Forrest Aguirre, in the Leaves

I am a voracious reader as well as a writer. My tastes are unbounded, though I tend toward the speculative, the esoteric, and the magically real.

Six Memos for the Next Millenium

Six Memos For The Next Millennium - Italo Calvino

Let's start with the fact that Italo Calvino is one of my favorite writers of all time. His crystalline surrealism, easy tone (at least in translation), and whimsical subjects (by which I mean situations and characters, inclusive) are, to me, compelling. To say that I went into this book with a favorable view of the author would be a gross understatement. I absolutely adore Calvino's work.

Now, I am also discovering that I don't really like many books about writing. Moorcock's Death is No Obstacle is, so far as I've read, the best book on writing out there. Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium is a close second. A *very* close second.

What you won't find in this book are lessons on grammar, editorial tips, or the best way to market your book to the masses using obnoxious tactics like going on Goodreads and spamming members when you have not bothered to review more than a half dozen books or looked to see if said members share any kind of interest in books of your type whatsoever . . . sorry, was I using my outside voice when I said that? Silly me.

What you will find here is a peek behind Calvino's magic curtain. You will see that even his explanations about how he does his work are magical. You won't see the nuts and bolts of how Calvino mechanically goes about constructing his stories (though he is very methodical), but you will see a high-level treatise on Calvino's state of mind as he writes. This is a philosophical text cleverly disguised as a book about writing.

The book is divided into five sections. "Five?" you ask. "What happened to the sixth?" The sixth memo is "Consistency," lightly penciled into the handwritten table of contents provided by Calvino at the beginning of the book. In fact, it looks as if it had been written in, then erased, an irony that is as Calvino-esque as anything else I can think of.

The first memo, "Lightness," is the one thing that I struggle with the most as a writer. Here, Calvino is not talking about lightness as it relates to hue, but as it relates to mass. He gives the example from Boccaccio's Decameron, a story in which the Florentine poet Guido Cavalcanti is beset by some men who want to pick a (philosophical) fight with him in a graveyard. 

Guido, seeing himself surrounded by them, answered quickly: "Gentlemen, you may say anything you wish to me in your own home." Then, resting his hand on one of the great tombs and being very nimble, he leaped over it and, landing on the other side, made off and rid himself of them.

Now, call me strange (it's true), but this is something I can sink my writerly teeth into. I can apply this principle of lightness, not because Calvino has given me specific instructions on how to do it, but because he has opened a window for me to stick my head out, look around, take stock of the landscape, and enjoy it. He's put me in the headspace I need to be in to integrate this principle of lightness into my writing.

And so it is with the remaining principles. Of "Quickness," Calvino states:

I am a Saturn who dreams of being a Mercury, and everything I write reflects these two impulses.

And, reading the context of this memo, I know exactly what he means and see that struggle in myself. In fact, this is my favorite quote about writing ever written. But can I take this down to the grammatical level and explain it to someone else? Hardly. I know in my bones what Calvino is saying, but explain it in figures and diagrams, I cannot.

In the section on "Exactitude," Calvino goes to some extent to explain how vagueness can only be properly described, with exactitude. In speaking of the evocative power of words and the importance of using them in the most exact way, he states:

The word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bridge flung over an abyss.

Again, a bit of intuition and reflection is required to really grasp what he is saying. Not because his statement is poorly written, but because this notion is an abstract concept. This "writing book," if one can assign such a banal descriptor to it, requires the reader to think!

Memo four, "Visibility," dwells on the imagination as the impetus for all creativity, particularly the visual imagination. While he acknowledges that literary work might arise from the hearing of a good turn of phrase or from an academic exercise, the majority of such creations arise from a visual cue in the writer's mind. Thus, the need to use exactitude to describe the visual seed of a story or book, which allows the reader to see into the mind of the writer, if but for a moment, and anchors the story in the reader's mind.

"Multiplicity" is the fifth and most inappropriately titled memo. I might have used the word "Nestedness" or even "Complexity" to give the reader a head start, but, hey, it wasn't my book to write. I do feel that this is the weakest section of the book (and Calvino acknowledges as much), as the decision to try to form an all-inclusive novel (meaning: including ALL), is really a question of writerly preference, rather than a universal principle which one ought to apply to writing a novel. Still, Calvino calls on the example of Borges and the Oulipo to demonstrate what is possible in a novel, eve if the pursuit of such a work might not always be advisable.

As a part of this fifth memo, Calvino states his vision of the aim of literature:

. . . the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various 'codes,' into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world.

Unfortunately, Calvino did not live to see the new millennium. He would have been fascinated by the possibilities of hypertext, no doubt, and his memo on multiplicity dwells, in fact, on the need for more open-ended work with several possible endings, a multi-dimensional plot that reaches through various realities (a'la Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths"), and gathers them into one text. He even goes so far as to call his experimental If on a winter's night a traveler a "hypernovel". 

Perhaps, in another reality, Calvino is exploring the infinite possibilities of literature and will one day find his way back to teach us more, like some kind of literary Messiah. In the meantime, he has left Six Memos for the Next Millennium as a travel journal showing the direction he might have gone; inviting us to follow.

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station - China Miéville

I admit to being a bit inured to the "new weird". In fact, I'd say the new weird . . . is getting old. Strangeness for the sake of strangeness has lost a bit of its luster. I've read, and written, plenty of fiction in this vein. That's not to say that it's atrophied in my mind - I still appreciate the bizarre, but some of it has become so self-referential as to be an inadvertent pastiche of itself. The same can be said of the "steampunk" ouvre. I've argued before that the entirety of the steampunk movement is all a bunch of window-dressing with little punk about it. Maybe I'm getting curmudgeonly in my middle age. 

But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy great writing. And this is what we have here, a clear case of fantastic writing . . . to a point. There is too much of a good thing. Unlike many people I know, I like to be forced to reach for the dictionary once in a while. In fact, while reading short stories, I tend to prefer those stories that cause me to reach for the dictionary frequently. But I do sometimes grow tired of the overuse of the same uncommon word again and again.

Years ago, I had put together a short story that I was awfully proud of. I asked Jeff VanderMeer, my co-editor on the Leviathan 3 anthology, if he would indulge me and take a pass through the story. It was very early on in my writing career, really one of the first short stories I had ever completed. Jeff was gracious and took a look at it. 

I've never seen so much red ink on a page. He might as well have painted it with a broad red brush. Jeff had hacked and slain "my baby," . . . and I am grateful for that, to this day. He did an incredibly thorough job of pointing out the problems with this story, and I used it as a sort of reference text for many years, showing what *not* to do in a short story. 

Needless to say, this story has never seen publication. 

One thing that stuck out to me, and that I clearly remember (that paper is buried in my personal archives somewhere now), was Jeff's increasing frustration with my use of the word "myriad," which I used . . . well, a myriad of times (not really, but you get the point). Finally, after having marked the appearance of this word (and it's sometimes-improper usage), he wrote "You have got to stop using that word!" And he was right.

China Mieville has much the same problem in Perdido Street Station. Frankly, his fascination with the word "furtive" got in the way of the story. After the first few times, I found myself actually stopping reading whenever I ran into the word. It would cause me to pause and reread the sentence. It grew in my head, unwanted, till I felt it would explode out of my frontal lobe. I found myself hating that word, and several others like it that were misused or downright abused throughout the text. I swear, if I might just cry the next time I read that word.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I can move on . . . I think . . . 

Perdido Street Station has as much weird as you'll ever need in a book. There are strange, alien creatures, sentient constructs programmed through the use of punch cards, and humans who have been forcibly reconstructed, or "remade" into bizarre agglomerations of human and animal body parts. The technology of the society is based on the harnessing of steam and thaumaturgic energies, and has a decidedly Victorian "feel" to it.

But as I have argued in the article linked above, there really is nothing "punk" about "steampunk" in it's most popular incarnations today. At least I had not seen much in the way of what *I* consider punk (you can beg to differ - in fact, that would be very "punk" of you) in the steampunk movement, outside of aesthetic considerations and trappings.

Until now.

Yes, Perdido Street Station is rife with the nihilistic attitudes that so many people associate with "being punk". But that's not punk to me, or at least that's not the sum total of punk. To me, punk is anarchic, transgressive, smart, witty, and has a strong bent for "making do" with what's at hand. It was a movement that started primarily among the poor before it was co-opted by society at large. It's not about pink mohawks or leather or sneering Billy Idol wannabes. It's about an attitude.

And this book has attitude.

Say what you will about the mildly convoluted plot, the gratuitous use of Deus ex Machina, the absolutely un-necessary introduction of such un-needed elements as the Handlingers, and multiple infodumps (some of which were, it must be admitted, cleverly-disguised and introduced). Yes, the novel has problems. But despite all that, I have to say that this is the most "punk" of the supposed "steampunk" novels, stories, video-games, and movies, that I've encountered.

The street-level political, nay, anarchical sentiment and actions that set the city of New Crobuzon into chaotic motion, are clearly "punk" in their nature. The transgressive relationship between Isaac and Lin is effective in causing the reader to question, almost from the beginning, the prejudices which exist in each of their own cultures, but which they have left behind. The DIY science by which Isaac discovers the secrets of "Crisis energy," smacks of hard science being done on the back cover of a punk zine. In total, this novel is the first that I've encountered that gives due respect to these truly "punk" notions and attitudes.

And though there are several ways to try to encapsulate what Perdido Street Station *is*, I'd argue that one of the more compelling interpretations of the book is that it is, more than anything else, a Baedeker of the city of New Crobuzon, or, possibly, a Baedeker of China Mieville's brain. In this book, the city itself is a character whose moods and whims affect the characters who live within it. Though they can affect the city in some limited ways, ultimately the city contains them, constrains them, and influences their actions. They can fight against the city, but there are always repercussions for doing so. The characters' environment does not fully form them, but it does inform them.

This is why I rate the book, with all it's warts and scars, as highly as I do. Mieville's imagination is a force to be reckoned with. His political convictions and intellectual strength seep through the work (particularly when he is channeling Hofstadter or making a sidelon homage to Foucault, by naming the mayor "Bentham"). But this cleverness seems perfectly natural, rather than a pretentious showing off. Perdido Street Station is not as pretentious as its more "literary" cousins, but it is witty, in a veiled sort of way. A truly . . . punk sort of way.

German/English Simplicissimus?

Does anyone know where I can find a dual-language version of Simplicissimus in German and English? I think I need to read this book, but would like to do so in German with an English cheat-sheet. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Silly Question

So . . . somehow I have two copies of a book on my shelf, a book that I've read and reviewed. How do I remove one of the "copies" from my shelves?

A love child of an author writing in weird fantasy genre

Heraclix & Pomp - Forrest Aguirre

First things first: I need to mention I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.


Heraclix was a golem (actually Frankenstein monster would be a better description) and Pomp is a fairy. The latter being immortal has practically no understanding of time, so her (it?) POV is told in present tense. The unlikely couple barely escaped from an evil sorcerer who created Heraclix and was about to sacrifice Pomp thus forcing the fairy to think about mortality for the first time in her existence.


Heraclix became very curious about the origins of his body parts and he seems to get some glimpses of the lives of people who became his donors, so he decided to travel across the Middle and Eastern Europe currently in turmoil just like our real Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century in search for some answers. The fairy follows him initially out of gratitude and later for much more personal reasons.


The author describes the genre as weird fantasy, but the book is much closer to fantasy than weird. It also contains a big enough mystery part to qualify for this genre. There are some books that display the love with which they were created; this one is one such love child. It also happened to have an interesting plot which while having not prevented me from getting due sleep at night was not boring at any point and kept me reading this book exclusively without any detours.


I was already familiar with author's writing style from some of his short stories I read before; I expected the same high writing quality as in the stories I mentioned and I was not disappointed. This time Forrest Aguirre's demonstrates his good qualifications in storytelling as well.


In the conclusion my rating would be solid 4 stars. I am not sure is there is a sequel planned at this point, but the book works as a standalone just fine.

Dungeon Quest Book One

Dungeon Quest, Vol. 1 - Joe Daly

Beavis and Butthead meet Diablo II, but with brains, in this gonzo-stoner quest starring Millennium Boy, Steve, Lash Penis, and Nerdgirl the Archer. Millennium Boy sets off on an adventure to cure his boredom, while the others join him for no other reason than that they have nothing better to do. Eventually, they find direction from mystic guides and the discovery of portions of artifacts such as the cover dish for the Atlantean Resonator Guitar (found in the sarcophagus of "the infamous pirate, heretic, and sodomite, Mondo Piri") and the Penis Sheath of Disturbance. Hopefully, by now, you've figured out that this book is not for children. If not, put the down the Brometic Pipe of Awareness and the Banky of Swazi Skunk Weed and let *them* do the adventuring. You're probably better off just sitting in your mom's basement playing video games, okay? 

Heraclix & Pomp, the ARCs have landed!

The ARCs for Heraclix & Pomp are here at Casa del Aguirre. Now, fair warning, the cover for the ARC is a little different than the cover for the finished work. It's a hint of things to come. Think of it as readerly foreplay. I've taken some images, which I'll show below, but keep in mind that I'm still working with a dumb-phone with a crappy camera. The central image of the cover is a little faint in the photos, but, hey, it's faint on the real thing, too. Subtle. Dignified. And stuff. You can preorder the book through your local bookstore or, if you don't have a local bookstore, you can preorder the hardcover for 25% off right now at Amazon. Either way, get your copy! Our release date is now October 14, so there's plenty of time, but the book distribution services really like it when people preorder. Still not sure about this whole thing? Go read an early review of the book here and aninterview with yours truly here. If historical fiction and fantasy are your thing, and if you like the writing of Gene Wolfe, I am told that you will really like this book.

Here is the cover:


Sorry for the glare. I'm no photographer!

And here I am, ready to have a look inside:


Note the anticipation!
And here is the . . . WHAT THE. . .?!?!?!?
Oh, heck yeah!! I've got me a collector's item! Sorry, folks, but this copy I'm keeping for my grandkids' college funds! 
Alas, only the title pages, acknowledgements, and copyright page are upside down. Seriously, though. This is cool. And there's only the one! The others are all normal . . . well, as normal as you can get with my fiction. Which makes me . . .
Giddy like a schoolgirl! A schoolgirl wearing a Totenkopf who hasn't shaved for days and whose . . . nevermind . . .

Cover Colors

I've noticed, just now, that i really like books with black or yellow covers. Must have been brainwashed at a young age.


Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas R. Hofstadter

If I were clever enough, I would write this review as a fugue. This is the formal structure that Hofstadter uses throughoutGödel, Escher, Bach. Whether the whole book is a fugue, I'm not smart enough to tell. But the fugue is used as a metaphor for layers of brain activity, thoughts, superimposed over the “hardware” of the brain, the neurons.

In fact, though I would recommend starting at the beginning of the book, I suppose one might begin anywhere and read through and back again, a'la Finnegan's Wake. No, the book isn't designed this way, but considering that I couldn't discern a solid central idea until page 302 of the book, and that this was only one of several theses in the book, I wouldn't be surprised if it proved possible to begin anywhere.

The idea presented there is “To suggest ways of reconciling the software of mind with the hardware of brain is a main goal of this book.”

The question is, does it succeed? 

I would argue that it does not.

And it does not matter.

There are some works, such as Giorgio De Santilliana's Hamlet's Mill or Daniel Schacter's Searching for Memory that are so vast and all-encompassing that it is difficult to pin down one central thesis. These are the kind of works that you might not understand in your lifetime, the thoughts of a genius transposed directly to paper that, unless you are an equally-gifted person or a savant, you cannot hope to fully comprehend. Still, the threads and nuggets of gold that are spread throughout make it worth the time spent in the dark mines of incomprehension, if only to find that one fist-sized chunk of precious metal and appreciate its beauty set against the background of your own ignorance.

As far as I can tell, the book is really about intelligence, both human and artificial. Hofstadter does a lot of preliminary work priming the reader's brain with assumptions taken from theoretical mathematics and computer programming. But don't let that scare you off! I'm no math whiz, but I found most of the logical puzzles at least comprehensible after a few careful reads. Hofstadter also gives the occasional exercise, leaving the reader without an answer to his question. Like all good teachers, Hofstadter understands that the students who work things out on their own are the best prepared students. That doesn't meant that you won't understand many of the book's salient points if you can't successfully answer his questions. You can. But in order to understand the finer points, I suppose one would have to have a pretty good grasp on the answers to those questions.

I don't.

And it didn't matter.

What did matter, for me, was having a little bit of a background in the idea of nested hierarchies and a smidgen of knowledge in non-linear dynamics (aka “chaos theory”). For the former, I'd recommend Valerie Ahl's seminal Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary, and Epistemology . For the latter, just do what you were going to do anyway and look it up on Wikipedia. I won't tell anyone.

The idea of nested hierarchies is central to the understanding of what makes human intelligence different from machine intelligence. The short story is this: human thought is structured from the ground up according to the basic laws of physics, in particular, electricity, because it is through electricity that neural networks . . . well, network. The issue is that the layers interceding between neural electrical firings and human thought are tangled. They are explainable, or ought to be explainable, by a series of “tangled” layers that lead up to the higher functioning of thought. Again, this is one of the central points of the book.

And this is the point where Hofstadter utterly fails.

And it doesn't matter.

You see, Hofstadter never convincingly shows those transitional layers between neural activity and thought, though he claims they must be there. He claims that it should be possible to create an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is every bit as human as human intelligence. The problem is, how do you define human intelligence?

Hofstadter presents the problem like this:

Historically, people have been naïve about what qualities, if mechanized, would undeniably constitute intelligence. Sometimes it seems as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not. If intelligence involves learning, creativity, emotional responses, a sense of beauty, a sense of self, then there is a long road ahead, and it may be that these will only be realized when we have totally duplicated a living brain.

One of the big issues in identifying whether an AI is actually intelligent is the notion of “slipperiness”. The concept here is that human thoughts can deal in a larger possibility space (my words) than machine “intelligence”. Hofstadter quotes from an article in The New Yorker, in which two statements are made that, while possible, would constitute lunacy on the part of anyone who actually believed them. They are:

If Leonardo da Vinci had been born a female the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel might never have been painted.

And if Michelangelo had been Siamese twins, the work would have been completed in half the time.

Then he points out another sentence that was “printed without blushing”:

I think he [Professor Philipp Frank] would have enjoyed both of these books enormously.

Hofstadter comments: “Now poor Professor Frank is dead; and clearly it is nonsense to suggest that someone could read books written after his death. So why wasn't this serious sentence scoffed at? Somehow, in some difficult-to-pin-down sense, the parameters slipped in this sentence do not violate our sense of 'possibility' as much as in the earlier examples.”

This allowable playfulness is something so complex and multi-layered, that an AI would be hard-pressed to correctly parse an “appropriate” reaction.

This is just one case portraying the difficulty inherent in trying to define and understand intelligence and the connection between brain hardware and mind-thought. The book is rife with them. I'm not convinced that Hofstadter was fully convinced that there will ever be a machine so “intelligent” as to completely mirror human thought.

And, one last time, it doesn't matter.

This book has set me to thinking, thinking hard, about what it means to be human. Not merely as an intellectual exercise, but deep in my emotional breadbasket, if you will, I feel human in a way that I can't explain when I think about the difficulty of trying to translate my hopes, fears, love, creativity, wordplay, happiness, sadness, and ambitions into machine language. There has been a lot of talk lately about “singularity,” that moment when machines become self-aware. I'm beginning to think that it will never happen. And I'm fine with that.

Besides, Hofstadter gives an implicit warning when quoting Marvin Minsky, who said:

When intelligent machines are constructed, we should not be surprised to find them as confused and as stubborn as men in their convictions about mind-matter, consciousness, free will, and the like.

In other words, if we do somehow construct true Artificial Intelligence, with the same capacity for thought and feeling as human beings, whose to say the “person” we create isn't going to turn out to be a real douchebag?

Terminator, anyone?

Is Booklikes a Ghost-town? Or: Fishing for Giveaways

I was hoping, in time, to put up a copy of Haraclix & Pomp as a giveaway book on Booklikes. So, being curious, I went to the Giveaways page, entered one myself (that book of chocolate recipes was too tempting to pass by), and started poking around. Of course, if I'm giving a book away, I hope to get it in the hands of a reader who will appreciate it and maybe even review it. So I picked two books at random, an e-book and a hardcover, to see what kinds of readers here at Booklikes sign up for giveaways.


I have a lot of outstanding book-lover friends here, many of us GR refugees (or at least vacationers). I thought I'd peek in to see lots of other book lovers that I don't currently know, all eager for the chance to be that person who is lucky enough to win their desired book (did I mention that chocolate book?). 


Alas, I walked into a ghost town.


The first giveaway, for an eBook, had 45 people signed up to win. As I started to look at profiles, I noticed a pattern: many of these "people" had no blog entries, very few followers, and, most disturbing of all, zero books on their shelves. Zero. In fact, only two out of forty-five users had one or more books on their shelves. Two.


Now, I don't know about you, but, in my eyes, a book lover on a book lovers' site who has no books is an awful lot like a ghost, bereft of life, bemoaning its continued existence somewhere between life and the pallor of death. The buildings were there, but the living were well outnumbered by the dead.


Strange, I thought. So I next looked at the hardcover, for which there were ninety-four people signed up, hoping for signs of life. Here, things were a little more lively. A little over 10% of the inhabitants were still alive. 


Still, that's pretty darned disappointing.


So I'd love to know, where have all these ghosts come from? Are they coming from the ranks of self-promoters who want to make it seem like there's more interest in their books than there really is? Or are these simple freeloaders who sign up for an account just to win books? Or (and I think and hope this is dfalse, but the possibility must be raised) does the Booklikes team need to show continued growth to please investors, so these fake accounts are made up to give a semblence of life where there is none, in the Giveaways section? Or is it that the vast majority of people on Booklikes simply don't know how to add books to their shelves? Not likely, but another possibility.


So where do these ghosts come from? More importantly, what can the Booklikes team do to return this ghoulish graveyard back to the living?

Reblogged from Debbie's Spurts:

Shamelessly reblogged from Debbie's Spurts. This should be a tattoo . . . 


True Story

Reblogged from Derrolyn Anderson:



. . . And Back Again

Since some curious citizens have been asking about the jacket in my latest author photofor Heraclix & Pomp, I am posting a shot of the back of my jacket. Yes, I sewed all of the patches on myself. You couldn't tell by the shoddy stitching?

When I was a teenager, I had a denim jacket (two, actually) riven with patches. Of course, those were patches for Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and the like. Whereas I used to rock, now I geek.

Cthulhu and killer robot . . . what's not to like?

And to prove I'm not lying about my teenage years, that's me in the extreme upper left part of the photo, almost cut in half, senior year . . . this one had a Motorhead and Venom patch on the front, both of which you can barely make out. As you can see, I was at the top of my class . . . bwahahahaha!!! Yeah, right.

The Newest Me

Just sent this new, slightly-more-entertaining-than-the-old-one bio and new, I-look-slightly-older-than-my-last-author-photo picture to my publisher and thought I'd share. Sorry, but you'll have to wait for the book to come out before you see my dedication and acknowledgements!


Forrest Aguirre was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, the son of an Air Force Sergeant. After living in five different countries and roaming the world like a gypsy, he finally settled in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife and four children. He holds a bachelor's degree in Humanities from BYU and a Master's in African History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His short fiction has appeared in over fifty venues and his editorial work has been recognized with a World Fantasy Award. He is best bribed with very expensive dark chocolate, herbal tea, role playing games, books, swords, early modern silver coins, Badgers regalia, and canoes.
PS: Can you spot the H.P. Lovecraft in this picture?

Strange Tales

Strange Tales - Peter Bagge, Paul Pope, Molly Crabapple, John Leavitt

As a child, my primary exposure to comics came from the Marvel stockpile with a sprinkling of DC, Archie, and Richie Rich. Being an Air Force brat living overseas for many of my prime being-brainwashed-by-comics years, I had access to The Stars and Stripes bookstore on base, and not much else. It was only as a teenager that I became aware of such things as independent and/or underground comics. For years, I was forced to "make mine Marvel". 

Now, that's not a bad thing. I really enjoyed Thor, Conan, and anything with Silver Surfer in it. Even after I returned to the states, I collected Defenders for quite some time and even had a subscription to the Star Wars comics and (dare I admit it) The Dazzler. Mom bought me the latter, though I think she was way more enamored of the sparkly mutant songstress than I was, but, hey, it was thoughtful of her. Thanks, Mom!

But like any good thing, familiarity breeds contempt. By the time I was in my middle teen years, I was thoroughly burned out on Marvel and comics in general. I "graduated" to more adult-oriented publications like Epic Illustrated and Heavy Metal. For a long time I didn't seriously read comics at all.

Well, as you can see by my previous reviews, I've jumped back in the game and enjoy several titles, most notably Fatale and The Manhattan Projects.

So what ever happened to Marvel? Let's see, I burned out about the time Secret Wars was tying up. Then I came back to Marvel via the silver screen and discover that the franchise, from the movie side, anyway, has been ripped in twain. So, until contracts change, I won't be seeing Silver Surfer alongside Doctor Strange anytime soon. And that makes me sad. I just haven't had the heart to "make mine Marvel" again.

So what is the most natural thing to do with your idols after your idols have lost their holiness?

Mock them. Mercilessly.

And that's what Strange Tales does. It's as if Marvel got drunk and decided to give permission to a bunch of independent comic writers and artists to abuse their characters and storylines in whatever way they saw fit.

And, boy, did they! From the dark side of Peter Parker's supposed "super powers" to a domestically challenged Bruce Banner/Hulk as a Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde of the singles dating scene (I'm not kidding), the artists herein have stretched, chopped, boiled, and burned Marvel's sacred cows with shameless abandon. Imagine if Stan Lee had hiredThe Onion's staff in some bizarre alternate universe and you get the idea.

Not all of the stories worked for me. One was so abstract as to be incomprehensible. A couple were downright uninspired. But when they hit the nail, they do it with a resounding boom!

My favorite of the bunch was Tony Millionaire's Iron Man. This all-too-short strip harks back to the comic art and comedy of the early 20th-Century, falling halfway between homage and outright ridicule of both Marvel's Iron Man and the comics that preceded him.

If you're a Marvel purist who takes him- or herself too seriously, you're gonna hate this . . .

. . . and that's why I liked it. Not enough to make me get back into Marvel, but enough to justify keeping my distance. Gone are the days of Marvel and DC dominance. And I say, good riddance.

Wiscon 38: May 23-26, 2014, Madison WI

Anyone else going?


edit: I should have noted that I will be part of a panel on "Reclaiming the Golem" on Saturday, May 24 from 2:30 - 3:45 PM. Others on the panel include Eileen Gunn, Jonna Gjevre, and Sally Wiener Grotta. I'm very excited to be participating! Been reading furiously to prepare for this. Panels at Wiscon are always intriguing, intelligent exercises.