RSS Feed

Battle Royale

Posted on

Title: Battle Royale

Publisher: Viz Media

Author: Koshun Takami

Translator: Yuji Oniki

Pages:616

Published: 1999

I read the first volume of the Battle Royale manga when I was fifteen. For two weeks I was distracted and disturbed. Which, if you know the story of the novel, is probably exactly what Takami wanted.

First, a synopsis. In a future wherein Japan has become the Republic of Greater East Asia, a fascist government which allows its citizens certain freedoms to avoid arguments for crimes against humanity, there exists a Program. The Program, funded by the military, chooses one junior high school class each year and sends them to a remote location. Each student is given a bag of survival supplies with a weapon, are tagged by an explosive collar, and told that they must kill their classmates until there is only one left standing.

The story  follows Class B of Shiroiwa Junior High School, as students who have always been friends fight to the death. Specifically, Girl and Boy Fifteen- Shuya Nanahara and Noriko  Nakagawa-and Boy Five, Shogo Kawada. These three attempt to escape the game’s deadly grip while their fellow classmates fall into depravity all around them.

When the book was released in Japan, it started a shockwave of disgust and criticism with the older citizens of the country. Surprise, surprise, it was popular with the youth. This is perfectly explained by Japan’s current cultural identity, which is in crisis. I’m not an expert, so I’ll give it to you as best I understand: the old ways in Japan- old fashions, old expectations, old national pride and old manners of doing things- have yet to catch up with its rise to technological prominence. Long story short, Japan’s society is slowly collapsing because no one is willing to own up to the fact that the world as they know it has changed. Remarkably, this is a lot like our current American government- but that’s another story.

After the utter fiasco that was the novel, Japan’s entertainment industry knew it had a hit. Battle Royale sparked two manga series and a movie with a sequel. The manga was available in the United States before the novel, because the thought process went like this: American kids don’t read. Let’s show them pictures.

It’s true that a large part of the stupid punks today don’t read like they should, but the manga and the novel are very different creatures. Since we are talking about a translated work, let us rewind to a review I wrote of a prior translated novel: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The book was awful and I’m not apologizing for it. I want to state for the record that Battle Royale is a perfect example of how knowing something about the culture from which the book springs helps form the work. I grew up an anime kid. I know minimal Japanese, spent a lot of time pretending to wear sailor skirts and carry swords, and still have a thing for cheap store-bought sushi. Does this qualify me as an expert on Japan? Hell to the no, but it does give me a background upon which I can base my conclusions about Battle Royale- a base I didn’t have for Dragon Tattoo. So if you think I’m being too lenient, remember I didn’t grow up watching Swedish cartoons, and if you don’t know why Revolutionary Girl Utena refers to herself as a ‘Prince’, you might feel the same way about Shuya as I do about Lisbeth Salander.

The manga of Battle Royale was cowritten by Takami and manga-ka Masayuki Taguchi. There are fifteen volumes that cover the entire story of the novel. The english translation, done by Keith Giffen, is not a word for word translation but rather a reimagining of Takami and Taguchi’s script. The characters in the manga are the same as those in the book, but are less one dimensional, due to the medium. If you aren’t a fan of reading novels, then I would strongly urge you to seek out Taguchi’s Battle Royale- it gives the story a new life.

On to the novel. Battle Royale is a long book. At six hundred plus pages, it isn’t exactly a beach read. Never fear, though- the style allows for fast comprehension.  The descriptions of place and person are minimal while the carnage is at maximum. I can honestly say I felt queasy a few times, so if you can’t sit through a slasher film I’d think twice about picking this book up.

One complaint which springs immediately to light (and which Takami has addressed several times) is the lack of true definition of characters. Most of the students are stereotypes put into place by Japanese culture- for example, Boy Fourteen, Sho Tsukioka. Sho is a homosexual- a ‘queer’. Which you get immediately due to his constant flamboyant actions, his addressing of himself as ‘she’ and his need to fix his hair even on a deserted island filled with classmates who are probably out for his blood.

Leaving out Japan’s complicated relationship with its homosexual citizens, Sho is an insult to any sensitive individual. Takami wasn’t trying to portray all gay men as effeminate narcissists; he just picked what would cover the most ground, essentially sacrificing a pawn to get the queen into play. The author has said that the manga does more for character development than his novel. What the students are meant to represent creates moments of disbelief. Mitsuko Souma, Girl Eleven, is meant to fit the ‘good girl gone bad’ stereotype. To accomplish this, her sexual history of abuse and neglect is..well, extreme, for a fifteen year old. She gets across what she needs to, and in doing so loses some of her dimension.

In a class of forty one students, there’s a lot of killing to be done; not a lot of time is wasted on deep development. What is important is that each character stands in for a face of the youth of Japan, and I do believe that this book was written for them. Like Lord of the Flies before it, Battle Royale points out that was cities rise and fall, and countries split, unite, and grow, the simplistic view given to most young adults is skewed. Put into a life threatening situation, they will not act as many wish they would- like children. They will act in their own best interest, as selfish and scared as a tarnished adult. A fifteen year old today is nothing like a fifteen year old of twenty or thirty years ago. The stakes are higher. The tests are harder. Life, as we know it, has changed. Arguably, not for the better. This is what Battle Royale is- the dog eat dog world.

Battle Royale  hits another soft spot: whether or not one can trust their own government. When Shuya, who listens to ‘illegal’ rock music, suggests to Shogo that perhaps they can utilize it to start a revolution, Shogo explains to him that if the music really were as dangerous as the government wanted them to believe it thought, it would not be available at all. In fact, the government could easily turn around and declare rock and roll a gift of the Republic.

The Republic of Greater East Asia is run by bureaucrats writing and memoing for more bureaucrats. No one ever has to make a decision because the buck is always passed, which is why the murderous Program still exists. Sound familiar? Try not to think about it too hard, my friends; politics makes fools of us all. So what can be done to stop them? The conclusion that Shuya comes to is nothing. Instead, he must run, as fast and as far as he can, to escape the madness.

The translation of Battle Royale is shoddy. True, there are no ‘engrish’ sentences, but often items will change mid-appearance (Shuya’s bottle of whiskey became a bottle of bourbon twenty pages later) and every once in a while, a name or phrase that definitely doesn’t belong will pop up. I know nothing about translating, so I can’t attribute these errors to laziness, though I do know that Japanese and English can’t always play fair. If a newer translation ever arrives on the market I plan on reading it.

Battle Royale breaks my long established personal rule of reading in silence. If ever a book needed a soundtrack, it is this novel. Rock and Roll play a huge part in Shuya’s life, and therefore in the life of the story. Create your own, if you feel the thunder- make sure there’s plenty of Bruce Springsteen.

I wouldn’t recommend Battle Royale as a beach book. If anything I wish I could see it on a high school reading list, but considering the gradual descent into mediocrity that is our educational system, I presume it only to be in my dreams. If you don’t rage against the machine, Battle Royale probably isn’t your cup of tea. If you advocate the randomized banning of books that might hurt someone’s feelings a la Ru Freeman, it definitely isn’t your cup of tea.

If you want a reason to give ’em hell, though, hang out with Shuya. Tramps like him? Baby they were born to run.

Advertisements

Bestial Werewolf Apocalypse

Posted on

Title: Bestial Werewolf Apocalypse

Pagecount: 298

Author: William D. Carl (at last check, A)

Published: 2008

Well…

It wasn’t awful.

In comparison to Empire, Bestial Werewolf Apocalypse (soon, for reviewing purposes, to be shortened to Bestial) is almost Pulitzer prize winning material. However, it suffers from similar problems in theme, development, and overall feel. This leads me to believe that someone at Permuted Press either has a really sick sense of humor, an imagination limited to corn syrup blood, or is actually a zombie with no concept of how to work a paper shredder.

Bestial’s plot is as follows: one fine evening most of the citizens of Cincinnati Ohio turn into werewolves.

Yes. Really.

Of course, this being a survival horror novel, there are people who, by hook or by  crook, are immune to the curse and wind up being the delicious meaty chunks of the bloody stew. Our core group of survivors consists of Chesya the Strong Black Bankteller Who Totally Survived the Ghetto, Rick the Aryan Bank Robber Who Really Just Wants To Have Fun, Christian the Teenage Hooker Whose Dad Abused Him, and Kathy, Christian’s Totally Pampered High Society Guilty Mom. Later on, we also meet Andrei the Russian Jesus.

This group of people manage to puzzle out that the werewolf ‘curse’ is actually a virus, the fault of BioGen labs. With this in mind and realizing they are immune to said disease, they head for the Ohio/Kentucky line, hoping to make it to safety before nightfall. Bestial happens over roughly seventy two hours, and they are a packed seventy two hours.

Carl took a step in the right direction with his werewolves. Werewolf isn’t really a broad enough term. The creatures are Lycanthropes, certainly, but they share aspects of a wolf, a bear, and a lion. Sorry, no tigers. In terms of creature creation, they’re pretty impressive. Each outlandish aspect of their biology and physiology is explained in a manner that makes sense, which wins him points.  However, they still suffer from that terrible disease of a single dimension.

Lycanthropes are animals of habit, that’s it. They fight, they eat, they screw (because this just wouldn’t be a permuted press novel if sex wasn’t mentioned every third paragraph.) Carl doesn’t delve into how animals develop relationships with one another. Very late in the novel he touches on something not unlike a pack mentality, but most of the time it’s every stupid animal for themselves. I feel like the lycanthropes could have been ten times scarier if only more time had been spent on how they thought, not just how they worked. An unstoppable wall of monsters is Cujo’s insipid extended family. An unstoppable wall of monsters that know how to organize- I’d be running scared.

In the case of the survivors, Carl did a much better job in development than Dunwoody could ever hope to achieve. For one, he didn’t spend a ton of time pussying around with other potentials just to kill them. If a character was erroneous, they died. Of course there is a single exception. This exception is also known as ‘writing oneself into a corner’.

Jean Cowell, an elderly Frenchman and the Scientist Mastermind of this whole mess, blows his head off long before the survivors get together. Jean’s death is not only not in line with his personality (being, as is mentioned often, a survivor of the Nazi camps, he’s a little dedicated to his own survival.) it is also a total waste. Jean could have provided far more back story and his intimate participation with the project resulting in the werewolves would have made for an excellent redemptive death. Carl tries to salvage Jean’s sudden absence through flashbacks and the not so clever use of the ‘found item’- in this case, Jean’s journal, which Christian thoughtfully picks up while running for his life.  It’s a decent attempt, but the book would have made far more sense if Jean had lived, at least a little while longer.

Moving on to the survivors. Their development is by far superior to Empire’s sham of a cast, but they are defined by things that, in a city full of psychos turning into werewolves, would no longer be relevant. For example, Chesya. She’s very religious. Very. As in there’s a gigantic predator bearing down on her and she won’t even swear. I’m sorry, but if everyone in my hometown suddenly transformed into a ravenous predator intent on gnawing my skull to pieces, I think the good Lord would forgive the many F-bombs I would drop. It’s such a drab fact to focus on. Likewise, Rick’s personality is dependent entirely upon Chesya’s initial thoughts about him. If anyone in this book were a main protagonist, it is Chesya; Rick is just there, presenting various facets of her past and present that she doesn’t particularly like looking at.

Christian seems remarkably well adjusted for a whore. Christian’s father abused him sexually and physically, so he ran away. He took up with Jean. This is apparently a Big Deal. Jean being homosexual is mentioned almost every time he shows up in text, even after he dies. In the meantime, the fact that Christian has become a prostitute on the street is somehow more relevant to his character development than the abuse of his parents. The actual events- the molestation at the hands of his father and various friends- are mentioned in passing. The prostitution? Mentioned all the time. If Christian is meant to stand as some kind of tarnished hero, then he needs to show all the tarnish.

Kathy also suffers from a chronic case of ‘pasted on personality’. She’s a society mom who believed her husband over her son, and therefore Is Guilty. There you go. that’s all you need to know about Kathy. Seriously. Oh, and she rides bikes. And somehow manages to wind up in one of many pointless confrontations with werewolf people that serve no logical purpose except to prove to us that being turned into an animal is wrong.

I’ll point out something that bothered me early on right now. Each of our survivors is named, intentionally or not, after a judeo-christian saint. Except Chesya. Who is the only black person in the entire book. That fact is mentioned, oh, every ten seconds or so. Yes, Carl, we understand that the obligatory second female survivor is pretty much an African fertility goddess. Now please, could we get back to the story at hand?

You’ll note I have yet to mention Andrei. Andrei Sokovitch is important. He is Werewolf Prime, Subject Zero, Project Alpha/Omega. Essentially, he’s the werewolf from which all other Cincinnati werewolves were created. For most of the book, Andrei is safe and sound in a plexiglass prison while all of Cincinnati falls apart outside.Convenient? Well, yes. Overly so. What’s even more convenient is the fact that he’s the only werewolf to get a dose of Serum A, which Jean Cowell invented to destroy the werewolf virus. And then, having been cured of the disease that is now ravaging an entire city, possibly being the only holder of the serum since, you know, the lab is in with the man eating monsters, he promptly…

gets himself killed on a tugboat. If you guessed ‘while defending his little pack of stereotypes’, give yourself extra points.

Moving on.

Bestial suffers from an influx and reduction of information. Things the reader should know are given as afterthoughts ,while things they don’t need to know are neatly presented. There is also a plothole one can drive a truck through. A really big truck. Maybe a few trucks all at once.

How, exactly, did an entire city get turned into werewolves?

It is addressed in passing by Rick in the BioGen lab. Christian reveals that a mutated strain of the bacteria in Andrei’s blood is what transformed the city. Rick mentions it traveled by air.

…if this is true, then why was only Cincinnati affected? An air-borne virus, while it doesn’t travel at the speed of light, is certainly more likely to effect a larger population than a disease passed by bodily fluids or even water. In a highly advanced laboratory, how did the strain escape? Wouldn’t BioGen have had some kind of safety measure while dealing with mutated wolf bacteria, like hazmat suits and chemical showers?

Later on in the book a soldier speculates that perhaps the werewolf virus was meant to be used as a weapon by the military. If that’s true, then Carl went about it in entirely the wrong fashion. The military doesn’t perform its chemical weapons experiments in the middle of Ohio. A single infected individual escaping a facility to spread the virus would have made far more sense than an airborne bacteria somehow getting out of a lab. There wasn’t even remotely enough proof for the weapon theory to be viable, and it only came up ten pages from the end of the book. Sloppy, Carl.

Bestial is maybe the kind of book you’d buy for a couple bucks at a sale to make your kid happy because, being a modern parent, you pay no attention to what they read. It is better than Empire if only because the stereotypes do more than just stand around waiting to be eaten by zombies. I stick with my original plea. Permuted Press, for the love of God- stop printing. Get help. There are pills for this kind of thing.

Empire, or, When Fucking Your Romero DVD Collection is Entirely Inappropriate.

Posted on

Title: Empire

Pagecount: 283

Author: David Dunwoody (who is, unfortunately, A)

Published: 2008- Permuted Press


Dear Permuted Press:

Stop printing books.

No. Really. This is not a suggestion, it is not a request, it is a demand. Just..stop.

No love,

Eusapia.


The saga of Empire is a sad one. The local bookstore chain-within-a-chain was going out of business and I happened to stop by when I had cash to burn. It’s a good thing the books were all priced rock bottom. I would never pay fifteen dollars for this crap and neither should you. Doing so is an affront to literature, to liberty, to the American way. A moment, allow a correction. The American way if you aren’t a zombieaholic waste of space whose concept of the horror genre is limited to ‘they’re coming for you, Barbara!’

Moving on.

Empire’s plotline is (predictably) as follows: The American government has failed to combat a zombie plague. They are pulling out of coastal cities, including the fictional Jefferson Harbor, Louisiana. This leaves behind a handful of survivors, one power hungry necromancer and yes, you guessed it, a horde of undead.

But WAIT! In a highly detailed completely unnecessary prologue, we learn that these zombies can’t be killed via headshot. Oh my god, you guys, what do we do? Why, we burn them, of course! It’s brilliant! It’s original! It..lost its charm about five pages in. There wasn’t even a honeymoon. Hell, I’m not sure the couple even made it to the wedding.

Dunwoody spends way too much time in those first few pages expressing to you just how awesome he is by changing zombies. He is so cool, he devised a throwaway character who was totally willing to go into an abandoned zone teeming with flesh eating corpses to leave a letter that explained in excruciating detail how the American government was to blame for the creation of the virus. Dunwoody then continues to be awesome by having this letter found by token extras 2, 6, and 24, one of whom has been bitten. They ooh, they ahh, they get hauled through a supply hatch and eaten. Boring.

If you’re looking for zombie splatter, go watch a zombie movie. The ‘pulled through a window and eaten’ schtick is used at least forty times throughout the book. Also the ‘we thought it was dead’ schtick. As if these Romero imitations weren’t bad enough, Dunwoody steals- quite blatantly, I feel- from better sources of horror.  Exhibit A: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Look! It’s a malformed zombie! Look, he’s got an apron! And an axe! And he cuts people up and stuffs them into sausage casings!

As if that isn’t bad enough, there’s a zombie clown.

Yes, It fans, a zombie clown. Who..? You’re right. Attempts to eat Token Retarded Kid. Who, by the way, later turns into a zombie and tries to eat his dad.

It gets worse. There are references to bodies in malls, ‘because of some old zombie movie’. The Source- the dark energy that makes zombies, from which the virus was ostensibly diluted- is in theory connected to The Old Ones. Who I’m willing to bet have tentacles and spent a lot of time talking to a fellow named Lovecraft.

I spent so much time gagging on the overzealous gore factor and fanboying that I practically overlooked the cast. To be honest, it wasn’t that hard. People showed up only to be messily devoured three paragraphs later. Police Officer, Rock Star, Convict With A Heart Of Gold- it didn’t matter what label they wore, they died. People who weren’t even significant to the plot were given screentime for their demise. I think what Dunwoody was trying to do was keep you guessing as to the identity of the survivors; unfortunately, the only thing he did right was tag those people from the very start. The rest of the book is just a splatterfest of irritation. Why was I paying any attention to these people? If they were just going to die, why bother trying to make me root for them? The time could have been better spent doing something like, I don’t know, developing the ones who are going to live.

What irks me the most is how much time is dedicated to stressing the differences between this book and other zombie novels. For example, the plague has been going on for years now. The world has assimilated to it; some of the characters are second and third generations born to it. There are tabloids about zombies. The US government has collapsed and is now run solely by a Senate. You can’t headshot the zombies. There’s a platoon of highly religious soldiers. You can’t headshot the zombies. The original undead (oh, sorry, ‘afterdead’) were created by dark energy emanating from the earth’s core. Did we mention you can’t headshot the zombies?

I don’t like having my hand held, and that is what Dunwoody does. Nothing is left to chance or inference. He’s going to tell you everything you never wanted to know about his book and the people in it. There isn’t any joy in reading about survival when the survival part is taken out in favor of foresight. Even brain candy books leave something to the imagination.

If Permuted Press was dedicated to putting out pulp fictionesque works, then I could understand this tripe. However, Permuted Press is an independent press dedicated to apocalyptic fiction. It’s a neat little niche. Now if only they wouldn’t fill it with bullshit like this. Who thought this was a good idea? Who picked up the original draft of Empire and said, “Oh man, this book is just the author attempting to have a lovechild with Night Of the Living Dead,  fan-freakin’-tastic!’

That person needs to be shot. Several times. And then possibly burned, because apparently, a shot to the head won’t kill him.

Did I mention Death shows up?

Yes. Death. Pale horse and everything. Now here’s where Dunwoody could have redeemed himself. Death takes on corporeal form because he notices that people aren’t dying like they should. This is clearly a problem. He forms a scythe made of the bones of the undead in order to combat them. Clever. His body? Made of clay. Also clever. Unfortunately, ‘clever’ is about the only word that I can use to describe Death. He has his moments, brief as they are, but then returns right to the mire of the flimsy paper mask Dunwoody created for him. He is perhaps the only character that goes through something resembling significant development, and even at the book’s end, when he stands a nameless corporeal man, you don’t care that there’s a sequel. There is a sequel.

Empire’s plot- if it could be called that- suffers heavily from convenience. the Convict With A Heart Of Gold just so happens to be Token Retarded Kid’s dad. Angry Homeless Man just so happened to meet up with Necromancer’s Deceased Twisted Father. The story is lazy and littered with things like this, some of them designed only to lead into another bitefight. For example, a tunnel (how convenient) connects the abandoned police station with city hall. A mild mannered clerk just so happens to still be in City Hall when our survivors are swamped with zombies. He leads them to safety a la Moses through the desert…and he’s a cannibal.

I suppose a few moments should be dedicated to the sex. There is, of course, sex everywhere. We meet a senator who was fucking his sister’s husband, the necromancer wants to mack on his thirteen year old adopted sister, two escaped convicts engage in constant coitus in a flashback, and Overweight Former Callgirl was raped by a guy who talked, excessively, about cumming on her face. There is also the little matter of erections. Which are mentioned an awful lot for a book about the end of the world as we know it.

I understand that if we were facing a plague of writhing undead, some people would want to fuck. That’s human nature and it’s acceptable- my Antwerp review also mentioned sex. This sex, however, is awkwardly placed, awkwardly timed, and used either to rouse your interest or make you hope that something interesting is going to happen later, because that’s the way horror movies work. Someone has sex, then they die.

Unfortunately for you, there’s very little to get off on when it comes to the actual descriptive act. Lots of talk, but when the moment of realization comes Dunwoody pussies out. Dear God, man. People are ripping other peoples’ faces off, there’s a zombie with a dog skull running around with an axe, give the audience their porn.

Empire could have been saved. If the book had been written from Death’s POV, for example, the distance he held from humanity could have provided a fascinating and morbid range of descriptions. Cut the letter from the front. Par down the cast. Come up with a better reason for the plague than ‘the Dark Energy made me do it’. Then, maybe, just maybe, this book would be worth reading.

None of this has happened. Empire is a thirteen year old zombie fanatic’s wet dream. Frankly, it should have stayed that way.

Tune in next time when I review Permuted Press’s ‘Bestial Werewolf Apocalypse’.

You think I’m kidding about that title.

I’m not.

Newspaper Blackout

Posted on

Title: Newspaper Blackout

Pagecount: 173

Author: Austin Kleon

Published: 2010

Poetry is not difficult. I’m sure most people think differently. One of the great urban legends of writing is that poetry is something that is obscure, inaccessible, cut off from the general public. You’re taught in school that Shakespeare was a genius and Keats was clearly the Hand of God and that Robert Frost had a crystal ball into which he scried visions of a glorious rhyming future. All of this is bullshit and I want you to forget it now.

Understanding poetry is no more difficult than understanding fiction and anyone can enjoy it. Those who claim that poetry sucks either haven’t read enough good poetry or haven’t read any at all. Remember, kids, you can’t judge what you don’t know (though admittedly, I do it all the time. Do as I say, not as I do.) The thing you need to know about poetry is that it is to other forms of writing like a turboshot is to coffee- all of it all at once, instead of a gradual presentation. Frost’s poem ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ could easily have been a short story, but it wasn’t. It gave you all you needed to know in the verses.

Now that the impromptu little lesson is done, let’s move on to Newspaper Blackout, Austin Kleon, and when it is and is not okay to talk about blogs.

The premise of Newspaper Blackout is simple. Have newspaper. Have marker. Find an article you like, hunt through it for the words you want, and black out those you don’t need. When you are done, you have a large black space in the general vicinity of which a poem has been born. I like the idea a lot. So did Austin, apparently. He feels the need to go on about it at great length.

I found reading the poems visually confusing. That’s because  a lot of the time, Kleon was depending on article titles to add to the poems. A word here or there would suddenly be three or four times bigger than the rest of the words. Naturally, you want to put an emphasis on that word- and I don’t think it always works. Since I can’t recreate the actual format of my example, having neither a scanner nor the will to use it, I’ll type an approximation with the title words in caps.

A REBELLIOUS

crew

roll

and

make a run for it.

midnight

is for

KIDS.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down, here? The title of that particular poem is ‘Roll and Run’. I can see the emphasis on rebellious just fine, but kids? Why kids? I’m not an analytical reader when it comes to poetry but I took enough classes in college to know that when you put emphasis on a thing it should be for a reason. Yet here I feel like the only reason he had was the word he wanted was in caps. One could argue that he must have done it on purpose- after all he could have made the word kid by blotting out other words to spell it. I can’t help but feel he did it because he was lazy.

I had the same sort of problem with random commas. There were only a few cases where the punctuation fit the poem. Most of the time, I noticed them as an afterthought and was forced to wonder why they were there. Of course space is important in a newspaper, and so commas are printed very close to words. Was it impossible to black them out? Perhaps. A poor choice made by a novice? That would be my bet.

The book’s layout was another downfall. While the poems in their original newspaper format fit well on the pages, the titles were nearly impossible to find, printed as headers in small font at the top of the page. Titles are a very important part of poetry. They lead you into the work, sometimes telling you everything you need to know before you even get the ball rolling. For example, if you read ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ without its title, you would feel an entirely different kind of terror than if you read it with its intended lead. The anticipation of the cremation represented is what makes the poem so suffocating. Why are some poems untitled, I hear you ask?

Well some things you should be able to figure out for yourself. You’re a big kid.

Poetry has to resonate with me. A really good poem gives me the shivers. There were only a few of those in this collection. Most of them relied far too heavily on the Epic Pause between the black spaces. A weakness of poetry is when the poet uses one device too much. The curse of a newspaper blackout poem, of course, being that its structure is also its device.

The newspaper blackout is a clever way to get over writer’s block, but I don’t think Kleon is a master of it; if he were, the poems would be great, phenomenal, even, not just good. The limits of the form outweigh its potential, for him. I think if everyone left him alone, then maybe he’d come into it a little bit more.

The book actually starts with an introduction by Kleon that does something like ‘oh hey I started doing this because I was trying to write short stories and wouldn’t you know it it was more fun than sudoku! let’s all do it!’. There’s even a how to guide in the back. Rule #3 in the Super Secret Writer’s Handbook: Don’t reveal your secrets. I feel like the intro and accompanying guide are Kleon looking for flattery. That might not be the case, but that’s how it reads- gee look at me, humble bloggerman, and now I have a book! how cool is that, guys? you should buy it and copy me.

I don’t think Kleon believes in himself the way I would like to believe in him. For a beginning chapbook, this would have been subpar, and selling a chapbook is hard enough. I honestly believe what got him published was not his work but the format of it, and I think he knows it, too. This is unfortunate. Kleon has the seeds of a great poet. Yet he presents himself as a man who tripped over success. A man I know once said ‘you need to simultaneously believe you are the best writer in the world and the worst.’ Kleon doesn’t believe he’s the best writer.

So, Austin. In your next edition, try some poetry without black spaces. Work on where your emphasis is, don’t rely on line breaks only. Don’t include a how to guide. Make them wonder how you did it. Keep some poems for yourself, and if you have a moment of doubt about even one, put it in a drawer for later. Most importantly, remember: You are the Best Writer.

Ender’s Game

Posted on

Title: Ender’s Game

Pagecount: 324

Author: Orson Scott Card

Published: 1977

Adults don’t understand much, do they?

You thought it as a kid. So did I. Older people were stupid. They didn’t see answers right in front of their noses and when we pointed it out for them it was impossible for them to have not found it themselves and so they claimed the small victory, because we were children and we didn’t understand. The dedication of Ender’s Game- For Geoffrey, who makes me remember how young and how old children can be- speaks to the moment of epiphany, when we are understood finally for who we are and for what we know.

Then we have to go grow up and spoil the whole thing.

I’m not going to lie. I avoided reading Ender’s Game because- like Lord of the Rings, like the The Shining- it has become genre dogma. Science fiction changed forever when the book was released and because of this, it is one of many Bibles. I do not approve of genre dogma. True, there are fantastic books and these books are used as examples and tools for other books. That’s the way of things. In my short life, however, I’ve met plenty of eternal dicks who believe that dogma should control all aspects of their work. For example, a starship is not a starship unless it has massive laser guns.

To those believers in the false faith I say: have you ever fucking read Ender’s Game?

The premis can be summed up nicely: in a future where aliens have struck earth twice, a boy named Andrew Wiggin is selected, despite being a Third child, to go to Battle School. There he is trained to become an elite commander before he reaches puberty, because if the aliens invade a third time, the human race will likely not survive.

That is the synopsis of Ender’s Game. It doesn’t touch even remotely on the utter majesty of it.

Sci fi rarely impresses me. So much emphasis is put on the what and the how and the why- this alien species, this obscure historical fact, this voyage to the stars. I expected the same out of Ender Wiggin. I was proven wonderfully wrong. Ender is all too human, and that is what makes this story. He grapples with what no one wants to talk about- the fact that we as human beings, who live individual lives mentally cut off from others, are often controlled not by our desires but by the destinies others shape for us. The shapes these destinies take are not always pleasant, and definitely not always fair.

To understand what makes Ender’s Game, you need to be empathic, and no, I’m not talking Xmen. Empathy is the ability to see or sense another person’s emotions and mimic them. Empathy and sympathy are closely linked; you can’t truly have one without the other. I fancy my empathy is maybe at the Alpha stage. This book tore my heart out and stomped on it. Of course it hits close to home in ways I’ll leave put, because that’s what personal blogs are for; suffice to say that Ender has all of my sympathy.

The style of the book is a new one for me. Regular descriptive sentences are linked in with more poetic verses and then touched with dialogue that seems better suited to a book of philosophy than a war with aliens. Of course a large part of the war with the aliens is philosophy; destroy your enemy and don’t you destroy yourself? If a war ends, what do soldiers then become? If one sibling is evil, and the second is only slightly less evil, will the third overpower them both?

Uncomfortable questions. Ender Wiggin asks a lot of them, and sometimes he gets answers. More often than not the reader intuits the answers and has a moment of dawning and sometimes horrific realization. It’s a typical thing reading this book. Despite the discomfort of knowing that you can see the train coming, you can’t step off the track. The climax of the book comes as a surprise only if you wanted to have faith in the desire of the old to contain the innocence of the young.

This is a book about growing up. Not your typical growing up- chest hair, weird feelings, losing your dog or going on your first date. This is that hard slide from third base to home when you think you’ve got it in the bag and it turns out that all this time you didn’t know anything at all, they were just humoring you, the base moved and the duggout’s gone. It is in that moment that you grow up. Maybe some of us don’t remember it like that. But it was like that.

There are all kinds of sayings about the wisdom of children; Ender’s Game addresses all of them in due time. The sad fact of the matter is that as people isolated in our own worlds we feel the need to break that which comes to us fresh and new, in a way we once were and will never be again. Do we actively seek to destroy children? Maybe. That’s a debate for another time. Let’s get back to Ender.

How can a book simultaniously be about the movement to adulthood and the regression to a childlike wisdom? Tell children war is a game. Isn’t that all it is, really? Two opposing forces with expendable resources going at one another to prove who is the bigger man, who is right, whose way of governing is best? Dedicated soldiers and political conservatives would argue, I suppose. The purest war on earth could be fought by children with small wooden swords on a playground. Instead of a wooden sword, Ender is given a battleship; the conclusion is inevitably the same. You remember pulling off a fly’s wings, or a daddy longleg’s legs, or drowning anthills in water. Only a child could kill so callously. Only a child can win a war.

There is a question of genetic intent in Ender’s Game. Is Ender really a killer? Was he made one? Does it matter? To him. We all ask ourselves questions as we grow. Why am I doing this, does it make me happy, am I like my mother or brother or grandfather? What says that we have to be what others have put forth? Fear. Ender fears becoming his brother and so he is the best commander, the kind who can negotiate losses and casualties without reveling in the murder. In doing this he becomes what others want him to be. From the beginning, he had no choice at all.

Everyone should read Ender’s Game. What you will get out of it is dependent upon you. If you think of it only as the Grandfather of your favorite sci fi series, open your eyes; sci fi is as much a tool, a symbol, as anything in the regular fiction section. It teaches a lesson we all have to learn and, in my humble opinion, learn soon.

It’s almost too late. But, like my father before me, I say: almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Let the wild rumpus start.

Posted on

http://therumpus.net/2011/05/the-urgent-matter-of-books/#more-78673

If you have a driver’s liscense, you read.

If you’re my age, or older, you remember a time when the hate, if not gone, was a little less. Maybe even when it was more.

If you’re younger than me, then this is all you’ve ever known.

If you have a heart, you understand what we’re saying to you.

So what’s stopping all of us from starting a new revolution?

One Bloody Thing After Another

Posted on

Title: One Bloody Thing After Another

Pagecount: 165

Author: Joey Comeau (A)

Published: 2010

I really wish this book could pick what it wanted to be when it grew up.

Backstory- I found One Bloody Thing in a little bookshop in Portsmouth. It was on the ’employees suggested’ wall, because in a smaller bookstore you can do that. The woman I bought it from, who was apparently the person who had suggested the book, told me that it was one of the best things she had read in a long while.

…well it could have been, I guess.

One Blood Thing After Another is written in a style I adore- the shorter chapter/viginette. Instead of a cohesive story with a series of events set up chronologically, One Bloody Thing follows several characters whose paths intersect. There are four characters: Jackie, a middle school student, her classmate Ann and Ann’s sister Margaret, and an older man named Charlie, who goes on walks with his old dog Mitchie. Weird Shit is happening to everyone involved; let’s start with the sisters. Their mother has recently developed a taste for very raw meat.

The werewolf story is an old one and rewriting it in a fresh way is a challenge. I applaude Comeau’s handling of language; though you are made aware early on that there’s something off about the girls’ mother, you won’t find a single blatant reference to wolves and moons. It’s a nice, subtle transformation into a bloodthirsty monster, and no fur has to be involved.

Jackie and Charlie are a little more complicated. Their Weird Shit involves ghosts. Jackie, when she whispers ‘mom’, becomes invisible to all who look at her- but then she has to deal with her mother’s vomitting ghost. Charlie walks his old dog Mitchie and is plagued by the image of a woman with a severed head, who leads him to the same apartment every day and points at the increasingly irate tenant.

How do these stories link up?

…yeah I didn’t get it either.

One Bloody Thing can’t decide what it wants to be. It has elements of horror but doesn’t follow a traditional horror format. It could be argued as a ghost story but again, there are werewolves. Is it a parable for relationships? It could be, but at one hundred and sixty five pages there isn’t enough room to find out.

The book is chock full of good stuff. Jackie’s relationship with her father and dead mother, for one. If I could root for anyone, it would be Jackie. All she wants out of life is to go on one good date with Ann, who she is madly in love with- as madly in love as a middle schooler could be. Ann, however, is distracted- mostly by that werewolf problem. To make a long story short, there is murder and stealing of babies involved.There’s a dangerous amusement park with old wooden rides, teacher crushes, guilt..and yet nothing seems to really connect.

Charlie’s story, for example, wouldn’t be a part of the girls’ except that they steal Mitchie to feed their mom. Understandably, this depresses him. Since Charlie’s daughter is convinced that the headless ghost wants revenge on the woman in the apartment, he goes to kill her.

Then he gets killed and eaten by the now all werewolf family.

Meanwhile, Jackie, who is halluicinating her mother, gets hit by a car.

..wait what?

I feel like this book could have easily been a couple hundred pages. As a writer of shorter works myself I can understand the temptation to leave everything vague and open ended, but in a story as charged as this one I am left feeling bewildered and a little put out by the abrupt end. It feels like Comeau wrote himself into a corner, a little like Shakespeare with Hamlet.

“Will, the play’s excellent, but how does he get back from England?”

“I don’t know! I’ve been going in circles about it for two weeks!”

“…what about pirates?”

“Pirates?”

“Yeah, they pick him up and bring him home.”

“Don’t be daft, Sam, pirates aren’t coaches.”

“Well why can’t they be?”

“…a good question..”

Only instead of pirates, it’s the old Everyone Dies curtain drop. There’s even someone left alive to tell the story- Jackie, who is having her own personal fun time with her Dad wrecking waiting rooms in hospitals.

There should have been a bigger cast of characters here. Each ghost should have been given more time, both when they were alive and when they were dead. The headless ghost was almost entirely superfluous, existing only to get Charlie to the apartment where he was destined to be devoured. She deserves more than that. Jackie’s mom deserves more than that. Ghosts are there for two things. The first is to provide the creepy factor. The second is to act as bridges between the symbols and ideas of the book. They themselves should be characters on par with the protagonists. Instead, both women were treated like creepy background noise.

What about the Mom? what about Mitchie? They almost make the cut, but their smaller roles in general mean they fade out once their job is complete. And even if you’re writing vignette style, you cannot have a wolfpack made up of entirely female wolves without Mom.

I would love to recommend One Bloody Thing After Another, but I just can’t. The book isn’t done. Maybe according to the publishers and even the author it is, but right now I’m looking at an entertaining second draft with no idea where it is headed.

%d bloggers like this: