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the triumphant-ish return of five things. [five things, 6.9.17]

These days, there’s just too much media to consume.

Combine the accumulation of all the great things created in human history, and you already have too much to get to in one lifetime. Add to that the fact that amazing stuff is currently being made at a pace that is impossible to keep up with, and you have a recipe for despair.

The last thing you need is some asshole giving you a list of more things you should check out.

In that spirit, here is a list of five things you should check out.

None of these things are obscure, but all of them seem underappreciated based on my limited line of sight.


1. Power Man and Iron Fist by David F. Walker

I haven’t watched it yet, but by most accounts, Netflix’s Iron Fist was underwhelming at best. Many people responded more favorably to Luke Cage, but while I enjoyed the character on Jessica Jones, the standalone show fell really flat for me.

Fortunately, I don’t need Netflix if I want a great ongoing Power Man and Iron Fist story, because David F. Walker has been absolutely killing it since relaunching the title for Marvel early last year.

Power Man and Iron Fist is witty, playful, socially aware, smart, and above all, really fun.

Walker is able to embrace and transcend the blaxploitation roots of the title in ways that work on every level.

Also, did I mention it’s really fun? The style? The art? The characterization? Fun, fun, and fun.

Power Man and Iron Fist does just about everything the Luke Cage series tried — and in my opinion failed — to do as far as social commentary goes, but without ever taking itself very seriously.

I want David F. Walker to write all of the things.

Will the Heroes for Hire ride again? Can Danny and Luke get their old mojo back in order to stop an entertaining rogue’s gallery from tearing Harlem apart? Will someone be able to use the Supersoul Stone, and artifacts like it, to become the darkly powerful Grandmaster of Street Magic? You’ll have to read and find out.


2. A Band Called Death

I finally got around to watching this movie. You should finally get around to watching it, too.

I expected it to be entertaining, appealing to my music and record loving heart. And it was. I had a great time watching the story of Death and the strange series of events that led to the band being discovered 34 years after recording their only album.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional power of the film’s third act as it touches on the beauty of family and the bittersweet nature of hope.

Shut up, I’m not crying. You’re crying.


3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Obviously, the film isn’t underappreciated. The beauty of Hayao Miyazaki‘s modern classic — one among many — is well-known.

But the book by Diana Wynne Jones? Now, that’s a different story. Literally, actually. It’s a very different story than the one Miyazaki told — his changes were reportedly made, at least in part, to create a film in response to the American war in Iraq.

Obviously I won’t go into detail about specific differences, because that would ruin all the fun for any of you who decide to read it. What I will say is that both stories are great, so it isn’t hard to love each of them.

Jones immediately shot up my list of authors whose work I want to devour entirely, in much the same way that a fire demon eats bacon. Neil Gaiman’s love for Jones already had her on my list of authors to check out, but Howl’s Moving Castle plants her firmly in the ‘Give Me More’ category. Her writing is funny, wise, and layered. Her narrative voice is bright and playful, and the way she limits the reader’s field of vision based on Sophie’s perspective — even though she isn’t the narrator — is done with heaping portions of humor and insight.

This is a quick read, and well worth your time. Just try not to drag the movie into it. Let each stand in conversation with the other, not opposition.


4. Mo’ Meta Blues by ?uestlove

Seeing The Roots live is one of the greatest music experiences currently available in this world. The two Roots shows we’ve seen were infectiously joyful, wildly fun three-hour-long homages to music and life, with Questlove as the mad genius ringleader [[I read they’ve since tragically retired the three-hour-long so-called ‘Springsteen shows.’]] This book felt a lot like the text manifestation of those shows. I loved it.

One of my favorite things is passionate, knowledgable people talking about the things they love most. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more passionate or knowledgable about a given topic than Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson is about music.

I loved learning the story of Questlove, beginning with his parents’ record collection. I loved learning the story of The Roots, beginning with Black Thought’s rivalry with Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men — they all went to the same arts high school in Philly. But most of all, I loved the deep, overflowing love Questo has for music and seeing how that passion has shaped his entire life, and American music along with it.


5. Legion

I tell ya, I thank the gods of television that Noah Hawley is making shows.

David Haller thinks he’s crazy, but it turns out he’s actually just a wildly powerful mutant. Then again, maybe he’s crazy.

You may think a television show adapted from the pages of an X-Men comic won’t be to your liking, but if let that keep you from watching Legion you’ll really be missing out.

This show isn’t what people might expect in their knee-jerk assumptions about a show based on a comic. It’s super trippy and lots of fun… I know, I’ve said almost everything in this post so far is fun, it’s just that these things are fun.

Legion is like if Pushing Daisies and Fargo — the show, obviously, because Noah Hawley — had a baby, and then that baby grew up and had a baby with Charles Xavier.

The show is smart and quirky, with unexpected delight and/or creepiness waiting around every corner.

The cast is especially great, with the performances by Aubrey Plaza, Dan Stevens and Jemaine Clement deserving gold stars in my book.

Seriously, don’t let the comic origins put you off if you don’t like comics. You can hate super hero films and still love this show. The show is designed so someone who has never even heard of comic books can jump right in and enjoy it. I know that might be hard to believe coming from a guy who started this installment of five things with a comic book, but it’s true. I promise!

 

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neil gaiman. [a month of happy.]

What, like there was some other thing or person I was going to pick for the last day of this month of sharing things that make me happy?

Mr. Neilenberg Ulysses Gaiman IV is a name I just made up. Neil Richard Gaiman, on the other hand, is my favorite author. Actually, that’s not big enough. Neil Gaiman is my favorite storyteller, and if you know me even a little, you know I can’t offer any higher praise. [And for the record, since I hear people mispronounce his name more often than I hear it pronounced correctly, it’s Gay not Guy, or as he explains, “It’s Gaym’n.”]

He isn’t just my favorite storyteller because of the stories he tells — although that alone would certainly be enough — but also because of the way he sees story, the way he talks about what story is, and how it works.

His work was the engine at the heart of my master’s thesis: “Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, & Consolation: Finding Increased Capacity for Desire, Life, Mourning, and Wonder in the Liminal Space of Fiction.”

Here’s the weird thing about that, though. I wondered and researched about how story works, all the while feeling that his stories were the best examples of what I was arguing for. Yet, since the thesis wasn’t actually about Neil Gaiman, it wasn’t until after I had finished the project that I found most of Gaiman’s nonfiction essays about story — which are now all conveniently collected in his book, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfictionwhich also has all sorts of other essays and articles and forwards and speeches, and you should absolutely read it — and learned that he said everything I was saying in my thesis, he just said it with much more wit and skill.

Not that any of the things he said about story surprised me. After all, so much of his work is comprised of stories about stories, in one way or another. It’s one part of the richness of his work, the symbiotic relationship with so many myths, songs, symbols, folk tales, and legends of the massive human mosaic. They enhance the depth and power of his stories, and in turn his work breathes new life into old mythologies that, though forgotten by most of us, still frame our consciousness.

I love so many things about Gaiman’s work, but most of all, I love that his writing fosters genuine hope in my broken brain. When there is light or hope or warmth in his stories, it’s never achieved without taking seriously how dark and broken and ugly the world can be. And sure, there is always magic in some form or another, but just because magic doesn’t exist doesn’t mean I don’t want magic to exist. As I wrote yesterday, I want to believe.

In late 2015, I flew from Seattle to New York City just to see Gaiman interviewed by Junot Díaz in Brooklyn, where he was doing his only signing of Sandman: Overture. The entire trip took around 40 hours, and I didn’t sleep until the plane ride home.

When I got to the front of the signing line, mostly delirious from the 20-something hours I’d been awake and the 12 or so I’d been wandering the streets of Brooklyn, I nervously thanked Neil Gaiman for writing stories that helped me find hope in the darkness. I don’t think he really heard me, or that it registered with him at all — after all, I was one in a very long line all trying to communicate some deep truth to him in the span of a few seconds, and as far. Also, I was so tired that it’s possible I only thought I said, “Thank you for writing stories that help me find hope in the darkness,” but actually said, “Therm finking messyflormal.” Either way, I’m still glad I got to say it, and honor how important his work is to me.

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saga. [a month of happy.]

You should be reading Saga. 

I don’t care if you don’t like comics or speculative fiction. I don’t care what bullshit preconditions you put on what a good story can be. They don’t matter. You should be reading Saga.

At its core it’s the story of a family, set in a sprawling fantasy space opera… on acid. I was going to make a list of the particular themes you could say Saga is about, but I realized that Saga is about everything. It’s about being alive, about everything that happens along the way, and about knowing you’re eventually going to die, along with everyone you love.

Writer Brian K. Vaughn came up with the idea as a kid, as he says, when he was bored in math class. That seed seemed to grow somewhere in his brain while he built a prolific comics career with creations like Y: The Last Man and RunawaysSaga appears rooted in his life — in being married and having kids and all the ordinary things that are much more compelling if you set them in the midst of a horrifying galactic war.

It’s funny, violent, weird, sweet, perverted, brutal, and tender. It’s also really smart, but more than just smart, it’s got an emotional depth that rings of truth.

The war in Saga doesn’t have good guys and bad guys, although it does often have perpetrators and victims. But everyone loses, everyone pays, nobody wins. All the characters are interesting and well-drawn — both literally and figuratively — and while most are at odds with each other, everyone has a point of view you can understand.

There are scenes in this story that stuck with me well after I’m done reading. The final panels in the most recent issue have haunted me since I read it, for reasons I obviously can’t describe without spoilers.

Part of what makes Saga amazing is how good artist Fiona Staples and Vaughn are together.

Every panel Staples creates is inventive and energetic. There are some really great artists working in comics right now doing original, exciting stuff, and Fiona Staples is their rightful queen.

I have no idea how the collaboration works in practice, but between these two creators the imagination is apparently bottomless. The book is an immense hodgepodge that jumps between genres, inspirations, biologies, and ideas, and brings them all together to create one seamless trippy tapestry.

Anyway, like I said, you should be reading Saga. 

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shades of magic. [a month of happy.]

If you’re looking for something fun to read, I highly recommend this trilogy.

I warn you, every time you sit down and start reading you might lose the next few hours of your life jumping around between Londons with Kell and Lila. Good writing, immensely fun world building, thrilling story, and believable and interesting characters make these are the sorts of books that grab you and don’t let go until you run out of pages. Although, once you do run out of pages you’ll just wish there were more pages.

I’m on my way through the third book now. Its release Feb. 21st was too tempting for me and I broke a self-imposed book buying hiatus. It was a great decision! Shut up, you have a book buying problem.

The only bad news about these books is that apparently Gerard Butler just came on to produce the adaptation after Sony won a bidding war for the adaptation rights. That certainly dampens any excitement I might have had about seeing these characters travel from the page to the screen.

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‘leviathan wakes’ by james s.a. corey.

We all need a good space opera from time to time.

Space opera is an interesting subgenre. The name originally comes from the now virtually unknown term ‘horse opera,’ (itself a reference to soap operas) which refers to a formulaic and unimaginative western that could be pumped out by radio and movie studios and book publishers at low cost. Thus, originally calling something a space opera was a way to deride it as clichéd, hack science fiction. Before long, space operas were a large group of lazy space stories that used plots taken from naval adventure novels and cowboy stories.

Eventually, some decent writers started taking the things they enjoyed about space operas, like the huge scope, advanced future/alien societies, high stakes, adventure, and relatable heroes, and writing stories that didn’t suck. They still called them space operas.

The most famous example of a space opera is Star Wars. The film is literally a sci-fi interpretation of the westerns and swashbuckling naval films George Lucas loved as a kid.

Despite its dubious coinage, ‘space opera’ isn’t shorthand for ‘terrible.’ They can be a whole lot of fun.

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Leviathan’s Wake is an entertaining blend of genres set against the backdrop of potential human annihilation, like a smart summer action blockbuster in space.

The story moves forward following two protagonists:

Continue Reading →

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‘the crane wife’ by patrick ness

The story of the crane wife is a Japanese folk tale, “Tsuru Nyōbō,” a variant of Tsuru no Ongaeshi (Crane’s return of a favor). I learned it because of The Decemberists album based on the tale. It is story of a crane, helped by a man, who then disguises herself in human form to aid her rescuer, practicing great self-sacrifice to do so. Eventually she is discovered to be a crane and must leave, much to the despair of the man who has fallen in love with her.

Patrick Ness has written a beautiful novel rooted in that story. He transcends the potentially dangerous gender lines of the folk tale by instead revealing the fear, courage, cruelty, and kindness in all of us. Writing a story about how much we need other people, even if only two or three. Barebones summary: The story begins as a man hears a keening outside his London window in the small hours of the morning. He goes outside to find a crane with an arrow in its wing. He helps the crane, and the next day a mysterious woman comes into his print shop and everything changes.

My first experience with Ness was with his Chaos Walking series, which is great, and I was excited to read something so different from him. With The Crane Wife he tells a story that is simple and grounded, which is impressive since the story is rooted in myth and magic. He always presents that myth and magic in ordinary ways, simply allowing his metaphors to take flesh within the pages.

Ness delivers a moving illustration of the way each of us is afraid, each of us capable of destruction and creation, and each of us needs someone to see us for who we really are and offer us forgiveness for all those small and large things we are secretly ashamed of.

It is also a story about story. My favorite passage to that end feels like it is lifted right out of my master’s thesis: “No, a story is not an explanation, it is a net, a net through which the truth flows. The net catches some of the truth, but not all, never all, only enough so that we can live with the extraordinary without it killing us … as it surely, surely would.”

You should think about spending some time with this lovely little book.

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shows, and books, and negronis… oh my! [five things – 2.22.15]

I think today is a good day for a quick five things post, because my brain might not be up for a single sustained assertion. Instead, a few shorter ones might be just right. Normally I do five things I’ve already enjoyed, today I’ll sprinkle in some things I’m about to try. I’ll even make it double what the challenge calls for to make up for Friday.

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1. Shows

I say shows because it’s less and less accurate to call it television as time passes. We stream, we rent, we torrent… fewer and fewer watch “TV” on monitors that include a tuner inside, or even through an external tuner in a box.

I’m not one of the folks abandoning ship on films in favor of shows, which I realize now is an entire post I should write. However, the talk of the new golden age of television isn’t overstated. Technically inaccurate for how most critically acclaimed shows reach their audience, but not overstated.

Shows like Justified and Parks and Rec are calling it quits, with Mad Men to follow in a few short months, which is sad, but there is still an overwhelming amount of content out there to enjoy. Shows like Archer, Bob’s Burgers and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are in the midst of great seasons; Last Week Tonight is back; even a weak season of American Horror Story (as seen in the most recent season) is still pretty solid; The Walking Dead is still the most successful show on actual television sets; Game of Thrones returns soon… even as I write this paragraph I realize that trying to list even a fair sampling of the worthy shows is futile. There are just too damned many that I love, and even more that I haven’t had time to devour as part of my media diet.

Great storytelling is possible within any medium or framework, and the time for this particular type of serialized storytelling is most certainly on the rise.

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2. House of Cards – Season Three

Speaking of great shows… Friday!!!

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3. Ulysses by James Joyce

6a00e398b8ecae000300f48ce22fa20002And from one form of serial storytelling to another. Yesterday I wrote about the past, when many novels were published in installments, one of those was Ulysses. Considered by many notables to be the greatest novel of the 20th Century, considered by a majority to be the most important modernist novel in existence. It’s called difficult, genius and mad, often in the same sentence. I’ve never read it, and it’s time to remedy that fact.

My friend Josué and I plan to read it bit by bit throughout the year, but we got off to a late start so I’m only about 50 pages in. Fortunately I only need to read around 17 pages a week to get through the whole thing between now and the end of the year.

Here’s to a wild, challenging ride!

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4. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

And in a book that is far less challenging but most certainly enjoyable, Red Seas Under Red Skies. I mentioned this a bit ago when I started the book, while talking up the first book in the series The Lies of Locke Lamora. This was another fun read for anyone who likes heists and/or fantasy. This book also makes it abundantly clear that when you are trying to figure out what to add to the second installment in a series to up the ante after a great debut, the answer is pirates… always pirates. I’m looking at you True Detective. 

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5. Stave-aged Negroni

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It’s pretty amazing that we live in a time where it’s so easy to get the bits you need to make delicious, well-crafted drinks and meals at home. For around 30 bucks you can get everything you need for the aging part: namely, a bottle and a stave of charred American Oak. Then all you need to do is prebatch the appropriate amount of whatever cocktail you want to age, pour it into the bottle with the stave, pop the top back on, and wait a couple weeks.

I started with some delicious negronis, because the barrel-aged negroni is one of my favorite cocktails, and it is also made with ingredients I usually have at my house. Next up I’ll do another negroni, as well as a vieux carre.

Then you have premade cocktails sitting around just waiting for ice and some lemon peel.

Basic science is magic!

 

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relishing gaiman and celebrating short fiction.

I didn’t write yesterday. Not here. Not anywhere else. I figured I would use the fact that Wes has already missed days as enough justification to take a sick day. Even though I still feel pretty bad today, I’m back at it. Minor victories and whatnot.

With my favorite writer releasing a book almost three weeks ago, it may come as a surprise that I haven’t already binge-read Gaiman’s newest book of short stories. I got it the day it was released, and started it right away, but I’m savoring instead of rushing right through. Reading a short story here, another there, all the while reading other books, just to stretch this out as long as possible.635495819668785757-Trigger-c

I’m about a third of the way through, and I’m again in love with Gaiman’s imagination, his light and beautiful prose, and the way that he can take just a few paragraphs to build a world that hints at unending depths and unexplored nooks and rabbit holes.

He is one of the best at crafting short fictions, and short fictions are often wildly underappreciated. Short stories are usually considered dead things, remnants of the past when serials were still a great way to release fiction. I think the opposite may be true, and that they might be a big part of the future. It’s just that no one has figured out how to market them effectively yet. In our world of shortened attention spans, and people convincing themselves they are all terribly busy (they’re usually not), what could be more appealing literarily than a beautifully well-written story or vignette that someone can read in one sitting, in the time it takes to watch a television show or two?

People didn’t know how much they’d love tablets, or binge-watching television shows in which all the episodes are released at once. Not until they tried it out and realized they’d never go back. Short stories can be like that, and be a medium that has been ignored long enough to feel new and fresh. Now the trick is just figuring out how to get folks to try it in the first place, Gaiman would be a great place to start.

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the boy who watched the water.

Wes recently wrote about this daily writing challenge, and his desire to write ahead a bit to get some wiggle room. That would be pretty great right now, because after a long night tending bar I don’t really want to sit down and churn out 300 words. Yet, that is exactly why we are doing this challenge, to get some momentum, and to remind ourselves that even when we don’t feel like it we can still get the work done.

So here I am getting the work done, as my brain continues to shut itself down in increments.

I had an idea for a story the other day, about a little boy who always has to go out with his family on their boat most days during the summer. He hates it, being trapped on a boat all day with a family he doesn’t feel he belongs to. He can’t read on the boat, it makes him seasick, and he wishes he was inside somewhere with a book. He doesn’t swim or play in the water, he doesn’t fish like his older siblings. He sits at the stern, staring into the reflection of the sky in the water. He imagines that what we all think is just a reflection is actually a window into another world, that he isn’t seeing the sky mirrored back, but is seeing another world’s sky under the water. He watches for things moving in the reflection, and then quickly turns and looks back to see if the object is moving on his side as well. He knows that if he catches a moment where the two pictures don’t match, it would be the perfect moment. Finally, he catches that instant, a bird reflected in the water isn’t actually in the sky of his world. He smiles a sad smile, knowing he will miss his family even though they don’t understand each other, and he dives beneath the surface, never to return.

There it is, some writing. Take it or leave it.

 

 

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everyone is doing quotes wrong.

Hey everybody, can we all stop attributing quotes from characters in books to the author who wrote that dialogue? It’s just nonsensical! I don’t care what the rules are for different forms of citation, we need to change them so that they aren’t completely asinine.

There seems to be a concerted disregard for quote accuracy. For example, every time someone wants to add gravitas to a quote, they throw Hemingway or Lincoln or a Roosevelt at the end of it, regardless of whether or not it had anything to do with that person. I’ll see signs and things with a quote on it attributed to Lincoln and think, “That doesn’t seem right at all.” Then, with a shallow internet search I am able to discover that the quote is in no way connected to Lincoln. That bugs me.

Yet, what bugs me so very much more is that people will take a character’s line from a book that they like, put it in quotes, and then attribute it to the author. That’s erroneous. I may not always be against citation rules, but I can confidently say it’s stupid and people should stop doing it. Putting someone’s name at the end of a quote means that you are attributing the sentiments therein to that person. So, if I were to say “I wish people would stop being idiots.” You could very accurately put Scott Small underneath it when you throw that shit on an inspirational pillow or whatnot. However, if I were to write something on trigger fiction where a character says, “I don’t know how I’d get through the day without crystal meth,” you could not reasonably think it’s ok to attribute that quote to me personally. The sentiments clearly aren’t mine, they are those of a character in a story I was writing.

If an author writes a character who is racist, or a serial killer, or a 900 lb. wizard gorilla, you can’t use that character’s quotes to reveal some genuine belief the author holds. Yet, it’s what we do all the time when a character says something inspirational and then we throw it up on the internets as a direct quote from the author. It’s just inaccurate, and I’m so tired of how blasé we are about accuracy. And if the rules allow for it or even encourage that inaccuracy, we should change the rules.

It’s even more common for people to misquote when the author is writing as the narrator of a book. If you remember your high school English classes at all, you’ll remember that the narrator and the author are not necessarily one and the same. Actually, they very rarely are.

For example, this: “It was a pleasure to burn.” – Ray Bradbury

Now, this would be appropriate as a citation on a list of greatest opening lines in novels. Then it would be attributing it to Bradbury as an opening line, not as an idea. However, to just randomly put it on a sign or pillow or quote site would be attributing that actual sentiment to Bradbury.

How hard is it to do something like this instead?: “It was a pleasure to burn.” -Guy Montag, from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Six more words, none of the incorrectness.

Obviously, the examples I’m using here are overdrawn. No one really gets confused when they see that Bradbury citation. No one actually thinks I need crystal meth to get through the day (because I am very good at hiding it). However, there are countless times where it is actually confusing and/or ambiguous. I see it most every day on Facebook and Goodreads and Tumblr (when I still went on Tumblr). Even worse, it can be used that way to misrepresent an author’s thoughts and ideas for the purposes of ideologues and those who want books banned.

Accuracy is important. Facts are important. Reason is important. We should collectively start acting like it.

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