Super 8, not the Hotel, the Third Encounter with Cloverfield’s Jaws movie

Have you ever gone to the theatre to see a film, and halfway through it you think ‘Wow, this is really good–I may come to see it again to catch all the bits and pieces of dialog I’ve missed’ and then slowly the film dips–sags–topples and you’re left looking up at the moon, grass stains on the seat of your pants thinking ‘What happened?’  Was it the pacing?  Somewhere along the way I felt like I was on a fifth errand for my mother only instead of the dry cleaners, it’s following kids around as they break into the school, get caught, get freed, chase the monster, run into their parents.  Was it the end? [small spoiler] No, that was okay–where the spaceship hovers above the center of a small town with military personnel and the main characters experiencing emotional balance–wait, wasn’t that Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Did they change reels when I blinked? [/end small spoiler]

This is what Abrams does with his films.  He starts them strong–running full speed up the hill of all my expectations and then BAM! Logic happens like a spiderweb made of nylon, catching him at the arms and sending him face first into the dirt.  He squirms around, frees himself, but can’t remember where he strayed so he ends with someone else’s movie.

Point of issue: Star Trek film.  It felt perfect until they paused to catch their breath and exposition (ah, it must be time travel! F#$%, we need to get Kirk onto the planet where old Spock is–Kirk, quick! Mutiny for me!), sped back up and ended when the Federation rescinds its earlier decision to kick Kirk out of Star Fleet and instead make him Captain of the Enterprise out of gratitude for saving earth from the alien whale probe.  Sorry, Romulans.

Super 8 is still worth seeing–possibly still even worth seeing in theatres–because of the group of kids shooting a zombie film (you get to see the film at the end when the credits roll).  They are truly delightful: energetic and individualized.  Elle Fanning gives a small, emotional performance in the movie within the movie that stops all the boys cold.

Beyond that, there is economy of story telling.  The film opens with a man in a factory changing the sign “[x] days since last accident”.  Cut to a wake where the adults and kids inside talk about the boy on a swing set.  Cut to a man who arrives to the wake, only to be dragged away in handcuffs.  It gets a little heavy handed in places e.g. any scene where an adult is talking (you stay away from my daughter!) as opposed to not talking (when the main character, the boy whose mother has died, comes home and sees his father sitting on the edge of the bathtub–no sound of crying, only an embarrassment at being caught and a quick shut of the door).

If you liked Jaws, you should like this film.  Because it is Jaws.  But with aliens.  Not in the same way that Eragon is Star Wars with a dragon, but in the same way that Star Trek, the reboot, is Star Trek Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, and Voyage Home.  Since I like all those movies, I’m as happy as a standard application of Dalton’s Law.

As for this film, the problems I had stemmed from the fact that you have an Alien Antagonist, Military Antagonists, 2 Dad antagonists, and a group of 6 kids–who split up often.  No doubt in the future, some film exec will have the seemingly brilliant, but terribly executed idea of having interactive screens where the film is actually shot from the dozen or so point of views–and you can pick which one to follow like a producer in the booth of a TV show shouting for camera 6–5 zoom in–3!

But okay–large cast and lots of running from Point A to Point B is forgivable.  Then there’s the alien.  And his decision to [please stop reading if you have not seen the film and jump to the end]

[spoilers ahead]

[spoiler spoiler]

[you have been warned–with many spaces]

eat humans.  But also let some of them go.  And also to kill some of them (not by eating, another way).  Dear alien, unless you are the true main character and POV for the movie: you may pick one action that is appropriate for every human you encounter.  You are allotted one motivation which may change slightly if warranted, and you are allowed an occasional exception to your rules depending on circumstances and if a puppy or small child is threatened. Lets review:

In the beginning of the film, people disappeared because Hey! It’s a monster!

Later in the film we learn that the alien is hyper intelligent, and occasionally grabs people to communicate with them psychically (of course).  When we finally find the alien hide out, he has the humans he’s collected over the course of the film hanging upside down.  He then proceeds to eat one of them (so they’re sustenance now?).  Maybe he’s just so mad at the military guys, and so confused about grocery stores and cows, that he figures it’s okay.  Except when the main character rescues Dakota Fanning’s little sister (who really should’ve been on the look out for aliens from day 1–her family clearly has bad luck with running into them) she does *not* immediately freak out and run in any opposite direction available to her.  On the one hand, this is refreshing–that a girl, once jostled from her unconscious state, doesn’t turn into a simpering mess.  But on the other hand, what the eff?

He just wants to go home, says she.   He just wants to eat you, says we.

And then the alien finds them–and he chases them.  Because clearly, chasing a couple of kids out of your secret hideout is more important than fixing your space ship and going home.

Oh right, if the alien *hadn’t* chased them, arbitrarily picking up and throwing the other two adults, temporarily rescued, then we wouldn’t get the emotional resolution: bad things happen.  I know, my mom died.  And you were held against your will in a secret government compound and mercilessly tortured despite the fact that you were A) in possession of really super cool, possibly helpful technology B) perfectly capable of communicating.

It’s totally the same.

I actually have no problem with the alien kidnapping humans when he encounters them (out of fear that they will call the military–who is on the hunt).  And if instead of the Sheriff and a woman in curlers there had been an honest to god military guy with the kids, *then* maybe the chase scene would have been logical.  As it is, the alien’s only motivation for being anywhere, or doing anything has been ‘Uhh… we need to let people know there’s a monster in town–even though no one will say it’s a monster and instead will complain to the deputy about a bunch of missing microwaves’.  And ‘So a bus is driving along the road and it has the kids locked up in it, and the bad marine–could you maybe flip the bus and kill some people all while letting the kids escape? You’d be doing us a solid.’  ‘OH! And steal some humans so that the kids can recreate the Tom Cruise baiting an alien scene; I need to amp up my Spielberg homages.’

[End spoilers]

Final Thoughts:

A while ago I read an article about James Frey’s fiction factory sweatshop workshop.  In it, James Frey said that after looking at the Vampire, Werewolf phenomenon, that obviously Aliens were going to be the next, big, thing.  Which is why the world was introduced to the YA series and film: I am Number 4. Looking at Super 8, the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens, and this fall’s TV series Falling Skies–it looks like Frey was right.

Oh wait, except he created the situation.  A friend of mine once told me that if you’re in a group of 5 or more people, and there’s silence for more than a minute, someone is thinking of Abraham Lincoln.  For the rest of the workshop we attended, every time there was a minute or silence, Oliver would pipe up with ‘Abraham Lincoln’.  Someone pointed out that maybe he was just a little obsessed with our stove-top hatted president.  Or, more likely, it was an information virus.  You tell someone, they tell someone, and sooner or later–everyone is thinking about Abraham Lincoln (I picture him as a vampire hunter–how about you?).

So James Frey goes to Hollywood–he’s got a big enough name and enough friends (people that hate Oprah? enemy of my enemy is my friend?) that when he jumps on a table and says “ALIENS! ALIENS! ALIENS!” people start to chime in.  A slow clap of extraterrestrial plots.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled.  The world needs more SF–but please, for the love of god, make it good SF.  All in all, Super 8 was good in that the focus was on relationships, but bad in that the relationships were the only good things in it.  If Abrams had spent as much time thinking about the monster as he did about the zombie film, we could’ve had an honest to god effin’ classic.  Yes, J.J., emotion makes a better story, but it’s not a sufficient condition.  Emotion works because we understand it intrinsically.  Give us the shorthand, and we’ll fill in the gaps.  But when half your short hand is monster film, and the other half is conspiracy, and the third half is mystery, and the fourth half is Cloverfield–it becomes a bit of a mess.  I applaud your effort; I promise to see your next film, and the one after that because your beginnings are worth the price of admission.  But if you want me to buy the Blu-Ray with the digital copy and host movie nights where I introduce it to my friends as best. movie. ever. you’re going to need to step up.

I have a few thoughts as to how I would’ve changed it–except I don’t know much about movies so I’ll keep them to myself.  What did y’all think?  Did it succeed, not succeed–will you see it again?  For those who haven’t, what are your favorite monster/alien/SF films in the past few years (or decades) and what are you most looking for in future attempts from Hollywood?

Goodnight Skreekagog

by Jenny

Goodnight grouse,
Goodnight house,
Goodnight skeleton of a long dead mouse.

Goodnight Teeth
it is time to sleep.
to lick your paws,
to sheathe your claws.
to put down the Vicar
and return his cigars.

I’ll brush your hair,
it is only fair,
for the aliens you’ve kept
from here and there.

Dream of conquest
and far off wars
dream of sleeping
in bone lined drawers.

You’ve grown so big
since I’ve seen you last.
I do believe
you’ve quintupled in mass.

Have you been eating
a dozen wild hogs?
The lost zoo penguins?
Trucks of logs?

Do I need to remind you
of your solemn vow—
oh don’t look at me like that
yes I very well will scowl.

You’ve dined on trains,
on alien hordes,
You would scarcely fit
between opposing fjords.

So goodnight skreekagog,
wherever you sleep,
sweet dreams to those crushed beneath pittering pattering feet.

Elevator Pitches for Fall Sitcoms, featuring Aliens

The Scene: A swanky Hollywood office with a view of the ocean.

–Can you see the ocean from Hollywood?

I don’t know

–Because we strongly believe in realism

Is that so?

–About stuff we know about

Which is?

–Shut up.

Anyway, so it’s a Hollywood office, there are 3 aliens

–Why 3?

Because 3 is the answer to everything now shut up!

–Whatever

So the aliens are roommates…

–Is this Lovecraft meets Three’s Company?

…No

–Are you sure?  Cause I don’t know how Cthulhu would keep track of things like rent collection and basic household maintenance.

Fine, you don’t like it, lets try the next.  The scene: a lawyer’s office–

–You have a thing for offices, it seems.

And there are doctors next door.  And they’re all–

–Roommates?

…The scene: vast reaches of space.  A vast federation of explorers–

–Who are roommates?

Werewolves!  That live in the forest!

–All together in a pack?

–…

How about we just do “Jersey Shore: Alpha Centauri”

–Isn’t Alpha Centauri completely and totally inhospitable to human life even if that life has been completely and utterly irradiated by tiny cancer boxes?

Yes.

–Sold!

The Pedestal Magazine, Issue 64

Pedestal Magazine

I had hoped to review Pedestal and perhaps another journal but since there are an astounding 12 poems in the latest issue, I must restrict myself to that magazine.

Overall, Marge Simon and Bruce Boston did an incredible job of choosing wildly different poems.  There is something for everyone in this set: the political, the sweeping narrative, the clever, the cunning, the lyric.

For any who find the prospect of reading 12 poems daunting, I’ll suggest that you read Notes from a Time Traveler; Nursery; Ahura Mazda.  These poems were my personal favorites both for their strong lyricism and hint at larger ideas.  If you want something cute and light, I recommend Neil Armstrong.  If the thought of futuristic wars is more your style: The Complete Text of the First Ten Volumes of Dr. Fleckwain’s Very, Very Short Steampunk Novels; Weapons of Mass Destruction.  If you just want something short and haunting: The Pleistocene Extinction; Voyages of the H.M.S. Whitechapel.  Quirky and perhaps a bit confusing?  Singed and Soaked; Magneto.  Scary prospect for the future?  How the Frogs Survived, the Last Time the World Ended.  Astronauts? Bad Yea for Astronauts.

And now, the discussion:

Notes from a Time Traveler by Benjamin Myers

This is truly an exceptional poem.  Beautiful line breaks and enjambment that push the poem along in tiny, well kept vignettes as the speaker moves from city to city hoping to find, or that he will by joined by his lover.  In the fifth ‘scene’ the speaker seeks to compare his lover–here a less experienced writer would seek to describe an emotion, perhaps beautifully but somewhat unsatisfyingly.  Not Mr. Meyers.  Instead, he gives us yet another scene of our speaker and his father coming to a stream in a clearing.

It is not the most original of images (“sunlight shattered all around”) but this is what good poetry does.  It evokes in bits of shorthand what the common experience is, and then imbues that tone in an unrelated situation.  It’s the metaphorical leap.  Or perhaps it’s something else–I confess I am not very good at writing about poetry, these posts are as much of a learning experience as anything else.

The notes are all signed ‘Pascal’ which I assume is meant to refer to the French mathematician.  I am afraid I don’t know enough about Pascal to find any new layers to the poem–though perhaps I could find them if I looked.

The Pleistocene Extinction by John C. Mannone

I confess I did not like the first 9 lines of this poem.  ‘Mastadons’ is a fun word, but it’s hard to squeeze into a poem where the first line only has 7 syllables, the next two have 10.

Hmm.  Let me back up a moment.  I’m going to write each line but rather than the words, I’ll do it by numbers–specifically, how many syllables each word has:

One two one one one-one: 7
one one one-one two two one one: 10
two, one one two one one two: 10
one three two one one one: 9

This is being truly, unequivocally, needlessly picky but it never occurred to me until now to count the syllables in each word to see what types of syllabled words I was using in a poem.  Mastodons threw me the first two times I read this poem, and I would be that it’s because it’s a three syllabled word in a poem mostly filled with one syllable words.  Now I love me some long syllabled words–but you have to be so careful rhythmically, particularly in these little short lines.

Beyond that, there were a couple of other little things that put me off: ‘new Sol’. Why is it Sol?  Why not sun?  Oh wait–because it’s not a sun, it’s a comet or a meteor…

Except you snagged me with Sol so not only are you being coy with your language, you’re being doubly coy because ‘Sun’ isn’t what you mean at all.  So say sun, or say comet or say whatever it is.  That’s my opinion.  Oh yes, it’s because you say ‘thousand cindering suns’ in the last line and you don’t what repetition, right?  Well cindering is a great word… but it’s a thousand cindering suns is a bit overdone.

‘Diamonds in the sky’ is also a little overdone.

And then we get to the last line.  The best line.  The line that makes this poem worth harping at tiny little pieces because when I got to this line I was so flabbergasted that I actually went ‘Oh.  Wow’.

I would personally appreciate that anyone reading this right now would stop and read the poem in full so that I’m not spoiling the suddenness of this image.
Okay?

“the flash/
of buttercups in the mammoth’s mouth.”

By itself, that line (technically one and a quarter lines) is nicely written, but doesn’t stir much emotion on its own.  What makes it work is the same thing that makes ‘Icarus drowning’ so memorable. It’s a line that is so stark against the rest of the images: easy to picture and representative of an entirely different tone of what’s going on in the poem, that it really takes you by the throat and pinches.  It’s really beautiful.  It’s so beautiful I actually want to forgive the rest of the poem for it’s nothing-specials.

How the Frogs Survived, the Last Time the World Ended by Geoffrey A. Landis

This is a poem where, sadly, I liked the payoff and the idea far far more than the poem itself.  There are two moments in this poem worth remembering:  The frogs in the Mojave and the end where the frogs are digging deep.

It’s in a conversational tone, which I often like, but I think what can make a conversational tone work for you is to make some fantastic leaps.  One moment you’re discussing frogs, the next the unifying theory of physics.  Why not go to plagues of frogs–or Cairo, Illinois where they fall from the sky.  Let the frogs take on seeming supernatural powers based on real anecdotes.  Get specific!  This poem doesn’t leap around as much as I would like and so I’m left only with the simple language.

I suppose the poem doesn’t because it wants to stick with that ominousicity (not a word).  Should we worry?

Also, the poem had too much random rhyme for my taste.  If you like the rhyme, and you like that simple message, I’d be curious to see if the poet could rewrite this in a Villanelle form.

Bad Year for Astronauts by Robert Frazier

Robert Frazier knows control.  The first two verses are chock full of strong nouns and some rapidly shifting descriptive clauses and phrases that manage to not confuse.  Quite the feat.

What I don’t get is the payoff.  It’s late, and perhaps I’m just being dense–but is ‘for astronauts it’s 1967’ supposed to be a surprise?  In early poetry critiques we talk about the ‘So what?’ question.  It’s something you ask of a poem to see why it was written–what’s important about it–why should I care. This poem is not a ‘so what?’ poem, it’s more of a ‘And?’ poem.  The first two verses set the stage, the first three lines of the last verse seem to be building to something–emphasizing the bits of badness around the world but then it falls off completely.  You gave me the year?  A year I already kindof new–not the exact date but around about–because I’ve seen Tom Hanks geek out on space stuff.  If someone else has another reading on this–I’d like to hear it just so I know what I’m missing.

Neil Armstrong by Bryan D. Dietrich

This is a cute, clever poem.  I didn’t like the last line–it felt too… punnish and I hate puns.  I’d say more but there’s not much to criticize.  It was a funny idea, it has some funny lines.

Voyages of the H.M.S. Whitechapel (a poem by Captain Jack Ripper) by Robert Borski

Jack the Ripper as a sea captain in a William Carlos Williamsesque poem.  The whole thing is 10 lines long and maybe 50 syllables.  It’s clean, it’s tight.  It’s a small, perfect poem that you can’t really say much about because it doesn’t really say much at all.  That’s not a criticism–I liked the poem, but there was nothing I’ll remember about it tomorrow.

The Complete Text of the First Ten Volumes of Dr. Fleckwain’s Very, Very Short Steampunk Novels  by Steven L. Peck

Great title.

The poem slowly and teasingly unravels a complicated plot of battles between airships and robots (at least I think).  There’s romance, there’s danger… but alas, I am not so enamored with steampunk that I would have read the novels and so while the poems are more to my style, they didn’t thrill me.  It’s an ambitious poem and other than some thickness of language here and there, quite smooth to read.

Nursery by Emily O’Neill

This poem was lovely, imaginative, surprising and was the first poem that I felt reach for more.  It’s strange because looking it over for the third or fourth time, there aren’t any lines that really stand out to me as truly memorable, and there are a couple of places where I stumble: ‘such a shade that wasn’t already dead’ falls flat for me.  The poem is almost all narrative action.  But that closing sentence.  Wow.

Singed and Soaked by Valerie Loveland

I’ve read this poem a couple of times now and I still don’t know whether I like or dislike it.  Perhaps after so many narrative poems, I am surprised to find one which, by default, must be lyric.  However, it’s not as lyrical as I like my lyrical poems and so I’m pushed back into a state of limbo.  It begins more in the style of a clever idea poem: “Did you know classics and first editions are most flammable?”

And moves on from there quite smoothly and nicely–I’m not truly surprised by any of the images or ideas, but they’re done well enough.  I feel the poem working towards some sort of pay off and then we get “fire ledges”.   I’m still puzzling over this.  What’s the significance?  And fire ledges is hard rhythmically: stress stress unstressed.

The next section of the poem is a bit better: the idea of books turning into flowers, blooming and remembering what they were is a chancier leap.  I still think there are a couple of rhythm problems ‘line up so flatly’ is quite dissonant.  But the pay off of “we were once alive” is a well constructed line in terms of language and sound and rhythm plus it’s an interesting idea on which the reader can puzzle.

Magneto by Lee Ballentine

First thought: as in the X-men?

The poem refers to a ‘he’ of some kind–lots of description and thick words that I didn’t really follow, partly because I’m thinking the whole time ‘Who is the he?’ and then we get the last line ‘all this as my neighbor passed me / listening to private music.’  So now I must assume that this is someone the speaker sees on the street–I’m guessing someone who is a little alternative with piercings.

Or rather, since this is a speculative poem, maybe this is an image of our future: what listening to private music will look like in fifty to one hundred years.

Sometimes I use a trick to try to like a poem that keeps pushing me out.  I try to read it in a good poet voice: Rodney Jones or Albert Goldbarth or my friend Kerry James Evans.  I try to think of what words they would emphasize in order to help me find the music of the line.  This poem, I think, is more of the Goldbarth variety–thundering through the skinned jelly, the wetted dust, molecules compounded.

If it had been my poem, or if it had come up in a workshop I was in, I would have asked for a stronger title.  Tell me what I’m looking at.  Tell me so that when you go off on your merry word chase, I’m not sputtering behind you choking on nouns.

Weapons of Mass Destruction by Elizabeth Barrette

I’m afraid to say that this was not my type of poem.  To start, I’m not overly fond of political poetry.  Of the little I’ve read I find it tedious, so engrossed with its own message that it forgets that it’s also supposed to be poetry.  This likely means that I’m just simply not well read in political poetry.

This poem does try to be a poem–the narrative in it is quite complex.  My problem is the language just did not sing to my ears.  There was nothing surprising in the imagery, nothing extraordinary in the word choice.  It just didn’t do it for me.  But sadly, it’s also late–I’ve been reading many, many poems trying to view them with a critical eye and so I may just be a little overtired.

Ahura Mazda by Michael Shorb

This poem travels, and it travels well.  “Begin as a god / deep in the velvet / myths of Persia if you must” is where I fell in love with this poem, though I’m still not entirely sure I understand all of what’s going on.  My thought is the speaker is speaking of reincarnation–the difficulty is as soon as I think I get that part, it moves into vehicles as metaphor, then the speaker is in a vehicle and sees the present (which is more like future) and past around him.  At any rate, there’s a lot to love here–particularly in the lists of things: what the slaves carry, the parts speaker has played.  Quite well done and enjoyable–a good way to end of the poetry section.

Toy Boat Toy Boat Toy Boat

Lately I worry about the evolution of language.
Not computers but nouns will singularize
their consciousness, revolt against their captors.
Stutterers choked, choirs blighted by vowels–
laid bare, or is it lain?  I won’t know
until the rapture of verbs, when it’s past time
to apologize.

Or perhaps English will punish only those
who denied its unaesthetic progress:
Vive le ain’ts, mispronounceiations,
and the creep of vernacular like jellyfish
along the beach.

The Wal-Mart at 4 AM

In the parking lot, they gathered.  The young nautili, the admirals and ambassadors. Octopodes and squid pods.  Skreekagogs and zimpahpahs.  The battle-worn, the Colorodian evicted and the fresh recruits straight off the ship.

This is it, they whispered.

This is Wal-Mart.

It was not as grand as they expected.  Pop tents and FEMA trailers abounded.  Wood pilings and aluminum scraps, warped and pitted from years of neglect cluttered the “Please Return Your Cart” stalls.  Doors had fallen off their hinges, doors had fallen away from their hinges, and the hinges themselves filed single file to march themselves to the beach.  Even the lone security guard, making his rounds in the camo-colored golf cart maintained an air of disdainful ennui.

This is Wal-Mart?

Undaunted they pushed through the doors to find young blondes in blue bibs.

“Welcome,” the greeters said in unison.  “Welcome to the Wal-Mart.  Can we help you find anything in the Wal-Mart?  Is this your first time?  Some may find the Wal-Mart overwhelming but we are here to make sure your experience is a joyous one.  Welcome,” they said again.  “Welcome to the Wal-Mart.”

“Where are your nuclear vessels?” the Admiral asked.

“Welcome,” the girl on the left said.  “Aisle six?” said the one on the right.

“Do you have pop-tarts?” a young nautilus asked.

“Aisle six?” the girl on the left said.  “Chocolate is my favorite,” said the one on the right.

The aliens split into groups.  Each with his or her or its own list of items and sundries, camping supplies and foul weather gear.  One family became hopelessly distracted by the $1 to $5 dollar aisle, filling each of their baskets with cowboy stickers and princess mirrors.

“Who is your favorite Disney princess?” the girl on the left said.

“Ariel!”
“Belle!”

“Bambi!” said the one on the right.

All night the aliens wandered: they tried on snuggies and hopped on bouncy balls.  They rearranged the books by publishing house, the Blu-Rays by color, and the music CDs they left completely and utterly alone.

They paid cash for some items, in trade for others.  One Wal-Mart checker ended his shift with enough Skreekagog eggs to feed and/or terrorize a small city in Alaska.

“When do you close?” the Admiral asked.

“Welcome to the Wal-Mart” the girl on the left said.  “Welcome to the Wal-Mart,” said the one on the right.

The aliens gathered in a loose circle.

“You must close.” The Admiral said.  “When is that?”

“Welcome to the Wal-Mart,” the girls said.  “Can we help you locate the Wal-Mart?”

I’ve heard of this, the aliens whispered.  It’s syndrome.  It has a name.  Watch this:

“Take us to your leader,” an alien demanded.

“You are here,” the girl on the left said.  “This is the freezer section,” said the one on the right.

I think I saw a South Park episode about this, they whispered.

“The South Park was wise,” the girl on the left said.

The aliens laughed and tossed them grapes.  They pointed and chuckled their alien laughs.  They are so addled, so confused.

“When should we leave?” the Admiral tried again.  “We can’t shop indefinitely.”

Some aliens disagreed, rattling their baskets in chorus.

“Welcome to the Wal-Mart” the girl on the left said.  “Months ago,” said the one on the right.

“Months ago,” said the one on the left.

New York Times Bestseller List 6/19, Excerpts

COMBINED PRINT & E-BOOK FICTION

1. SIGNS, THE NOVEL, by Sigourney Carter
2. INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE NOVEL, by Sigourney Carter
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE, by J.K. Rowling
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE MONSTERS FROM MARS, by J.K. Rowling
5. LOVE IN THE TIME OF INVASION, by James Frey

Complete List » [Redacted]

COMBINED PRINT & E-BOOK NONFICTION

1. BOSSYPANTS, by Tina Fey
2. THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE, by Max Brooks*
3. TALK THE TALK, UPDATED, by Luc Reid
4. BRING GUNS: A GUIDE TO BUNKER LIVING, by Author Unknown
5. KNITS, CRAFTS, AND TREEHOUSES, by Chelsea Grant

*NY Times Editor’s Note: Because we don’t fucking know anymore
Complete List » [Redacted]

HARDCOVER FICTION

1. LOVE IN THE TIME OF INVASION, by James Frey
2. ANITA KILLS THINGS, by Laurell K. Hamilton
3. BEFORE I OFFER MYSELF TO THE BIRDMEN, by Alexander Lumans
4. JESUS VS. THOR, by James Woods
5. THE TAXIDERMIST’S OTHER WIFE AND STORIES, by Kelly Barnhill

Complete List » [Redacted]

HARDCOVER NONFICTION

1. MORE GUNS AND ALSO POSSIBLY ZOMBIES, by Pinckney Benedict
2. VERSUS: POLITICAL DISCOURSE AND PLANS FOR OUR FUTURE (EXCERPTS FROM THE FIFTH ALASKAN CONVENTION) , edited by Josh Woods
3. FROGS, SKINLESS WOMEN AND OTHER DREAM IMAGERY: ESCAPE YOUR LIFE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION, by Renee Evans and Rachel Furey

Complete List » [Redacted]

CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS

1. ALPHAOOPS: THE DAY Z WENT FIRST, by Alethea Kontis
2 ALPHAOOPS: P IS FOR PROTECTOR, O IS FOR OVERLORD by Alethea Kontis
3. ALPHAOOPS: R IS FOR THE RESISTANCE, by Alethea Kontis
4. ALPHAOOPS: H IS FOR HALLOWEEN, by Alethea Kontis
5. GOODNIGHT SKREEKAGOG, by Jenny

Complete List » [Redacted]

Speculative Poetry Fridays

Thus starts a new tradition at After Ever After.  Every Friday my co-author will start us off with her apocalyptic version of a famous poem.  Then I’ll come in with a review of speculative poetry around the web + Asimov’s (if I have that month’s issue).

This Week’s Review: Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, Asimov’s

Strange Horizons

This week’s issue of Strange Horizons includes the poem “Maelbrigte’s Woman” by Anne Sheldon.  It tells the story of the wife of a Scottish Chieftan who is betrayed and killed by an invading Norwegian, Earl Sigurd.  It packs quite the narrative punch for being in such a short form.  I was quite impressed.  My favorite moment in the poem came in the closing verse: “And still I go to bed at night alone / as if the morning were a promise / I desire to keep.”  It reminded me very much of a James Kimbrell line: “Her absence is still my best friend” in his book My Psychic: Poems which, though not technically speculative, still has some strong leanings towards evocative imagination as evidenced in this poem Four Tangerines in Gulf Coast.  Which you all should read–both the poem and the book.  Sheldon’s piece also has great rhythm of the line — each one is quite short, but the phrases are easy to parse out (at least on a second read) so you don’t get lost halfway into the sentence and forget what’s going on (which may have happened to me… once).  While there wasn’t an excess of lyricism (sprawling language and imagery), since this is a poem about a hard and stark situation, I didn’t miss it.  Sheldon masters her verbs and nouns so they are crisp and clean.  Overall this is not a poem that I will likely return to (alas I found the narrative too familiar and the one evocative line too little for such a long poem), but it was worth the first few reads.

Ideomancer

An embarrassment of riches: Ideomancer boasts 4 poems by 4 authors in this issue.

“Redcap Repast” by WC Roberts  is cute and quick: Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland as a Law &  Order or perhaps CSI episode.  I confess I had to read it twice to figure out was going partly on which I will attribute to the author’s refusal of the comma.  Example:

Alice found a mirror on the table
dusted with a white powder and his prints,

Without a comma after table, I take dusted as an adjective modifying table as opposed to a second action that Alice is doing.  I realize now I never really thought of the grammar of poetry, but I do tend to read line breaks as forcing enjambment–reading both lines as a full sentence rather than as a full stop break unless there is a comma.

But what really threw me, was the ‘They’ that ends the second verse and starts the section that ends the poem.  Who is the ‘they’?  Is it the Dust Bunnies?  I’m pretty sure the ‘he’ in the poem is the Mad Hatter but of that I’m not entirely sure until close to the end.

So really, I don’t know what’s going on exactly.  But it’s quick and has fun sounds.

“The Conqueror of Mars to his Beloved by Megan Arkenberg is a poem that, when I say I had no problems of comprehension, will baffle those who just read my other review.  The You seems to be Mars, but perhaps it isn’t–perhaps the You is a person left behind while the Conqueror went to conquer.  But, what matters with this poem is the use of title.  Direct Address, I find, is a very lenient form which allows a lot of ‘Wait, what?’ moments.  Perhaps it’s because it puts a containing field around the poem.  ‘Ah, this is a poem from one person to another person–I’m eavesdropping or reading a letter over someone’s shoulder’.  The speaker is the character first mentioned, the you is the character next mentioned.  The poem may define more for us in terms of who the you and the speaker are, but much we can take as metaphor or associational leaps.

Comparing titles with the first poem: Redcap Repast–I don’t know what that means.  Repast is a meal and Redcap is a malevolent, murderous dwarf or goblin or what have you… And since cap is similar to Hat then I guess that gives me another clue that it’s the Mad Hatter but again, I’m doing so much sleuthing after the poem read.

Poems do not need to spell it out for us in the title, but they can be a useful way of setting the stage so the reader doesn’t scramble for clues along the way.  Perhaps they do this because they identify the speaker.  Most poems the speaker is presumed to be the author–but with speculative poetry the speaker often has to be someone else–someone observing a fantastical event that since it couldn’t happen in the real world, must happen elsewhere.  As such the speaker is a character in the poem, so we have to both read about the character’s experience and observation while figuring out what character the speaker is (note how in the Strange Horizons poem the title also gives us the speaker: Maelbrigte’s Woman).  This isn’t too hard, generally, unless you play around with imagery and sound and syntax, obfuscating the traditional meaning of things in order to play.  I love play–I love it a great deal–but you do sacrifice clarity that way.  Redcap Repast was a fun little poem–but had it been much longer I wouldn’t have reread as many times as I did trying to puzzle it out.  As it is I reread it three or four times and still don’t completely know all the actions and meanings of all the phrases.

Anyway, back to Ms. Arkenberg’s poem.  After a second read, it appears that the speaker, the Conqueror of Mars is speaking to Mars herself.  When he was very far from her, she was beautiful and alluring but now that he, and others, have traveled to her and mined her for natural resources + the inevitable realization perhaps that Mars’ atmosphere and climate conditions are not conducive to human life, things have changed between them.  I have a great softness for direct address poems, particularly ones that are apologetic and wistful in tone so I enjoyed this.  It doesn’t have the same quick wittedness of Redcap, but I understood it better.  It didn’t have the narrative breadth of Maelbrigte but it would have lost its charm had it been overlong.

Splendours to Devour by Mike Allen gives us our first apocalypse poem!  The poem sets us up right from the start with what is going on… sortof.  We know that it’s an apocalypse of hunger or plague or something that makes people eat each other.  Or perhaps these are mere metaphors for the human drive to devour everything: natural resources, war, etc.  Or maybe it’s a mix.  The poem starts with literal apocalypses and then it merges into the metaphor.  Either way: rich language and imagery.  I get enough of a ‘sense’ of what’s going on that I don’t really need the full diagram.

“Beansidhe” by Shannon Connor Winward is another narrative poem, like Sheldon’s, but told in a direct address form.  I am afraid I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about it.  It had great promise.  The first verse is strong in terms of quick turns but it so quickly turns to writing about other things.  Hate turns to love for the man who drowned her–she misses him and wants to give him peace?  I don’t really know if I’m supposed to trust everything she says–I think I would find it much more haunting if she was actually luring men to their deaths but now she wants to forgive her murderer… rather than the woman who was drowned, sits passively and sweetly in her watery grave and comes to forgive (and love?) the man who killed her.

Asimov’s

Note: This is edited from a more detailed critique I posted on a writer’s forum.  Thus rather than a review, what follows is more along the lines of a workshop critique.  If I had the time, and I weren’t lazy, I would scrap most of it and write new reviews but I don’t and I am so here we go.

E by R.M. Kaye

This piece is, quite frankly, peculiar. First off, it takes up 4 pages–far longer than I thought Asimov’s accepted for poetry. Compounding the oddity, each line is one to four words long–it’s basically a list of words and phrases about energy eventually ending with the inevitable mc^2 = E.

The first half dozen lines or so:

loop infinity
mobiously
singularity
creases
buckles
bends
crinks

It goes on like this for quite a while–occasionally you get some semblance of action: “slime washes ashore / clumps spawn and cling / string upon string”  But the biggest ‘movement’ in the poem is the unraveling at the end:

then somewhere
here and there
everywhere
glitches unglitch
infintity loops unloops
telomere strings unravel
organic sequences unorganize

etc (many more unverbs)

It’s a very simple idea, it has some strong words and verbs–some of it read almost like a thesaurus–and it’s not too terribly hard to figure out what the poem is talking about: describing energy as it exists in the universe, an impossible to describe abstraction and thus you don’t need to describe it all: just write a bunch of words with energy in them and away you go.

You have your basic space imagery: generations of supernova suns / forge and reforge elements / waft in solar winds / acid / base / mineral / metal / react / in amniotic pools, etc.

For a SF magazine, I think a science poem is going to be your easiest sell. There’s a lot here that “feels” like a poem: the emphasis on the single. strong. word. rather than a beautifully obfuscated narrative.   And the entire thing is written as centered text (author’s choice or editor’s?)

Which brings me to my biggest issue with this poem, the thing that is not part of my aesthetic and never will be: while I love indulgence, I am very, very self-conscious about it. If this had been my poem, I wouldn’t have put single words on lines. Single words are used for emphasis, and while there are some strong words and verbs here, they’re not *that* great. And centered text? Really? </prejudice>

Anyway, I think if the author had striven to write longer lines, he or she would have been forced to cull the images to the strongest ones. Perhaps then the language would have created its own energy (ha), driving the lines forward until the end of the poem. As it is it feels very choppy to me. I skimmed a lot–there was nothing for me to grab onto. All in all, not a poem that I would want to emulate.

But all poems have something worth stealing and I have to say, all the unverbs at the end were pretty cool.

page twentyfourhundredandseventythree by W. Gregory Stewart

This was cute. It’s a basic charm poem. The author states that if you sit a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, you will *not* end up with Shakespeare.

It’s an idea that everyone’s heard of, and he’s playing with it. No, the monkeys will never recreate Shakespeare (“no Hemingway-not even Judy Blume”), but they will, based on the title, manage to accidentally write this poem. Actually I bet that’s just a throwaway. The only other nod to that concept is the line “And esp. not-if punctuation counts.”

So it’s cute. In terms of craft elements: lots of repetition: million appears in three of the first four lines, big banana bill; rhythm for each line is decent: “change the ribbons” being the best example, highlighting the use of short syllable words but with lots of sounds in those words. He has some throwaway words and phrases “if / of course, at all” but it’s more to highlight a ‘cute’ point made earlier. Each line ends with a strong word with the possible exception of that but that can be overlooked.

All in all it succeeds or fails based on whether you find it funny. I thought it was pretty cute, so all in all a decent poem. Just hard to steal from.

Gene’s Dreams by Joe Haldeman

This is by far my favorite of the three.  It sets up the world of the 60s between Jack Kennedy’s murder and men walking on the moon in between which we get Gene Roddenberry’s dream of Star Trek.   The writers/producers/directors “all wishing / that their futures might cure / the present.”

The last two lines I posted seem to be the crux of the poem. It’s about Star Trek, but it’s about the utopian vision of Star Trek rather than a description or commentary on Spock or Kirk (which I’ve seen in other poems). He places it in historical context: the mid 60s, between one tragedy and one great achievement. The poem is clean and tight–quick descriptions giving you all the information you need without excess…

but…

Does anyone else feel like this poem could have been so much more? Perhaps it’s my penchant for description, but I feel like if this poem had been exploded outwards, had reached for more unusual verbs and nouns and syntax, it could have been something really, really special. ‘[t]heir futures might cure / the present’ is a great theme to play with, but we barely get a hint of the present he’s talking about. If he had juxtaposed scenes from particular episodes and news stories at the time–making leaps and associations so fast that the reader has to reread it over and over again just to extract every last juicy morsel–well, I think that would’ve been something cool.

As it is, it’s a nice poem. It’s easy to follow along, everyone loves Star Trek.

ETA 6/18: I changed the pronouns I used in the section regarding R.M. Kay’s poem (explanation to follow in another post) and also wanted to mention:

I did some googling for the Asimov’s poems and I was pleasantly surprised to find some discussion on the Asimov’s forums.  I wanted to add, because it occurred to me after reading that discussion, that what the review for the Asimov’s poems lacks is a discussion of what the poems were about.  I read them and critiqued them originally as I would a workshop piece–where meaning rarely, if ever, enters into the discussion.  I wanted to add this only because there is probably a deeper meaning to some, if not all, of the poems.  Someone pointed out that Haldeman was in Vietnam when Star Trek came out and it reminded me I hadn’t talked about the end of the poem–the view of humanity that Spock has.  I still stand by my argument that the poem should have been exploded outward since that small piece was buried.  If Haldeman ever stumbles across this  blog and allows me to revisit the piece by posting the full poem on the blog, then I may return to my review and reconsider.  As it is, there will be more poems to discuss.

Colorado Will Rise Again… When it Feels Like It

A Chronology of Events Leading Up To This Date On Which We Now Post

April 15 – The Alien Protectors, in an attempt to reunionize the union, deploy a diplomatic mission to the Free States of Colorado

April 18 – The Diplomatic Mission to the Free States of Colorado eats the Mayor of Denver

April 19 – The Diplomatic Mission to the Free States of Colorado is evicted by a Ladies Book Club (don’t mess with Oprah’s Book Club)

April 20 – A new Diplomatic Mission is sent to the Free States of Colorado, headed by Oprah Winfrey.  They apologize to the Ladies Book Club and everyone gets a new car.

April 21 – The Ladies Book Club sells all the cars and pools their money to buy a small island in the Caribbean to which they relocate immediately.  The Free States of Colorado are now defenseless.

April 23 – Oprah decides she would like to be the new mayor of Denver.  She becomes the new mayor of Denver.  Nobody denies Oprah. Nobody.

April 23, later that day – The Alien Protectors send a new Diplomatic Mission.

April 23, later that night – They can’t say no to Oprah either.

April 24 – The Alien Protectors give up on Denver.

April 25 – 58 Diplomatic Missions are dispatched to the surrounding townships, fellowships, and book clubs in the state.

April 26 – They wander around, quite lost.  “We are your new rulers,” they shout into the wilderness.  “Bow before us and bring us shrubberies!”

April 28 – Still, the Diplomatic Missions go largely unnoticed.

April 29 – A bemused Velociraptor submits to Diplomatic Mission #29 with the severed testicles of a Triceratops (an insult to any well versed in Velocriraptor culture, it goes unappreciated by DM 29)

April 29 – A new commander in the Alien forces reminds the Diplomatic Missions that they should ensure that they are in the same quantum time-flux continuum as the humans.

April 30 – The 47 of the original 58 missions return to the present.  They post signs on Costco billboards and camp in libraries.

May 2 – Still, they are largely ignored.

May 8 – “We need a sign that we are serious!” says one.  “Something that will send them quaking in their boots and eager to turn against their neighbors.”

May 8 -10 – The Diplomatic Missions argue about the sign

May 11 – A sign is chosen.

May 11 – It is rejected by the International Supreme Court of Awesome Justice for being “extreme”.  The Diplomatic Missions argument that extremism was the “[redacted] point” is dismissed as being factually irrelevantzied by legally precluded procedures and “stuff”.

May 11 – 15 – The Diplomatic Missions argue about another sign.

May 16 – Another sign is chosen.

May 17 – 20 – The sign is painted in really big letters, strung to an airplane that will criss-cross the Colorado skies.

May 21 – The first dozen planes crash due to the weight of the sign.  It too, is scrapped.

May 22 – Someone suggests that maybe Colorado really isn’t worth it.

May 23 – That someone is gutted, skinned, and his entrails used for skreekagog ball and string toys.

May 24 – That someone was the wrong someone and a new argument ensues about which someones aren’t “pulling their weight” in the invasion.  I mean mission.  I mean peaceful outpouring of love and devotion to other species worthy of recognition and protection.

May 25 – Boulder’s favorite flirt, Laura Adams, celebrates her 108th birthday with a town-wide Chili Cook Off!

May 26 – Diplomatic Mission 14 comes in second place in the Boulder Chili Cook Off.  In the even that the winner, Laura Adams, cannot complete her duties as reigning Chili Cooker of the Year, then Diplomatic Mission 14 will take her place.

May 27 – Laura Adams is admitted to the hospital with suspicious bruising around her throat.

May 28 – Laura Adams accuses Diplomatic Mission 14 of attempted murder.

May 29 – Diplomatic Mission 14 emphatically denies this allegation.

May 30 – A settlement is reached.  Diplomatic Mission 14 and Laura Adams will *share* the duties held by Chili Cook-off crown winner.

June 12 – The Diplomatic Missions are gently reminded by their Alien protector leaders that they were supposed to bring Colorado under control, not wander the state in roving chili bands.

June 13 – The Diplomatic Missions threaten the states of Colorado with a remake of Red Dawn.

June 13 – Colorado capitulates and submits totally and completely and doesn’t just say so in the name of appeasing a bunch of cephalapod nincompoops who think that shrubberies are a good and proper form of homage.  Colorado is full of [redacted] giant [redacted] mother[redacted] trees.  If that’s all you really [redacted] wanted we could have saved a [redacted]load of time.