Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alrightreads: October



Being able to read what I want is way too much freedom, so I took a quick glance at some of the "books" on my "shelves," trying to identify a common enough theme that would narrow things down and force me to read things I'd never bother with if not the association, and decided to make this funny foreigners month.

More specifically/generally, that means either: (i) things written about funny foreign cultures/people, either by funny foreigners themselves or by normal people, or (ii) just anything that wasn't originally written in the English language. I read the English translations though, obviously. I'm not magic.


October 2015


240. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

1605 / Audiobook / 982 pages / Spain

*****

One of the candidates for the first proper novel (others are a few hundred years older, but they're even more foreign, so don't get to count), this bona fide classic feels shockingly modern, even postmodern in its self-referential self-pitying and perpetual dallyings with sanity. For comparison, I find Dickens interminably archaic and he's over half-way closer to us. My fleeting acquaintance with this tale goes right back to asking my Grandad the identity of those funny-looking men on mismatched steeds in the nicotine-stained painting on his landing, and I'm glad I finally got round to reading it. I didn't even mind the excessive length this time, I just reasoned I was getting the full season's worth of misadventures.


241. Hieronymus Bosch and Carl Linfert, Bosch

~1470-1516/1970 / E-art-book / 136 pages / Netherlands/Germany

****

Bosch is the best, but the flimsy paperback isn't the best medium for his vast and complex triptychs. That would be the jigsaw.

Faves: 'The Hay Wain,' 'The Temptations of Saint Anthony,' 'The Last Judgement' (I), 'The Garden of Delights.'

Worsties: 'Ecce Homo' (II), 'The Last Judgement' (II), 'Christ Carrying the Cross,' 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony' (all probably not even by him).


242. Unknown, The Book of Job

~600 BC (King James Version 1611) / Audiobook / 80 pages / Israel

**

Well, I wasn't going to read the whole goddamned book. And this self-contained tale of piety, puppetry and infanticide is one of the most approachable portions if you're looking for Bible-as-literature and you're not in the mood for the psychedelia of Revelation, though there are still a couple of fancy monsters at the end. Apparently some people read it for moral guidance, but that doesn't seem very appropriate. Long-suffering Job might get a reset button "happy ending" to clean up all the unjustified horror (his kids are still dead, but he makes some more and that's apparently the same thing), but you don't get that with typhoons or cancer.


243. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic

1972 / E-book / 145 pages / Russia

***

The main reason this is considered interesting is that it's a rare slice of Soviet-side sci-fi, but trying to analyse it as such easily slips into wishful thinking. Is its not bothering to distinguish itself from Western pulp fiction a political statement? Or is it actually just not bothering? Yes, it focuses on the tribulations of unremarkable low-lifes rather than elites, the cosmos is indifferent to the suffering of man, and one of the characters is called 'Red,' but on those terms you could make a similar case for Red Dwarf being subversively anti-communist.


244. Lauren Beukes, Zoo City

2010 / Audiobook / 416 pages / South Africa

***

The only book I've read all year from the entirety of Africa, and it's a whitey doing a riff on Gaimany urban magic and Pullmany animal familiars. Brilliant, Dave. You couldn't have branched out a little bit? At least it's actually set in Johannesburg, and if it's largely indistinguishable from any other gritty metropolis, that's globalisation's fault, not mine. At least the author's a woman, so that's something...? I had a black friend once, honestly.


245. Jorge Luis Borges, Fictions

1936-53 (collected 1956) / E-book / 174 pages / Argentina

****

I've found that intimidatingly clever writers are usually worth the effort, and it's always a delight to find one who's right up my labyrinthine alley. The name is familiar, presumably more related to his brand of literary criticism than his self-conscious fictions, once pragmatically crammed and forgot. But unlike most people who dedicate their time to criticising other writers' works, he also wrote his own damn stories and earned that right. I'll have to work on that. As well as being genuinely original and imaginative, I'm also down with his fondness for brevity – summarising a non-existent novel, extraterrestrial encyclopaedia or impossibly complex game in a few dense pages rather than making us wade through 982 of them to get to the same points.

Faves: 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,' 'The Circular Ruins,' 'Death and the Compass.'

Worsties: 'The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim,' 'The Shape of the Sword,' 'Three Versions of Judas.'


246. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica

~250 BC / Audiobook / 224 pages / Greece

****

The age of the dinosaurs was three times longer than the time from dinosaurs to the present. In similarly barmy chronology, Jason and the Argonauts came about 500 years after The Odyssey – at least, in this definitive version of the old story. It's not the definitive version any longer, of course  it would take some pretty heavy-duty head trauma before I could read this in isolation from the well ace film, and satisfyingly, most of the key scenes are in there. You've got your bronze giant, pesky harpies, clashing rocks and fighting skeletons. Yes, the slow romance bits are in it too. Supposedly that's what makes it so interesting? Ray Harryhausen begs to differ.


247. David Prescott Barrows, A History of the Philippines

1905 / Audiobook / 344 pages / USA

***

I could have gone for a more up-to-date and reliable text rather than risk filling my head with nonsense, but that would have meant missing out on the tragic and/or amusing irony of the fresh coloniser's perspective. An American's guide to history of the Philippines for the benefit of Filipino readers (those who've caught up with the newly imported English anyway), it doesn't waste time researching or speculating about what might have been going on in these islands before Magellan found them and pulls no punches with the recently ousted Spanish. What's most interesting is its optimism for the future of this nation crawling towards independence, compared favourably to Japan as a rising star of the East.


248. Wan-go Weng (and, you know, the artists), Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: A Pictorial Survey – 69 Fine Examples from the John M. Crawford, Jr. Collection

1978 / E-book / 196 pages / China

***

I could have struggled through an antiquated classic, or tried to distinguish fact from myth about modern China while worrying whether the scholar was leaning too far towards undeserved reverence or twitchy xenophobia, but instead I chose to relax in serene, scratchy nature. It's a shame the book's so annoyingly organised, it makes it difficult if you want to find out what's going on but can't read Chinese for some weird reason.

Faves: Epic multi-pager landscape scrolls. More is more.

Worsties: Cursive calligraphy is just scribble, come on.


249. Guy Delisle, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

2002 / E-comics / 186 pages / Canada

****

Being a cartoonist, this Guy preferred to write his perplexed travel blog in picture form. I don't know if he was going for the Tintin style or that's just how he doodles, but it works. From compulsory stratified sightseeing and suspiciously pristine enclaves to jittery day-to-day mannerisms and the endless fucking lying, it's a frank foreigner's-eye introduction to the absolutely insane Democratic People's Republic that favours resigned sarcasm over righteous anger. I might have been less generous.


250. Naoki Urasawa, Naoki Urasawa's Monster, Volume 1: Herr Doktor Tenma

1994 (collected 1995) / E-comics / 212 pages / Japan

*

The English-speaking internet doesn't know any Japanese authors besides Murakami who I've done already, and I don't fancy that geisha book, so it'll have to be Western-friendly manga again. This one's even set in Caucasialand to make things easier, ありがとうございました! In fact, it goes so far to make sure you're not confused – making every character a one-dimensional type and frequently flashing back to melodramatic encounters that happened a few pages previously in case you're not keeping up with the extremely basic ethical dilemma – that it comes off as insulting. Why is the author's name in the title? Is he supposed to be impressive?


251. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

1848 / Audiobook / 30 pages / Germany

**

It makes a sort of sense, but I wouldn't really want to live in that world, and not only because I'm a tax dodger who's just bought property. You didn't happen to bring a Plan B or...? Okay, thanks anyway.


252. Knut Hamsun, Hunger

1890 / Audiobook / 134 pages / Norway

***

This uncomfortably intimate portrait of a starving yet workshy and unhelpfully principled writer, aimlessly wandering the streets and becoming increasingly imbalanced, must have been pretty shocking at the time. It's still funny and distressing, but my, it's an ordeal.


253. Franz Kafka, The Trial

1925 / Audiobook / 216 pages / Austria-Hungary (Czech Republic)

***

I'm now qualified to accurately describe this country's pointless, nonsensical, willfully time-wasting bureaucracy as Kafkaesque. They won't know what I'm talking about, they don't read. Admittedly, even my degree-honed lit crit cred wasn't enough to really crack this one, it's like The Prisoner without the fun bits.


Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

1940 / Audiobook / 216 pages / Hungary

That's it, time out, I can't take it any more. I put my trust in the classics, but this has been a bleak run even by my standards, I didn't even make it through CD 1 of this gruelling solitary confinement yarn. It's not like I expected books written against that nightmare backdrop to be jolly, but I could do with a retreat back to aliens or ghosties right about now. What else do they have in Hungary?


254. Tony Thorne, Countess Dracula: The Life and Times of Elisabeth Báthory, the Blood Countess

1997 / E-book / 288 pages / UK

***

First Santa, now Bathory. It wasn't a major shock to learn that the Countess' iconic, literal blood baths are almost definitely sensationalist myth, but it was a surprise to consider for the first time that she might not have killed those 600-odd village maidens at all, considering this was the height of the Inquisition and witch trial hysteria. Now Hammer and Cradle of Filth are slightly ruined, but I'll always take disappointing reality over wishful horror.


255. Albert Camus, The Stranger

1942 / Audiobook / 123 pages / France

****

It's all about death again, but more philosophical this time. What's the big deal about emotions anyway? The detached protagonist lies somewhere on the spectrum between that guy from American Psycho and Abed from Community. Half-way through, I realised this is what that provocatively titled Cure song is about.


256. C. G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle

1952 / E-book / 160 pages / Switzerland

**

Is there really such a thing as coincidence? Of course there is, what's wrong with you? But Jung argues that, just sometimes, there might be more to it. He makes an interesting case that's even convincing until he starts to make grievous statistical errors, apologetically highlighted in the footnotes but not corrected. Well, he was getting on a bit. The big omission from these trustworthy accounts of recurring numbers and meaningful symbols is how many times a day those things didn't happen.


257. Elie Wiesel, Night

1958 / Audiobook / 149 pages / Romania

***

I'm back for more misery, give me your best shot! Ow, not that hard. This Auschwitz survivor's (presumably) unembellished memoir of horrors was penned to keep the memories alive, lest they be allowed to fade away. That was evidently necessary, considering I somehow, shamefully wasn't aware of the full extent of it. I've seen the photos, I knew about the showers, but I did not know about the infants and the fires. I tried to convince myself I wasn't being a terrible human being as I typed keywords into Google, just to double check. If only the holocaust deniers were right, we'd live in a slightly less devastating reality.


258. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

1966 / Audiobook / 360 pages / Ukraine

***

I don't deserve to read beloved classics if I'm not going to appreciate them. Look David, this one's got the Devil and mythological beasties in, you like those. I even recognise the literary allusions and get the satire, which isn't always a given. I don't know what the rules are for liking things. Be better as a play.


259. Zecharia Sitchin, The 12th Planet

1976 / Audiobook / 438 pages / Azerbaijan

*

I was once briefly persuaded by ancient astronaut theories for all of a couple of hours. Since then, the appeal has been in their entertainment value as extremely detailed science fiction, amusement at their desperate dot connecting and admiration for the researchers' dedication, since they do usually believe this stuff (there are easier and less publicly humiliating ways to earn a living). This is notable as an early example of the genre – pre-Icke, post-von Däniken and 2001 – but this time I was more annoyed than amused, since the argument is mainly based on some old tablets that only the author can translate (fine) and his refusal to believe that a bunch of evolved primates could come up with civilisation and technology all by themselves. Give your ancestors some credit, for Enki's sake.


260. Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveller

1979 / E-book / 260 pages / Italy

*****

The primary reason behind funny foreigners month, I'd really wanted to read this one for a while, but at the same time, really couldn't be bothered. It was every bit as brilliantly wanky and annoying as I'd hoped. I'm a strange man, but I'm well catered for.


261. Christopher Hitchens, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

1995 / Audiobook / 98 pages / UK

***

I didn't know much about her story, but now I know the other side of the story. I figure enough people only know the first side of the story, so I'm doing my bit to balance out the ignorance.


262. José Saramago, Death with Interruptions

2005 / Audiobook / 238 pages / Portugal

**

The story of people suddenly not dying any more has presumably been done before, but since I can't give any examples apart from a disappointing season of Torchwood that came later, I'll give the author credit for examining the issue from various angles. For half a book anyway, after which it becomes a love story about the female Portuguese death. She isn't the most memorable incarnation of the personification, and the idea that political borders actually matter on a higher level is just depressing.


263. Daniel Ekeroth, Swedish Death Metal

2007 / E-book / 450 pages / Sweden

***

In this satisfyingly specialist project, our infernal scholar provides an exhaustive history of the first five or so years of the regionally specific genre, before cutting it off abruptly in '93 when his personal interest and nostalgia wanes. Loads more great stuff was to come, but it's his book innit? Best are all the photocopies of felt-tip demo tape sleeves, fanzines and gig posters that would really take me back if I'd been born 10 years earlier in Sweden, but beyond the scrapbook, the history itself isn't especially exciting. It was those pesky Norwegian black metallers who did all the church burning and stabbing; these morbid kids just made the most of an affluent society that encouraged creativity and offered an abundance of cheap studios for hire.


264. Amanda H. Podany, The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction

2013 / Audiobook / 148 pages / USA

**

The Very Short Introduction. The refuge of the unimaginative. Are you saying there are no writers worth your time in any of these several countries? Why not brush up on some of the huge, significant things happening in these places right now, rather than retreating to the safety of history? 'Near East' in relation to the important places, I take it? No doubt written by... oh, it's a woman. You're off the hook this time. At least it's not the comic version.


265. Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

2000-01 (collected 2003) / E-comics / 160 pages / Iran

***

Another autobiography in comic form, I'm pretty sure I was supposed to like this more than the flippant North Korea one. Sorry about that, I just didn't dig the childish art. It was educational though – of all the countries I could have done with knowing more about, Iran was high on the list. I knew nothing. It even made me reconsider the potential of Communism after reading its actual manifesto put me off, but then, anything's going to look pretty great when it's set against the Islamic Republic.


266. Michael Lane, The Definitive Guide to Building an Energy Efficient House

2011 / E-book / 88 pages / Ireland

***

That's enough annoying fun, time for some practical responsibility. I thought I should refresh my knowledge of sustainable building and renewable energy gained through years of writing about those things now that we're building a damn house. I basically wanted a website in book form, so this plain language, heavily sponsored guide was fit for purpose. The stuff about heating wasn't particularly useful for the tropical reader, but I'm grateful for the potentially life-saving reminder that we'll have to ask the builders to not use asbestos please. This place will have to find some other way to kill me.


267. Art Smith, Building Today's Green Home: Practical, Cost-Effective and Eco-Responsible Homebuilding

2009 / E-book / 160 pages / USA

**

More professional than the previous one, but a lot less useful unless you happen to be an American baby boomer who's planning to build your retirement home, but first need to overcome your scepticism of this new fangled "green" tree-hugging commie crap. The title didn't make clear just how specific its target audience is.


268. Francesc Zamora ed, 150 Best Sustainable House Ideas

2014 / E-book / 504 pages / Spain

**

My wife's drawing up the floor plans for our place as I type, so when I read that this book included plans and diagrams among all the glossy photos, I hoped there might be a couple of last-minute ideas to borrow, or just plans we could plagiarise verbatim to make sure our house doesn't fall down. Unfortunately, it's all far too lavish and poncy to be of much practical use to regular people, apart from reminding me about skylights.


269. Colin Woodard, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down

2007 / Audiobook / 400 pages / USA

***

By now, I've come to expect that the more suspiciously entertaining parts of history weren't all they're cracked up to be, so it wasn't a great disappointment to find out that some of the most notorious "pirates" were actually progressive goodies fighting the power. Don't worry, there were still plenty of real pirates knocking about who were irredeemable dickheads, they're not completely ruined.


270. Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds

2013 / Audiobook / 325 pages / Barbados

**

This positive discrimination has delivered a few pleasant surprises that I wouldn't have come across if I wasn't being so geographically pedantic, but that's usually when I focus on a region's strengths. Alas, I fancied a bit of sci-fi and the Caribbean isn't exactly on the map for that. Supposedly there are only three established writers, and this one didn't impress me in the slightest.


271. Zitkala-Ša, Old Indian Legends

1901 / Audiobook / 165 pages / USA

**

That's "Indian" as in not-Indian, from a time before this silly PC nonsense when we were free to propagate stupid and insulting mistakes for centuries. This Sioux writer relieves her smallpox-surviving native countryfolk of the burden of their centuries-old oral legacy by recording these stories in print, which presumably captured their souls or something. Trickster spider fairy Iktomi is like the Indian Anansi, who I obviously know about from studying African heritage and not just because of Neil Gaiman.

Faves: 'Iktomi and the Fawn,' 'The Tree-bound.'

Worsties: 'Shooting of the Red Eagle,' 'Dance in a Buffalo Skull.'


272. Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth

2015 / Audiobook / 384 pages / Mexico/USA

*****

It's common sense that we've seriously screwed ourselves up, for better and worse, but it's great to get some actual statistics on obesity, autism, lifespans, immunity and micropenises rather than relying on fear-mongering headlines or non-scientifically-grounded self-reckonings. I assume it wasn't the authors' intent, but I'm even less inclined to pass on my defective genes now.


273. Hector Lima ed, Inkshot 01

2013 / E-comics / 264 pages / Brazil

**

It seems Brazil doesn't have a thriving comics industry, but it isn't lacking passionate, variably talented writers and artists. Well, some of the artists are good, at least. This is the maddest and least coherent collection I've ever seen of anything, basically a demo tape showcasing the best of local indie talent to potential American employers, or as the curator himself puts it: "some kind of  refugee boat or van full of illegal immigrants." That's thinking positive. You could have at least had a native English speaker give it a read-through first.

Faves: 'Vancini's Chronic Surrealism,' 'That Night in Pisa,' 'Caligari 3000.'

Worsties: 'The World Dies Screaming,' 'Rockets by Two,' 'Blessed Days of Indifference,' 'The Brief Story of Faraday Silva,' 'The 3 Mosquiteers,' '10 Reais,' 'Revenge Is a Dish Served Raw.'


274. Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

1968 / Audiobook / 288 pages / Peru

**

I didn't get much out of this classic hallucinogenic soul-searching memoir as it went along, with its daft regulations on where to sit and how to show your pipe the proper respect before you get to enjoy the good stuff like turning into a bird. I only really appreciated it afterwards, when I found out that the author got away with submitting it as his anthropology master's thesis. Respect.


275. Roberto Bolaño, By Night in Chile

2000 / E-book / 118 pages / Chile

***

Bolaño's 2666 is probably the longest book I've ever read  with my eyes rather than lazy audio, certainly  so I was relieved to see that they're not all so oppressively sprawling. This dying priest's confessional soliloquy is as meandering and introspective as the stuff I usually heap exaggerated praise on, but it falls short of Calvino or Joyce by being just too darned coherent.


276. Edward Lucie-Smith ed, Latin American Art of the 20th Century

1904-92 (collected 1992) / E-art-book / 224 pages / Various

***

I hadn't questioned the worth of Latin American art, but this book is determined to prove it anyway, taking a defensive stance by default. Unfortunately, by forever referring to influences from across the pond and desperately clinging to the part-Peruvian heredity of more famous Europeans, it doesn't really convince. I ended up in the same position I've been trying to avoid with Third World literature, perusing okay artists who haven't found their way into the canon but are at least "good for Latin America."

Faves: Goitia, Matta, Coronel.

Worsties: Madí is just shapes, and I still don't get Cubism.


277. Shubhra Ramineni, Entice With Spice: Easy Indian Recipes for Busy People

2010 / E-book / 160 pages / USA

***

It's not my wife's fault that she was born in the Asian country with the worst food. But if she was Indian, I'd have the postcolonial guilt to deal with, so it's probably for the best, he tries to convince himself. We don't exactly have loads of Indian immigrants over here either, stealing menial jobs that pay as badly as their own country and opening up heavenly restaurants for our pleasure, but this DIY guide is handily American-centric, and that's the country the Philippines improbably aspires to be, so we should be fine.

Faves: Samosa, pakora, naan, all the curries.

Worsties: The boiled milk 'n' lime "cheese" looks completely mingin'.


278. Thomas H. Burgoyne, The Light of Egypt, Volume Two: The Science of the Stars

1889 / Audiobook / 144 pages / UK

*

It's not about Egypt all that much, but it was either this or The Stargate Conspiracy, and this pompous esoteric guide to astrology, alchemy, talismans and magic wands seemed the less crazy of the two. I'm not sure what I based that on.


279. Jeffrey D. Stilwell and John A. Long, Frozen in Time: Prehistoric Life in Antarctica

2011 / E-book / 248 pages / USA

****

I knew even less about Antarctica than I knew about Iran, but at least I'm not alone on that. This is mainly about fossils, but that also means it's an excuse to spend time with dinosaurs after making it through the tedious invertebrates, and the journal extracts and photos from pioneering expeditions inject much-needed excitement every now and again. It's helpfully patronising too, if you need a refresher on fossils and plate tectonics.


280. Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author

1921 / E-book / 64 pages / Italy

**

Well then, that just about covers the whole world, so time to stop pulling my hair out trying to find literary classics from countries that are more concerned with where the next meal's coming from than innovating a poncy art movement, and to take another cultural tour of Europe. This one here is some pretty nice, influential, self-aware playwright masturbation, it's just a shame it's so boring.


281. Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye

1928 / E-book / 127 pages / France

**

Even fellow relentless reader Art Garfunkel, who exclusively reads "heavy sh*t," named Fifty Shades of Grey one of his favourite books of 2012, so I went a shade classier by reading absolutely filthy trash published ages ago. The vintage is where the classiness abruptly ends. I haven't done the background reading, but considering the kerfuffle that was made about Ulysses, this book presumably didn't have an easy ride, and this presumed notoriety is presumably why it shows up on those lists I look at when selecting odd and interesting books from the olden days. It doesn't deserve the company. It's exactly the sort of twisted shit the freak in my creative writing class (okay, the other freak) used to boldly submit, except Bataille is fixated on number ones and he was more partial to twos.


282. René Daumal, Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing

1952 / E-book / 120 pages / France

****

With a title like that, you can't say you weren't warned. Abandon ship now or forever hold your tongue, you only have yourself to blame. A strangely successful blend of Hindu-inspired philosophical rambling with harsh maritime/mountaineering realism, what really makes it work is the humour. It's one of the most eccentric things I've ever read.


283. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

1962 / Audiobook / 248 pages / Russia

***

An overlong, inept line-by-line commentary of a fictional, impossibly cryptic poem that gets frequently distracted by three seemingly unconnected biographies, this is potentially one of the greatest things ever written if you have the time and patience. If you're whizzing through the audiobook on x2.00 speed while puzzling over fan-made Dizzy games, you're not really getting the most out of it.


284. Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, The Flatey Enigma

2002 / Audiobook / 256 pages / Iceland

**

It would be fair and accurate to deem this an Icelandic Da Vinci Code, though I don't know whether the author was cynically riding that wave or Dan Brown stole the thunder of his life's work. The extracts from and obsessions over a fictional cryptic book also felt like a Borges short expanded to novel length with requisite character banter. I would have preferred the 15-page version.


285. Mel Gordon, Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin (Expanded Edition)

2006 / E-book / 400 pages / USA

****

I studied Weimar Germany in GCSE history, but for some reason the syllabus didn't cover Berlin's debauched cabarets, stratified prostitution or rampant pedophilia. Since the target audience is presumably those who find Nazis kinky, the chronicler makes no apology for glamourising depravity, and as usual the commentary is less valuable than the scrapbook of art and photos, underground 'zines and alternative travel guides.


286. Desirina Boskovich ed, It Came from the North: An Anthology of Finnish Speculative Fiction

1998-2013 (collected 2013) / E-book / 257 pages / Finland

***

From the Kalevala to the Moomins, Finland has a rich vein in creepy weirdness that her modern writers don't seem to be tapping to its full potential, if this is the best they've got. Multi-author variety packs usually entropy towards averageness anyway, but this falls a little short. There are still a couple of great ones in here, but too many bad B-movies.

Faves: Leena Likitalo's 'Watcher,' Jyrki Vainonen's 'The Garden.'

Worsties: Anne Leinonen's 'White Threads,' Maarit Verronen's 'Delina.'


287. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part One

1808/29 / Audiobook / 240 pages / Germany

***

I was probably the only one in my A-level English lit class who found Marlowe's Doctor Faustus a pleasure rather than an archaic chore. Meanwhile over in Modern Foreign Languages, Herr Thunder was adamant that Deutschland's version was the superior, so I finally put it to the test 12 years later... ("A pleasure," right, but I'm still not likely to read a 200-year-old German play unless I've imposed some deranged limitations on my free time).

I think everybody's right. Top marks for making the English translation actually rhyme, whoever did that. That must have been a fun year.


288. Alejandro Jodorowsky and Mœbius, The Incal

1982-88 (collected 1988) / E-comics / 307 pages / Chile/France

****

Rebounding from the colossal failure of his attempted Dune adaptation, Jodorowsky went full-on crazy with another unfilmable sci-fi epic, but this time he was happy to let Mœbius' stunning storyboards stand as the finished product. These intricate panels feel more like concept art from a making-of book than a comic, which might be because I wasn't focussed too much on the fairly weak, weird, awkwardly translated story. In the tradition of Metropolis and Blade Runner, you can bask in the dystopia without worrying too much about what's going on. It's just missing a haunting synthesiser score.

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