All Hail Emperor Rick Scott, Supreme Ruler of All the Floridas


For those of you who might have missed it, our bountiful state of Florida has in its infinite wisdom seen the ascension to power of Emperor Rick Scott. Scott is Florida’s first emperor and has already issued such decrees of intent as “regulations? what regulations” and “agencies? what agencies?” as well as “fired? you’re not fired—I need you for two more months, and then you may leave my Presence.”

Most of these pronouncements have taken the form of Bulls***s rather than Holy Bulls as the Emperor has been sanctified and ordained by another source entirely, one south of even Florida, if you look at the depth charts.

It’s hot down here, but it’s about to get even hotter.

All Hail Emperor Rick Scott!

Evil Monkey

P.S. Please remember when saying the name of His Excellency: His first name begins with a not-so-silent “P”.

Seven Views of Michael Cisco’s The Narrator

This is the last of a troika-plus-one of reviews simultaneously posted, without prior discussion, on this blog, on The OF Blog, Empty Your Heart of Its Mortal Dream, and by by guest commentator J.M. McDermott on the Apex blog, with an additional post on Omnivoracious, the Amazon book blog.

In Michael Cisco’s The Narrator, the narrator Low is conscripted into an army to fight against the “blackbirds,” who possess lighter-than-air armor. But first, our hero must play a waiting game in a city of cannibal queens and uncanny dead things, with priests for both the living and the dead. The Edak, strange remnants of a mighty imperial power, must be avoided at all costs. Once mobilized, he sets off on a journey that is by turns absurd, surreal, deadly, and one of the great feats of the imagination thus far in this new century. The novel is possibly also the most neglected of the year. Michael Cisco, the Amerikan Kafka, deserves your attention.

1—As a Series of Brilliant Scenes, Paragraphs, and Sentences.


I’ve rarely come across so many instances where I was simultaneously in the moment of the novel but also recognizing that I was encountering images, snippets, set-pieces unlike any I’d ever read before. Sleepwalkers that bruise the surface of reality as they glide past, assailants who skim the surface of the water in armor that’s lighter than air, conjurings with unexpected consequences, refugees from an insane asylum who assemble as soldiers. “It’s as if a giant were pushing us along the road, blithering to itself.”


2— As the Nightmare Answer to a Question From a Film. Bonant looms like a cliff out of the water, “projecting suddenly above them, too high to see. It’s like a black egg with an opening in the front—it sweeps toward them, as oblivious to them as a passing god, but the men are suddenly quailing and dizzy. They vomit, collapse clutching their chests and abdomens. Blood drips from their skin, smears their teeth as the gums burst, and they die under the influence of that black ship’s mere proximity.” …And inside, the answer to the riddle of a giant skeleton in the captain’s chair in A—-, “naked with long heavy white limbs. His massive body sits, like a sack of grain, on a marble cenotaph….bleached muscle, wanly shadowed with a lace of veins and arteries.” There are connections that make no sense at all and yet by dint of the power of the imagination and the communicative property of art…make sense. (G + A + MC = absurd heresy)


3—As an Extended Treatise on the Negation of Meaning that Is War. “An army is a horror. It’s a horrible thing.” There are many battle sequences in The Narrator, and they all translate as action without meaning, sometimes so chaotic that even individual action is hard to discern within the movements. As near as is possible in text, Cisco conveys the jerky, roving, incomprehensible experience of men on foot shooting at each other across broken, often hilly ground. The individual meaninglessness of it and the group rationalization of it. (Group rationalization undercut by the lack of an Order from On High later in the novel, which would’ve driven the point home better.) The result is to come close to conveying the derangement required to wage war…while simultaneously demonstrating that the more a writer repeats battle scenes, the more the result becomes boredom and skipping of pages. That the more you invest in too many similar scenes, the more the meaninglessness recedes and the more purposelessness closes in on the reader, until what was pointed before seems like kids playing with rifles in the backyard. To retreat from purposelessness would mean to advance toward tighter editing. But where to cut?


4—As a Series of Experiments in Narration, Eel-Slippery. The narrator of The Narrator may not be the narrator of the entire novel. Where does his narration really begin and end? What to make of the asides between chapters? Of meeting another narrator, who in a sense begins to narrate the tale in a different way. What of the accounts of others, which the narrator narrates by adding notes like “an unhurried, slow inhalation” and “Her voice dropped there.” And “She caressed the air by her knees with stiff old hands, seeming to coax the guillotine blade out of the sparkling air so that I for a moment saw it.” Should we be worried? Should we care?


5—As the Most Surreal Science Fiction Novel Ever. A place that alters all who enter it. Flying things that seem intelligent. A cathedral like a science lab or…something else? The drone of a tower, that can kill. “Those aren’t people. Their guns aren’t guns.”

6—As the Tale of the Ride of the Valkyries, Through the Exploits of Saskia. “Here comes from somewhere behind the asylum, a woman all in armor. She has a short sword with a basket hilt on her right side and a flapped holster on her left hip…A pleasing, and weirdly familiar face. I could say she looks like da Vinci’s ‘Lady with Ermine’ if there had ever been such a thing. Strange thing to think.” If there’s a hero of The Narrator, it is this battle-tested woman who joins the narrator’s army and never falters in her bravery under fire. She’s a deliberate counterpoint to the senselessness of war—an entity with a tactical purpose who brings order by simple focus. “From the window I see Saskia herself darting across the water. The [soldiers] are shooting at her. She zig-zags with astounding speed and in the next moment is right alongside them. She whirls around toward the rear of the boat, gesticulating wildly, then suddenly hurtles back toward us in fantastic back-and-forth curves, her legs pumping.” Saskia is perhaps the only character who remains consistent from beginning to end, and in a sense she gains her own agency as narrator because of it.


7—As an Extended Dream From Which You Will Not Awaken. “In the distance, a white something bobs in the water asleep. It slobbers and mutters…Its slobberings wriggle through the water like black eels. In a vision no one present can see, the ocean turns to fluid mirror, like mirage, where it crashes over the white figure, the mirror froth rolls away across the surface of the water like mercury and Low’s outstretched hand draws the black saliva from the glistening antiseptic mouth of the sleeper to form elegant, calligraphic loops and ornate signatures of unreal sharpness on the reflecting surface. A down of phosphorescent ash spins from them as they move, forming glowing coils that sink into the black below the silver, whirring and snapping like whips. They seem to drag Low’s arm to and fro. Who is narrating this?”

Saskia. Makemin. Low. Nardac. Punkinflake. Thrushchurl. You’ll remember all of them. By the end, the book will be buried in your skull.


Caplin Rous, RIP: How You Can Help

Yesterday I received the sad, terrible news that the capybara Caplin Rous passed away this week suddenly. Condolences to Caplin Rous’s owner, Melanie Typaldos. Caplin Rous was beloved by a lot of people.

Back in 2009, I interviewed Typaldos about capybaras generally and Caplin Rous in particular. It was the most popular blog post I’ve ever run, and Boing Boing and others picked it up. I think their cuteness and their size make capybaras fascinating. And, by all accounts, Caplin Rous was quite a character.

Unfortunately, there were vet bills associated with Caplin Rous’s last days, and Typaldos is asking that instead of cards or gifts in sympathy that those who want to remember Caplin Rous buy a Capycoppy plush toy like the one pictured below. The proceeds will go to offset the bills. I don’t have full details, but apparently Caplin Rous was having seizures—there’s more information here.

Rest in Peace, Caplin Rous. You will be missed.


Also check out this twitter feed for updated information.

Movies Seen Over the Holidays

In an effort to slow down and recharge, Ann and I saw a lot of movies in the theaters, on video, and on demand over the past few weeks, in addition to some TV shows. Here, in no particular order, are thumbnail reviews of a few of them. The last, Bunny and the Bull, you may not have heard of, but is a must-see.

Community—Watching this show about a group of misfits at a community college has been one of the great pleasures of our TV viewing. From Abed to Jeff to Shirley to the character played by Chevy Chase, there’s lots of possibilities here for both humor and depth, and a commitment to a diverse cast and at the very least some surface examination of social, religious, and racial issues played against a surreal and absurd backdrop. A favorite episode involves a paintball fight. Another, riffing off of Goodfellas. Highly recommended.

IT Crowd, Season Four—We love the IT crowd, based around three lovable quirky geek losers in the basement of a large corporation. Season three was, in our opinion, the best. Now that we’ve seen Season four we can report that…Season three is still the best. The scripts for season four seemed to force situations too much, and substituted the simply unbelievable for the surreal or absurd. Lots of good set-pieces, but something’s come unglued. It felt like late-era Seinfeld.

Modern Family—I know a lot of people like this show and are happy to have a positive portrayal of a gay couple raising a baby on network TV…but the show is at best uneven. Sequences in which the gay couple keep assuming an Asian-American doctor knows everything about everything Asian just make them look like fools and are wince-inducing. The realtor dad in one of the other families is incredibly creepy—to the point of stalker-creep—and the creators of the show don’t seem to realize this. But it’s mostly the sloppy way in which the families’ jobs have been integrated into the show—almost not at all—and the kind of upper middle class suburban ease with which the characters move through the show that grates the most. These people don’t have any real problems, and so the trivial is magnified to the level of drama. Exceptions to the expected include the Colombian son, who is quirky and interesting and non-cliche. But an incident involving an accident outside a cupcake shop just shows how sloppy this show is—for the sake of a joke, the family members inside apparently don’t hear the car smash into the side of the shop. There’s a lot of second-hand observations of reality here. Often predictable, coincidental, and uneven, with a few truly funny episodes shining through.

Below–I watched this quite awhile ago, but seeing it in our Netflix history, I thought I should recommend it. This is an excellent submarine/supernatural story, well above the norm, with great editing and peformances. It holds together throughout. Definitely rent it.

Terribly Happy—Set in small-town Denmark, this classic bit of bizarre neo-noir involves a poker game of fate and a bog and dead people and a sheriff recently arrived from Copenhagen where he did something terrible. Will he solve these new crimes? Will he get too involved with a local married woman? Why the hell is that kid pushing that squeaky pram all the time? This is the real deal–a truly original and good take on the genre.

True Grit—A great Coen brothers movie that gives us a sincere and believably brave teenage girl as a protagonist and an outstanding performance from Jeff Bridges as a US lawman. The cinematography is ravishing in its desolation, every set-piece is note-perfect, the dialogue is a delight, the violence is not sensationalized, and the ending is complex, bittersweet, and perfect. (In theaters now.)

Backyard—A searing and complex fictional view of the Juarez murders and disappearances of hundreds of women. Much better than a movie on the same topic starring Jennifer Lopez, Backyard mostly uses actors little-known in the US, including a female cop, and examines the murders in the context of Juarez as a whole, Mexico’s relationship with the US re NAFTA, and much else. One of the most horrifying lines in the movie comes when the female cop tells a radio host that people care so little about the murders and they have remained unsolved for so long that basically anyone can murder a woman, mimic the crime scene details of what appears to be a serial killer, and dump her in the desert without fear of reprisal. That, by now, there are dozens of murderers. It’s grim stuff, and the filmmakers don’t hold back in their depictions of murder and brutality…but if they did, the film would feel sanitized and false.

[Read more…]

Rain Taxi: Winter 2010 Issue–GOOD FOR YOU…and Entertaining

One of my favorite review magazines, Rain Taxi–covering all kinds of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, etc.–has a new issue out. You can order it and find the TOC here, but here’s a teaser of their fiction reviews. They also have online-only content with every hardcopy release. Really worth seeking out.

rain taxi 1

I Don’t Give a Crap About Genre (although I loves ya)

Dear Somebody:

Going into the new year, I’ve decided, more than ever, that as a reader I could give a crap about core genre and genre classifications. I find it more and more alien and odd that someone’s taste in fiction could be determined by whether or not there’s a dragon in it or magic or whether it’s set in the future or not. I’m reading a novel called I Hotel right now, set in 1970s San Francisco, that has more interesting things to say about our present and future than any genre novel I’ve read in the past five years. Same could go for the epic novel 2666.

Further, there are many fiction traditions from other countries that honor or emphasize realism or surrealism over fabulism, and I’m not so much interested in seeking out world SF in such cases as in exploring what’s on offer.

I think this is another way of saying that, if by the end of 2011, I’m an expert on the genre fiction published in this year…somebody shoot me. In the mix, yes, but not the majority of material read. Nothing against it, but I need to focus elsewhere for awhile.


Your Curmudgeonly Grandpa

PS Stay the hell off the lawn!

Evil Monkey:
What in the hell, Jeff? What in the hell?

Get off my back.

Evil Monkey:
You’re still going to be doing Amazon book blog entries on SF/F and a NYTBR column and these ongoing weirdies triangulation reviews with Paul and Larry and teaching at Shared Worlds.

So. I can still read *other* stuff.

Evil Monkey:
Good luck with that. Idiot.

Get off my back!

Evil Monkey:
Vamos! To the dog races!

No. Seriously. Get off my back. You’re hurting me.

Evil Monkey:
Oh. Okay. Sorry.