Review: A Hundred Thousand Worlds, Bob Proehl

Bob Proehl’s book A Hundred Thousand Worlds is not RPF, but RPF resides in its bones. Valerie Torrey is a Gillian Anderson analogue who is taking her son Alex across the country to meet his estranged father Andrew, who stars in a show that sounds strangely similar to Californication. Along the way she stops at various cons, signing autographs and answering questions about her stint on a show called Anomaly, where she met Andrew in the first place.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds

There also feature analogues of Gail Simone and Ed Brubaker and Alan Moore and a range of other comics lights, which if you know comics you may successfully puzzle out and if you do not then you are probably fine to read the book anyway, although you may wonder why we are spending so much time with this Gail character away from the primary mother-son relationship we care about.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds is wonderful in many ways, chief amongst them being its affectionate, clear-eyed depiction of fan cultures and the many worlds of geekery. It’s trying to be a lot of things, and it succeeds better at some than others: Interstitial chapters reveal the “origin stories” of real, fictional, and semi-fictional characters within the world of the book, which gets old quickly. On the other hand, Val’s bedtime ritual of telling Alex a (lightly or heavily edited) synopsis of various episodes of Anomaly works brilliantly as a means of building their relationship, the world Val comes from, and Proehl’s vision of raising a geeky kid. It made me want to tell my own nephew stories from my favorite television shows when he gets a little older.

How right you are, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

BUT. While Proehl takes exceptional care in depicting the worlds of geekery, the same cannot be said of his depiction of mental illness. Halfway through the book (spoilers), you learn that when Alex was a toddler, a deranged fan (who also happened to be sleeping with Andrew) shot and killed the Anomaly showrunner’s wife. The book refers to her only as The Woman until the very end, when a reporter shouts out the news that she has killed herself. The few bits of dialogue we get from her are all like this:

You’re her. But you’re older. Are you from the future? Are we in the future now? I’ve wanted so much to talk to you. To tell you how sorry I am. Or I was. Has it happened yet? I think it’s happened for me already and you were younger then. It all feels present. . . . I’m here and I’m talking to you but also right now I’m shooting her. Because if you can’t tell if it’s future or past, then it’s right now. It all happens at once, all the time.

In other words, crazy-person dialogue written by someone who’s never spoken to (or been) a crazy person, in the mouth of a character who receives no interiority or even the courtesy of a name (until she completes suicide). If an author wants to portray a violent mentally ill person, then fine, proceed with caution; but Proehl appears to have taken absolutely no care with this character, and so of course her portrayal reinforces toxic stereotypes about mental illness and violence.

Also, the book mixes up metonymy and synecdoche. Try harder next time.

Fantastic Girls and Gilmore Beasts: A Links Round-Up

Happy Friday, team! It is a grumpy Friday for me because I have to work tomorrow, but I struggle on in spite of everything. Stay brave, friends, and have a wonderful weekend.

It’s not too late to ask me and Whiskey Jenny to pick out books for you to buy your loved ones this holiday season! Fill out our holiday gift guide form and you’ll received personalized gift recommendations on our December 14th podcast.

Rebecca Traister is a writer I’ve come to really respect, and her piece on blaming Trump on the people who fought the hardest against him is fantastic.

Also, here’s Rebecca Traister again and the equally fantastic Rembert Browne talking about moving forward with anger and/or optimism in the age of Trump.

What books were some of this year’s most awesomest writers thankful for? Buzzfeed has your list.

The state of Harry Potter fandom in the conflicted age of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

And speaking of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw has some thoughts about queer subtext in that movie and queer-coded villains.

The Merriam-Webster social media team speaks out about their on-point Twitter game.

Long story short, I always thought that Gilmore Girls was problematic and that the Gilmore girls were assholes (but I also love it!), so I’m really enjoying all the thinkpieces that have come out lately reading the revival for filth on those very points.

Also Maddie Myers is one of my fave critics these days, and she has good things to say about the Stars Hollow musical and what a jerk Lorelai is about it. (Lorelai Gilmore is a jerk, pass it on.)

On myths of racial determinism and books like Hillbilly Elegy.

Look up, please: Y’all, this is what I’m talking about. If you witness something like this happening, tell the person to stop. It will suck, but nobody else will do it if you don’t. Be that person.

A history of the concept of political correctness.

On the dearth of famous black writers in sci-fi.

The Atlantic has been doing Trump Time Capsules, but stopped when the election was over. Here’s what they have to say on the future of time capsules.

JK Rowling Does What She Wants: A links round-up

Emily Asher Perrin (writer of the superb Harry Potter Reread series on Tor.com) has some thoughts on JK Rowling’s constant expanding of the Harry Potter universe, and most of them are also my thoughts, so go see what you think.

The controversial Professor Bhaer: An investigation in five parts at the Paris Review.

Bros writing about southern food (& why it should be more ladies), over at a website I newly love, The Bitter Southerner.

This piece by Kiese Laymon about Bill Cosby and minimum standards of human decency is so, so good.

The stories you have the right to write, and building a new canon.

“Yes We Need Diverse Books. But that doesn’t always mean that we want YOU to write them.” Ellen Oh on the hip new trend of diversity, and the important work of promoting books by diverse authors.

“I Met a Sex Monster”: The Toast recaps “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”

bell hooks chats to Emma Watson, and it’s as adorable as you are imagining. Maybe even adorabler.

Christy of A Good Stopping Point has converted her great-great-grandmother’s journals into a blog! Stop by and check it out!

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

The #HamAlong Can’t Wait to See You Again

Confession: When I was reading the lyrics to the last few songs of Hamilton to decide on a post title, I teared up. I could hear Philippa Soo’s angel voice in my head, and I am not made of stone.

This section served up a whole bunch of things that broke my heart into tiny pieces, and I guess I might as well just lay them out for y’all so you can be heartbroken too.

Feeling poorly, Kent retired early to bed. Anxious about his guest, Hamilton tiptoed into his room with an extra blanket and draped it over him delicately. “Sleep warm, little judge, and get well,” Hamilton told him. “What should we do if anything should happen to you?”

I don’t know if I’ve told y’all this, but nothing wins my heart like people putting blankets on other people to make sure they aren’t cold.

In the lead-up to the duel, Hamilton’s son James asks his father to look over a speech he’s writing, and this is what Hamilton tells him:

“My dear James,” Hamilton began, “I have prepared for you a thesis on discretion. You may need it. God Bless you. Your affectionate father, A.H.”

HamAlong
Super weird advice from our guy A. Ham.

And finally, I wrote “heart is stabbed tho for real” in my notes when I got to this bit:

While reading the scene in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in which the tenderhearted Uncle Toby picks up a fly and delicately places it outside a window instead of killing it, Burr is said to have remarked, “Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.”

HamAlong

The whole scene of Alexander Hamilton’s death is really, really hard to read. You know how Alexander Hamilton could sometimes be the sweetest human man? Well, that’s what he was up to throughout the days of being on his deathbed. I kept wanting to stop reading, except stopping reading wouldn’t have stopped Alexander Hamilton from dying tragically young.

As we reach this the final day of #HamAlong, I want to give an infinitude of props both to Ron Chernow for creating this monumental biography (overpartial to its subject though it is), and particularly to Lin-Manuel Miranda for creating out of it a piece of art that gives stunning immediacy to the story of this long-dead genius and his life at a time in history that we all feel we already knew.

HamAlong

Thanks for Hamilton, dude. That’s a pretty fucking incredible thing you made.

And now, with thanks once again to the fabulous Alice for hosting, I will just toddle off to weep in a corner over how great Eliza was and how unfair it is that she had to live for fifty years without her beloved husband at her side. SOB.

#BBAW: Book Recommendations

Today is the hardest topic of all the topics for Book Blogger Appreciation Week (hosted, again, by me and Ana and Andi and Heather, over at the Estella Society); or I should say rather, the very easiest. To wit:

Day 3 What have you read and loved because of a fellow blogger?

What haven’t I read and loved because of a fellow blogger? Before blogging, my reading life was on its way to becoming a tragic wasteland. I had exhausted the recommendations of my friends and relations and was reduced to — this is not a joke — examining college syllabi for various English classes, under the assumption that they would contain recommendations for New Classics.

Since then, all my newly acquired favorite authors have been by way of fellow book bloggers, and I am basically dead from gratitude. Perhaps I would one day have discovered Helen Oyeyemi, because she wins the prizes and is a literary darling (in a minor way); but who can say if ever I would have discovered some of the, for instance, YA authors that I now cherish? Maggie Stiefvater, Kekla Magoon, Patrick Ness? Would I only have discovered them when movie adaptations of their books were made?

Not to mention (but oh, I shall mention it) the curating of comic books done for me by my fellow book bloggers! Where would I have learned which Marvel comics to read? Would Paper Girls be on my TBR list now? (Doubtful.) Would I know about the Tamakis? Princeless? WOULD I?

Stop by the Estella Society to see what else people have been reading because of other book bloggers! And as usual, I love you all. Kisses!

 

NB, Tulum: A Links Round-Up

Happy Friday, everyone! I have had a stupid week and am psyched for it to be over! So here are some links, as ever, for your delectation and delight.

First and most importantly, Book Blogger Appreciation Week is NEXT WEEK. I’ll be hosting a Twitter chat on Tuesday at 9 PM EST, and the blogosphere at large will be squeeing about our love for each other all week long. Don’t miss it.

#BBAW

I admit this has nothing to do with anything, but Caity Weaver’s GQ profile of Justin Bieber is magic.

It’s unsettling to share a personal story, or ask a long-winded question, and be met with Justin Bieber’s silent, cool-eyed stare the entire time you’re talking. Justin Bieber makes eye contact like a person who has been told that eye contact is very, very important.

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is a fantastic blog that you should be following if you’re not already. Here she is on Aubrey Beardsley’s weird, attenuated illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s weird, attenuated play Salome.

Survey says: Publishing is super white. Dit dit dit. Alert the presses to this breaking news.

An interview with Frances Hardinge, author of The Lie Tree which DAMMIT I still haven’t read. It looks sooooooo goooooooood.

Why you can mash up Hamilton with litrally anything.

So, I am perfectly willing to believe, if given sufficient reason to do so, that multiple regression analysis is a garbage statistical method. On the other hand, this reads like Mickey Rooney in his latter years so I have grave concerns about its validity. THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH NOT KNOWING EVERYTHING.

Elif Batuman on passing for Muslim in Turkey.

NPR’s Code Switch compiles a round-up of responses to Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance and new video “Formation.”

Rebecca Solnit on the CDC’s alcohol recommendations for women and the men who are missing from the narrative.

Jessica Jones, Episode 3: AKA It’s Called Whiskey

What’s that you say? It’s time to talk about Mike Colter now? YES OKAY.

Up to now, we’ve mostly seen Luke Cage in a state of chilly calm, whether he’s offering Jessica free drinks or fussing at her for sending cops his way. And don’t get me wrong; Mike Colter is amazing at chilly calm. But in “AKA It’s Called Whiskey,” he and Jessica are getting to know one another, and it’s fun to see both of them a little more relaxed and getting to know each other. Mike Colter’s cheekbones are just really really on point.

AKA It's Called Whiskey
mmkay will try not to then

Plus, how often do we get a smile this genuine out of Jessica? It’s nice, right?

AKA It's Called Whiskey

If Mike Colter’s considerable charisma weren’t enough to get me excited for the Luke Cage show (it is), and if I didn’t care that Alfre Woodard is also in it and it’s got a black showrunner (I do), the fact that his superpowers are the result of an experiment would do it. If I’m very, very good and eat all my spinach, can the Luke Cage show please, please, pretty please be as incisively critical of America’s history of medical exploitation of black bodies as Jessica Jones has been of rape culture?

Sadly, their chemistry/true love isn’t meant to be, because the picture in the medicine cabinet is of his dead wife, and flashbacks reveal to us that Jessica — under Kilgrave’s influence — is the one that killed her. By the end of the episode, Jessica realizes how messed up this all is, and breaks things off with Luke Cage. Good call, Jess. I mean, a better call would have been NOT GODDAMN SLEEPING WITH HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE, but I understand we’ve moved past the point where that was a possible outcome.

Speaking of medicine and black folks, Jessica’s still on her quest to score some sufentanil.

AKA It's Called Whiskey
Your daily reminder that Trish is the best.

And on this quest, she does the purely shittiest thing we’ve seen from her so far: She makes it look like Malcolm (remember him? her peanut-butter-loving junkie neighbor?) has attacked a hospital nurse in order to create a distraction that will allow her to swipe the anesthetic. Dude, come on. You couldn’t think of literally anything else that would create a comparable distraction?

AKA It's Called Whiskey
YES. AND NOT IN A FUN WAY, EITHER.

(Oh, before she does that, she tries to get Jeri’s wife Wendy to score her some drugs. Wendy doesn’t believe the story Jessica’s telling her about Kilgrave, and she writes her a prescription for an antipsychotic. Which — dick move, Wendy? And also, I’m pretty sure it’s unethical to write prescriptions as a punchline?)

Jeri — sharky lawyer that she is — uses Trish’s radio show to put out a call for more Kilgrave victims without making it seem like she believes in mind control. Smart, Jeri. When she ridicules the notion that Hope was telepathically controlled, Trish completely loses her temper and talks all the shit about Kilgrave that she can before Jessica stalks into her recording booth to break her microphones.

Trish: So he gets to run around, destroying lives, destroying your life, and I have to just sit here and shut up?

I mean, yeah, sort of, hon. But I love that you’re this pissed off about it. A running theme in Jessica and Trish’s relationship is that Trish is the one who truly wants to be a hero, and Jessica’s the one who’s actually equipped to do it. When Kilgrave, inevitably, sends a brainwashed cop to kill Trish as a punishment for her mouthiness, Trish fights like absolute hell, but Jessica still has to show up to rescue her. (Poor Trish.)

Thinking fast on her feet like she do, Jessica convinces the cop he’s killed Trish, slips Trish’s phone (which has a tracking app) into his pocket, and then tracks him to his rendezvous with Kilgrave.

AKA It's Called Whiskey
Finally getting a look at him! Kilgrave!

The full flashback happens with Luke Cage’s wife now. Kilgrave told Jessica to “take care of her,” and Jessica punched Luke Cage’s wife so hard that some combination of the punch and the fall killed her. Then, as Kilgrave called her back, Jessica continued to walk away from him. So it seems that Jessica has at least some measure of resistance to Kilgrave’s compulsion powers?

Though she’s now armed with the sufentanil, Jessica has to put off drugging Kilgrave in order to stop the poor Kilgraved cop from jumping off a roof. Then she has to fight off, but not kill, the three residents of the house where Kilgrave’s been staying, all of whom have instructions to stop her from following him. When they’re finally all unconscious, Jessica finds a large room that absolutely plastered with recent photographs of her. It is truly the murderiest of murder walls.

AKA It's Called Whiskey

Next time, we’ll be dealing with the fallout of this time, particularly with how it’s affected Trish. (Trish!) And also with the question of who the hell’s been taking all those photographs.

Jessica breaks things: A pane of glass in her apartment, while sexing Luke Cage (so that one’s on both of them!). Luke Cage’s bedframe, also while sexing (ditto). Trish’s recording equipment, to stop her from badmouthing Kilgrave on air. The new lock on her newly-repaired door. Luke Cage’s heart a little bit. A bunch of miscellaneous items in the house where Kilgrave’s staying, as she fights off its brainwashed occupants.

Drinking game rules: Drink for super-obvious product placement! Such as Jessica’s Acer laptop. (This is a universal drinking rule in fact. Except maybe don’t do it when you’re watching Jane the Virgin, because I don’t want you to ruin your liver.)

Jessica, private-investigating: “He teaches in the biology department, or chemistry, I don’t know, is biochemistry a thing? I don’t know which one, it’s science.”

Racism, Pakistan, & Jane Austen: Nonfiction Reading Round-Up

Although my reading project for not being a dumb American is only about Africa, I do read other nonfiction books that I don’t tell you about. Ordinarily I let it slide past without comment, but as I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately (a mood came upon me!), I thought I’d share some of my findings.

Finding the First: Pakistan is an acronym.

“But Jenny why didn’t you know that already? Everyone knows that!” you may say. To which I have no response but embarrassment. I also only recently learned that scuba is an acronym. It was a weird acronym-y week, that week.

Because yes! As originally proposed, Pakistan was to stand for the proposed territories it would contain: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and BaluchisTAN. (I know; the last bit’s lame.) Then somebody noticed that if you tossed an I in the middle of that, it would mean Land of the Pure in Urdu, so they ran with it.

Midnight's Furies

Everything else I learned from Nisid Hajari’s Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition was horribly depressing. For our purposes here, I’ll just say that although this sounds like bullshit colonialism, legitimately it seems to be true that rushing to independence before the structures to support independence are in place is an awful, awful idea. Cf. Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is my working hypothesis and I will keep you posted on how it stands up to further scrutiny going forward.

Finding the Second: We should bring back mourning attire.

Not, I mean, like not fully. John Mullan’s excellent What Matters in Jane Austen takes up twenty rather unexpected questions about how Jane Austen signals information in her books and what that means, and one of them is “Who dies in the course of her novels?” Very few people, is the answer, but another part of the answer is that while not many deaths occur in the course of her novels, the presence of death and mourning attire is omnipresent.

The relief of [recovery from illness] is something that we can hardly feel any more. it gives us some idea of how our usually comfortable distinction between trivial and serious ailments was much less secure.

I don’t think people should wear only black for a year after their loved one dies. But if maybe we could have something, some outward sign that you could choose to wear if you wanted to that would say I am not okay, handle with care. I know the answer is that we should treat everyone as if their spouse just died, but, you know what? I am not a saint and I cannot be nice to everyone 100% of the time, and neither can you, so let’s talk real with each other about it.

What Matters in Jane Austen

Finding the Third: I need to read a nonfiction book about what it’s like to be a Mormon missionary. Someone like Marilyn Johnson or Alexandra Robbins should hop on that, because I think it would be amazing.

Edited by Stephanie Wu, The Roommates collects stories of awful roommates, which is as fun as you’d imagine. But also, it’s clear that Stephanie Wu just asked all her friends to ask all their friends if they had any good roommate stories. The diversity is . . . not so much. My favorite story was about the narrator’s Mormon mission year, and it made me want a book about Mormon missionaries and their lives. Let’s make it happen.

Finding the Fourth: Literally everyone in all of American history (except Ida B. Wells) was terrible. Ida B. Wells is maybe the only human in the history of this nation who wasn’t hot garbage.

Jabari Asim’s book The N Word has the subtitle Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why, which sounds like it’s a more sociological take on the word. That would have been fascinating, but Asim does something that’s (maybe?) even more fascinating, which is to contextualize the n-word historically. He goes through the ways it was deployed in science, arts, and culture from before the Civil War up to the present day.

The N Word

It’s a really good book, and Asim is a thoughtful critic of culture and history. If you can tolerate a full-length book of everyone being terrible, this is a good one to go with.

Correct assessment.

This has been some of the nonfiction I’ve been plowing through recently. I will return you to your regularly scheduled fiction programming hereafter.

Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett

What a strange, ambitious book Elysium is. Per usual, specfic is where writers are doing interesting things with gender, and it’s no surprise that Elysium ended up on the honor list for last year’s James Tiptree Jr. Award, which exists specifically to honor specfic writers who do interesting things with gender.

The main characters are always Adrian(ne) and Antoine(tte), with some additional side characters, most notably Helen/Hector. Their identities are constantly shifting, so that in one moment, Adrianne is watching Antoine fall out of love with her, and in the next moment — via a shift in a computer code — Adrian is caring for Antoine, his dying lover. The constant is the loss: Adrian(ne) is perpetually trying to hold onto Antoine(tte), and always losing him/her.

If Elysium sounds confusing, well, it is a bit, particularly at the start. But Bissett has a knack for the image cluster and the callback. One storyline recalls another, even though one may take place in a Roman-inflected Handmaid’s Tale-ish gender dystopia, and the next in a prison camp where the invading aliens keep their humans. Elysium travels a long and circuitous road between a recognizable Earth and a future in which the humans have been utterly conquered (or have they?), and it’s to Bissett’s credit that she makes it feel cohesive.

THAT SAID.

In one of the storylines, Adrian has been committed to a madhouse, and fellow inmate Hector is trans. It’s problematic. Adrian, who retains some batsqueak memories of versions of his life where Hector is Helen, refers to Hector as “Helen,” for which Hector is monumentally grateful. Ultimately, Hector stays behind to hold off the zombie alien creature things (presumably to the death), in order to give Adrian and his brother Antoine time to escape. The reason why (Hector says) is “because [Adrian] saw the real me.”

Gag.

Brissett wrote a post called “In defense of Hector/Helen”, which you may read for further context. It didn’t address my particular concerns. To say Hector/Helen isn’t all trans people is disingenuous: When the only trans person in the book dies a heroic sacrificial death to save two cis characters, it plays into the “danger of a single story” that Brissett mentions.

Cis women do not write a trans character in a vacuum. There is context. There are harmful traditions. Be better.

Book Punks loved the book more than I did, while having some of the same concerns about this Hector plotline; likewise Ana of the Book Smugglers.