Monday, April 21, 2008

The Ruins

I always feel a little self-conscious and embarrassed whenever I buy mass-market paperbacks, especially at places like Powell's. As ridiculous as it sounds, I worry that the clerks are secretly judging me by my reading choices, and although there are days when my arms are piled high with Thomas Pynchon, various classics, and nonfiction ranging from historical examinations of Victorian England to the selected writings of artifical intelligence researchers, there are also days when all I sheepishly bring to the counter are fantasy novels and Stephen King paperbacks, maybe a Carl Hiassan book or two. All it takes is a twitch of the cashier's eyebrow and the faintest hint of a smirk to for me to flush and feel suddenly ashamed of my English major, like I should be reading something more intelligent instead of wasting my time on such (gloriously delightful!) trash literature.

Buying hardcore pornography would probably be less embarrassing. That's how big a deal this is.

Today wasn't too bad, though. I suspect buying a Jasper Fforde novel along with Scott Smith's The Ruins was a good idea, if only because it allowed me to preserve a little of my English major cred and save face in front of the clerk. I didn't bother telling her that the whole point of the Powell's expedition in the first place was to secure a copy of The Ruins. Certain things I won't admit to in public.

I wanted to read the book mostly because The Boy and I saw the movie over the weekend, and it was so delightfully silly that I had to see if the book was equally so. We went into the film with the lowest of low expectations -- there wasn't anything else out that we wanted to see and yet the idea of a movie in a movie theater was incredibly attractive -- and as a result, I was pleasantly surprised that there were a few decent thrills. It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a moderately entertaining little horror film, and I jumped more than a few times, much to The Boy's amusement.

The best part, though? Man-eating plants. That shit's awesome.

What cracks me up most is that The Boy is something of a carnivorous plant aficionado -- he's currently raising a bunch of different North American pitcher plants, and at various times he's also had sundews and miscellaneous fly-traps -- so now he's all gung-ho for me to read the book so I can (a) tell him how it is and (b) perhaps even let him borrow it, so that (c) he can determine whether the author did more research into carnivorous plants than the filmmakers did.

"My guess?" I told him. "Probably not."

"Still, though," he groused. "Green, leafy plants underground? What kind of shit is that? And there's no way vines like that could produce the kind of digestive enzymes you'd need to eat away human flesh so quickly!"

"You're cute when you get your geek on, you know that?"

"Pfft. Nah. Although that's another thing -- why vines? That makes no sense either." And with that, he was off again.

It probably says a lot about me as a person that instead of finding this annoying, I find it charming and the point where I am excited about reading the ridiculous book solely so I can share the good bits with him and -- if I'm lucky -- listen to him rant some more about the digestive properties of the average pitcher plant as compared to those of the plants in the fly-trap family.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stories of the City

Although I've slowly been cutting my caffeine intake, I'm still more addicted to the stuff than I should be. Unfortunately, I'm also out of coffee filters. In need of a coffee fix, I decided to wander down to Anna Bannanas on 21st, because they do this thing with espresso, dark chocolate syrup, and orange extract that's utterly, sinfully delicious.

Halfway there, I'm stopped by a gangly young man with Flock of Seagulls hair. He's got a painfully earnest expression, the sort I associate with border collies, and he carries a sheaf of photocopies in his hand. He tells me he's a wandering poet. The photocopies are his poems, he says, and in exchange for a small donation to his travel fund, he's giving signed copies of them to people. For when he gets famous.

He looks crestfallen when I tell him I don't have any cash on me. Maybe he could read me one for free? Feeling somewhat sorry for him, I acquiesce, and he shuffles through his photocopies until he comes to one about spring flowers and the smile of a particular girl, and, standing there on the sidewalk with people walking by, that black wing of hair falling into his eyes, he reads the poem aloud with the sort of shaky-voiced sincerity I'm normally a little embarrassed by, although for whatever reason I'm not embarrassed by it now. Maybe being with The Boy has softened my cynical little heart somewhat. It's not a very good poem, but it's clearly heartfelt, and I mean it when I thank him for reading it to me. He smiles happily and wishes me a good day, and we both go our respective ways: me, headed towards my coffee Nirvana; him, up the sidewalk with his photocopied poems.

Only in Portland.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fun with Drugs

I get sick maybe once in a blue moon, so I suppose it's fitting that when I do finally take ill, my body really goes for it. It's nothing more than a cold, but it's a fucking EVIL cold. Eeeeeevil. We're talking "I already ran out of Kleenex and now I'm halfway through a roll of toilet paper" evil.

At least my throat doesn't hurt as much as it did yesterday. I felt like I'd swallowed a nest of fire ants, which is never pleasant.

Anyway, I'm currently home from work and drugged to the gills, viewing the world through a strange, hazy fog of decongestants and lemon tea. We're having the sort of week where I'm probably going to get shit for taking a whole day off,'s not like I would've been that productive anyway:

"Hey, maybe Kathleen can help us!"
"No, she's just sitting in her chair, sneezing miserably and staring off into space."
"Oh. Fuck her, then."
"Yeah, fuck her! Her and her cold. Pffft."

...see, I do this thing where I make up conversations in my head a lot? I guarantee that by tomorrow, I will have convinced myself that this exchange really happened.

An Open Letter

Dear zombie authors and filmmakers:

First of all, I just want you to know that I love you. Okay? I really love you guys, fully and completely, with all of my heart. Not only will I defend your creations to the death, but I will argue for their cultural significance. Zombie fiction is a mirror. It matters. I will never, ever get tired of it.

That said, can we please dispense with the genre blindness already? I think that zombies have enough pop culture clout at this point that, should the dead spontaneously come back to un-life in order to devour the living, everyone has a pretty good idea of what to do. We've all watched the movies, read the books, seen the internet memes. Don't let them bite you. Destroy the brain. Head shots, head shots, head shots. Do you honestly expect us to believe no zombie movies exist anywhere in the fictional universes you create?

It's always the same. People are really, really surprised when the dead start coming back to life, and they spend a rather stupid amount of time trying to figure out how to kill them again. Yes, I have to admit that I'd be more than a little startled if zombies started lurching around Portland, but we should all know how to deal with this problem by now. Go for the brain! THE GODDAMN BRAIN! It takes characters forever to figure this out!

I would also like to take this moment to point out that while I appreciate fresh takes on the genre, like the not-quite-zombies of 28 Days Later or the notion of sentient zombies, I draw the line at zombies that can go invisible (
David Wellington, I'm looking at YOU!). I'm sorry. I just can't deal with that. I like to think I'm a fairly tolerant reader when it comes to suspension of disbelief and whatnot, but even I have my limits.

Seriously, though. Let's have some genre-savvy characters for once, hmm? Think of how much fun that could be! Characters who know exactly what the odds are and what they're up against! Wouldn't that be awesome?

Love always,
A Diehard Zombie Fan

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review: Monster Island

Monster Island, by David Wellington

I finished David Wellington's Monster Island the other day -- I've been on something of a zombie novel kick, which is unfortunate because there isn't all that much for me to choose from -- and...hmm. I'm a little torn on this one. On one hand, I genuinely enjoyed reading it -- it's a pretty quick, engaging read, and Wellington tweaks the typical zombie apocalypse formula in some interesting ways, but there are character inconsistencies up the wazoo and you could drive semis through some of the plot holes. I'll probably read the other two books in the series, simply because the lure of zombies is too much for me to resist, but I'm kind of disappointed with how the whole thing turned out.

Also, it drives me bonkers when writers switch between first and third person POV. Unless you're a fucking great writer, it's jarring as all get-out. Bad Wellington. -2 points for you.

Warning! Spoilers Follow!

Monster Island follows a UN weapons inspector named Dekalb as he arrives in New York with a group of gun-toting sixteen-year-old girls, themselves members of a Somalian people's army. Their warlord and leader has AIDS, and with the world in the grip of the zombie epidemic, she has no way of getting the drugs she needs. Dekalb, who was in Somalia when the epidemic broke out, is summarily dispatched to New York to get the drugs needed for treatment. Unfortunately, New York is completely overrun with zombies, and there's a very good chance Dekalb and his team won't make it out alive.

As setups go, it's painfully thin, and that's because the meat (HA!) of the story is really in what happens once they get into the city proper. The first-person segments are from Dekalb's POV, and they alternate with third-person segments from the POV of a person who had the potential to be the most interesting of the whole book: Gary, a medical student who deliberately turned himself into a zombie in order to escape from becoming food or one of the mindless dead.

Reasoning that the lack of oxygen to the brain during the initial death creates the mindless eating machines we all know and love, Gary hooks himself up to a dialysis machine before he infects himself. When he wakes up again, he's undead and sharp as a tack...and very, very hungry.

The idea of the sentient undead is one of the many cool concepts that Wellington toys with in the book. Equally as cool is the idea that the undead share a hive mind of sorts, which a zombie of above-average intelligence can exploit as he sees fit. Gary, struggling with his place among the living and undead both, connected to this vast network of undead energy without entirely realizing the potential of it, quickly emerges as one of the most fascinating and sympathetic characters of the whole book. He needs to eat raw flesh, but the idea is abhorrent to him. Fearing for what life among the undead will do to his sanity and humanity both, Gary desperately wants to help Dekalb's group and be among the living...but he also fears his own dark urges, and worries about what might happen if can't control himself.

I was really looking forward to seeing how Gary dealt with this struggle, because -- in my mind, at least -- it brought a lot of horror subtext to the surface as text. We find zombies horrifying for several reasons, but the two that stand out the most are a) the loss of the individual into mindlessness, and b) the taboo consumption of human flesh as food. But what if you have a creature that retains a human sense of individuality and personality, yet must also consume raw, living flesh in order to survive? By confronting the idea of a sentient zombie, you also end up confronting the idea of what it means to be "human" -- not in a biological sense, but in a philosophical one. Where is the line between man and monster?

Unfortunately, Wellington doesn't delve into that at ALL, and the character that started off so promising goes the lame, melodramatic route and embraces his inner monster so quickly and fully that he ends up feeling nothing but disgust for the people he'd been so desperate to help not two chapters before. *sigh* And as annoyingly predictable as this development was, I was disappointed mostly because everything started off so well with Gary's character arc. He goes from "please, I can help you!" to "FUCK YOU, DELICIOUS HUMANS!" so fast that it's like he's two different characters entirely. Lame. If I'm going to be given a descent into monstrosity, I at least want it to feel natural. This was just...contrived.

And then there was this whole business with super-strong zombie mummies and whatnot. Really, the middle portion of the book kind of sucked. The first third or so was all awesome setup and worldbuilding and character development, and the final third had some pretty decent human v. zombie action, but that middle bit? Hoooo boy. Didn't work for me at all. I still have no idea what the hell was going on with the all-powerful Celtic bog mummy (...I know. Don't think about it too hard), but I was definitely glad when Wellington finally moved into the third act and left that nonsense behind.

Final verdict? Decent fun and a fast read, with a few intriguing twists on the genre that make it worth a look if you're a hardcore zombie fan. On the downside, the goofy-ass plot makes no sense and the characterization is all over the place, and the author totally squanders the best characters on lame plot contrivances and predictability.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Easter was fun. I did the family thing with my parents and decorated eggs, which is something I haven't done since I was, I don't know, nine. Apparently, some part of me is still nine, because decorating eggs is fucking awesome.

Me: Woo, check this out! Two colors on this sucker! Yeah!
Parents: old are you again?

In other news, I still love dinosaurs and coloring books, and I can't help but giggle hysterically anytime someone says the word "penis". BECAUSE I'M NINE.

Heh, anyway. I'm mildly bummed out that I don't get to see The Boy tonight, since he had to work last night and tonight, and Sunday was Easter. On the plus side, though, the whole "several days interlude" thing means it's always really awesome when I do get to see him, which is how I imagine my cat Ivan feels every day when I get home from work. Because...nine hours is like three days in cat time? I don't know. I suspect he spends most of the day sleeping anyway, so perhaps the whole thing is just an act so I'll give him belly rubs when I get in.

Sneaky beast.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Doomsday? Is one of the most cracked-out movies I've ever seen. It's INSANE. It's a giant, giddy, sprawling mess of a movie that steals liberally from pretty much every other post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian film already made, but it's so much FUN that I didn't give a damn. It has everything you could ever want in a movie: gun fights, car chases, proper action and shit cannibals, deadly plagues, Mad Max villains, boobs, fist fights, tanks, knights, a dystopian government, bad-ass technology, anarchy and chaos, every British accent imaginable...

At one point -- I'm not sure which, but it might've been when the leader of the cannibalistic Road Warrior ripoffs was dancing spastically across a stage to the tune of the Fine Young Cannibals' "Good Thing" -- I leaned over to The Boy and gleefully whispered, "This is the best movie ever."

He grinned at me, wide-eyed and ecstatic, and said, "IT TOTALLY IS!"

And then the heroine got into a sword fight with a hot tattooed chick, and we both made this face for the rest of the movie: 8D!!!

It's funny -- most of the reviews I've seen have been negative, because critics generally hate giant, silly, cracked-out movies that make no fucking sense and rip off everything else in the genre. I, however, maintain that this is exactly why it's awesome. Doomsday is a movie that exists for the sheer love of the sci-fi dystopia, and I fully expect that it's going to end up as a cult movie once it's gone to DVD and people rediscover it lurking there in the shelves. No, the film doesn't make any sense -- afterward, I was trying to figure out where all the gasoline came from for the cars, and my head started to hurt a little -- but it's not the sort of movie that's supposed to make sense. You see it for the cannibals and the fifteen minute long car chase with a Bentley and motorcycles decked out with skeletons, for Malcolm McDowell as the insane leader of a neo-medieval society, for the dudes with mohawks dressed in fetish gear. You see it because it's gloriously over-the-top and doesn't take itself seriously at all, and there's something wonderful and refreshing about that.

I suspect it's one of those "love it or hate it" movies. I love things like Reign of Fire and Army of Darkness and Mad Max, so it would've taken an act of God for me to hate Doomsday. Hee.

P.S. Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good Eats

Food is a big deal where I work. For a while, I thought it was because the partners were incredibly canny, and knew that the best way to win our sheer, unquestioning loyalty was to provide us with an endless supply of free soda, Cheez-its, and goldfish crackers, with birthday cake at the end of each month and sugary breakfast treats on Fridays…but as time has passed, I’ve come to realize that it’s not nearly that complicated. They don’t provide us with delicious goodies because we like it -- they provide it because they like it.

There’s something kind of awesome about that.

Fridays, as I mentioned, are when we get sugary breakfast goodness. Generally, this comes in the form of donuts, although in the past year this has widened to incorporate juice, fruit, chocolate milk, bagels, muffins, coffee cake, and -- on certain glorious days -- hard-boiled eggs. There’s a weird hierarchy to what gets eaten first: eggs, bagels, and the more exotic donuts -- the old-fashioneds, the maple bars, the crullers -- get nabbed first, while it generally takes about half the day for the fruit, the basic donuts, and the coffee cake to go. English muffins last the whole day, usually because someone takes a half-slice at some point and no one wants to eat the other half, and certain donuts never get eaten at all.

These are the strange donuts, the mystery donuts, the ones that always end up in the box even though no one is entirely sure why. These are the sprinkled donuts, the holiday donuts with violently Technicolor frosting, the donuts with odd, unknown filling that everyone is a little afraid to eat. These are the donuts that make everything else look good in comparison: “What, eat the pink one? I...I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just eat this napkin instead. Mmm. Napkin.”

Sometimes, someone actually makes a go of it. They’ll cut one of the reject donuts in half, then in half again, because everyone knows that it doesn’t count if you only eat a quarter. They’ll take a deep breath and bring it to their lips, pop it in, chew, chew some more, and the look on their face will become something out of a Greek tragedy, an expression of unspeakable sadness and regret. The remainder of the reject donut will sit until some poor sugar-deprived soul wanders in and contemplates it -- maybe? maybe? everyone knows it doesn’t count if you only eat a quarter -- and the whole process will begin anew.

No one, however, eats the filled donuts.

Some things are too horrible to contemplate.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Where's Waldo?

You know what? I would pay actual money to see this movie. I'm not sure what that says about me:

Friday, February 29, 2008


Oh, I have such a crush.

It's been a while since I've felt this goofy over someone, and it's been even longer that I've felt this goofy over a boy. I have no idea how it's ultimately going to play out, but I'm enjoying the mystery, the knowledge that even if things don't work -- if he doesn't like me half as much as I like him -- the world isn't suddenly going to upend on its axis or something equally as dramatic.

I mean. It might.

But it probably won't.