“A Speeding Death Kaleidoscope Made Out Of Tits”

I wrote another book review for the magical miscreants at De’Lunula. This one is a review of “Normal”, the (really, really good) new novel by Warren Ellis. It’s one half mystery mixed with one half apocalyptic musings.

De’Lunula: Warren Ellis’ “Normal” Is A Mad Trip On A “Speeding Death Kaleidoscope Made Out Of Tits”

Thoughts on Coilhouse #6

Originally published on the Our Lady of Dischord Tumblr.

Thoughts on Coilhouse Issue #6

One of the consequences of working for a longtime in a used bookstore is that it can kill any respect that you have for magazines as a medium stone-dead. Where I used to work, we would get piles and piles of magazines, sometimes stuffed into garbage bags like overgrown leaves, that people would haul onto our counters, hoping to make some scratch. It didn’t take long to realize that magazines have very little collectible worth and often take up more room than they’re worth. At least once a month someone would come in with decades worth of National Geographic magazines, expecting that all those yellow magazines would be worth their weight in gold, only to walk away scowling with (if they were lucky) $5 in their pockets while we tossed 90% of those issues into a recycling bin. Some knee-jerk part of my brain hears the word “magazine” and thinks “disposable” immediately.

It’s an unfair thought to have, not to mention self-destructive: as a writer, I love that magazines exist, both as a source of diverse writings to read and as (hopefully) future outlets for publishing my work. And I’ve read more music and political and film magazines than your average bear, and I’ve seen 1,000s of New Yorker cartoons and not laughed at them, the same as every other person whose ever laid eyes on a New Yorker cartoon. I just find it hard to justify spending $5-10 on a magazine, when I know that a quarter of it is going to be ads and when I have no guarantee that the writing and design is well-edited and worth reading.  The only reason why I’m tempted to one day get an e-reader is just so I have a portable and convenient way of reading magazines without having piles and piles of them taking over my shelves.

All this is to establish that when it comes to magazines, I have a pretty thick wall built up that keeps me from getting excited about them. Which brings me to one of the things I just finished reading, the 6th issue of Coilhouse.

Calling themselves “A Love Letter To Alternative Culture”, Coilhouse have put out a very impressive piece of work. A limited print run magazine (as much as I’d love to read Coilhouse Issues 1-5, I can’t cause they are plumb-sold-out), the latest issue of Coilhouse clocks in at 113 pages and costs $15 (they also have a $75 package deal where they throw in a Molly Crabapple art print). Is it worth every penny? Yes (its even worth the shipping and handling). For one thing, its just a beautiful OBJECT. With a die-cut cover, thick pages and sturdy binding, it feels more like a book than a magazine (hell, it even smells good). If all magazines went to the trouble of looking and feeling as good as this issue of Coilhouse does, I’d buy them more often (if I had enough dough, that is). And the art design is top-notch: even the ad pages succeed in not being boring to look at. Which brings me to the real reason that Coilhouse is worth buying: the articles.

Coilhouse #6 has a piece about Klaus Nomi and the text of an entire German Expressionist play by Lothar Schreyer. I must admit: the article before it by“‘Voluptuous World: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin” author Mel Gordon giving some background on the life and work of Lothar was much more interesting and enjoyable to read than Schreyer’s “Crucifixion” play.

It also includes a piece talking about the brilliantly deranged film “The Forbidden Zone” (which if you haven’t seen it yet: what the hell is wrong with you? Go forth and see it this instant!). The article talks about The Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo, alluding to their various Gong Show antics, before talking about the process of how “The Forbidden Zone” was made. There are even hints of a “Forbidden Zone II”: Richard Elfman gives a teaser of the plot and talks about plans to bring it to life at the end of the article. No explanations for who thought of the freaky frog butlers, though.

There are several interesting interviews, with comic artist/writer Paul Pope, director Terry Gilliam, (who talks about his renouncing his U.S. citizenship), painter Jared Joslin, dancer Rachel Brice, & Kathleen Hanna, who talks about the Riot Grrl archives being assembled at NYU’s Fales Library and her thoughts on the movement’s past and future.

There’s a “pedagogical portrait” of El Lissitzky, whose typography and layout looks like El Lissitzky had put it together. And lest I forget, the reason I bought the magazine in the first place: an interview with former Bad Seed andEinsturzende Neubauten main-man Blixa Bargeld.

There’s some fashion spreads, too, which aren’t my cup of tea, but they’re pretty to look at and eye-catching. A funny thing to note: that the models in the Constructivist photo shoot are from the band Angelspit, who I saw perform back in October at the Fetish Ball and was very unimpressed by (to the point that I was live-tweeting just how much I was bored by their music as they were playing it).

One other neat thing to note: people who buy the issue also get links sent via email for bonus material relating to Hanna, Brice & mathematician/origami crafter Robert Lang. I haven’t checked ’em out yet, but I think the idea of it is very clever, like the print equivalent of DVD special features.

I know this review of Coilhouse #6 is overwhelmingly positive (aside from the Angelspit hate), but I honestly can’t find anything to complain about. It’s a well put together collection of text and imagery, and if they can maintain this level of quality for their next issue, you can just slap my ass and call me Pre-Order.

Coilhouse: http://coilhouse.net/

Fellini & the Orixa: on “Daytripper”

The following is an archival piece from this blog’s early days, back when it was on Tumblr.

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’sDaytripper” is so good it makes me wish we lived in the Star Trek universe and I could pop it into a replicator and pass out dozens and dozens of copies of it to everyone I know. I read the whole thing on the long bus ride from Scottsdale to downtown Phoenix in the middle of the day; I reread it on the long bus ride from downtown Phoenix to Scottsdale in the middle of the night. Both times it elicited the same reaction: I felt as though someone had filled my brain up with air, inflating it like a balloon. My mind felt larger and full of more space. My spinal column felt like a narrow string tethering my brain-balloon to the earth.

“Daytripper” is a hard book to talk about. Even attempting to discuss the plot on a structural level runs the risk of spoilers, so I’ll refrain. All I’ll say is that the book chronicles the life of Bras, a Brazilian writer (at first a newspaper obituary writer, and later in life a best-selling novelist), from his childhood into his twilight years, jumping back and forth through time. It focuses on the major relationships in his life: with his wife, Ana; his best friend, Jorge; and his parents. Much of the book is rooted in “reality”: despite it being on the “Vertigo” imprint, there aren’t any surly Irish vampires or crazed demigods or kinky fairy tale beasts running around. If “Daytripper” was a novel instead of a graphic novel, its relatively “realistic” storyline wouldn’t make any literary critic start hissing and making the sign of the cross and screech “FANTASY! SCIENCE-FIIIICTION!” as they hurled it across the room.

And yet there are those pesky quotation marks around the word reality. “Daytripper” is a dreamy book, in more ways than one. It reminds me of Fellini’s “8 ½”: not just for that film’s vivid fantasy sequences, but for the tone of the film (whimsical about the creative life, and yet also showing an underlying resignation about life itself). There is hope and love and family and the sublime in “Daytripper”, but there is also death, lots of death: it’s a long shadow cast over every page of the text.

Strangeness haunts the margins of it (like the talk of Orixa spirits during Bras’ trip to Salvador), and the very nature of the world we’re reading about is called into question with each new issue. You’ll understand what I mean if you do yourself a favor and read it: every issue of “Daytripper” feels like it could be referring to a whole new universe, even though the characters are the same. I’ve read it twice and I’m still not sure what is “true” and what isn’t. Hell, I’m not sure if wondering what’s “true” is missing the point in the first place. The beauty of the book, though, is that solving the mystery of it doesn’t matter. The central story is so heartfelt, so well-written, so goddamn life-affirming that I could never figure the whole thing out and I’ll be okay with that.

The art is as great as the writing. “Daytripper” is a colorful, lovely book. What leaps out the most is the eyes: they’re so expressive. Even the animals in the book have soulful eyes: frogs squint menacingly, family dogs glance up with slobbering joy, angola birds light out into the sky in terror.

The highest praise I can give the book is this: “Daytripper” makes me want to WRITE, write until my fingers wither away and fall off of my hands. It makes me want to be pounding away at my keyboard when Judgement Day comes, telling Saint Peter and the Four Horsemen that they can wait until I’m done before they do their work. And it makes me wish scientists would get around to making those damn replicators already so I can share this wealth with all my peeps.

A multitude of drops: “Cloud Atlas”

“It’s all rats’ nests & rubble now. That’s what all beliefs turn to one day. Rats’ nests & rubble”.

I finished “Cloud Atlas” today. Started reading the David Mitchell book at 5pm on Friday, during my long combination bus/lightrail commute from Scottsdale to downtown Phoenix (an hour and a half commute, full of the usual bus hazards: late drivers, strange smells, drunks & crazy-crazy-crazy people) and finished it this afternoon. 509 pages flew by fast.

The verdict: pretty Great. Seriously great. Great enough that I’m tempted to turn back to the beginning and start reading it again (but the large, ziggurat-like To-Read stack I’ve got laying in wait for me makes me stay my hand). There’s a lot to like about “Cloud Atlas”: for starters, its a very accessible read. Despite its reputation as a “puzzle book”, the prose is easy to read (well, the last section’s future-English is a little tricky, but it isn’t half as hard to grok as, say, “Riddley Walker”), its often quite funny and moving, and the characters are engaging and interesting. Which is what makes “Cloud Atlas” so readable: yeah, it has an inventive and intriguing structure, but that wouldn’t amount to shit if the stories themselves weren’t involving. And they are: all six of the different worlds in “Cloud Atlas” are interesting, and had they been expanded into novel length portions, I’d be willing to read all six of those novels. It’s a remarkable feat: to craft a work that hops through time in six different segments, each segment being written in a different style (Melville-esque sea travelogue, a detective story, a dystopian future, etc) and utilizing a different structure (diary entries, a court transcript, oral story-telling, a series of letters), and that each of those segments are populated by memorable characters and have strong narratives… to juggle that many balls and have none of them hit the dirt is impressive.

And it seems like a book that would reward another read: there are so many links and associations connecting the different sections. The recurring instances of slavery and peaceful groups/individuals getting crushed by power-hungry organizations; the number 6, which crops up all over the place; the comet-shaped birthmark; the fact that men in power get thrown off of structures (literally chucked off of buildings) in a few of the stories, as well as bulky enforcers getting hit by cars on several occasions; the references to the title itself, explained in different words and different contexts by each of the stories; and then there’s the obvious stuff, like the fact that some characters cross over and reappear in different sections (like Sixsmith, appearing in Robert Frobisher and Luisa Rey’s tales). And what’s also intriguing about the book is that as we come to a new section, that section comments on the past section and sheds new light and casts doubt on what we just read: in one story, the main character finds a journal describing the events of the past section and immediately makes a head-turning observation about one of the characters that changes the meaning of that other story dramatically; in another section, the lead character uncovers the “source” of the previous story and discovers that that past character died in obscurity. All of the sections in “Cloud Atlas” connect to each other through different forms of media: as out of prints journals, as old yellowing letters, as film adaptations and (in the final story, far-far-far in the future) as myth. So not only are we reading those individual sections, we are reading their ADAPTATIONS as well.

And then there are the eerie, unanswered questions in the text: like why does Joe Napier think of the name of the port that The Prophetess is docked at in the past? What does Bill Smoke mean by that “always” in “does death always make you so verbose?” (and least you think I’m reading too much into things, this is a book where reincarnation is a major motif). How did Somni inspire the Prescients? Is Old Georgie real, and if so, what the hell IS he? And is the Luisa Rey story just a mystery novel, like Timothy Cavendish thinks it is, or is it a “true story” being packaged as fiction?

I’m eager to read Mitchell’s other works in the future. Next up on my reading list: a bunch of graphic novels (“Kill Your Boyfriend”, “Flex Mentallo” & “Casanova”).

“I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be’ morrow? Only Somni the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’clouds”.

Originally published on the Our Lady of Discord tumblr.