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Today's book is entirely [profile] thespooniest's fault. I would like to note for the record that I have already read Thomas Disch's 334, so this is unlikely to happen again.

So you know how a while ago there was a movie of 300, and it was full of guys wearing leather g-strings, extraordinarily racially loaded caricatures of Persians, anachronistic talk about freedom in confusing ways, a quantity of CGI that turned everything this odd sort of sepia-gray-glowy, and random Sparta Does Not Work Like That moments? So that Luminosity, bless her, made this extremely apropos video to Madonna's 'Vogue' from it? I wound up seeing the thing in theatres, both because I went quite early, before I heard, and because, well, they do not make movies about Sparta often. Not that this was one, but there was hope? Except that there wasn't.

It turns out-- and this surprises me, because I didn't think Hollywood could work this way-- that that was the single most faithful film adaptation I have ever seen in my life. PEOPLE. EVERY LINE FROM THE COMIC BOOK IS IN THE MOVIE. THE ENTIRE SCRIPT OF THE COMIC BOOK IS IN THE MOVIE. ALL THAT STUFF ABOUT FREEDOM? IT WAS ACTUALLY THERE IN THE SOURCE MATERIAL.

The stuff the movie added was everything back in Sparta with Leonidas' wife, you know, the parts that kind of vaguely were maybe considering the economics of it all and also had, although terrible, some lines for a female character.

I just... I want to sit down with Frank Miller, and be all, so, Frank, are you aware that YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT AN EPHOR IS? And that the oracle at Delphi told the Spartans to GO AHEAD AND FIGHT? Not to mention, the oracle is at Delphi, not... up a mountain somewhere... and I realize that you desperately wanted to draw a scantily clad woman at some point in this book or else you would be unable to sleep at night, but this was a confusing way to do it.

Also, you have the Spartans mocking the Athenians for being democrats (CORRECT! This is THE ONE ACCURATE THING in the ENTIRE GRAPHIC NOVEL except for, and this should just not be the most accurate thing about your book, THE SPARTANS' HAIR), but you also have the Spartans mocking the Athenians for being pederasts.

Oh, Frank, Frank, Frank. If I were in the room with you, this is where I would beat you severely about the head and shoulders with a copy of James Davidson's The Greeks and Greek Love, which is fairly thick but should hopefully leave you only slightly concussed. It is mildly stretching things to say that the Spartans had same-sex marriage. Mildly. You can actually argue for it based on evidence, though of course it was not monogamous same-sex marriage, because heterosexual marriage was an economic thing which applied to people regardless of inclination [here is where I snip a seventy-five page digression on Greek marriage customs and social constructions of sexuality, just go read the Davidson, you can pick it up from the floor where it bounced off Frank Miller's head]. ANYWAY. You know who had a reputation for this sort of thing? NOT JUST THE ATHENIANS. The Athenians were more disapproving, really; in Sparta it was a military institution.

Let's not even get into the whole thing where the ephors get bribed by the Persians with huge piles of gold. Spartan coinage, Frank, was made of iron. Possession of a lot of gold would be going Against Lykourgos, which Did Not Happen. Also, there is no way physically for the Persians to have sent a lot of gold to Sparta at that time.

And the freedom speeches. Look, the Spartans were the closest thing to pure Communists ever to happen in real life, okay?

*gets down off high horse for a moment* I kind of understand what Miller was trying to do here. He wanted to do a Hemingway-esque stripped-to-the-bare-bone version of this story, a gritty macho drama of life and death and heroic struggle. The art's not bad for that; more than passable. The inks are intricate but never over-refined, and the colorist, Lynn Varley, deserved entirely the Eisner she won for this, because this is quite frankly one of the best coloring jobs I have ever seen. It makes instant visual sense out of pages that could easily have been muddy and impossible to parse, it focuses the eye subtly on portions of the art that are of narrative interest-- in fact it is designed to lead your eyes through the whole-page and two-page spreads-- and it sets the desired mood and tone better than any other element of the book. I am genuinely impressed by Varley's work here, and although she also worked on the movie, it unquestionably works better on paper.

However, for what Miller wanted, he needed to throw out his entire fucking script and start over. He has missed the first rule of being Macho And Cool: you never talk about how Macho And Cool you are. These men need to be talking about supplies and levies and heat and dust and sandal straps and are we there yet, because when people who are going to do a very difficult thing move to do that difficult thing, they do not talk about honor and duty and freedom and glory all the time. There are times for that, yes. Maybe twice in the book it would have been appropriate; the start of the battle, and when Leonidas comes face-to-face with Xerxes. (Don't get me started on the Persian character designs. AAGH. Historically they wore trousers, Frank! That's scary/wrong enough to a Greek!) But the rest of the time, practical things, or not at all. These are the people for whom we coined the word laconic, who never used two words when none would do. This book should have been almost wordless. Get rid of the speeches and the pointless additions to the backstory to make Leonidas seem more badass (seriously, the real Spartans would have eaten these people for breakfast) and that way when someone has to talk about honor and death it means something. Visual art form, Frank! I know it's a short script, but it should have been shorter!

And backed by MORE, by which I mean ANY EVIDENCE OF, research. And Ephialtes didn't need to look like that, the man had enough issues.

Thrud has been to the mound of the three hundred. I've seen her photographs. It's a pile of rocks. It is an incredibly moving pile of rocks. It is a more moving pile of rocks in an amateur photograph taken on a cell phone than anything that appears in this entire book.

That about sums up the problem right there.
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So when the big box of books from [personal profile] octopedingenue came some time ago, I went through it looking at things, and started mentally cataloging them into short, long, fantasy, literary fiction, graphic novels, a book I really really wanted to read that Kawy sent because she is psychic (Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner, previously reviewed here), etc.. There was a small category, composed mostly of Crazy Beautiful (the HOOKS FOR HANDS book) which I mentally marked as 'books Kawy has sent me because they are incredibly bad'.

When I got to the Francesca Lia Block, I had absolutely no idea whether to put it in that category or not. None whatsoever. Francesca Lia Block has written books I find lovely and memorable and magnificent (Ecstasia, Primavera, the early Weetzie Bat books, The Hanged Man) and books I find utterly neutral and have trouble remembering exist (Girl Goddess #9, that one about teenage fairies) and a couple of the worst frickin' books I've ever read (Blood Roses, Echo, Psyche in a Dress). I tend to like her earlier stuff better, but there is never any guarantee that an author has gone into a permanent decline and indeed one usually hopes otherwise. Her prose usually gets critic-words such as 'lush' and 'purple' and 'adjectival' and her main issue tends to be letting language, style, and a liking for reworked myth and fairytale get in the way of thinking things through or causing them to make sense. When she doesn't run away with herself, it can work very well, and there is usually no telling in advance with any particular book which side of the line it will fall on, which is why I keep picking her stuff up.

Then I saw this was a novel about teenage werewolves.

Whoa-boy. That settled that question. Teenage werewolves are quite popular lately, and there is an entire subgenre of them, and its tropes are such that unless this book were to happen to be completely unlike and unrelated to every other book about teenage werewolves ever written, I knew this book would not just have run away with the author, but plunged off a cliff at full throttle and exploded in a mass of fireworks over the canyon. There is such a thing as a genre playing to someone's strengths, and then there is the opposite. I was holding out vague hope for this being totally unlike everything else in its subgenre, but that particular hope is always vague: never expect a book to be sui generis, especially when the subject is trendy.

Apparently she's written a vampire one, too. I-- the mind boggles. I have to read that book.

Because this? This was delightfully, enjoyably, compulsively readably terrible. )
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I had been in a poetry mood, but this may have finished it.

The internet will tell me nothing much about Louis J. Rodrigues, preferring to tell me about his much more popular twin, Luis J. Rodriguez, also a poet, who has entirely eaten the Google results and whose memoir about L.A. gangs sounds rather interesting. They are not the same person. I checked. What little I can find indicates that Mr. Rodrigues was still working as of 2000 and has concentrated on translations from the Catalan and the Anglo-Saxon, which may be a good idea, really, though the snippets of translation available online do not indicate that it is necessarily a great one.

This book, a collection of Mr. Rodrigues' non-translation poetry, came into our house without anyone having any knowledge of the author, and is most interesting because of its provenance: Thrud bought it on ebay from a collection of poetry books that belonged to Robert Graves. There's an inscription in the front by the author saying "for Robert Graves-- remembering your criticism of "Oblation" which you read ten years ago under a different name... and much modified since then. Best wishes, Louis J. Rodrigues, 24.7.79" This means that for me, at any rate, there is the question of what Robert Graves would have thought of this particular poetry, since it seems likely he read the rest of the volume, and it's certain he read the one poem.

I was amazed, because this is a) terrible poetry, and b) actually the sort of poetry I could see Robert Graves liking, although neither because nor in despite of the terrible. It's the subject matter, it's all Mythic With No Citations and you can tell that the poet was reading Graves and reading Housman and seems to have decided that the way to go was to crush those two together through a strainer and add a jot of thesaurus. I mean this is a school of poetry that was once very in, though I would rather have expected a date of mid-twenties rather than late seventies.

It's just... really bad. It's almost all clearly meant to rhyme, and he'll go the entire poem rhyming away, and then he'll have something that isn't even a near-rhyme no matter what accent you're thinking in, such as trying to rhyme 'status quo' with 'no more'. I mean it. He tried that. And almost all of the conceits are borrowed from other poets-- why yes I have read 'On Looking Into Chapman's Homer', and it was much better when not crossed with Housman's 'Reveille' and made into a meditation about why the poet should write more poetry-- and the ones that aren't borrowed, well, I can't tell what he's talking about. There is one entitled 'Shakespeare-- A Phantasy'. As far as I could tell, it centers around the idea that, occasionally, Stratford-on-Avon is subject to mist. For this we needed four stanzas?

And all the politics are obvious. I sit here wondering whether he read the World War I poets or only sent them unsolicited mss., as he thinks pacifists or indeed people who ever try to stop wars are total idiots. He thinks God/the gods is a lie, too, but he wants to use the mythic, so he'll go on for thirty lines or so trying to evoke a mythic atmosphere and then tell you what a fool anyone is to believe it.

Have a sample. It's all like this. )

I should say, also, it's all like this unless it's explicitly Arthurian, or, God help us, Orientalist. I should not be able to mistake 1979 for the glory years of the British Raj. Maybe he had these sitting around in a drawer since the twenties? It would explain a great deal.

I leave you with the following autogram (taken from his poem on pacifism), as some sentences are best at describing themselves: "This pent-up recrudescence of inane puerility." If that sentence weren't, in context, clearly supposed to be in iambic pentameter, I'd say he'd managed to get something right.
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I knew, when [personal profile] octopedingenue sent it to me, that I was saving this book for a special occasion.

Happy birthday, [personal profile] rachelmanija! I hope it was a wonderful day, and I hope it leads into a wonderful year. As it is difficult to send an iced cake through the mail and not have it turn into a mass of crumbs and goo, I have read this impressively terrible book in your honor-- a book which honestly, in my opinion, also turns into a mass of crumbs and goo, but at least an entertaining one, although with less chocolate.

Yes, it's the terrible teenage problem novel about the boy who has hooks for hands! )

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