What’s Really Going on with Star Wars: Aftermath

Back in 2015, the internet got itself into a bit of a tizzy over the news that an important Star Wars novel called Aftermath had been released, and that one of the main characters was gay. Since I have an ear tilted eternally to both queer news and Star Wars news, I was immediately intrigued, but also completely prepared for the barrage of vitriol the Star Wars fandom started spewing as soon as the book was published. Most of the criticism didn’t lead in with homophobia, and some didn’t mention the gay characters at all, but it felt like a very peculiar coincidence that after decades of shrugging off plenty of resoundingly mediocre Star Wars books with a “meh,” the fandom chose this one in particular to shred to pieces for its (allegedly) atrocious writing style, boring characters, and sloppy story. I read several Star Wars books as a child and have recently started poking around in the EU again, so I decided to find out for myself if Aftermath genuinely deserved the gruesome skewering it got online.

chuck wendig star wars aftermath

Good on you, Chuck. (image via delreystarwars)

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Penpal

In my last Web Crush I talked about Mr. Creepy Pasta and one of the videos I included was a creepypasta called “Footsteps” by 1000Vultures. The story is actually part of a series called The Penpal Series. It’s a really great story, the entirety of which can be read here in the reddit r/nosleep community (start with “Footsteps” at the bottom and work up) or listened to on this playlist, as read by Mr. Creepy Pasta, of course. As I mentioned before, I like hearing the stories read, but going to the original posts is fun too because you get to see the author interacting with readers and answering questions. Doing so will get you a little more insight into the world than just what is written since the author answers the questions in character as the narrator of the story, maintaining the conceit that these creepypasta stories are true.

The reason I’m talking about this story in particular is not just because I love it (it’s the story that made me love creepypasta in general and Mr. Creepy Pasta in particular) but because this online author did what so many dream of doing: he got his work published.

I know this isn’t necessarily revolutionary. Writers have gained popularity online and managed to parley that success into real-world business; even fanfiction which has started online has been published, but these success stories aren’t exactly common so it’s always exciting to see someone manage to pull it off.

The author, Dathan Auerbach, began a kickstarter campaign to fund the endeavor and thankfully got enough support to produce the novel. I didn’t get into this story until after all that happened so I don’t know the finer details of it or when it all happened but I was able to reap the rewards and purchase a copy of the novel once it was available on Amazon. I was excited to read it when it arrived and you can read my review under the cut.

The book opens with an introduction called “Memories”. This chapter is completely new material, not having appeared in the original creepypasta series, and I like it a lot. The narrator describes a particular memory of his, a happy one, and then discusses memory in general and how we sometimes let some fade away on purpose and how trying to remember one thing often leads to unlocking more memories. This is a great introduction to the story because it’s exactly what this tale is about. The narrator of this first-person account is diving into his own memories to make sense of his past. Many times things which seem unimportant or benign reveal themselves to be much more sinister the further we go and the more we learn. Chance encounters are rarely ever just that, and when one issue seems at peace something more ominous is often lurking in plain sight.

After the introduction, the first chapter (the first memory) begins. It is “Footsteps”, the same memory which began the creepypasta series. From here on out each chapter corresponds to the original parts of the creepypasta, but there are new details and ideas are further developed than before. The book still reads cohesively though. It doesn’t feel as if Auerbach is merely padding out the existing story, rather, it’s almost as if this was always meant to be a novel and I can only occasionally pinpoint where additions were made to the versions found online.

I did feel that the author could have used a more keen editor though. There were some grammatical and typographical errors that I noticed. Some of them weren’t errors so much as they were awkward phrases and structure, so perhaps it was just a case of my personal taste rather than actual shortcomings on the book’s part in those cases.

Apart from the technical aspect of the book I do have one legitimate complaint against the story. The premise of this tale is that a very young boy is being stalked by someone in his town. This unknown person is nearby and has access to the narrator at all times, as evidenced by various incidents, but most tangibly by the pictures of the narrator which the stalker takes and sends to him. The narrator’s mother is aware of this danger but she still lets her son have an unbelievable amount of freedom.

For much of the story the narrator (and I’m sorry to have to keep calling him that. but he never names himself within the story and I’m not sure it would be appropriate to refer to him as Dathan) is in Kindergarten to Second Grade, making him as young as five to as old as nine. He still somehow manages to spend much of his time unsupervised in the woods behind his house, even going swimming in a secluded lake with no adult supervision. Even under normal circumstances I wouldn’t believe that a parent would give his or her child that kind of freedom at such a young age, but taking into account the fact that his mother knows someone is stalking her child makes it even more preposterous. While she does give him restrictions (Home before dark; check-in every hour, on the hour) it just doesn’t seem to me that any parent with a child in such a situation would allow that child out of their sight without the supervision of one or more trusted adults.

The story is not told in chronological order so it’s possible that I got the timeline messed up and she actually pieced together the truth later into the situation and after some of these episodes, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Even if it is, as I said above, I have a hard time believing any child under ten would be allowed to do some of the activities the author describes.

Despite this complaint, and despite it being a rather large one, I still love this story and encourage you to check it out. Auerbach has an incredible gift for making a situation feel real and bringing the reader’s emotions right along with the character’s. The story unfolds in a very natural way, as though the narrator really is going back into his memories and documenting them, one recollection unlocking another, and as the pieces start to fit together the picture being assembled gets darker and more unsettling. This story builds an unease slowly and effectively until the “resolution” where everything finally fits (at least as well as it’s going to) and the reader is left with a sick feeling that doesn’t want to go away. Even now if you could see my face as I write this review I’m scowling and my lips are curling in distaste as I relive the emotions of this story.

And that’s what makes it so great.

Books vs. eBooks

Ah books, my constant companion. Since before the days of the written word, storytelling has been an integral part of people’s life and culture. What began with oral tradition quickly became writing for future generations. People wrote about everything on every sort of material. Books were the most recent and most prevalent form of the written word. In the dawn of new technology, advancements have been made in every part of our lives. Phones are not only in our pockets but with the capabilities of a computer; mp3 players which are typically the size of an average credit card contain thousands of songs, pictures, and videos and usually occupy the other pocket. Along with all this came the eReader, which is typically the size of a thin novel. Here are both good and bad things about each type of book.

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Sacré Bleu! A Christopher Moore Masterpiece

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I'm Blue.

Bonjour à nouveau délicieux les lecteurs!

The illustrious Christopher Moore has once again made me sing his praises, in French no less! Yes, yes, I understand, enough with the French already. This time however I cannot help it! His latest novel composition Sacré Bleu!  A comedy d’Art is one that cannot be brushed aside. If you love art history or appreciate art, or want to read about artists’ shagging (hey, it’s a perspective) this is a great book for you.

The story is set in 19th century France, the heyday of Parisian bohemian artists.  Here we follow the story of a young baker/painter (though not a painter of bakers) Lucien Lessard contrasted by the little drunk debaucher painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It all begins with the curious death of the notoriously unstable Vincent Van Gogh. The two Frenchmen find the crazy Dutchman’s death to be shady at best so they begin to investigate it. Along the way we are introduced to the many famed artists of the 19th century, including Monet, Renoir, and Cezanne at their poorest and unappreciated. We learn about their lives, their loves, their dreams, their delusions, and of course above all: their women. However, do not be fooled fellow artistes! These artists are not the highlights of the tale. No. That lies in the armature arms of blue. This world is a canvas that is impasto with blue. From the intense presence of the Colorman to the form of the alluring Juliette this colorful collage of characters are sure to have you crying sacré bleu!

Vous serez belle en bleu!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: O Death!

Do I really need to explain why death is important to religion? Life, death, and the afterlife are key parts of any religion. That mysterious force that is death has perplexed humanity for… well, ever. Why do some people die while others live? And what part does God have in it all? Well, let’s look at my three favorite examples of Death as he/she is often personified in pop culture.

Check out the first appearance of Supernatural’s Death.

Man, doesn’t that video just give you chills.

The portrayal of Death in Supernatural is one of my favorites. Despite looking completely normal, if a bit skeletal, Death is clearly a wholly other being of great power. When Dean Winchester first meets Death it becomes very clear fighting Death will not be plausible. That becomes even more obvious when Dean actually talks to Death. Death describes how he is so powerful that to him Dean appears like nothing more than an ameba and even describes Lucifer, arguably one of the most powerful angels in exist as “a bratty child.” But Death’s power becomes even more obvious when he talks about God. He describes himself as being as old as God, maybe even older. He furthermore explains how in the end even God will die and he’ll reap God. And though it’s never shown in the TV series, it is implied that Death talks to God and knows where God is—God has been notably absent in the show. Death, like God, sees the big picture and understands how the world works. Because of his power and his ability to understand seemingly everything, Death appears as this indifferent larger-than-life figure.

Death spares Chicago because he likes the pizza, he pulls Sam’s soul from hell, but refuses to do the same for Adam, and seems to only do this because he wants something from Dean. The only person that Death seems particularly fond is actually God. When Dean, Sam, and Bobby bind Death to them in order to kill Castiel, who proclaimed himself god, Death doesn’t understand that they want him to kill the Castiel god and thinks that they want him to kill the God. Death tries to stall. He lies and says that he can’t, and when Castiel shows up calling himself god Death makes fun of him, calling him a “mutated angel” and says, “I know God, and you sir, are no God.”

I think the Death of Supernatural is portrayed as he is because he is based on humanity’s own feelings about death. Death is the awe-inspiring, impartial, unfeeling force in the universe, but for those of us with some spirituality we also have a sense that Death is part of something greater and more important. In this respect, Death in Supernatural is portrayed extremely well.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I’m not ashamed to say that Good Omens is perhaps my all-time favorite novels with one of my all-time favorite portrayals of Death, or I guess for these purposes we should call him DEATH. In this portrayal, DEATH is not impartial. DEATH is excited for the end of the world. It is described by him and the other horseman as waiting for Christmas or your birthday. At the end of the novel, the antichrist Adam faces down DEATH because he doesn’t want the world to end. DEATH wants the world to end and tries to convince Adam to follow along with his nature, but when Adam and his friends defeat the other horseman, DEATH grudgingly concedes that the apocalypse cannot continue, but makes of point of saying that he is not defeated.

BUT I, he said, AM NOT LIKE THEM. I AM AZRAEL, CREATED TO BE CREATION’S SHADOW. YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME. THAT WOULD DESTROY THE WORLD.

The heat of their stare faded. Adam scratched his nose.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “There might be a way.” He grinned back.

DEATH himself cannot be defeated and even the other horsemen seem to continue to exist in some form, but Adam implies that perhaps there is a way. I think this might be implying the idea that Christ defeats it in the act of his crucifixion and resurrection, or even the obvious fact that if DEATH does go through with the apocalypse there will either be Hell on earth or Heaven on earth, meaning that DEATH would no longer need to exist. In enacting the apocalypse, DEATH would actually be killing himself.

Neil Gaiman apparently owns my soul because he has another portrayal of Death that is my absolute favorite. Death in the Sandman Comics is very different for several reasons. First, unlike most portrayals of Death, this Death is a woman, shown as being a young attractive goth chick. She is also very different in the way that she functions. This Death is not distant, impartial, uncaring; she is invested in the world. She adds the spark of life to all babies when they are born and remembers them all, calling them by name when they die. She enjoys life and enjoys humanity and the many other creatures that inhabit the Sandman universe. She is often seen giving advice to her brother Dream and genuinely seems to care about everyone.

This Death is clearly a benevolent and caring one who understands the importance of Death, while understanding the fear and misunderstanding of Death that comes from those finite beings that can’t see the larger picture.

I hope all this talk about Death hasn’t depressed anyone. Personally, I find it extremely hopeful. This makes me think that though we humans fear our own death, we fear the death of everything just as much, while at the same time many people long for the end of days. Weird, right?

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The End is Here

Tune in next time and find some religion!