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Review Round-up: Scruples, Sidekick, Outlaw Marshal

Sidekick latestAdeline Radloff's Sidekick (2010) is about, well, a sidekick. Katie Holmes (no, not that one - a joke that's just barely on acceptable side of annoying) is a teen adoptee, living with her foster mom and and Finn. Finn is Bruce Wayne. Mom is Alfred. Katie is Robin.

There's a little more complexity to it (there's a more Alfred-y Alfred, but he died somewhere in the past, for example), but that's the book in a nutshell. Finn, unlike Batman, has actual superpowers as well - he can fuss around with time, although there are various limitations and side effects that are introduced as the book goes on. Katie is remarkable because, besides Finn, she's the only person that isn't frozen solid when Finn does his time-travel mojo. Which means she can help Finn move stuff around, save lives, fight evil, remember to eat a sandwich, and, you know, be a sidekick.

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Class (Cum Laude) by Cecily von Ziegasar

ClassClass (originally published as Cum Laude*, 2010) is an 'adult' book by Gossip Girl creator Cecily von Ziegesar. It is no secret that the Gossip Girl series of books is one of my all time favourites, so I was delighted to find this slightly odd and out-of-print one off from the author.

Generally speaking: eh.

There's a lot of interesting things about Class, but mostly they come from contrasting it to other books, and I'll get to them in a paragraph or so. Class qua Class is a fairly substandard entry into the canon of university literature. It features five freshmen at 'Dexter', a private liberal arts college that's your generic New England not-quite-Ivy (a joke they make early on) establishment: complete with gender-ambiguous professors, terrible university theatre, campus druggies and irksome townies. The five weeble and wobble their way through a tumultuous first year, complete with sex, drugs, art, fire and some half-hearted attempts at reinvention.

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Pygmalia: Necrophallus

Night voicesThis year I’m selecting a series of Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz

A brief note before we begin: The Pleasure Merchant is up for Kindle pre-order! If you’ve enjoyed these blogs, or hey, even if you hated them but love Pygmalion stories, or know someone who does, boy howdy I’d appreciate it if you pre-ordered, or schlepped on over to Amazon on November 17th to pick up a paper copy.

Anyway, with that out of the way… it’s my birthday, and it’s also close to Halloween, so it’s time for some horror content. Read on with caution, as this month’s entry is pretty brutal. I mean, it’s literally titled…

“Corpse Dagger (Necrophallus)”, by Makino Osamu, translated from the Japanese by Chun Jin, 2005, in Night Voices, Night Journeys, ed. Asamatsu Ken and Robert M. Price.

With a title like that, how could Osamu’s Lovecraftian tale of pain and desire not be an instant classic?

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Review Round-up: Knitters, Pirates, Cops, Princesses and Priests

TheBig SinA quick-fire round-up of eight recent holiday reads - including some vintage mysteries, a brand new fantasy, a YA that'll have you in stitches (fnar) and a saucy pirate romance. Most of these were recommendations via Twitter, so thank you all for sending them my way!

Prologue Books are one of my go-to publishers - whomever is putting together this list of out-of-print fiction is doing a cracking job. (Also, they use Amazon well, so I can find their books by searching Prologue Crime or Prologue Western, which is really helpful.) Anyway, that baseline of praise established... Jack Webb's The Big Sin (1952) might be one of my favourites so far. Webb's story ticks all the right narrative boxes: a cop versus a Big City machine, a man framed for murder, criminals being forced to choose between doing 'bad' and doing 'evil', the works. And, beneath it all, he underpins everything with a discussion of faith.

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The Hunger Games - Greatest Modern Movie Epic?

Lorde - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Catching Fire)

Finally saw Mockingjay, Part 1 last weekend. All three movies seem to be a slightly different style, but they all revolve around a really interesting anti-authoritarian, anti-media theme. What's interesting isn't just how the theme is handled (intelligently and provocatively), but how it has evolved over the three films, without losing the basic action/adventure/coming-of-age premise that makes the whole thing so fun. It is also, in a way that many of its peers is not, strikingly contemporary.

It'll be interesting to see how it dates, but given the world doesn't seem to be de-paranoia-ing, de-militarising or de-media-saturating any time soon, I suspect this might be something made for the long haul.

Anyway, after a day or so of pondering, here's my challenge - is there a better modern movie epic?

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Zot! The Complete Black & White Collection by Scott McCloud

Cogolj3cB8gXEthAl52IhcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az0QlsOj5uNIjDVK!VrUaAbeWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuThe first two-thirds of Zot! (1987 - 1991) are certainly enjoyable enough. Scott McCloud creates a fun, thoughtful, and zany superhero pastiche featuring the invulnerable teenaged Zot and his Earth-pal, Jenny.

Zot fights surreal foes who are rarely menacing, except in their ability to provoke existential crises. The 'villains'  often embody abstract concepts, and rare do little more than rant and, er, make art. These portion of Zot! are oddly charming, although not spectacular - perhaps because, as a superhero epic, we're expecting more in the way of action. Or, at the very least, palpable tension.

The superhero stories pick up some assistance from the notes at the end of each arc. I'm generally not so fussed about this sort of whatnot, but McCloud is nothing if not a thoughtful creator. Especially as a reader that's not familiar with art and its history, having McCloud explain his influences and ambitions was surprisingly useful. Similarly, McCloud draws thoughtful connections between Zot! and its autobiographical inspirations as well - how his personal life changed his work (and possibly vice versa).

If Zot! stopped two-thirds of the way through, it would've been an educational read, and an enjoyable one. And that's about the end of it.

But... then there's the final third of the collection, the 'Earth Stories'. Which elevates Zot! to being one of the best comics ever created.

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Pygmalia: Pygmalion

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz 

PygmalionIt’s Low Hanging Fruit month here at Pygmalia, hot on the heels of me totally flaking out of a July column, but don’t judge me too hard… I’d never seen Pymalion, and quite frankly I didn’t know it existed until April, as I was idly browsing the “English” section of my local video store. After noting the Criterion case, I rented it immediately. Um, by which I mean, I noted it starred Second Hottest Actor Of All Time Award-Winner Leslie Howard* as Professor Henry Higgins, I rented it immediately. What? I’m only human.

Pygmalion (1938)

I grew up on musicals, and as I first saw My Fair Lady during the pre-Internet age, I think I can be forgiven for not going down the Google-hole to discover that the dialogue and the staging were taken from the 1938, Bernard Shaw-scripted black and white film, Pygmalion. To be fair, I did run out and buy myself a copy of the play at a used bookstore, the same one I still have, and read it several times—but as to finding out about the Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller version, that took me until this year.

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PK Interview: David J Howe and Stephen James Walker of Telos Books

Death-of-the-Day-380x0The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints - and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication - we've quizzed a number of editors about the nuts & bolts of their submissions process. This week, our guests are David J Howe and Stephen James Walker, from Telos Publishing.

Pornokitsch: Thanks for taking part! Could you tell us a bit about Telos, and the books that you publish?

David J Howe and Stephen James Walker: We are Telos Publishing Ltd, a small independent press run by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker.

We have two imprint areas: the main press, which specialises in non-fiction, particularly guides to film and television; and Telos Moonrise, edited by Sam Stone, which presents fiction in a number of different genres - horror/fantasy/science fiction/crime/romance/erotica - mainly for the e-book market, but also in paperback editions.

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Review Round-up: Half Bad, The Rest of Us and Princess Decomposia

Three recent and upcoming books - all Young Adult (I suppose?) and all recommended (definitely). 

The Rest of UsI'm not going to 'review' Patrick Ness's The Rest of Us Just Live Here (2015) - for reasons that will become immediately clear to anyone reading it. So feel free to add however many grains of salt to this that you want. But... as well as being the typically Nessian magnificence about coming of age and learning to grow comfortable with yourself, The Rest of Us is also a continuation of his crafty conversation about the lessons of genre fiction. 

A Monster Calls described the power of stories to heal; The Crane Wife showed their darker side, arguably a book about the dangers of living a fantasy (literally and figurative). More Than This was, amongst many other things, a beautiful reflection on the role of science fiction, imagination, aspiration and escape. And now The Rest of Us Just Live Here turns to fantasy. By following a group of 'normal' kids in a hilariously stereotypical contemporary fantasy (one where the high school burns down regularly and all the oddly-named 'indie kids' are off saving the universe everyone), Ness nails the point: you are the hero of your own life.

This is a theme that's not only critical to convey to a young adult audience but also a philosophy that's in direct conflict with the subtly objectivist foundation of virtually every fantasy. In real life, there are no sidekicks, no extras, no un-Chosen. We're all special and (unlike the weirdly Randian message of The Incredibles), everyone being special means everyone is. Rather than a book that glamourises accidents of birth and the glory of predestination, The Rest of Us emphasises the unheralded heroism of being 'ordinary' and having, well, agency.

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Pygmalia: Watch and Ward by Henry James

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz. I’m woefully under-read in comics specifically, but any and all recommendations are welcome!

This month’s entry is not only our first novel, but our first audience suggestion! Back in January, BenjaminJB mentioned Henry James’ 1871 novel Watch and Ward contained a wife-training element, and boy howdy yes it does. Thanks, BenjaminJB! I think.

Like last month, Watch and Ward doesn’t directly reference the Pygmalion myth… but it is in many ways a flattering, and even romantic treatment of Thomas Day, real-life Pygmalion wannabe, so we’re going with it.

Watch and Ward (published in 1878) - Written by Henry James (later disowned by him)Watch and Ward (1871)

I’ve never read Henry James before, so Watch and Ward served as my introduction to his writing… which is interesting, because apparently James at least partially disowned this novel later in life. It does read like an early novel, and its being written for serialized publication in The Atlantic Monthly makes for a necessarily episodic feel to the action, though not in a particularly good way.

Watch and Ward is the story of Roger Lawrence, a well-to-do dandy who wants nothing more than to marry a nice lady and settle down happily. He settles his affections on a young lady, Miss Morton, even though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him, which she shows by declining his advances on several occasions. Proto-Nice Guy that Roger surely is, he tries one final time, only to depart, humiliated, after she reveals she is engaged to someone way richer (and presumably less soppy) than Roger. Nice guys finish last, am I right, my fellow MRAS? Anyways, after this Roger “would now, he declared, cast his lot with pure reason. He had tried love and faith, but they would none of him.”

It’s important to note that Roger is at this point currently staying in a hotel in town—and before he even goes out to call on Miss Morton, a seedy man in the lobby tries to touch him for one hundred dollars. When Roger declines the man’s desperate pleas, he declares if Roger doesn’t help him, he will “slit his throat.” Roger doesn’t believe the threat, and dismisses the fellow.

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