crop of zombie movies. I thought 300 was awful and I'm not wavering from the assessment today. Going into seeing Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen, the man was 1-1 in his efforts. After sitting through the near three-hour film, Snyder is 1-1-1. That's right: a draw.

Watchmen, the movie, isn't awful. There are many fun parts - enjoyable action and effects - and scenes that ring true as much as they can to the unmatchable comic book source material. But Snyder's film is not great. It's not must see, but not mustn't see. It's on the screen, there, and for people who can't be bothered to read the comic, it's an OK Cliff Notes-version.

Would I recommend it? Sure but I'd recommend the comic first.


Foreign Correspondent

The Romanticized Past

In today's Times Anand Giridharadas writes about the change in the reach of a foreign correspondent's work. Though it seems a bit obvious, Giridharadas makes the point that today's foreign correspondent can't rely on telling a source that their story won't be read in their home city. The writer of the piece also provides a nice, romanticized view of the past:
I rang up Roger Cohen, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist for The New York Times, to get a feel for the world now vanishing.

Mr. Cohen began with Reuters in 1979. Correspondents would roam for days; editors didn’t know where they were and there were no BlackBerrys to use to track them down.

Their work, once published, slowly filtered into the discussion back in Washington or Paris and helped to inform that debate; in time, of course, it could make its way back to the covered countries. Some newspapers, including this one, sold overseas editions in small numbers in dozens of international cities. Émigrés cut out articles for relatives in the old country. Governments monitored foreign press coverage.
Ah, those were the days.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quitely's Batman

First Image From The New Batman & Robin

This post, just an image from the upcoming Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely All Star Batman:

Story here, but really the art does all the talking.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Hua's Brothers

Really? Lost in Translation?

Having finished reading Yu Hua's novel, Brothers, yesterday it was luck to find a review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review: why? Because while I liked parts of Brothers, something was off about the reading experience. It wasn't bad by any stretch, but it didn't read like me the big hit it was in China.

Jess Row, who reviewed Hua's novel in the Times, described what I believe is the key problem:
... reading “Brothers” in English can be a daunting, sometimes vexing and deeply confusing experience. Partly this has to do with the difficulty of finding an English equivalent for Yu Hua’s extremely direct and graphic Chinese. In the first chapters of the novel, when one of the principal characters, Baldy Li, is caught peeking at women in a public latrine, Chow and Rojas do a heroic job of trying to capture the parallel English words for a woman’s behind — “butt,” “bottom,” “buttocks,” “backside” — but it’s hard not to suspect that we’re missing some of the pathos and humor of the situation in the gap between those expressions and the original.
On a similar note, Andre Alexis, in the Globe and Mail, provided a post-script for his review of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones that discussed that novel's translation. He determined that "As might be expected, it's a different novel in French: colder, more precise, coming from another time and place."

This all leads to the question: is there a point of reading a translation? It'd be ridiculous to create a rule to never read them just as it would be naive to believe that the original text can ever be reproduced perfectly into another language.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Jonathan Littell

Creating Controversy or Discussion

Jonathan Littell's novel The Kindly Ones has been published in North America, translated from the French, and has been quick to create controversy. Or maybe "controversy" isn't the right word. It's created "discussion"? Sure, that works.

The first review I read of Littell's novel, which is the fictional diary of a former SS officer, was the Times's Michiko Kakutani, who was disgusted by the 1,000-pager. She put down the novel in 964 words.

Another New York publication, the Review of Books, published its own review of the novel. The reviewer, Daniel Mendelsohn, spent just more than 5,400 words offering an even-handed review. He concluded:
Still, however badly it may stumble, The Kindly Ones brings to mind Maurice Blanchot's judgment—one which Maximilien Aue enthusiastically and, you can't help feeling, rather tellingly approves—of another enormous, hybrid novel, Moby-Dick : "This impossible book...[the] written equivalent of the universe...presents the ironic quality of an enigma and reveals itself only by the questions it raises." As another Kindly Ones—that of Aeschylus—continues to remind us, there exist strange fictional creatures, improbable hybrids whose two sides seem to have little to do with each other, that, however unlikely we are to find them in nature, can give us nightmares that will haunt us long after the show is over.
Sort of: Littell's was an important failure.

Kakutani may offer a simple "This is awful" assessment, but Mendelsohn has thought this novel through and said "Not so simple." That's nice. I'm not sure if either one - Kakutani's negative review (doesn't that mean this is a good book?) or Mendelsohn's comtemplative one - will make me read The Kindly Ones. I did like the latter's review though.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Watching Reviews

The Man Who Brought You 300, Brings The Watchmen

Based on one of the most revered comics of all time, The Watchmen, the film of the same name hits theatres Friday and the reviews, thus far, have been mostly unkind. The earlies, already aggregated at Metacritic, give The Watchmen an average approval rating of 44 percent.

It's, like I said, early, so there may be hope for a critical reversal but based on Zach Snyder's other films, 300 and Dawn of the Dead, he doesn't seem to direct movies that people paid to review like.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Huston Podcast

Ed Interviews Charlie Huston on the Bat Segundo Show

The Bat Segundo show has an interview with Charlie Huston, which can be listened here. If you'll recall I wrote about Huston's new novel, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, here.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Blurb

The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball's second novel is really his first, written before Samedi the Deafness, but published a year later. I enjoyed Samedi and that's why I was willing to go where Ball takes readers in The Way Through Doors, because, as the New Yorker put it, "reality is generally given the heave-ho."

Why does The Way work in the end? It does because no matter how confusing it gets, there is a story that hooks you and by the end, Ball is successful in completing that story. Seems simple: a book with an ending. But it's not as easy a task when the stories told between this book's covers melt continuously into each other. That Ball manages to satisfy in the end is one other reason to read The Way Through Doors.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Interviews

Dan Simmons and Alan Moore

Dan Simmons talks about his new novel Drood and Alan Moore talks a little about Watchmen but more about comics.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sour Rushdie

Salman Rushdie Doesn't Like Slumdog Millionaire

From the Guardian:
You might think that a writer whose own characters have included telepaths and angels would not worry too much about a story's believability, but Salman Rushdie has taken serious issue with the credibility of this years Oscars sensation Slumdog Millionaire. As Oscar upon Oscar was piled upon the film on Sunday, Rushdie was pointedly not joining in the applause for author Vikas Swarup and director Danny Boyle. "The movie piles impossibility on impossibility," he said in a lecture at Emory University in Atlanta, raising questions over how the characters end up at the Taj Mahal, 1,000 miles from where they were in the previous scene, and how they manage to get their hands on a gun in India.
I thought Slumdog was a good movie but I'm not quite sure if it deserved an Oscar. But if not it, who? I hope in a decade people still remember the movie but I have my doubts.

Rushdie? Yeah...


The Maccabees

A Cool Splash Page

Listen and watch.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Blurb

Three Novels by Richard Yates

First thing that comes to mind: would I have read this if it were not for the movie Revolutionary Road? Perhaps, but I should give credit to the film adaptation of Richard Yates's fantastic novel: the movie put this book, which also collects The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, in my hands. I should add, however, that I haven't seen the movie and it's not on my immediate to-watch list.

It's always my preference to read the book before seeing the movie, and that's why I read Revolutionary Road. All three of the books collected in this Everyman's Edition are written in the style that makes you think 'They don't make them like these anymore.' The prose is direct, clean and precise. It's smooth to get down and enjoy. And while Yates's hasn't pushed me towards the theatre to see the only adaptation of his work, the familiar beats Mad Men makes fulfills my need to see Yates's world envisioned on the screen.

Can I be more clear? Richard Yates: recommended.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

The Trailer... Finally

There's a trailer now for Quentin Tarantino's next film, due out in August, and it looks like it will be another super-stylized violent film from the director. Can't say I'm not looking forward to Inglourious Basterds, especially after watching the trailer right here.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Blurb

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

Something that was evident while reading Charlie Huston's newest novel was how it initially resembled his first, Caught Stealing. There's Huston's use of dialogue, short descriptions, humour, crime and engaging first-person narrator. The main difference, after writing seven novels between his first and latest, is that Huston has refined his style. It's much stronger, as would be expected, and reads more original. The clunkiness of expository dialogue is gone along with the muddiness of action scenes.

The title of this novel includes the word "mystic" but every aspect is believable. You want to believe Web Goodhue is a real person in Los Angeles, and Huston never gives a reason not to. There's also an aspect to this noir story that pushes it beyond the mere surface of character relationships. And Huston pulls that off without appearing artificial too.

Is it really that great a compliment to say an author's ninth novel is better than his first? No, but it's Huston's ninth novel that makes me want to read the ones before it and his tenth.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Harper's Index

Is Now Searchable

Harper's has made its always entertaining Index searchable in celebration of the Index's 25th anniversary. Go here.

How great is this? Here are the results, for example, for hockey.



Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SNL Comics

Saturday Night Live Writers Write for Marvel

From Marvel's May 2009 solicitations:
Spider-Man: The Short Halloween
Pencils & Cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE
Two stars of Saturday Night Live make their Marvel debut with an all-new story set right on the bustling, hot dog juice covered streets of New York City. Halloween is coming early this year as Spidey is knocked out during the Greenwich Village costume parade and an intoxicated reveler in a Spidey costume takes his place. Really, we don't want to say more than that. Trust us, with comic book legend Kevin Maguire (JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL) along for the ride, this'll be more exciting than putting a president on a comic book cover!
48 PGS./One-Shot/Rated T+ ...$3.99

It'll probably get some decent coverage. Meaning; not just this blog.


Oscar Predictions

Who Will Win These Meaningless Awards

New York magazine has gone to Nate Silver, the brilliant 2008 Presidential Election predictor, to, what else, predict this year's Oscar winners. The winners:
  • Heath Ledger for Supporting Actor
  • Taraji P. Henson for Supporting Actress
  • Mickey Rourke for Best Actor
  • Kate Winslet for Best Actress
  • Danny Boyle for Best Director
  • Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture
I'm interested to see if Silver is right.


Black Comedy

Nighty Night and the Peep Show

If you enjoy black humour, then you should like Nighty Night and the Peep Show. That's something I heard about these two British dark comedies that premiered in 2004. After watching the first seasons of both shows, I did enjoy one, which was was the poorly named Peep Show; it's poorly named not because it doesn't fit the comedy, but that it's hard to discuss a show called the Peep Show without raising eyebrows.

So why does one work and the other does not? The Peep Show is not as dark as Nighty Night, so that may be one reason, but the more accurate reason is that the show's writers don't ask for the viewer to laugh at sociopathic behaviour. Nighty Night is not about humour so much as it's about framing despicable acts as humour. The marketers of Nighty Night compare it to Curb Your Enthusiasm,which is unfair to Larry David's show as it features no character I would consider sadistic.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Blurb

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies is the best novel I've read this year. Despite its length (the story comes in at 460+ pages; if you add the glossary at the end, it's 500+), I finished reading the book in a couple of days. So what does that tell you? It tells you that either a) I'm a fast reader or b) Ghosh's novel is one that's hard to put down. A is wrong and B is partly true.

Whenever you come to a novel that's part one of a trilogy, in this case the Ibis trilogy, you expect a certain amount of set-up. Ghosh doesn't skimp on set-up. The first two parts of the story, which total more than 300 pages, are what I'd consider set-up and it's in these first two parts where I feel Ghosh could lose a reader or two. 

There's also a learning curve associated with the slang Ghosh uses throughout the novel. Eventually you do learn - it doesn't take too long - and I didn't feel I needed to look at the glossary. There's implied meaning, like spending time in a country where you don't share the first language: eventually, you pick up the rhythm of the language, and the meaning of words illuminate themselves. 

And perhaps that's the best part of Ghosh's historical novel: it's successful in transporting the reader to Calcutta in the 1800s. Ghosh weaves in historical details or details that feel historically accurate in a way that is not distracting. At the same time, he doesn't pretend that there's some greater meaning to Sea of Poppies though there may be and the Booker nomination (didn't win and that doesn't matter) would suggest as much. No, Sea of Poppies is a historical melodrama that ensnares and charms you. It's a fantastic piece of writing that I'm happy has sequels forthcoming.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Huston Interview

Charlie Huston Getting Recognition

Bookslut has a look at Charlie Huston's star turn with the publication of his new novel, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. If I'm writing about it, it means that it's on my to-read list.

I started reading Huston's first novel, Caught Stealing, via the author's website, which has links to PDFs of his first three books. It's good but I'm only about 40 per cent through.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Green Day

Vague Details for the New Album

From Pitchfork:
Reprise will release 21st Century Breakdown, complete with fake-edgy Sixten-inspired cover art, in May. According to MTV, the band recorded the LP with Nevermind producer Butch Vig. And according to Rolling Stone, the album's 16 tracks will come divided into three "acts": Heroes and Cons, Charlatans and Saints, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades.

Entertainment Weekly reports that the song titles include "21st Century Breakdown", "Know Your Enemy", "Before the Lobotomy", "March of the Dogs", "Restless Heart Syndrome", and "21 Guns". Rolling Stone, MTV, and Entertainment Weekly have all heard a few songs. All of them seem to like it, and two of them mention the Who.

Obviously without hearing a note I can't say anything about the album. I hope it's good.


Book Blurb

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Last post I mentioned I was reading Josh Bazell's debut, Beat the Reaper, and that I'd try to write something about the novel when I finished it. By writing that sentence, you should infer that I'm finished.

Beat the Reaper is a quick 300-page read, which Bazell deserves credit for. He keeps the story moving with short scenes and strong dialogue, and does a solid job of recreating the atmosphere one would expect to find in a hospital. Before I started reading the novel, I read an Amazon review that compared Beat the Reaper to a mix between House and The Sopranos. I haven't watched enough episodes of House (though I should watch more) to know if that's a fair comparison, but I will say Beat the Reaper is much like a hospital drama with a fair amount of crime and action. It's nothing like The Sopranos, as that show had a greater depth and attempted to say something more about crime. I didn't find Bazell's novel to share that same pursuit. It's mostly entertainment, well-written and enjoyable.

Should someone pick up a copy of Beat the Reaper? It depends if they enjoy black humour, crime and a knowing, sometimes unlikeable, narrator. Some of the sex scenes seem implausible, and at times the action scenes are hard to follow. Overall, Bazell's debut is still worth reading if only to set up what I expect will be a much stronger sequel.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bazell Interview

Josh Bazell Talks About His Novel, Beat the Reaper

I'm about a third-of-the-way into Josh Bazell's first novel, Beat the Reaper, and it's been fun so far. This week New York magazine has an interview with Bazell here:

Where did you get the idea for the book?
I wanted to explore the extent to which somebody can change himself. And I felt I might have something to say about the Mafia that hadn’t been said before.

Like what?
I’ve read lots of Mafia memoirs, this sort of repulsive subgenre where people who’ve gone into witness protection write tell-alls in which they claim to be ashamed of their former lives yet can’t stop bragging about them. In books and on TV, the mob tends to be either a sort of omnipotent conspiracy or a bunch of lovable doofuses who do petty crime. I love The Godfather, but the idea that somebody like Don Corleone sits around granting favors is clearly inaccurate. The favor is that if you pay them 60 percent, they don’t break your legs.

I'll try to follow-up with a proper review when I'm finished. And by proper, I mean short and to the point.


Brothers Review

Comparing Brothers to The Bonfire of the Vanities

NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan reviewed Yu Hua's just-translated novel Brothers and compared it to Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities:
Critics are already lauding Brothers by comparing it to Bonfire, but one is authentic Dickensian down and the other is serviceable fiberfill — and, in this instance, it's not the Chinese product that's the knockoff. Wolfe admirably aimed to be like Dickens, to write a huge social novel about New York City in the go-go 1980s and to make his points — as Dickens did — through comic hyperbole, repetition and cataloguing. All that was missing was the heart. (Did anyone really care about Wolfe's protagonist, Sherman McCoy?)
I haven't read Wolfe's novel, I plan to, but I know I'll read Hua's novel first.


Monday, February 09, 2009

A-Rod Admits

Another Great Baseball Player Juiced

This is weird: a baseball player who admits his steroid use. Not sure if I should praise Alex Rodriguez for admitting he used steroids when he played for Texas. He says he hasn't used since but who knows.

At least he didn't lie in the face of all-but-confirmed allegations.


Upcoming Mazzucchelli

No, Not Some Italian Dish

From today's Pub Weekly's reviews, a, um, review of David Mazzucchelli's long-awaited (I didn't know it was coming) graphic novel:
Asterios Polyp David Mazzucchelli. Pantheon, $29.95 (344p) ISBN 978-0-3073-7732-6

For decades, Mazzucchelli has been a master without a masterpiece. Now he has one. His long-awaited graphic novel is a huge, knotty marvel, the comics equivalent of a Pynchon or Gaddis novel, and radically different from anything he's done before. Asterios Polyp, its arrogant, prickly protagonist, is an award-winning architect who's never built an actual building, and a pedant in the midst of a spiritual crisis. After the structure of his own life falls apart, he runs away to try to rebuild it into something new. There are fascinating digressions on aesthetic philosophy, as well as some very broad satire, but the core of the book is Mazzucchelli's odyssey of style—every major character in the book is associated with a specific drawing style and visual motifs, and the design, color scheme and formal techniques of every page change to reinforce whatever's happening in the story. Although Mazzucchelli stacks the deck—few characters besides Polyp and his inamorata, the impossibly good-hearted sculptor Hana, are more than caricatures—the book's bravado and mastery make it riveting even when it's frustrating, and provide a powerful example of how comics use visual information to illustrate complex, interconnected topics. Easily one of the best books of 2009 already. (June)

It got the star, by the way.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Jesse Ball

Interview and a Review

Jesse Ball's first published novel, Samedi the Deafness, was fantastic. In a few days, his second will be published, The Way Through Doors. Bookslut has a review of the new book and an interview with him, which I will excerpt below:
I have also read that you have a whole trove of books you've written over the years that are as yet unpublished, each kind of waiting their turn. How much would you say you write when you are in the mode of writing? How much time each year, on average? Obviously, these are relative numbers, but I am interested in the process of output and perhaps how many projects you immerse yourself in at a time, how they bleed a bit into one another, etc?

There are a number of volumes awaiting their turn. As the years have passed, I have become better at compressing the writing process into smaller and smaller portions of time. Plainface, a novel that will eventually come out, is composed of novellas that tell the continuing adventures of a boy named Plainface, and each of those novellas was written rapidly, some even in a single day. It all goes back to what I was saying about a pianistic performance. One attempts to maintain a thread through an atmosphere that one constructs around the thread even as one weaves the thread through it. The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr, I wrote in one sitting. The same is true of Pieter Emily, another novella. I wrote a book of poems in December of 2007 called The Skin Feat. That's a part of an omnibus called The Village on Horseback which Milkweed will publish in 2011. That book of poems was written over the course of a couple weeks. In terms of all these works, quantity, though, is not my aim. I simply want to realize the thought as well as I can, and be surprised in the process. To be engaged in a life of making -- that's the pursuit.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl

The Biggest Surprise

I don't care about the NFL and I didn't watch a full game during this past season, but I did watch the dying minutes of last night's Super Bowl. Despite my expectations that the game between the Steelers and the Cardinals would be forgettable, the game became the second good Super Bowl in a row (I haven't forgotten about the NY Giants-New England Patriots match last season).

Here are the highlights. Enjoy.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pevere's Column

The Star Adds a Non-Fiction Column

In a move that I will support, the Star added a new Geoff Pevere column to its Saturday paper. Pevere, easily the Star's best critic, will write about trends in non-fiction books. His first column looks at addiction narratives:
Addiction has its hooks in deep. There have been dozens of books on the subject published in the past few years, and there are many dozens more to come. Here's a thought, inspired perhaps by the presumption that what's written about the real world always speaks to more than the subject at hand: Does our fascination with the consequences of compulsive behaviour go hand in hand with the collapse of boom times? Is recession merely recovery written in global economic terms? Or is it the agony of withdrawal as we convulse our way back to reality? To take the parallel one logical if unnerving step further, what then are our chances of relapse? If reality is the cure for delusion, non-fiction may be one way of getting sober.
Coincidentally the Star also had a front-page story about the growing abuse of OxyContin in Ontario. This was another solid story from the Star (two in one edition!). 

Last summer when I had my wisdom teeth removed, I was prescribed OxyContin. I had the opposite reaction: I wasn't hooked, I wanted off it. I suffered from the pain killer's side-effect of chemically-induced hiccups, which is like a normal hiccup fit except its much longer and painful. I flushed the rest of the pills after using only a day's dosage.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Awful Movies

Following The Oscar-Oriented Releases

Now that the Oscar nominations have been announced, all that's left are for the votes to be cast, the winners to be named, and the disappointment of who did win to settle in.

What comes after the season of film releases that are pining for Oscar nominations, is the dark part of the year, where film studios release movies that should be seen by no one, never.

This week, there are three such films, none of which I've seen or will ever see. I'll instead rely on Metacritic's review aggregated scores to condemn these movies: New in Town (30%), Taken (49%), and The Uninvited (44%).

Don't go see these movies. They're awful and you don't need visual proof to know it.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Google's Monopoly

Access to Information

From an article about Google's book digitizing efforts:
As an unintended consequence, Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly—a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information. Google has no serious competitors. Microsoft dropped its major program to digitize books several months ago, and other enterprises like the Open Knowledge Commons (formerly the Open Content Alliance) and the Internet Archive are minute and ineffective in comparison with Google. Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers. No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability...

Perhaps, but the settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything. In addition to the original "Big Google," we have Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Images, Google Labs, Google Finance, Google Arts, Google Food, Google Sports, Google Health, Google Checkout, Google Alerts, and many more Google enterprises on the way. Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.

Sci-Fi's Influence

Is It Still Fiction If It Happens?

From an interview with P. W. Singer, author of Wired for War:
Your book is filled with references to science-fiction writers, many of whom you credit with anticipating not only significant technological innovations, but also the ethical issues that come with them. Is there any writer you would name in particular who foresaw the coming robotic age of warfare and provides some useful guidance?

I love the writings of the cyberpunks, who don’t dream of alien worlds, but instead explore what happens when technology is put in our very own strange world now. “Battlestar Gallactica” today is another example of great work. Their season on insurgency was a better exploration of the issue than about 99% of what came out of all our thinktanks and defense journals on the issue. I don’t know if anyone predicted robotic warfare and where we are exactly headed so well, but its somewhat beside the point of what science fiction can offer. I’ve always been partial to H.G. Wells, who is known as the “Father of Science Fiction.” Wells was born in 1866, but in his various stories he forecast the 20th century with incredible accuracy, predicting such things as computers, video cassette players, televisions, and even super highways, each of which seemed unfathomable at the time. His book often had a theme of conflict running through them and so he also predicted various military developments well before their time. For example, he wrote about tanks, or what he called “Land Ironclads,” in 1903, which inspired Winston Churchill to champion their development a decade later. Similarly, his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come, predicted a world war that would feature the aerial bombing of cities. Wells was not a fan of such technologies, as he saw them as “unsporting.”

Perhaps Wells’s most important prediction was in his story, “The World Set Free,” written in 1911. In it, he forecast a new type of weapon made of radioactive materials which could destroy cities, which he called “the atomic bomb.” At the time, physicists thought radioactive elements like uranium only released energy in a slow decay over thousands of years. Wells described a way in which the energy might be bundled up to make a powerful explosion. Of course, at the time, most scoffed; the famed scientist Ernest Rutherford even called Wells’s idea “moonshine.” One reader who differed was Leó Szilárd, a Hungarian scientist. Szilárd, who later became a key part of the Manhattan Project, credits the book with giving him the idea for the nuclear “chain reaction.” Indeed, he even mailed a copy of Wells’ book to Hugo Hirst, one of the founders of General Electric, with a cover note that read, “The forecast of the writers may prove to be more accurate than the forecast of the scientists.”


Heroin Addict?

Creating One's Biography

From the Times:

Few writers are more acclaimed right now than the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, who died of an unspecified liver ailment in 2003, at the age of 50. His posthumous novel, “2666,” appeared on many lists of the best books of 2008, and interest in him and his work has been further kindled by his growing reputation as a hard-living literary outlaw.

But his widow, from whom he was separated at the time of his death, and Andrew Wylie, the American agent she recently hired after distancing herself from Mr. Bolaño’s friends, editors and publisher, are now challenging part of that image. They dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”

At the same time, some of Mr. Bolaño’s friends in Mexico, where he lived for nearly a decade before finally settling down near Barcelona, Spain, are questioning another aspect of the life story he constructed for himself.


Friday, January 23, 2009

From Crapstone

Town Names You Don't Want To Say You're From

From the Times:

CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”

He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Elephant

Good Short Story from Booker Winner

The New Yorker published "The Elephant" by this year's Booker winner, Aravind Adiga. It's good and worth a read.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Wrestler

It's Good

Last night I watched The Wrestler and my expectations were met. The film isn't as depressing as Darren Aronofsky's 2000 film, Requiem for a Dream, but it has its moments.

Mickey Rourke's performance, already awarded, should probably be awarded further. Rourke is good enough reason to see this movie, if you only need one.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

New U2

"Get on Your Boots"



Friday, January 16, 2009

Whitehead / Woods

Colson Whitehead Takes Down James Woods

From the February issue of Harper's:

We each come to literature in our own way. For some, the gift is bestowed by a helpful governess who guides our fingers over the letters in a primer. For others, a private tutor first enlightens us to the majesty of the written word. How you arrive is immaterial. What is important now is that you forget all that and learn to read anew. In my literary criticism, I have become known as a champion of the eternal verities and a scold of the trendy and the fashionable. I have essayed to instruct your writers in how to write correctly. Now I will teach you to read correctly.

When we see a word, we must ask ourselves foremost, What does it mean? This is the first step in comprehension. When we have accomplished this, we can proceed to the next, and so on. In due course, we have read the sentence in toto. By returning to the beginning of the sentence to perform a close reading, we unlock its essence. I learned this skill at university. Although born in the States, I journeyed abroad for my education and underwent my intellectual coming of age at Oxford. I remember when the first dispatches of Dirty Realism made their way across the Atlantic. I pored over each latest issue of Granta as if it contained the Holy Word. And perhaps it did. One of my favorites from that time has always been Raymond Carver, in particular his affecting tale “Leave the Porch Light On, It’ll Be Dark.”


Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Bookforum

Reviews of Yates, Boyle, Heller, Bell and the all-encompassing, Others

Read it here.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sundin's First

For His Sake, I Hope It's Not His Last

Of course, my sub-headline is a bit of an exaggeration: I'm sure Mats Sundin will score again for the Canucks. But it'd be nice if they actually won, so his move to Vancouver mattered.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Ones

What's Coming Up in Books This Year

The Millions has a great roundup of anticipated books due out this year. Read it here.

The ones that caught my eye include books by T.C. Boyle, Wells Tower, Colm Toibin, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Jonathan Lethem and Zadie Smith.


Monday, January 05, 2009

McCabe Who?

Leafs Forget How to Spell His Name

From an email sent by the Maple Leafs:


Historical Fiction

Just Another Genre

Vince Passaro from a review of Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth:

Despite that, however, I found myself, even amid my enjoyment, resisting the novel on moral and aesthetic grounds. Since so much of our serious fiction over the past two decades has been historical rather than contemporary, it will appear strange for me to say that historical fiction strikes me as fundamentally trivial or, at best, less important than fiction confronting the present, no matter how well crafted. Nevertheless, fiction focused on the past has become a kind of refuge for serious writers and readers alike. It has grown prevalent in inverse proportion to the diminishing sense that novels and novelists have any special cultural importance—a conviction now regarded as slightly ridiculous, but one that was unchallenged when Unsworth started his career in the mid-’60s.

Even very good historical fiction is, inevitably, genre writing; and while the best of genre writing—Chandler, say—can and should be regarded as literature, a literary culture that so consistently awards historical fiction over the more difficult and ever rarer novels that make an assault on the present is an anemic literary culture. It is worth noting that Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger, the slave-trade book, split the Booker Prize in 1992 with a more famous and rather gooey historical fiction, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. And since the late ’80s, a slew of such novels have won major awards, including a few with considerably more teeth in them, like Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Pat Barker’s Regeneration.

You might think that a novel set in Iraq in 1914 would be particularly telling today; that we would become somehow better informed about ourselves by seeing played out, at the sensual level of good storytelling, the origins of the disaster in the Middle East. Yet again, I found myself resisting this idea. Every educated person knows that the mercenary and rapacious policies of Europe and the US created monsters all over the colonial world—there is hardly a large-scale tragedy that can’t be traced back to them—but who understands now what happened to this country after 2001, when former radicals hung flags out their windows and almost all our political leadership backed the destructive invasion of Iraq, as did frightening multitudes of sensible Americans; or what British novelist can explain what happened to Britain, where you can’t walk around large cities without being watched and videotaped? Where are the writers who are trying to capture all this in fiction?