Thursday, December 31, 2015

Waydown #15.12.31

And another one. As much effort as any of them, no matter how much content, and right up against the deadline (even if it was one I gave myself, for the end of the year, meaning I at least got one zine out in 2015. You can say this one took me an entire year). Shouldn't be a surprise by now.

Earlier in the year, after I finished the Ultrametabolism (text)book, I made a pointed decision to get back into reading comics. It's been longer than I care to admit that I've dedicated time regularly to just reading comics. There used to be eras when I had chunks of time devoted to reading comics, in addition to books and online articles and old newspapers and whatever else I was into, but those days are in much shorter supply now. I'm taking time before bed, usually erratic on my schedule so I have to stay flexible with it, time I usually spend chipping away at novels, and give it to comics. I'm getting through a lot of stuff (though not as much as back in the day). Of course I have stacks and boxes and shelves and crates full of stuff to read, and I'm even buying more stuff every week from the shop (though, luckily, again, not nearly as much as back when), so I never have a lack of material. I don't know if I could get through all this stuff before I die of the oldest age, but I'm enjoying giving it a shot.

REVIEWS


Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith (audiobook). When I was having anxiety problems in the '90s, I devoured as much literature on the subject as I could get my hands on. Not only was I fascinated by my disorder but I hoped that maybe something I could find, a snippet in one of those books, would be the key to unlocking and solving what I had. I never found it but I had some comfort that what I was suffering from had been documented and there were others who had what I had (to whatever degree). Even still, these years later and even when I'm not suffering from the condition, I'm still fascinated by the subject and I read what I can get when I come across it. I had a choice of books to download and I found this one, and just having "anxiety" in the subtitle was enough for me to check it out. Something that was good enough to get published I figured would at least be entertaining if not informative. This is a guy's account on his life with anxiety disorder. He's not a celebrity and he's no one who may have any impact beyond this book (which came out in 2012). It's really just about his life, which isn't any more remarkable than anyone else's. Much of his anxiety seems to go back to the experience of his losing his virginity, which is built up to be by far the most significant event in history, his or the world's, then when it's revealed it's really no more amazing than anyone else's. It's never explained why it caused him a lifetime of anxiety; it's rare you can get an explanation for your panic anyway, that's kinda the point, but there never becomes any resolution to his story, just that he kept on living. I find an interest in reading anyone's story, but there's not much in the way of anything extraordinary in this, and it's not told with any particular flourish that would make it a thrilling or particularly insightful read. It's just a story. I'm sure there's a great memoir about someone with anxiety disorders but this isn't it. If I can find a real good one, of course I'll read it, even if that element is a minor part of it. The audiobook version doesn’t add anything. It would probably have been harder to get through if I had to read it in print, though it’s written conversationally enough that it may have just been the material that would be the chore, not the way it was written.




Zero History by William Gibson (audiobook).  Gibson writes another lame book that isn't cyberpunk.  Not that he has to keep churning out cyberpunk stuff (and even that didn't help, since the three books after the Sprawl trilogy were nearly as bad as the ones taking place in the modern day), but it would be good if he could just find some kind of genre that gives his writing some life again.  This book is about as lifeless as it could be.  Looking at it another way, writing this boringly takes talent.  Is Gibson purposely torturing us so we'll leave him alone?  The trilogy this book is a part of is so bad it feels like it was done on purpose.  These books could have been his Heavy Metal Music, but we have to spend much more time with them and they get painful.  Unfortunately, his cyberpunk books are such beacons in the sci-fi genre that he still stands as an icon and that's hard to shake.  His newer books are as boring as much as he's undoubtedly bored writing them.  If he has no interest, why does he keep doing them?  Let him write screenplays, where he can maybe start a decent project or contribute some usable ideas, and let what scripts he writes for them get steamrolled by a headstrong director, but he'd get paid, if he's only turning in writing for a check anyway, and not writing awful books.  Maybe he needs a new genre.  He could have some luck in a Victorian setting.  Or a Western, just to confound expectations.  But, just anything else.  It couldn't be worse than what he's done post-Sprawl.  For as bad as so many of these newer books are, there's still a spark in there, buried deeply, almost crushed out, that shows that there still might be hope.  Maybe why I keep reading them (unless I just received them as gifts before I realized how bad they all are).  There might be hope, but a pay-off isn't in these books.  If he's not going to do cyberpunk then let him do modern-day stuff that reads like it's somewhere in the future.  Maybe it wouldn't even be that prescient, just that we're conditioned to expect it in a Gibson book, as he pretty clearly read the future in Neuromancer, even if it's clear now that his hitting on that was just luck.  Maybe anyone else could have done it but at least then it might have happened to a writer who could ride it for more books and a view of an interesting future but instead of crashing into mediocrity like Gibson did.  It's hard to imagine these newer books gaining any kind of meaning in the future, since some of the events and technology he tried to foresee are now laughably dated.  It's not as funny how much time is wasted trying to get through these books.

This novel has just one moment: He strikes on one interesting character and it seems there might be some kind of redemption for the book but too shortly after that the book is over and it's all done and the character is wasted.  It speaks of poor pacing and also the carelessness of tossing away a glimpse of how the rest of it could have been worthwhile but didn't want to bother with it.  It ends abruptly, like it wants to continue, or since it spent its big hit of action it can’t go on and just kills itself.  A character from the previous book is the main character in this one, and the closer we get to her, the more annoying she becomes.  It's an attempt at development that goes nowhere; she's a sop of character that was just interesting enough to keep the previous book going but here becomes boring and her B-story, introduced late, to flesh her out, adds nothing.   The almost-interesting character, introduced late, is a tease that nothing resolves, even worse in the last book of the series, leaving no reason to continue since it’s doubtful it could have any quality or use except to resolve threads, if they were interesting enough that there’s any urgency to keep going with them in the first place.  That abrupt ending becomes a mercy killing.

The audiobook reading is just as dull as the story.  The narrator has a good voice but one that would be better used playing off other actors in some kind of performance rather than a lull that just keeps going and going and going (though blame the material).  It’s such a dull book, the sound of the narrator's rumbling voice makes it too easy to fall asleep (not his fault since a more peppy voice would betray the tone so blame the audiobook casting director... and the book... and the writer).

(Gibson has released only one novel since this one, so very happily I should be able to stay away from his writing for a while (though I'm forever tempted to go back and re-read the Sprawl series).)



Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (audiobook).  I got this book, at least once, years ago, recommended by a friend who knew I was into William Gibson books and cyberpunk fiction (though he came to it more from a sci-fi and literate angle).  It’s a bit of a tome (at least for me and my turtle-like reading pace) and I cracked it open but just couldn’t stay in it.  It’s a great read, and it’s a sumptuous pit to fall into, but it’s also dense, and spending time with it but never seeming to take a good chunk out of it can be discouraging.  Though that also left more to savor, even if, or especially since, it could take me years to get through.  And it would have if I had been reading it.  I’d probably still be on it now if I was.  Luckily, there’s an audiobook of it that someone just so happened to put up on paperbackswap.com (that site can’t always be counted on to have the best stuff, but with some patience it sometimes comes up).  So listening to it helped me get through it, and it didn’t even take long after that, even though it was no less dense.

It’s certainly cyberpunk, though a later generation.  Not that it had any more updated technology than Neuromancer -- it may have even gone backwards a few years (though no less prescient, for being released pre-Internet), from a Gibson antecedent who acknowledges the wonder of tech but doesn’t get off on it.  It’s still a story that takes place in a world, though one constructed around presumed technological leaps.  It gets pretty close but doesn’t suffer from not getting it right.  It’s foremost an adventure story, which it’s more interested in being than a guess at the future.  And while that brand of sci-fi is usually so self-serious, this one takes a few pokes at the gas-baggery of the work that came before it and actually has fun with it.  That in itself is its own revolution.  The characters are fun, the world is rich, the details are a hoot.  And there’s plenty of it -- lots to get lost in for however long it takes you to get through it.  The writing is heavy and sturdy but the story moves quickly, a tricky combination for most writers outside of Chandler.  If it wasn’t for needing the past cyberpunk work to use as a jumping point, this could have been the pioneer that Neuromancer was.  But as it is, it’s more fabric for the tapestry of a genre that got stunted because we’re living in it now (though with less chrome than they thought we’d have everywhere).  Stephenson didn’t get as much acclaim for his books after this, maybe because he veered away from sci-fi, though hopefully he was able to continue writing quality material, something Gibson wasn’t able to do when he went away from it.  I’d be a lot more likely to read more of Stephenson’s further work (even after -- especially after -- reading way too much of the crap that Gibson did later).




It’s So Easy by Duff McKagan.  Of all the members of Guns n' Roses, Duff was maybe the least-sleazy one, the one you might actually most want to hang out with, the one most deserving of a comeback.  He was a drunk after all, not quite as much known to be into the hard drugs as the others were.  He was also the one who seemed to do the best after the best-known version of GnR broke apart, or at least he ended up having the most inspiring post-GnR story.  His story, beyond being a rock star, isn't the most exciting to read but it's not a slog either, and McKagan, without a ghost-rider (at least not that it credits one) isn't a bad writer.  That he did so well on his own after GnR is worth a chance to read his his tale.  He has stories, and he pulls off the amazing stunt that some of the best ones are those that came from cleaning up.  He probably doesn't remember the really good ones from the GnR days, and the most notable ones from that period Slash covered in his book anyway.  It's always a shame that the best parts of their histories, the parts where they're often at the heights of their popularity and maybe creativity, are the parts that don't get into the books, since that's usually the times when they're the most drunk or high or working a lot (more likely all three).  Duff tries to get as many stories as he can into the pages though it's not so much all about his life as it is his triumphant over drugs, alcohol, and being a rock star.  Luckily it's the most interesting thing anyway.  His stories are intense, due either to the great intensity of what happened or the fact that he wasn't so messed up that he can't remember a lot of the worst parts.  He had a life that was still interesting even in sobriety, due to what he did to straighten himself out and to make a stable life for himself, much due to some really clever financial moves he made early on.  It used to be the most fascinating thing to see how much money rock stars could burn through but now it's more interesting to get tips from rock stars who were smart and did it right, even if it was only an accident or from just one good advisement to do something in consideration of, maybe, if they make it, the future.  Of course there are some well-worn stories that overlap with the other GnR biographies but if you're not reading all of them then they aren't a bother, though it can be interesting to see the same stories from different points of view (or also, from a common one.  And usually about Axl).  Like most autobiographies, it ends well and shows how even going through all those dark depths can lead to the most positive parts of your life (good enough to write a book from, at least).  It works best when they don't leave you there.  Most of it feels like an after-note of the rock-star days, so the next book would be only an after-note to that, but Duff is still a pretty good chap with which to ride along.



Before the Chop by Henry Rollins.  Rollins writes a column for the L.A. Weekly, the local alt newspaper that I read anyway, one of the great benefits of living in L.A.  This book is a compilation of the first year of his column, in their original form.  Apparently Rollins has free reign to write whatever he wants, and he does.  It's in the music section of the paper but it usually goes well beyond that.  He goes from politics to old entries from his own journal, to stories of being on the road, new and old, and complaining about having to stay at home.  Usually there's a thread of music going through it, and sometimes he's just yammering on again about Iggy Pop and David Bowie.  It's interesting writing from a veteran who has been to some interesting places, physical or otherwise.  It's not dependent on being a fan of his and his music, but it helps if you agree with his open-minded world view (or at least having an open mind about it).  His views aren't so different from the average Gen X music fan, who is also the target audience for the Weekly, so it never gets weird or too disagreeable.  He doesn't include as many tales from his rock n' roll past as you might like, if that's what you know him from, though those stories have already gotten out in non-digest form in other places.  This book has columns concurrent with world events, some of them very recent to the publication of the article, which is interesting but is lost in a book some years after the fact.  Some of it won't age well but there are some bits, most especially about the music, that could be timeless, what Rollins would have written years ago as well as now, the same as a reader could accept it.  He cycles through a lot of bands, leaning toward less-known ones, but those in obscurity would be the same mentioned by anyone else, and ideally good enough that their music could be discovered later.  As a book it may not be the best testament of Rollins's writing, and he's written better stuff that will hold up after time, especially his poetry (which is not included in any column).  The columns as they appear in the newspaper might actually be better because they had the benefit of another set of eyes and editing for content (just to bring it into focus) and copy (Rollins isn't best on the technical stuff -- italicizing song titles and putting album titles in quotes being the most glaring examples).  But a case could be made for the raw material being the purest form, straight from the man's mouth/pen/fingers.  Since it would be a Herculean task to get those columns from the original print (though they're also on his and the Weekly's websites), getting this book (and the second one, with the second year of columns, out now) is a concise collection of his serialized writing.  It's comforting to know that there is a voice on your side (if his voice is, indeed, on your side).  And it probably wouldn't hurt to love music as much as he does, which is a gigantic amount.



The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman (audiobook).  I never had a thing for Sarah Silverman but apparently I thought enough of her to get her autobiography.  She’s only mimicking the working-blue comedian, and I’ve already been a fan of potty-mouth girls elsewhere.  But her shtick works well enough and she has better lines than most, if only for shock value (the amount of shock proportionate to how cute she is saying it).  It doesn’t seem to take much for a person with any kind of fame to put out a book -- not a recent thing -- and one written by a comedian is an easier sell, just because someone funny will have a better chance at writing something funny.  This one has a lot more distance between punchlines than a stand-up set, but it’s not only about being funny.  A story about a comedian’s life doesn’t guarantee it’s one worth reading, and Silverman’s was just as extraordinary (or not) as any.  Shining a light on her past might or might not expose where her famously filthy mouth comes from, but getting that knowledge, if it’s possible at all, doesn’t contribute much to the shtick.  This isn’t even necessarily for the super-fans, however many of them there are, but Silverman parlayed whatever fame she has into a book deal, just like anyone would.  It’s as good as any -- better than Dratch’s, at least.  There is one bit, though, that stuck out to me and is actually worth getting through the rest of it (it’s pretty quick anyway): She gives advice that for whatever gives you a moment of pleasure and could be abused -- weed (for her), food, drugs, sex -- she says to “Make it a treat.”  Taking less advantage of a thrill makes the fewer times you do it more special -- a treat.  Of course she talks about it more than that but that’s the gist of it, and it’s a pretty good one.  It’s that kind of knowledge, even just a nugget, that you read anything for.  Wisdom comes from the most unlikely places.  Sometimes it’s even funny.



Ultrametabolism by Mark Hyman.  If you’re thinking of reading this book, I’ll save you a gigantic amount of time: Don’t eat processed food.  That’s the entire thing.  You really don’t have to read a thing in it to get to that bottom line, which is every single thing that the book is trying to tell you.  The book goes on for a while about the science behind it, and it explains it in pretty conversant terms so it’s as easy to understand as it could be, and there are interactive tests and a load of recipes (that it can’t make more interesting, no matter how much it says they’re great), but it all comes back to the same bottom thing.  It’s a great lesson but you don’t really need to read the entire book for it.  It’s interesting enough if you need background on changing a really big life habit.  When I started working out, I got a trainer and told him I knew I need to work on my eating habits if I was going to get what I wanted out of my exercise (which was really just some weight-loss and general health).  What he told me came straight from the book (which was easy since it was really just Don’t eat processed food).  No bread (except for the kind that crumbles when bent); no cereal -- even Grape-Nuts; NO PROCESSED FOOD.  It took me a while to get any further knowledge from the book and I’m not sure if it expanded much beyond the short parts of sessions with the trainer when we chatted about food.  I absorbed the knowledge and I was aware of the way I was eating but it maybe didn't change me that much, beyond giving up cereal, which I did before I even started reading it.  I certainly didn’t cook up any of the recipes.  But I’m aware of it, and I know it’s the way to go (it should really just be common knowledge, that all those chemicals and all the junk in everyday food (“food”) isn’t good for you).  If I make the commitment to changing myself on that fundamental level -- and there’s a chance I might -- I’ll go back to this book.  I may not be putting all that into action now but I’m aware of it, and that could be the first step.  Also realize this is pretty much a textbook, which can be unpalatable to read, though there is some anecdotal evidence that is interesting, if everything in the book can really be that life-changing.  As it is, the biggest impact that this book had on me so far was that it took a long time to read.



Serial (the first one).  This podcast seemed to instantly spread like wildfire.  When you get down to it, it's easy to see why.  It's an interesting story and it's easy to access, even if you're not a regular listener of podcasts (like me).  The novelty of this one is that they produced and released it in real-time, so listeners could listen to it with some kind of immediacy, even if it was negligible if listened to any time after it aired (which is probably for most people).  The story in this podcast was but fairly pedestrian by Internet standards, where you can any other story in the known world.  With the way unexplainable stuff keeps happening and gets more explainable, and how it's reported, usually immediately, there wasn't much reason for this show to get the acclaim it did.  Unless it was just because it was an engrossing story, and everyone listened and got into it because everyone else did, and by the time they found out it was just another story they were already deep into it, and might as well go to the end.  It's not a bad strategy, or just how it worked out, but it could be easily duplicated.  Their process is what makes the experience stand out, even if the story itself makes it just an extended This American Life episode, and listening to it at any time after it was released makes it exactly like any other podcast.  Maybe there was a hope that its notoriety and immediacy (relatively) could affect the outcome, that some kind of public outcry could change the situation of the guy and his situation which is the heart of the whole thing, but that's almost ridiculous to consider, especially when opinion about his accusations seemed to be divided and galvanizing at best, muddied beyond comprehension at worst.  And if anything along those lines could happen, it would happen after the show was done and aired, so the outcome wouldn't be part of the ongoing case.  It's hard to say if it was even presented as well as it could be, to motivate anyone to speak up about it, if that was even a possibility in the first place.  So it becomes a human interest piece, something to look at like in a museum, since it would be rude to say it's entertainment when a man's life hangs in the balance.  But it's an interesting look a situation.  And hope that the right thing happened, even if the evidence makes that questionable.  (As I'm posting this they're releasing the new series, and though so far it's also an interesting story, my opinions on that one reflect this one.)



Marvel Zombies 2 (Marvel).  Was this a big franchise for Marvel Comics?  They kept doing sequels from the first one, not just continuations but actual sequels, one event piled on top of the first one, going as far as the sales momentum would take it.  From at least one side there was interest in it.  Or maybe it was because they knew where Kirkman's star was going and they were just trying to keep him in their sandbox.  He took off with the idea for zombies after this with The Walking Dead, but first he did it with superheroes thrown in, a decent idea though a predictable one seeing who came up with it, and one that you would think couldn't be taken too far.  The covers were more striking then the stories, but it made its mark.  Kirkman didn't lift ideas from the Marvel series to the stories he owned, and he even came up with some good, independent ideas that he left with Marvel (at least one that formed what could be a foundation that other zombie stories could be built on, that zombies could be clear-headed until they need to feed).  The whole thing went overboard almost from the start but it worked as well as it did because Kirkman could work both genres well, and being too much was part of the fun.  The first series had a lot of ideas and generally struck a satisfying balance between both genres.  The second one works exactly like the worst kind of sequel: a rehash of the first part, trying to use what made that work and stretching it out as far as it can go.  Where the first series had some fun, fresh ideas and takes on zombies, the second has none.  It's a continuation that could have been done just as easily, or maybe even better, as an annual or one-shot.  It doesn't even do well in the best parts, when it tries to deviate from the biggest-possible picture, which the first story was all about, instead going smaller and losing a sense of grandeur and danger in the process.  Kirkman deals in decompressed stories, which can be fine, and it doesn't lack value if you're reading it all at once, since it just becomes a quick read, but getting to this as individual issues a month apart would have been frustrating.  But this is a general complaint about the way Marvel did stories a few years ago and maybe denser storytelling has worked its way back more recently.  But complaints about the story don't go far since Sean Phillips drew every panel.  It doesn't matter if an artist is doing decompressed storytelling or a story that has more words, as long as it's good art, as far as art goes.  There are enough complaints about a comic only being worth looking at because of the art, but it's always worth seeing Phillips interpreting a story, good or bad.  This story isn't the best use of his talents, as he doesn't shine as well doing straight superhero stuff and action scenes, but to see him drawing anything is treat, and seeing his style over superheroes -- so alien to each other -- is at times a thrill.  It only goes as far as these two series so it wisely doesn't wear out its welcome (each to the other).  For where Phillips's talents lie, it's a shame he wasn't able to draw a more human story, even one with zombies (but surely there was negotiation to get him on The Walking Dead before Adlard, and either artist could have worked just fine).  The first series went through the most popular Marvel characters, and did it quickly as is part of the point it makes about super-powered people suddenly being turned into zombies and their hunger destroying their world (then universe).  That worked well enough, then should have ended there to cap off what was a fun one-off idea.  It even had a great ending, that worked as an ending better than as a cliffhanger.  But they dragged it further, then had to start getting to the more obscure characters.  This second series was a follow-up, establishing a stable team then seeing what they do, but they had to keep digging for characters since they went through so many so quickly, probably without a thought that they would have to keep it going.  Kirkman trots out some of his beloved '90s X-Men duds (only to utterly destroy them as brutally as possible).  The status quo is even more of a mess when it ends but it's left open to keep it going, as it has to be.  The sequels kept going after this and kept getting more obscure, which might be fun for the real-life Marvel zombies but doesn't have much appeal for more casual readers.  The ongoing story had to keep going to undiscovered  or long-dormant (for a reason) corners of the universe to wreak havoc and turn everything into zombies, but being willfully, though necessarily, obscure, doesn't get me going.  As it is, I only borrowed this trade so that's as far as my interest goes.  The ones after this didn't have Kirkman writing or Phillips drawing, which is just as well.  It's an idea that Marvel, with or without the original creators, stretched out farther than it needed to, deeper into the continuity of the universe rather than a theme about anything or even a thrilling or scary horror story.  Just more superheroes doing silly things, in this case eating their friends' brains -- not extraordinary.



All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder (DC).  Never ask: How bad could it be?  Or if you’re going to ask it, don’t go ahead with it just to see.  I’ve spent way too much time with too much awful stuff that I should have known better about.  I’m sure there have been a few things that weren’t as bad as I may have thought and surely there were some surprises but off the top of my head I can’t think of even one that covered the divide between expectation and execution, with both at either extreme.  Yet my loyalty holds out for some creators and I think that at least there will be a germ of something even resembling a spark of the greatness they once had, even if they’re volumes of pages past their prime.  I still have that loyalty for the work of Frank Miller, whose stuff I’ve loved so hard and for so long that I’ll take even an echo of a whisper of a bad photocopy of the memory of his past heights.  And I’ll admit it: I hold out a hope that he has one more great work in him.  This is the hope for so many other creators but, again, I can’t think of even one creator who hit the lows after the highs and still had any height left in them.  Yet I had to find out for myself.  And a half-off hardcover can help.  It wasn’t the Jim Lee art that enticed me -- I like his early X-Men stuff in my earlier years but haven’t cared a bit for any of his stuff since the early days of Image, when I was hoping that his stuff could only get better -- but it kept me away only because it too easily could be only more Jim Lee-by-numbers, and a monumental project not because his work is so great but because he did it.  And it’s exactly the most predictable Jim Lee work, as any of his stuff has been since he didn’t have to work with any effort.  The guy’s stuff is never bad on its own but the fact that it’s so formulaic and exactly like anything else he’s drawn since X-Men makes it awful.  Even his legion of clones have had a share of creative evolution.   But he tells the story, and that’s as great an expectation as we have any right to have.  It’s the story that makes you realize the book you’re holding is the worst kind of crap.  It’s Miller all right, but with all reasonable restraint thrown away like it never existed and his id running wild.  It’s a Batman like you’ve never seen, or ever wanted to see.  It’s Batman as such an asshole that he could only be written by someone who has such a quick and easy access to the personality of an asshole that maybe he is one and all this is coming easy to him.  It could be Miller trying to be provocative and taking it so far that it’s not the least bit palatable.  Misogynistic doesn't equal tough guy.  Fucking a slutty chick on the roof of a building in the rain doesn't equal sexy.  If the book is a satire it’s one so self-serving that it’s hollow.  If it’s meant to be funny, this kind of humor doesn’t work (one of the reasons there aren’t a lot of comedies about white supremacists).  It’s just bad.  And it’s been a while since this came out (happily the rest got delayed into oblivion) so the jokes have been made and all of this is fairly common knowledge, but I’m here to tell you, as a past, near-obsessive Miller fan (enough that I saw the The Spirit movie in the theater) that this stands as Miller’s worst work and a shame that it’s the last, big-time thing he produced.  (When I originally wrote this, in late August, Dark Knight 3: The Master Race (good lord, that title) had just been announced.  As I originally wrote: "Oh, my dear sweet lord.  How hard does he have to hit the bottom to bounce back up?" Now, as of this writing, the first issue has been released, to mixed reviews, as far as I can tell. That's usually not a good sign. Yet I'll probably get around to it.)



Modern Masters Volume 7: John Byrne (TwoMorrows).  I get a couple of these books every year at the San Diego comic con -- my one consistent purchase -- so I’ve gotten around to a lot of the artists they have featured, and now I’m even starting to read them (though this one was because I was stranded the day after I was at the con with some extra time and a dead phone).  Normally I would want to read the material that these creators make rather than reading about the creators themselves -- they’re usually just as boring as anyone else -- and like I said about the Michael Golden book, these books are at best a sub-Comics Journal interview and a quick survey of their total work.  But John Byrne is a classic creator, and one whose work I’ve gone back to lately, especially as I’ve rediscovered some of the creators whose work I loved when I was a kid (starting with Mike Zeck’s stuff and taking off from there).  Byrne is an obvious choice for these books but one volume is so limiting.  There might not be a creator besides Jack Kirby who has done more pages, and a lot of those pages I was a big fan of.  I wasn’t into X-Men at the time he was doing that book, and I’ve already gone on about how I didn’t like his Fantastic Four, but I’ve gone back to those over time.  Years later he did my favorite Avengers run, maybe ever, on West Coast Avengers, and I always loved his Superman work, in a time that I should have had no interest in Superman at all.  This book’s spotlight gets to him in only the quickest of glimpses, since there are only so many pages in the regular format, and there has to be a balance with the art, so nearly every project covered gets a moment at best and never with much depth.  The X-Men stuff gets a bit more coverage, then a bit of the behind-the-scenes with the Superman work (the biggest heartbreak: that whole reinvention of Superman was just another gig to him, nothing more than some work), for some reason disproportionately a lot (relatively) about the Demon series he did (or planned to do), then a lot of his work gets at least a line but still entire swaths of his career that are overlooked.  There’s even time given to allowing Byrne to defend himself from charges of being a real jerk over the years, which is unnecessary in a book like this but is also a thing that sets it apart from the usual overview and interview.  The book tries to get to Byrne as a person rather than as purely a creator, but that’s also a bit of a misstep since those sections of his background, which go on for a while, and trying to really get to know him, could have been better used by more art, of which there seems to be featured only a relative skimming of a skimming.  A real art-book would better serve the man’s work, and there have surely been better interviews.  But this book, in the series showcasing renowned comics artists, new and old, fits just fine among the others.  Maybe it’s just awkward that they can’t fit the legends into just one book and might work better for the artists who haven’t spent a career churning out a steady and voluminous amount of pages.   I have the Romita and Garcia-Lopez books, too, two fellows who have also done a ton of work over the years, and I’ll probably say the same thing about them, though I’m looking forward to getting to those no less for it.



I finally started that Marvel Heroic Role-Playing Game campaign. It's been in my head since I first got it a few years ago (thanks to Griesbach), and after playing it a few times, an adventure online that didn't finish, and an in-person group that didn't get off the ground earlier this year, I finally gave in and just started my own game online (on the same site as that unfinished adventure).  It started with an idea to get friends into it, who would be more tolerant of a game with other new and inexperienced players and crazy story ideas, and I had one or two mates who have played the game, and I figured I could get four or five people, which would be enough.  But getting anyone to be interested, then actually getting them to sign up on the message boards site, then getting them to contribute, didn’t turn up much, and from the e-mail that went out to about 40 people, all of which are friends, some of which are comics-fan/zine buddies that are probably reading this, I was left with pretty much those one or two mates that I knew I could count on originally.  It wasn't enough to really get the game going, at least not for what I had in mind (and having such a small group doesn't usually motivate anyone to keep it going).  So I decided to start another game, open to players who knew the game and were already on the site, and that instantly had a half-dozen players who were in.  I didn't have a story idea for that spin-off game except for including it in the same campaign.  Switching players & heroes between the games could be fun.  But since the balance between games was so lopsided, I appointed the game with the guys from the site as the main game, and added the players/friends from the formerly-main game to the other.  Now there was a good amount of players in the now-main game, and I used my original adventure plans for that one.  It took a while to get it going, to get the hero backgrounds and how they fit in with the adventure together, and just to put everything in place, and it was a lot of work (luckily I wasn't working at the time), but once it got going it was pretty smooth and often not always a lot of effort.  There's still a lot of work being the Watcher (the one who controls everything that isn't a player character) but I'm digging it.  Along the way we've lost a few players but I'm planning to open it to new players (my next project after I post this zine) and hopefully some of my friends will show some interest and follow through on joining.  I could go into detail on what is happening in the game -- it's some fun superhero stuff, firmly set in the straight-up Marvel Universe and using those characters, as many as I can stuff in -- but it all changes so quickly, with players & heroes rotating in and out and so much going on in the context of the story.  It's a good time.  If you're reading this and you're interesting in joining (you pretty much just have to sign up on the site -- it's free -- and ask to join the game -- I'll automatically add you since I know you already), check it out:
The Amazing Avengers (Marvel Heroic RPG)
At least take a read-through of it, since it's a fun superhero romp (and I can explain the game mechanics with a quick phone call).
(This is the same game I was talking about in my zine a few years ago.  This is how I've finally gotten a consistent, ongoing game going (and how long it's taken me).  The idea about how the campaign would start has changed, though I might use it later on in this campaign (it's much more minor than what I went with).  I've been building up a lot of ideas for this for a while and I intend to keep it going for as long as I feasibly can.)


Best Albums of 2014:
10. 1989- Taylor Swift
9. Transgender Dysphoria Blues- Against Me!
8. Turn Blue- the Black Keys
7. The Voyager- Jenny Lewis
6. 1000 Forms Of Fear- Sia
5. Morning Phase- Beck
4. Here And Nowhere Else- Cloud Nothings
3. Do To The Beast- the Afghan Whigs
2. Lost in the Dream- the War on Drugs
1. They Want My Soul- Spoon

My Top Catherine Wheel Songs Of All Time (In This Order):
20.“Kill Rhythym”
19. “Thunderbird”
18. “I Want To Touch You”
17. “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd cover)
16. “Harder Than I Am”
15. “God Inside My Head”
14. “Judy Staring At The Sun”
13. “Here Comes The Fat Controller”
12. “Waydown”
11. “Salt”
10. “Show Me Mary”
9. “Black Metallic”
8. “Broken Nose”
7. “Sparks Are Gonna Fly”
6. “The Nude”
5. “Hole”
4. “Intravenous”
3. “Delicious”
2. “Strange Fruit”
1. “Crank”


RAVES


Blue Apron. I started cooking regularly, and meals beyond easy protein-grain-frozen vegetable, mostly from the fact that for a while I get home first and there's no reason I shouldn't make some kind of dinner that takes effort.  We started getting Blue Apron and really like it.  They send you a box of ingredients for three meals, everything you need in it including an easy-to-follow recipe (that is also free on their site), and you make it.  They do only minimal prep, pretty much only gathering the stuff and mixing spices, and all the rest is up to you.  Chopping vegetables is the biggest chore but none of the preparation is ever tricky.  The recipes are never complex, always something that some with even minimal competence in the kitchen 
(which means me) can put together.  The biggest problem is that a recipe that says will be ready in 20-30 minutes will always take at least an hour.  But if you have that time, it makes some great meals.  Usually near-restaurant quality, though stuff you wouldn't think to order on a night out.  We haven't had a bad meal; the only ones that were challenging to get through were the ones I over-salted (it directs you to add salt n' pepper at every step so it's easy to go too far). (Then the night I originally wrote that we had a chicken tortilla soup that wasn't all that great.)  Out of three for a week, you get one that's seafood, the other two usually some common protein; the only choice is a comparable set of three vegetarian meals that you can mix n' match in a limited capacity, and even those have been good, though not always big portions.  Most of the meals are just enough for two people -- we rarely have leftovers but just as rarely ever feel like we haven't had enough.  Each meal is for two people (I think there's a family option but you'd have to look).  $60 for the week, which breaks down to about $10 each person each dinner, which is better than restaurants, especially since you don't have to go to out, even if you have to make it.  They have a recommendation deal where a friend can get a week free, so if you're interested in trying it, let me know.

Text-to-speech.  I got a Samsung Gear smartwatch before Christmas last year but it was fairly useless to me.  I was going to use it track my sleep but the app I used and the watch didn't work together (despite, months later, saying they do, and, at the time of this writing, still don't, at least not in a fashion easy enough for me to use).  The first -- and, for a long while, only -- time I took the Gear out and played around with it, though, it changed my life.  Not the device itself but something I found, and not even through something I could do but accidentally somewhere along the way.  I was checking out how to read stuff on it and it didn't work like that at all, the pain that it would take to word characters that small, but it set up an app on my phone to read articles out loud to me.  I've always thought that if I could have text read to me, I could get through so much more that I've intended to read.  So much I could do.  I started poking around and it turns out there's an app, for free, that does exactly that, called @Voice Aloud Reader (for Android).  If it's text, it will read it aloud.  You just need the words in a text file.  It absolutely blew my mind.  And it reads it pretty well too.  It's a British voice (you can load up other dialects but that one works the best) but it does pretty well with inflections and emphasis in getting the words right.  It's basically a robot reading it to you but what would you expect?  There have been articles and Weeklys and magazines that I've been stockpiling for years and I'm finally getting to them (and, at this writing, have gotten through most, including the stack of Weeklys a few feet high).  For a while I was copy-n'-pasting into a document and opening it to read in Drive but now I just open it directly from the article, usually saved to Pocket to read later.  
I use it while I'm at work, best when I'm on uninteresting tasks (which is most of them) and I plow through reading material.  They're old articles and I'm just getting through them so I don't usually have to pay so much attention so it's okay if the reader doesn't get it exactly right.  It works well enough, maybe better.  And apparently it's been around for a while.  It wasn't until later that I found a direct text-to-speech reader already within a few of my apps that do this already, I just never knew.  Even if I had known, I probably would have thought it was too good to be true and the thing wouldn't work as well as I wanted it to. I was wrong.  And now I have it.  I'm reaching an incredible velocity of efficiency in getting through ridiculous stacks of intended reading material and ingesting an incredible amount of knowledge.  I'm reading so much and so much better that I'm tempted to take a college class, just because I could get through the assigned reading so much better and faster.

Conversely I went back to using speech-to-text as well.  I was going to say how I was using it to be so much more productive in writing, and as a contrast to the text-to-speech, but I've already gotten past using it (again).  It could be so useful but it's not quite where it's essential to my efficiency.  It still mixes up and mangles enough words that I spend almost more time editing what I dictated than I would have spent just typing it out.  Though I still use it for text messages and maybe some notes -- much shorter, less crucial passages.  I still have hope for it.  The article I just read (using @Voice Aloud Reader, natch) says that speech-to-text is at about 95% correct, which means it misses about 1 in 20 words.  That's still not so reliable.  But 99% is 1 in 100 words and I could live with that.  That isn't just a 4% increase in quality, which is mostly negligible, but it's the chasm between those two that makes the biggest difference.  I'm holding out for it to happen.  With the way these things go, it probably won't be long.



No problems with HTML this time. Wow.

And that's another one.  Still plenty of stuff to write about.  I took out a few things because I had enough in this one and I can get a head-start on the next one with the extra stuff.  Right now I'm reading (listening to) Moby-Dick, and that could take who-knows-how-long, so I may not have a lot of book reviews for a while. But plenty of comics, and whatever else I come up with. You know the drill. I'm not trying to confuse anyone with this.

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