Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Slop 100

So NPR has a list of the Top 100 fantasy and SF novels, as selected by whomever showed up. Imagine if they made a list of the best BBQ places in the USA. You know, you know, for a fact you know, that the McRib would be on the list. Only an idiot thinks the McRib would belong on such a list, but there it would be, displacing some worthier BBQ source.

So this list has, along with a lot of obvious choices, a fair number of McRibs. Terry Brook's Shannara books? Really? There's no questioning their import to Fantasy Inc.'s history of homogenizing and pasteurizing Tolkien/Robert "Conan" Howard into reproducible comfort food, prefab daydreams, but what's it doing on a list that aspires to quality? And Piers Anthony? Eek. I like what I've read by George R. R. Martin, but would his work rank so high if he didn't have a breakout hit TV show? No, it would not. I like Neil Gaiman, but he's been the flavor of the month in fantasy circles since the 90s. That's a long month. Good soul that he is, I'm sure he'd be happy to bump one or two of his titles from the list to make room for Mervyn Peake, Elizabeth Hand, Robert Holdstock.

As far as fantasy is concerned, you're better off going by Ballantine Adult Fantasy. Obviously it's a bit dated, so titles like Viriconium and Little, Big aren't there, but they aren't on NPR's list either.

As for SF, seek out a copy (a local library surely has one) of John Clute's Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. It's about as navigable and profusely illustrated as a good magazine or webpage, with substantial writeups on numerous worthy texts and authors, many of whom were not included on NPR's list.

In closing, here's a silly faux-trailer for an overrated Mary-Sue fantasy novel that happily didn't make the list: War For the Oaks by Emma Bull.



I like the atmospheric opening, but the Faerie Court is pure Renfaire.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why, do you think?

I'm sure your friends aren't sending you enough Youtube links, so here.


This is pretty much the greatest thing ever. If I could do something as jaw-droppingly perfect as the first song on this clip, my life would be entirely justified. I also enjoy the way the host steals a kiss from the second act and a look of annoyance crosses her face for an instant. You know he took this gig purely out of a desire to get lucky with one of the guests. Too bad we don't get to hear the DeLorean song at the end. Truly, the 80s were a magic time. Or maybe they just seemed that way because I was a kid.

If you're wondering what Penney Peirce, the woman behind "Why Do You Think You Are Nuts?" is up to, the answer follows:



She looks happy and I'm glad, but I hope she'll put the lingerie back on and sing more outlandish punk songs for us.

Here's a video we first saw in Montreal, home of the artist:



Hope we get to see more of Socalled on our next trip to Montreal. Also hope we get to see The American Devices:



Here's a short some friends of mine made! It won awards of some kind.



And here's the closing credit sequence from Please Save My Earth becuz I love it.



And in conclusion,

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gimprov.

During the President W. years (The Oughts? More like the Ought-Nots. Or the Ought-Naughts) I was affiliated with Birmingham, Alabama's only improv troupe at the time, first as a fan, then as a member. Imagine a band hiring new members from a tribute band and you've got the idea, although what kind of ridiculous band would do that? The politics could get ugly, the meetings could be like pogroms, and the shows could be like doing burlesque for The Eagle Forum. Still, there were unexpected pleasures.

Like doing shows at a dark, scary goth club. This club hired the group to perform a couple of times, once before I joined, once after. It turned out the club needed an emergency fill-in for a different kind of performance they'd had a time or two: a dominatrix doing some kind of dominate-tricks (you like that? I just made that up, with my fine mind). She'd gotten shut down by the vice squad or somebody (in Birmingham, Alabama? go figure) and there we were.

Picture the scene: a dark cavernous building with a bar like an altarpiece. The music blasted, the booze flowed, and the hair-bears and suicide grrls welcomed in the weekend with sweat and shouts.

Then the DJ stopped the music so five not-very-goth people could climb up on the tottery jury-rigged stage and make up little comic scenes. It was a bit of conceptual whiplash; people who wanted to drink and dance and meet and greet weren't really keen on this. If we'd been a band, that'd have been different. With music you can listen and/or dance and/or swill liquor and/or chat someone up. With improv you either dive right in and shout "Gynecologist!" when they ask for suggestions, or you try to ignore that weird dribbly theatre thing happening in the corner. There's only two levels of improv-engagement, is what I'm saying. Some people seemed interested in the improv... just not then and there. A few of the goth club attendees later showed up for the regular Sunday night gig at a now-defunct coffee shop, so that was nice, but no one really wanted improv at the loud goth bar on Friday night. They were polite, though, if by polite you mean "offering one of the troupe members $50 to perform light bondage." I was not either of the parties involved in this exchange, BTW, although I was present while it went down. The recipient of this offer demurred, perhaps because the public nature of the offer did not speak well to the would-be john's discretion, or perhaps because $50 is an insult. Later that night I spotted the failed bondage-john in the lobby, which for some reason had a karaoke setup right by the front door. He was doing a drunken rendition of Back in the U.S.S.R. and filling in the instrumental breaks with inscrutable erotic speculations. I'm sure glamourous nightlife has much to recommend it, but it's probably less story worthy.

I took the stage with the group on the second Goth-bar gig, and I loved it. It was as if we were sealed inside a large bubble, protected by audience indifference from the consequences of slow-wittedness. It was a terrific, if hermetically sealed, show. We were doing inventive comedy in which we could really take pride. Some of the crew was frustrated by the lack of audience response, but as a lifelong white Presbyterian I regarded apparent congregational/audience indifference as the norm.