rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Review of the book I read Friday, July 15th.

So this parody of John Norman's indescribably horrible Gor books is available online in its entirety, but the author also did a small run of it as a printed book. The cover image can best be described as a terrible Photoshop mashup of Tom of Finland and one of the actual Gor covers. For all I know, that might be precisely what it is. The tagline is "They came to Gor... but not for the women!"

A small percentage of you have now already realized that this is the greatest book that our civilization has as yet produced and have gone out to read it.

The rest of you may still require a little convincing. If you are unfamiliar with John Norman's Gor novels, well. I am told that the first couple, while he still had editors, are readable if you like that sort of thing, in which that sort of thing is books in which mighty-thewed Earthmen go to foreign planets where all of the women are not so secretly masochists. Then he lost the editors and apparently has waxed longer and longer in his attempts to communicate his philosophy, which boils down to men = masters, women = slaves, this = natural order of the universe, Earth = degenerate.

So as you can see it was crying out for a parody.

I attended the reading of portions of this one at Readercon (which is where I got a copy). I think I hurt my ribs laughing. The author assured the audience that he suffered brain damage in the process of composition because he had to mainline the entire Gor series to do it: on behalf of a grateful public, man, thank you.

Allow me to excerpt:

Why was I so afraid? It could not be a fear of death that possessed me, for as a Gorean warrior I gladly faced death, dying being a proper modality for a warrior, this being bred successfully into our genes over millions of years of evolution in which the strongest men died young and in violent ways and so were evolutionarily more successful than weak men, who might flee with the women and survive with them for a long time, fathering many children as a result. No, it could not be a fear of death that had made me flee.

Allow me to excerpt again. Note that the protagonist is in the process of frantically fleeing.

I peered down a side street. As is the right modality of things, many of these streets in Gorean cities do not have proper names, but may be known to those who live in the neighborhood by informal names, such as "the street where the gardener Borin watered his houseplants," "the street where the slave Tiffany wrote a long and pointless description of the naming procedures of small Gorean streets," "the street where you can find the house of the court-martialled private Hoosdrun," and so on. To the chagrin of the reader of any account where small Gorean streets are mentioned, streets are often called different names by different people, so a street may have the name, for example, of "the street where the slave Tiffany wrote a long and pointless description of the naming procedures of small Gorean streets," at one end and a second name at the other end, such as "the street where master Clitoris Vitalis had a bad case of gas," at the other.

I am assured that the long and pointless description of the naming procedures of small Gorean streets by the slave Tiffany actually takes place in a John Norman novel... and that there is also frantic fleeing going on at the time in that.

Of course, as with all humor, you either think this is funny or you don't. If you don't, I can't help you. If you do, hey, there's also a plot, vague gestures in the direction of character development whenever it would be funny, copyediting jokes, and song parodies. (Despite the fact that the official internet host of this work is at, there is no explicit sex or violence.)

And it doesn't overstay its welcome or repeat jokes to the point of non-hilarity, both things it is extremely easy for parodies to do. It is short, consistently original, and will cause you to use the word 'modalities' way, way, way more often; what more can one ask of a book?
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I have of course read a chunk of this material before, as Bloom County is one of the great newspaper comic strips of my childhood and we have all the collections, but these new archival editions with notes and commentary and all the strips that Breathed left out of the collections are very nice indeed.

If you don't know Bloom County, well. I don't know what to tell you. It was relentlessly political, but remarkably even-handed, the spiritual successor of Pogo; a funny-animal strip that was tied into pop culture in a way funny-animal strips never were before or since. Breathed jumped the shark eventually, and hasn't jumped back, but his work left an indelible mark on me at a very early age. Both [personal profile] gaudior and I consider "The night is cold. My love is warm. Let me warm you," to be the epitome to which all other pick-up lines vaguely aspire. I quote Bloom County so frequently that I don't even notice doing it anymore. It is without question the thing I conversationally cite most often (followed at a short distance by Singing in the Rain, for whatever that says about me). The entire run of it is comfort reading.

It turns out that the previous publications of Bloom County were not remotely complete. Breathed is something of a perfectionist, I think; about a third of this particular volume had not been released in book form.

... it also turns out that may not have been a problem, mind you. The strips that had been left out tend to fall into one or more of three categories: a) strips that were extremely topical about very ephemeral pop culture; b) strips that closely resembled other strips Breathed likes better; and c) strips that are just plain bad. B) and c) don't add much, and a) benefit enormously from the notes and commentary that they could not have had before this historical retrospective. Bloom County in this more complete version is-- hm. More cynical, a little; racier, definitely (I didn't know you could ever put some of this in the paper, and you couldn't now). More flat-out gonzo newspaper-strips-don't-work-this-way crazy, but also, and this is slightly painful to me, less warm at heart.

The reason to read this edition is definitely Breathed's commentary. There's not a ton of it, but he does go through and say what he likes, what he doesn't, what he was thinking, whether he was high (yes), and what the in-jokes were (his mother and stepfather cameo at one point in the strip, which I had certainly never known about). And he says that he had no idea what newspaper strips were supposed to act like, which I had assumed from context, really, but am glad to have confirmed, and gives updates on the peculiar rivalry/friendship/thingie he had with Garry Trudeau. There are also separate editorial comments going into some of the bits of pop culture which Breathed doesn't mention or claims to have forgotten about. The book does not, however, feel overexplained-- it doesn't gloss things that can be assumed to still be in the popular consciousness, and also doesn't gloss some things that aren't (I will never have any idea what the fuck Breathed's deal was about Jeane Kirkpatrick).

So if you're looking to revisit childhood memories or get the strip for kids, and you could do a lot worse, hunt down the original collections, I think. But if you're curious about all the background and the nooks and crannies and are anything like a completist, these new volumes were designed for you. Let's hope Breathed eventually comes back from wherever he left his brain, although I am not holding my breath given his goddamn terrifying upcoming Disney movie, Mars Needs Moms, news of the existence of which is some of the more depressing film news I have had in quite a while.
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I found out about Gordon Korman because as a desperation move my fifth-grade teacher started reading his books aloud to my class. Korman is a writer who has gone massively downhill in the last decade or so; his recent work is slight, slick, overmarketed and dull. But his children's and YA titles from the eighties and nineties have some lovely screwball comedy in the classical mode and a sense of subtle weirdness that reminds me vaguely of Daniel Pinkwater. I still cheerfully consider Losing Joe's Place a great rarity-- a book that is simply and reliably funny. I habitually reread I Want to Go Home! and Son of Interflux on a fairly regular basis.

My childhood library did not have all of Korman. I've been tracking his back catalog down since. Bugs Potter Live at Nickaninny is a sequel to Who Is Bugs Potter?, which I did manage to read as an adolescent, and which is neither Korman's best nor worst. The sequel turns out to be a notch down from the original, not deadly but not remotely special.

Bugs Potter, as readers of the first book learn within about three words, is an adolescent boy desperately obsessed with drumming. He is incapable of conversation about anything else. Consequently, the plots of both books involve long series of conspiracies on the part of the universe to keep him away from drums, far from rock concerts, and so on. The first book gives him a more relatable foil, a flautist called Adam who only wants to manage not to flunk out of orchestra camp; the second book simply packs his family up onto a vacation about two thousand miles from anywhere in the Canadian Northwest Territories.

Sadly, without a relatively normal person around the obsessions of Bugs and various members of his family aren't anchored in enough reality to be very funny. They need an outside observer to explain to them all how crazy they are being; it's much more entertaining when people know that and then do whatever it is anyway. The inevitable progression of Bugs Potter's vacation from his family's single tent in the middle of the wilds to the inadvertent founding of a nationally televised rock festival has ingenious momentum, yes, but there's nothing to anchor the gears.

In addition, there's an annoying plot thread about anthropologists who are trying to study a lost tribe of local Native Americans. On the one hand, the anthropologists are demonstrably and obviously total lunatics, and the one guy from the tribe who happens to be present is on vacation from his family's home in New York City, where his extended family obstinately refuse to act like the subjects of anthropological research. On the other hand, this thread feels unpleasantly as though it is more exploiting a standard set of jokes about Native Americans (funny names, etc.) than puncturing them; Korman tells the jokes at every possible opportunity but only deflates them about half the time. It could be much more aggravating but it still did not remotely make me happy.

If you're going to read one of the Bugs Potter books, read the first, but if you're going to read Korman generally, he's done a lot better than either of these. Just don't read anything that came out after about 2002. I have hopes that he'll get over it eventually, but he's gone through a long streak of bad writing.
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A sparkling Augustan set-piece, the most famous English play of the eighteenth century. It is, of course, a romantic comedy, which has, of course, the original scene in which both a husband and a wife are for different reasons concealed behind different screens in the same room spying on the same people. It is clearly the parent not only of Georgette Heyer (who evidently developed her slang by running amok with Sheridan's) but also of the Hollywood screwball comedy, and I kept expecting people to go off with one another's bags as well as spouses, or the sudden appearance of a leopard, or an actress, or someone's identical twin; it was strange when nothing of the sort happened. It also reminds me somewhat of Les Liaisons Dangereuses-- a benevolent polite version in which everything works out for the best.

I am not sure this is a play one ought to read, as opposed to seeing, because I enjoyed it, but I could tell that it would come to life amazingly in good hands, with good blocking and the correct chemistry in the correct directions. I'm rather surprised I've never heard of a film of it, although of course I might simply not have heard, but things like the scene in which the young wastrel auctions his entire ancestral portrait gallery to a man who is actually the wastrel's uncle in disguise are tailor-made for cinema. (I devoutly hope that in every version ever done the portraits are terrible. You can't have this sort of thing with good pictures. It wouldn't be right, somehow.)

I am also very glad that it isn't a verse play, because Sheridan's prose dialogue is bouncy and snappy and deliciously bitchy, but his verse prologue dedication to his patroness reads as though someone has surgically removed all the wit and fire from something by Alexander Pope. It is not even a noteworthy bad poem, because the man can scan and the grammar is grammatical and the images are not outlandish; it's just incredibly lackluster. Fortunately the actual play is not so afflicted, and I have added it to my brief list of things I would like to see if a theatre happens to be showing them. (Having managed to see within the last several years live stage productions of both The Duchess of Malfi and Machiavelli's The Mandrake, I feel I have used up any right to devoutly pray for the revival of any particular play, as it was so obviously impossible I should get the two I most wanted and got-- Malfi's not unheard of, but I only had to take a bus two hundred miles for the Machiavelli, and it was in English, so the whole thing was wildly unlikely. That said, I'd like a general run of Jacobeans, and also The Cenci and Prometheus Unbound, and for someone to find Zamyatin's unpublished play in a basement in Russia while they're at it.)

IMDB says there is a movie, 1930, starring, of all people, Ian Fleming. I should find out whether that exists in any accessible format.
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Back, home, rested, backlogged. Oh, so backlogged. I have been faithfully reading a book every day, but lo, there was traveling. So the first review here is for the book I read on Thanksgiving Day, yeesh. And the next batch of reviews are probably going to be fairly short until I catch the heck up.

Swan for the Money is the eleventh of the Donna Andrews mystery series I've been reading, not that it matters as I have read three of them, out of sequence, and while there is chronological progression it doesn't make much difference. It is true, as various people have suggested to me, that the ones not set at a reenactment fair or a con are not remotely as fun. This one is set at a rose show, which, you will note, is neither a reenactment fair nor a con. It's not that it wasn't a fun book, but it didn't have either the thing where I recognized exactly what was going on as a perfect parody of exactly what would be going on or the thing where it felt like a fresh new place to set a mystery-- I mean, Hercule Poirot went to rose shows; they're exactly the sort of thing you get in Ye Olde-Schoole Country House Plot. It is possible that if I were a person who goes to rose shows, this would be a good parody, but as I am not I would have liked the book to be a good takeoff on the sort of mystery novel set at rose shows, and it may have been trying to be that but if so it was not succeeding. I got through it on a sort of general affability and the usual wittiness. I am going to track down and buy the two I really liked and probably read the rest of this series whenever I am in the mood for something pleasantly harmless. Will let you all know if any of the rest turn out to be brilliant.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I read Growing Fruits, which is a guide put out by the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. We have in our garden lemon trees, pomegranates, figs, persimmons, a nice new olive tree, and hypothetical future grapes, so I was actively looking for pointers. I concluded that the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is not located in Zone 8b, which I suppose I should have known going in, only everything else on Ruth's aunt's shelf of books from the same source said All-Region Guide, and this one (which was of course the one that might have been relevant) did not. I did however learn things about growing fruits somewhere else! The book covers many of the most common varieties of fruit-- apple, pear, stone fruits, various berries-- and discusses planting, pruning, harvesting, common diseases, how to select a specific varietal of your fruit, and so on. They have handy little charts saying whether the kind of apple you want will work in your zone (no), and a chapter on rarer fruits which covers things like pawpaw and lady-apple and jujube and anything else that totally is not on the list of Things In Our Garden, seriously, it was like they'd seen the list, how rare is it to try to grow lemons really. I discovered that I am officially terrified of pruning as their recommended method appears to remove half the tree and caused me to start whimpering about how our figs are only so high anyway. Also, we are apparently in an area where grapes standardly get some weird disease, which I remember hearing vaguely about from other sources and which means we should resign ourselves to possible failure or else get the disease-resistant kind that don't taste as good. Okay then. At any rate, if you live anywhere near or at least in the same latitude as the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, this is a thorough, readable, illustrated, friendly book I could totally see using as your fruit bible. Although I am probably not pruning the pomegranates to their recommendation because honestly we mostly have them for the foliage. And it is not worth trying to get the olive to bear, really, because no one wants to take the time to soak the fruit in salt water and beat it with a stick so we can eat it. At least, no one here, if you want to we can talk about that.

On the day after that I read Around the World in Eighty Days, by Michael Palin, a present from [personal profile] sovay, who is one of those persons beyond price who consistently gets me books I wouldn't have thought of and find interesting. This was great, this was the sort of book that makes you devoutly hope the author has gone out and written about seventy-three more, which I see via Google that he has in fact done. Palin did a BBC TV series in which he did actually go around the world in eighty days with no air travel, not quite staying entirely in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg but starting from the door of the same club in London (and he calls his attendant filming staff, en masse, Passepartout). I can't better his words about why he did it and I'm not going to try:

The compulsive urge to travel is a recognized psychical condition. It has its own word, dromomania, and I'm glad to say I suffer from it. The ambition of every dromomaniac is a circumnavigation of the planet, but it's a less fashionable journey now than in Jules Verne's day. Part of the reason is that you can do it by air in 36 hours (a technological feat that Verne would have greatly appreciated). But air travel shrink-wraps the world by leaving it small, odourless, tidy and usually out of sight.

There are container vessels which will take you round in 63 days, but you will see only water on 58 of those. The reason why Phileas Fogg's 80-day journey retains its appeal is that it is still the minimum needed to go round the world and notice it.

His modes of travel include container ship, dhow, train, car across the entire Arabian peninsula, dogsled and hot-air balloon, the last two included solely because at that point he was aiming for the gratuitous. He describes being attacked by a parrot in Hong Kong (he informed the parrot it had mistaken him for John Cleese), being forced through a truly ridiculously embarrassing crossing-the-line ceremony at the International Date Line, and getting into his compartment on India Rail to discover that there were already two people in there who insisted their names were Michael Palin, one of whom was female (he sat in the corridor). He is mistaken for Michael Caine, Michael Jackson, and, in fact, John Cleese. His prose is consistently witty but reaches touching without straining itself, and he has a gift with an incisive lyrical description in about three words. Also, this is a really fascinating document of the way the world was in 1989-- there are long stretches of this when he was out of touch with the rest of the world in a way that I think would simply not happen now that there are cell phones, and I also suspect that one can no longer drive a film crew across the Arabian peninsula on no notice at all. And Hong Kong was still British and he speculates about what might happen at the handover (and basically gets it right). Highly, highly recommended.

If I keep up reviews at three a day, I'll be caught up on... Friday. Well, better then than never. We'll see how it goes.
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Oh hey I have internet. Don't know if it will last the whole trip, but here's yesterday's review.

I do sometimes read the little books that humor websites put out, mostly if I already read the website. This book was a book my relatives had lying about that could be read in between actually interacting with said relatives, so I decided it was a reasonable choice for a day of a great deal of travel that I slept through and a great deal of socialization I was trying not to sleep through. (Our plane left town at seven a.m., so we got up at five, so I did not bother going to bed.)

Now, there is such a thing as a good little-humor-website-book. I enjoyed both the Regretsy and the Cake Wrecks books, for example. I think the key to a good one of those is that it be an even mix of content that is famous and popular from the website and content that does not appear on the web, and that the introductory and captioning material really showcase the site's sense of humor. I don't think it's a coincidence that both Regretsy and Cake Wrecks have single editors with very strong personalities who write good essays, because one of the draws of those books is the good essays. (Based on this, I would also expect a Lovely Listings book to be genuinely entertaining, and have avoided those little books of cat macros like the plague.)

This is not a good book. Failblog does not have a strong editorial presence-- note there is no one person who gets author credit-- but I was hoping that the material would be interesting enough to make up for it. Not really. The book pretty much reads like an average day on the website, with a lot of dreck and a couple of moderately amusing things, and I had really been hoping for either a genuine best-of or a collection of material resembling the best of, because the reason I still read Failblog is that about every six months there is something on it that profoundly expands my understanding of what human beings are capable of. Not here. Also, the lack of editor means that they've had to come up with a conceit to organize the book in the absence of editorial essays, and they've decided to present the book as though it were a guidebook to an imaginary country. Unfortunately, they have done a half-assed job, and the frame material is pretty much a collection of random outdated memes, confusingness, and occasional forays into the annoyingly offensive.

So yeah, this is pretty much the textbook how-not-to-do-a-hardcopy-of-a-humor-website, meaning that it isn't funny. I realize I have now spent more time analyzing it than was really warranted by the ten minutes it took me to read the thing and the five minutes the book will spend in the brain of anyone who encounters it, but honestly, the chance to massively overanalyze things was one reason I started writing these reviews, and writing this up has now given me much more pleasure than the entire existence of the book in question. Which I think says something about the book.
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I'll be traveling for Thanksgiving starting tomorrow, and am not sure of the internet situation, so, as with last time I went somewhere, I'll be reading a book every day and putting up the reviews when I get back (a week from Wednesday).

This is the second one I've read of Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow mysteries, and I have no idea where it is in the series order, nor do I care. I'm sure they have an internal chronology, but I don't think it actually matters.

I found this just as charming and delightful as Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos, and it also made me very happy by taking place entirely at a con. The previous mystery I'd read set at a con was Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is a horrible mean-spirited book that I hated and have been trying to forget ever since. This is an antidote to that. It's a media-fandom con, so it's a little different from any of the flavors of con I've been to, but it was intensely recognizable anyway. Good books set at cons are rare.

There was a scene in which the principal actors from the TV show sat around in the green room doing a dramatic reading of some of the worst slash fic they could find about their characters. Apparently I had secretly been wanting that scene in a novel for years now.

There is also swordfighting both stage and otherwise, actual parrots (and monkeys, and tiger), crucial information provided through fan trivia contest, and a set of running gags about how bad the show actually is that were really impressive. The show sounds kind of like Xena crossed with Conan the Barbarian and the HBO miniseries about the Tudors and would in real life obviously be very popular while being completely appalling on every level.

No blacksmithery in this installment, but I didn't really miss it. If these books keep being lovely witty fluffy confections that never cause me to want to throw them across the room I am going to have to buy them all, because I can't imagine better comfort reading. Humor that works for me is rarer than I'd like.
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I'd vaguely heard of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels on several occasions, as they would I think qualify for a place on a list of non-science-fiction-fantasy things that people in sff fandom tend to enjoy. [personal profile] kate_nepveu was kind enough to suggest a starting point, in What's The Worst That Could Happen?, which also happened to be the only one the library had.

Dortmunder is a professional burglar, and the tone of the series is caper/suspense/humor. Not a genre I've read widely in, so I'm not in much position to say whether this book, or Westlake in general, fit into or are subverting any common tropes.

Which means-- I'm sorry, Westlake fans-- that I disliked this book entirely on its own account. )


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