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July 24th, 2017: NON-CANON
San Diego Comic Con was AMAZING: I met so many great and interesting readers, got to meet some people that I really admire, and won two (TWO!) Eisner Awards, for my work on Squirrel Girl and Jughead! IT WAS PRETTY AMAZING!!
I spend a little too much time on A Certain Social Media site where someone asked, “Is a Bullet Journal Worth it?” I passed on answering that question because I did not have a clear response. However, as of today, I filled up a notebook that I use for my Bullet Journal and spent an instructive hour migrating the material I still need from the old journal to the new one.
As I am doing so, I can answer an emphatic, “Yes!”
I have a couple of… I dunno if I’d call them flaws, exactly, but maybe… worries? Ideas that gnaw at me from time to time?
I worry that I am lazy. I also worry that I am wasting my life and being too caught up in the pleasures of the present to accomplish anything or move forward in any real way. I also don’t necessarily have the world’s most accurate memory.
This could be a perfect storm for self-doubt and frenetic, but useless, action.
You know how you might have a mental list of things you always mean to get around to, but never do? Little things, but that you think would either be cool to do or might improve your life. You get caught up in the urgency of the day and… well, you don’t do them.
I’m finding that for me, a Bullet Journal is preventing that.
For years, I’ve meant to have at least a few seasonal or monthly themed decorations around the house. Is it a big deal or important in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely not. But it’s a little thing that might make me happy or make me conscious of the passing of the year.
I now have at least a table runner and seasonal theme for each month for my dining room table. I’ve meant to do something like that for years and never really got around to it because I let time get away from me. This year, I’ve spend some time each month thinking about it, and getting a few decorations together so that I will have a different dining room table decoration for each month.
There are also projects of other sorts I’ve been doing or meaning to do. For instance, my Support and Defend series. Because of a tragedy in my life, and finding it difficult to think or write, yes, it went on hiatus for awhile. But I had not only the project in my Bullet Journal, but a clear outline of where I was in the project.
In going through the last nine months or so, I realize that this system is not only helping me keep on track for what I intend to do, but when I feel like I’m doing nothing, wasting my life or anything of the sort, I have a real day-to-day record of not only what I have done, but how much of it was things I’d always been meaning to do, but hadn’t been organized enough accomplish.
I like it better than a work to-do list or even some of the other organizational systems out there because it’s a good system to record the events of the day as well as the accomplishments. It’s meant to have notes about how you’d been doing that day that you can do in a short and easy-to-remember format that might be more difficult to analyze as a whole over a longer period of time than a diary.
Are there things I’d failed to accomplish? Well, yeah. It’s kind of hard to write a book about little girls when the granddaughter you’d intended to dedicate it to dies. So, no, it’s not that I necessarily accomplish everything I mean to. But it keeps me from spiraling and focusing only on the losses or failures. They happen, and they need to be recorded, but what also needs to be recorded are the good things that have happened as well as the achievements. It keeps me from dwelling on the negative or being falsely positive but is useful to get a realistic picture of what my life really looks like.
V.E. Schwab — A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and A Conjuring of Light
March 6, March ??, and July 10
I plan to head directly into the weeds on this review, but I'll make a brief pit-stop at concision before I hit the road: I definitely recommend the first book of this series. It's fast, bold, and slick — just weird enough to grab your attention (a stacked-worlds cosmology where the only constant is London? What??), and more than competent enough to hold on to it. I'm more ambivalent about the other two books, but A Darker Shade of Magic actually stands alone pretty well anyhow.
Speaking of which, HEY, let's talk about trilogies! There are several different ways to put three book-sized objects in a row, and this series uses what I think might be the worst. I don't have a proper name for it (duologies behaving badly? party in the front, sweatshop in the back?), but it's that same thing Garth Nix did with Sabriel and Lirael/Abhorsen:
- Start with one standalone, book-shaped book, with tight plotting and characterization and some deep-but-restrained worldbuilding.
- Follow it with a much larger and more sprawling sequel, arbitrarily split into two volumes. (Book 2 usually ends on a cliffhanger of some kind.)
Recognize it? Contrast with the "three book-shaped books" trilogy or the "one continuous scroll" trilogy, both of which work better.
Part of the problem is just setting up an expectation of book-shaped books and then flubbing it. But I'm also starting to think that two books out of a trilogy is a uniquely awkward and unbalanced story unit, and should be avoided categorically. In all the examples I can think of, the sprawly second story has major plot and pacing issues that didn't afflict the first book and could only be addressed with major story surgery.
In this case, most of book 2 is dedicated to a shōnen manga tournament plot. This is a time-tested device that works really well in a long-running combat-focused comic, because it provides a lower-stakes pause in the main action (during which you can cut to machinations in the background as needed), it's guaranteed to take up a good long chunk of serialized time, and it's a good way to demonstrate how various characters have progressed or not progressed, especially because it lets you pit allies against each other without having to completely deform the story.
But tournaments usually work so well because they take up like an eighth or a tenth of a tremendously long comic. This one is like a quarter of the damn trilogy, and while yes, it's cool to see how badass Lila is now, it basically shoots the pacing all to hell.
Also affecting the pacing: The villain of the second story seems to spend an inordinate amount of time just twiddling his thumbs out in the distance. And he's just a lot less interesting than the confluence of villainies in the first book! He kind of sucks, tbh. (Note that I had this same beef with Lirael/Abhorsen. Is this a weird secondary effect of the structure?)
I had some other plot beefs. There's a death in book 3 that just kind of comes from someone acting out of character for no good reason, plus a few other things... not gonna go super deep into this, it just felt like things generally got a little sloppy.
Finally, there's a central character unironically named "Alucard," even though the only proper use of that name is to tell the reader with a big fat wink that this is Dracula's depressed son. (This story has nothing to do with Draculas, and IDEK how Schwab managed to not realize what she was doing there. Are there truly people who Don't Castlevania?? [yes])
IDK. I did enjoy the second book quite a bit, but it's not a complete unit, and I got bored partway through book three and just put it down for several months to read other things. There's a lot of good stuff in there, but it's flawed and uneven compared to book 1's mirror-bright polish.
Martha Wells — The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red
Yay, new Martha Wells! Spoiler, I liked it.
This had a more-than-passing resemblance to her short-lived Emilie series — it's more stripped-down than a lot of her other books, with more straightforward plotting and a more parsimonious approach to characterization for the supporting cast (not flat, but with most of the depth gestured rather than rendered, if that makes sense). It's an old-fashioned sort of feel, and one that suits both series' niches (Emilie was a deliberately retro pre-"YA" subgenre of youth lit, and Murderbot is a novella, which is sort of a coelacanth format just now coming out of a long hibernation).
Anyway, this is short and enjoyable and cheap (in its native ebook form, at least; the "tor.com" imprint has been publishing pretty nice tpbs of their novellas, but they're so overpriced that I get the impression we're not actually meant to buy them), and you should check it out.
Re: recent comments about how to structure a series: this is definitely the start of a larger story (note the beautiful last-minute left turn to avoid "happy ending"), but it's nicely contained, setting the stage for a next bit without any cliff-dangling. Which, again, I always greatly appreciate.
Jason Turner — Fir Valley (comics)
I liked this! It used this really aggressive POV shifting to get kind of a cubist every-angle-at-once view of the town of Fir Valley. And the town felt pretty legit; idk, I was reading this at the same time as Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, and they both do interesting things with the, like, sensation of being in the Pacific Northwest.
Tonally, this was all over the place in a way I kind of loved. Gruesome murder, young people making music, ghostly conspirators with animal heads, drunken idiocy, all kinds of stuff in here, and all presented with this kind of goofy big-hearted cheer? Turner has cited Twin Peaks as an influence here, and I can definitely see it. He isn't following Lynch's aesthetic, but the method seems familiar.
Anna-Marie McLemore — When the Moon Was Ours
I liked this, but I don't really feel like talking about it. It was good.
Alice Grove is finished. I'm going to take some time to just do QC for a while and then start another side project sometime in the fall. Patreon subscribers will get sneak peeks, advance previews, and other stuff as it develops. Thank you for reading my comics.
Eleanor Davis — How to be Happy
This is a collection of Davis' short comics, which are all over the place in style, length, and media. Davis is a really good cartoonist, and her more out-there art styles (the spindle-legged huge-torso look) are legit unique — the sort of thing that shouldn't work nearly as well as it does.
I liked these shorts; they felt like they were holding me at arm's length a lot of the time, but they did unexpected stuff and followed through on their swing. And Davis' cartooning is real engaging even when you're not really feeling a given story.
Books I stopped reading: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter — The Long Earth
I stopped reading this about a third of the way through, because it lacked all of the things I'm looking for when I pick up a Terry Pratchett book.
John Darnielle — Universal Harvester
To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this one. I was very much not satisfied at the end, and I'm trying to decide how much of that was the whole point, and how much of it was JD's reach exceeding his grasp this time. I might end up not deciding.
This had certain rewards anyway, despite the way it trailed off in the back third or so. There's this kind of roaring hollowness behind every paragraph that I feel really fuckin' nails why I find rural and small-town America scary, and not jump-scare scary but existential dread scary. JD was onto something here, and it's pretty compelling for a while. But it seems like an unfinished thought, and I put the book down with the sensation that someone had walked out of the room in the middle of a sentence and was not going to come back.
Again, it's possible that was the point.
Italo Calvino — Invisible Cities
Whoa, this was great! Not quite a novel, not quite short stories, more just an expanding fabric of disorienting oddness. A glitchville sort of vibe that reminded me of the last section of Kalpa Imperial, or maybe (faintly?) of Vellum? I feel like I can't quite dig up the thing it reminds me most of, which is very on-brand for this, now that I think of it.
Lars Brown — North World, vol. 1 (comics)
This had its charms, but maybe not enough of them. I don't feel the need to read more of it.
It feels like it belongs to a very very particular era — that bit in the late '00s, where mixing elements of classic video game settings with more prosaic character drama was having a moment? Scott Pilgrim kind of kicked it off and did it best, but there were a lot of others; some were blatantly following the trend, but I feel like a whole bunch of them were legit convergent evolution. Stories their authors wanted to do anyway, and which happened to be ready to go when the commercial moment arrived. Like, old games are responsible for a lot of the foundational metaphors by which my generation understands life, and of course we're going to work through that in our art.
Anyway, what I really liked about this comic were the settings — the city streets and markets and shops and houses and apartments. Brown's approach went something like: assume this big dumbass JRPG world, then focus on what people actually do from hour to hour and try to make everything feel really lived-in. It was great, a cool mix of... how to describe this. How about "conflicting familiarities." Which is kind of the whole raison d'être of this subgenre, right? The dissonance between our too-many methods of making sense of the world, which went from an idle preoccupation to an emergency when we realized the social and economic structures we were supposed to be "growing up" into had been devastated pretty much beyond repair well before we arrived? Yeah.
Oh right, back to the comic. Setting good, plot totally forgettable. Character writing ok, but nothing I was really connecting with. I kind of need at least two out of three to keep investing in something, so I'm out.
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
If the President, Vice-President, or other officers of the US are accused of treason, accepting bribes, or committing other crimes, there is a vote to remove them from office and to have a trial to establish guilt.
Just because the word is bandied about a great deal lately, I do want to caution my readers that in the US, the crime of Treason is very specifically defined, and doesn’t mean, “You’re a rotten American” or even “You’re putting your own interest before that of the US.” We’ll be getting to it at the end of Article III.