A Monster’s Holiday

So what did you do with the end of your December? I tried to please various family and friends while finding the time to read until my eyes fall out or the new semester starts, whichever comes first. So other than getting in as many horror and sci-fi flicks as possible and running around Skyrim killing bandits and stealing stuff, here’s what I’ve been reading. All are recommended at various levels of “this is worth a look” to “this is pretty awesome.”

1.)  Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.I had already read the title essay and

Zombie, Spaceship or Wasteland? Pick one.

expected the collection as a whole to be very strong…its not. There is, however, a bouquet to Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games in general that’s not to be missed. Ok, its less a bouquet more of an epic poem…literally an epic poem… in honor of Oswalt’s favorite character, an Orc assassin that perfectly incarnated his teenage angst.

2.)  Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye. I’ve been on a classic sci-fi kick ever since I read Dan Simmons Hyperion again earlier this year (the Shrike!). The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) deserves your time if you want to see a year 3017 that looks suspiciously like British society on the eve of World War I with interstellar jump drives. Turns out we are stuck with aristocrats and hierarchical social structures a millennia from now.

Despite this depressing human future (and one that Niven and Pournelle seem to endorse rather than satirize) it’s an engrossing story that has the distinction of being one of the first “First Contact” novels. I have literally no interest in the official sequel but am tempted to read an alternate sequel written by Pournelle’s daughter. She’s an archaeologist who seems to have re-imagined her dad’s rather stilted, and very conservative, universe in interesting ways.

3.)  The Devil Wears Nada by Tripp York. A short book, part satire and part reverse roman a clef. York goes on a theological monster hunt that yields, well, disturbing results. I’ll be posting a review of this one here on the blog though its maybe less interesting for horror and sci fi people and more interesting if the weirder margins of theology are your thing. Its certainly not dry…in fact, York is to religion as Hunter S. Thompson was to journalism. This is as close to “gonzo theology” as you’re likely to come across. I like the idea of the book if I’m not always enthralled with the way that York goes after his undeniably loony interview subjects.

I think I have that syllabus somewhere...

4.)  Sad Monsters by Frank Lesser. I love this book, even as it veers between brilliant laugh out loud funny and, well, just kind of silly. If you’ve ever wondered whether Godzilla feels existential angst or how you might draw up a “Living Dead Will,” this is the book for you. My favorite is presented as a faux college lecture called “Learning from Your Teleporter Mistakes” that imagines what an introductory biology class from the scientist who became “The Fly” might be like (hint: he would yell at the students a lot about his “GIANT FLY HEAD”).

5.)  Miriam Forman-Brunnell’s Babysitter: An American History. Did you know that babysitters have been the focus of all manner of cultural angst in American culture? Sure you did. I’m reviewing this one for PopMatters so keep an eye out for my take on this adventure in babysitting and cultural history.

6.)  A giant pile of comics that I had to catch up on reserved for me by my wonderful local shop, Captain’s Comics. My favorites the last couple of months have been Mark Waid’s Daredevil as he becomes more comfortable combining the Man without Fear’s dark side with his modish, lighter side and the new Batwoman series that succeeds at being both supernaturally inclined and politically and culturally interesting. Some of my other regular pick-ups include The Walking Dead, Scott Snyder’s new Batman series and Chew. Oh, and I really like Garth Ennis’ Jennifer Blood. Haven’t read the latest Scalped yet. I’m loving the art and the writing for B.P.R.D. though the extended narrative “Monsters” arc has really lost me.

7.)  Read a hugely interesting book called The Dharma of Star Wars, an exploration of the

Read this book you must

teaching of Buddhism implicit in the Saga. It’s not simply the opportunistic analysis it may sound like. Its basically a smart and nerdy writer reflecting on the series he clearly loves in relation to Buddhist teaching about mindfulness, meditation and, you know, other spiritual stuff. If you liked Jana Riess’ wonderful What Would Buffy do?, you’ll love this.

8.)  Speaking of which, I’m reading Riess’ book right now. Riess explores the spiritual themes in the story of the Slayer and anyone interested in religious themes in popular culture should pick this one up.

If you share Buffy’s view of religion (“Note to Self: Religion Creepy”) don’t worry about Riess turning our favorite your favorite franchise into a series of sermon illustrations. Like the show, the book is free of metaphysical speculation and focuses instead on the concept of a spiritual path defined by self-sacrifice and mindfulness of one’s own death. And, best of all, if spirituality holds no interest for you at all, you’ll still learn a lot about the show and explore its depths in a new way. Riess knows and loves her Buffy and I enjoyed thinking about the show with her as I read the book. Highly, highly recommended.

WWBD? Maybe kick your ass. And teach you about accepting your own death, the tension between friendship and independence, and the role of compassion in spiritual practice. And then kick your ass some more.

Coming up, I’ll be reading Jay M. Smith’s apparently brilliant Monsters of Gevaudan: The Making of a Beast, a historical study of the events behind The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Also, got Mark Harris’ Pictures at the Revolution as a gift from my mom-in-law and am looking forward to thinking about the year in movies, 1968, and how it changed our cultural landscape.

Finally, I am very excited about Sheri Holman’s new novel Witches on the Road Tonight. Can’t wait to get lost in the book and to devote some blog space to it as well.

Hey, I watched Alien over the break and ALL of the Star Wars prequels in one night (“The Night of the Jar Jars” I’m calling it). More on what that was all about in my next post.  I also plan to see The Devil Inside soon after it premiers and give you some thoughts on exorcism and American culture.

Speaking of The Devil Inside, lets watch the red band trailer

It’s the movie “the Vatican doesn’t want you to see.” Except that they probably do want you to see it since conservative religious traditions often receive a net gain from popular exorcism movies.

See you soon and pick up Monsters in America. Send me some questions about it or comments on it for the January Monsters Mailbag.

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