Archive for April, 2015

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Comic Review: Planet Hulk

Despite being a first-order nerd, I’m neither a huge comic book reader – I read most of my comics on a tablet using Marvel Unlimited (heresy, I know) – nor am I the biggest fan of the Incredible Hulk. It’s nothing against the big guy, mind you, but the TV show and movies always made the character seem rather shallow and limited. So when I say that Greg Pak’s Plant Hulk is the sort story to make me take the Hulk seriously as a fully-fledged character, you’ll understand the sort of praise I am offering.

My introduction to Planet Hulk came from the more recent Marvel animated movie, which I reviewed here. Both the movie and the comic book work for me because they eschew the typical depiction of the Hulk i.e. the Hulk as a force of nature. One doesn’t reason with the Hulk; one points the Hulk in the direction of the thing needing smashing.

Moreover, the Hulk is often presented as the Hyde to Bruce Banner’s Dr. Jekyll. Forgive me for not falling over myself to engage with a modern retelling of a novella from the 1880s. The inherent strength of Planet Hulk is the way in which it makes Hulk his own man. He’s no longer the consequence to Bruce Banner losing his temper. Instead, Banner becomes the cowed and suppressed symbol for all the people who call the Hulk a monster.

The story of Planet Hulk begins with Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Dr. Strange, and Black Bolt taking it upon themselves to banish Hulk from Earth. The betrayal is made all the more poignant as Banner volunteered to use the Hulk to stop a sentient satellite that was threatening the Earth. The self-appointed Illuminati of Earth-616 intended to send Banner/Hulk to a peaceful planet where he would be the only higher-order life form. Mid-way through his journey, Hulk woke from cryo-sleep and knocked his starship off course, ultimately sending it through a wormhole where he crash landed on the planet Sakaar.

Sakaar, itself, bears a striking resemblance to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom.  It’s both a world both home to divergent species of life and a world the brink of extinction. What little social order exists on Sakaar is the product of a jack booted empire of red skinned humanoids who marginalize the insect-like “Natives” of Sakaar and another race of grey-skinned humanoids.

While the nasty and brutish nature of life on Sakaar is ideally suited to Hulk’s love of fighting, it also creates a place where he is more than a force for destruction. The wormhole that brought Hulk to Sakaar weakened him just enough to make him bleed when stabbed, shot, or otherwise beaten down. In the wake of his victories as a slave gladiator turned revolutionary – that’s right, the Hulk gets involved with the politics of Sakaar – his gamma irradiated blood catalyzes plant growth on the barren planet. This makes Hulk more than an object of spectacle or a symbol of resistance against the Empire. Planet Hulk allows the Hulk to exist as the living embodiment of a creation/destruction myth.

Does Hulk fit into the Sakaaran mythology as the Sakaarson, the son of Sakaar who will heal the world? Or is Hulk the World Breaker, the one who will arrive at the end times and shatter Sakaar? The answer to this question, though an integral part of the story, is not so interesting as how the question itself elevates Hulk to the level of a classically tragic figure.

Pak’s writing sidesteps the Shakespearian approach of facilitating the fall of a great man. Instead, Planet Hulk plays out the tragic hero archetype as a full cycle. Hulk literally falls from space only to rise and fall again in the course of arriving and leaving Sakaar. This style is probably nothing new for a comics as a whole, but it’s a dimension to the Hulk which was quite unexpected to this reader.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of Planet Hulk as an atypical Hulk story is the fact that it gives Hulk a name. I know what you’re thinking, Hulk has a name, it’s the Hulk, or Bruce Banner. I would submit Hulk isn’t a name so much as it is an epithet. It’s something Banner calls the gamma-irradiated part of himself. To readers, Hulk is a golem made animate and believable through the marriage of internalized hopelessness and rage made into a character. To Banner, Hulk is a burden to endure. Holku, as Hulk comes to be known by the Sakaaran most important to him within this arc, is an actual person. No longer is the Hulk a version of Bruce Banner desperately in need of a Snickers; rather, the Hulk/Holku is an actual character with a soul – at least until the Illuminati take it from him. Yeah, bad things happen. This is not a happy story.

Though Planet Hulk does a great many things, at its core it is a story about monsters and empires. Like most smart stories that explore the boundaries of the monstrous, the greater monsters are never the overt “others” on the page. In this case, the Hulk and his warbound are the most human characters in the arc; all of a reader’s empathy and compassion are visited upon this family forged in the crucible of brutality as they, despite their strength, are also the most victimized people in the story. It is the familiar and human looking citizens of Sakaar’s Red Empire who prove to be the worst monsters of all, embodying every cautionary lesson history has to teach us about the brutality of hegemony. Likewise, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, and SHIELD are part of the same criticism. For what is SHIELD if not an empire in its own right, deciding what is best for the whole at the expense of the individual – or in this case, deciding what is best for Earth at the expense of Sakaar and the Hulk.


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Book Review: The Honor of the Queen

Military science fiction is one of my guilty pleasures. Why guilty? Principally because I know the subgenre, as a whole, is often problematic and sometimes quite lazy in the way it propagates an 18th/19th century vision of empire building into a glorious vision of the future. At its worst, military science fiction can be hegemonic, often indelicate in how it handles Others, and generally predicated on a monolithic view of the future…or as you might know it, Starship Troopers.

Which brings me to the last few Sunday afternoons I’ve spent with David Weber’s The Honor of the Queen. HotQ is the second book in David Weber’s Horatio Hornblower Honor Harringtion series. Originally published in 1993, there are moments when the novel feels like a historical artefact of pre-internet science fiction. In light of the endless technobabble of the first novel, I wasn’t expecting much from the second. Yet I found myself reasonably surprised as this 22-year-old novel proved a pleasing reprieve from everyday life.

Make no mistake, The Honor of the Queen isn’t what I would call a think piece. You won’t find me attempting to peel back its layers and expose the social commentary at its core. Frankly, there isn’t one. The Star Empire of Manticore is Space England during the glory days of the British Empire; they are the good guys. The People’s Republic of Haven is a nightmare state of “dolists” existing in an economically impossible world ripped right out of Margaret Thatcher’s nightmares; they are the bad guys.

The novel focuses on these two empires waging a quiet proxy war over the planets of Grayson and Masada. Both of these planets are filled with backwards, sexist, space Mormon, assholes. As the space assholes of Grayson are slightly less offensive than the space assholes of Masada, and a potential buffer against Haven’s expanding sphere of influence, Manticore decides to pursue a military alliance with Grayson.

Many pew-pew space laser battles follow. It’s kind of like reading a Patrick O’Brien novel without all the actual naval history, and that’s pretty fun – if a little wordy at times. All things being equal, I’d say the novel does what it does quite well, independent of its age. Even by contemporary standards, I think The Honor of the Queen is at least an above average showing. This being the case, there are still some moments when the story structure struck me as being potentially clumsy.

Weber indulges in using rape as a narrative device in The Honor of the Queen, just as he did in On Basilisk Station. About half way through the novel the space assholes from Masada capture a clutch of Manticorian crewmen and officers after a battle. Being space assholes, they proceed to rape the living daylights out of the women among the group. For the record, these actions are not depicted in the novel. Within the context of Masadans being a colony of religious, misogynistic, zealots, the violation against the Manticorians makes some internal sense – offensive and “triggering” as it may be for some readers. One should also note the captured male crewmen are beaten and tortured to death, though it is torture absent sexual degradation. One can hardly expect space Mormons to indulge in some man-on-man rape for the sake of gender equity. Or can we? I don’t know. Moving on.

On this front, I suppose I could point to Alex DeWitt and chalk this up to the book being a product of its times, but that seems like a lazy thing to do on my part. Quite honestly, part of me wants to say good on Weber for portraying Mormonism as the chauvinistic religion that it is. The fact that the events of one or two pages have left me pouring over the question of empowered women in science fiction is probably an indicator of Weber doing a decent job – by the standards of early 90s SF – in navigating these waters. It doesn’t revel in the offense; it simply presents it as a way of shading the Masadans and informing how the proxy war is now personal for Honor and her crew.

Except, this might be one of those moments where a young woman reading an Honor Harrington novel would look at these events and see rape as a consequence of women serving in the military, independent of how strong they may be as people or characters. Again, I don’t know, I’m not an expert. I’m a literary critic who enjoys some mental popcorn and is desperately trying to “check my privilege” amid a much larger discussion.

Also, it’s likely I wouldn’t be stuck in this debate if the novel didn’t regularly indulge in narration about how Honor doesn’t find herself to be pretty. Does page space really need to be devoted to other officers’ appraisal of Honor’s prettiness? I’m tempted to grab a Forester novel and how much of a big deal he makes of Hornblower’s good looks or lack thereof. Perhaps Weber is writing to the convention, thus making the novel more meta than I realize.

The Honor of the Queen pans out as a novel worthy of the lazy Sunday afternoons I devoted to reading it. The pacing is much improved from the first novel, though the technobabble and reckless abandon of the rules of relativity persist. The space battles are fun, even if the novel presumes too much on my ability to recall the functioning of impeller wedges (aka space sails) and other in-universe space gadgets. I’m reticent to let the book off the hook in terms of some of its gender issues. Then again, I could probably think of some greater contemporary offenders if I set my mind to the task. Still, the book gets more right than it gets wrong and it’s nothing if not engaging. I think it’s what people call a “fun” read. It’s not challenging, mostly inoffensive, and leaves the reader satisfied with a predictably happy ending.


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Movie Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

I’d like to take a moment to dedicate this review to my buddy, John Flynn, who thinks that I “don’t really like movies”.

I do like movies. Why else would I write about them if I didn’t think they were a worthwhile and important medium? Though to look through my recent movie reviews, I can see how a person might think I feel otherwise.

Here’s the thing with my review setup. Since I don’t live in Toronto or Vancouver, I don’t get press access to movies in the same way I do video games. So I’m left with one of two options, pay my own money to queue up like an idiot to watch something on day one, so my review has a chance at being timely (except it won’t be since most critics attached to newspapers or bigger websites have movie reviews prepped and ready to go the moment the movie opens) or wait until I get it on-demand or on Netflix. By that point, a review praising a movie is yesterday’s news. However, a review eviscerating a movie remains cathartic and entertaining, if not entirely educational.

Nevertheless, allow me review to X-Men: Days of Future Past as proof that I don’t hate everything.

Of course, I don’t want the world assuming I’ve gone soft. In the grand cheme of things, I would not hold up Days of Future Past is an example of a good movie. Some absolutely piss-poor choices went into the script; however, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Days of Future Past is the cinematic adaptation of one of the most important arcs in the X-Men comic canon. Because of this, I suspect there was some pretty considerable pressure on Bryan Singer to not make a mess of the movie. In short, he didn’t do a half-bad job of it. At the same time, I don’t think he and his writers did a particularly good job in adapting the story. Forget about the comic books, there are plot holes in this movie which don’t even make sense in terms of the story’s internal consistency.

The story itself, which almost everybody knows by this point if they know anything about X-Men, is thus: in the future machines rise up against humanity (sigh, here we go again). Though the Sentinels were originally programmed to hunt down mutants, they took to hunting down humans capable of breeding mutants as well as any mutant sympathizers. This sees the last remnants of the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants plotting to send the consciousness of Wolverine back into the 70s version of himself so he can stop an assassination that catalyzed the aforementioned robot dominated future.

After the absolute nightmare that was X-Men: The Last Stand, the blasé affair of X-Men First Class, and the unmentionable plop of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I had all but sworn off these movies. Morbid curiosity got the better of me, and, against all odds, I found myself enjoying Days of Future Past. Granted, I wasn’t so wrapped up I didn’t find time to stop to complain to twitter about Professor Xavier trolling Wolverine with his line about “not having his powers in the 70s”. The plot gimmick makes “sense” when we find that Xavier has been abusing the forerunner of the “mutant cure” from the third movie as a way of escaping his wheelchair, but it’s one of many examples where the script fancies itself as more clever than it’s capable of being. Quite honestly, James McAvoy shooting smack into his wheelchair-bound eyeballs would have made for a more believable reason why Xavier didn’t have his powers for the movie’s first half.

The movie’s salvation is its acting. Despite the shaky storytelling, the dialogue is oddly compelling. Even though the likes of Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and particularly Michael Fassbender are positively chewing the scenery whenever they are on camera, with their protracted monologue-length conversation set-pieces, I wanted more. Everything about the performances clicked to elevate a wholly mediocre screenplay into something I could get through with a minimum of being pulled out of the moment.

Sure, it makes no god damned sense at all that Magneto can slip some rebar into a polymer based Sentinel and somehow reprogram it, but I don’t give a toss because Michael Fassbender is selling me on it. Hugh Jackman’s abs had more CG and practical effects than any other part of the movie; does it make me launch into an essay about male power fantasies? Nope. It makes me laugh as Jackman delivers his one-liners like he’s been taking smart-ass lessons from Spider-Man. And I won’t even try to describe the wacko majesty of Evan Peters’ Pietro Maximoff helping Xavier and Beast navigate an Ocean’s 11-style prison break to spring Magneto from the Pentagon.

This is Days of Future Past in a nutshell. It’s not very great adaptation of a pretty excellent comic arc that is wholly redeemed by its acting. This is an odd moment for me as I don’t often encounter movies where actors can save weak stories. Nevertheless, here it is. Now if only I could get a spin-off movie of Erik Lehnsherr: Nazi Hunter, I think all would be right and proper with the X-Men franchise.


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TV Review: The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth has all the trappings of a show I should love.

  • Wanton property destruction? Check.
  • An Omega Man scenario that involves a lot of porn? Check.
  • Will Forte? Check.
  • Phil Lord and Christopher Miller aka the guys behind the Lego Movie and Clone High? Check.

The problem with The Last Man on Earth, and I’ll admit it’s a problem that took me two or three episodes to really notice, is it’s not really funny. I got wrapped up in all the lighting things on fire, smashing things with bowling balls, and physical one-off gags. These things are gimmicks, and out of the gate I confused gimmickry with comedy.

Beyond the slapstick, I soon reconciled myself with conceptual distance between Will Forte’s Phil Miller and Will Forte’s Abe Lincoln from Clone High. Though they sound the same, Abe was at least redeemable. Phil Miller is simply a terrible human being – a terrible human being who used up all the good “last man on Earth” shtick in the series’ first episode. As I mused on the seeming impossibility of managing a half-season of the Will Forte one man show, Kristen Schaal’s character, Carol, entered the fray.

For the duration of the second episode, the awkward but awesome Schaal charm seemed to work. This is to say it worked until I realized every joke in the second episode was at Carol’s expense.

Carol is pedantic, fussy, and wants to get married on the first date (because women and getting married, right?). She’s anti-Phil’s porn collection (because woman and porn, right?) and pro-repopulating the Earth because…god. One might think the latter could lead to some genuine comedy. Instead, I was treated to a sex scene slightly less awkward than imagining my parents screwing. From said teeth chatteringly bad moment  onward, almost all of the show’s jokes are built around one of two incredibly lazy archetypes: Phil is an oafish asshole, or Carol is really weird and not fun (because women and fun, right?). Really, series creator, Will Forte, that’s the best you’ve got in your arsenal?

Maybe when I was nineteen I would have thought a litany of jokes about the crazy girl being crazy was comic genius. Now, not so much. Now I look at Will Forte’s creation and wonder if it’s Forte, the Fox Network, his writers, or some combination of the above who never managed to move past a late-teenage worldview.

Suffering through episode after episode of The Last Man on Earth has me feeling singularly sorry for Carol having to spend the apocalypse married to the likes of Phil. Moreover, if my pathos is engaged all the time, how exactly am I supposed to shift into wanting to laugh about the end of the world?

When the series isn’t revelling in Phil being utterly awful to Carol, it’s guilty of being painfully obvious. From the arrival of January Jones’ character, Melissa Shart – GET IT, SHE’S ANOTHER WOMAN CHARACTER AND HER LAST NAME IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU POO AND FART – to the coitus interrputus of Todd (Mel Rodriguez), the show is utterly predictable. The jokes are so lazy and the writing so textbook that it’s almost impossible not to see what’s coming down the pipe. I’m certain a potato might be caught off guard by the series’ writing. Alas, most sentient creatures should be able to see through the gambits and charades.

My prediction: Phil ends up alienating everybody in the last enclave of society and leaves Tuscon in the series finale. Then, the first three episodes of the second season will be The Search For the Last Man on Earth. You see, it turns out Phil did a bunch of things off-camera that made their lives better. Only in his absence will the group realize how much they need Phil. Thus, his awful ways will be validated, and the show will return to the status quo.

Despite these obvious shortcomings, I still wanted to believe in The Last Man on Earth. I found myself desperately searching for some evidence of self-awareness in the series. Perhaps it’s being meta. Maybe it’s a commentary on actual gender issues. Could it be Phil’s monstrously selfish behavior is the product of spending two years living on his own, searching for any signs of life in the world and finding only silence? I wanted to give The Last Man on Earth the benefit of the doubt, but each time I did it ended up farting in my face and calling it a joke. I can only take so much wind absent substance – even on a hate watch.

The bottom line is there’s no soul to The Last Man on Earth. Will Forte has created a truly reprehensible character for himself. Kristen Schaal’s talents are utterly wasted on a show that jumped the shark after its first episode. Though set in the not-too-distant-future, the series feels about as fresh as a 1950s “take my wife, please” joke. Of all the things The Last Man on Earth could have been, who knew it would end up as such a crass, unfunny, and mean-spirited exercise in juvenile wanking.

Ah, there’s the meta moment. Phil loves porn and Will Forte has created the ultimate expression in conceptual masturbation. I knew I could shove this show’s head up its own ass. Shaftoe for the win!


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TV Review: Daredevil, Act 1

Courtesy of Netflix and Marvel Television Studios, Matt Murdoch aka Daredevil is the newest entry into the realm of superheroes making the leap from paper to the small screen. Frankly, I could not be happier with this turn of events.

It’s an odd feeling for me. I’m often the first in line to complain about superhero stories taking over everything while offering nothing but cerebral indigestion. Yet the first three episodes of Daredevil, which for the sake of this review I’ll consider to be the series’ first act, gives me something that Agents of SHIELD couldn’t do with an entire season: a reason to give a damn.

Superheroes, despite outward appearances, resonate with their audiences because they are a criticism of the status quo. For example, Steve Rogers is a reminder that America is getting further away from the progressive politics of Roosevelt and closer to the bad-old-days of Herbert Hoover. An audience identifies with Cap because he believes in something greater than the institutions of the current day. This is why I found Agents of SHIELD to be such an alienating concept.

I want a hero story to break my cynicism. It needs to make me believe in some sort of lofty ideal. Gods help us all when our idealism has to look to SHIELD aka the Team America: World Police for nourishment. By comparison, the blind lawyer of Hell’s Kitchen is a spot-on criticism of everything that’s wrong with America while also offering idealism amid the pragmatism of his vigilantism. That’s a lot of ‘isms.

Where the likes of Tony Stark might try to help people in a conceptual sense, all the while living in the lap of luxury, Netflix’s Matt Murdoch wants to help actual people. As “the man in black” – not yet donning the mantle of Daredevil, he fights for the poor and dispossessed people of Hell’s Kitchen. These are the folks who would otherwise be victims of organized crime and the looming gentrification (a side-effect the private sector rebuilding New York in the wake of the Chitauri invasion of The Avengers) of the traditionally working-class Midtown West.

Likewise, Nelson and Murdoch, attorneys at law, mobilize in about twenty minutes the kind of empathy that Michael Clayton took two hours to produce. Amid a culture where the divide between those who benefit from the system and those crushed under its weight is ever-present, the idea of inner-city lawyers fighting the good fight has become even more resonant since Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Bill Everett created the man without fear in 1964. Everything about the introduction to Charlie Cox’s Daredevil pulls at an audience’s desire to see a champion for real people.

In terms of Daredevil’s visual style, the series is a considerable departure from the clean-cut, everything-is-awesome look of the movies. Even when Captain America was in hiding during The Winter Soldier, the film presented a character besotted with all the best assets of society and a high-tech paramilitary organization. In comparison, Daredevil’s costume is, so far, a black shirt, jeans, and a mask. Even armed with his enhanced senses and righteous indignation, Matt Murdoch manages to take as many beatings as he dishes out. Indeed, the second episode begins with “The Man in Black” being tossed, half-dead, into a dumpster.

In some ways the series feels more high-stakes than the rest of the MCU. It’s not like anybody thought Loki might beat the Avengers. The bad guy is not going to win in a summer blockbuster movie. In the case of Daredevil, Wilson Fisk could conceivably triumph despite Matt Murdoch’s best efforts. Murdoch isn’t simply a crime fighter or a symbol for the good people of Gotham, he’s part of a dialogue on the rights of the individual versus the rights of a nation where corporations are people. Beating Wilson Fisk is about bringing down said system. Likewise, Karen Page, played by True Blood alumna Deborah Ann Woll, will only find justice for the crimes that brought her into the offices of Nelson and Murdoch through the idealism of the fifth estate as a watchdog for society. These are not battles easily won.

More so than anything else I’ve seen in the MCU, Daredevil is grounding its story in an all too familiar reality, and underwriting its world with some resonant symbolism and thoughtful ideas. There is a sense of consequence to the slow burn of Daredevil that is absent from most super hero adaptations. Finally, Daredevil is proof that a dark story is not mutually exclusive of an idealistic hero.

Stray thoughts:

  • I don’t normally care about opening title sequences, but this one is amazing.
  • A few people have talked Daredevil going to the well of “women being rescued” a little too often. For now, I’m giving it a pass on that front. These scenes are not about gender-specific helplessness so much as a reflection of the people who are commonly the victims of human trafficking and organized crime.
  • Foggy Nelson’s mother clearly didn’t like him that much to name him Foggy.
  • Only in a comic book universe could a murder charge go to trial and be resolved inside of a week.


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Book Review: Westlake Soul

I know, it’s not exactly a timely review of Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul. If you want timely, you can always try Publisher’s Weekly. Wait, no, bad idea. Stay here. Read my review of a novel that hurt more than the last time I boxed. Then, and only then, are you free to go read about new books on PW.

The boxing comparison is not an idle one. Reading Mr. Youers’ book honestly evoked memories of my last sparring session. In both cases friends and colleagues told me I would be in for a world of hurt. In both cases I brushed off the warnings. Now, two words come to mind as I reflect on Westlake Soul: body blow.

Body blows make it hard to breathe. They make a person’s body desperate to breathe in as air is being forced out. Unlike in physics, the two opposing forces don’t cancel out. Instead, they leave a person off-balance, stunned, and struggling for purchase. That’s what it is like to read Westlake Soul. It’s a series of perfectly timed and precisely measured body blows. All of these strikes left this extraordinarily cynical – not to mention grouchy – critic reeling in their wake.

Packed within the novel’s relatively modest word count is a world’s worth of ideas on disabilities, metaphysics, justice, and surfing. The eponymous character, Westlake Soul, is the smartest man on the Earth, capable of reading minds (after a fashion), astral projection, and talking to dogs. The last bit might sound trivial, but there’s nothing in the world to drive home the sadness of a scene like a dog whose dialogue is reminiscent of Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” being morose about Westlake Soul’s pending doom; for the story of Westlake Soul is that of the final days of a man in a persistent vegetative state.

Unpacking everything that Rio Youers poured into this tragic figure, would likely take a few thousand words more than the average person’s attention span. Since I think I’ve driven home the book’s evocative strength, I’ll devote the balance of this review to a theme this novel explores rather brilliantly: frailty.

A thread woven through the entirety of the narrative is the notion that life is cheap, fragile, and wonderful. In the turn of a page Westlake goes from a surfing prodigy to a man incapable of consistently blinking under his own power. Where Westlake demonstrates the physical nature of frailty, his parents are a study in mental fragility.

While Westlake Soul doesn’t present itself as an overtly political novel, the questions it asks are politically charged. I dare say they’ve become even more charged since the novel’s original publication in 2012. Life and death is easy as a binary, but what happens when said definition falls on spectrum? Westlake is very much alive, even if his astral projections are nothing more than the product of his imagination. To the outside world, his life-status is a matter of debate and hand-wringing. The character is a study into what I imagine are the questions every family has to ask themselves when they are confronted with long-term care situation. Questions this writer hopes will remain firmly in the realm of fiction apropos of his life and loved ones.

Only through hubris and chance do we imagine themselves as titans. This is the idea Westlake Soul singed into my thoughts. Perhaps the lesson at hand is that Dr. Quietus, the “supervillain” Westlake Soul presents as the counterpoint to Westlake as Charles Xavier meets Stephen Hawking, a character whose name is derived from the Latin for “finishing stroke,” will come for us all.

Westlake Soul hurts like a dropkick to the stomach. However, I would gladly read it again if only to better understand myself in that moment. Much like title character, Westlake Soul is a novel that makes a person turn inward to examine themselves. It is a Voight-Kampff test: a measure of a reader’s ability to plumb the depths of their own memories and empathize with a character who is both imaginary and an avatar for every person with a life-altering disability. To call the novel powerful, is to commit a most grievous sin of understatement.


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The Hugo Flap: This too shall…

On the list of things I give a toss about, the nominations for the Hugo Awards rates slightly above the Oscars, but slightly below finishing the edits on the first season of the X-Com inspired web-series I wrote a few years back. I don’t have a book. My one short-story sale from last year got pushed back to 2015-16. And I’m not going to put in more than a perfunctory effort to campaign this blog for best fan stuff. However, let it not be said that Adam can’t offer up an opinion when everybody else is doing so.

Also, if you want better opinions than mine, choose from this big list my friend Simon curated. Also, read Simon’s extensive essay on the matter. Kudos, Simon.

Frankly, I don’t think I have a lot to add to this discussion. In terms of the basic arguments, I do find it annoying that the Hugo nomination system can be gamed such that an entire slate of writers and editors make it on to the ballot. I like to believe in meritocracy as a concept – even though I know the world doesn’t work that way – and voting blocs tend to undermine said merit-based consideration.

Of course, if we want to have a meaningful conversation about what is good, in lieu of what is popular (not to suggest the two are somehow mutually exclusive i.e. something can be both good and popular) we shouldn’t waste too much air time on an award that is left open to public consideration.

Rather than going down said road, filled with landmines aplenty, and thus participating in genre literature presenting itself to the world as the snake what eats its own tail, I think we should focus on our true enemies: mainstream lit snobs.

Who among us hasn’t had to suffer the self-righteous sneering of a “lit fic” writer – or worse some chuffed-up 4th year lit undergrad – claiming that genre can’t deal with big ideas. Never mind Andrezj Sapkowski explores the politics of colonization and ethnic cleansing in The Witcher. Pay no attention to the likes of Aliette de Bodard artistically mobilizing the short story to explore notions of diaspora and gender. We genre writers are all peddlers of Gorean smut and Buck Rogers pew-pew fluff, right?

If the Sad Puppies aka “GamerGate Reads” have done anything, it’s to prove that SF/F/H is, and always has been, a political discourse. Only now we’re so political as to have the right-wing of genre make us meta. To crib a line from Community, this year’s Hugo ballot takes the politics of genre and shoves its head up its own ass.

Genre lit has transformed into a political homunculus, crab-walking about on its hands and legs absolutely unrepentant about what it is. To the outsider, it’s no longer clear where the narrative and meta-narrative begin and end. Should this not stand as the ultimate proof that genre is just as a capable of grappling with contemporary zeitgeist as any other form of written expression?

While I fully admit to partaking in a bit of knee jerk opprobrium in the wake of the Hugo announcements, on further thought I have come to two conclusions about this mobilization of right-wing shenanigans in the name of…gozer…the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit of Robert Heinlein…whatever.

Number one: this too shall pass. Suppose one of the right wing cranks actually wins a Hugo this year; are they not going to do so with a giant asterisk next to their name? The thing about stretching the rules to win is that most people don’t remember the victory so much as the means to the end. Case in point: A-Rod. I couldn’t tell you what baseball – it is baseball, right? – thing he did, but I know he cheated to do it.

Number two: If, as writers, we are capable of demonstrating our political culture through awards, then it goes without saying our works of art are aspects of the same political expression. Thus, the next time some lit-fic or can-lit jagoff says genre is fluff absent substance, we need only point to the Hugos as an elegant demonstration of just how political we are as artists.

Either way, the right side of the equation wins, even if it doesn’t seem so right now.


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In Lieu of Nothing…Something

Used intentionally, don't presume to school me on my Python or my Latin.

So it’s Good Friday, or as I like to call it, day two of my five day long weekend. Not too shabby, right? Sometimes it’s good to have a good job.

If years of writing this blog have taught me anything, it’s that nobody reads my blog on holiday weekends. In days past, I’ve been rather pig headed about this fact. Instead of acquiescing to the siren song of the long weekend, I would put together a post – sometimes working extra hard on said post. To what end? I don’t know. One doesn’t simply win the internet with a single blog post on a long weekend.

So rather than burning a perfectly good book review on a Friday when most of my readers are either drunk or reveling in Catholic guilt for the death of some dude some millennia ago, I’m going to do the smart thing and enjoy a little downtime.

On that note, I hope you enjoy my favourite Monty Python bit, Romans Go Home.