Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Low-Hanging Fruit Dept.

This nonsense coming from the May 1989 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly... 
1988 was a fucking mind-blowing year, what with the rolling machines causing Nintendo to get cement all over everything and computers ferociously exploding all over the place.  However, there was also a DARK SIDE.  It simply IS NOT POSSIBLE for me to stress sufficiently the extent to which nothing in this world or any other could have prepared us for the shortage of Double Dragons and the verisimilitude-challenged delays in products.  And don't even get me started about all those goddamn fuckass new companies that forced us to tolerate their existence.  In conclusion, 1988, although an incredible year, is a nightmare from which we're only just barely starting to awaken.  If 1989 can manage to be even half the year 1988 was, we're in for a treat!
You may assume that, what with everyone condescending to roads all the time, there's nothing more to be done.  You may be surprised to learn, however, that Visionaries are thinking beyond the IBM compatible!  All eyes are on Japan, except the ones that are on Europe.  Also, everyone's excited about the advanced game system that everyone hates.  Problem is, someone's spilled interest all over it, gumming up the works.  That stuff never comes out.
 We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.  And remember my friends: future events such as these will affect you in the future.  Perhaps on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, for they will be from outer space!

God help us--in the future.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

And now, ancient maps.

...specifically, maps that I made when I was, I dunno, twelvish, and had aspirations of being a hackish fantasy writer.  At this point, I have no idea what the first one was for; the other three are all meant to be in the same world.  The less said about the story set in that world, the better; the main character was an assassin, but he was a good-guy assassin 'cause he only took jobs murdering the shit out of people who "deserved" it.  But then he somehow, can't even begin to remember how, got transported to this demon's palace with this gnome, and they escaped onto the gnomes' island, and then he hooked up with his old girlfriend whom he had thought dead and decided to stop being an assassin and then, I dunno, some demons attacked or something; I could go back and refresh my memory, but I'd be kind of embarrassed, to be honest.

Anyway.  Maps.  If you want to set your series of eighty-three bestselling, thousand-page fantasy novels in this fascinating, richly-imagined setting, the royalties are extremely reasonable.

I want McNormal and Chips or I'll blow you to bits: Give Us It™!

Blur's 1995 album The Great Escape was my favorite album ever for quite some time when I was in high school and early into college, thanks at least in part to my extreme and somewhat inexplicable anglophilia at the time, which has long since faded.  So let's revisit it and see how it holds up, shall we?

And the answer is: quite well, with notable exceptions.  Thematically, the album is basically about Modern Life and the way our particular social milieu influences people and hollows out their lives in ways that they can't understand and probably aren't even aware of.  It may not be Rubbish, exactly, but there's certainly something wrong with it.  This compared to Blur's previous album, Parklife, which is musically similar but lyrically more of a celebration.

Now here's the thing, and it is not an insubstantial thing: when you're doing social commentary of this sort, there's a real danger that, if you're not canny enough, you're going to come across as really, really unpleasantly and quite unprovokedly condescending.  But Blur avoids this pitfall!  Sometimes.  Not always, though.  Best/worst example: one of my favorite songs from the album back in the day was "Fade Away."  It's definitely a well-constructed song with an indelible chorus, but listening to it now, I just want to say, what the fuck, Damon?  What brought this on?  It's a song about a couple who get married and live their lives, but those lives are, like, all empty and and stuff because of…their bourgeois values, I guess?  It's quite hard to say.  "They settled in a brand new town/with people from the same background."  Shocking!  "He noticed he had visible lines/she worried about her behind."  What horrifying superficiality!  Honestly, they were just asking for Lord Albarn to make a song looking down on them!  "Their birth had been the death of them."  Oh…so now it's not even about their values system?  It's just kismet?  In addition to being super-condescending, you're also gonna be super-incoherent?  Hokay.  Seriously, it's amazing to me how my visceral reaction to this song changed when I returned to it.  Yeah, okay, lives of quiet desperation, but is it really necessary to be such a dick about it?

Other songs aren't quite so egregious, but I still don't quite know what to make of them.  Like the opener "Stereotypes."  Seriously, what the fuck message is this song trying to send?  I mean, I still like it, and the opening is still instantly recognizable, but what's the deal?  What "stereotypes" are we talking about here?  Suburbanites are incorrigible horndogs?  You felt it necessary to write a song about this?  It's hard to say for sure what attitude Albarn is really taking, but when he goes "and when their fun is over watch themselves on vi-day-oh" it sounds like he's just drowning in the sheer depravity of the whole thing, which seems ridiculously puritanical.  Or take "Charmless Man."  Not that it was ever a favorite of mine, but now I just don't know.  He's this upper-class toff who "knows his claret from his beaujolais."  Okay, but what makes him "charmless," exactly?  Hard to say, really: apparently, he just lacks that certain je ne sais quoi.  The whole thing strikes me as terribly snobbish for, again, no particular reason that I can see.  I would do a similar analysis of "Ernold Same," but that would be kinda pointless: all lyrical concerns notwithstanding, even dumb, teenage me was cognizant of the theoretical difficulty of writing a compelling song in which the whole point is for the singer to sound as bored as possible.

Let's not get too down on the album, however, because there's still an awful lot to like about it.  For one thing, it includes no less than four really exquisite ballads, "Best Days," "The Universal," "He Thought of Cars," and "Yuko & Hiro."  "He Thought of Cars" in particular has always been a favorite of mine, and it effectively gets across the theme of contemporary isolation in a way that's sad and effective and not at all condescending.  And Albarn can do specific character portraits well: musically, "Country House" isn't really a favorite of mine, but even if the song is typically used as an exemplar of the sort of ur-Blur song, doing exactly what you would have expected them to do, it's not bad, and the "I'm so sad I don't know why" refrain really seems to get at something.  "Mr. Robinson's Quango," in addition to teaching us all a useful Scrabble word, is just fun, an easily-recognizable portrait of a politician corrupt in all the usual ways.  And then there's "Top Man," which may well be my favorite song on the album, a wildly musically creative number about (I guess? It's sort of difficult to say) an over-grown fratboy-type.  Even if I don't exactly know what it means, I still love the "shooting guns on the high…street of love!" refrain.

At the time, I was super-disappointed with Blur's self-titled follow-up to this.  I'd been waiting so long, and then the result was something that sounded absolutely nothing like the britpop stuff I'd come to love?  I mean, I still liked about half the songs, but c'mon, man, what was this?  In retrospect, though, it was probably necessary that they do something different, lest they lapse into the sort of mindless self-parody that the lesser tracks here seem to foreshadow.  I think that musically speaking, this is definitely a superior album to the far-more-acclaimed Parklife.  Looking at the lyrics with a critical eye, though, I'm certainly at least sympathetic to the idea that the previous album, which is much less problematic in that regard, is superior.  Still, The Great Escape remains quite good.  Am I to understand that there's going to be a new album soon, after all this time?  Insanely irrational as this may be, I'm actually kind of curious to hear it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Duck Comics: "Donald Duck on Treasure Island"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004)

As you may or may not recall, this book's publication back in 2004 was hailed as something of an event.  I was not inclined to be interested in it, however: a fantasy-historical novel about English magic in the early nineteenth century, written in some sorta faux-Regency register?  Nothing sounded more unbearable.  Also, I seem to recall that we were given to know that Clarke had written the manuscript longhand--whatever works for you, of course, but a book in which the fact was felt to be useful publicity didn't sound like something I'd want to read.

Well, but after I was reminded by Miéville and Harrison how awesome fantasy can be, I just somehow ended up picking up Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in spite of my misgivings.  And I was wrong; it's not without it's problems, but on balance, it's a cool book.

About that "faux-Regency tone," first of all: well, that would be overstating it.  It's definitely written in such a way as to suggest the early nineteenth century, but it's not overbearing, and it's certainly not trying to exactly reproduce the exact language of a novel of the time.  It merely suggests, and it does it with an impressive level of authorial control and consistency.  So no problems there.

Describing the plot of the thing is not such an easy task.  So the idea is that England has a rich and storied magical history, but for the past few centuries, magic has been lost.  But there's this middle-aged fellow named Gilbert Norrell who apparently has figured out shit, and eventually comes to public attention.  Then there's this younger, married fellow, Jonathan Strange, who also comes to be studying magic, and as it transpires, Norrell, takes him as a student--only they conflict a fair bit, as Norrell, partially from excessive timidity and partially from egoïsm, only wants to do so much with magic, and (in spite of a supposed desire to restore magic to its central place in English life) goes out of his way to prevent other people from learning anything about it.  Whereas Strange wants to go all-out.  The basic thrust of the novel springs from their conflict, and the mystery surrounding an ancient, shadowy ruler named John Uskglass, the Raven King, said to be the original source of all English magic.  There are also a whole bunch of auxiliary characters, the most important being Stephen Black, an African servant (not, in this case, a euphemism for "slave") and a cruel and capricious faerie known only as "the gentleman with thistle-down hair," who takes an impulsive, and unwanted, liking to him.

The pace of the book is not fast.  It is necessary to become acclimated to the more nineteenth-century sense of pacing.  It does a good job of creating its own world, however; there's a whole magical history of England, complete with a whole bunch of eminent magicians, that is quite evocative.  Also, a whole bunch of footnotes, some of them quite long: nothing like Infinite Jest's monstrous, twelve-page endnotes, but still very substantial.  These generally add to the book by sheer accretion of detail about the world and its history.  There's a real sense of this sort of Lord-Dunsany-esque sense of the wild, untamed supernatural that sometimes comes across.

Not to say that the book has no flaws.  The title characters, for instance, are not as well-drawn as they might be.  Although Norrell is certainly meant to have his flaws, I really don't think he's meant to come across quite so thoroughly as an insufferably pompous, self-serving jerk.  Strange is a little better, but he's substantially a cipher, and his relationship with his wife--which is something that certain plot points heavily hinge upon--is underdeveloped to say the least.  And their ultimate fate seems more determined by the idea that this is the sort of thing that happens with magicians in a story like this rather than any real narrative logic.  Furthermore, the backstory is a little muddled: why did magic just disappear?  It really doesn't seem as though it can be all that difficult, given that Strange initially picks it up more or less as a lark, and is soon performing--with, apparently, no great effort--godlike feats like transporting an entire city from Europe to North America.  Are we really meant to think that literally everyone just got bored of it?  Really, now.  There is a certain lack of believability here.

Still a fine book, though.  The individual characters aren't really the point, so there's no use getting too hung up on them.   Supposedly, Clarke is working on a follow-up featuring characters "a bit further down the social scale."  Good idea--the current novel mostly elides issues of class.  I'll certainly read it, if it ever comes to exist.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Duck Comics: "Sandoduck and the Pearl of Labuan"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's all about "life." Really.

Virginia Republicans: "okay, you can have your stupid abortion, but only if we get to rape you first."  What, you think I'm joking? Not a very funny "joke." 

I've said it before: every time I think I have a good grasp of just how vile Republicans are, they do something that just floors me, making me feel incredibly naïve.  Would it be okay if we as a society all stopped pretending that anti-choice people actually give any kind of shit about TEH BABEEZ, as opposed to just really, really hating women, wanting to control and hurt them as much as possible, and not caring who knows it? 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Duck Comics-ish: Disney Tijuana Bibles

Happy Valentine's Day from Lulu Moppet!

(Did I come across this months ago and scan it specifically so I could make it into a cheap blog post when the holiday came around?  The world may never know.)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Five Most Conservative Pynchon Novels

(CF here and here.)

I wrote this some time ago (December 30, 2009, per the date stamp), but then I forgot about it.  I just came across it again, so I figured why not toss it up here?  And you know, I will bet you real money that if I were wholly devoid of shame, I could, with very minimal revision, get the National Review to publish it fer serious.

In the Whole Sick Crew, we see a shocking object lesson in what happens when traditional conservative family values are abandoned.  In the character of Herbert Stencil, we see good, traditional, hard work personified.  Does Stencil whine to the government to help him with his quest for V.?  No!  He pulls himself up by his bootstraps and calls on the old-fashioned values of self-reliance!

The Crying of Lot 49

Oedipa Maas is a strong, self-proclaimed Republican--like Sarah Palin!  The breakup of her marriage is shown to have been caused by permissive, liberal drug culture.   As the focus on the work of Richard  Wharfinger demonstrates, dead white males have something to offer us, in spite of what liberal academic relativists would tell you.

Gravity's Rainbow

Oberst Enzian--working to prevent abortions among his people so as to avoid tribal suicide.  A powerful pro-life statement!  Nazis are shown to be bad, demonstrating moral clarity, which liberals, of course, lack.  The rocket limericks demonstrate the value of military hardware.  Slothrop's fragmentation shows what happens to people in a world where liberal values run rampant.


The failure of the hippie movement is depicted, as is the fundamental instability of these anti-establishment peaceniks.  Frenesi's behavior shows what happens when Family Values are abandoned.  The lengths to which our heroic troops are forced to go to to win the War on Drugs are vividly dramatized.

Mason & Dixon

America is shown to be a wild, unstable, chaotic place full of things like werebeavers and enormous vegetables.  It's up to our intrepid, white heroes, representative of Western Civilization, to bring some order to the area.