Elevator Pitch: Harold Pinter's Aquaman


041) The Birthday Party and The Room by Harold Pinter, finished May 6

My edition was published when these plays were still fresh and new and Pinter was still the dangerous young man. I've never read him before, but have long been meaning to. When I finished The Birthday Room all I wanted to say was WHAT THE HELL and I didn't feel it was at all what I had been expecting. but then I thought about what I had been expecting and what I had been expecting was not, in substance, that different from what I read. So good job at being Pinteresque, Pinter.

The violence in The Room was even more startling and unexpected, largely because the direction of it was quite opposite to the expectations created by the dread building up to it.

My first observation, reading The Birthday Party (before suddenly things got Dangerous and Weird), was how much the lead couple's was how much their conversation reminded me of the couples in Raymond Briggs. These are true working-class Brits, it would seem. And both Pinter and Briggs take that normalcy and do straaange things with it. There's a dissertation in here somewhere.
three days for the first
and two days for the second
but the third day of the
first and the first day of
the second were the same day
and there was a weekend between
that day and the final day


042) When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer, finished May 11

I don't remember where I picked this novel up, but I was intrigued by the copy on the cover stating


I'll admit to a bit of skepticism. For one thing, it has two authors. This makes me a snob. For another, based on the backcopy, this book seemed to be a completely different sort of book than either of those British classic, and that made me think those writing things on the cover didn't really know what they were talking about.

I was right.

Perhaps the book could have been more highly regarded when it originally appeared (1932) and perhaps even when my copy was published (1973), but less so now.

The main issue is the authors' completely unexamined racist and sexist assumptions. Well, maybe that's not the "main" issue, but it's the one that would be easiest to write an outraged thinkpiece on. Because the book is a mess---a mess!---of completely unexamined racist and sexist assumptions. You'll have to be pretty damn ignorant and pretty damn WASPy to miss them in 2019.

But they are, in some ways, merely symptomatic of the even more fundamental issue: Wyler and Balmer cannot write believable human beings. They are terrible at writing characters. Everytime I had to read scenes with characters I wanted to pluck my eyeballs out. They are awful and unbelievable and the laziest, crappiest, most unexamined mix of sterotype and cliche I've read in ... a long time, maybe ever.

So why, you might reasonably ask, why oh Theric, did you continue to read?

Great question. And I have an answer: because the scenes without characters were amaaaazing.

Here's the set-up: a pair of lost planets that have somehow been sent hurtling starless through the galaxy are on a collision course with the earth. On their first pass, the larger of the two will pass so close to the earth that the tides will be hundreds of feet high and lava will erupt from the Earth's crust and the Moon will be demolished. On its second pass, the Earth itself will be destroyed but, luckily, the second (and potentially inhabitable) planet, will survive and be sent in motion around our Sun while the large planet continues on its hyperbolic path to deep space, ne'er to return. If we can just get to Bronson Beta, humanity may continue.

And so we get a bunch of Strong Men and Brilliant Men working on inventing space travel etc etc while there's still a chance. They are, none of them, really worth mentioning.

What is worth mentioning are the scenes of destruction. They are captured with such realism to take my breath. People dying, helpless, by the millions. The planet we know and love as home tearing apart under our feet. The utter helplessness I felt as I read this passages is on par with any work of horror or disaster, book or film. Sadly, they were all followed up with more Tony and his perfectness and token anxieties. Ugh.

The novel wants to do interesting things. Perhaps the Brave New World comparison was inspired by the (scientifically sensible) idea that the survivors on Bronson Beta should not reproduce according to such now-expired ideas as love and marriage, but through carefully planned matches to assure the next generation will be as genetically strong as possible (though the authors are way too invested in conventional morality to really explore the idea outside the most timid teeheeing). I'm curious if they really attack the sex questions in their sequel, but not enough to pick it up. I suspect it'll all be character stuff. And I'm not willing to take that chance. Let me perish on the Earth with real people like Dorothea Brooke and Kade Chance.
about eleven months


043) Aquaman: Sub Diego by Will Pfeifer / Patrick Gleason / Christian Alamy, finished May 18

This is a 2015 collection of a 2004 "classic Aquaman story." Oh, yeah.

Half of San Diego has sunk below the sea and there are survivors---only now they breathe through gills and cannot return to land although they still possess the instinctive drive to get above water and breathe air they cannot breathe.

The art, at times, is distressingly ugly. By which I largely mean that the way they look in any given panel is not the way they ought to look given the demands of the story. But at least they'll have breasts and/or muscles and definitely buttocks. So that's good.

The concept and everything is fine and maybe it'll go somewhere in a later volume of Sub Diego, but the main thing I got was an answer to the vital question---spoiler alert---can Aquaman talk to plankton?

two or three days


044) The Tragedy of King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals by Steven L. Peck, finished May 22

I don't know if it's Peck's additional ethos by virtue of being a working scientist, but I have never read a climate-change near-fiction novel that feels quite so likely as King Leere. The heavy referencing to Shakespeare also adds to the books intellectual heft (I did just read Lear---which I actually liked more than my lazy review suggests). And although the book is a fun and quick read, it's never lightweight.

One of the joys of near-future novels (this one's older folks are probably younger folks today) is picking up on details that don't now exist but that make sense---that can easily be extrapolated by the attentive reader. Peck also peppers the book with cool tech that seems feasible but that I, at least, haven't heard of before (guns that make bullets from carbon pulled from the air, for instance). Leere also experiments deeply with different points of view and design quirks (robot thought, demon thought, blank verse*), much like The Scholar of Moab.

But this gets to an important distinction between Moab and Leere. Moab was finished. Leere is a mess of typos and design errors and boneheaded mistakes no self-respecting copyeditor would let past. It's possible this is not from a lack of effort (Peculiar Pages accidentally released the penultimate edit of Monsters & Mormons at first, later corrected, very embarrassing), but I'm suspicious that BCC Press is just taking good books and putting them out as they were delivered. And so Publishers Weekly assumes they're seeing an "uncorrected" proof when actually that's what the final version actually looks like. Largely it's just eyerolling stuff, but sometimes it really matters. The most obviously problematic recurring problem was a lack of consistency with how the blank verse was formatted resulting in problems determining which character is talking. Design matters!

Anyway. Disappointing, but don't let it keep you from the novel. Just know it's annoying and, if you're the empathetic sort, embarrassing.

The narrating demon, near the very end of the novel, directly calls out our slowness to address climate change (he lives at our time and speaks to us---but he is not attached to time as we are and tells us a story of the future). Like a Shakespearean tragedy, our favorite characters are probably dead by the end, but, even worse, we don't have much hope for a better world, either. Even the pequeninos, which survived, are likely doomed. What hope is there? The demon is direct:
I can see that I've gone too far. You want subtle hints that the ecosystems of the world are crashing. Bold statements of that reality trend you away from the subdued and masked literary allusions you so enjoy. You want to see it from the side, to pretend you see the hidden message of what I'm saying. You want it wrapped in metaphor that only those in the know will see. But I just state it. You are dying.
He's right. I want to feel smart, and special because I'm smart. And I also want to keep our pending doom easily hidden away in less used corners of my mind. Don't we all?

The real enemy is, ultimately, not humans, however. Something we no longer control, no more than a dissatisfied bee controls the hive.

This might be the most fun I've had reading a Steven Peck novel. It might also be the least happy one has left me. And there's competition.
eighteen days


The other books of 2019

001 – 005
001) Thornhill by Pam Smy, finished January 2
002) How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis, finished January 3
003) Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, finished Janaury 4
004) Third Wheel: Peculiar Stories of Mormon Women in Love by Melissa Leilani Larson, finished January 6
005) Fox 8 by George Saunders, finished January 6

006 – 010
006) SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, finished January 8*
007) Latter-day Laughs by Stan and Elly Schoenfeld, finished January 16
008) All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World edited by Miner, Palicki, Chin-Tanner; finished January 19
009) Daytripper by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, finished January 19
010) Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist by Steven L. Peck, finished January 20

011 – 015
011) Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, finished January 22
012) Huck by Mark Millar et al., finished January 24
013) Marketing Precedes the Miracle by Calvin Grondahl, finished January 30
014) Uncle Scrooge:The Seven Cities Of Gold by Carl Barks, finished January 31
015) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, finished January 31

011 – 015
016) Snotgirl: Green Hair, Don't Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung, finished February 16
017) Ghost of the Grotto by Carl Barks, finished February 20
018) When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, finished February 22
019) Temple and Cosmos by Michael R. Collings, finished February 23
020) The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, finished February 23
021) Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs, finished February 24

022 – 027
022) One Dirty Tree by Noah Van Sciver, finished February 25
023) Snotgirl: California Screaming by Bryan Lee O'Malley & Leslie Hung, finished February 28
024) Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, finished March 7
025&026) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished March 14
026) Fences by August Wilson, finished Ides of March
027) N Is for Noose by Sue Grafton, finished Ides of March

028 – 033
028) Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs, finished March 20
029) Let's Go Exploring by Michael Hingston, finished March 20
030) Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs, finished March 20
031) The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, finished April 2
032) No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay, finished April 8
033) Letters to ta Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, finished April 9

034 – 040
034) King Lear by William Shakespeare, finished April 13
035) Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith, finished April 13
036) The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men by Carol Lynn Pearson, finished April 15
037) Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, finished April 19
038) a novel by a friend, finished April 23
039) Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, finished April 27
040) Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, finished May 3

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