Not sure I’ll ever blog as regularly about my media consumption as Brendan does, but I like his posts, so I thought I’d do this roundup of some recent reading. I wanted to call this my non-academic reading, but with me, you never know what becomes academic reading, so let’s call it a roundup of my recent adventures in fiction.

Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore et. al.

  • About 20 months ago, I started plowing through the Hellblazer comics and I picked up Books 1 and 2 of Saga of the Swamp Thing, the hardback rerelease of Alan Moore’s run with the Swamp Thing, mostly to see John Constantine‘s origins. As Book 3 isn’t released until next week, I haven’t encountered Constantine yet, but it’s Alan Moore, so I expected it to be good. It is.
  • While billed as horror, it’s much closer to Lovecraft than Stephen King. Getting academic here, I’d say it’s dark fantasy/Gothic fantasy rather than mainstream horror, which suits me just fine as I like dark fantasy but don’t like mainstream horror.
  • It was interesting to see how Moore placed the series within the larger DC (superhero) universe while separating it from the DC universe at the same time. Much more overt than what Neil Gaiman did with The Sandman, but also more artful, I think. The Justice League shows up in issue 24: “Roots,”realizing that they’ve dropped the ball and may not be able to confront the threat before them. Green Arrow puts it like this, “Man I don’t believe this! We were watching out for New York, for Metropolis, for Atlantis but who was watching out for Lacroix, Louisiana?” At the end of the issue, after the Swamp Thing has done his job, Green Lantern asks, “What happened out here?” and Superman replies, “I don’t know. Let’s just be grateful that there’s something watching out for the places no one watches out for.” And that’s it for the costumed ones.
  • I could have finished off Moore’s run by buying volumes 5 & 6, but having started with the new hardbacks, I’m waiting for Book 3, which has the two volumes together. I’m looking forward to next week.

Crooked Little Vein, Warren Ellis

  • I picked up Crooked Little Vein because I’d enjoyed Ellis’ Transmetropolitan comic series (see below), and it was a fun read: the story, the writing, and the medium. (It was the first novel I read on the iPad.)
  • It’s a profane, dark comedy/detective/political novel about a down-and-out private detective hired to find and retrieve the “other Constitution of the United States” which “details the real intent of [the Founders’] design for American society.”
  • To give you a sense of the writing, here’s one of my favorite passages, a description of the other Constitution itself:

    It is a small, handwritten volume reputed bound in the skin of the extraterrestrial entity that plagued Benjamin Franklin’s ass over six nights in Paris during his European travels. Benjamin Franklin wasn’t some nancy-boy novelist who wrote sensitive books about aliens sticking things up his rectum, you know. On the seventh night he got right up and killed the little bastard with one punch.

Spook Country, William Gibson

  • Not having enjoyed Gibson’s three previous books, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties and Pattern Recognition, nearly as much as the first four, I held off on reading this one for a few years. It also took me a number of times to get into it: for some reason, I had some difficulty getting past the first few pages. It was the first book I bought on the iPad, so after a few months of dithering, I decided to read it despite the fact it wasn’t doing it for me, or least make a good effort at trying to do so. I’m glad I did. I think it’s Gibson’s best since Virtual Light and it’s got me looking forward to the release of Zero History later this year.
  • Part of the Bigend books (along with Pattern Recognition), it’s science fiction thinking applied to the present rather than to the near future, what he has called “speculative fiction of the very recent past.”
  • After reading this, I decided to get a hold of the Gibson documentary No Map for these Territories, which I watched Tuesday night. I enjoyed that as well and kept thinking I’d love to show clips of Gibson talking about recent social/cultural changes brought about by technology as I teach McLuhan.
  • After reading this book and watching No Map, I’m beginning to wonder if my problem with the three previous books is rooted in me as a reader wanting Gibson to write like he had in the past rather than allowing him to mature as a writer. If that’s the case, then I’m probably maturing as a reader. And now I’m asking my self, what the hell does that mean?

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi

  • I first came across Bacigalupi when I read “The Calorie Man” in Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, an excellent “biopunk” short story that scared the hell out of me with it’s dystopian, post-petroleum world in which Midwest agribusinesses used bioterrorism to control the world’s food supply and calories have become currency. It scared the hell out of me because it’s an all too possible future, what with agribusinesses patenting the genomes of conventional plants and animals and seeking to replace agriculture with bioengineered seeds and suing farmers for doing things like saving and replanting these genetically modified seeds. [Note: I stated college with the intent of being a biochemistry/English double major with the career goal of being a genetic engineer/science fiction writer, so I have no problem with genetic engineering or genetically modified food per se.] The Windup Girl is set in this same world.
  • I highly recommend The Windup Girl. It’s a great book. The future here doesn’t scare me as much as it did in “The Calorie Man,” maybe because having read “The Calorie Man,” it’s not new. That’s not to say the book doesn’t have much new to offer. It does. It’s set farther in the future than “The Calorie Man” and the Midwest agricorps’ gene-rippers are working hard to keep ahead of the mutated horrors they’ve unleashed on the world. While I’m not sure I’d call the “Windup Gir”l the main character (she shares the stage with an agricorp “calorie man”; a “yellow card Chinese,” that is a survivor of the Malaysian purge of the ethnic Chinese now living in Thailand; and a few others), she’s the focal point of a number of the novel’s questions/issues. The Windup Girl herself is a genetically modified, creche-grown “New Person,” a “non-human” human abandoned in Thailand by her Japanese businessman owner because it was cheaper for him to buy a new one in Japan than to ship her back when he returned.
  • The Windup Girl won the 2009 Nebula Award, was a 2009 Hugo Award nominee, and was listed by Time as 9th best novel of 2009. That’s 9th best fiction book, not science fiction book, mind you. It’s not too long ago that  science fiction would not have made such a list simply because it was science fiction.
  • As I said, The Windup Girl is set in the same future as Bacigalupi’s short story “The Calorie Man.” Also set in that future is his story “The Yellow Card Man.” Night Shade Books will let you download and read both for free. Look for the Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Stories link or get a hold of his short story collection Pump Six and Other Stories. [Pump Six is currently out of print, but you can buy an electronic version in a variety of formats from html and PDF to iBook/Nook/Kindle/Rocketbook/Microsoft Reader. That’s how I got my copy. :)]

Transmetropolitian, Warren Ellis et. al.

  • A great series from the DC Vertigo imprint (which Hellblazer, The Swamp Thing, and The Sandman also belong) that follows the return of 23rd century outlaw gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem to the City and to journalism. Imagine Hunter S. Thompson in a 23rd century cyberpunk America.
  • The one big problem I have with Hellblazer is that it is an ongoing series. I’ve thought about getting a subscription, but that would entail tracking down past issues not yet collected in graphic novel form, reading it piece-meal, and then buying the graphic novels when they’re released. What I’ve chosen to do instead is wait until each author finishes their run as each has an overall story arc in addition to the individual stories and smaller multi-issue stories. I know, I’m not a good comic book reader in this sense, but I’d rather read each arc at one time as a complete story. Transmet, on the other hand, is a completed series with 11 volumes, all written by Ellis. Only, volume 8 is out of print and won’t be rereleased until September, so I’m waiting. I spent $35 to buy an out of print Hellblazer that has no advertised rerelease date, but I’m not going to spend $60 for a Transmet volume I can get in a few months. If there wasn’t a scheduled rerelease date, I’d break down and buy it. Yes, Transmetropolitian is that good.