Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday: Day of Round-Up Dreams

Ladies & gentlemen: Laura! — E

Every day, dear readers, I come to appreciate you more and more. Why? Firstsies, you're all bad ass mothers, who don't take no crap off of nobody. Last week I got called out twice in the comments: once for making a content error (which was sloppy, I'm sorry!), and a few times for being filled with haterade (although I did try to justify myself). I honestly do appreciate you all pointing out when I've effed up—it's like an army of smart people keeping me honest. Plus, I like dialoguing. I'm chatty.

Secondsies, I like you guys because you're really, really fun to do contests with. And Lord knows I love me some contests. Last week's contest, to come up with an alternate title for a classic, was awesome. I couldn't cut down the winners to fewer than three, because all three of them made me laugh when I found out the answers. My contest, my rules—hurray fascism! The winners are "Fear and Loathing in Denmark" by CKHB, “The Year a Zombie Killed my Girlfriend” by cloudshaper2k, and Xiexie's "A Little Person's Quest for Jewelry."

And thank Thor for all you guessers! There was some mighty brainpower going on, but Terry rose up victorious on the guessing front, with 5 correct titles (as far as I know, at any rate). If I ever un-anonymize, you and I are headed out for some bar trivia. The rest of you can come too, but you all have to buy me and Terry drinks. Hey, I don't make the rules, I just enforce, wait, I make them too. Anyway. Check out the (slightly incomplete) list of contest answers posted, and let's get to rounding up the week. There's a new contest in the next paragraph—read on through or click here to skip the two sentences of chatting and get straight to the competition, American Gladiator style.

Oh, you like violence, do you? Then you’ll love this list of iconic fantasy weapons. That said, I think these weapons are kind of lackluster, and don’t have the heft of true violence. And no lightsabers? Um, hello, they cauterize wounds on contact. Which is awesome! So my contest for you this week: choose your own iconic literary or fantasy weapon, and leave it in the comments. Most inspired choice gets featured next week. And no stealing my choice, the Lobotomizer.

Also violent, Joss Whedon believes Angel could kick the sparkles right out of Edward Cullen. And I believe it—one headbutt from Angel’s ugly forehead thing and anyone would be out. If that doesn’t work, though, you can pass out by giving blood to Dracula, during Penguin Canada’s blood drives to promote a Dracula sequel. Yea, everyone wants to give blood now that vampires are popular. In an interview, Lev Grossman talks about how fantasy has become mainstream, and Philip Marchand accuses fantasy of taking over sci-fi. If you haven’t succumbed to the peer pressure, check out this fantasy starter kit for adults, and you’ll be jumping off bridges with the rest of us in no time.

Ok, the list in that last link is flawed, in part because the lady thinks Lord of the Rings is at a fourth-grade reading level (what kind of fourth graders does she know??), and because George R.R. Martin only got an honorable mention. In penance for her shenanigans, we must all listen to this interview with George R.R. Martin (my note to myself next to this link reads “squee!”). My secret boyfriend, Neil Gaiman, is a myth-making awesome machine. He (and some other people) won some Hugos. It was clearly all caused by the mysterious “quantum flux.”

Do you love Gaiman for his graphic novels more than his novel-novels? Well soon there will be an app to support proper comic reading on the iPhone. Which will be just in time for the graphic translation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and for Yale’s book The Cartoons that Shook the World. You know what they don’t think shook the world? The Danish cartoons of Muhammad (you know, the ones that prompted riots, embassy burnings, and an international discussion of free speech). According to Yale, that wouldn’t fall under the category of world-shaking. Nor do any pictures of the Prophet, actually. But I bet Garfield will be in there—he’s one sassy cat.

Not just Yale, but the world went a little overboard with political correctness this week. The Diary of Anne Frank will get Disney-fied, the cover of Liar got changed (although, after the hubbub about having a white girl on the cover, no one seems to care that Bloomsbury couldn’t have found a lighter black woman), and To Kill a Mockingbird might get banned in a Canadian school for naughty language. Malcolm Gladwell accuses Harper Lee of not supporting civil rights enough in said book, and Garth Risk Hallberg tells him to shut his pie hole until he actually understands the book (zing!). To top it all off, the contest inspiring copy of Mein Kampf sold for £21,000 to an anonymous buyer (he wants to own it, but not to admit to it). Actually, though, German Jews want Mein Kampf to be reprinted, to show future generations that Hitler really was a jerk.

Tim Burton believe that children’s books shouldn’t have to be politically correct, and so would probably support Harper Lee in a smackdown with the above overzealous Canadian parents. That said, he’s not the guy behind a “sexy” TV adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. This is probably contributing to the death of reading, aptly described by David Ulin in the LA Times. Kassia Krozer writes about reading's losing fight for eyeballs, and the existence of literary junk food is probably an argument for this too (wait, come on, chick-lit is serious, people are incorporating the heavy reality of the recession now. Respect them!). Alas, we may one day actually need these dos and don'ts of reading.

This has actually filtered down to the untouchables like Thomas Pynchon—the man, the legend, the mystery. Ever elusive, to promote his forthcoming novel he actually spoke. To the public. Well, sort of. He lent his voice to his book trailer and created a playlist to go with his new novel (although he is not an indie rock groupie). Even Pynchon can’t be “just an author.”

Thoroughly depressed, I think the only answer is contest literary violence (Go go, Gadget-Lobotomizer!) . So submit your violent accessories of mayhem to the contest below—no using them on each other—and see you all next week.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yay! I won! *Doing a little happy dance*

    For my "iconic weapon", I choose the power of my brain. Something in the Dr. Xavier range, please, with a little bit of River Tam thrown in. Equally kick-ass, less crazy.

  3. My weapon of choice:

    (How do you embed links?)

    Also: Gaiman is a great mythmaker, but he's not much of a novelist. Smart enough that he knows it, too--I don't think it's false modestly when he says he's not that wonderful a stylist. I'm not quite sure how to explain the fanboy and fangirl phenomenon, though; his mythmaking, I guess. (Which actually locates him uncomfortably close to Stephenie Myers.)

    And also also: a growing pet peeve about the Liar kerfuffle. 1) We have no idea if the main character is black. She claims to be black, but the whole premise is that she lies. All the time. When the author stands outside the book and makes claims that aren't supported by the text, do we really need to care? 2) If the character actually identified as black, it's kinda odd that being black apparently means so little to her that she never thinks about it other than to establish her cred. She doesn't touch black culture or the black experience or anything that makes blacks distinct from whites in any way that's more than skin deep. She's the kind of black you get in a tanning booth. That strikes me as more disrespectful than putting a white girl on the cover.

    I'm thinking of putting the line, "I'm a quarter Cherokee" in my current novel, and otherwise keeping my lily-white main character completely white, then wanking about the publisher putting a white man on the cover. Because honestly, it's all about the diversity for me. I'm just that good.

    The Eighth Igbo

  4. Nunchaku. They are awesome.

    I used them as a weapon for a character before. Unfortunately, my parents would not let me buy some for "research purposes".

  5. Weapon of choice: The Testiculator.

  6. Randomly: I read Lord of the Rings in 4th Grade. I don't know if that means I'm wierd or not...

  7. Great review of Butcher Bird, Gamer Girl. I would've said something on your blog, but I'm very much Anon.

  8. @ Anon 11:03: The author says the character is black and explains in several places on her blog why this is important. The "well, she COULD be lying" is a cop-out, and given the history of white-washing novel covers, I think the publishers trying to use that as an excuse is just sort of pathetic. Also, I don't see why black characters need to have their story be all about being black. What's wrong with characters just happening to be not white?

    I have seen a few comments over how the replacement model is pretty pale skinned, but I think most people are just shocked (in a good way) that it was changed at all. Pick your battles, right?

  9. My weapon... I've invented the Orifice Relocator.

    Aim at a person, activate Relocator and the mouth and backpassage of said person change locations!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  10. Literary Violence Weapon: MedusaBoobs - wherein a well-endowed woman is deployed by villains as the means to take down the universe by paralyzing would-be resisters into enaction. Pretty much the plot of Lifeforce.

    Thanks again, Laura, for all the amazing links. I am, as ever, delighted by your chattiness.

    Wordver: Blesions, which inspires a second literary violence weapons. Blesions = Blessings from fallen angels, they make you succumb to apocalypse-style boils

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  12. Haste Yee Back! You had me crackin' up!! HILARIOUS! Orifice Relocator. OMG!

    Okay I'm making a character up along with his weapon of violence:

    Gleek Boy and his infamous Poison Lisp! Disintigrating you with his rendition of Shakespeare.

    Word Veri: Spite (I'm not even kidding)

  13. Meg:

    I'm not saying the story has to be 'all about being black.' That's a bit of a straw man. I'm saying that if the character -is- black, and yet reads utterly white with the exception of two or three sentences of description, that's a very strange--and I think disrespectful--approach to the character. It denies that there's anything about African-American culture and experience that goes deeper than skin color.

    I think the answer to your question, 'What's wrong with characters just happening to be not white?' is: 'Black people aren't just people who happen to be not white.' That's like saying that women characters are just characters who happen to be not male. There's more to women than that.

    And my question re. the author is, 'Do I as a reader need to privilege the author's statements about her characters when they don't appear in the text?' I think the answer is 'absolutely not.'

    Of course, the author's the only one who can write -another- story with that character to clarify matters, but if JK Rowling said that Harry Potter was torturing small animals between the scenes of her books, that's irrelevant to me as a reader. Either it's in the book or it's not.


  14. We're supposed to pick existing, iconic weapons, right?

    Spider Jerusalem's BOWEL DISRUPTOR set to "Fatal Intestinal Maelstrom." (from Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan)

  15. Hey Anon 2:37--existing and iconic: great. Funny and non-existent (until your novel comes out): also great. I'm just into the violence aspect.

    And to weigh in on the Anon 11:03/2:32 and Meg conversation:

    I haven't read Liar, so I can't comment on the description in-text, but I would say that, in general, saying a character "reads white" is a way of saying "the default understanding of any character is as a white person," which I think is a really fraught concept, that deserves to be considered pretty critically.

    The little boy in Pixar's "Up" was Asian--he didn't feed into Asian stereotypes, he just happened to be Asian. If "Up" were a book and on the cover was a white child, I think the meat of the issue would be the same: why would it be ok for the character to be of a certain race, but not ok to represent that visually?

    I would also point out that into the 20th century many (Jewish, Irish, Polish) immigrants in the United States weren't considered "white"--American constructions of whiteness have traditionally been about class, not about color.

    Additionally, this novel was written by a woman who grew up in Australia, and so ascribing American politics and understandings of race to her book seems a little questionable--Egyptian Christianity is incredibly different from Christianity in the United States (hell, being Christian in Texas is different from being Christian in Connecticut), and, in the same vein, I would say that an American construction of what makes a character "black" is potentially different from an Australian construction (I don't know, but I'd guess so).

    In other news, you know you have spent too much time around academics when your response to a YA cover is about historical, geopolitical concepts of race. Sigh.

  16. I'm not entering officially, but I'd have to pick the Noisy Cricket from Men in Black.

  17. Love your blog!

    My weapon is The Naked Maker. Can you imagine a whole army, or heads of state suddenly nude? eeew!

    Down with political correctness I say, in all its ridiculous contortions.

  18. Choosing a favorite weapon from so many shiny-sharp, bangie-boomie, whirly-whacking, and dastardly-deadly possibilities is just impossible for me.

    I'm thinking the sorceress's staff of carved ironwood with the diamond-edged damascus rapier blade, poison oak vine lariat, soporific-seed-filled exploding crab apples, and short bow and arrows all carved in and available at a spell-thought's notice might do.

  19. Congratulations to you title winners! Great Job. And fun titles. Stumped me all over the place, not that that's hard to do, but...

    Hey, I won the guessing game! Thanks Laura. I love the idea of everyone buying us drinks.

    El Jimador's Shifties all around!

    Your link-laden posts are so good. That Alice In Wonderland film adaptaion looks like a winner. I can see Depp as the Mad Hatter. And Kathy Bates is always good.

    As far as weapons go, I'm not big on blood and gore, so I'll need time to think. Something aesthetically pleasing, not terribly messy.

  20. My entry for iconic fantasy weapon: The Frisbee (or other spinning circular blade type weapons)

    Not only is it a classic fantasy weapon in its incarnation as the shuriken, it has made appearances in spy films (007's Octopussy), and even jumped genres into virtual reality (Tron).

  21. Laura:

    Liar is set the US. If it carries an Australian understanding of race (and I expect it does), that's a failure of the author, not an excuse. She chose to set a book in the States with a black protagonist.

    This is a book about identity. The idea that a new girl at a private school in NYC, trying to find her place, isn't going to consider race is laughable. This is the sort of 'color-blindness' that assumes that everyone is white. That's probably the most fundamental white privilege, to say, "I don't see race." Especially when it's true.

    I'm not sure how the evolving social construction of whiteness, though interesting, relates to the issues of this book.

    I'm also not sure how you can justify this: " ... in general, saying a character 'reads white' is a way of saying 'the default understanding of any character is as a white person,' which I think is a really fraught concept, that deserves to be considered pretty critically."

    If I say that Bella Swann reads white, how is that saying that the default understanding of any character is as a white person? If I say that the narrator of Fight Club reads white, how'm I saying that?

    You think that Bella and the narrator of Fight Club could be black, and written otherwise exactly the same? That race in this country has no deeper impact than that?

    I'd say that George in Mama Day reads black. I'd say the narrator in Alexie's latest reads Indian. If either of them read white, that'd be a failure. I'm not saying that there's no overlap, or that people must behave in stereotypical ways. I'm only saying that race is salient in the US, and pretending it's not isn't 'post-racial', it's insulting.

    I think you have it backwards: In general, saying a character is black without exhibiting any awareness of black culture or the black experience is a way of saying 'the default understanding of any character is as a white person.'

    If Twilight were exactly the same, except there was one paragraph where Bella says she's black, I'm sorry--she still reads white. I think this speaks to a deep fear of and disrespect for African-American culture. It'd be fine to write a black character who is completely estranged from that culture ... but even -that- should be an issue. For a less shallow discussion of race, I recommend about a month's worth of this blog:

    The idea that being black doesn't (or shouldn't) matter is almost entirely a white idea.

    Sorry for going on at such length. This is (clearly!) a bit of a sore spot for me. I think that writing a black -main- character who has no awareness of being black in this country (even if it's to reject it) is about as racist as saying that a friend 'happens to be black.' It's very well-meant.


  22. Um...does a crowbar count? If not, it should. So many different ways to maim...

  23. Purple...

    Orifice Relocator works for every opening in the body... I have a mix-and-match setting on the portal dial!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  24. a couple comments:

    1) Joss Whedon could headbutt the crap out of Edward Cullen himself.

    2) Neil Gaiman can be your secret boyfriend, but that leaves me Michael Chabon and the aforementioned Joss Whedon.

    3) I actually BOUGHT that Pynchon book. What was I thinking?! We're supposed to be reading it over August--"we" being random overly-motivated people on the internet. It's called "Inherent August" or #InhAug I think. Some dumb hash tag like that.

    Lastly, I envy your stamina. So many long, thoughtful posts each week! You young and energetic thing. The blessings of Thor be upon you.

  25. I loved Transmetropoliton's Bowel Disruptor, but I gott go with the heart attack gun in Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff. That book was twistier than a twizzler, and it the weapon was just the first :O moment.


  26. Just one weapon...but...but...but that goes against The Evil Overlord Handbook! Rule 27: I will always carry at least two fully loaded weapons at all times.

    That said, a crystal cutter from Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey. Alton Brown is on to something by demanding a multi-use toy.

  27. I'll make you a deal, Moonrat--you can have Joss Whedon and Michael Chabon, if I can borrow Chabon on some weekends. I just finished Gentlemen of the Road, and am loath to give him up entirely...

    And of course, the vast majority of the hard work (and all of the insider knowledge) for this blog is done by Eric, but, since I'm a big fan of you, I will perhaps try and steal his thunder.

    And Anon, you make some really interesting points, and again, since I haven't read Liar I still can't comment on the specifics of the story.

    The only thing I would mention is that conversations and discussions in novels that don't directly lend themselves to the plot are usually omitted, and the author may have thought that the discussion of race had no bearing on the specifics of the story (rightly or wrongly).

    Also, re-reading, I was struck by your Harry Potter reference--just that circumstance did happen, when Rowling outed Dumbledore after the last book came out. Is that fact canonical? No. But did it inform the author's creation of the character, and play a role of some sort? I would say yes.

    Last thought: have you read Gilbert Adair's Death of the Author? I think The Theory (that you should treat the author as dead, and only interpret the text and the author through the text) has resonance with this conversation. Plus it's just really good.

  28. My husband is yelling - Staypuff Marshmallow Man!
    I offer up the Towel - a Hitchhiker's most versitile weapon / tool.
    But having recieved yet ANOTHER one in the mail today, I will put forward the deadly literary power of the REJECTION LETTER! Repells authors, kills dreams and strikes to the heart while "toughening the skin".

  29. Hi Eric,

    Just letting you know that I nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger award. I love this blog, but lurk more than I should - I've only commented a couple of times.I think it's amazing how this blog has grown since the original idea on Nathan's blog. Great work.

    Feel free to pop over to my blog to see what I am on about.

  30. BUt the list of great adult fantasy doesn't include mine, so it can't possibly be complete.

  31. Having been struck by a whip before, I can tell you that even catching the backlash is one of the more painful wounds one can receive. That being said, it does not stop you from retaliating in any way. A whip really isn't going to keep a seriously angry person away.

    In all honesty, the comments in here are more helpful in the way of weapon selection. Loving the Krull weapon idea. ^^

    Now if only the main character of my noveling blog, Uninvoked, actually knew how to use a weapon. -.-

  32. Uninvoked, if the main character knows the blunt end from the sharp end, you'd be surprised at the way commonsense kinda just makes it work.

  33. My mythical weapon of choice is wide ruled notebook paper. It can smother victims with it's awesome power of "I beat rock for some strange reason". College students everywhere, lookout!

  34. Mythical Weapon of choice.... "The Day Job"
    . It can kill entire worlds without a thought. Nemesis of writers and artist everywhere. Insidious and as contagious as a plague. Beware, lest ye get infected.

  35. Day Job! So true!
    My weapon of choice would be closed-captioning for the telepathy impaired. Every thought would roll like credits across the screen and you could choose which thoughts you choose to read in a crowd. One on one conversations/encounters would be even scarier.
    I don't need violent weapons. I'm passive. I just need to know when to walk away.

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