Superfluous Matter
Books - The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is terrifyingly good at writing believable dystopian stories. She calls this "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction. There is always a fairly clear path between the world of today and the one she presents. "The Heart Goes Last" is no exception.

The book takes place in the not-to-distant future and the collapse of the middle class, especially on the east coast and the mid-west is complete. With little to no tax base municipalities lack the ability to provide basic services and crime is rampant. The story follows a couple struggling to survive in this world who are offered the opportunity to join a new walled town where they will be guaranteed a job and a home and everything they need. The only catch is that they, like everyone else in the town, spend every other month in prison. The care and maintenance of the prison and its prisoners drives the economy of the town allowing it to be self-sustaining. Of course there are darker motives behind the people running the experimental town and the main characters are quickly swept up into the intrigue.

The book was a fun, quick read and I can't criticize it too much. However I wish Atwood had spent more time exploring the broken world outside the town and less on the corporate greed and corruption behind it. She can be truly terrifying when depicting humanity's possible future and although the beginning of the book has that quality it quickly devolves into more of an adventure story. That isn't a bad thing, I just wanted more.

Books - The Complete Maus, by Art Spiegelman

Heralded as one of the first great literary "comic books," Maus tells the story of a survivor of the concentration camps during World War II via a series of interviews with his son. The work blurs the lines between memoir, autobiography, biography and historical fiction as it is based on the real experiences of both the author and his father.

Maus later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and along with "The Watchmen" and "The Dark Knight Returns" it was key in raising the profile of the graphic novel in the public mind. Graphic novels can be serious, adult, literary books.

Anyway Maus is a great read, although as one might expect the subject matter is rather heavy. Most of the atrocities we associate with the Nazi "final solution" are touched on but the tone of Vladek, the father, remains fairly positive. He survives using his wits and connections and a considerable amount of luck. He does not minimize the suffering but he also does not wallow in self-pity. I can't imagine living through something like that and coming out even half as well as Vladek does.

This book is important not just as a milestone for graphic novels, but as documentation of the horrors of the second world war and as a reminder to future generations of what can happen when people give in to fear.

Books - The Martian, by Andy Weir

At the behest of many many people I finally read The Martian. I saw the movie twice in theatres so there weren't a lot of surprises in the book for me. I think the biggest surprise was how similar it was to the movie. Some people had told me the book is way better, but actually I found them to be pretty similar. That is to say they're both super fun and entertaining.

The coolest thing about the movie (to me) is how well it captures the tone of the book. Everything happening is super serious and tense, but the main character's sense of humour helps smooth it all over. The balance between tension and humour is what makes both the book and movie so enjoyable.

I certainly recommend the book, particularly to enjoy during a relaxing vacation like I did.

Books - Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 -- Vol. 1-4, by Joss Whedon, et. al.

Everyone I know who has watched Firefly loves it and despairs at the fact that there isn't more to love. So I was very excited when I found out that Joss Whedon had collaborated with some other writers and illustrators to produce a few graphic novels that add to the Firefly 'verse.

There are four collected volumes under the "Serenity" title released by Dark Horse comics and they're all pretty great. One volume is an adventure set in the same time period as the television series, another bridges the gap between the series and the movie, another provides the back story for Sheppard Book (!!) and the last deals with some of the fallout from the events of the movie.

Of course I am not satisfied and still want more, but that's how I feel about almost everything Joss Whedon does.

Books - Dear Life, by Alice Munro

Another day, another collection of wonderful stories by Alice Munro. More than other collections this one definitely focuses on romantic relationships under stress and transition, but always in unexpected ways. One of the things I continue to find startling about Munro's work is the way she can destroy the state of a fictional world in just a few short sentences. Everything you thought you knew is torn down and replaced with something else.

In addition to the stories, Dear Life concludes with four semi-autobiographical works. These read very much like her stories but it is implied that they are loosely based on the early years of Munro's life. They're a fascinating look into some of the formative moments of an amazing author.

Weekend Trips in the Second Half of 2015

Ha! I made it! I completed the trip journal for weekend adventures in the second half of 2015 before 2015 was over. Hopefully my blogging in 2016 will be more regular. I doubt it though.

Books - Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, by Neil Gaiman

Through the JCCSF's Arts & Ideas series I had the amazing opportunity to hear Neil Gaiman talk earlier this year. The talk was originally scheduled to be in promotion of this book, but the day previous Gaiman's close friend and fellow writer Terry Pratchett passed away and so the talk (moderated by Michael Chabon) focussed more on the late Mr. Prachett. Eventually though the conversation did turn to this little book of excellent short stories.

The idea of listening to an author do a reading from their work has always struck me as a little bit odd. But I must say it was enchanting to hear Neil Gaiman read one of his short stories and even more so to hear him read a section of "Good Omens." Perhaps it was the accent.

Anyway, this book is full of fun and disturbing little stories, many of which are presented in creative and unusual ways. For example the story entitled "Orange" is simply the responses of a person to questioning concerning an unusual incident. The questions are not given, only the answers. It works very well, somehow still building suspense and coming to a climax despite the limitations of the format.

This collection also includes a short Doctor Who story set in the time of the eleventh doctor with companion Amy Pond. I loved the first person perspective from the Doctor's point of view here.

Neil Gaiman is awesome.

Weekend Trips in the First Half of 2015

My blogging is falling behind, again. But part of the reason is an incredibly busy social calendar. In addition to seeing friends and attending lots of fun movie screenings at work I've been taking a lot of weekend trips this year to see more of the United States. I've written a trip journal for all such trips in the first half of this year. A second trip journal will appear eventually to detail the weekend trips for the second half of the year. Busy busy busy!

Books - Joss Whedon: The Biography, by Amy Pascale

I don't normally read biographies. When I try I always get bored and stop. This one went better for me though because in addition to being the story of Joss Whedon it is also the story of some of my favourite TV shows and movies of all time: Roseanne, Toy Story, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing and The Avengers (1 and 2). To say Joss Whedon has made his mark on popular culture is a vast understatement.

The author had fairly open access to not only Whedon and his wife, but almost everyone in his vast army of friends/colleagues (often the same people). As a result the book is full of great details about the genesis and making of many of Whedon's projects. I also enjoyed the details about how Whedon and the people he worked with were pioneers in engaging with audiences via the Internet.

Plus, the foreword is written by Nathan Fillion, which is just awesome.

Books - Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alice Munro

This was another great set of stories from Canada's master, Alice Munro. Unlike her other collections I've read so far, each story in this book focuses on the same small set of characters. The stories can stand alone, but together they paint a picture of the life of a woman attempting to leave behind small town Ontario for bigger and better things on the west coast and in Toronto. The theme is in the title, as the main character Rose continues to think about herself in relation to her home town, wondering how people there might judge her for her actions and lifestyle. Fantastic stuff.

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