Most of what I've been up to of late has been Top Secret Clown Business, but here's what I can tell you: I'm a pretty boring dude. I've been working a lot, which is obviously good, and also a lot of fun, but a heavy workload tends to result in my staying away from the old Mi-go Brain Box (or MacBook Pro, whatevs) whenever I can get away with it. Lots of hiking this mild, lush Colorado spring, but also some reading, movie watching, and video gaming, because when your eyes need a rest from staring at a screen the last thing you want is to give into the demands of those gelatinous fuckers--if you can't be the lord of your own face, then...wait, I had something for this...no, damn it, it's gone. Anyway, here's some of what I've recently read:
- Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. Phenomenal SF, set in an alternate-universe Johannesburg. One of the best books I've read in ages, with a surprising (to me, which admittedly isn't saying much) hard-boiled element that meshed perfectly with the speculative elements. And everything else, for that matter--the novel is by turns poignant and darkly humorous, and consistently clever, with my favorite narrator I've encountered in ages. Not to bang the rustiest drum with the biggest, most obvious mallet, but while escapism gets bandied around a lot when discussing SF, anyone who's read more than the smallest, blandest sampling will confirm that just like any other form of fiction, genre offers engagement with the real world and its problems, rather than a simple break from it. Not that escaping from one's problems or the perpetually depressing state of the world is the worst thing in the world, but Zoo City is a definitive example of how an intelligent novel can offer both escape and engagement in one brilliantly written package. To top it all off, there's a killer ZC soundtrack free for the listening over at Spotify. This novel gets five billions stars. Out of a possible four.
- Zombie Bake-Off by Stephen Graham Jones. Absurdly cool and entertaining. One of the things I most admire about SGJ is that his work manages to be both dependably excellent and wildly unpredictable. This goes for his overall body of work, with one project being totally unlike anything else he's done, but also for the individual works themselves. Take, for example, this monster ballad of semi-pro wrestlers and amateur bake-off participants locked in an arena with an ever-growing horde of zombies. With a premise that gold you know everything is going to be all right even if it follows a by-the-numbers zombie trajectory, but this being a SGJ novel, the action manages to simultaneously hit the sweet spots that a zombie/wrestler/soccer mom showdown promises while also throwing a baker's dozen of insane and insanely touching twists into the squared circle. An aside: when I was growing up, every few Sundays my dad would drive me to the gas station, which was the only shop in town other than the feed store. There we would buy a dozen donuts--the pre-packaged, mass-produced one; nothing fresh at the Warrior's Mark Uni-Mart--and return home to watch pro-wrestling on one of the half-dozen channels we picked up. This book unexpectedly dredged up a lot of great memories, plus, yanno, zombies.
- Love in the Time of Dinosaurs by Kirsten Alene. SGJ's above novel was published by Lazy Facist, an imprint of Bizarro publisher Eraserhead, and after enjoying the hell out of Zombie Bake-Off I decided to go down the rabbit hole of the Bizarro movement with a cross-section of interesting-titled works. The first of these, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, is a thin volume, but an impressively deep text, given both the length and seemingly doomed-to-sillines premise. The twin factors that elevate this tale of nigh-indestructible monks battling super-weaponized, intelligent dinosaurs is Alene's writing, which is top-notch, meticulous, and vibrant, and the seriousness with which she approaches her absurd, surreal premise. There were admittedly a few weird-for-weirdness'-sake moments, perhaps the most common criticism leveled at Bizarro works, but far less than one might expect--what's so satisfying about Alene's debut is that the weird is in the service of the greater story, with most of the insanity doing double or triple-duty, rather than simply being in there as an obscure reference or to garner a cheap laugh. It's Dinosaurs for Hire meets The Name of the Rose by way of Yor: the Hunter from the Future, maybe. I loved it.
- The Kobold Wizard's Dildo of Enlightenment +2 (an adventure for 3-6 players, levels 2-5) by Carlton Mellick III. I'm generally opposed to "there are two types of people in this world" hyperbolic binaries, but sometimes you just have to say fuck it and give in to the glory of gross generalizations. Which is to say, I suspect that there are two types of people in this world: ones who will read the title of CMIII D&D-inspired novel and think to themselves "this is a book I was waiting my whole life for and didn't even know it," and people who will think something else entirely. What the latter camp will think in particular probably varies a great deal, but I suspect "what the shit is this?" probably crops up a lot. I am here to confirm for both hypothetical groups that your gut-reaction is correct--if the title makes you sagely nod to yourself, then you will probably find it a fun, creepily-resonant, meta-textual flashback to the days of high adventure, or at least filthy adolescence, whereas if that titles gives you any pause at all, you will in all likelihood hate the living shit out of it. Flipping through the first-edition-module styled book and seeing CMIII occasionally pornographic illustrations will help you figure out which camp you belong in, if you're unsure--the polearm chart was a personal favorite. Good times.
[Cross-posted to my website]