Space Opera: My Thoughts

Boy, someone REALLY wants to be Douglas Addams.  I suppose in the grand scheme of things, you could do significantly worse than Douglas Addams (Elron Hubbard comes to mind almost immediately), but there’s showing influence, and then there’s outright ripping off.

The concept of influenced by Vs. ripping off has been a topic of debate on the internet forever.  There was a time when making game reviews on the internet meant thousands of idiots would accuse you of ripping off The Angry Video Game Nerd, even if your style was nowhere near the loud, profane, fecalphiliac style of AVGN.  If you wanted to be a ranting raving lunatic with his own website designed in the most basic HTML, you were accused by thousands of ripping off The Best Page in the Universe, even if you didn’t copy his misogynistic, egocentric style.  Those are just two examples of this debate that I’m VERY familiar with.  I’m sure it goes on to other platforms, other mediums, and other creaters.

And a book like Space Opera gets me thinking more or less two chapters in that the comparisons to Douglas Addams are inescapable at best.  So is Space Opera a ripoff, or is it just heavily inspired.

Honestly, I’d go with the heavily inspired route.  Largely because while Catherynne M. Valente clearly goes out of her way to incorporate Douglas Addams esque narration about outer space and its various residents, the plot doesn’t even come close.

Space Opera has been described in one of two ways to me:

A. Eurovision in space.

B. That episode of Rick and Morty with the giant head demanding “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!”.

I’m not especially familiar with Eurovision, but I’m assured by friends within my book club that it’s a glorious trainwreck.  B was what ended up selling me on it.

Aliens gather far and wide to perform on the grandest stage of them all.  A stage so grand, Vince McMahon’s WrestleMania looks like a Podunk house show in a stinky old armory out in rural Kansas by comparison.  A stage so grand, various species have been known to convert entire planets into musical instruments just to stand a chance.  And every grand prix, new species are brought to the stage to determine whether or not they’re worth keeping around or not.  New contestants don’t have to win in order to avoid absolute annihilation, but survival depends entirely on avoiding last place.

Naturally, Earth eventually gets discovered, and is invited.  And after learning that all of Earth’s greatest musicians are dead (my favorite being The Insane Clown Possy ending up killing themselves as a result of something to do with magnets), Earth’s only hope ends up being Decibell Jones and The Absolute Zeroes.

Comparisons to Douglas Addams aside, this is an interesting challenge.  How the hell does one write about music?  Music is purely an audible experience, while reading is visual.  I’m going to take a wild guess and say Valente didn’t include sheet music in the print copy.

The story mentions several hybrid genres like barber shop quartet death metal, and symphonic dubstep just to name a possible few.  I would legitimately like to hear how all of these sound.  Even if dubstep is for pussies, integrating it into several other genres would be interesting to see.  The whole concept of mishmashing genres was really what made nu-metal so appealing to me.  True, every third band in the subgenre ended up being a collective of whiney bitches in hindsight, but that aside, combinations and mashups have always fascinated me, and I’d love to hear some of these genres.  It’s too bad that this is a BOOK, or else someone would probably try.

And no, there’s no attempt at replicating what these genres MIGHT sound like in the audiobook.  in fact, Valente really kind of just glances over the genres, or just mentions them off-handedly more than anything else.  Sure, they’re good for shits and giggles, but I’m that guy who has to actually ask out loud, “I wonder what that would sound like?”

Speaking of the audiobook, the audiobook is read by Heath Miller.  He does a pretty good job with the source material, reading it in that sort of dry style that makes British humor so great.

Any downsides to the story has less to do with the performance, and more to do with the source material itself.  I understand that it’s important to get a history of The Glactic Grand Prix, but this seemed to be the part of the book that got exceptionally old in a hurry for me.  There had to be a better way of emplamenting all this instead of making every even numbered chapter a brief history of this alien race or that alien race.  Surely!  It reached a point where these chapters felt like the single most elaborate form of padding I’d ever seen.  For all the impact the “knifeosaurus” people, or the 321, or ninety percent of the other aliens had on the overall story, I found myself wondering at the end just how necessary this information was.  Then I came to the conclusion that the book would’ve been, like, ten chapters if they weren’t in there.  Nothing necessarily wrong with ten chapter long books (Simon R. Green’s Nightside novellas almost never make it past ten from what I remember of them), but I remember trying to get for-real published means having to meet a very specific wordcount.

The book overall…  Is okay.  It had parts I liked, it had parts I could’ve done without.  The worst I can say about it is that it’s harmless.  The best thing I can say is that I’m glad I read it…  But I don’t see myself picking it up again in the distant future.  It killed about a week’s worth of boredom, but that’s about it.

That being said, I’d still recommend checking it out.

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Noir: My Thoughts

Christopher Moore is one of my all time favorite authors.  I started with A Dirty Job, then read all three of the Bloodsucking Fiends trilogy, and pretty much set out to read as many of his books as I could possibly get my hands on.

Admittedly, Moore is…  Not for everybody.  Especially in recent years, with stories like Sacre Blue, and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff.  These are pretty avant gard, considering the guy had made a living telling humorous stories about either a fictional town out in the middle of nowhere, or in a fictional San Fransisco that reminds me of Kevin Smith’s Jerseyverse.  Or Askewniverse.  Or whatever we’re calling the Jay and Silent Bob movies nowadays.  The Jay-And-Silent-Bobiverse?

Also, if nothing came from the 2010s, my fascination with film noir happened in this very decade.  All you bitches feeling nostalgic for the neon-colored nightmare of shoulder pads, toy commercial cartoons, and Reaganomics don’t know nothing about nostalgia.  I was going back to the days when movies weren’t even in color!  I was going back to the days communism actually seemed like a legit threat to anybody!  I was going back to the day when a high budget movie was around six figures at absolute most!  You want to talk nostalgic?  You don’t know.

I forgot where I was going with this.

Oh right, Christopher Moore wrote a noir book!  My favorite author?  Writing one of my recent favorite genres?  I literally commented on his blog: “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”.  No really.  Look for the sample chapter for Noir on his blog (if it’s still there).  You’ll find my comment right there!

ANYWAY…

I really had high hopes for this book.  And…  Not going to lie…  It’s not one of his better books.  Yeah, I’m starting to think I might have jumped the gun on that one.  It’s fucking No Man’s Sky all over again.

It’s not a bad story by any means.  Comedy wise, “the kid” was probably the funniest thing about the entire story.  I mean yeah, the fact the main female character is named after a variety of British cheese is KINDA funny I guess, but a lot of the humor…  I don’t really want to say it fell flat, but considering I read Christopher Moore books frequently, I’m kind of familiar with his pacing, and his style of joke telling.  It’s like watching a new episode of a long-running sitcom that hasn’t managed to hit seasonal rot yet: the jokes are there, and you know they’re funny, but they aren’t really gut-busting hilarious.

The very beginning of the book is basically a fucking trigger warning to all the delicate little snowflakes out there that this book takes place in the 1940s, and therefore may use some slurs that were acceptable then, but aren’t now.  Although I got to say, I was expecting a lot worse than what I got.  Sure, he used the word “colored” a few times, and a few slurs for Chinese people.  I don’t know, maybe having friends who masterbate to Trump and praise “the glory of Kekistan” have desensitised me to the point I feel nothing anymore when I hear racist remarks.  Or maybe I don’t offend nearly as easily as this current generation of weak-willed pussies.  I’ll honestly believe either one.

Get past the trigger warning, and you get a story that is…  Okay.

Really, my only real gripe with the book is that there’s two narrators, and the second narrator waits till way into the book to introduce himself.  The epic reveal…  Honestly, I can’t decide if it’s funny, or dumb.  Possibly both, but maybe leaning more towards dumb.  It’s one of those choices that, on paper, probably sounded funnier.  And at the moment of the reveal, it DID kinda give me a chuckle.  But prior to the reveal, I found myself constantly wondering why it went from first person to third person every other chapter.

The audiobook is read by Johnny Heller.  Heller is a man of about two or three voices at absolute best, and they all have a bit of a Marlon Brando quality to them.  However, it’s a reader that fits the theme of the book just fine, so I give it a pass.

Overall, it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read.  It’s not even the worst Christopher Moore book I’ve ever read.  Really, though, I’d recommend some of his other titles before recommending this one.

Reincarnation Blues, My Thoughts

1As much as I love the PEOPLE in my book club, the selections have left something to be desired.

I’ve tried The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neil Stevenson, and I honestly wasn’t impressed.

I tried the first book in Illuminae, and the fact it was classified as young adult might as well have been the red flag to end all red flags.

I tried From a Buic 8 by Stephen King, and was honestly pretty disappointed with it.

So far, out of all the books we’ve picked as a group, the only one I can say I truly loved was Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore.

Reincarnation and spirituality fascinate me.  Having been a kid growing up in the reddest part of Red Kansas, my only choices for religions were Catholicism, and Presbyterianism.  And when I say choices, I meant that my family was Presbyterian, and I had no choice but to be Presbyterian along with them.  So in other words, my spiritual studies could be summarized as “Jesus is correct, worship him or fuck off”.  But I’ve gone on that topic a bunch already, so I won’t bore you with it here.

Moving to the city, and gaining access to the internet were the best things that ever happened to me in this regard, because I found myself researching a lot about religion and spirituality over the course of my life.  I eventually settled on Baha’i, but even after settling, I still like to read what other religions have to say on this matter.  And Reincarnation Blues has an interesting interpretation of how reincarnation works.

Whether Reincarnation Blues builds its model of reincarnation on the Hindu, or the Buddhist concept is something I’m not entirely sure of.  I’m guessing the Buddhist version, considering one of the main character’s lifetimes was during the times of The Buddha himself, but honestly, Buddhism’s concept of the afterlife seems to borrow pretty heavily from Hindu.

The story, regardless, is fascinating.  At worst, I’d say it’s a bit on the predictable side the moment you find out there’s a finite number of lifetimes you’re allowed to have, and the fact the main character only has five more to go, but predictable isn’t the same as bad.

It’s all about attaining enlightenment, and going through “the sun door”.  What awaits you on the other side of the sun door?  Milo doesn’t seem all that interested at first, due to the fact the love of his life exists in the realm between lives.  Love makes you do crazy things.  It makes you lose count of lives and spend a lot of your time between them just hanging around deserts learning how to juggle.  I guess.  And here I thought it just made you forget smelling your girlfriend’s hair is considered creepy.  Don’t ask.

The humor in this book has been likened to Douglas Addams: author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It really depends on which passage we’re talking about.  Sometimes, I can totally see it.  Other times, that seems like a stretch.  The book has its own, unique, dry sense of humor.  Life and death are clearly irrelevant, and it really needs to be that way, or else the concept of reincarnation really loses its power.

The audiobook is read by Mark Bramhall, and…  He’s okay.  Listening to him read is like listening to a bed time story read by my grandpa, honestly.  Although I don’t think my grandpa ever read me any bed time stories with this much death involved.  In any case, his performance isn’t distracting, and the story never feels like a chore at any point.

I honestly recommend this book.  I’ve even thought of giving it a second readthrough once I’m done with the monumental pile of crap I have in my Audible.com cue right now.  It’s totally worth your time.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits: My Thoughts

I love David Wong.  Admittedly, I wasn’t around for PWOT, and I don’t really follow Cracked all that much (I’m also guessing WISECRACKED is a completely different entity), but his books have entertained me over the many…  Four years.  I found out he existed around the time his second book, This Book is Full of Spiders, was new.  I ended up enjoying the shit out of it, and even picked up the legendary John Dies at the End right after I finished that one.

Apparently, I was significantly late to the party when it comes to his third book, but hey, the important thing is I got to it.  Eventually.  A year later.  STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!

Unlike his previous novels, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits doesn’t follow the demon hunting shinanigans of David and John.  Instead, it follows the story of Zoey: trailer trash turned millionaire.  And for the record, my spellchecker is thoroughly bitching me out over the spelling of the name ZOEY, but according to the page on Audible.com, I’m spelling it right.  So fuck you, spellchecker.  ALWAYS NAY-SAYING!  Dick.

The audio book is read by Christy Romano, and she is absolutely perfect.  She’s got a wide range of voices, her reading style never gets tedious, and her timing is on the mark.  I enjoyed this performance very much.  Which is good, because this book is a wee bit tedious in spots.So…  Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before, but a fat girl from the trailer park suddenly becomes an ultra-billionaire upon her father’s passing, and inherits a mansion the size of a small town.  She also finds herself in a town where there are no laws, no regulations, and no cops.  A libertarian dream come true…  Right up until you get to the part where everybody’s AWARE of the fact there’s no rules and regulations, and ultimately turn the city into a personal playground for killers, a safe haven for every illegal substance on the planet, and the battleground between the team of Zoey and “The Fancy Suits”, and one of the most psychotic people I’ve seen in fiction in quite a while.  I’ve literally seen Dragon Ball Z villains with more subtlety to them than the villain of this book…  But I guess when you don’t have to hide in the shadows, and your entire self worth is based on how many Twitter followers…  Excuse me, BLINKER followers you have, there’s probably no point in being subtle, is there?

I’ll give Wong this much: the world he’s built is fascinating.  There’s plenty of detail that has me thinking someone’s on the verge of writing a wiki.  Hell, if there’s more than one book in the series, that just might happen.  They made a wiki for Punch Out of all things, so why not?

While I know it’s played up for laughs, I actually don’t have a difficult time believing people would sooner switch on their blinker cameras on their glasses and stream a murder happening right in front of them in the name of subscribers than…  You know, actually helping the victim?  Or even running away in terror, for that matter.  The idea of a futuristic anarchy zone like Tabula Ra$a (I’m guessing on that spelling based on the few hints the audio book has given me) reminds me of similar settings I’ve encountered over the years.  It’s like a more futuristic Nightside, or a less demonic Midian.  But while the core concept sounds has a bit of a “SIMPSONS DID IT!” vibe to it, The city as a whole is original enough to where you don’t even think about it when you’re reading it.

If I have one problem with the book, it’s how Wong milks the suspense for everything it’s worth.  I go into this book knowing full well Zoey’s not a fighter.  She has no cybernetic parts like the villains, she has no martial arts training…  Hell, her only real skill is that she gives really good “massages”.  I went in knowing she was going to get taken hostage at least once.  I’m also aware the villain of the book is a bit of a drama queen, as is everyone in this universe.  I just wish the attempt at building suspense and tention didn’t go on FOR FUCKING EVER!

Look, I can appreciate good banter between hero and villain.  A villainous monologue can be pretty epic, and the hero’s moment of pure helplessness can be pretty intense when done right.  But man, I wish the punchline would hurry up and get here.  It’s one thing to know in your heart of hearts that the bad guys aren’t going to succeed in burying someone alive, and it’s another thing for it to drag on, and on, and on, and on.  All the while, you already know the punchline is coming, which ultimately kills the attempt at suspense dead.  Admittedly, I didn’t see the EXACT punchline coming, but I knew something was going to come along and save the day.

And it wouldn’t be an especially big problem if it didn’t happen over and over and over again.  By the time it got to the final battle, I felt absolutely no sense of urgency.  Hell, despite Romano’s performance, I actually wanted to hit fast forward just to get to the god damn punchline already!

The book is a whopping seventy chapters long, but much like Nax Barry’s Jennifer Government, it becomes significantly less intimidating when you realize the chapters are ridiculously short.  Half the time, chapters end in the middle of conversations, and the next chapter picks up right where the conversation left off!  I wouldn’t say it’s annoying, but it does make me wonder out loud why the author went that route.

These complaints aside, I actually enjoyed this story.  Admittedly, not as much as the David and John stories, but if Wong writes a sequel to this novel, I might consider giving it a read.

Maybe My First Sin Was With My Right Hand

In 2013, my family and I took a tour of Branson, Missouri.  Oh my god, do NOT take a tour of Branson, Missouri.  There is a very good reason one of my old cab drivers referred to it as “Mormon Las Vegas”.

The trip could be summed up with three categories: country bumpkin production, comedian telling old people jokes I’ve already heard infinity billion times before, and long rides on a tour bus where the driver really tried to engage the passengers.  I, being a super entitled millennial apparently (pretty sure I just barely qualified as Generation X, but I probably read that generational chart wrong), spent most of those rides ignoring the shit out of everybody and listening to Speaker for the Dead on audio book.  Say whatever you want about Orscen Scott Card’s politics, but that guy writes some entertaining stories.  I wouldn’t say I was bored necessarily, but by the time we were on day two of this five day adventure, I was starting to want to go home.

Strangely, though, one of my fonder memories of the Branson vacation came during one of the breakfasts the tour company was putting on.

The person who ended up sitting next to me was a minister.  If I had to guess, based on how he talked about Jesus and the Christian faith, he was probably Southern Baptist.  This was going to be fun, hashtag-sarcasm.  I smiled and waved my way through the conversation, trying my best not to whip out my calculator and trying to calculate the specific amount of fuck I didn’t give about his ministry…  Then, he noticed I was left handed.

“This may surprise you,” he tells me, “but I’m also left handed.”

Well, maybe SURPRISE isn’t the word I’d use, but I suppose it was INTERESTING.  Kind of.

“a paster once told me an interesting thing,” he continued.  “He told me that the majority of people in the world are right-handed because when we commit our very first sin as human beings, we use our left hand.  Which means that the few of us that are left-handed are pure of heart.”

Uh…  Huh.  That’s actually kind of an interesting outlook on things, I thought for about ten minutes.

Naturally, in the name of politeness, and because this thought hadn’t occurred to me till after we were back on the bus, I kept my theory to myself.  However, I eventually came up with a different theory.

I suppose it’s possible that us left-handed folks have yet to commit a sin so bad, it changes us from lefties to righties.  However, who’s to say that I didn’t commit that sin already, and used my right hand to do it?  You ask me, that’s just as plausible.

By the Southern Baptist definition of “pure of heart”, I’m going to hell.  Undeniably, and undisputedly.  I cuss like a sailor, I’ve had sex out of wedlock, my favorite band in high school was Cradle of Filth, my favorite band RIGHT NOW is Ghost, I’ve stolen Pepsi bottles off of dorm staff’s desks and put them in other students’ rooms during my second year senior just to see what would happen…  I quite drinking alcohol (aside from that incident in July), but I think I’ve drank enough to where it counts.  Basically, I look at myself, and don’t think of myself as pure hearted.  In fact, that last one with the Pepsi makes me think I might have sociopathy.  Or maybe I was just a dick.

It’s possible I’m putting way too much thought into this.  I do that sometimes.  Really, it’s just something I thought of today at work, and figured I’d share it here.

What do you think?