Thursday, June 29, 2006

Into the Scrublands

This new collection debuts the bizarre, wacky and occasionally bawdy work of South African writer and illustrator Joe Daly to American readers. Most of the strips are short stories and vignettes of just a few pages in length, taking characters like the bantering Steve and Kobosh, the dog-headed boy named Dorfman and Joe through strange and mundane adventures across the cities and deserts of Daly’s native land. The more ordinary threads of hanging out in record stores, grocery shopping and making rent recall Peter Bagley’s take on slacker youth in Buddy Does Seattle. These tales slip quite casually from quick jabs of Beavis and Butthead style of humor to philosophical nuggets; the oddness of these slacker characters spouting insightful words only makes what they say all the more surprising and profound. Some storylines contain occasional drug references and hallucinogenic artwork (at one point the wall in Steve’s apartment gives birth to a small baby boy), displaying a strong influence of independent comics masters like R. Crumb. A separate storyline entitled Aquaboy tells the story of a teenager who---despite his unusual ability to breathe underwater---experiences very real-to-life problems like divorced parents and the rough but magical entry into puberty.

The centerpiece of the collection is “Prebaby”, a 70-page narrative about a spirit traveling from conception to birth, enduring bizarre encounters across a beautifully surreal landscape along the way. All masterfully told without the use of any text, Daly’s artwork of biomorphic shapes done in deep umbers, warm oranges and earthy browns give this story a complexity that’s fresh and surprising. Fans of more arty side of indie comics will love this section, but it will likely baffle general readers in its non-traditional approach.

Personally, I loved this little collection. In looking up info on Daly (he’s put together a couple other collections in his own country and has done some animation work) I found several reviewers put off by his style of humor. Admittedly, there is a ton of bodily humor, and jokes centered around sex and drug use. So if that style is too lowbrow for you, avoid Daly. But if you can get past---or like me enjoy---the humor you’ll find Daly holds a strong ear for dialogue, delivering layers of meaning in just a few words. But it’s more the rich, vibrant artwork and Daly’s unique flair in telling the story visually that will keep me reading this title and looking for others by him again and again.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hob-nobbing at the Gala

Sunday night I ended my theatre career by working the Annual Gala at Ford's Theatre in downtown DC. Ford's does one of these every year around this time, and it's pretty much a D.C. society event. Aside from the theaterati of DC the attendees included CEOs from companies like Lockheed Martin and DHL as well as politicians like Senator Bill Frist, the First Lady Laura Bush and President Bush.

Most of my actual work was prior to the performance. I was all decked out in my rented tux, standing about halfway down the block in case people attending the show managed to get lost between the corner and the front door. Since the president was attending, security was high. The road was blocked off to all vehicles and after a certain point your name had to be on the list to even walk on the block. Secret Service guards, Park Police Officers, and DC Police were stationed all over the place. The freakiest part was seeing the Park Police snipers arriving, in layers of teflon and carrying extremely heavy bags of surveillance equipment and weaponry. I was stationed with a DC Police Officer, and we chatted a bit making fun of all the fashion boo boos people made. Being a fashion illiterate guy I didn’t notice many myself, but she was quick to point out what did and did not work for each person. She was a nice person and I was grateful to have her their with me to help pass the time.

The performance itself was entertaining in a variety show kind of way. Tom Selleck hosted, and acts ranged from comedians like Kevin Nealon to musical acts like Lonestar, Heather Medley and Renee Olstead. The highlight for many was Steve Bridges, a professional George Bush impersonator. I give him a lot of credit for doing his act with his target sitting right there in the audience. He wasn’t insulting, really. Just playing off Bush's now legendary lack of public speaking skills. Bush himself spoke briefly at the end, and seemed to take it well by saying he was a really good looking guy but could probably do with some more public speaking. None of the musical acts blew me away but none were bad, either. My favorite was probably a song performed by Kevin Clay and Mike Mainwaring; they sang "Why Am I Me" from the musical Shenandoah. They were talented, and I was probably mostly impressed because they were kids and sang with a fair level of power and commitment. If any are really interested, it was filmed for television and will air on various ABC stations on July 4---because of this, there were numerous references to Independence Day and fireworks.

Below here are two really crappy photos from inside the theatre. I was seated in the very last row of the Balcony, so the quality is not the best. The first is just a shot to give a general impression of what the set looked like. The second shot shows the very end of the evening, right after that talent gathered all together on the stage and took a bow. Bush impersonator Steve Bridges is the one with gray hair, and the other is not a two-faced demon but a poor image of Gil Cates, producer for the program.

Most of the guests and talent were invited to a dinner at the Reagan Building after the performance. Unfortunately the deluge of Sunday night started right before the performance ended (for those outside the area we’ve been under assault with rain storms the last few days….this particular storm brought 6 inches of rain in two hours in some areas). But instead of heading to the dinner people huddled in the stairwells and doorways, hoping the rain would stop. My friends and I braved the continuous downpour and made the 4 block walk, getting pretty well soaked despite our umbrellas. Although about 400 guests were expected, I’d guess maybe 100 actually made it. Which only left more cream pies, coffee and red wine for me, so I was quite happy. The highlight for the dinner for me, aside from the food, was looking two tables behind me and seeing Kevin Nealon sitting there with his wife. I’m used to seeing well known politico types around DC, but not film and tv stars. It didn’t feel quite real.

I’ll be back to the regular programming of reviews and more arts-related stuff soon.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Oh D.C.--How I Will Miss You

This is a special week for me, because it's my last week working with the theatre. After four years and three months I'm finally moving on. I finish my current job on Sunday by helping out with a massive fundraising performance (more on that in a later post). I start right away on Monday with a circulation job at a public library five minutes from where I live in Fairfax County. This is all good stuff...aside from getting professional experience in my new chosen field working there will cut my tuition costs in half and make me eligible for some small scholarships next year. I'm more than ready to move on, but even still there are things I'll miss. Wacky co-workers. The places to eat. On and on and on.

But more than anything, I'll miss D.C. itself. For almost a decade now, ever since I finished undergrad, I've worked in D.C. It's not like I'll stop coming downtown just because I don't work there anymore (see, I'm already saying there not here). I'll still be taking classes and doing research at Catholic University and I'll still come down to museum hop or catch a reading from time to time. But this job move will change how I feel. Even though I haven't lived in D.C. for several years I still felt like it was my city. I won't feel that way anymore. Now whenever I come downtown I'll feel like a vistor, a (dare I say it) tourist.

So before I let out a brief man-cry here are the top ten things I'll miss most about D.C. (in no particular order)

The mystery of the black squirrels.

Reading on the metro (yes, really).

Nutty Mr. Chow in the Lincoln House Bar and Deli, who without fail always tries to sell me a lottery ticket when all I ever want from there is a dirt-cheap cup of coffee.

The gorgeous view of the monuments you get from the metro train when you cross the Potomac River on the Yellow Line.

The cute redhead I always exchange smiles with on F Street on my way to and from work. She's more reliable than a digital watch---when I see her I know I'm on time. Even though we've never spoken I should probably stop her today and tell her I'm quitting. Otherwise she might think I'm dead.

Popping into the National Gallery of Art or the Hirshhorn on my lunch hour, just because I can.

Laughing at the tourists and all the crazy, everyday things they photograph.

The odd old man I see in Metro Center all the time in sunglasses, a full black suit, poorly dyed hair and moustache, and flip-flops. And did I mention he paints his toenails black? At least I hope they're painted.

Indie bookstores like Chapters and Ollsons.

Bingo Bob, the homeless man in the neighborhood who panhandles for money so he can buy books, read them and then pass them out to other homeless people.

Leaving work, looking to my left down Pennsylvania Avenue and seeing the Capital Building ten blocks away. It never ceases to take my breath away when I stop and actually look...especially when the sunset transforms the dome's color to that of a neon blood orange.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Link-o-Rama

Miss L reminded me last weekend that I hadn't done one of these since I came back from my final exams break several weeks ago. So while I can't say it's back by popular demand, someone demanded it.

Podcasts from Balticon have been updated. Mostly a number of interviews with Neil Gaiman. Interesting stuff. The main page has casts of interviews with other talents like Peter S. Beagle and Lisa Snellings-Clark. For a more humorous interview with Gaiman at Balticon, check out the interview conducted by DC horror host Count Gore.

Ninth Art reviews Can't Get No, the new comic by Rick Veitch on 9/11.

Author David Louis Edelman explains why SF isn't always so good at predicting the future.

Ah, memories. Snopes reminds us where the tech boom came from. Worth it just for the photo.

Scott Esposito on The Steinbeck Copywright Controversy.

I ran across this a few days ago, and I'm still rubbing my hands together. Looks like Heb fave Thomas Pynchon has a new book coming out in December.

Help Shelley Jackson with her upcoming novel by taking the Mutatis Mutandis test. Apparently I have an undeveloped twin living inside of me as a small tumor.

Very interesting dialogue between Lance Olsen and Lidia Yuknavitch on language.

For some new fiction take a look at the newest issue of JMWW, edited by Baltimore writer Jen Michalski.

Finally, author Alexander Nephew is blogging his new writing project The Chronicles of Chilly Debby. I'm not sure where it's going yet, but as of right now I really want to know. Hope he keeps going with it.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wrestling with The Sandman Papers

I just sent a review of the anthology The Sandman Papers to Strange Horizons. The review was a real struggle for me. Part of the problem was probably that I've never reviewed a work of criticism before. I had a little trouble writing about it and keeping it interesting. But it's primarily because something about the book kept nagging at me. Overall the book is pretty solid, and examines Gaiman's work on The Sandman in a variety of fun and interesting ways. But I kept thinking something was missing. It kept nagging at me and nagging at me, and I didn't figure out what it was until late last night.

Aside from two essays, the book barely addresses the visual side of comics at all. What a lot of people don't know is that a skilled comics writers, Gaiman in particular, does more than just write the narrative. They often give specific instructions to the artist, the colorist, the letterer, the panel designer to control the overall feel and look of the book. This puts Gaiman in a role similar to that of a film director, working with a variety of artisans with specialized skills but giving them guidance on how to use their talents. Not talking about the artwork in comics is like not talking about the acting in a film review.

It's a shame, really. Because the various critics do a really nice job discussing the narrative elements. I suppose it's because most of them, being english professors and librarians, are more familiar writing about narrative. Writing on the visual side probably just didn't occur to them, and the majority of exceptions to this rely quite heavily on Scott McLoud's book Understanding Comics. Nothing against McLoud, he's a great critic, but his book should just be a starting point for getting your head around the art of comics. Unfortunately, not writing about the visual side is an omission I see a lot in reviews for comics.

One critic I really think does it well, even in small review form, is Douglas Wolk. Aside from his own book Reading Comics he's done reviews for the Washington Post's Bookworld that are really quite thorough and well thought out. Here's a sample from his review Joann Sfar's Vampire Loves (taken from May 28 issue of Book World, page 9):

Sfar's got a charmingly distracted, scribbly visual style-even his panel borders seem perpetually on the verge of wriggling away-and his stories have a habit of meandering off on one tangent or another....The funniest sequences here, though, follow the strangely familiar social entanglements and petty frustrations of the undead; girls always go for the obnoxious werewolves, it seems.

In two short lines Wolk's given the reader a very good sense of not just the style of the story, but also the artwork and how the story flows. He's an excellent critic--far better than I am--but it's a level that anyone writing on comics should aspire to.

As to The Sandman Papers? I still recommend it if you enjoy criticism. Just be aware of the book's limitations.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Remembering Leary

I've had an on again/off again obsession with Timothy Leary ever since his book Design for Dying came out.

He was a brilliant man, if somewhat misguided and charmed by the cult of celebrity from time to time. What many often forget is that his early experiments with LSD were meant for rehabilition of prison inmates and were financially supported by the feds. There was nothing in Leary's mind so much as the advancement of humanity. Even after LSD and other drugs turned out not to be the panacea he hoped for he still clung to a firm belief that techology and science would, one day, save us all. So it's no suprise that when the 80's rolled around he focused more on computer technologies and space exploration and started hanging out with like-minded folk like R.U. Sirius. He dreamed of a day that everyone could plug directly into a computer and have direct access to every bit of information ever written, proved or even dreamed of. Certainly many, maybe even most, of his ideas are dated but his general sentiment of always looking forward is something that I wish more people would adopt.

Nick Gillespie just reviewed the new bio on him by Robert Greenfield for the Washington Post. Quoting here:

The biographer seems far more interested in deconstructing his subject's voluminous self-serving assertions over the years than in explaining his enduring significance to hippies, straights and cyberpunks alike. In a real way, Leary helped conjure not only the '60s counterculture but the '90s high-tech counterculture, too. A clear theme of individual fulfillment runs through all of his thought, and it's a shame that Greenfield didn't discuss his ideas more seriously, much less put them in a richer social and intellectual context. "Someone told me," Greenfield writes, " 'Those who love Timothy Leary will hate your book. And those who hated him will never read it.' " That's about right, and it reflects poorly on Greenfield's framing of the material. While his account of Leary's "most improbable life" is a fascinating read, that has more to do with subject matter that would make Philip Roth jealous than with the perspective Greenfield brings to it all.

It's unfortunate, because there are few icons out there as misunderstood and misrepresented in the public memory as Leary. Most people associate him solely with LSD and picture as some hipster doofus of a mad scientist handing out acid tabs to William S. Burroughs and Ornette Coleman at a pool party that would make Hugh Hefner question his own morals. And while those kinds of things happened, it's only a small part of Leary's story. It's been long enough that a serious, thoughtful and objective treatment of his life come together. But it doesn't appear to be this book. As an alternative, Leary's own autobiography, although a bit pompous, is a wonderful introduction to his ideas and persona. At points it's very thoughtful and often quite funny.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Miss L's Trip to New Orleans, cont.

The following continues and concludes Miss L’s recap of her recent trip to New Orleans. If you missed part one, or just want to look at it again, either scroll down the page to yesterday’s post or click here to go to it directly.

Wednesday brought us to two more homes. These were both in Lakewood. In the first, the father showed us around a house overwhelmed by toxic gray dust and infested with that cockroach of a fungus, black mold. We only lugged out furniture (including a devilishly wet mattress – oh, how putrid!) because the wife wanted to go through the remains. I am still not sure what we she is looking to find. Every paper, toy, garment was destroyed. The family had already attempted saving their film and negatives. Rows of film canisters, lined up neatly on a table, lying on top of their wrinkled envelopes was striking: a futile but important attempt to save memories. We spent the afternoon in the father’s parents’ home, trying to remove decades and decades of life turned to debris. His parents were pack rats. Bags and bags and bags of plastic utensils, neatly folded cereal boxes, and piles of magazines and catalogues were removed. We took apart furniture, including chests, bed frames, and tables. We took up the carpet. I don’t know if this family will stay or not. The parents had moved to Atlanta to be near the father’s brother, and I have a feeling that this family will follow. Their children were the youngest, and the wife was not taking the aftermath well.

All of this left big questions that I feel unqualified to answer. Should people stay and rebuild? What should happen now? How much money should the government invest? How can the levees be fixed? Should neighborhoods be taken over in eminent domain and people reimbursed and moved elsewhere? What will prevent this destruction from occurring again? Are things any better? I don’t have a single answer.

The woman who organized the mission did attempt to answer the last question. She had also organized the December trip. Things, she said, were better and worse. Many stores and homes had re-opened, and people were slowly returning. However, a new “normal” had nearly cemented. People were growing used to what had happened and the current incapacitation. Not that you can blame them. How many months can someone live in a state of anxiety and action? A person has to adapt. The same things that shocked our group had become routine to the families we met. There was a stagnation lurking.

I spent the final working day of the trip on a more upbeat project, helping to reopen a rehab and shelter. Flooding and looters damaged the shelter following Katrina, but it had been restored, repainted, and was almost ready to re-open. Our team assembled bed frames, box springs, mattresses, and dorm-style fridges in about fifty rooms. After all the debris removal, it was uplifting to actually build something. We spent the afternoon shopping and the evening at the jazz clubs: our way of helping the local economy.

Being from Memphis, I am familiar with southern hospitality, but nothing prepared me for the gratitude people showed for us. Even at the jazz club, in between sets, the band thanked us for coming down and volunteering. On the plane ride back, I jokingly complained about all my lovely bruises (it really does look like someone took a baseball bat to my legs… okay, well, maybe just a softball bat), and the woman in the seat behind me gushed over us and over the other teams from Seattle and North Carolina that have visited and assisted her. The mother from Monday’s family brought me to tears. Monday was her twenty-third wedding anniversary, and she considered us to be the gift. I don’t think I have ever felt as honored in my life as I did at that moment. Though, to be honest, I pray that I never have to feel that way again. It may sound na├»ve and innocent, but I sincerely wish for an end to these sorrows. These were all wonderful people, and I wish I could have met them under different circumstances. However, I am just glad to have met them at all. There is also a promising sentiment that if something horrible should happen in Baltimore, there are incredible people ready to assist. May we never need them.

Viva la Nouvelle Orleans! Laissez les bon temps roulez!


Thursday, June 15, 2006

How Miss L Spent Her Summer Vacation: Or A Report From New Orleans

Today and tomorrow we’re deviating from the regular program of talking expressly about art, writing, book reviews and my evolving life. Last week my girlfriend Miss L went to New Orleans as part of a volunteer clean-up crew. My job prevented me from going, so she offered to write on her experiences. Her essay is broken up into two parts; the first you see below, and part two will appear soon. The writing and photos are all hers, and begins now:

Last week I descended on New Orleans with a group of volunteers from Baltimore through Jewish Volunteer Connection. The week we shared in the Crescent City was a strange, sometimes turbulent, often remarkable one. Though everything is still digesting, mentally, I feel that it is important to share what we encountered.

Nearly ten months after Hurricane Katrina swept through the gulf coast, the devastation in New Orleans is still overwhelming. (For a good demonstration of exactly what occurred when and where, I recommend visiting for a flash interactive of the water swarming and the levees breaching. Scroll down about half-way down the page for the link to the flash video. As a point of reference, F.Q. stands for French Quarter). The first thing you notice flying into the city are the blue tarps covering half of the roofs. This is an improvement over the first group’s journey in December. At that point, every building was covered in a blue FEMA tarp. Without exception.

Once we landed we immediately toured different parts of the city, including Lakeview and Congregation Beth Israel, the 17th Street Canal breach, and the decimated Lower Ninth Ward. Miles and miles of the city are still uninhabitable. Even as we drove along I-10 to get from place to the next, the boarded windows, blacked-out traffic lights, and bent street signs stood as stark reminders. The initial surge of water knocked down blocks of wooden homes in the Ninth Ward. Floodwaters of toxic sludge left thousands of other homes in a mess of poisonous black mold. Spray-painted signs informed when a home was visited, how many bodies were found (Only a handful of homes had numbers but to imagine those lives… To be honest, I just cannot), how many animals were found and if they were alive or dead, and if the home was revisited at a later date.

Taking in everything was beyond difficult. The only references I had with me were a tornado that ripped through my neighborhood in Memphis about thirteen years ago and a fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home a few years later. Katrina magnified both of these tragedies on a citywide scale. Even after visiting New Orleans I still have difficulty comprehending the extent of the destruction.

Broken into teams, we faced the devastation one family at a time. My team assisted three different families; each lived in a different area of New Orleans, and each had a different reaction to Katrina.

On Monday my team met a family who lived in the Broadmoore neighborhood. Their 1919 home was once beautiful and had never flooded before. In our respirator masks and gloves, we spent the day removing waterlogged, moldy furniture, gutting the kitchen, and bagging up all the mildewed ephemera that had been this family’s life. (Fortunately, the fridge was already duct-taped. You do not want a ten-month old unplugged fridge to open on you. Imagine the worst smell and slime you can think of and increase it ten-fold. You’ll almost get the idea.) While the family had yet to decide if they would gut the home and rebuild, I have a strong feeling that they will. Both parents work at universities, and one of their daughters just started at a new charter school. They were excited at the new community spirit blossoming. They have something to stay for.

On Tuesday, we went to a home in New Orleans East. This home had already been gutted and was down to the studs. We spent the day performing mold remediation by power-sanding the beams. The power-sander is an evil instrument that is hell on the hands and back, making this process horrible. Furthermore, none of us could reach the top of a seven-foot beam. Besides, there was no sense of progress. We couldn’t tell if we were sanding a beam someone else had already sanded. However, things changed mid-way through the day when the family came to visit. Suddenly, this wasn’t just a building but a family’s home. The mother was an upbeat woman with an infectiously energetic attitude. Her family was staying. They were rebuilding. Why am I using past tense? Her family IS staying. They ARE rebuilding.

Part two of Miss L.'s essay will appear soon. It covers the third day of her experience as well as some concluding thoughts.


Technical Stuff

If you look to the right, you'll see a few changes on the page here.

I've added a link to my official MySpace profile. Some people I work with convinced me to set up the account awhile ago and I haven't really done much with it. I don't know what the hell I'll be doing with it now but if you have a MySpace account and feel like adding me, send me an invite. I might send out bulletins or something highlighting special events or kick ass books to read. Just let me know you know me from the blog, because I tend to ignore the Myspace sluts just trolling for more friends. At this point I'm mostly amused that I have online horror host Count Gore as my top friend.

I've also added a link for an RSS feed. If you click the link it allows you to add this blog to your My Yahoo or other type of newsreader. Makes it easier to know when there's new content, so you won't get annoyed when I go through my light posting phases.

Also added links to some new (at least to me) blogs. Feminist SF-The Blog! is pretty self-explanatory. But it's a subject I'm interested in and the blog itself looks promising. Visions of Paradise is similar to mine: a mixture of book reviews and self-pontifications. I've been lurking and reading there for awhile now, so I felt like I should add the link. Finally, Madam Mayo is the new blog for D.C. author C.M. Mayo. She's a very busy writer and part of readings in the area almost constantly (like the reading for Enhanced Gravity this weekend). She offers a really interesting perspective, so her blog is well worth watching.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Castle Waiting

For whatever reason I’ve been tripping over a lot of fiction this past month with a strong bent of feminist theory behind it. The first of them is the least obvious and probably my favorite.

With its quiet blend of fantasy, folktales and character-driven storytelling Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting is one of the most charming series in comics to come along in years. Published both through numerous publishers and independently over the last several years, this new collection brings the first twelve issues of this Eisner Award winning comic book series to a wider audience.

The collection opens with "The Brambly Hedge", a story that gives the origin of the castle itself. In a comic retelling of the classic Sleepy Beauty fairy tale we see a medieval castle and its loving inhabitants abandoned when the sleeping princess wakes up, finds her prince charming and rides off in the sunset with him forever. The castle transforms into an outpost of sorts for the unusual, the unwanted, and those just needing a place to hide from the world at large. Talking chivalrous horses, pregnant mothers on the run and nuns who were once bearded ladies in the circus are just a few of the wonderfully colorful inhabitants of the castle. The stories then enter the lives of the castle's inhabitants, and we learn about their unique backgrounds and what made them an outcast from society at large.

Medley’s stories are not the normal adrenaline-pounding action tales of comics, but character driven stories dealing with real life issues that range from the touching to the hysterical. One of the main characters Lady Jain, for example, is with child and on the run from the father. In another story we see a nunnery with worship based around a sainted bearded lady. All together the book raises thoughtful questions on women’s roles in society, both past and current, as mothers, friends, workers and lovers. But because it lacks the dogmatic speech that all too often accompanies stories with a feminist bent, the message will go to people not normally open to such ideas.

A very interesting aspect of the collection is that we witness Medley's storytelling become more assured and complex as the series progresses. The initial story is a fairly straight-lined narrative. The following stories become more complex, using flashbacks and stories within stories in a manner that’s not just clear but also creates an effective rhythm of pacing to her tales that’s both fun and gripping.

Prior to her work on CW, Medley worked as a children's book illustrator and colorist for mainstream comics like Batman. Medley brings in experience from both fields by using hard-edged lines with simple forms, creating black and white artwork that melds nicely with the fairy tale feeling of the stories. Highly appropriate for all ages, CW is a unique creation that’s fun enough for young readers but filled with enough layers and depth to satisfy readers looking for a bit more.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What I Did on Rapture Day

On the off chance you missed all the headlines, not to mention the promos for the new version of the movie The Omen, today was 06-06-06. Depending entirely upon who you believe today would either mark the birth of the antichrist, his/her rise to power, or the rapture. So if you believe any of this, and you're reading this post, you missed the bus. Or the train. Or the helicopter. Or whatever it is your supposed to ride in to get to heaven. You're stuck here with the rest of us. Sorry.

In the far future you'll be able to sit down with the grandkids and talk fondly about where you were when the rapture came. It'll be our generation's version of the assasination of JFK. When there's a lull at a party you'll look over at the co-worker with the ineffectual combover and ask, "So, where were you?"

And they'll know exactly what you mean.

On the day of the rapture I had a job interview.

This was an interview for an entry-level job in a public library. Part-time at that. While I'd actually be making less money than I am now if I get this job it would hopefully lead to other things as I go further along in library school. The weird part was that for this relatively low-level, low-paid position I was interviewed by a panel of five people. I felt like I was up for review at a law firm. Or up for paroll. Their questions were prepared ahead of time, and were read directly from the script they all held in front of them. Apparently they couldn't deviate from the script because there were no followup questions, and no real dialogue. The interviewers looked at their scripts with their red-rimmed zombie eyes while they read and took notes with their craggy fingers while I spoke. I barely even made eye contact with any of them during the whole process. If they decide to hire me they can't possibly even remember what I look like. It was a painfullly dry ordeal. The interview started at 5:00, so when 6:06 rolled around I started praying some of the interviewers would be pulled up through the rapture but not one fled to the great reward. Apparently librarians are just as deviant as the rest of us. Hell, apparently the whole area I live in is pretty deviant. With all the traffic jams I ran into afterward it took me 30 minutes to make the 5 mile drive home.

So I guess while rapture day for me was a little odd, it wasn't at all scary. No demons, no hellfire, no curses. In fact, the only scary thing about today is that Julia Stiles is in a movie that doesn't make her dance.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Welcome to the City of the Dead

In a not so distant future a deadly virus called the Blinks rapidly kills off every human being on earth. The lone survivor, a wildlife specialist named Laura Byrd sent on an expedition to the South Pole, finds herself stranded and alone. These are just the opening pages in Kevin Brockmeier’s unusual novel The Brief History of the Dead (the companion website is also really interesting with interactive maps and character bios).

We quickly learn that the dead move on to another life in a fantastic city on another plane of existence; there the dead live out a second life free from aging and disease until every person on earth that remembers them dies. The chapters of the novel alternate between Laura and the city of the dead, the latter giving us not just pieces of the touching backgrounds of the dead but often how they connect to Laura. The residents of the city-showcasing everything from a religious zealot who uses the afterlife to support his beliefs to the former newspaperman whose life's passion is turning every incident into a wacky headline–provide countless layers of theme, thought and levity to the narrative. The elegiac, thoughtful tone of the city is balanced out by Laura’s adventure-filled travels across the frozen landscapes of the South Pole as she hopelessly searches for signs of any other survivors.

A crisis develops in the city of the dead when the ones who remain finally realize that the only reason they continue to exist is that Laura still fights for her own life on earth. The very city itself begins to fade away, thrusting age old questions of the meaning of life and death back into their hearts and minds. The back-and-forth chapter rhythm does get a little wearing, especially since Laura’s realistically developed adventures (based pretty heavily on the Ernest Shakleton expedition of 1914) read more compellingly than some of the sections on the imaginative city of the dead.

Brockmeir’s style, with its elements of fantasy mixed with a strong sense of character and a wonderfully lyrical ear, reminded me a lot of David Mitchell, author of the immensely popular novel Cloud Atlas. Although lacking some of the far-reaching depth of Mitchell, Brockmeir’s haunting and reflective reminder of how connected each person is to another will appeal to readers of fantasy yearning for a bit more depth than the normal fare.