Monday, November 26, 2007


I'm sleepy today because last after work and after dinner I did a stupid thing. Instead of working on any one of my still pending projects for grad school, I picked up young adult horror novel.

Darren Shan's Lord Loss, book one in his still ongoing Demonata series. I'm not going to do a full on review because, frankly, it's a bestseller and doesn't really need the publicity. But the damn thing grabbed me and wouldn't let go. It was a lot of fun, and I blasted through the 250 pages in about three hours.

When I was in sixth grade---probably about the right age for this novel---I had a fire in my bedroom right before Christmas. No one was hurt, but I spent the next several months sleeping on the sofa in the basement while my bedroom was repaired. I had just gotten into the wonderfully creepy books of John Bellairs. Reading them freaked me out. Reading things like The House with the Clock in it's Walls at night, I kept hearing noises and seeing shadows that weren't there, but I kept reading anyway. I had to know what happened. It's why I read so much as a kid and, at least partly, why I keep reading now.

After English classes and a writing program it's easy to forget that novels aren't always about deep character development, powerful themes and poetic prose. Sometimes they're just meant to be enjoyed, and critics and reviewers---myself included---forget that sometimes. I think that's part of why I like comics so much. They tend to pull me into the story in a more immediate way than most novels can do.

Anyway, reviews and other madness coming as the demon lord of grad school papers permits.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Review: Morbid Curiosity by Mike Dubisch

You may not know it, but if you've ever picked up a horror or sci-fi magazine in the last twenty years, chances are you've seen the artwork of Mike Dubisch. Throw in all the Illustrations for book covers and graphic novels he's created and Dubisch lines up as one of the more unique artists in the field. His new book Morbid Curiosity collects the best of his black and white illustration work.


One of the great things about a book like this is you get a real sense for how an artist evolves over time. The book opens with The End of History, a contest winner that appeared in Asimov's back in 1986. It's a great starter image for the book, showing immediately that he possessed a high level of talent and a keen eye for dramatic illustration. While it shows the strong influence of his predescessors---Wrightson, Corben, Frazetta, and more---it has hints of a vision all his own.

the end of history

The End of History

The work become more distinctive as the book moves on. Bode Turtle Soldier is a strange humanization of a simple animal blended into something more.It doesn't take long for the work to give a stronger sense of his own personality. Mad Scientist---with a long neck and, heavy head, and maniacal smile---shows a twisted caricature of man. It's done so well that you don't even need the title to know what the crazy portrait represents.

bode turtle soldier

Bode Turtle Soldier

mad scientist

Mad Scientist

The book continues with page after fantastic page of strange biomorphic images, terrifying monsters, sexy aliens, and other playfully dark twistings of form. overall we see a strong sense of line, a vivid imagination, and a love of experimentation. The illustrations take on a narrative quality, each one moving beyond the confines of simple illustration and transforming into a snapshot of the surreal imaginings inside Dubisch's mind.

the survivalist

The Survivalist

The images here in my review have been cropped and edited slightly to fit the narrow confines of the blog format. If you like what you see here, you'll find higher quality images on his website and, of course, in his book. Later this week I'll be reviewing Wierdling, a graphic novel Dubisch both wrote and drew.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

If It's Mid-November, It Must be Paper Season

I've been quiet this week because I've been struggling to figure out what I'm doing for all my papers and projects will be for my library school classes this week.

First on deck, due the Thursday after Thanksgiving, is a 20 page research paper that uses at least 5 academic journals as sources. Although I'm still pulling the ideas together, I'm doing social networking sites and how they are being used in academic libraries. Fortunately, it's an area I'm interested in. For the most part what I've seen libraries doing is using social networking tools as portals to get to already existing tools on websites. I'm hoping I find some examples that step beyond that. At least at the moment I'll be focusing on Myspace, Facebook and Second Life.

Due the following Thursday, I have a group paper/presentation on disaster plans----not my choice. I realize it's important, but it's fairly boring research. One person in our group took the task of a small case study of the University of Maryland's policies while I'm doing the broader background research on the topic. A third person is putting the presentation all together.

The third paper is due the Monday after that. This is for my Humanities Research class, and I've been debating back and forth about what I want to do. Basically we have to research and write an annotated bibliography of sources for a particular area of research. I initially wanted to create a bibliography for avant pop, a lit movement that ran from the mid 90's and into the early 21st century. It involves a lot of my favorite writers (Kathy Acker, Stephen Shaviro, Lance Olsen, and more), but the problem is that most of the sources are online. My prof wanted no more than 1/2 of the sources we use be online, so that one was out. My next impulse was to create one for Cyberpunk. But after spending four hours in the library last night, I decided to broaden it to Sci-Fi in general. It should be fairly easy to pull together. I definitely plan on doing one for avant pop at some point---I'm sad to say it doesn't even have a wikipedia entry. But in the interest of time and ease for my paper, the broader topic makes more sense at this point.

Anyway, I'm catching up on reviews for the magazine as well, so I should have some appearing here over the next several days as well. Until next time...


Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Death of Norman Mailer

I heard the news on NPR on the way in to work this morning. Norman Mailer dead at 84. Sad to say I haven't read much by him. One of those authors I've meant to read for some time, but just hadn't managed to get to yet. I'll talk to my bosses here at the library and see if they'll let me throw a quick book display together.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Review: Dark Reflections by Samuel Delany

I almost decided not to write review of any kind for Samuel Delany's most recent novel, Dark Reflections. Not because I didn't like it---I loved it. But it came out about a year ago and received pretty favorable reviews in both the Washington Post and the New York Times. But the more I dug around for opinions on the book the less I found. Review mags like Rain Taxi, which usually do a good job at picking out works like this, pretty much ignored it. And with the exception of a thoughtful review by Steven Shaviro, most of the comments online are by sf fans who are peeved that it's not an sf novel.

In short, the novel is a biographical portrait of Arnold Hawley, a gay, black poet living in NY City. It's structure is mildly experimental; the novel is broken into three sections, each exploring a different period of his life and moving backwards in time. Each section could easily work as a strong novella, but together they create a moving image of a unique man.

The opening section focuses on his late adult life. Although I could paraphrase it for you, it's probably best to have it laid out in Delany's own words:

In 1987's rainy October, when squirrels stopped, stared, then sprinted along the bench-backs away from the kids with the earrings, combat boots, and dog collars, who for more than fifteen years now had been hanging out in Tompkins Square Park, Arnold's sixth book of poems, Beleaguered Fields, won the Alfred Proctor Prize---an award given once every three years that concerned a small circle of New York poets and men and women of letters. In the late afternoon of the day he received the news, as he walked home through the park, a wind gusted among the wet leaves, for moments making a rising roar, like the cheer of thousands.....Arnold smiled....acknowledging playfully the world's recognition. (3)

The Proctor Prize allows Arnold to quit the civil servant job he hates and take a teaching position at a small college---where he happily works with a small cut in salary. The section moves forward to his retirement years later, and we see Arnold struggle with the odd hypocrisies of the publishing world when he's asked to write a blurb for a young up-and-coming poet putting out work he doesn't respect.

The second section focuses on Arnold's life in his thirties, and his brief marriage to a suicidal homeless woman. The third section moves back further to his late twenties and his early days in college fighting with the realization that he's gay. We see some powerful scenes where he's disturbingly attracted to a well hung but mentally challenged man. Against all better judgement Arnold follows his desire into a run down section of New York, but when he's finally given the opportunity to explore his sexuality he runs away.

Although poetry isn't quite the focus with these other two sections, writing is still a vital part of the story. He meets his wife while writing a poem on a park bench, and we see some lovely moments of his life when he's inspired to write. Much of his daily struggle centers around finding that balance between making a living and following his dream to publish brilliant poems. Arnold is a man who lives, breathes and loves poetry and, although Arnold is very different from Delany, it's hard not to think of Delany himself at these moments.

As much as sex is a part of this novel, Arnold is confoundingly asexual. A number of Delany's books, Hogg especially, are noted for their strong pornographic scenes. Dark Reflections features pimps graphically pitching their wares, poetic descriptions of homo-erotic photography, and a number of other bizarre situations. The moments he gets closest to experiencing sex, something outlandish occurs that puts an end to it: his wife commits suicide, he thinks he's caught in a blackmail scheme, etc, etc. And while we know as readers that Arnold has had sex, we never actually see him having sex. This seems important to the novel somehow, although I'm not quite smart enough to figure out exactly why.

One thing at the novel's core is how Arnold continually explores his identity as a gay, black poet and questions what it means. He's a black man who enjoys country music, and gay man who doesn't pursue sex, and a poet who explores themes beyond the normal bounds of what it means to black and gay. It makes Arnold more than a character; it makes him a human dreaming the dream to be what he can despite the obstacles thrown in front of him. It's this thread of the novel that ties it together, makes everything work, and brings what's probably Delany's most accessible novel in years.

Tor or any other major SF publisher would likely pull a dumptruck full of money to Delany's home if he ever broke down and wrote the SF novel fans of Babel-17 and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand clamor for. Instead what we get is the novel Delany wanted to write, and a beautiful one it is.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Standing Up for Joyce

There's this woman in both of my classes this semester who drives me nuts. Whether it's just before class or during a break she spends her whole time complaining about or ridiculing everyone and everything in her life. Her professors aren't good teachers. Her classmates can't write well. Her coworkers aren't well read. And on and on.

Most of the people she talks about I don't know, but a few I do know. Up till now i've always kept my mouth shut. So what actually prompted me to speak up against her? Who was her target today? A close friend of mine? A professor I admire?


Her target today was James Joyce.

She's apparently taking a class outside the Library Science program on Joyce's Ulysses. She was talking about it offhandedly to the professor for my class tonight, that she didn't understand why it's considered such a high point in literature. She said she didn't like the style, didn't like the writing and she had a hard time believing that Joyce was friends with Hemingway when they were both in Paris.

"Well, they were both out-of-towners in the pretty snobby art world of Paris," I said. "They probably needed the comraderie. And I think they were both able to appreciate one another's writing, even if their styles are vastly different."

She just shrugged her shoulders, and everything probably would have been fine if I left it at that. But I opened my big mouth again and tripped over my own big fat tongue.

"But I guess I can understand your feelings because I don't really care for Hemingway much," I said.

Her face snapped into my direction. " don't like Hemingway?"

"No, not really," I said. "His characters have never seemed like people to me. They've always felt more like props for his ideas. Especially his women."

She then rattled off three or four stories to combat my opinion. I shrugged and said, "Sorry. I just don't like him."

I was very careful to stress that it was my opinion, that I didn't feel that people couldn't like him. But, whether it was my words or simply that I was contesting her own opinion, she took it personally. She glared at me the rest of the period and, after awhile, I started to feel guilty. I don't know why, I just did.

What's the point of all of this? I have no idea. I do wonder why, of all people, the person I stood up for was a dead Irish author.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Today, for whateve reason, is write your own epitaph day. So now is your chance to dream and tout all those things you plan on doing before you die. There are a bunch of different approaches you can take.Do you prefer the elegiac mode, like Oscar Wilde:





Or, perhaps, one based more upon anger and retribution. such as the epitaph of Jesse James:



If I come up with something fun, I'll repost this later with my own.