This Week I Are Mostly Been Reading…

Grendel by John Gardner

GrendelCoverThis short novel reimagines the the old English poem Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. Grendel is the eponymous protagonist, in the original a bloodthirsty giant ape-man cannibal with a mad-on for anyone who hangs out in a mead hall, here instead a solitary philosopher of a monster who watches the rise of the court of Danish king Hrothgar in all its bloody self interest and wonders where he stands in relation to it.

The first half of the book has Grendel introduce himself (and his mad, monstrous mother) to the reader and take us with him on his rambling journeys as he travels the land, developing pet theories to explain the nature of existence at the same time as experiencing its violence and enacting violence upon it.

The arrival of a storyteller at Hrothgar’s court begins to codify Grendel’s place in their society as an avatar of evil and, though initially resistant and a little resentful, after an encounter with a powerful dragon who lives outside of time and who can see the future, Grendel embraces the role thrust upon him and devotes himself to becoming the murderous – though still skeptical – villain of the piece, spying on court intrigues, passing silent and cynical judgement and murdering soldiers – until his inevitable encounter with Beowulf, the hero destined to slay him.

I first read Grendel 20 years ago without knowing more than the bare outlines of the legend (something along the lines of “monster kills heaps of people until a hero rips his arm off”). I was prompted to come back to it after finally reading the poem that inspired it, and I’m really glad I did. Turns out Gardner was a Beowulf scholar – his intimacy with the source material is evident if you know what you’re looking for (not that I claim to have fully decoded this intricate work – cursory examination of criticism of Grendel has shown me that there’s a lot to this little novel, which doesn’t surprise me). It feels smart. Also funny and playful and kind, if you can say that sort if thing about a book starring a literal monster who tears people apart with his hands and eats them. In this instance I’m confident you can.

The “internal monologue of the badguy reveals them to be not so bad after all” trope is pretty played out these days, but Gardner’s take on humanising the monster doesn’t feel obvious or forced – maybe because it was written in ’71 or maybe because he’s just a really good writer. I wasn’t as convinced by his portrayal of Beowulf as an avatar or death or Fate (or the Dragon – it’s a little complicated to be honest) – I thought it did disservice to the depth he has, and the journey he takes, in the original poem. Still, you could make a case for this being Beowulf at the height of his youth and arrogance at the start of his own transformation from brash unthinking hero to (spoilers?) wise and weary king or something if you wanted to. It’s not a biggie – this is Grendel’s story, not Beowulf’s, so a depiction of Grendel’s murderer as a baddie is kind of fair enough.

Anyway. Great book. You should read it, then read the poem it’s based on, then read it again. Then read the poem again too.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended.

Compare prices for second-hand copies of Grendel over at booko.com.au.

Posted in i would like to recommend these people's writing, lines I wish I'd written, Me and my opinions

This Week I Are Mostly Been Reading…

Doctor Who: Fifty Stories For Fifty Years – An Unauthorised Guide To The Highlights Of Doctor Who

50StoriesIn the lead up to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, music, politics and pop culture blogger Andrew Hickey wrote 50 essays about the show, each one focusing on a different year in the show’shistory. I was most interested in the essays about the post-1989 pre-2005 time in Who history when there was no TV show being made, during which fans and creators continued to tell Doctor Who stories in novels, comics, fan-made videos and audio plays (it’s interesting to see how many of the authors – and even how many of the ideas – from that time  have turned up as major players in the making of the current version of the show).

Sometimes close reading of pop culture reveals the subject of its investigation to be insubstantial and incapable of standing up to such analysis, but this collection doesn’t quite fall into that trap. Sure, it probably thinks about its subject a little too deeply, but Hickey’s prose is engaging and compelling and never too opaque (though I may be coming from a sympathetic perspective since I’m already a long-standing fan of the show in all its iterations).

Hickey’s enthusiasm obviously lies with the “classic” 1963-1989 version of the show, and he also demonstrates affection for the spin-off comics, novels and audio plays, but even though he’s clearly down on New Who, he has interesting things to say about the show’s current incarnation as well. As I read through this book I put together a list of episodes, comics, novels and audio plays to dig up and/or rewatch, and I’m going to enjoy working through that list with Hickey’s thoughts and interpretations in mind.

This is a great intro for people fans of the show who are interested in taking the plunge into the deeper levels of who fandom.

Highly Recommended.

Download Doctor Who: Fifty Stories For Fifty Years – An Unauthorised Guide To The Highlights Of Doctor Who from Smashwords here.

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Posted in i would like to recommend these people's writing, lines I wish I'd written

This Week I Are Mostly Been Listening To…

Zagreus

ZagreusIn the wake of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the 15th anniversary of Big Finish beginning to release audioplays featuring original cast members from Doctor Who reprising their roles as the Doctor and his friends and enemies, veritable swathes of the Big Finish back catalogue have been made available for very cheap indeed. I’ve picked up a few bits and pieces for a dollar or two, and recently gave Zagreus a spin on the ipod.

Zagreus was released in 2003 (two years before the TV show was relaunched) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who. It stars the dulcet-voiced Paul McGann, who played the Doctor in the infamous television movie from 1996, and co-stars former 1980s Doctors Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Peter Davidson along with other voices from the history of the show: Lalla Ward as Time-Lady Romana, Louise Jamieson as former companion Leela, and John Leeson as everyone’s favourite Robot Dog, K-9. There’s also a posthumous cameo from Third Doctor Jon Pertwee as a disembodied voice, thanks to some sweet post-production tricks.

Most Doctor Who plots sound ridiculous when you write them down, but for what it’s worth: The Doctor and the TARDIS have been possessed by “anti-time”, which splits the Doctor into two personalities: his own and the evil nursery-rhyme protagonist Zagreus. Meanwhile the TARDIS turns itself into a hologram of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and travels with the Doctor’s current companion, Charlie, to investigate historical events that will reveal the secrets behind the Time Lords’ power to travel through time and also answer the question “what was here before the universe began?” (Answer: something very powerful and not very nice that sounds like a mashup of a horserace and a primary school playground at lunchtime and that would very much like to destroy us all). Along the way many Alice Through the Looking Glass references are made (including a chase scene where the Doctors are pursued by a Jabberwocky, which gets two thumbs up from this unrepentent Doctor Who and Lewis Carroll fanboy).

Unlike most stories featuring multiple versions of the Doctor, this one has the various Doctors meet and interact as holograms and inside the current Doctor’s mind instead of travelling in time to literally meet each other, which nicely sidesteps the annoying “we’ll never remember this adventure” bizzo that can make some otherwise lovely team ups feel like they never “really” happened. The requisite references to Doctor Who canon are made, but they tend to land on the side of pleasant recollection rather than OCD recitation. The plot refers heavily to Doctor Who minutiae, but never relies on it, and trundles along merrily with both humour and gravitas that should appeal to fans and non-fans alike. Zagreus seems to be regarded by whovians as something best forgotten, but I thought it was fun, clever and well executed, and that it demonstrated a real (and contagious) love of the show. Which is exactly what you want from an anniversary story, really.

Recommended.

Grab Zagreus (CD or digital download) from Big Finish Audio.


 

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Posted in i would like to recommend these people's writing, Me and my opinions

This Week I Are Mostly Been Reading…

The Wicked + The Divine #3 by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

WicDivThis was The Wicked + The Divine’s make-or-break issue as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been reading Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s latest collaboration since issue #1 came out, but it’s never gotten its hooks into me. The idea of reincarnated popstar gods is a clever concept and the art is beautiful and bright, but there’s no-one in this story to like or invest in.

The protagonist is a surly teen about whom we’re told almost nothing and thus we have no real reason to care about her, and the supposedly glamourous popstar gods she loves and wants to be like come across as self-absorbed wankers. We’re not given or shown any reason to think they’re amazing, just the word of said surly teen protagonist. For a comic ostensibly about musicians, there’s precious little actual music – performed or otherwise – on its pages.

The pace at which the parallel mysteries of who these popstar gods are and who made the judge’s head explode in issue #1 are revealed is glacial. This may be intended to be mysterious and alluring, but it feels opaque and evasive. Even McKelvie’s art seems somehow static – merely a greatest hits of stock stances and facial expressions that have been seen many times before in places like the Phonogram comics and Young Avengers, which is often a risk that comic artists with signature styles face – artists with distinctive styles like John Byrne, Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis and Frank Quitely have also become kind of samey over the years.

I won’t be picking up issue #4 – this series has failed to deliver on the pre-release hype related to it being the first creator-owned collaboration between Gillen & McKelvie since the brilliant and vivacious Phonogram: The Singles Club, in comparison to which it comes across as woodenly pretentious.

Then again, maybe I’m just too old to get it.

Not Recommended.

Grab The Wicked + The Divine from your local comic store or digitally from Image Comics.

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Posted in comic reviews, comics, Me and my opinions

Happy Peter CapalDAY!

Capaldi-eyes

(see what I did there?)

Yeah so the new guy is going to be doing his first episode of Doctor Who this weekend, so to celebrate (because more than 50% of whovian fandom seems to be about celebrating SOMETHING) we’re having a 50% OFF PETER CAPAL-DAY SALE.

Which means (naturally) that from now until 24 August you can purchase yourself a fine ebook containing seven essays and two poems about Doctor Who for the BARGAIN BASEMENT PRICE of TWO DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS!

That’s… hang on… three nines are… carry the three… TWENTY-SEVEN POINT SEVEN-SEVEN RECURRING CENTS PER ESSAY-SLASH-POEM!

That’s 27.77 cents each for:

  • Karen Pickering’s excoriation of Steven Moffat’s inherent misogyny
  • John Richards’s celebration of the goodness and strength of original companion Barbara
  • Emilie Collyer’s poem about Christopher Eccleston bringing her mixed family closer together
  • Jules Wilkinson’s hilarious introductory lecture to aspiring companions
  • Philip Ashmore’s exploration of fear and Doctor Who
  • Ben McKenzie’s essay on his love for Sylvester McCoy
  • LJ Maher’s essay about Whoviennes’ subversion of the male gaze
  • George Ivanoff’s plea to be allowed to write for Doctor Who
  • My fan-poetry reinterpretation of the final fate of Donna Noble

Which is  a pretty nifty bargain if you ask me. And here’s where you’ll be able to claim that bargain for your very own:

Thanks in advance for your custom. And enjoy the show, do.

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Posted in i would like to recommend these people's writing, my talented friends, Published work

Jutchy Ya Ya: On an As-Is Basis

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 11.09.15 pm
Jutchy Ya Ya
#47 is the forty-fourth-or-thereabouts issue of my occasional (and also free) zine, which I have been making since the turn of the century at ever-greater intervals. Sometimes I deliberately work toward a theme when I sit down to make a Jutchy Ya Ya, and sometimes a theme tends to present itself after the fact. This time around I’ve detected a slight theme relating to fine print/disclaimers/terms of usage, but also quite a bit of stuff about narwhals. So yeah, if you like the sound of:

  • Random facts about narwhals
  • Me talking about the time I interviewed Tori Amos
  • An email exchange I had with Cory Doctorow about the efficacy of ethically based boycotts
  • Random facts about pangolins
  • Cartoons of Narwhals and Pangolins wearing boxing gloves
  •  Reading fine print

This zine could be the one for you.

You can download or screen-read Jutchy Ya Ya #47 at issuu or on Scribd, or if you want one made of actual paper you can contact me at adamatsya [narwhal] gmail {pangolin} com or pay a visit to either ye olde Sticky Zine Store in Melbourne or yon venerable Format Zine Shop in Adelaide. If you’re in the Castlemaine area you might also keep an eye out for it at Castlemaine Railway Station or Wesley Hill Market.

Oh and ta muchly for checking it out. Hope you like it.

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Posted in jutchy ya ya, zines

GISHWHES and a Story in 140 Words

Elopus rampant.

Last week Jules Wilkinson, fellow Whose Doctor? author (responsible for the hilarious “Certificate IV in Allied Time Lord Support” essay), posted a Facebook callout on behalf of some friends for authors to help out with an online scavenger hunt called GISHWHES (it stands for “the Greatest Internet Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen”, of course).

GISHWHES is an annual event where people team up over the internet and try to find and do bizarre and funny things (a couple years back Jules helped to make a Tyrannosaurus Rex out of sanitary pads, for example) to earn points and raise money for the US-based Random Acts charity, which is all about random acts of kindness and stuff.

Item 78 on the 2014 list was to get a previously published science fiction author to write a 140-word short story that featured:

  • Misha Collins (founder of Random Acts & GISHWHES/actor from the Supernatural TV series)
  • An elopus (an octopus with an elephant head/mascot of GISHWHES 2014)
  • Queen Elizabeth II (Hereditary and currently reigning Monarch of Britain)

Value: 59 points.

It was a bit tricky to get all three elements into the story in such a short wordcount, but after wiki-ing Mr. Collins I came up with some ideas and had a crack. So here’s my contribution to the GISHWHES 2014 hunt for Jules’s mates, aka Team Storm Queen.

***

[UNTITLED 140-WORD STORY FOR GISHWHES 2014.]

“For service to the field of Mathematics, I dub thee Sir Misha Collins.”

Misha felt the sword tap his shoulder. He raised his head to thank Her Majesty and noticed a flap of loose skin under her chin. Everything clicked into place. The “Elibazeth” typo on the telegram. The plastic sword. The fact he wasn’t English.

“You’re not the Queen!” Misha reached up and tugged at the skin. There was a series of soft pops as a row of tentacles plopped out from behind the mask.

One more yank and a creature with an elephant’s head and an octopus’s body was revealed, sitting on a small platform. Two tentacles were wrapped around levers mounted on the platform. The “Queen’s” body shuffled its feet to retain its balance.

“Hi,” said the elepus, holding out a sharpie and a glossy black-and-white of Misha with its tentacles. “Big fan.”

***

There’s an excellent storify that gathers together tweets for heaps of the participating authors and links to their blog posts about the hunt and some of the stories they wrote too. It’s a fun read. You should also check out the Team Storm Queens tumblr, which collects all of their scavenged items in one place.

Good luck to anyone who participated this year – I look forward to helping out again in some way next year.

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Posted in new ways to procrastinate, short stories
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