Archive for April 2011

On the State of My Union

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It's no secret to longterm followers of this blog (and longterm followers of me) that I am not a great communicator about the details of my personal life.

Thus, it may surprise some of you to learn that I'm engaged! And also I'm getting married next weekend!

I say this not to excuse the infrequency of my recent postings, but to explain.

You know everything they say about how the process of getting married can be a stress-filled hell? All true. From what I've observed in other, older couples, I find it entirely plausible that the experience of having a million people demand a million different things might be a ploy to get you to believe that, hey, if you can do this, you can do anything...including raise a child. (Let me state, on the record, that I am still not convinced).

But it's all in the service of a greater good; a group of people come together and put aside long held personal desires and unstated dreams to attempt to create a perfect union of the sort they wish they had. I am privileged to be able to marry someone I love, and I know loves me. It's amazing, the level of stress that such fairytale engineering can bear.

So it's all good. And even when it's tension-making, ball-breaking, or heart-aching, you know that it's rooted in the best of intentions. And which explains why, when you finally have an hour or two to yourself, you don't want to think about ANYTHING critically, or even ponderously, that is not related to the upcoming event and its fluttering satellites.

And that is why I have not been posting often, and why I've only been posting on Sandman (I'd half written most of the posts, so it's mainly editing that awaits!).

I will do my best to get the content rolling soon, but I can promise a number of fun things starting in mid-June, when things (hopefully) settle down again:

ON TV/MOVIES

  • "Too Much, Very Late" re-blogs! (I am currently planning to re-blog The Wire once Sandman is finished. I welcome any other suggestions as to in-depth blogging of completed series, whether television, novels, or comics! Twin Peaks will probably feature at some point...)

ON BOOKS

  • In-depth is the watchword.
  • Outpourings of irrational love will probably feature.
  • Close reads of favorite poems/paragraphs. Is that too boring?

ON POLITICS

  • A very long post, and possibly series, about why the American media completely misunderstands the work of Ayn Rand (and I'm saying this as a dyed in the wool liberal).
  • More on the state of feminism.
  • A series on understanding the abortion issue as the whatever-wave feminist that I am. (I promise that the conclusions will not be what you think).

ON MUSIC

  • Top 10 Features!

ON PERSONAL STUFF

  • So I'm told, by numerous friends, and by a number of beloved sites about how to build website followers, that readers relate better when there are personal anecdotes. I know it seems antithetical that a loquacious web-izen could actually be a private person, but there you have it. And I'm willing to change (new phase, new beginnings, and all that jazz!)
  • Totally misguided musings about other cultures; travel broadens the mind, apparently, and I want to document that.

And of course I am open to suggestions! I appreciate the recent influx of followers thanks to the Sandman re-blogs, and hope you guys stick around and even participate in whatever random nerdiness follows.

Sandman Re-Blog: Issue #12 Playing House

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Ok kids, things are really heating up in here!

Let's start with panel #3, on page one. In the background there are two faces that have already been presented to us in the Dreaming: the pumpkin head, and the smiley face in the top left corner. Stay tuned on these two. And the broom is perhaps a reference to the three witches?

The way it's all set up makes me think of a less ordered version of Desire's wall with the sigils. Which makes me wonder, of course Brute and Glob are Dream's creations, but are his creations prey in turn to his siblings? Can Desire manipulate the denizens of the Dreaming, or only mortals and her own family?

ON CREATION

Brute and Glob are obviously not the obvious go-tos for creative solutions: I think I mentioned previously that they were sidekicks to the old Sandman character, and apparently that's the limit of their world. In their dream creation, they dream of another sandman superhero.

Speaking of creation, let's talk about the ultimate act of creation: pregnancy. Baby daddying in the Dreaming (band name!). I'm a little confused as to the metaphysics of it all: Lyta was pregnant in the Dreaming, and so Morpheus claims her son. But Unity Kincaid also gave birth while dreaming? Perhaps that is why Rose is the vortex...

ON NEIL GAIMAN BEING AWESOME

I've tried to avoid overt hyperbole, because after all, why would anyone do a project like this if it weren't a labor of love? But I love how Gaiman undercuts expectations, or at least subverts them: just when Jed's foster parents start acting less like humans and more like Victor Hugo stock characters, Gaiman assures the audience of his ability with a single line, in the last panel of the page: "they just couldn't tell you why." These people act impossibly evil because they're not in control of themselves: what an optimistic philosophy this suggests about humankind!

ON THE SANDMAN'S REVENGE

There's an awful amount of paper wasted on seeing the Sandman prepare for his revenge; we already knew he's a vengeful god, and I think the point could have been better served by seeing his image creep up in the background gradually. Of course it does make sense that he would have admiration for his servants' cunning, and that's an important thing to get across about the character of Morpheus, but these scenes really interrupt the flow. You could have ended that sequence with the first panel: "I am coming," and the audience would have waited in suspense.

I guess what I'm trying to say that, after the initial scenes of how Morpheus travels back in "Passengers," it's not really interesting to watch him as he travels from A to B (I may take this back in subsequent issues, fair warning).

FORESHADOWING?

Of course we learn the story of Lyta is all a dream. But it's fascinating how Lyta's dream is filled with such real emotions, feelings of being undesirable, worrying about her relationship with her husband. Strangely normal emotions about someone who only exists in dreams! And yet her worldview is unnaturally innocent; his husband suddenly asks like a television father in the 1960's, talking about storks delivering babies.

Keep an eye on the guest list at the Cereal Convention hotel: we are clearly on page C, but the last clearly legible name is The Corinthian. And like so many bad dreams, we need but say his name for him to appear.

COMING UP: CEREAL KILLERS!!! Even Dexter would not feel at home in this crowd...

Sandman Re-Blog: The Doll's House Part Two

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Alright kids, I'm giving you a break from the marathon length of the past couple of posts, because this is another "in-between" issue. Granted, it's very very important that you pay attention, but this is a case of the infantry taking formation rather than engaging in battle.

So guys? Remember the creatures that had disappeared from the census in the previous issue? Keep an eye on them. We will learn much about their shenanigans.

Rose, again displaying the total self-involvement  of youth, responds to the recent discovery of her grandmother and the accompanying unreality by...moving out! And like any teenager with family troubles, she gets involved with a circus of freaks (I say that with love!).

Of course I kid, because Rose is in town to find her missing brother, Jed. (And in case you weren't already convinced of the importance of Jed to the story, note the raven at Rose's window when she mentions his name.)

ON MY OWN PERSONAL FAILINGS AS A READER OF PICTURED WORDS

You know what really jumped out at me on my third re-read? That the "Land of Marvellous Dreams," where we meet Jed and Lyta,  has numbered panels. This is not an issue with Doll's House, and I don't remember it being an issue in subsequent issues, but did anyone else have trouble with following the panels in Preludes and Nocturnes? They weren't intuitive, and not in a clever, subversive way, but a vaguely annoying sort of "i don't know whether to look right or down" sort of way.

I freely admit, I am not a frequent denizen of the comics universe, and I wonder if there's some code that other readers have that I'm not aware of. But like I said, it's clear in this trade and in subsequent trades.

Which is odd because the artists are much more experimental with the format of the panelling than in the first trade.

Anyway...

QUOTH THE RAVEN

Of course the raven is a spy, and of course Rose is the vortex (this was very very strongly hinted in the previous issue, but now it's official).

ON HORROR VS. ADVENTURE

I have tried and failed to articulate this point on other occasions, both here and in real life, about why I'm not totally convinced about the overt horror in Preludes (and I'm making no promises for clarity now). There's a lack of agency in that type of story; humans are powerless against a super-villain, which is not the easiest story to engage with on a personal level, because we all like to believe we won't just succumb like that. And I like to think most of us don't have such a negative view of humanity, that we'd just roll over and be manipulated.

So take the scene where Rose takes a dark alley as a shortcut; when she's accosted by a gang of hoods, she stands up to them. Which is not only awesome, but revealing of her character. Sure she gets rescued by someone else, but it's the attitude that counts (although it is the 1980's and I doubt that a gang of skinheads would react to a foppish man with a cloak and a cane with an "aw shit," rather than try to attack him right away

My god that action scene is written so well. In just two pages we know so much about Rose, about how she copes with trouble, about her values, about her own mercy. (Caveat: I love it even though it's an impossible coincidence that her savior is her absent roomate...)

So then, knowing that the Sandman world is not in fact a world of outright horror, the Corinthian does in fact become a terrifying presence to the reader. This isn't one of a million human feelings, this is specifically a dude who plays with eyeballs while booking a place at a convention.

Coming up: The Cereal Killer Convention! One of the greatest things in the history of ever.

Sandman Re-Blog: Issue #10 The Doll's House

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Right. Page one. A HELL of a page one. It takes that stereotypical comic book angle and makes it into something much darker. Is it the black shadows? Is it the blond hair? Is it the open heart? No. I think it's the suggestion that we're seeing the universe in the body of Desire.

WHAT IS 'THE THRESHOLD?'

What is this place where Desire resides? I think the threshold is that place, that place where decisions are made between wrong and right. You walk in, and you face a long hallway, and you think your way until the halfway point, and by that point you know, you know if you'll keep going all the way, or if you're ready to turn back.

This is the nature of desire.

Preludes and Nocturnes suggests that humanity is built on hopes and dreams, while page one of this issue suggests it's built on what we do when faced with our desires. It reminds me of something that David Foster Wallace commented on in his essay on Fate and Free Will, echoing Socrates' comments at death's doorstep: Free will is the freedom to choose to do the right thing. Denying free will is choosing to do the wrong thing, and then denying responsibility by saying that said decision was fated, or destined. Free will exists as the choice to live an examined life (DFW). And an unexamined life is not worth living (Socrates).

ON DOMAINS

How cool is Desire's domain? It's like stepping into an MTV set circa 1988, when rock stars were still cool, and the public was being offended for the first time by the pernicious new black Jesus incarnation of 'Madonna.'

Take note of the blank square as Desire peruses her sigils.

OH, THE ENDLESS DRAMA OF THE ENDLESS

More siblings! So it turns out that Desire, queen of The Threshold, is Dream's younger sister (and in a beautifully poetic turn, Despair is her twin sister. For what is the dark side of desire but despair?) And like any younger sibling, she is obsesses with ensnaring her older siblings in petty humiliations (in this case, the 3000 year imprisonment of Nada. So perhaps Dream's love isn't true after all, but manufactured. But we'll never know the correct answer, and that's ok, because that's the nature of story.)

INTRODUCING ROSE WALKER

A few things strike me on page 4, where we meet Rose:

  • I know it's the 1980's, but Rose's hair? Wow. But also awesome.
  • "Mom wasn't interested in dreams, back then." If that's not ominous foreshadowing, I don't know what is.
  • "I don't remember," says Rose Walker's mother. The way this text bubble is set off suggests some future significance.

Is this the first time we see a character enter the Dreaming and encounter Dream's minions in the Dreaming? Well of course not, I forgot about Nada's encounter with the brothers Cain and Abel in the previous issue. THAT was the first time that happened.

But when Rose meets them, they are similar in character to how they are with Dream in Preludes. I look forward to learning more about how the Dreaming morphs to fit the various characters that dwell inside it from time to time.

This full page spread of Rose dreaming is absolutely beautiful. But not nearly as stunning as the next page.

LUCIEN TAKES THE LITERARY CENSUS

If I cannot possibly convince you to pause and spend some time with the art, then I'm pleading you to reconsider for this page only (if only so we can argue which stories are which).

Lucien wanders through The Dreaming, which is turning out more and more to be the domain of stories.

Panel 1: A hobbit house in the shire.

Panel 2: I'm thinking Arthurian legend. If anyone is more knowlegeable about the symbolism, do let me know.

Panel 3: Decadent swimming pools and mannequins? WHY IT MUST MEAN ANDREW MCCARTHY! Who not only starred in a Bret Easton Ellis adaptation (Less than Zero) but also in Mannequin. If I remember the movie correctly (and there's no reason I should, it's pretty terrible), there is a climactic scene in a swimming pool.

Panel 4: Great Gatsby. 100%. I know my Fitzgerald imagery (the ever-watching eyes! the art deco!). In fact my high school mandated edition of Great Gatsby pretty much looks like this on the cover.

Panel 5: Railroads and modernist architecture? Ladies and gentlemen, we are clearly in the Ayn Rand wing of the Dreaming. Which is interesting, because there's a strong argument to be made that the Endless live by an objectivist philosophy, and I know Neil Gaiman has had a lot to say about objectivism in the past, especially related to Steve Ditko.

THOSE WHO ARE MISSING FROM THE CENSUS

Brute and Glob: This is interesting, as they were once sidekick's to the old Sandman superhero character, but now they exist only in the Dreaming (and have apparently turned rogue).

The Corinthian: stay tuned with this one. Not only is he apparently a nightmare, he's dressed like Anna Wintour's worst nightmare.

Fiddler's Green: You know how I've been going on about domains? I have a feeling Fiddler's Green will blow this one wide open. But one word reveals much more about Dream's own domain: vavasour. Vavasour refers specifically to a type of a mediated vassal, one who owns a fief, but does so very low in the hierarchy. In plain English, the Dreaming is a feudal kingdom, at least in Dream's eyes. And like any feudal kingdom in history, when the ruler goes absent, the very nature of class and possession transforms, and some (like the Corinthian) imagine themselves above their station, while others (like Fiddler's Green) take the opportunity to look for a new domain.

THE KINCAID FACTOR

Unity Kincaid! Our very own sleeping beauty, you will remember, back from Issue #1. Remember how she was impregnated through her sleep? Well, Rose is her granddaughter. And oh! the self involvement of youth. Rose's mother has a touching reunion with HER mother, and Rose's mind immediately turns back to her dreams, not to the fantastical nature of reality before her.

Rose runs straight into the Kindly Ones, the Three Witches by a million other names, who hint at the questions she ought to have asked. But how could she? She is not an immortal being, she doesn't have the power to see all that is been and all that will be. So for the second time (this may be a theme in Doll's House the trade), we see a mortal sucked into the games of the immortals, without even realizing it. Without doing anything particular to deserve it.

But most importantly? Dream is watching the whole time.

THINGS I HAVE OMITTED, PURPOSEFULLY

The Vortex/The Annulet: At this point it's just a question. Further discussion will follow.

The last page: tbc.

COMING UP: Rose finds her dream home, complete with dream roommates (see what I did there?)

10ish (Belated) Mixed Up Thoughts About Dark City

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Film Noir vs. Sci-Fi, not Sci-Noir

My friend @meckett (a living, breathing example of the lovely statement that "facebook is for keeping in touch with people you used to be friends with, while twitter lets you get to know people you really ought to be friends with") argued that the film did sci-fi and noir very well separately, but failed to integrate the two styles.

I sort of see his point; that action scene in the last half hour, while endearingly silly, did seem like a very obvious 'studio add-on' to a film that was much better structured as a noir. (Even the strangers, despite being not-quite human, fit in better as an expression of noir language than science fiction language. This is probably because there is absolutely no attempt to explain the "real facts" that lie behind the story; i.e. what has happened to humanity, who are these aliens, how does their 'tuning' work?)

However, I feel that this discussion is better served if we ignore that silly action scene. WIthout that strange psy-fight, the sci-fi elements were much more subtly drawn in; they were used to create atmosphere (why is there no sun, and why does no one notice? What's the deal with homme fatale Dr. Mengele aka Jack Bauer?).

More importantly, each of the elements contribute to the story; each has a specific purpose by the end. Everything that's wrong, that's odd, that's strange, is a direct result of the Strangers' failure to understand the core of humanity.

The Action Scenes are Profoundly Gilliam-Esque

That said, while the action scenes are completely extraneous, at least they're not boring. There's something curiously retro about how the psy-fight was conducted; Rufus Sewell and Mr. Hand literally stare each other into submission, while the entire world reforms itself around them.

Curiously Satisfying Ending

The ending is wonderful precisely because it undercut everyone's expectations (we all thought John wimped out to build Shell Beach, but he creates something far more sinister in many ways).

John has the power to create the world in whatever image he chooses, and hero tropes would dictate two possible options:

  1. He becomes megalomaniacal, consumed by his newfound power.
  2. He does what he can to return the populous to their 'original state,' the Locke-ian, Christian ending, returning humanity to their naive state so they can start fresh, avoiding the fruit of the poison tree.

But instead, he chooses option 3, wherein he does return some beauty to the world, but still leaves it absolutely clear where they are, that they're living in an illusion.

Successful Narrative

It really shouldn't, but the narrative somehow works. Maybe because the film doesn't try to make some definitive statement about what makes a human human (though it veers dangerously close), and instead leaves us with this odd think-piece of what aliens might do to discover where our essential humanity comes from. It's quite powerful, given how often we're fed the bit about our lives being nothing more than the sum of our memories; it's a foregone conclusion in so many sci-fi films. When the memories are entirely false, then what's left?

I Miss Miniature Modelling

CGI is so much better when grounded in realistic models. The sets in Dark City are absolutely stunning, and the movement of the buildings when the city was 'tuned' was gorgeous to watch (Cobweb Diamond admitted it was done better than in Inception, and she'd never say anything bad about Inception).

On Secret Superhero Narratives

There is clearly some superhero influence here, very understated, but justified by certain events.

A Rose By Any Other Name...

The names of the Strangers make perfect sense; they are a collective mind, so they divide themselves on what they perceive to be the unique attributes of humanity: face, sleep, hand, glove, etc. Notice there's no one named emotion, or love, or fear. To them, humanity is nothing more than a sum of physical processes, mixed with memory.

On Rewatchability

This is one of those special movies that actually improves on rewatch. There's no sleight of hand, all the answers are before us if we choose to recognize them. Nothing is so obvious that your hand is tipped too son.

The Connelly Factor

How cute is Jennifer Connelly in between chubby teenager and svelte sexpot? She still has the baby fat and the curves, and looks amazing.

Separately, Connelly has made one cult classic sci-fi/fantasy film in the 1980's, and one in the 1990's. Nothing in the 2000's, so she has a lot to make up for!

Re-Blogging Sandman: Doll's House - Tales in the Sand

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Alright guys, we've made it through the prelude, and now we're into the good stuff. Accordingly, my posts will get longer and more speculative.  We've been introduced to a number of potential themes in Preludes and Nocturnes, and now, in Doll's House, Gaiman's vision will start to crystallize. I'm going to try and identify patterns as they emerge, and speculate as to their future relevance, and I look forward to everyone chiming in!

GENDER

On the first page of the story, a giant phallus! Lest you think i ought to get my mind out of the gutter, the text supports the artistic rendering (or the art supports the text). Whatever. This equal weight between the art and the story was sorely lacking in Preludes and Nocturnes. If the story doesn't grip you, there's very rarely any artwork that distracts you from the words, no pretty pictures to seduce you otherwise. Basically, from panel one of Doll's House, we know that's changed: the very colors seem more vivid, more carefully selected. You can follow the story through the artwork, which I think is one of the most magical aspects of the comic medium.

But back to gender business. It's intriguing that the final step to manhood is not some show of force, no glamorous display, no taking of a female, but rather the simple hearing of a story. I suppose that's true in certain religions: in Hinduism and Judaism, where you have rites of passage for young people, what are the chants but stories, myths of morality, fables of warning?

Tales in the Sand is the first story in the Sandman mythology (or indeed any fiction I've read in some time) that recognizes how storytelling can be falsified by the simple fact of being a different gender. This is something that comes up often in feminist analysis of literature (most recently with Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, where an entire third of the novel is written from a female voice, but no one believes that it's anyone other than Franzen speaking).

I don't entirely buy into the idea that men can't write female stories, or vice versa, but Gaiman calls attention to the fact that there will be a subtle difference if a woman told this story, which is certainly true. Then again, I believe there would be subtle differences if anyone else told the story, period. This is the power of the storyteller; we can manipulate reality to our own advantage (and we hope not to receive the horrible fate of the poor waitress in the diner, who also tried to manipulate reality to her advantage).

I haven't really discussed it as yet, but gender has been an integral part of the story so far: for the most part, the villains have been male and the victims have been female. Also, all the females in the story have exercised what would certainly have been considered abnormal or even deviant sexuality at the time (the 1980's!). Think of "24 Hours." You could almost read it as a morality play: each woman in the story is an adulterer, a lesbian, or a necrophiliac. But Gaiman's aims are never so prosaic; he fails as a writer when he comes off as preachy, as preaching seems so opposite to what he's trying to achieve in this grand series.

This is what is known as overthinking.

DESIGNING THE ENDLESS

I don't know if it's a design issue or what, but the glass object that the old man requests closely resembles the materioptikon. Oh Dream, totally unable to keep ahold of his powerful talismans (that's what she said).

There's also an interesting suggestion that the mortal relationship with the Endless is one of our own making; the boy refers to "Grandmother Death," and Nada obviously has a sexual relationship with Dream (or Kai'ckul in this case). We do have some control over them: they appear in manners designed to appease our own aesthetic sense (and it's hard to remember today, given Neil Gaiman's mainstream success, but Sandman was a hot goth property in its early years).

Also, and most excitingly, look at the Dreaming through Nada's eyes! It's not fun and frolic, it's bloody terrifying! Cain and Abel's constant fighting is not just a repeated amusement, but to her it's a serious battle. And notice how she makes the first reference to the "Endless," that it is 'not given to mortals to love the endless.'

CITIES WITHIN CITIES

Cities and space also hold great importance within the mythology: I don't know if it's Neil Gaiman's ability to bring his settings to life, or whether there will be a greater significance to the whole concept of domain. Domains are clearly defined both emotionally and spacially; different characters fight for sovereignty over everything from emotion to territory. This is true of all humanity, I suppose, but this emphasis lends to the idea that there's a larger game at play. Larger than mortals, larger than the Endless. So I'm gonna start keeping track of city references: obviously we already have the Dreaming, and Hell, and Earth. But now we have the legend of the City of Glass (I wonder if this is an intentional Paul Auster reference, another writer who challenges the notion of story at its base).

Not to mention the king of the birds, an earthbound god who still rules his domain in the sky from his home in the 'hot lands of the North.'

ON POISONED APPLES AND OTHER SUCH THINGS

Gaiman doesn't bother too much with Biblical myths, which is but one of the reasons I enjoy his work so much (I do sincerely feel that sometimes atheists are bitter that they are not as able to craft stories as compelling as those in the Bible, and I get irritated when an author's entire oeuvre is dedicated to refuting those myths without coming up with his/her own new stories, new fables, etc).

But there is a weaverbird, who tempts Nada with berries, and my mind goes straight to Persephone and not to Eve, whether that was Gaiman's intention or not. But of course he's creating a myth of his own, of why the weaverbird is now brown and free from attack.

But then, there's another myth that comes up: in this story, Dream is Zeus, and Nada is Europa, who tries to escape the god by transforming into an animal, only to fail.

Everyone who knows me knows that I hate origin stories. But I am incredibly amused by the concept of origin stories for origin stories.

Coming up: And thusly we meet the family. Two families, for that matter.

Re-Blogging Sandman #8: Sound of Her Wings

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And here we are at last! The last issue of Preludes and Nocturnes, which has turned out to be the prelude to much awesomeness. In "The Sound of Her Wings," we are officially introduced to Dream's wonderful sister, Death.

From page one, you know you're getting something different: pastel colors my god! And in Paris. Nothing bad can happen with pastel colors in Paris, right?*

It's so COMFORTING when Death enters the conversation, a Goth-styled breath of fresh air. Though she doesn't have her trademark eyeliner yet, which is vaguely disappointing! Mopius, Lord of Emo, is sitting and ruminating, and in comes Hurrican Death, rambling about Fat Pigeons and Mary Poppins and all those things that make humans human. Morbius rewards her imposition with a recap of the story so far.

I'm of two minds about the expository scenes. On the one hand they feel, well, expository. We've been reading, do we really need a recap? But on the other hand, it's important to see Dream reflect like this, as there have been so many hint that he is not a man prone to regrets or looking back on the past, at least he didn't before. For Gaiman to show him philosophizing about recent events suggests a subtle shift in character.

But the number one thing to take away from this story is that Dream is not the only one of his kind: he has family, and they're not all as dark and tormented as he is. But lets play on the assumption that Dream's imprisonment has led him to become not a better person necessarily, but a little more empathetic. What would have happened if Death had been imprisoned as was originally intended? I suspect her sunny disposition would have taken a few hard knocks; she might have emerged despotic.

But as Franklin demonstrates, if you meet Death without knowing her name, you would WANT to see her, you would want to be adjacent to her marvelous energy. And so we do, in fact, for we do not know she is Death until the end. And what a weird little twist that is.

There's a subtle horror here that works much better than the rest of the first series, I believe. Death knows what she's doing, she's not callous, nor is she overly professional. It's almost sweet when she talks the recently deceased through their passing. Until the baby. And even then, it's a sweet conversation. Until we get an almost full page of the new mother in despair. Now THAT's the moment. That's the consequence of Death. She inflicts great torment on those that are left behind.

These Eternals, there's a lot more going on than what's bubbling on the surface.

Coming up: Doll's House! And we get a few history lessons.

 

*Upon further research, it turns out this ISN'T Paris, but Greenwich Village in New York City.

Thoughts on the Last Five Opening Paragraphs I've Read

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(yes, that is a word cloud of all the opening paragraphs. apparently Clubs is an important word here).

This is as much an exercise of interest for myself as it is for you, dear reader, in that you may be allowed to convince yourself of the desirability of these books (these opening paragraphs are ordered by my own perception of their desirability).

Looking at this page now, I am struck by HOW DAMN LONG some of these opening paragraphs are (they tend to fill an entire page!). You would expect this sort of behavior from legendarily verbose Henry James, but not from Jennifer Egan, in a novel that was widely praised for its concision as much as anything else. But let's move on to the individual commentary.

To the copy/paste machine! (or transcription machine, blech).

1. Jennifer Egan - A Visit From the Goon Squad

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman’s blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. But this wish only camouflaged the deeper feeling Sasha always had: that fat, tender wallet, offering itself to her hand—it seemed so dull, so life-as-usual to just leave it there rather than seize the moment, accept the challenge, take the leap, fly the coop, throw caution to the wind, live dangerously (“I get it,” Coz, her therapist, said), and take the fucking thing.

This is the best book I've read in the past year, and you get vague hints of the style and approach of the novel from this paragraph, though I'm not sure it does the novel justice. There's a breathless quality here that fits this character, but not the overall tone of the book. But it is important to note that every chapter is written in a different style and from a different perspective, more like interlinked short stories than a novel. Maybe I should have given you the paragraph that opens the POWERPOINT CHAPTER.

2. Sarah Vowell - Wordy Shipmates

The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.

This is a wonderfully entertaining history of one of the most boring topics in existence: the Puritans! And not the Mayflower Puritans, but the second wave of Arbella Puritans. But as this short but sweet paragraph hints, Sarah Vowell makes the journey come alive for the reader, employing wit and not a little bit of irreverence. But in the end, she comes to praise Puritans, not to bury them.

3. Joshua Foer - Moonwalking With Einstein

Dom DeLuise, celebrity fat man (and five of clubs), has been implicated in the following unseemly acts in my mind’s eye: He has hocked a fat globule of spittle (nine of clubs) on Albert Einstein’s thick white mane (three of diamonds) and delivered a devastating karate kick (five of spades) to the groin of Pope Benedict XVI (six of diamonds). Michael Jackson (king of hearts) has engaged in behavior bizarre even for him. He has defecated (two of clubs) on a salmon burger (king of clubs) and captured his flatulence (queen of clubs) in a balloon (six of spades). Rhea Perlman, diminutive Cheers bartendress (and queen of spades), has been caught cavorting with the seven-foot-seven Sudanese basketball star Manute Bol (seven of clubs) in a highly explicit (and in this case, anatomically improbable) two-digit act of congress (three of clubs).

If you don't already know what this book is about, that paragraph would make approximate ZERO sense. This in journalism is known as BURYING THE LEAD, by putting it in the second paragraph instead of the first. It's another great non-fiction though, about Foer's journey to becoming an international memory champion.

4. Adam Haslett - Union Atlantic

Their second night in port at Bahrain someone on the admiral’s staff decided the crew of the Vincennes deserved at least a free pack of cigarettes each. The gesture went over well until the canteen ran out and then the dispensing machines, leaving fifty or so enlisted men and a few petty officers feeling cheated of the one recognition anyone had offered of what they had been through. A number of them, considerably drunk, had begun milling outside the commissary, suggesting it ought to be opened up to make good on the promise. Realizing he had a situation on his hands, the admiral’s staffer pulled Vrieger aside, handed him an envelope of petty cash, and told him there was a jeep and driver waiting for him at the gate.

I've just started this novel, so I'm not sure how this fits into the larger narrative, but one thing definitely struck me. This book first came to public notice for Haslett's clairvoyance, predicting the financial crisis a year before it began. But this paragraph seems to predict the CURRENT crisis in the MIddle East, Bahrain especially. So really, I think Haslett has sold his soul to the devil. But I am enjoying this one thoroughly.

5. Henry James - Daisy Miller

At the little town of Vevey, in Switzerland, there is a particularly comfortable hotel. There are, indeed, many hotels, for the entertainment of tourists is the business of the place, which, as many travelers will remember, is seated upon the edge of a remarkably blue lake--a lake that it behooves every tourist to visit. The shore of the lake presents an unbroken array of establishments of this order, of every category, from the "grand hotel" of the newest fashion, with a chalk-white front, a hundred balconies, and a dozen flags flying from its roof, to the little Swiss pension of an elder day, with its name inscribed in German-looking lettering upon a pink or yellow wall and an awkward summerhouse in the angle of the garden. One of the hotels at Vevey, however, is famous, even classical, being distinguished from many of its upstart neighbors by an air both of luxury and of maturity. In this region, in the month of June, American travelers are extremely numerous; it may be said, indeed, that Vevey assumes at this period some of the characteristics of an American watering place. There are sights and sounds which evoke a vision, an echo, of Newport and Saratoga. There is a flitting hither and thither of "stylish" young girls, a rustling of muslin flounces, a rattle of dance music in the morning hours, a sound of high-pitched voices at all times. You receive an impression of these things at the excellent inn of the "Trois Couronnes" and are transported in fancy to the Ocean House or to Congress Hall. But at the "Trois Couronnes," it must be added, there are other features that are much at variance with these suggestions: neat German waiters, who look like secretaries of legation; Russian princesses sitting in the garden; little Polish boys walking about held by the hand, with their governors; a view of the sunny crest of the Dent du Midi and the picturesque towers of the Castle of Chillon.

You would never know from this doorstopper of a paragraph what a quick read this book was (quick, unmemorable, so on and so-forth). Reading this helped me appreciate how revolutionary the Lost Generation were, cutting out all the unnecessary words and leaving the essence. But Daisy Miller, like Sarah Vowell's novel, reminds us that once upon a time, Americans were British, with all their formalisms and stodginess, and all the 'manners' issues. Yes, Daisy shocks the foreign establishment, but the judgment by her fellow Americans is very very Austen-esque, and predicts the sort of snobbery you get today in America with the Inherited Rich vs. the Nouveau Riche.

Statistical note:

Fiction to non-fiction: 3-2

Female to Male: 2-3

21st Century to Prior: 4-1

Re-Blogging Sandman: Issue #7 Sound and the Fury

4 Comments »

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Ok. This one is visually stunning, but the writing isn't up to scruff. I should be honest, I don't have a lot of nice things to say about this one. It was bound to happen at some point that there was an issue that disappointed me, and I'm glad to get it out of the way in Preludes and Nocturnes.

It's indicative of how clever and deep the series becomes later that I was deeply disbelieving in the fact that the characters on page 2 are nothing more than walk-ons (sadly, the Annotated Sandman confirms this). I would love if these characters reappear, or were based on historical characters.

Coming after the gross brutality in the previous issue, Gaiman's broadening of scope to the world at large feels almost unnecessary (but then I'm not reading week after week as people did when the series came out).

I do wonder, on page 3, who Gaiman refers to as their "suddenly distant God." Initially I thought it was Dream, and then I thought it was Dee, a subtle comment about humanity's need to worship something, anything in times of trouble. But in the course of my overthinking, I realized they're probably referring to God God. At which point I immediately wished they were talking about Dee instead. It's a confusing statement, because we are clearly seeing humanity give in to depravity, and depravity usually implies some sort of God-less state, so either their worship needs to be depraved, or they shouldn't be worshipping at all (unless of course they're praying to the Puritan version of God, who they love precisely because he is wicked and merciless (according to Sarah Vowell at any rate)).

CHARACTER ISSUES

It's the Dalek problem. Dee is evil because he's evil and for no other reason. This sort of made the Scooby Doo villain issue even worse for me. There could have been some cleverness or irony if John Dee's desires were more complicated in the real world, but return to their most base in the Dream World.

And as for Dream? It's disappointing to see him pretty much beg Dee for the ruby back, and he begs so PLAINTively. Dream is nothing like humble, so this doesn't feel right to me. Certainly he's desperate to get his power back, but not as desperate as he was at the beginning. And he slowly won battles through cunning and through deception and understanding of his enemies' weaknesses.

LANGUAGE ISSUES

For one thing, Morpheus uses the phrase "my soul-stuff." Really, Neil? The lord of all things written or thought in the history of the Universe, and that's the word he comes up with? No.

And for another, John Dee inexplicably descends into a torrent of British slang. Aren't all the Arkham villains true blue Americans? To some extent you can blame the manifestations of the dream world for changing his speech, but he says 'cowardy custard' before even entering the Dreaming. And even if he did suddenly fancy himself British, "spineless, spittle-arsed, poxy-pale wanker," is particularly British, slang that we wouldn't even hear in the United States.

Not to mention Dee's terrible excuses for insults: "dream-puker," and "swine-scum." Zing! And out of character. After all, what is Dee but the dark reflection of Dream? He is a creator in his own way, but he chooses to use Dream's power to create situations of infinite torment, to create thoughts of immeasurable darkness. He's definitely not clich├ęd in his villainy. So when he suddenly starts talking like a Scooby Doo villain? Doesn't really work for me (and yes, I am aware that in the old Hanna-Barbera Superfriends cartoons, he was pretty much a Scooby Doo villain).

BUT ALLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL

And we see Dream show a bit of mercy, exacting no punishment greater than sending Dee back to his jail (where Scarecrow also goes strangely British with "my sainted aunt!" (It is possible that Scarecrow is an unapologetic fan of Wodehouse, but I doubt it somehow).

NEXT UP: My hero comes to town! My hero comes to town!

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