A confession

I’ve finished NaNoWriMo (50,000 words, a small novel or novella) something like 4 times. I’ve yet to finish a story. That is about to change.

Of course, even when this story is done and I can write the words The End on the bottom of the page (and then promptly delete them — how cheesy would that be?), the novel is far from finished. Rewriting, adding, cutting (and cutting, and cutting): these are the things that turn mediocre ramblings into something that anyone would have half a mind to read. Take, for example, the first chapter I posted a few days ago. Nothing much has changed with regard to substance. Even when I first wrote it, more than a year ago now, it told the story of Victoria and her young ward, Emma, traveling to her former home of Arden to conscript her nephew. The story is the same. But the structure? The wording? The flow (or, in the case of the initial draft, lack thereof)? Day. And. Night.

So yes, I plan on replicating that process for each and every of the nearly fifty chapters (many of which may, thankfully, disappear entirely). But that’s for later. For now, I can’t stop being excited about the prospect of having a complete manuscript. It’s intoxicating, the idea that I could send this document (.odt, natch) to someone and have them comprehend the complete story the way I do. It would be a chore to read, oh yes, full of plot holes, inconsistent characters, time jumps and plodding description. But it would be a story with a beginning, middle and end.

It has been one of my lifelong dreams to write a book, regardless of whether or not I can send it into the world at large. And though I have many dreams, this one is nearing fruition. I can’t complain about that.

Matt Borgard is almost officially a novelist, I guess?

(Classic) Review: “A Princess of Mars,” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

So this was love! I had escaped it for all the years I had roamed the five continents and their encircling seas; in spite of beautiful women and urging opportunity; in spite of a half- desire for love and a constant search for my ideal, it had remained for me to fall furiously and hopelessly in love with a creature from another world…”


Ask anyone about Edgar Rice Burroughs, and one word will come to mind: Tarzan. Among all his works, Tarzan alone has become an integral part of our popular culture, to the point that any civilized-feral culture shock story will draw comparisons to the seminal character. However, in terms of literary influence, another one of Burroughs’s works may be even more important. His John Carter of Mars (or Barsoom, in the Martian native tongue) series serves as one of the earliest examples of a space opera*, featuring a faraway planet, strange creatures, a passionate romance, and, of course, martial combat.


The first novel in the series, A Princess of Mars, first introduces us to John Carter, a confederate soldier who is inexplicably transported to Mars. Once there, he finds out that the society is nearly barren of resources, and as such, has reverted in large part from an advanced, intelligent society to a number of barbaric, warring tribes. John jumps from tribe to tribe, learning their customs and befriending their natives, before finally setting off on a mission to save the entire planet from destruction. On the way, he meets the titular Princess (who unlike the four-armed insectoid Green Martians, is completely humanoid), and falls head over heels (as you can see in the quote above). One of the book’s weak points is its poor handling of female characters (something that, unfortunately, carried through to a lot of the science fiction genre). The Princess, Dejah Thoris, has little to no agency, and serves only as a damsel-in-distress, and, to a lesser extent, a source of exposition and explanation for John. The other main female character, a Green Martian, at least has a story and motivations, but is also placed in the story to spur a male character to action (in this case, Tars Tarkas, a Green Martian that John befriends).


APoM was released nearly a century ago, in 1912. The age of the book alone is dizzying, as many of the aspects of the story are considered genre tropes, though these are admittedly borrowed from older genres such as romances and westerns. The fact that “Princess” is getting a big budget film adaptation soon is ample evidence of this; it’s unlikely that they’ll even have to change a great deal of the plot. The only places that the book truly shows its age is in some of the antiquated phrasing, and the aforementioned outdated thinking (at one point, Carter comments that the princess’s naiveté is “good, feminine logic”).


That said, the book has some technical issues that even age doesn’t completely justify. This is understandable. A Princess of Mars was Burroughs’ first full novel (though the first Tarzan novel was published at the same time, I believe what would eventually become A Princess of Mars was written first), and some of the amateur mistakes shine through. The most glaring problem, in my opinion, is Burroughs’s ham-fisted use of foreshadowing — but foreshadowing is the wrong word. Fore-outright-telling-you-what-is-going-to-happen is the closest I can come to describing the issue. At one point, John Carter meets a ferocious Martian “dog” who attacks him, and comments, before even resolving the attack, that the dog would one day become his close companion and risk his live to save Carter. This occurs often in the early stages of the novel, when the characters are being introduced, and it gets old quickly.


The first Barsoom novel is probably not one that is going to keep a modern reader on the edge of his or her seat from cover to cover. It lags in places, and many events tend to be quite similar. For example, Carter first arrives at a tribe of barbarians and is forced to adapt and fight his way into their good graces. Later, he falls in with another tribe, and goes through the exact same process with a slightly different outcome. These issues are worth the read for Science Fiction literature fans, however, to experience such a significant piece of the genre’s history. At the very least, the next time you watch a science-fiction show or film you’ll be able to roll your eyes and say “ERB did that 100 years ago.”


Download A Princess of Mars for free at Project Gutenberg




*Technically, according to the experts at Wikipedia, the Barsoom novels are classified as “Planetary Romance,” not “Space Opera.” The distinction is mostly academic — the Barsoom novels certainly inspired later space operas, such like Star Wars.



Review: “Deepsix,” by Jack McDevitt.


“That anyone could believe the human animal was designed by a divine being defies all logic… The more pious among us should pray that next time he does the job right. But we might in justice concede that there is one virtue to be found in the beast: he is persistent.” -Gregory MacAllister, “Bridge with the Polynesians”




Anyone familiar with my media consuming preferences knows how much I loathe entering a series from any point other than the very beginning. Every episode of a television show must be watched in perfect order, regardless of the strength of its continuity. I don’t really care that 95% of Bones episodes are self-contained, thank you, please change the channel until I’m caught up on this season.
So it was an interesting experience for me to find out halfway through Deepsix, the second novel in Jack McDevitt’s (unofficially named) Academy series, that I was missing out on a previous novel. That neurotic part of my brain that forces me to research chronology before reading a comic book immediately demanded I slam shut the cover and rush out to grab the first book, The Engines of God. However, after calming myself with a small cup of organic chocolate pudding, I realized that McDevitt had, thus far, done such a good job with characterization and (brief and rarely necessary) summaries of previous events, that I didn’t feel lost or out of the loop. So I pressed on (and God help the author if I ran into a “See ACADEMY #1!” footnote).
Deepsix is a deceptively simple tale — so simple that it’s somewhat difficult to discuss without giving away the twists and turns of the plot. The story revolves around the titular planet, a world teeming with exotic-yet-familiar wildlife, and the efforts of a small group of characters investigating it. Not much needs to be said. The expected plot points are hit: getting on, exploring, and getting off. Like any good story, the characters make the experience. And the characters here are fantastic.
Our main protagonist is Priscilla Hutchins, intergalactic pilot and star of McDevitt’s previous novel. To be honest, while Hutchins’s determined but down-to-earth attitude is perfect for the main viewpoint character, she’s not the most interesting member of the group. That distinction belongs to Gregory MacAllister, the most widely-known and widely-hated writer in the universe. I fully expected the misogynistic, misanthropic blowhard to play the “annoying sidekick” throughout the journey, finally redeeming himself in an unexpected act of heroics at the end while muttering “I … I still don’t like women!” at the end while the female characters bombarded him with appreciative kisses. This doesn’t happen. Instead, it’s an absolute joy to see how MacAllister’s many complaints about humanity are more philosophical than pragmatic. He doesn’t change drastically over the course of the novel — only our perceptions of him change. The rest of the characters are equally fleshed out, but considering MacAllister’s interesting persona and strong voice, Deepsix is clearly his book.
As is customary in most science fiction stories, the plot drives the narrative more than the characters. It’s simple, but it works — the team explores the planet, and in the end, must devise a way to get offplanet. The exploration is never boring, and it often raises a number of questions and mysteries about the inhabitants of Deepsix. Enough of these questions are left unanswered to keep the reader’s imagination, but enough are answered to avoid frustration.
Of course, no story can come without criticisms, and I have a few: First of all, the book is dense. It is dense in words, which isn’t so much a problem. The 500-odd (paperback) pages fly by, especially near the climax, when McDevitt ratchets up the tension. However, it is also dense in the number of characters and settings thrown into the mix. This issue resolves itself after the first hundred pages or so, when the author decides which characters to really focus in on. It really grates for those first few chapters, though. Characters are introduced with full names, viewpoint sections, and personality quirks — and then never heard from again. It’s damn overwhelming to try to keep track of them before you realize which ones you can forget about.
We’re also treated to an entire subplot — not even a subplot, really, as it takes up at least half of the book — about the flight crew’s efforts to weld some metal to their ships. I realize these sections are meant to give us a breath from the fast pace of the ground team. And these sections might be highly interesting to a civil engineer or hard, hard-scifi fan, as I’m sure all the descriptions of stress and atmospheric pressures and such are authentic. Nevertheless: 250 pages. About welding. I could have done with only, say, 100 pages, and been just fine.
As slow as these sections can be, however, McDevitt’s fleshed-out characters and compelling situations rise above it. I can’t recommend this book enough — I don’t remember enjoying a science fiction novel this much since Speaker for the Dead (and I reaaaaaally enjoyed Speaker for the Dead). Buy it and read it — no matter what your personal neuroses tell you.

Mini-Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie Carrie by Stephen King

What Stephen King’s first published novel lacks in literary merit, it makes up for in charm and originality. Carrie is not a long novel, and it’s not a particularly moving or emotional novel (though, the emotion of the menstruation metaphor may be lost on my male sensibilities). But it is an interesting novel, one that clearly shows the potential that King cashes in with his long, illustrious career.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

NaNo winds down — will I make it?

Just thought I’d throw up a quick status: Currently at ~27,000 words, with less than a week to go in NaNoWriMo. Many of those words are high quality. Many of them are not. Some of them are song lyrics and an almost completely unrelated script. But I will finish. I’m determined. Next Monday, I’ve got the whole day to crank out the close to 20,000 words I’ll need to make the 50k target. But it’s going to happen.

In other news, I’ve recently completed a script for the internet show I’m developing with a few friends. It’s short and sweet, and occurs right in the middle of the season, which has yet to be written. But I like it. It made me actually laugh, and I don’t normally laugh at my own writing, so that has to mean something. Here’ s a taste:

SEAN

OPEN! …on Martin Luther King Jr.

MAX

That could work.

SEAN

He’s been assassinated, and there’s blood everywhere

MATT

Jesus Christ, okay, we’re not doing this…

SEAN

Zoom in to his assassin, chugging a nice, refreshing Pepsi. Fade to the tagline: Pepsi: Not What You’d Expect.

MATT

Not only is that the worst advertisement I’ve ever heard, I’m not sure you actually understand the concept of product placement.

Finally, I’m finishing up Star by Star, which is probably the most important book in the New Jedi Order series, if not the entire EU. It’s pretty good so far — incredible by Star Wars novel standards, actually, but merely good by regular book standards. I’ll probably have a review of it up on December 1, after NaNoWriMo is done.

Review: Get Down, by Asali Solomon

Get Down: Stories is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award-winning compilation from little-known author Asali Solomon. In Get Down, Solomon gives her readers fleshed out, unique characters set in the not-as-near-as-it-once-was past of the 1980s. As a book with an African-American author, whose characters all happen to be black, it would be easy to categorize this book as the cliche “exploration of what it means to be black in America.” And there is some of that, to be sure. But Solomon achieves something much greater. Her characters are not defined by their skin color or their culture, as seems to be the case in so many so-called “ethnic” novels. Instead, she creates her characters with specific quirks and goals, such that their blackness is just one part of their multifaceted identity.

The first story, Twelve Takes Thea, is probably the most focues on the “minority issues” in America. It features a twelve-year-old girl, the titular Thea, struggling with fitting in among her classmates, most of which are white. Her best friend is another young black girl, who happens to transfer to a different school soon after the story begins, and an Indian girl whom Thea cannot quite wrap her mind around. This story twists and turns toward an emotional ending, though Solomon uses a sort of strange flash-forward device that I feel is somewhat unnecessary. Twelve Takes Thea would be something I would highly recommend to younger (middle school) readers, both because of relevant reading level and subject matter (though, the rest of this book does not follow this trend at all).


That Golden Summer and Party on, Vorhees! are two of the book’s shortest stories, both checking in at around 10-15 pages. I’m lumping them together because they share a common theme and structure: an adolescent trying to embrace their approaching adulthood, and getting into a dangerous situation because of it. Both stories are somewhat lacking in plot — Vorhees in particular seems to just ramble on without any real goal — but they make up for it in character. While Golden Summer focuses mainly on the child, Vorhees has a group of children, as well as an older woman who recounts her days as a mischievous youth, hopping from party to party. Solomon is able to reveal a lot about her characters simply by the way this woman tells her story, the way the children react to it, and the way the main character, who has presumably heard it time and time again, recounts it to the audience.

William Is Telling A Story is quite a departure from the other pieces in the book. It features a young man named William who is apparently struggling with his sexuality — but not in a commonly seen way. He is comfortable relating to his friends that he had a sexual experience with a man named Kelly, and he still seems interested in chasing women. However, he can’t seem to get Kelly off of his mind. It’s an extremely complex tale — probably the best one in the book, though maybe not the most enjoyable — so I won’t try to do it justice here. Suffice it to say that Solomon takes a complicated and sensitive topic and draws it in a fresh, respectful light.

My favorite story has to be The Star of the Story. This story is unique among the others, in that it features the viewpoints of two character weaved in and out of each other. The mother, Akousa, is an older woman seeking to rekindle a flame she had in the past, while her son, Eduardo, is a large outgoing boy with an unhealthy obsession with his cousin. The story isn’t perfect — Solomon takes a risk putting the two largely unrelated narratives together, and I don’t think she treats the topic of child rape with the sensitivity it really deserves — but it’s engaging and thought-provoking.

I won’t talk about the other two stories, mostly because they are fairly simplistic, when compared to the other pieces. One is cute and enjoyable to read — the other, not so much.

Finally, I have to address the comment a woman in my reading group made. She said she thought the book was “crap,” not because of the writing, but because they weren’t “her type of stories.” I’m pretty sure I know what she means — she’s white, so she feels like she can’t connect with the characters and immediately turns herself off from the writing. That’s unfortunate. I’ll be blunt, and say that there are stories where a certain demographic is writing for that demographic, and they don’t expect or desire anyone outside of that to be a part of the readership; there are many examples of men-writing-for-men or women-writing-for-women where the opposite gender is not encouraged to participate. However, Get Down does not even approach that sort of genre. For all its flaws, Get Down shines brightly at its best moments, and its casual-yet-masterful style pulled me in and held me tight. Solomon does not put forth the idea that she prefers one type of reader to the other — if you have problems “relating” to her story, that is most certainly your problem.

Such A Holy Place To Be

“Your wig’s crooked, dude.”

Even with all the pins and clips stacked on my scalp, I was having a hell of a time keeping my fake hair straight. My long blond locks had slipped to the side during the walk to the Tau Gamma Ro house. I tilted them back the upright position, and checked my eyebrows. Still there. Thank God.

“So you’re gonna have to follow my lead tonight, dude. Keep your mouth shut and I’ll send one of these girls your way.”

I threw up my thumb and gave a half-hearted smile. I hadn’t dated – or done anything of the sort – since I started school earlier in the year. Rex, on the other hand, was out with one of the girls from his classes almost as often as he was out tossing a Frisbee. Female interaction was at the forefront of my mind tonight.

Rex stepped across a rickety porch and I followed, worried only a little that one of the rotten planks would collapse. A large guy in a Spartan uniform stood in front of the open door and looked us over. His top half dripped with some sort of gleaming oil, but his shape was more Milhouse than muscle.

“Rex, Adrian, glad you guys could show up. I like the zombie costume!”

“Zombie hobo,” Rex corrected.

The guy turned to me. “And, uh. What the fuck are you supposed to be?”

I knew this was a mistake. “I’m Jareth, the Goblin King.”

“What?”

“Bowie. I’m David Bowie.”

“Oh. All right, it’s all good. Food and drinks in the kitchen, chip in if you want any of the hard stuff.”

The party had started without us. Black and orange streamers blocked entry to the stairways. The main floor of the house was filled with vampires, Jedi and ten-dollar Wal-Mart costumes. The characters in the room were disjoint as always. Halloween parties seemed like a sort of pop-culture convention, with attendees linked only by the red plastic cups in their hands.

Every possible variation of liquor lined the countertops in the kitchen, but the promised food left a lot to be desired. I begged Rex to stop somewhere on the way, but he pushed on, insisting that we would be late. My stomach gurgled and sloshed as it began to digest itself; I grabbed a handful of tortilla chips to quiet it.

I met up with Rex in the main room, surrounded by some old friends of his. He introduced me, and we watched as one of them made his way to the center of the room, next to a small karaoke machine, to perform an ear-shattering rendition of “Cold as Ice.” Rex pushed me forward as his friend finished.

“Dude, you have to get up there. Come on, you can’t dress as a rock star and not do karaoke.” Rex placed his hand firmly on my back and shoved me in front of the machine.

No one seemed interested in the spectacle, which calmed my nerves. I motioned to the dinosaur running the machine. “Anything by David Bowie? Space Oddity, maybe?”

He rummaged through the book for a few seconds, then nodded. “Yeah, it’s here. It’s a duet though. Got anyone to join you?”

Rex was already busy chatting up a skanky Navy girl whose uniform had to be against regulations. I tried my luck anyway. “Rex, it’s a duet. You know you want to sing with me.”

He twisted his neck around. “Dude, don’t be gay. I’m not gonna sing a fuckin’ duet with you.”

I tugged my right eyebrow as Rex accompanied his real interest into the kitchen.

“Hey, I’ll sing.” A nurse with long black hair, a short skirt and red cross hat stepped toward me and grabbed the second microphone. “Is that okay with you?” She smiled. As if I would turn her down.

“Fine with me. You want to take the high notes?”

“Of course. Try to keep up.”

I started to respond, but was blotted out by the drum roll. We sang well, even as our styles diverged. I did my best Bowie impression to the point of incoherence, while the nurse opted for a classical performance. It bothered me. There was something wrong about singing Bowie like Rent. Still, there was something interesting about her. I, of course, didn’t need to look at the lyric prompter. It surprised me that the nurse didn’t either. I hadn’t expected to find a glam-rock fan among Rex’s sort of people.

We received a clap or two on our way out of the room, but most of the partygoers were engrossed in other things.

“You want a drink?” I asked her.

“Sure. I left my cup over there, and you know what they say.”

I didn’t, actually, know what they say; but I wasn’t going to argue the point. This girl was pretty, really pretty, and I was going to hang on to any chance to strike up a conversation.

“Amber,” she told me as I filled her cup from the keg. “My name is Amber.”

“I’m Adrian. Thanks for backing me up in there. You sing really well.”

“Sure. You were pretty good yourself. Really, uh, freaky. So, you’re a big David Bowie fan?”

“I guess, yeah. I just watched Labyrinth the other day, I thought this costume would be amazing. I don’t think I pulled it off, though.”

“No, it looks great!” replied Amber. “Especially your blouse, it really completes the ensemble.”

I laughed. It wasn’t very often that a girl could make me laugh. “Just be glad I didn’t go with the bulging pants.”

Amber raised an eyebrow, and I felt my legs cross in front of me.

“What is your major?” I asked her. It was the most inconsequential thing I could think of to say.

“Polisci. You?”

“Molecular Biology.” It was normally a source of pride, but coming out of my mouth now it felt pretentious. Amber laughed, which didn’t help my confidence.

“You’re in a real science. That’s cool.”

“No, political science is admirable. Researching the effects of ‘change’ on the adolescent brain, right?”

“Shut up. I know, though. It’s a notch above business and worth just as much. I’m not going to be a lawyer, so I don’t know why I’m doing it.”

“You could run for office. I’ll vote for you.”

“Definitely. President Amber, I can see it. Let’s hope no one takes any pictures of tonight.” She tugged at her seductively short skirt. “That’ll be the end of my career.”

“So, are you a freshman?”

“Senior.”

I choked down a mouthful of beer. “Of course, sorry. You look young.” What?

“Thanks. What about you?”

“I’m a Junior. One more year, God willing.” I crossed my fingers and stared at her face, looking for any sort of tell that she had caught my lie. She gave off nothing more than a calm smile. Either she had bought it, or she had practiced her poker face.

Amber and I chatted in the kitchen, sliding to the side for the occasional patron who needed whatever we were parked in front of. When we could see the smooth white bottoms of our cups, we refilled them. We grabbed one of the main room seats as it emptied. My head had already become misty from the beer; drinking was not my strong suit.

We talked a while longer on the dusty pleather couch. Amber pointed out people as they walked past. That one has dressed like a werewolf for four years straight. Those two have a constant competition to outslut each other. Jim gets sick every year, we’re pretty sure he just fakes it to lie down and look up girls skirts, don’t know why he goes to such lengths at a party like this. There was a long silence between us as Amber ran out of quirky students to describe. She looked at me, suddenly, an odd smile creeping across her face.

“Have you gotten a tour yet?”

“A tour? No, this is my first time here.”

“Here, you have to see the library. Most of these frat guys are the biggest pigs I’ve ever met, but for some reason, they have, like, the coolest library. Really vintage stuff.”

“You realize that the school has a library, right? A pretty big one.”

“They don’t have stuff like this. It’s in the other wing of the house. Here.” She handed me her cup. “Get us another drink and meet me over there.”

I made my way back into the kitchen, and Amber headed in the opposite direction. I filled our cups, awkwardly juggling them, and turned to walk back into the main room. Rex was in the kitchen.

“Hey man, what’s up. Don’t drink too much, you don’t want to end the night with a sack in your face.” Rex clapped me on the back, nearly causing the beer to spill over the rims of the cups.

“It’s for a friend.”

Rex grinned, his perfect white teeth stretching from ear to ear. “Aw, yeah, I saw that. That Amber chick, right? Right on, man. Make sure to bag it, that girl’s with a different dude every year. Don’t get too attached.”

“What?”

“Don’t get attached. Pop it and drop it, dude. She’s a maneater.” Rex slammed remainder of his drink into his mouth and walked past me to the alcohol.

“Thanks, Oates. I meant the part about … bagging it. About being with a different dude every year. Are you just screwing with me?”

“I’m telling you, that girl is always hooking up at frat parties.”

“Did you ever…?”

“What? No way, bro. I mean, she’s hot and all but I’ve always had other girls. Still, dude, I’d go for it. But be careful.”

Rex finished his concoction and slapped me on the back one more time before walking back outside.

I made my way toward the library. Rex’s warning echoed in my mind, despite what I thought was undeniable chemistry between me and Amber. Had I been conversing with the school whore for the past hour? No. Rex didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. Maneater? I hadn’t ever seen Rex with the same girl for a whole week. Who was he to talk about anyone?

“Took you long enough. Long line?” Amber sat, legs crossed, in front of a long line of streamers blocking the entrance to the library. She stood out from the Blond Sorority Girls and Depressed Emo Chicks that seemed to populate the campus. There was a perceptible intelligence that penetrated and amplified her appearance. Rex was wrong about Amber – she wasn’t one of them.

“Sorry, I was talking to my roommate. I’m ready to see this amazing library.”

She twisted her head around, slipped under the streamers, and gestured for me to follow her. My stomach twisted; I felt like everyone in the room was staring at me, waiting to see if I’d join Amber in the library. This was not true, of course. A majority of the people in the room were already buzzed, and the rest were too bored to care about anything going on in our part of the house. I took a deep breath and darted under the partition, careful to keep our drinks from spilling. Amber took her cup from my hand as soon as I stood up.

“You make it okay, champ?”

This girl had an uncanny ability to make me feel ridiculous. She led me into the darkened hallway, hitting a switch after we rounded a small corner. Overhead lights flickered on, revealing a large room packed from wall to wall with bookshelves.

“The left shelf is old tests and homework, but I doubt you’re going to find any biology stuff in there.” Amber pointed to the middle row of books. “I’m not sure how this part is organized. I think they stick books in here when they forget to return them to the library.” She moved along to the right side of the room, grabbing my wrist and dragging me along as she did so. My wig slid down my face, covering the slight hue of red that crept into it.

“This is the good stuff.” Amber ran her finger along the spines of the dusty old books, evidently looking for something specific. “Here, look at this.” She inched her fingers between the spines of two large tomes and pried one out. She flipped through it, holding the book open so that I couldn’t see it. Then she laid it open on the table.

“What the fuck?” A naked woman adorned the page. She sat on her knees, her arm stretched out past the top of her head.

“It’s Marilyn Monroe.”

I stared closer at the photograph. “I can see that. She’s naked.”

Amber jabbed a finger into my shoulder. “I figured any guy would recognize this. This is the first issue of Playboy. And it’s not a reprint – this is the actual thing.”

“Is it rare?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe not. But that doesn’t stop it from being cool, don’t you think? They have every issue down here, from 1953 on. I think they think that it’s just an awesome porn collection, but it’s actually a pretty interesting look back in time. I like to read the articles and find out what people thought back then. I’m only up to like 1960 …what?”

I had been staring half-conscious at Amber the whole time. I couldn’t help but smile. “They let you in here to look at their porn?”

“Not exactly. They know me here, they let me in.”

“They know you come in to browse their magazines?”

“No, I don’t think so. But they let me in, that’s all I really care about.”

“You’re crazy.”

Amber folded her arms. “Excuse me? I find this stuff fascinating.”

And then, with Amber staring at me, slightly annoyed, I kissed her. I have no idea how I managed it. It was the most utterly bold thing I had ever done in my life. Amber accepted the kiss, and even ran with it, but made no effort to take things further than that. I looked at her after I pulled away. My head spun half with the alcohol, half with the excitement of being so presumptuous.

“Ah,” she muttered. “I guess these pictures affected you more than I thought.”

Jesus Christ. Just when I felt comfortable, she punched me in the gut.

“I’m just teasing you,” said Amber. “I just wasn’t expecting it.” She leaned in and kissed me again. It was short and sweet; there was no making out. We looked at each other for a short time after it was over. I turned my attention back to the Playboy collection.

“I wonder if you could get these magazines from them. Like, buy them or something. Or get them to donate the collection to the school.”

“I doubt it. These guys are kind of dumb, but they aren’t completely clueless.”

“So you never got with any of them?” Shit. What in the name of God made me say that. Alcohol may help some guys with romance, but not me.

“What? Of course not. I’m sure there are rumors, with me here all the time, but I wouldn’t touch them. I feel weird enough flipping through their books.”

“Yeah, I was just curious. My roommate’s just an idiot.”

Amber looked into my eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing, nevermind. My roommate was just giving me crap.”

“About me?”

“No, not exactly,” I lied. “He just told to be careful, you know.” I was not a good liar, and the alcohol made it ten times worse. I could feel myself getting drawn into a trap, and I wasn’t having any luck getting out of it. I prayed that Amber would drop the subject. She didn’t.

“Worried you were going to get knocked up?” She grinned at me. “Don’t worry, I’m not that easy.”

“No, I know, I see that now.”

“Now?”

Fuck. This was the last night I would ever drink.

“I mean, now I know you, I know you’re not like that or anything.”

She didn’t buy it. “Like what? Who have you been talking to?”

“I told you, Rex was just giving me crap.”

“Wait, Rex? Rex Wilson? Your roommate is that douchebag? What, he told you I was a slut, and you believed him?”

“No, that’s not what happened. He was just talking out his ass, you know. I’m a little buzzed, I got paranoid.”

“Paranoid, or did you think you were going to get lucky?” Amber closed the book and brushed past me, sliding it back in place. “Jesus Christ, Adrian. Why would you … why would you hang out with him?

“I didn’t pick Rex, he’s my roommate! I didn’t know him before this year. And I didn’t come here … I mean, I’m not …”

“You didn’t come here to get laid?”

“Amber, of course not. I’m not like Rex, I’m not the rest of those guys in there.”

“Really? Adrian, why did you come to this party? You told me you don’t like the guys here. You obviously can’t stand the sorority girls. Was it just the booze and the free food?”

I stared at Amber, running through responses in my mind. I frantically searched for something that wouldn’t run her off. I came up short.

“I don’t know. Rex invited me, I guess I just figured I’d try to meet some people.”

“Listen, Adrian. You’re a cool kid. Don’t let Rex fuck you up, okay? He’s not a good guy.”

“What do you mean, what’s wrong with Rex? He’s not the smartest guy, sure, but … what happened? How do you know him?”

“I know him better than you do. It doesn’t matter. I don’t … I’m not going to talk about it. I think I’m going to go home, all right? I’m sorry.”

Amber pushed past me, oblivious to my protests. I stumbled after her. She walked straight through the streamers, past a few cries of “hey, what the hell,” and out the front door. Rex stopped me from walking after her.

“Shot down?”

“Fuck you. Fuck you.” I struggled to get past him, but he held me there.

“Dude, don’t get beat up over it. There’s another party next week, we’ll hook you up there. I didn’t get any either.”

I snapped, ramming my hands into Rex’s shoulders and pushing him into the door frame. “You asshole. You goddamn fucking asshole. What did you do to with her? What did you do to her?”

In a single quick motion, Rex placed his arm out in front of me and slammed me back into the other side of the doorway. The surprise more than the actual violence knocked the breath out of me, and I struggled to get it back with Rex’s arm pinned across my chest. A few excited “oooooh!”s floated through the room, hoping for a fight to end the night’s festivities.

“Calm down, Bro,” said Rex, inflecting the last word with just a hint of threat. “Why don’t you walk home and get into bed. You’ll forget about this in the morning, I promise.”

An unexpected feeling crept into me as I stared at Rex there in front of me, his massive arm goading me to yield to his strength. It was not a feeling of hatred, or even fear, but overwhelming disgust. Right then, I looked at Rex as every misogynistic quip, unwanted harassment and demeaning joke rolled into one miserable human being.

“What was it?” I asked Rex, raising my voice. “Did you screw her? Did you screw her one night and leave her like the rest of the girls? Was that it?”

Another round of agitating groans hit Rex, and he pushed the hard bone of his forearm further into my lungs. I smelled the acrid liquor on Rex’s breath. He grit his teeth as he spoke. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Go home, Adrian, and we can talk about it later.”

An Indian chief turned sideways and moved through the doorway. He winked at Rex. “Hey man, let the kid have the girl. You had your go with her, right?”

Rex stepped back and glared at him. “Whatever. Fuck it.” Rex spit a glob of something on the ground and walked back into the house, careful not to look at me.

I leaned against the outside wall, catching my breath. “Hold on,” I yelled out to the Indian.

The man, now well off of the porch, turned and looked up at me. He looked to me like an actual Indian – Asian, not Native. Even with my chest pounding, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was intentional.

“You know Rex?” I asked him.

“Sure, he always comes to the Halloween party. Don’t worry about him, it’s just a touchy subject.”

“What is?”

“Well, that girl. I’m surprised he came, actually, if he knew she was going to be here. They hooked up a few years ago.”

“So?”

“Well, I say ‘they’ hooked up, but she wasn’t completely sober, if you know what I mean.”

The stupid smirk on the guy’s face nearly made me puke. I slid down the wall and landed in a sitting position. “What the fuck. Rex, what the fuck? He’s a player. Why the fuck would he do something like that?”

The Indian shifted his feet, and I could tell he regretted walking into my drama. “Uh, this was a long time ago. He might’ve been a first-year. Look, don’t worry, she got him back. I guess she realized what was happening and started beating the shit out of him.” He started to chuckle as he recounted the memory. “He ran out of one of the back rooms with his pants around his ankles. That girl was right behind him, beating him with a god damn Playstation controller.”

I pushed myself up off the wooden porch and steadied myself. “So that’s it. My roommate is a rapist.”

“No, I don’t think he got that far. He’s just a dick. We always tease him about it. He just says that she was a whore, and she freaked out from some bad mushrooms or something. I don’t know, man, we don’t really pay attention to him. Anyway, I’ve got to get going. Good luck.”

I stared at the chief as he left. Amber was long gone. She hated me. Who could blame her. I defended him. Shit, I stood up for him. I felt sick. I felt alone, looking at the people around me. I didn’t belong here. These people had no idea who I was. They had no idea who I was dressed as (and they probably would have called me a fag if they did). It occurred to me only then to wonder why Amber had come to the party. I wished Amber had stayed so I could ask her that question, along with delivering an endless apology. I decided I wanted the chance.

I halted and turned toward the kitchen. I stormed past some of the half-drunk crowd also making their way home – acting and looking like zombies, now. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing, or if I was wasted, but it didn’t matter. I grabbed a napkin and pen from the kitchen. I chewed on the end of the pen, conscious that it wasn’t mine. There were a multitude of things I wanted to write: Rex is a creep, You’re Awesome. It seemed so childish. And then, looking up at myself in the kitchen mirror, staring at my crooked wig and smeared mascara, my hand moved.

I’m floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different today

I don’t remember knowing, in my slightly drunken state, just how corny my note was. But, in hindsight, it was the only thing I could have written that wouldn’t have made me a condescending ass. I scrawled my phone number on the bottom in the most legible writing I could manage.

I strode into the library, apathetic to the big frat guy’s dirty look as I walked past him. I ran straight to the Playboy collection, and began to examine the volumes. A year was scrawled on the spine of each. 1957. 1958. 59. 1960. Yes, I could find her online. I could ask someone else at the party about her. But that was too inelegant, too unimpressive for a victimized girl you’d just implicitly called a whore. I gulped, closed my eyes, and slid the napkin between the books.

Satisfied, I left the house for a second time. I tore off my wig as I walked through the cold air, scratching my short black hair. I looked up at the sky and whispered a small prayer that Rex wouldn’t come home tonight.

Thoughts on ‘Legend of the Seeker’

Just wanted to share a few thoughts about the new Sword of Truth TV adaptation, Legend of the Seeker:

Many changes from Wizard’s First Rule in the first two episodes
Presumably this was done to speed up Richard’s departure from Westland, so they could do a few monster-of-the-week type episodes. Most of the changes seem arbitrary to me. Unless they are planning some big shocker later, Zedd is not Richard’s grandfather (though, if they do drop this bomb later, it means Zedd basically lied to Richard in the first episode). Also, Richard does not really know Zedd until he is named Seeker. This characterization sort of worries me, as it seems to change the character in a drastic way for no real reason.

The Book of Counted Shadows is probably the biggest change. I would guess they thought the original plotline of Richard memorizing the book as a boy would be too complex to explain in an episode or two, and they might have been right. Kahlan brings the book (along with the Sword of Truth) with her into Westland. It’s apparently written in High D’Haran, which Richard can magically understand because he is the Seeker. Later on, the Book is destroyed (and Richard doesn’t memorize it or anything). It’ll be interesting to see if they write the Book out of the plotline, or if it comes back.

Some assorted things: Richard seems to be the Seeker even before he is named, as he can understand D’Haran. This is slightly different from the book. Kahlan’s sister accompanies her to the boundary before she is killed. George Cypher’s wife is not Richard’s birth mother.

The acting, on the whole, is pretty good:
The actor playing Richard does a great job. He fits the look perfectly and lends a genuine believability to his lines. Kahlan is pretty decent as well; so far, she hasn’t had much of a chance to do anything other than look cute, but she has her moments in the pilot. Zedd’s actor, the famous Bruce Spence, does a good job with an alternative interpretation of Zedd. He’s not as jovial or mischiveious and Zedd in the books, but he has his moments of quirkiness, and his smile is spot-on for Zedd. Also, I always imagined Zedd as sort of short, and Bruce towers over the other actors, so that takes some getting used to.

Some of the other actors aren’t so great, but they are able to do a passing job. Chase is just okay — he’s lost a lot of the charm he had in the books. Darken Rahl is not scary (nor blond) at all, which is disappointing. However, to give the actor the benefit of the doubt, he hasn’t had a chance to do anything but order guards around, so it’s possible for this to improve. Adie’s actress doesn’t do a great job. She seems bored, and has no accent, which makes her speech manerisms (“Adie not be knowing what you mean”) very weird. It’s like if Yoda still talked in inverted syntax, but otherwise had the voice of a normal person. It just doesn’t work.


The special effects are bad
They just are. It’s not surprising, as this is a syndicated TV show, but it’s still not ideal. The gars looked terrible; they really should have used puppets. In one scene, Zedd uses Wizard’s Fire to kill a gar, and there is a really cheesy stock explosion. I will say, though, that the actual Wizard’s Fire looked pretty much how I imagined it.

I’ll keep watching to see if the show trends in the right direction. Pilots are almost always worse than the actual show, so Legend of the Seeker actually has promise. We’ll see how willing they are to stick to the source material. Episode 9 is entitled Denna, and if they actually cover the whole Mord-Sith, Richard being tortured arc in a single episode, the show is in for a rough time.

Review: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace


“The fuzzy Hensonian epiclette Ovid the Obtuse, syndicated chronicler of trans-human entertainment exchange in the low-cost organs across the land, mythologizes the origins of the ghostly double that always shadows human figures on UHF broadcast bands thus: …”

This is the opening line of one of the stories in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, written by the late David Foster Wallace. I wouldn’t say this line is at all representative of the work in and of itself, but it is a great example of what Wallace is* trying to do with this book. Regardless of what Wallace himself says in one of the stories, Interviews is experimental fiction, plain and simple. That’s not to say that there aren’t great themes or characters contained within — but I think one of Wallace’s main goals was to try some crazy shit and see what happened. When he opens his story with a overtly loquacious translation of “The muppet from the syndicated tv show was talking about shadows,” I’m not sure how he could argue with such a classification.

Just to let you know what I mean, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of devices used in Interviews: Second-person narration, super-detached narration, beginning a story in the middle of a sentence, large pieces of stories contained in 5+ page spanning footnotes, a story in the form of dictionary entries, stories in the form of question-and-answer sessions, stories in the form on word problems, meta-meta-second-person narration, etc. This is maybe half of the unexpected, unique risks that Wallace takes.

Of course, a risk wouldn’t be a risk if it guaranteed success. Some of these devices work better than others. The extreme detachment of the narration (referring to the main character as “the depressed person” throughout the longest story of the book, for instance) becomes grating as Wallace uses it in at least half of the stories. Writing a short story in a footnote is cute at first, but annoying when it pops up two or three times. The dictionary story is, at best, boring and, at worst, pretentious.

But when Wallace hits, he hits big. The quiz section, entitled Octet, which starts to plod on a little too long, became on of my favorite sections when I was finished. The final pop-quiz of the cycle is written in a meta-fiction style that I loved. This quiz is written in second person, starting with the line “You are, unfortunately, a fiction writer,” which I laughed at for far too long. This quiz describes “your” (Wallace’s) thought process in writing Octet and considerations on what should go into this final quiz (which is great, because it leads to mind-bending turns of phrase such as “I would leave this unsaid if I were you”). Meta-fiction is a tricky subject; straight meta-fiction (“I’m the author!”) is sort of cliché and uninteresting by now, and even meta-meta-fiction (“I’m the author and I know I’m writing meta-fiction!”) isn’t completely original. But Wallace’s choice to write the piece in second-person (“You’re the author, and you’re writing meta-fiction!”) is something I’ve never seen before, which made up for some of the less enjoyable quizzes in the cycle. Stories like this serve to remind us why we need authors who will push boundaries rather than just emulate the masters.

The bulk of the book is made up of titular Brief Interviews With Hideous Men sections, which are presented as question-and-answer sessions between and interviewer and a so-called hideous man. Sometimes these interviews are presented as neutral; other times, I got the feeling that the two people knew each other personally (even though the questions are never written out, simply represented with a ‘Q’). I absolutely loved this part of the book. I can’t get enough of creepy, transgressional characters. Possibly realizing that a bunch of similar interviews with different characters could still get repetitive, Wallace chooses to break them up in different sections of the book. Even in the same section of Brief Interviews, many of the interviews are presented in slightly different formats, which was a great editorial choice. Ultimately, whenever a certain story falls a little bit flat, Wallace swoops in with an Interview to keep your trust and interest.

Another story I particularly liked, called Signifying Nothing, is a short, simple story about a man that, for no apparent reason, recalls a day that, as a child, his father wagged his penis at him. Wallace presents this possibly scarring situation with a hilarious absurdity. The main character is not angry or horrified, but simply confused about why such a thing would ever happen, which is an easily understandable position. There is nothing hugely distinctive or experimental in this story; just simple plot and great dialogue and characterization. The main character’s line upon confronting his dad made the story for me: “I sort of briefly described what I had remembered, and asked him, ‘What the fuck was up with that?’” Wallace’s dialogue is nearly always spot-on, and often incredibly funny. It’s actually sort of unfortunate that he doesn’t use as much of it, as the narration doesn’t benefit as much from the crazy situations, characters and devices that he applies.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t call Brief Interviews With Hideous Men a masterpiece. It is somewhat inconsistent in quality, ranging from page-turn-a-minute brilliant, to page-turn-a-second-because-you-just-skipped-five-of-them boring. However, it is clear that David Foster Wallace is a literary mind to be reckoned with, and I look forward to reading more of his work. It’s a shame we lost him prematurely, as I could certainly see myself smiling with glee after finding the release date of his newest novel.

8/10

You are, unfortunately, Matt Borgard, and you’ve just finished your latest review…

*Is it appropriate to talk about a deceased writer in the present tense? I’ve always been told to speak about books as if they are happening in present time, but something about this just seems wrong. **
**Don’t include this in the blog.

Review: (NJO) Agents of Chaos I: Hero’s Trial by James Luceno


* Warning! Star Wars EU spoilers! *

I first attempted to read the New Jedi Order series in high school … and it didn’t go well. The reason, I’ve found out, is that the audiobook of the first novel, Vector Prime, is catastrophically abridged. Earlier this year, I got back into Star Wars, so I decided to try NJO again. I had better results — Vector Prime is readable, but not great. It serves as a setup for the rest of the series. The Dark Tide duology was much better, though it seemed to contain a little too much “monster-of-the-week” type adventures for the characters. So I went into Hero’s Trial — the first book in James Luceno’s Agents of Chaos duology — cautiously optimistic that the upward trend would continue.

Hero’s Trial gives us the first real glimpse of the NJO Han Solo, dealing with the aftermath of Chewbacca’s death. In the Dark Tide books, he’s almost unbearably emo; it’s understandable, but not necessarily ideal for a story. It’s good to see Han back in his element here. He’s upset and slightly more low-key in certain areas, but it works for the kind of characterization that Luceno uses here. Han is still too standoffish with his family for my tastes. I kind of wish that Luceno went in a different direction than the cliche middle-age crisis (though Han fiddling with having an affair would be interesting!), but there are only a few moments in the book where I found myself rolling my eyes.

The big picture seems to be fairly inconsequential until the very end. A Yuzhang Vong priestess, Elan, and her familiar, Vergere, decide to act as defectors to trick the Jedi into a meeting, where Elan can slaughter the lot of them. This defection eventually attracts some unsavory characters, who, of course, have connections to Han (what unsavory SW character doesnt?). This defection leads the Galactic Alliance and Han Solo to (separately) track the defectors and fend off Vong. There’s a pretty big conflict at the end, with about four or five separate groups fighting for different things. It’s exciting, but starts to strain credulity when the Vong begin fighting against their own fake defectors being returned to them.

One of the best new additions that Hero’s Trial introduces is Droma, a male Ryn (new species, looks a bit like an older, but not ancient, Dark Elf) . Droma, in Chewbacca’s absence, is the perfect foil for Han. He’s smart, slightly sarcastic (but not annoyingly so), and mystical if not superstitious. He doesn’t put up with Han’s crap, which is exactly what he needs at this point in the story. Of course, Leia would probably be even better in this position — but so far, NJO has been pretty unwilling to have her do anything of consequence.

Overall, Hero’s Trial is a good read — not great, but not bad either. I’m still waiting for that killer book: one that connects on every level, and makes me say wow. But for now, it’s entertaining and continues the SW story. I’ll give it a 3/5.