Monday, January 31, 2011

It's Like Dr. Frankenstein Took A Knife, Edgy And With Electricity And I Think I'm Stretching The Comparison

I'm at the portion of Frankenstein where Victor returns to find William dead and his family broken from the death and the father says something to the effect of “rely on the justice of our laws, and the activity with which I shall prevent the slightest shadow of impartiality.” When I hear something like that, I think instead, man, you're looking the wrong way at it: You want the judges partial to you. You want them very partial to you.

Okay. I've read a lot, but having avoided Frankenstein, I feel like I've missed the original version of many things that I've read now that are playing off of it. In other words: I got to the scene where Frankenstein's monster is illuminated in the lightning and I wasn't terribly impressed when I first read it. I finished up the chapter and then realized: This is the one that started them all. This is the burst of lightning and I have seen it for the first time.

This is where they all come from. Ms. Shelley constructs it well, but man...I really want to be reading By Night In Chile, which I finally have in my possession. By Night In Chile is also about a realization in flashes of understanding, but that's really the extent of the commonalities of the two.

The other major "cover before the original" in my life is I'm On Fire, by Bruce Springsteen, or, should I say, I'm On Fire, by Hawks And Doves. Bruce's version, today, sounds tinny and stuck with an unfortunate synthesizer line, but it struck a chord in the 80's with its frank (dare I say earnest?) lust and its simplicity. Everyone, apparently, has covered it, from Kenny Chesney to Tori Amos to Johnny Cash and of the three (get ready for this), Ms. Amos' version ages the best.

But: The Chesney version and the Cash version both play up the earnestness angle of the song, leaving behind, almost entirely the undercurrent (and also main current) of naked lust. In other words, it does not have the vividness or terror of the original flash. It is a lesser reproduction of what came before.

Assuming that I understand the synthesizer line correctly in the original as something that is there and would be removed now, Hawks And Doves (former Planes Mistaken For Stars singer) gets it right. There are other instruments in the background, but mostly, its Gared with an acoustic and his gravely voice, which emphasizes the dirt, the sand, the grains, the fucking lust. (Finally, one of the few times I can use the word fucking and not have it be gratuitous and have it work, exactly, the way it is meant to. Vulgar, correctly.)

Now. The cover by Tori Amos is another story entirely. She uses the piano (like, obv.) to carry all of ideas and lets her own voice carry the lust for the song. And yes, her voice is lighter and is a little more fragile, but where it is supposed to, it carries that lust. Maybe it is the heavy breathing on the microphone that does it, but. It is pretty and also dirty, in a way that does justice to both.

Anyway. Point is. There is the original and then there are other things. In Frankenstein, I am getting an unadulterated dose of the original. It is terrifying, brilliant and fantastical.

Hawks. Doves. Fire. If you want to reverse engineer my love for Planes Mistaken For Stars, crank the amps as loud as they will go on this song and let the guy vocalize in a way that smiles, bawdily, through bloody gums and broken digits.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Joker and the Luthor.

You just drew in your breath a little, didn't you? I did too.

Lex Luthor and the Joker interact. I completely forgot about this issue and it blew me out of the water. The way these “villains meeting” usually goes is they come up with an idea to kill one of their rivals and then one betrays the other so our hero can escape or win the day. It's mostly stuff for fans that really must know the answer who would win in a fight.

Enter Paul Cornell written and Pete Woods drawn Superman-free Action Comics run. Luthor is on a quest for more power and is being manipulated by everyone around him as he searches, vainly, for A Thing That Will Give Him More Power. (It's called a black sphere, which is a conduit to something that I'm not sure of, but it involves the refuse of last year's crossover. Literally.

The crossover threat spun out of the Green Lantern universe and ended up involving the Black Lanterns, who were evil. Or wanted to restore death. Or something. Look. What matters is that Luthor, for a two, three, four hour period was given incredible power to save the Universe from a extinction level threat. It was taken away from him when the Earth was no longer in danger of being killed.

He thinks, via these black spheres, discarded bits of malevolent energy from the black rings of the alien invaders, that he can harness an incredible amount of power. It should surprise no one to hear that Lex Luthor, man of Action, in this case, has cataloged their location and has made a list of all of them. There are a number of these strewn across Planet Earth, some in cities made entirely of traps, some in the Arctic Circle, some being guarded by Gorilla Grodd, but ignore all that for one sweet moment: The next one on the list is in the Joker's cell in Arkham Asylum.

Oh. Shit. Yes.

And before you begin, “but James, I don't know much about the Joker or Lex Luthor to pick up on many of the details that would make this thing sing” I tell you, “Trust me, you already know what you need to.”

Here's what you need to know: Lex Luthor is a man of science, devoted in two duties, one to advancing the human race and the other to kill Superman. (Bet you knew that already.) The Joker is a Nietzsche-inspired villain who believes life is a black comedy, kills lots of people and dresses up to do it. He's a deranged nihilist, in short. (Bet you know that already.)

And that's what makes the issue great, the multiple dichotomies, the multiple levels.

For all Luthor's Promethean posturing, he's a villain. He'd murder any number of people and commit crimes against humanity to kill Superman, a being that has made Earth its home and protected ordinary humans from extra-terrestrial invaders, falling rocks, guys with guns and anything dangerous or evil that the alien can put himself between humanity and it. The Joker makes no pretense to nobility. He's deranged, psychotic and willing to commit despicable acts because they have been done before and not punished.

Lex Luthor believes you are as you make yourself and the Joker believes that's a game for suckers.

You've got Lex Luthor, realist, man of science, there is a flow of time and it is a line kind of guy. You've got the Joker, the feral, violent nihilist, who believes history is multiple choice.

Lex Luthor is very serious about the future. The Joker lives in the moment. He kills in the moment, too, but that's another story.

Hell, both of them are serious about their superhero antagonists. Lex Luthor needs, must kill Superman, because the human race would evolve better with Superman out of the picture. The Joker, on the other hand, continues to use grisly means just to get Batman to see his point.

Or in other words: Chaos versus Reason, played in the key of villany.

But the most surprising part, is not that the Joker can see into the plot, not that Lex Luthor is being given the run around by a robot version of his arch-enemy's lover that knows it's a robot, but that the Joker is a romantic. The Joker was transformed by the loss of his innocence, to the point where he well, just look to your right.

That's...a really simple origin. He mistook meaninglessness for futility. Luthor came to the table ready to bargain, ready to interrogate and ready for any kind of hidden scheme. It is not lost on me that there really is something with a hidden scheme, in the room, something that can be bargained with and something that ought to be interrogated in that room, but unless Cornell pulls a “I knew it all along,” which I don't think he will, Luthor can't see it.

Hell, all Luthor had to do was ask, but of course, that was the one thing he couldn't do. The Joker might be bizarre, and irrational, but Luthor, the man who expected secrets within secrets and got the truth. Of course, from the person that Luthor expects the truth, there are secrets within secrets.

Back to the Joker, though. The Joker lives in a universe where people hold back extinction on a nearly annual basis, within the timeline and he's still hung up on the idea that life did not birth him with a meaning. Which might be why he's stuck in a box (even if he could escape it if he tried) and Luthor's out slobbering over power.

Anyway. Action 897. It's a really, really good issue and contains some cool philosophical stuff that's fun, even if you don't care about Superman or Batman villains.

Dillinger Escape Plan (who'se shirt I am wearing now) playing Nine Inch Nails' Wish, with, Nine Inch Nails. One of the lyrics works pretty well for the Joker. "I wish there was something real. I wish there was something true." Also, video is so goddamn sick. Press play already.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Guilt, Only Pleasure

Of course the title's a lie. But you understand it's a lie, it's hopefully, hopefully, an oddity as a title around here and it'll get you to click.


My guilty pleasure these days is Batman. No, not the psychedelic Batman trip done by Grant Morrison and a rotating artist pool that kills it on a regular basis, not the HOLYSHITMAN ground level stakeouts and near misses of Scott Snyder and Jock on Detective Comics (see right), not the can't slow down aesthetic of Batman and Robin, which Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel showed up on the last minute and kicked out a jam on, but Batman, currently written and drawn by Tony Daniel.

It is as subtle as a car crash. There are other ways in which it is a crash, Catwoman's breasts are roughly as large as her head (see below), there's one young woman tied up and used as bait, the aforementioned Selina Kyle has a protege who calls herself Catgirl that even includes the ears. Anyway, it feels like Hush (written by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee) and I mean that in the worst way.

Daniel's style is a kind of Jim Lee impersonation that's a little bit scratchier and a with more emphasis on pencil lines than the other people working for the company, artistically. Also, there's a pretty good sense of movement in his splash pages. The writing, as I've alluded to is...pretty basic and trope-y, even while trying to introduce new villains. The Riddler has a daughter named Enigma, whom he takes out for father-daughter hero whoopings, I guess, Catgirl is the daughter of the perpetually overshadowed Gotham organized crime boss, Falcone and wears a lot of pink.

Yes, pink notwithstanding, this sounds a lot like the secret origin of Helena Bertinelli, aka Huntress. Get this: There's a Chinese PI named I-Ching, who is protecting a stolen girl called Peacock. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

Hush, was, aesthetically, Batman's greatest hits. There's a fight with Superman, Clayface shows up as get this, a fake out, the Joker shoots somebody, Poison Ivy plays with men, Harley Quinn is dangerous and clumsy and would you believe that the Riddler has a brain-twister for Batman? Wow.

The phrase tour-de-force comes to mind. So does artistically bankrupt, now that I think about it. Anyway. Hush was drawn by Jim Lee and is now in a pencils only printing called Hush Unwrapped.

Tony Daniel's piece has basically the same problems, but updated. Look, there's Catwoman, helping out Batman, but now she's got a spunky female protege! (see right) Look, there's the Riddler surprising Batman, but this time it's with his daughter, who is energetic and naïve! Look! Here's an illustrator that looks like Jim Lee!

It's the same.

Whereas: Detective Comics introduces new villains, ones that act in ways the old ones didn't. Cornell's Batman and Robin throws a new villain for a twist: She's a presumed dead piece of Bruce's arm candy who returns and exploits Batman's blindspot. Morrison's Batman and Robin throws Darkseid at the heroes, in more forms than one, but that's only after they introduce the Circus of Strange, British themed villains and entirely recast the Joker.

Daniel's villains? Thiny disguised Fu Manchu or yellow peril analogues. See, uhhhh, below.

But Daniel's Batman is so big, so fucking dumb and so fucking hard to take seriously that I can't help but like it, in a way that's absolutely insulting. Batman looks jacked, punches dudes, gets punched occasionally and then jumps off a building. Toby will hate me for this, or at least chuckle, but Batman is the Jersey Shore of the Batman series of books. I know what's coming, it's almost guaranteed to be more ridiculous than plausible and in a medium where the "plausible", "ground level" Batman just found an Iron Man style suit of flying armor to take to the sky against the guy who just turned into an evil skin disease pterodactyl, that's a feat within itself.

Occasionally, Daniel has moments I like. One was that Catgirl *shudder* "couldn't read" the street signs from on the rooftop where she and Batman were perched, the implication being that Batman knew where they were without having to look at street signs.

Anyway. I don't need to read street signs to know where I am with Daniel.

With A Thousand Words To Say But One by Darkest Hour. Short version: Thrash metal with melody. Really. It doesn't suck. Promise.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Community. Buses.

I was on one of four buses on yesterday. Someone else's broke down on the highway about dinnertime. Lost a tire and in the dark, the drivers of my bus and the one with the lost tire scampered betwixt the traffic to find it.

Within a quarter of an hour, at least two people around me suggested the other three buses should leave. With the road service not arriving for 2+ hours, I tried not to think about what that would mean. It would mean abandoning an entire busload of people so three for every single one could make it back to the compound on time for dinner. It's not barbaric. It's not even cruel. It's...just without empathy or an understanding of what it means to be a community.

And that's not even strictly a utilitarian analysis. It avoids the question of how much it would cost the people left on their own on a bus in a place where they can't urinate or defecate for two hours while the lucky people get to carry on so they can get dinner. Let's not misplace my outrage. I'm sure, given enough of a timespan, I'd say to leave the bus. But it didn't even get to forty five minutes before people were talking about ditching their fellow travelers so they could be more comfortable while affixing more suffering to their fellow travelers. People they know! Maybe even like!

I know there's the joke about cannibalism that people resort to it too early, but seriously! Gimme 45 minutes. At least! That, apparently, is far too much to ask. It's disappointing. Are people really that selfish? I tried to convince myself, when I was on my hands and knees, cleaning up broken glass, at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, in the dark, that people really aren't that bad. It's harder to sustain that line of thinking when you're being insulted by the same guy whom you let in when he was interrupting your sleep 4 hours ago, cleaning up tiny pieces of glass, apparently too loudly.

Man, fuck that guy. And to be fair, there's a little bit of him in me, when I feel like being imperious and an asshole and who knows what the shit else. Of course, it's not for him that anyone is kind, right? They're kind and generous and patient because they want to be, feel like they're compelled to be, ought to be, or maybe, because they don't want to be like him or contribute to that.

I hope.

Songs For Teenagers seems appropriate here, if only for it's title. It's a great song in its own right, and if you look around on youtube for it, you'll find not only the original version by Florida's Fake Problems, but also a cover by The Gaslight Anthem. Enjoy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Storm Front In New Crobuzon

Perdido Street Station is unfamiliar. Storm Front not at all and I like both for those reasons.

Storm Front flaunts its influences on its first chapter, even in its first paragraph. The first paragraph is about how the mailman usually announces himself. See also: The Postman Always Rings Twice. Within the first chapter, we learn working wizard Harry Dresden is a) behind on rent and b) received an evasive female caller that wants to meet him about a missing persons case. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because it's basically the beginning of every noir story ever.

You get introduced to, next, a no bullshit police lieutenant, who needs Dresden to investigate a fresh crime scene. Surprisingly enough, she's a woman, Karrin Murphy. By the second page of the second chapter, Dresden's opened the door for the woman and called himself old school.

By the third chapter, he's been told by the Mafia to keep his nose out of the case, that the mob will “double” whatever the city is paying him to take a vacation for a couple weeks. He says no. (Of course.) There's a sour pub owner that Dresden is on a first name basis with and a voluptuous woman that wants something from him that lets Dresden peek down her shirt in attempt to get information out of him. (After a quick glance, and only that, he reiterates how old-fashioned he is.) He has to meet a vampire, cross basically all of the people who trust him in an attempt to solve the case.

Would you be surprised to find out that the police lieutenant is having her unseen bosses (Commander Fairweather, in case you were wondering) breathe down her neck or that one of the women is playing Dresden? No. No you wouldn't, because it's all shit you've been before.

It's not like the magic is much more astonishing. Maybe you'll surprised to hear that he brews a love potion and doing so blows up in his face? Mostly, magic accounts for the high octane fights and hijinx. Look, a talking skull and an absent-minded fairy to trap!

And yet, I blitzed through Butcher's paperback in two evenings and I'm stoked for the second, third and fourth books. (I suspect by book five or six he's going to be repeating ideas out the ass.) I mean, yes, I'm a total sucker for the genre and this one gets me right in the sweet spot. There's enough hijinks to keep things moving and there's enough twists (not that they're telegraphed, but it wants to be a noir so bad and I know what to look for) that it keeps me happy.


Within the first chapter of Perdido Street Station, we see the city from outside in the first person, from a character that's not named or described, on the run from something, and headed toward a brief hope that it might be whole again. You arrive in the city from the first chapter, as you approach it, from the perspective of an outside on a boat coming into the city, hearing only rumors from the nebulous narrator. The first two sentences: Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth. It has been night for a long time. Right there, you get a clear sense of coming closer to a city center and that the narrators been traveling for a long time, whether hours, days or weeks, who knows.

In the next chapter, we meet an adorable couple, a female artist (Lin) and a youngish sorcerer (Issac), waking up with each other in their apartment. They wake up together and make breakfast. Issac, the dude, is predictably sleepy and wants to go back to bed. Familiar enough, right? That's when you see, slowly, that Lin has red skin, four pairs of insectoid legs and can't speak, so instead signs. That's before she opens up her head and reveals mandibles, not to mention, tiny delicate wings and that's before she and Issac start having sex, the anatomical possibilities of which Mieville leaves up to our imagination.

Lin, then leaves, because she has to go to work. Again, not really surprising, until you find out that she's going to meet a mysterious buyer that she's certain Issac won't approve of. It's a lucrative commission to do portrait of the lord of organized crime in the city. Yes. The woman gets in trouble and chooses it and, for the record, stays on top of it, until Issac fucks it up. (Not that Issac would know, which I suspect is another theme.) Other main characters are an underworld go-between, a Hutt-esque bartender that the regulars are familiar enough with that they cheerfully order from him.

Let me repeat the comparison: In Storm Front there's a femme fatale that appears in front of the wizened world-weary male narrator and there's hedging. It's probably on the level and it's probably nothing. (Of course it's not, but anyone who likes noir is not everyone who might read the story.) In Perdido, a young female decides she's going to take the chance of working with a crime lord because it will set her up for life and she'll be able to make whatever she wants post-faco and there's no hedging: This shit is dangerous. For Dresden it's enough to get by, for Lin, it's about getting free.

And...after reading Perdido, I wasn't psyched to read the next book in the series. When I finished Storm Front, I was, and this will not surprise you, psyched to read the next one, which, of course, I don't have. And it wasn't because Storm Front had a happy ending and Perdido ended with more movement and running, either. Perdido was exhausting, whereas Storm Front was invigorating. I knew, from the first paragraph of Storm Front, what I was getting into. Perdido, less so. I couldn't go on autopilot for the book or use my knowledge of the genre as a crutch to catch the little references. It surprised me and terrified me in equal measure, and pretty often to boot, so I know I'll be going back to Mieville eventually.

But Butcher? Like popcorn, I want more and I can handle it, right now.

Today's is the Out_Circuit's Across The Light. It has little or nothing to do with the thing, except that it's what I listen to when I need to chill out at night and I just want to be a little ambient. Crossed with Paul Duffield's Signal, I'm de-stressed and ready for sleep.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Perdido Street Station, Empty.

First things first: Amazing book. Like Bolano, I feel like there's a blast radius after the book finishes. It weighs on me and so I went to Butcher's Storm Front and was reinvigorated. The “new weird” designation makes sense for Mieville, as there's usually a new strange creature around the corner or at least, at every chapter.

A bit spoiler, but something that's fun. The city's leaders are talking to the Ambassador of Hell, in a private chamber, in which they require spell protection (which has a very limited time frame) to even enter. They are standing in front of the seated Ambassador, who is dressed in a natty black and red suit and speaks as a charming human negotiator would. If they blink involuntarily or stretch, however, for a brief instant, the illusion breaks, and the room is viewed as a festering, fiery pit of shrieking souls, in which there is a lot of screaming and the Ambassador is revealed as a hyena headed grotesque creature.

But: They can hear reverberations of the screaming, screeching words the Ambassador is saying. The Ambassador and the group can't come up to a deal, so the group leaves and as the group is going back upstairs to the normal part of the building, one of them realizes something: Guys, I don't think the screaming voice was the reverberations. I think the normal voice we heard was the reverberation.

Holy shit. Instead of mankind piercing the illusion of sweetness of devils, as so often happens in fiction and literature, the sweet voice is what the humans convinced themselves of to ignore the voice they believe to be true, the shrieking and screaming. Smile a moment: What other horror can you convince yourself isn't so bad?

It's that kind of reversal that endears me to Mieville. Mieville's characters and writing can be elegant, stubborn, grounded, ornery or dropping huge, poisonous hints to the reader, something that sticks out for a page, like a secret between Mieville and the person that pays attention. Also, he's smart and super liberal, so that doesn't hurt, either. This a committed Socialist, not a fly by night operator that fucked a co-ed with a poster of Che Guevara on their pasty, mauve dorm wall. A guy who, in the year 2001 received 1.2 percent of the vote as a Socialist candidate for the House of Commons.

I've been working on a review that says something to the effect of: Kraken was Mieville having fun, after what I imagine was a grueling writing process of The City & The City, since Kraken has so many of Mieville's favorite things (and completely ridiculous bullshit) in close proximity. He's got his two male leads running around with Star Trek props, which, thanks to the power of magic, have transmuted into working phasers, a cephalopod MacGuffin, gimp mask Nazi assassins and the crux of the book being decided by who has most powerful and sprightly imagination.

Perdido, then, comes a decade prior (Perdido, 2000, Kraken, 2010), and incidentally, is weird and no fun. It's a scary book. Sure, there's a circus of strange, but that's aqs much to show Issac's state of mind than actual levity. Case in point: Lin ends up brain damaged thanks to the beast that Issac unleashed, Issac pissed off everyone who has a powerful organization in the city, the person to whom he promised flight and there's another woman with Issac, who is not brain damaged.

And now, they're disguised and leaving the incorporated limits, weighed down by Lin, who is now significantly less competent, Issac's guilt and everyone's culpability in a plan that saved New Crobuzon at the cost of a basically innocent human life, the lives of their assorted friends and the ire of every power player in the city.

On the plus side, our heroes (???) met a for real God, the cryptic, nonsensically verbalizing Watcher, a spider of titanic proportions, who'se plenary existence is very much put into danger by the terror of the last half of the book, saved a city, even if they never can take credit for doing so.

I'm not sure what that arithmetic shakes out to, but I know it left me cold, in the best way. Luckily enough, I had Butcher's first Dresden Files book to start, and that's where I'll pick up in the next piece.

Since we discuss hell in this, a little heavy metal feels appropriate. And by a little, I mean five minutes worth of some of the finest vintage available. Here, have Dead Fathers Wading in the Bodygrounds, by Trap Them.

“We're the healers, we're the providers, we're the shelters and the badges and the sirens and the cadence and the martyrs. We are the old graves digging the new.” Good old fashioned doomy metal, nastier and with attention to detail. This is not supposed to make you happy. This is supposed to dump a half empty gascan on the rage inside you. Put your horns up, child, and bang your head.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Frankenstein To Rome By Way Of Perdido Street Station

This one's late. Here's why: I'm not doing these with a buffer. It's my fault and no one else's. In response to and because of the fact that I'm going to be away from the Internet for the weekend, this is the first of the three pieces that will be up tonight. Call it the China Mieville Triptych. I have another two books by Mieville with me, so I don't see his influence becoming less pronounced on me, but also, because the other book I read, Jim Butcher's Storm Front, (the first book of the Dresden Files series) also has magic and a cynical outlook and was sooooooooo much quicker to read. That doesn't necessarily mean it was better. Anyway. This one is a comparison to Frankenstein, which I have chosen for my next A Theory Of book. What will be Wednesday's will be whatever Mieville I remember, on its own. And what will be Friday's is Perdido Street Station compared to the first Dresden Files book.

The other reason why is because my flights to Rome ended up arriving...eight hours late, I just went to bed Monday night and didn't have internet access until today, Thursday.

Which means I need to stitch this thing together, using whatever I've been reading and whatever I remember from Frankenstein. As you might have guessed from the title, I've been working my way through China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, a book about a lot of things, but also about a far too curious scientist meddling with things he shouldn't. In Frankenstein, it's, well, the scientist named Frankenstein, shooting life into a waiting creature he curated and created, using miles of blood vessels, discarded brains, body parts and whatever else he could find. In Perdido, it's an absent minded sorceror called Issac, living in a cosmopolitain shithole called New Crobuzon feeding a curious recreational drug to a caterpillar that blossoms into a soot-black terrifying creature of the night, which exists in multiple dimensions, can cut through armor like a knife through a receipt, flies adroitly and drinks the dreams and knowledge matter of its prey (anything, including apparently, a very Hell, who'se ambassador refused overtures to help the city.). Issac didn't know that going in. He just kept the caterpillar around because it didn't eat normal food and he pitied it.

Perdido and Kraken have a number of similar plot elements (along with The City & The City.) There's a skunky/manipulative head of an academic department who seems haughty and ends up being evil and behind one of the growing threats. There's a failed strike against a overclass (not present in City, IIRC). Authorities are at best, well-intentioned and ineffective (well-intentioned in City and Kraken, evil in Perdido and ineffective against the growing threat in all three) at worst, careless, responsible for the threat and ineffective (the trifecta is in Perdido.) There's also a cobbled together resistance which is startlingly effective against the threat (Kraken, Perdido).

In all these though, the cobbled together bits work the best. Apparently, trained militia can't hit the snake moths any of the time, but our heroes, only a couple of which have any kind of history with pistols can, 2/10 times. Oh shit, there's also a member of the underclass, ignored and underestimated by their masters, who rise in ways that save our heroes' ass. (Kraken, Perdido, maybe City) Honestly, when I read the Scar next, I am putting money on the idea that there's going to be a rising underclass member, an evil academic, and negligent, myopic authorities.

That said, Dr. Frankenstein could be a villain in a Mieville book: He brings life to something he created and then treats it like a thing without autonomy. He's also evil, but in a way that doesn't see himself way, or at least bad. Frankenstein feels a lot, lot denser. The type is smaller and is spaced even more shorter than Perdido, but I think the expectation of Frankenstein weighs on me.

There's another bit about Frankenstein that Mieville doesn't have. (Mieville's also not one of the celebrated authors of all time. That's a thing.) Frankenstein, or at least the first forty-nine pages of it I've read is immensely quotable.

“I shunned my fellow-creatures as if I had been guilty of a crime.” Gives you an idea of the guy's state of mind as well as the fact that he might in the back of his mind, thinking about what he's doing is wrong.

“I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling.” This might be Mary Shelley in a self-deprecating moment. I can see her writing that with a sly smile.

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never allow a passion or transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge ought to be an exception this rule.” That last one was on page 44, just before Chapter Five of Volume One and just before Frankenstein flips the switch on his now famous monster. That, kids, is how you do foreshadowing.

Song is called The Disarming Smile, by the World/Inferno Friendship Society. It's from their new record, which is a lot...jauntier than I would have expected. (Except for the track about a friend's suicide.) Think of what the band would be whistling as they're walking away from a crime sporting a shitfaced grin and that's about it. Not exactly new territory for the band, but less agitated. It's clear: the band knows something you don't.

Think more Hothouse Flowers and less Brother of the Mayor of Bridgewater and you're about there.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Some Elbow Room

I'm not sure if I have much to say about the attempted (!!) assassination in Tuscon, except that I don't think it will change anything, regardless of how inspiring Obama's speech was. And it's not just a Republican thing, either. I'm not going to insult your intelligence and say that there's equal opportunity slander and misrepresentation since, frankly, it isn't. If the Republicans feel hijacked by Fox News and driven to a more radicalized strategy to retain voters, that's their fault. It leads them to start spewing more and more insulting, callous garbage, which gets the craziest people re-elected and the most reasonable out of office.

The Republicans, and Republicans admit this in public and on camera, were led by the most radical voices in their party to a defeat on the health care bill, which itself was a watered down version of its original form that lacked backbone. But: When you put this kind of material out in front of people, there are people that will amplify the message and take it to heart.

This has not been the Democratic strategy. The Democrats have been doing their best to remain as moderate and inoffensive as possible in a vain attempt to win over Republicans, which hasn't paid dividends until, the lame duck session of Congress of 2010, which ended up being the most productive of the last two years.

And yet. Maybe this will make House and Senate Republicans (Yes, I'm singling them out. Remember: They're the ones that held up the 9/11 first responders bill because they were concerned about it being too expensive. Let that one sink in.) think twice about using that kind of language since they know the person that got shot in the brain. But here's hoping that they people that didn't know the Congresswoman can't use the language until after the 2012 election and then we can get back to the good old fashioned food fight that is our political process.

2. Mike Steele is no longer the chairman of the Republican Party, a white guy is, now. Maybe he'll talk about something fresh, like traditional values.

3. The idea of a media diary is nothing really new, but the twist on it (that year-end list privilege what I've been listening to in the last five weeks) makes me want to pick it up again. Of course, then I realize how many different songs are on my iPod and I laugh hysterically. Maybe I can integrate it somehow into Mondays. (Oh, right. Monday I go back to Rome.

In that vein, I read Who Is Jake Ellis #1 (a limited comic book series from Image) and enjoyed it quite a bit. I see the art and I think of David Aja, who did Immortal Iron Fist, but the artist isn't quite that good with Aja's brilliant little pieces of attention to detail. Anyway. The hook is that there's a White Dude With A Gun, but he's got a guy in his head that can tell him what's going on around him and keep a look out for guys that are trying to kill White Dude With A Gun.

It's not clear that the guy in White Dude's head is another part of himself, subconsciously repressed or whether it's another being entirely, which makes it fun. I can just see the pitch now and I'd bet money the key phrase is Jason Bourne meets Fight Club. And you know how much I like Fight Club...

The first new song from No Trigger since 2006 and man, just listen to the opening drum tattoo. You think you know how it's gonna go and it sticks around just a little longer than you expect. Plus, at less than 90 seconds, it's lightening fast and sprightlier than quicksilver. It's called Commonwealth and if you're from Massachusetts when you read this, even better.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In the Rivers Float Our Modern Times

The guy who wrote this is Toby Altman, of Lufftwaffe and most recently, Camera Phone or his writing partner. I'm going to proceed under the impression it's Toby, because that makes it simpler. Why? He's my good friend and we go way back. He's defending (sort of) his enjoyment of Jersey Shore, which, I am surprised by. Below is an excerpt. Italicized: Not me. Not italicized: Me. Unless it's the music writing. In which case, me. Clear? Clear.

Here we see GTL in its natural environment. On the one hand, it is a set of practices — Gym, Tan, Laundry. On the other, it is a byword for a whole lifestyle, almost a political philosophy: “SITCHNATION GTL all day,” he writes. What is remarkable about the phrase, at least in this cited instance, is the way it defies its origin. In none of these instances are the actual practices of going to the gym, or the tanning parlor, or the laundromat, referred to. The phrase transcends its roots in practice; what begins as practice becomes identity, a rallying cry for a nation acolytes.

I've said that philosophy is like lying with big ideas (only like two or three times) and this one seems like the best example I can think of offhand.

It [GTL] is a byword for a whole lifestyle, almost a political philosophy.

Yes but WAITWHAT? What we've got here is a catchphrase whittled down to its most basic elements, repeated until it sticks in your brain, because he's got a book to sell, a DJ tour to promote and however else he's monetizing his fame. What are the politics of this philosophy, pray tell? I doubt, intently, that he cares about where he goes to gym, except that there aren't too many grenades or butterfaces there. If there is a belief in the philosophy, it's believing in looking fresh, getting laid and repeating steps one and two.

Nowhere in Gym, Tan, Laundry does it involve other people except for the desire to have sex with them, which makes it very hard to argue about it being political in any way, shape or form. Unless you want to argue that ignoring people and using them only when they're convenient to you is the Republican political philosophy, in which case, it's a great joke, but basically inaccurate.

I want to celebrate the show, and the wild, great people who are its heart...On “The Jersey Shore” we see personhood at its rawest, its most naked, unencumbered by everything but hair gel.

Great is an interesting choice of words, man. The characters inhabiting Jersey Shore are people, yes, that are barely held together, but I don't see needing to celebrate that. If your point is that you can't go anywhere else to watch overgrown children who never matured past seventeen desperately stretch out parts of personality to appear like full human beings, then yes, it's an avenue for that.

It's a trainwreck. If the trainwreck is gigantic and colossal, well, that's something. But let's not lie about how clown shoes these motherfuckers are. I don't mistake that sadness just underneath the surface of the program for depth. Jersey Shore is a show where desperate people a) try to comb over their lack of personality to appear to be full human beings so they can have sex with people they actually interact with and then b) try to sell that desperation to actual human beings with real problems who they don't interact with.

(Given that description, could this enterprise be underwritten by anyone other than MTV?)

This is why I insist that I am not condemning Ronnie and Mike and Snooki. They’re no more fragile than the rest of us, no less cobbled together.

Okay, but you're saying you're just a fan of the show because it lets you see personhood without self-awareness, interactions while disregarding other human beings and sex with disgust.

It's a show about how miserable humans can be to each other in a way that's played for laughs and the joke's on everyone except the advertisers. Dude, if that's what you like, cop to it, but don't hide behind the idea that it's really a great program and that they're just like you and me, except they're self-centered drunks who are being watched 24/7 with the knowledge that the crazier they get the more money they can stand to make. I don't think that's a bullet point that's attractive to you or me.

Since Toby named an entire EP for me, the least I can do is use Private Radio here, since in this case, there's a little thing between him and me that was released to the world. It's now something on the internet and still a little private moment walking back home from a bar excitedly.

Also! I'm proud of the title, since it's about the exhaust and silt of modernity. Trap Them! Metal! Yes. Wait. Where was I?

Oh, yes. You know the Bouncing Souls, don't you? Wait, you don't? Seriously? They're from Jersey and they're a punk band. They're also hugely influential on kids my generation. Anyway. Fast songs about finding yourself, then, after Anchors Aweigh, about getting older and still intelligent. This one is...a bonafide classic.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Trapping Justice

Chapter 14 is about two different constructions/conceptions of justice. The one I'm focusing on, because I think it's more interesting is the idea of justice as purely procedural. This conception of it is something that makes justice seem less...divinely inspired.

Justice as a construct as best practices, constantly revised. Or in other words, improving by increments. We do not simply become more just by existing, we become more just by putting in place and keeping in place rules that reinforce justice, as we see it on the ground of 2011.

Justice becomes a kind of efficiency, unless equality is preferred. One part of justice becomes setting up a system and then trying to replicate the process. (Of course it can't work.) Justice not as an ideal, but a reflexive process. Maybe this is really basic stuff that I don't know because I never took a course on it, but the process as something evolving is new to me, when I'm forced to think about it.

There was a limited series comic called Cry For Justice. (It was terrible, and the rumor mill has it that DC editorial had their hands in it, contorting it, Twister-style.) The title gives off the idea that justice is something with a capital letter and that it's conferred upon something. And that's not quite right, according to what I believe the book to be saying.

Justice is what you make it. Maybe? Literally. If you make justice some cowboy western arithmetic, it's going to be cowboy western arithmetic. How much value that has is up to you. Justice is a product of the construction process. If you have more tools, it can be refined pretty far. Whether it's a good conception of justice or not, I don't know. But the idea sounds intriguing and feels fun to play around with. I think that's what this blog is for and it makes a pretty okay ending.

I saw Trap Them recently and they were wonderful. I describe them using a description from Greg Rucka's Private Wars. They're a IED slathered in rat poison. The rat poison is an anti-coagulant, which means that if someone is bleeding from the blast, the blood will not clot and they'll continue to bleed out. Trap Them sounds, on record, like that, with the anti-coagulant level of attention to detail.

They started off their set with Fucking Viva, which is a stellar opener. It's methodical and it builds in a way that lets you know there's so much nasty heavy coming. Fucking Viva opens the record it appears on with this line: So, in the rivers float your modern times and your alpha death decree. Ignore the alpha death decree part, for a moment since it makes explicit what's floating in the river.

What's important is that the record opens with the idea that modernity has a price and it's paid, brutally, in front of us. Modernity might be good for us in terms of justice, but Trap Them reminds us there's a price. Or: Think of Fucking Viva as the evil answer to We Will Rock You, which is another description that I got from somewhere else, but I can't remember where. Anyway. This is a metal band. Play loud and bang your head.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What's Keeping Me From Sinking

"The Disposable Culture might offer many things, but stability and longevity are not among them. I fear for the "fully digital" push--because one war, one bomb, one EMP, one earthquake, and it all can go away. Marketing idiots and future-philes want us to teeter on the edge of another Dark Age, to embrace the possibility of losing all of what makes our culture tick, all for convenience. But what happens when something goes wrong, as things inevitably do? Everything "virtual" disappears, maybe forever.

No thanks. I'll stick with printed paper and physical discs. Because this push for pretend possessions has no appeal to me, and I think it's more dangerous than we are led to think. There are points where marketing and the drive for profit winds up hurting the companies, the culture, it's trying to serve, and I think this is getting awfully close. Maybe conceptualizing future war or disaster is a little bleak, but a quick look back at history tells us war and disaster is about as common, and certain, as rain and sunrise. "

I ended up seeing something very late last night on Kotaku (see above) about how this person was fed up with what he/she referred to as "the disposable culture" videogame people had found themselves in. This person also spoke somewhat hysterically about how "one EMP or earthquake" could lead us to a new Dark Ages, and oddly enough, that if this disposable culture went to its logical conclusion by everybody purchasing more digital pieces of media, those pieces of media will be beholden to the people who'se service they're on and when that service goes under, historians will be lost as to find those media.

This person holds on to their NESs and a couple games, confident they'll be able to play them in continuing years, but the plebs who buy things on digital services can't count on that.

This person is wrong, of course. Most of the catalogs of any digital storefronts are the same, with a couple oddly timed releases here and there. Quick: Name something that Steam won't get if Good Old Games goes under. This person is also wrong about the decay of systems. I'm not sure the half life of a Sega Genesis is anything to bank on in 2020. Or a PlayStation, for that matter. And! That's assuming TVs still have the same kinds of audio/video/etc plugs in those years.

He's right in that we're going to have to pay for it again, (or not, if we go to...unauthorized digital services, to employ a euphemism.) but those digital storefronts will be purchased or acquired by others starting up.

What's the shelf life of books? This isn't a joke. Finely bound books might have a better chance of survival, but I'm pretty sure my wall of paperbacks is going to survive into 2030.

But that's not the point. What is the point is the idea of backwards compatibility and a universal file type for information. Your computer may not play .m4a files, but it sure as hell will play mp3s. Your computer may not be able to read a .doc file, but it will be able to read a .txt file. Do we have that going forward? That's what I hope we have. Because: if we're ever living in some crazy Fahrenheit 451 scenario, the entire works of Western literature, or at least three books by Dickens, can fit on a 1 TB external harddrive. (That's a joke, kids. Dickens was paid by the word so his stories are exhaustively long.)

Even if we don't have that now, look back at OINK. That was a place that had almost any piece of music you could have ever wanted, with more constantly being revealed and provided by music obsessives. Yes, OINK was shut down, but it's hard to believe OINK hasn't been entirely reconstituted elsewhere, even if it's a collective of other trackers. Somewhere in the world, there are at least hundred people who have every book ever digitized, because they literally can't stop.

It's those people that will keep books/music/video games/movies going and spreading. The obscure stuff will fade, but obscure stuff always does. Yes, everything virtual eventually disappears, but so does everything tangible. My bookshelf of books I haven't read three feet high shows that I'm unlikely to ever prefer the digital version of something, but I recognize it has an incredible value who'se upside is constantly growing.

I was going to leave a cool ending here, but I just saw that one of my friends had iTunes delete everything off of his iPod touch on Twitter. I want to leave that hanging in the air instead.

Clash covers are usually good. Here's an unusually good cover of Straight To Hell by the Menzingers. There ain't no need for youuuuuuuuuuu....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Videogames I Actually Played in the Last Decade

Lots of other websites that make things like sense and money have best of the decade/year lists and I thought I'd do the same thing. Unfortunately, as I haven't played many, many of the games they list and I don't feel like lying about what I've played, here's a top 10 of the last decade of games I've actually played.

Persona 3 and Diablo 2 are here because they took in shitloads of my hours for the last decade. Persona 3 most recently, and Diablo 2, for basically middle and high school. Diablo 2, by virtue of the loot/kill dudes cycle that Borderlands added guns and a first person perspective to.

Persona 3, I've spent 140 hours on (finished both it and the expansion) and I still have a feeling in the back of my mind that I should go back to it. Yes, there's probably youtube videos of the interactions I want to see, but the fact that the "play it again" feeling is stuck in the back of my head means that there's something in the game that worked.

SSX 3. It does for snowboarding what Burnout does, which is communicate one thing: You aren't going to win unless you go faster and take chances. Are you barely hanging onto control of your rider? Are you not going for the crazy jumps? Be content with third place. At the final peak, you don't so much play SSX 3 as guide a human-shaped bullet down a mountain that's trying to kill you and the only way you'll survive is going fucking faster.

Chrono Cross. Not a sequel to the universally revered Chrono Trigger, but instead the next game in the series, Cross did too many things differently from Trigger for fans to appreciate it, but for me, the game comes to me when I think of best RPGs ever. There were 45ish characters, who all reacted differently to the game's stimuli, which means: you could play the game as serious or as straight forward as you wanted to, with the game's approval.

The battle system has aged well, the story's vicious little twists haven't lost their punch, the music is varied and rich, but what stands out to me, to this day, is the color palate and the environments. They were all evocative, they all were stages that had their own identities and reinforced the narrative.

When people say games don't make you think, I say put this in front of a fourteen year old boy and see the blown mind when he's finished.

Rock Band 2. It's a videogame where you play music with a band. Do you read this website?

Timesplitters 3: Future Perfect. My favorite first person shooter, which plays very very quickly, with a casual disregard for plot and a focus on a so bad it's good script. It had a fantastic sense of humor but also pacing, each end of the level boss was bigger and tougher than the last one and usually, more outrageous, too.

There's time travel, zombies, Russians, KGB, nuclear weapons somewhere, a train level, but more importantly, enemy types with character, level design that made me think before jumping in guns blazing and lots and lots of guns.

Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal. Speaking of guns, that's what the Ratchet and Clank series is known for and this iteration does not disappoint. True, there's no mind-control disco ball, but there's plenty of other oddball weapons for you to rain down murder with. Ratchet and Clank has always been a series about exploration/platforming and guns and here, they reach the sweet, sweet spot on the PS2. The weapons upgrade in an RPG like path, there's always a puzzle to break up the action and when they get to the final boss battle, it's basically a textbook on how to ramp up the difficulty in a way that's visible to the player.

Okay: That boss battle. It's in three stages. The first stage is a circular room, enclosed and it's just you and him. From there, he retreats to the sky where he uses his untouchable shield and death ray to harass you while you also fight off his elite units, using whatever you've saved up from the boss fight to get through them, culminating in a bridge where you fight two tank guys that more or less absorb ammunition every 50 feet.

Once you get past the bridge, you bring the boss back to earth, now more powerful than before, on an even smaller stage with all that copious extra ammunition leftover from going through another level's worth of enemies and a boss.

Resident Evil 4. Less jump scares, just more bad guys that you're not sure you can kill in increasingly small spaces. The terror comes from being trapped, desperately pumping bullets into enemies thinking "I literally don't have an inch I can move further backward into and the thing with two heads isn't stopping." The story isn't terribly exciting: Save a girl and get into progressively bigger trouble with higher caliber weapons, then the sprouting scythe head zombies show up and that's when you get HOLY FUCK THAT'S A TENTACLE SPIDER RUN MAN.

Metal Gear Solid 2. Say what you want about the looooooooooong cutscenes the game is known for, the Kojima Productions team knows how to set atmosphere and keep it. For half a year after I beat the game, I was so paranoid I peeked down corners to see whether there was a PMC guard on patrol. Also one of the subjects I used when I wrote about the military industrial complex in my mind: I can tell it to be terrified and produce the adrenaline but telling it to relax and think calmly? Much harder.

Super Smash Bros. If there was a gathering in college or free time in high school with other people, I was probably playing Super Smash Brothers, or one of the sequels. It's an icebreaker and something that accounted for hours of strategy practicums, by which I mean fighting Zach's Donkey Kong with my Kirby.

The title (and first track) from We Are the Pipettes. Look on the upper left, there's someone else's hand holding up the We Are sign, which I like as a subtle way of hinting at the band's post-Motown origin, "an experiment in manufactured pop," in that they manufactured themselves. The girls are out front and the male backing band is as invisible as they can get away with. There's also been enough lineup changes that I'm pretty sure the founding guitarist and that girl who sang on Pull Shapes are the only ones still in the band that recorded We Are the Pipettes, so, in that way, it's authentic to its manufactured origin. Anyway. We Are the Pipettes. Play loud.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Theory Of the Second Day of 2011.

Since I've finished 2666, this leaves a vacancy in the A Theory Of.... posts. This will be replaced, so far as I can tell, by Whatever The Hell it is That I'm Reading. So. One week it might be A Theory Of The Long War, another week it might be A Theory Of The Last Run and another it might be The Three Trillion Dollar Theory.

In short: A Theory Of Justice is in the title not because it's always going to be in the title, but it's one of the two formidable books I'm reading. Subsidized Sincerity being conceived in a moment of just do it and figure out how later, the idea of doing it is paramount. It might take a while to finish, but it's something I'm engaged in as opposed to not.

For Subsidized Sincerity, I should always be jumping in, head thrown forward proudly. (Or maybe just for the book posts.) I will, of course, smash my head on rocks. Hopefully, less often than I don't smash my head on rocks, but I'm reaching the end of this metaphor's range. I think hope it's clear what my idea here is: I'm going to say yes to big ideas. This figures into my next idea for 2011: Increments.

I don't like where I am and I know I have to change. I can't think myself to change, as Johnathan Hickman put it in Secret Warriors #23, I have to get up and fucking do it. But there's a mountain between where I am and where I want to be. And every time I think about the mountain, I think of how big it is and how small my steps are. That it's never going to work and I'll just sit here, again, eating chocolate covered pretzels or thinking about anything other than A Theory Of Justice or a book/author that intimidates me.

Instead, my counter-idea for 2011 is simply do it and keep doing it. It's easy to get depressed and nihilistic when I'm on page 71 of a 500+ page philosophy book, but by the same token, just a chapter a week. Or a chapter every couple days for weeks on end. The same goes for exercise. I don't have a goal. I just want to put one foot in front of another and repeat the process throughout 2011 and see where I am after this year.

So: Stick around. There will be a proper return to form here next week with full A Theory Of Justice bits, but the station ID stuff got so long that I think it's worth its own post.

I listened to this song walking home while the wind played with my hair. Utterly magical in an extremely comforting way. It wasn't even that cold, either! Happy new year.

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