2010-02-08

The First Five Books of Twentyten

.

005) Missile Mouse 2 by Jake Parker (MS POLICY), finished February 5
    All the wonderful things I've said about Missile Mouse and that should be appearing on the Fantasy Magazine site any second now (or so I hear....) will be true of this book too. I had the privilege to read the pencils and I have to say, the zest and energy of the pencils are so much fun. Look forward to this one.

    And, I'm sure, many more to come. I read these books and I see a dozen volumes, easy.

    one evening




004) Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West, finished February 4
    I've been in contact with the author of this book for a while now so when he offered to send me an ARC I agreed. I received a kinkoed copy a couple weeks ago and I have to tell you: coil binding is awesome. You don't need a bookmark. You don't need to hold it open. And, while you could also say those things about an ereader, it's much cheaper to accidentally drop in the toilet than a Kindle would be. (Not to suggest I dropped it in the toilet.) (Because I didn't.)

    So. Is it a good book?

    It is good. But it is not a book. I'll cover both these, but let's start with the first.

    The thing David J. West is best at is world-building. The world of this novel is so specifically realized that you could drop me into any corner of it today and I would know just where I am and how I should act and to whom the natives are apt to pray. For a writer like myself who generally prefers to sin on the side of too few details, I'm impressed by both the accomplishment and the economy with which it was managed. Well done.

    His character devlopment is not a whit behind. He's juggling a slew of p-o-v characters here. Off the top of my head, you have Zelph and Qof-Ayin, Amaron and Onandagus, Xoltec and Aaron, Bethia and Mormon the Younger --- forget it. I'm stopping there. The point is, the book is loaded with characters that have been successfully individuated. We're talking story on a grand scale here, across many lands and peoples and persons.

    Now, proper setting- and character-development matter in any story, but particularly in Heroes of the Fallen where individuals' stories build up into a larger story of nations on the verge of war and, ultimately, destruction. (Sort of like Voltron.) (Think about it.) So understanding the characters and their culture and their history and their etceteras is vital if you're going to manage to know a) what the heck is going on and b) why it matters.

    So bully so far.

    A couple more compliments before we get to my beef:

    He handles action well --- never any question about whose spear is piercing whose chest --- he handles moral complexity well --- characters are put into horrible dilemmas but because of the development of character and world their decisions are always understood.

    I can't say for sure, but I don't think a reader requires any knowledge of the Book of Mormon to follow the story. When you consider that this story takes place between verses 5 and 8 of Mormon chapter one, it's not like anyone knows precisely what was going on then. The Book of Mormon is rather famously lousy as a "history" book but that lack of details is a boon for Mr West.

    Nor do I think that the author's ambitious imaginings of that ancient world will stop reg'lar Saints from entering its world. The more learn I about history, the less preposterous I find the suggestion that Phoenicians and Nephites may have engaged in trade.

    So yes: Heroes of the Fallen is good.

    What it is not is a book.

    How is a 306-page volume not a book?

    Well, let's switch genres for a second. Think of Pride and Prejudice. Think of the end of volume one. How would you feel if, upon finishing this thing you purchased called Pride and Prejudice, it suddenly ended with Mr. Collins engaged to Charlotte, Bingley disappeared by his sisters, nothing having come of the whole Lizzy/Darcy thing, the entailment hanging over everyone --- What the blanketyblank kind of ending would that be?

    The people behind Heroes apparently decided the book was too long and it's been split in two. And I want to be on record as wholly opposed to that plan. Because basically it turned all the great story of Heroes into a wheel-spinning prologue for book two. Every event in Heroes clearly matters, but the way the book ends just before what-we-have-been-told-will-be-the-story is finally set to begin is an act of literary coitus interruptus and frankly left me pretty irritated.

    Now I don't generally read books of this genre so maybe endings of this type are de rigueur, but page 306 left me feeling cheated. If I had payed for it, I would feel like a sucker. "I paid fifteen bucks for a @#$^%$ preface???"

    So no, it's not a book. It's half a book. And I find that disingenuous.

    But at least it's a hugely entertaining half a book. It's got that going for it. Really, truly: one of the most entertaining half-a-books I've ever read. And I read over 200 halves of books every year. So I should know.*

    couple weeks




003) Still Life in Milford by Thomas Lynch, finished January 19
    I first read Thomas Lynch in his brilliant essay collection The Undertaking (and shortly thereafter in his second essay collection, Bodies in Motion and at Rest), but he thinks of himself first as a poet. So I bought this book and have now read it. And it's okay. Some good moments. Interesting as a collection. Not that great. But here are some great lines:

    Late April now and now the number One
    assumes its upright stance --- the walking would
    that pauses among monuments to count
    another season's emblements of loss:
    one grave, one stone, one name on it, one rose,
    one fist to sake in the face of God then go.

    *

    I've heard the prayers said over open graves
    and heard the pleas of birth and lovemaking.
    "O God! O God! we always seem to say.
    And God, God help us, answers "Wait and see."

    *

    What makes this aching in the soul? he thought,
    for distant islands where the silence hordes
    the voices of our dead among the stones?
    And though no answer was forthcoming, he went forth.

    *

    Is not the grave's first utterance, "enough, enough"?

    *

    They've done the roof this year. Your tower stands.
    Ruin is a slow business. Your characters remain.

    *

    He gave his wife the scent that woman wore
    he'd met once in the lounge-bar of the Gresham
    and later took up to the suite of rooms
    that overlooked the Pro-Cathedral dome
    and traded mouths and hands and wetness with
    then held well into the next mid-morning.

    *

    All that's there still. You may go see it.

    *

    Here's another thing you will appreciate.
    I know you'll like this. Listen up:
    That scream, if you ever hear it,
    won't rhyme with anything.

    *

    So poems about a sexy nun from his childhood, some folkheroish fellow named Angus, his Irish homeland, his Michigan home, a poem that became doublegood when I realized the Jack of the title was Kevorkian, etc.

    Good stuff. Looking forward to reading Apparition & Late Fictions, a book of fictions out next month (which, by a wholly unexpected coincidence, I received an advance copy of in the mail but one hour after typing this paragraph).

    few months




002) Rapunzel's Revenge by Hales Shannon Dean and Nathan, finished January 16
    Read the review at Fob Comics. One thing that I didn't mention because I hadn't thought of it when I wrote the review, is that this is a flipping of the traditional orphan narrative. Instead of being, secretly, the child of the queen, that is where Rapunzel starts. Interesting.

    three days or something




001) Mormoniana by Mormon Artists Group, finished January 13
    I hear about people who like to sit down, put on a nice recording and follow along on their copy of the score. This is not something I'm apt to do --- and not just because I don't have many scores lying around. But as most of this book was score, I decided to give it a go.

    Now, circumstances were not ideal --- I was holding a squirming baby part of the time (Little Lord Steed shows no obvious predilection for a career in conducting or even sitting in an armchair following along to scores), I had to wash some dishes, etc. But as a whole I was surprised by how well I could follow along. Sure, I lost my place sometimes, but hey --- it's not like I've spent any time in the last ten years reading complicated scores.

    (Well. Given these pieces are for solo piano, they weren't that complicated, but still. You take my point.)

    Famed pianist Grant Johanneson arranged these pieces to place the most discordant in the middle and the most pleasantly traditional at the end. Number 12 of 16 by Crawford Gates is pleasant by any reasonable measure, Royce Campbell Twitchell's number 14 of 15 lived up to its name ("In Old Nauvoo") adeptly, number 15 of 16 by Lisa DeSpain was pure fun and delight, and the final number included motifs from popular hymns.

    That said, as I've been listening to the music this past week, the more discordant numbers such as Christian Asplund's "Vision" have been revealing their inner beauty, and the clash behind the outer simplicity of "In Old Nauvoo" has been seeping out.

    Anyway. What is Mormoniana?

    Glad you asked.

    Sixteen LDS composers were asked to pick a work of visual art by a Mormon artist and compose a piece for solo piano based on that work. Then all sixteen compositions were combined and ordered by Johannesen and MAG-lead Glen Nelson into a one suite and recorded at the Assembly Hall. (Note that two pieces were performed by their composers rather than Johannesen.)

    Some of the pieces (especially those based on more abstract art) so clearly represent their source as to be unmistakable. When the music takes a series of sudden turns, or gradually becomes clear --- well, I generally only associate this kind of highly visual music with Stravinsky. Which, believe me, is high praise.

    The book was released in a couple hella expensive editions as well as the paperback I picked up.

    And I like it. I neither regret buying nor would I do it again, but in addition to the art (most of which I was unfamiliar with) and music (which I am growing to like enough that I might indeed buy it again given a few more listens), I am perhaps most enamored of an essay by Michael Hicks --- particularly this bit at the end:

    . . . Joseph Smith . . . argued against creeds because they could have the effect of quasi-damnation: the tendency of creeds is to "set up stakes, and say, 'Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further.'" Smith explained that, while sectarians are "all circumscribed by some particular creed . . . the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time." . . . Mormonism's intrinsic reluctance to draw lines, to carve up thought into orthodoxies or even categories, suggests that 'Mormon music" is --- or ought to be --- something of a phantom. That is because any set of traits that one would say characterize Mormon-ness smacks of creedism, which in itself smacks of an inauthentic brand of Mormonism.. Whatever features one can adduce as Mormonistic, one must concede that it is arguably just as Mormonistic to refuse to share a set of boundaries --- including the boundaries that would define the adjective. If the Mormon creed is not to have a creed, the Mormon aesthetic is not to have an aesthetic. . . .

    Wow. Could we or could we not discuss that for a month?

    about two weeks


*(i cant decide whether to pluralize properly or hyphenate or what, so i kept it loose and silly )

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