The Infernal Battalion (No Spoilers)

I’ve written briefly about Django Wexler’s series the Shadow Campaigns. It was a book I picked up one day in Powell’s because the cover looked dope. I poured through if over a couple days and was immediately hooked on the series.

Last week I finished the final book in the series: The Infernal Battalion. It was an excellent conclusion to an excellent series and you should absolutely pick up the first book.

The pitch: it’s a fantasy story set in the nineteenth century. Flintlock rifles and cannons dominate the theater of war. Our story begins in the country of Khandar where an army known as the Colonials have been stationed. The country of Khandar hides much beneath it’s great deserts, and a man shows up to take control of the army, and seek a dangerous relic—the Thousand Names.

Fuck—I just like, re-psyched myself up for the first book.

But instead, the last book, The Infernal Battalion.

What Django always does is set the tone and the direction of the book in a clear manner, and within the first couple chapters. This might sound obvious, books need these things, but his books never speak at length and they never stray away from the central premise.

Many of the books I read fancy themselves grand fantasies that plan on unraveling their many threads over the course of several books, and it leaves some of the middle books far weaker than others because they were a holdover—a book meant to connect threads and fill space. But not Django’s—he writes grand fantasies, but still remembers that each book needs to be a useful, interesting read. The Infernal Battalion was the conclusion to his grand fantasy, while being it’s own book on contrast to the others. It had it’s own story you followed along, but it also wrapped up threads from three or four books ago.

I love each individual character and I can tell you at length who they are and why. They feel real. I was deeply invested in their arcs! It was so weird to think back to the first book and see where they started. Winter Ihernglass in the deserts of Khandar, serving under captain Marcus d’Ivoire. They meet Janus bet Vhalnich, the strange but brilliant man sent to Khandar to bring the conflict to a close. From these three we rapidly meet an ever growing cast of characters, each important to the story and fleshed out in due time. And no single character goes to waste! As the last book progresses you see that nearly each character, no matter how small, ends up having a role to play in how it all comes to a close.

So many times I was just mouth agape as I realized that this nobody character isn’t even just useful but things would not have been the same without them. Django is a mastermind of story—he plots the courses for his books with the reader in mind as much as the story. He knows how to subtly let characters fall from your mind and then brings them back just as you were forgetting they were players.

This book stressed me out—and it’s so damn satisfying! Django knows not to let death and sacrifice become common place. Django knows a very dangerous secret: if he wants us to feel sad that someone is gone we need to love them first. The winding and dangerous journeys the characters go on left me guessing until very nearly the end. Nothing is sacred, and it makes the ups really powerful, and the downs really meaningful. You can’t help buy play into his hands as you desperately reach for the comforts of cliche, but then he wrenches it away from you with situations far more real than you were ready for.

The same feeling can be said about the story itself! Each book is it’s own book, but you begin to look back and it feels like the first book was a decade ago. You think to yourself, “this story used to be so much smaller,” but you realize that you never even noticed anything changed. It’s all one story, but deftly cut up into five, deeply satisfying books.

There isn’t a lot more I can say without talking about the plot of the book. But I’ll tell you now—if you enjoy military fantasy, demons and magic, and really deep, lovable characters (and their sex lives)—you need to read these books.

—DTM

Avoiding a Reading Hangover

So we are three weeks into 2018 and I am currently on my fourth book of my fifty book goal. Needless to say, I have been reading a lot these past few weeks.

This isn’t anything new for me. When I was younger, I would read for hours and hours and hours and never get bored. I’m even considered an excessive read by my family’s standards and we come from a family of avid readers. Don’t you agree, Daniel? Am I not the craziest reader of our clan?

Anyway, there have only been a few times in my life when I’ve experienced reading burn out. Most of those instances were in college when I was required to read so many text books that by the time I was done with my homework, all I wanted to do was stare at the wall and not think. The latest instance of reading burn out I experienced was two days ago when I finished the second book in The Expanse science fiction series, Caliban’s War. I started the book on Friday and, after a few marathon reading sessions, finished it on Tuesday. That’s about 100 pages a day and apparently that was enough to leave me feeling pretty drained on Wednesday.

Wednesday night I pulled out It Devours, the newest Welcome to Nightvale novel, and had every intention of starring it, but just couldn’t find the energy. My brain just could not take it. I ended up playing a mindless phone game and watching Netflix, something simple and not requiring a whole lot of thought.

In retrospect, this past week I forgot to follow my rules for avoiding reading burn out, or what I like to call a reading hangover. I call it this because I basically use the same rules to avoid it that I use to avoid a real hangover.

Rule #1: Pace yourself

Five beers in one hour equals a massive hangover. Five beers over five hours not so much. Same rule applies for books. Don’t rush through and make sure to give yourself breaks. This isn’t a race.

This also means that, once I’ve finished a book, I’ll usually wait to start the next one until the next day. I usually need a night to relax and let my mind digest what it read, otherwise I burn myself out.

Rule #2: One kind at a time

When I drink, I try to stick to one type of alcohol. If I’m drinking beer, I try not to mix it with whiskey or wine or vodka because I know my system will get all jumbled and I’ll be sick the next day. When it comes to reading, I have the same philosophy. One book at a time otherwise I’ll get all jumbled.

Rule #3: Seek out some variety

Sometimes I’ll get used to a beer. If I’ve had the beer enough times, I’ll stop tasting the alcohol and will suddenly be able to drink a bunch and not feel drunk. Well, I may not feel drunk, but I’ll still get the hangover. When I read, I like to bring a little variety into my selections. If I’ve just read a horror novel, I’ll read a fantasy novel next. I need to make sure I’m still engaged with the content, otherwise it becomes easy to forget what I’m doing and burn out.

Well this week I forgot to follow my own rules and yesterday I paid for it. Hopefully this evening I’ll feel well enough to actually pick it up again.

-EMS

 

Lowering the Bar for 2018

 

Let me just say that I’m super proud of you, Daniel. You did so many cool things this past year and listening to you talk about everything you achieved inspires me to do more with my time.

While you did achieve a lot of what you wanted to do this past year, I feel like I barely did anything. I had some lofty goals at the beginning of 2017, including running a half marathon and teaching myself calligraphy. Did any of that happen? Well, I did read forty books, which is pretty cool. Still feel like I could’ve done more, ya know?

This year I’m going to set goals for myself again, but instead of creating incredibly lofty goals, I think I’m going to keep mine simple. Some may call this lowering the bar, I call this celebrating the little steps I can take to help me reach my incredibly lofty goals.

Here are my incredibly simple, straightforward goals for 2018.

Read more books.

This past year I read a lot and I’ve told myself a couple times that, in 2018, I’ll push myself and read 60 books. Well, we’re only five days into 2018 and I already feel like that goal is too high. I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure by dedicating myself to five books a month.

So, instead, my goal is just to read more. I’d like to read 50 books, but as long as I match what I read last year, I’ll be happy.

I also want to read more horror novels by women and people of color. I realized over this last year that a lot of my favorite authors are white guys, which is just sad. I’m not saying Stephen King and Jack Ketchum and Joe Hill aren’t good writers, I just want there to be more diversity in the books I read. And the only way to make things more diverse is to actively try to make it so. I can’t just hope more women and people of color get popular, I need to work for it. If I just keep reading horror novels with great reviews, I’m going to read a lot of stuff by white guys. I want to give other people a chance.

Watch less Netflix.

Now when I say watch less Netflix, what I actually mean is I need to stop using streaming services to “fill time.” More often than not, I’ll spend a few hours on the couch watching something I’ve seen a million times just because it’s comfortable. It’s safe, in a way.

My goal for 2018 is to do that less. I don’t just want to fill time, I want to enjoy my time and I can do that by only using Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Youtube to watch things that I actually want to watch. Stop re-watching the same things over and over and broaden my viewing horizons a bit. There are thousands of horror movies I haven’t seen and yet I’m re-watching Roseanne. Sad. 

Save money.

This has literally been goal of mine since I graduated college. I just need to save more money so I don’t end up going into debt every time a big bill hits. To help me achieve this goal, I’m going to try to do less retail therapy. I need to stop spending money on things just because I can. Now, I can still buy things I want, but only if I really want them and not because I need to “treat myself.”

I also want to spend less money on beer that’s just for me. I like craft beer because it’s something I can share with my friends. It’s an experience! Well, it’s not an experience when I’m sitting at home watching a movie by myself and drinking a beer I’ve had millions of times before. Basically, I sometimes treat beer like I treat Netflix. I spend my money on beer I’ve had before because it’s safe, not because I’m enjoying it. Of course, I’ll still buy beer for myself once in a while, but I don’t need to be spending $60 a month on Black Butte Porter. I could be spending that on stuff I’ve never had before!

Write more.

Again, this is literally a goal I’ve had since the dawn of time. I just want to write more.

In middle school, I wrote every single day and I had notebooks full of fanfictions and funny stories and poetry. Nowadays, I write like once a week and it’s not because I’m passionate about something, it’s more because I feel obligated.

Well, guess what, if obligation is what gets me writing then I’m going to need more of it.

What I specifically want to do is set up a writing schedule for myself and stick to it. No more of this waiting for inspiration or to feel passionate about it bull crap. That doesn’t work anymore. I need to change up my tactics.

Now, my goal is to write a novella and maybe a book of poetry by the end of the year, but that goal comes later. Right now, my goal is just to write more than once a week and to start writing things for myself rather than for work.

Take time for education.

Like I said in my last post, I work at an institution that gives its employees access to college level courses for $5 and yet I’ve only taken advantage of that a couple of times.

Of course, I have big, lofty goals for my education like going back to grad school and becoming a certified cicerone, but for now I’m going to start simple. I just want to make more time for my education, take more time to learn new things because it’s fun.

There are so many free online resources I can take advantage of. Last year, I was enrolled in a introduction to law course and a course on HTML coding for free through Coursera. Did I finish either class? Nope!

That just means I need to make more time for it.

Do more things with my time.

And to wrap up my 2018 goals, I just want to do more things with my time. Right now my free time is taken up mostly by Netflix, reading, crocheting, and work, which means I’m incredibly boring. I want to change that. I want to do more.

Some things I’m planning to do more of this year, mostly because it will give me things to do during the time I’m usually re-watching Gilmore Girls, are play more video games, get back into drawing and painting, listen to more podcasts, and try out different types of exercise besides running. I want to be an interesting person and right now all I can list under the hobbies section are reading and crocheting.

So there you go, those are my goals for this coming year. Yep, I pulled the bar way down for this year, but it’s worth it if in January 2019 I can look back and feel like I accomplished something. Setting myself up for failure isn’t a good thing. 

-EMS

 

My Reading List in 2017

I had big plans at the beginning of this year. I planned to go back to school, to teach myself calligraphy and knitting, to establish myself as a freelance writer.

Did any of this happen?

Nope.

However, I did reach one goal. At the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to read more. When I was younger, I was a voracious reader. I basically read a book a day and it was magical. I lived at the bookstore and giddily marked book release dates on the calendar. Reading was my whole life! 

Well, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped reading as much. I would love to blame this on my new responsibilities, like my job, my home, and my bills, but it really comes down to the fact that I’m just not as interested in reading as I used to be. When I get home from work, I prefer to sit on the couch and watch Netflix or goof around on my phone to reading. Reading is just not as magical as it used to be for me.

So, in 2017, I decided to dedicate more of my spare time to reading. I didn’t want to overload myself, so I set a very reasonable goal of reading 40 books by December 31, 2017. That’s a little more than three books a month. I could do that.

And guess what. I did it!

In 2017, I read 40 books. It’s the only one of my 2017 New Years resolutions I kept and I’m incredibly proud of myself.

Now, I know fifteen-year-old Emily would scoff at such a low number.

“Only 40 books?” she would say. “I can read that may in half the time.”

Well, fuck off teenager Emily. I set myself a goal and I achieved it, so you can take your elitist bullshit and shove it up your ass. 

And, guess what! I still managed to binge all the Netflix shows on my list. Talk about good time management! I was able to be a responsible adult, read more, and still be a lazy bum and watch Netflix for ten hours straight. 

In 2017, here’s what I read:

  1. The Troop – Nick Cutter 
  2. The Wendigo – Algernon Blackwood
  3. Cannibals of Candyland – Carlton Mellick III
  4. Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman
  5. Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger – Stephen King
  6. Dark Tower II: The Drawing of Three – Stephen King
  7. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
  8. Gumption – Nick Offerman
  9. Midnight Crossroad – Charlaine Harris
  10. Day Shift – Charlaine Harris
  11. Hannibal Rising – Thomas Harris
  12. Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
  13. Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
  14. Hannibal – Thomas Harris
  15. Off Season – Jack Ketchum
  16. Offspring – Jack Ketchum
  17. Red – Jack Ketchum
  18. Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi
  19. Horns – Joe Hill
  20. 1984 – George Orwell
  21. It – Stephen King
  22. Treasure Island – robert Stevenson
  23. Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  24. Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  25. My Friend Dahmer – Derf Backderf
  26. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
  27. The Gothic – Nick Groom
  28. Supernatural Horror – H.P. Lovecraft
  29. Wicca: A Guide – Scott Cunningham
  30. Apt Pupil – Stephen King
  31. The Exorcist – William Blatty
  32. Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
  33. Welcome to Nightvale – Joseph Fink
  34. The Long Walk – Richard Bachman
  35. Stormfront – Jim Butcher
  36. Fool Moon – Jim Butcher
  37. Grave Peril – Jim Butcher
  38. The Beast Within – Edward Levy
  39. Thinner – Richard Bachman
  40. NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

In 2018, I’m thinking about aiming for 60.

Happy holidays, everyone!

-EMS

I Fell Down a Hole

I have always considered myself an organized and responsible person. In college I never missed an assignment or flunked a test. After graduation, I worked diligently until I found a job and had a steady income. Nowadays, I rarely miss work deadlines, show up at least five minutes early to everything, and never run out of clean underwear.

I have also always believed that life is all about balance. No one can be organized and regimented all the time, me included. I am very responsible when it comes to work, exercise, and other household chores, but I am definitely not organized when it comes to my hobbies.

When it comes to my main hobbies, like reading, writing, crocheting, and horror movies, there is absolutely no gray zone. I swing between being completely obsessed with a book or project for days at a time and having zero interest in even thinking about it.

I recently came up with a name for my habit. I call it falling down a hole. giphy
A few weeks ago I was sitting with my coworkers outside, enjoying the sunshine and talking about books. We were talking about our favorite genres and, of course, I brought up my obsession with scary stories.

My coworkers, Stephen and Meredith, said that they had read some Stephen King, but can’t read a whole lot of his work. For every book of his they read, they have to read something light-hearted to “recover.”

In my entire life, I’ve never had to do that. When I finish a scary story, I don’t try to find some way to escape from my terror, I revel in it. I finish a scary story and then immediately search out the next scary story I can find. I can’t get enough. I need more, more, more. A few years ago I read my first novel by Jack Ketchum. It was gruesome and terrifying and stomach-turning and I immediately wanted more.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. That’s basically my policy when it comes to my hobbies.
Well, it is until the switch in my brain is suddenly flipped off and I lose all interest. And when I say a switch if flipping, I’m being very serious. It’s not a gradual thing. I put something down and then just don’t pick it up for months and months.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll finish a book if I start it and if I’m crocheting something for a friend I’ll always finish it. But if it’s something I’m just goofing around with then there’s a good chance I’ll put it on a shelf and just forget about it. I have so many partially finished novels and crochet projects just laying around.

You’d think for being the most organized person in my office I’d be more organized when it comes to my own hobbies, but nope! Apparently all of the energy I use to stay on track I use at work.

Fuck everything else in my life I guess.

-EMS

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

We moved to Washington in the year 2000.  It was a rough journey for me because I had just found my stride in school.  Then we moved and I had to start over.  At this time I was reading a lot of books because I just couldn’t be arsed to try and make friends again.

In 2001, our family drove back to Wisconsin.  On the first day we stopped at a Barnes and Noble.  This was fortuitous, because I had just crushed the current book I was reading.  There was one of those tables near the fiction aisles with ‘recommended picks’ on it.  And front and center, with a vibrant red cover was Gardens of the Moon: a Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson.

I liked the blurb on the back, and the introduction inside on the dust jacket, so I asked mom to pick it up for me.   I dove in hard, and the book smacked me around.  It was nothing like anything I had ever read.  Up until that point I had only been reading young fiction.  I powered through series like Tamora Pierces Circle of Magic series and the Song of the Lioness.  Quick little books that tackled stories such as growing up and being the most possible special.

Arguably Gardens of the Moon was my first adult series.  The writing was complex, the story was rich and vast, and characters were defined by their actual character instead of the arbitrary arc of the book.  I think it took me an entire year to finish it originally.

The core series finished in 2011.  It’s ten books in its entirety.  It stands as my favorite series to date.  Pretzel and I are currently listening to them on audiobook.  And they are as good as I remember.

Currently Steven Erikson is working on finishing a new trilogy that is a prequel to the core series.  And its a pain to read.  Several times I’ve considered putting the book down and reading something else.

Civil war has broken out in the land of the Tiste, a noble people who have been introduced to gods and magic.  A rift is growing between the highborn Tiste nobles and the lowly soldiers that fought their wars.  Read the book for the full story thus far.

The current book, The Fall of Light, starts out with something close to 350 pages of talking.  Steven Erikson loves to expound at length about expectations versus reality.  And its a big part about why I love his books!  But 350 pages of people talking about the civil war that’s brewing, the cause of war, why humans war, the sides of the civil war, the philosophy of war, cause and effect, life and death, bravery versus survival.

Fucking shit dude, shut up!  Let the war begin before you bog me down with the intellectual stuff.

You, dear reader of this lonely blog, might recognize 350 pages as the length of other goddamn books.  I just got to the part where real things are happening.  When I say they are talking and expounding at length, I don’t mean like they are on a battlefield spouting philosophy at their enemies.  They are literally sitting around the citadel in the capital city, sitting around campfires, sitting around temples, sitting in front of a hearth, sitting around mansions, et-fucking-cetera.

abgszzzzzzzzzzz

Sorry I nodded off there.

Its so annoying to me that this book starts off so dry.  Like a big bowl of steel cut oats served on a hairdryer.  His books have this quality to them that’s hard to explain, and this book is not delivering what I’m looking for.  I look forward to his books, and it bums me out because it took him approximately 3 Big Bang’s ago to write this one.

Steven Erikson loves to subvert expectations normally found in high fantasy.  And that resonates with me so very deeply.  He creates his own races with their own cultures.  His pantheon is vast and varied.  His books don’t rely on existing tropes to come flesh out his narrative.  There are no elves, and there are no dwarves.

Tolkien fantasy is still fine, I don’t hate it, but so many novels use it as a crutch.  Elves are ageless, beautiful mystics.  Dwarves are hardy, drunk Vikings.  Orcs are ugly, stinking, cannibalistic warriors who respect strength.  Seeing a book, or idea, or setting that uses Tolkien fantasy always feels so assumed.

Why do the elves use the bows in your book?  Why do dwarves use axes?  You know dwarves all live in mines, so of all the tools they could use as a weapon an axe that is used to cut down trees in a dark, deep cave makes senseElves use a weapon that traditionally needs great visibility and lines of sight over a battlefield.  You know what place doesn’t typically have those things.  A forest.

I mean- it’s a very contrived argument to have against this stuff.  Tolkien fantasy is classic and established.  People can use the setting as a backdrop for a quest line or a story and the rest sort of fills itself in.

Its not the only way Erikson subverts what the reader expects.  Characters aren’t all dashingly handsome or strikingly beautiful.  I’d say a majority of his characters are intentionally described as plain or ugly.

Some personalities are grating.  Some hobbies are disgusting.  There is a dude who frequently spits phlegm into his hands to smooth his hair back with it.  There is a character who wears and unwashed shirt made of his dead mothers hair.   There is a dude whos nose was mutilated and has to constantly wipe snot away with his arm.

The way Erikson describes events is equally unexpected.  People don’t die on heroic manners.  There are no characters that have a graceful, glorious death.  You know the scene with Boromir from Lord of the Rings?

A heroic death.  He slays orc after orc, takes arrow after arrow, but he is filled with such magnificent purpose that he fights until he cannot stand or hold his sword.

Characters in Steven Erikson books don’t die like that.

Death is ugly.  Its bloody, smelly, and is a wholly singular experience.  You don’t die surrounded by friends.  You don’t die fighting and struggling.  War is random.  Battle is unforgiving.  You are lucky if anyone remembers your name.  Soldiers are a number.  Thousands get sacrificed for a different regiment of a thousand faceless soldiers can have the chance to achieve the greater goal.  War is never noble, and the results are never worth it.

Its this divide between being beautiful and being hideous, or being heroic and being no one, that Erikson loves to play with.  He creates this negative space in his books; so when a character is beautiful, or when a death is heroic, you take notice.  Granted, its fewer and farther between, but it makes you appreciate the beautiful moments.

Not to mention there is a lot to explore in the interim.  Soldiers understand their grim purpose and lo, we get some of the best gallows humor I’ve ever read.  The dialogue isn’t sad, its not happy, its a completely believable comradery that Erikson manages to capture in these snapshots of marching soldiers.  It makes you feel.  It makes you understand.  Sometimes squad mates don’t like each other, but they are all they’ve got.  You’ll get characters bickering for chapters and chapters but then in the end they absolutely work together, or grieve for the other.  Its an army of brothers and sisters.  War isn’t about glory.  War is about survival.  You fight for that next dawn, and that is what makes it beautiful.

Will I convince you to read these books?  No.  Would I recommend them to everybody?  No.  Hell, I’m currently reading one of his books and I’m struggling with it.

Listening to the books again reminds me of what I appreciate in the literature I read.  It helps me understand what I should be looking for in a book.  It gives me a sense of direction of the types of things I want to write myself.  I have played with the idea of writing a book, and just as soon as I have an idea I’ll get started.  The Malazan Book of the Fallen series stands the test of time to me because it doesn’t walk the paths of other fantasy books before it.  It doesn’t rely on tropes.  It doesn’t rely on what’s expected.

And I love it.

Except the parts of the book I’m currently readying that suck.  Fuck those parts.

-DTM

Going Camping

This week, I had planned to write the beginning of a short story that we would both contribute to. I was really looking forward to kicking this off and even had a few ideas for how I would start things.

And then camping got in the way.

This weekend, I’m camping in Dworshak State Park with a group of friends. I’ve been looking forward to this for months and months, and yet it still managed to sneak up on me. So much for being the organized Smudde child. So, instead of kicking off our fiction writing collaboration, I’m just going to talk about why I love camping.

When we were kids, we would go camping every summer. Sometimes we would camp with our neighbors, the Mesners, and other times we’d invite people from the Smudde clan to join us. I remember swimming and biking and roasting marshmallows. Some of my favorite memories are of us sitting around the campfire, blowing bubbles over the flames and eating scotcheroos.

When I was little, I think I liked camping because it felt like an adventure. Looking back, I honestly wouldn’t really call what we did camping. We had running water and flushing toilets and sometimes even electrical hookups so we could watch videos on our tiny TV. But, to a seven-year-old, it felt like we were really roughing it and it was exciting. I felt like I was in one of my fantasy novels, the young heroine searching for a lost treasure or some mythical woodland elf presiding over her kingdom.

Twenty years later, I still love to camp. Even at 26, I still feel like I’m going on an adventure, but now it has the added benefit of getting me away from my responsibilities. Nowadays, I have way more on my plate than I ever did when I was a kid and every year it becomes harder to de-stress. After work, I go home and try to relax, but inevitably find myself looking at my work email or thinking about an upcoming project that I need to tackle. On the days where I don’t do that, I sit around and worry about finances, about my career, about literally everything in my life. The only time I can seem to shake this off is when we go camping.

When we arrive at the campsite, the very first thing I do is shut off my phone and put it away. Basically when I go camping I disconnect from everything, but not just to relax. While camping I physically cannot connect so I’m never tempted to look at work email or poke through social media.

Going camping is not only an adventure, it’s also the easiest way to get away from everything that causes me stress.

I am so excited to head out to Dworshak this afternoon. I’m looking forward to drinking a beer by the campfire. I’m looking forward to finding a sunny spot by the water to read my book. I’m looking forward to waking up to birds chirping rather than a noisy alarm. I’m looking forward to spending time with people I love away from the stress of real life. It’s going to be a kick ass weekend.

Sorry I didn’t start our short story this week like I promised, Daniel. I’ll try to kick it off on my next post.

-EMS

 

All I Read is Stephen King

There’s something magical about reading a horror story. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching horror films. Some of my favorite movies are horror films. I am always down to watch Descent and House of 1000 Corpses, but given the option I would rather read a scary book than watch a scary.  

There’s just something wonderful about experiencing horror through the written word. I absolutely love Stephen King and have actually been on a binge this past month. I’ve read It, Christine, The Dead Zone, Dolores Clairborne, Desperation, and The Regulators to name a few. And let me tell you, it’s been great! I’ve literally been knocking out a book a week because I can’t put them down.

You asked me what my passion was and honestly, horror novels are it right now. When I think about what I’m looking forward to the most it’s hanging out with my baby ferret and reading. I can write about Fijit the ferret in my next post if you really want to know more about her.

Anyway, I think it’s because in my opinion horror novels are scarier to me. Now that I’m older, horror films don’t give me nightmares like they used to. My nightmares are usually about realistic fears, like finances and my career and crap like that.

But, I have had nightmares from a few scary novels. Salem’s Lot, Dolores Clairborne, and The Regulators are the ones that immediately come to mind. Now, none of these are about extremely scary things. Salem’s Lot is about vampires, which if you were a teenager in the early 2000s you know all about. Dolores Clairborne is about a woman who murders her husband, not incredibly groundbreaking. The Regulators is about an ancient god that takes control of a suburban neighborhood, which although it’s unique isn’t exactly realistic. Why did they give me nightmares? How could they give me nightmares?

Because, by reading these stories, I had the chance to create my own worst nightmare. In horror films, the monster is there. Someone else created it. It’s their worst nightmare, not mine. I talked a little bit about this in my last horror post. Horror really works when you give the viewer the chance to add their own spin on things.

stephen_king_salems_lot_01In Salem’s Lot, a tiny New England town is overrun by vampires. The people of the town keep disappearing and then mysteriously reappearing at night. I specifically dreamed about the little boy who was taken in the night. He reappeared in his friend’s window late one night, pale as a ghost with dead eyes, and asked to be let in. He didn’t demand anything, he asked if he could come hang out with his best friend.

When I read that scene, I could picture my old childhood room and I could see my elementary school friends, pale white and monstrous, hanging on my window. I couldn’t tell them no, they couldn’t come in. I loved them and I wanted to be with them. That’s what scare me.

alb-008In Dolores Clairborne, the main character murders her husband by getting him drunk and leading him to an old well. He fell down, but didn’t die instantly. When Dolores looked down, he was looking up at her and his eyes looked black. He was calling her name and, at one point, climbed up the side of the well, covered in blood and grinning.

I read that scene in bed and I got goosebumps. I could see his bloody, dirty face. I could see his creepy smile, a dead man’s smile, as he climbed up. I could feel Dolores’ panic as she thought about what to do next. What could she do? This wasn’t part of her plan. That feeling. That’s what I dreamt about that night.

theregulatorsLastly, in The Regulators, a little boy wanders down an abandoned mine shaft and stumbles upon the sleeping place of an ancient evil. A miner follows him in with a flashlight and when he finally catches up, his light falls on the boy’s face. The boy is grinning a freakishly big grin. His eyes are bugging out and the corners of his mouth are pulled all the way up to his ears.

When I read that, I could see his smile. I could picture a normal little boy’s face becoming freakish and deformed. I could see the way the whole space was in darkness and the way the flashlight bounced off the walls before landing on his face. Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

If I had experienced these stories are movies, I doubt they would have had the same effect. I would’ve been able to brush off the child vampire in the window as an actor in make up. I would’ve known that Dolores’ husband was just a guy covered in mud. I would have seen through the fake smile on the kid.

That’s what I like about reading horror. It gets under my skin, which is exactly what it should do.

-EMS

Making Friends as an Introvert

Shall I jump from one semi-angsty topic to another? I think I should so for this post I want to talk about how difficult it is to make friends when you’re an adult.

This week one of my friends and coworkers left Pullman to work in Eugene, Oregon. Of course I’m thrilled for her and wish her all the best in her new adventure, but I’ll miss her. Over the last year we’d become very close and I could count on her for spontaneous coffee runs at work and after work happy hour parties. Now she’s gone. What do I do now?

I, of course, have other friends here in Pullman, but her leaving has made me think about how hard it is to make friends as an adult. A majority of my friends are through work because I am pretty much forced to spend forty hours a week in the same hallway they’re in. So what about outside of work? Can I just go up to someone and decide “you’re my friend now”?

I wish. There are so many societal rules about what’s okay and what’s not okay and what friendships should look like, and they drive me nuts. I can’t do this because it’s creepy and you have to keep work and personal life separate. Blah, blah, blah…

As an adult I also feel like I’m saddled with a lot more self-doubt. Every time I meet a new person, especially at work, I’m worried about making a good impression. Basically, my entire life is spent wondering when I can let the crazy out. Will they find my tabletop gaming hobby cute or weird? Should I tell them my reading consists of Stephen King novels and slasher fiction? I want them to like me, dammit! How do I make them like me?

Friendship shouldn’t be this hard!

Also, as an introvert, meeting new people is impossible. A majority of my close friends I’ve either met through work or through my husband because he’s an extrovert. If I want to make friends on my own I have to go out and meet people and that just sounds unpleasant. I want all the benefits of friendship like trust and companionship without the awkward getting-to-know-each-other phase.

My introverted-ness also means maintaining friendships is really hard. I’m just not a very social person so maintaining the friendships I have in Pullman is already hard enough. Maintaining the friendships back in Vancouver or from college is pretty much impossible!

I’ve only ever actively ended a few friendships. Most of the other ones fizzled out because we physically moved away from each other. I’m not trying to ignore them, but unless I see them on a day-to-day basis, they’re just not on my mind. I know that sounds horrible and I don’t know how to stop myself. When did being a low-maintenance person become a burden? Oh, that’s right, when adulthood struck.

I feel like as an adult there’s a certain idea of what being friends means. It no longer means people that you get along with and talk with. It means people you go out for coffee with and text on a regular basis and actively go out of your way to make plans with. Honestly, that’s not who I am. I’m an introvert, a home body by default, and I would rather spend an evening reading or watching Netflix than going out for coffee, so where do I find the motivation to plan these outings? Oh, that’s right. My friends do it for me.

What I really enjoy is friendship that doesn’t have specific expectations. A friend in my mind is someone I get along with and have fun with and if I don’t see them for a few weeks, that’s fine. We’ll pick up where we left off when we reconnect. I also like friends who are as introverted and laid back as I am. One of my best friends will just show up at my apartment and let himself in so we can watch TV. I only see another one of my best friends every other week and we can hang like nothing happened. My third best friend also likes Netflixs and we’ll share what we’re watching via Snapchat. It’s no big deal. No activity needed.

Sorry if this post is a little jumbled. This has been on my mind for a while and it’s something that I struggle with. Thankfully, as an adult, I also realize that having a handful of really close friends is way better than having a wide net of casual acquaintances. I also realize that making friends through work and through my husband are nothing to be ashamed of, as long as those people make me happy. Yeah, it sucks when I meet cool people and have no idea how to turn out casual meetings into a full-blown friendship, but that’s okay. I still have a lot of love in my life.

-EMS

Batgirl Part 3: Batgirl of Burnside

Day 14 Since the Disappearance:

Leaked photos of the mission made it back to HQ.  Massive spiders, blood-thirsty sharks, and ferocious kangaroos were scene with the team.  We fear the worst.

It is time to begin training my other sister to take up the mantle of the Successful Child.  The training will be long and hard, but hopefully with time we will heal.


Batgirl of Burnside.

To get properly mad be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Batgirl of Burnside picks up after Gail Simone’s ends.  In the end, she fights off the group Knightfall from blah-blah-blah destruction of Gotham.  At the end, Batgirl bursts out with how she is going to leave.  She needs to get away.  It felt so out of character and out of nowhere that I already began to worry.  Then I saw the cover art:

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We’re fine.  It’s fine.  EVERYTHINGS FINE, GODDAMNIT.

To give it credit, the art style is really good.   I like the bright colors, the style, and the heavier line weights.  I love to encounter new art.  Batman Detective Comics have a new artist every single panel (or so it seems).

It finally came out and I rushed to it like someone rushes to see a catastrophe.  I was still hoping.

First fucking panel we see Batgirl and her friend Alysia seeing her off in her new apartment.  Her one friend who was her rock in many situations.  She’s smart, attentive, charming, and she’s transsexual.  While she does appear from time to time in the Burnside comic, its alarming that the cast of Batgirl characters essentially gets thrown out.  I’d be less mad but neither her dad, her mom, Batman, or any of the other Bat family show up in the entire first volume.

More on that on that later.

Second fucking page we see Barbara wake up hungover.  She tromps out into the living room in naught but a t-shirt and panties to find out she passed out after having made out with a stranger.

Think I’m kidding?

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I’m glad to see she so recovers so quickly after her dad shoots her previous love interest.

Yes, please tell me more.  Strong, responsible, and smart Barbara Gordon gets totally blackout hammered and makes out with strangers.  It’s like watching my little girl grow up and date terrible people.  I’m not crying.  Fuck you.

When she wakes up she notices her laptop is missing.  How are we going to find out who took it?

Instagram you fucking idiots, duh, how else do young hip people learn about people who may have stolen their laptops?  They call it Pixtagraph but its fucking instagram.  She lives with a girl who is a programmer for Hooq, the newest and hottest dating app that apparently everyone is swooning over.  According to the writer its impossible for young hip characters to interact correctly unless its over some level of an electronic device.

As a note, I’ll mention that I haven’t memorized the writers name like Gail.  You earn the right, and this one fucking did not.

I’ll mention now that much later she mentions that the app is still in beta and won’t be ready for a big Hooq party.  Its not really important to my point, but it shows the level of writing that the app is simultaneously in beta and used enough that they want to throw a huge Hooq concert?

The reason she is so worried about her laptop is that her thesis was on it.  Her thesis is using a scan of her brain to create pattern recognizing algorithms.  She scanned her own brain to do this, which is apparently a lot of data.

Talking with various people she meets up with she finds out that some guy named Riot Black is likely in possession of it.  He has people steal electronics and then he scraps them for their secrets and uploads them to his website for likes or something.

This seems so very clearly against several laws.  So with everyone knowing he does this, surely they have called the police right?

Right?

Please?

Also- he’s a DJ.

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He speaks only in his native language: hashtag.

Turns out he has cybernetic implants in his eye that he can use to directly connect with electronics and upload them immediately to his site.  Pretty cool villain concept.  Wanna know how she defeats him?

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NO!  MY ONE WEAKNESS?

She finds out during the fight about his implants.  So she makes him a deal, she’ll reveal her identity if he deletes all the stolen data he’s been compiling.  He agrees and instructs her her to send her pic via Snapgab.

She sends the picture to the right.

Batgirl loaded a worm onto another phone that he uploaded into his brain.  When he sees that photo, it activates the worm and it deletes everything which leaves him…

They never actually say what happens to him.  Smash-cut back to the apartment?

Turns out her laptop was wiped and everything is mostly lost, and now she’s without her thesis.  How can you re-create it?  If only she had an eidetic memory!  Or maybe if she was super tech-savvy like Oracle?

Don’t be alarmed.  It might sound like pleading, but it’s only a despair sandwich.

With something so important and secret as her brain scan that- ya know, contains the identities of the Bat-family members- why didn’t she lock it up somewhere important?  Wouldn’t it be cool if she could store these things on something with like Turbo-Bat-Encryption?  Like in a cave or something?

Being seen at the Riot Black concert gives Batgirl a celebrity status.  People all throughout Burnside are excited about her!  It gets so bad that we actually see a couple people impersonating Batgirl.  So Barbara Gordon’s crime fighting role comes down to hunting down catfishes.  This is what I wanted to see.  The iconic Batgirl!  Fighting…crime?

Barbara Gordon ends up at an art show.  The topic of the art show?  Batgirl.  The artist Dagger Type did an entire show on our intrepid hero.  Barbara is furious!  Dagger is going to ruin her reputation!  Barbara will see an end to this.

Turns out that Dagger Type is a cross-dresser or transsexual; its never really clarified.  Dagger is attempting to become Batgirl by luring the real one out and killing her.  Dagger Type then throws a finale show where its revealed that Dagger is Batgirl!  No one buys it, a gun is drawn, blah-blah-blah arrested.

After this she realizes she needs to take control of her persona and her reputation!  What scheme will she come up with to show the public that she’s not a twit!?

Pixtagram.  Instagraph.  Facegab.  I don’t know anymore.  Fuck it.

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I’d like to note she hasn’t fought any non-personal crime yet.

On a side note, why does a vigilante, a person who’s inherently breaking the law, care about reputation?

Also- where is Batman?

In any of these situations he would’ve intervened.  It has nothing to do with how capable Batgirl is.  Batman does not tolerate impersonators, and even when they are actually trying to be crime-fighters he tries to shut that down.  His crusade is his own and he rarely lets people join him.

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Batman values and prioritizes his Bat-families safety and their identities.  Under no circumstances would he allow Batgirl to be so prevalent on the web.  As readers, we can sort of gloss over the fact that the mask and voice aren’t going to trick anybody who knows them.  We know this, and we ignore it.  We cannot ignore that when she’s posing for photos that someone is going to figure it out who she is.

With her media presence, by now Batman would’ve noticed she’s not wearing a Bat-approved suit.  Her old comrade in capes Dinah Lance (Black Canary) comes to visit because her gym burned down.  Turns out that even though they weren’t really talking, or even currently friends, Batgirl was storing her stuff in that gym.  Her suit and all of her crime-fighting equipment went up in flames.  After that fact, she makes her own Batgirl suit.  While very charming and resourceful, Batman would not tolerate this.  He acknowledges that crime-fighting is dangerous and helps fund new fighting suits.  Batman wants you to be safe and up-to-date.

The other reason he would get himself involved is that the the missing scan of Barbara’s brain isn’t exactly a private matter.  His entire legacy and the lives of everyone he cares about is stored in that scan.  He would’ve seen the pictures of her at the Riot Black concert, figured out what Riot Black does, and would probably be curious as to why Batgirl is there.  Put two and two together and he’ll probably figure out that something important is at risk of being exposed.

Black Canary actually points this out to her, and she goes full 16-year old.  Waaaaah Batman can’t tell me what to do.

Bitch.  He’s Batman.  When he says anything, God listens.

Batgirl and Black Canary have a falling out after that.  Would you be so flippant about one of your closest friends just leaving you?  Nah man, Batgirl actually explains how with her celebrity status she has friends and a real life.  Those are her words.  I can’t find the panel on the web but she says that.  Being a celebrity as Batgirl gives her a life and friends.  She doesn’t need a superhero ally.

She’s not too upset about Canary ditching her because she has a new cop boyfriend!  The cop often goes on rants about how being a vigilante is disrespectful and damaging, which Barbara coyly tries to refute.

During his rant the cop talks about a dude who’s totally not Justin Bieber.  Barbara asks why the cops don’t take him down for his illegal racing and driving under the influence.  Barbara takes this upon herself to prove a point to her boyfriend.

She goes to a bar to take down Not-Bieber, but he’s having none of it and gets in his car.  I’m not sure how he made it all the way to the car when Batgirl could have restrained him, but uhhhhh…

So she’s chasing him through the streets.  They almost hit several people and it ends with him crashing his car into an old Burnside diner called Cuppa Joes.  This pisses everyone one off because he wouldn’t have been provoked to drive like an idiot, and Batgirl caused him to crash.  She actually says to the police when they arrive that she did it for the safety of the people and the city.

Somehow the bright Barbara Gordon doesn’t realize how stupid this was.  Thank got Instabook was there to give her clarity.

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There would be at least one billion “Kill yourself” tweets.

So we’re at the low point of the arc.  There is a Hooq concert happening and everyone’s going because the app is… coming out of beta or something.  When it comes out of beta it’ll be huge.  I dunno.  This is what hipsters and startup companies do right?

Barbara’s scan is still missing, she’s losing her real friends, and she’s no longer popular.  There is sort of an interesting subplot where Barbara is worried that something is going on behind everything else.  She receives a phone call from herself and many of her recent friends and villains have weird tidbits of information she doesn’t recall passing along.

The day before the concert, her roommate who works for Hooq is missing.  No one can find her and she isn’t responding to texts?  Did you try and call her?  Barbara tries (she’s the smart one) when she finds out.  It turns out her roommates’s phone was vibrating like 10 feet away from the people texting her because YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T KNOW HOW TO INTERACT WITH OTHER PEOPLE EVEN IN AN EMERGENCY.  FUCK WE ARE SO GODDAMN HIP.

Sorry.  Ahem.

She befriends Black Canary again because consequences are for pussy-ass bitches and they go to the Hooq headquarters where the concert is being held.  Batgirl goes to the top of the tower and finds her roommate going through some files that reveals her to be Batgirl.  Then, from the shadows the real villain appears.  The person that’s been orchestrating all the other events to lead to this mome-

It’s the fucking dating app.  Her glorious first overarching villain from the shadows is a dating app.

A dating app.

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So last year, swipe left.

Turns out her brain scan was… put into the app somehow?  My guess is that Riot Black loaded it up and it got into Hooq servers.  And because of the power of sexting it became… sentient?

I mean- it is sort of a cool concept, but why the dating app?  Why not anything more serious?

Turns out the app used itself to determine which people are at risk of committing crimes.  Since everyone ever ever ever is on Hooq, it set up this concert to attract all of the potential criminals into one spot so it can use space lasers.  Not sure why not one person from Hooq Headquarters had a problem with this.  Setting up a huge concert must be fucking cake and also cost no money.

Sooooo… they defeat it with the power of friendship and the volume ends.

Man.

I wanted something to salvage.  The stories are forgettable and the villains are caricatures of what someone who heard about hipsters second hand.  Dagger Type was supposed to be a transsexual or a cross-dresser, but was portrayed so poorly that there was public backlash.

The dialogue is shit.  It’s written in a way that no one actually talks like.  No one has ever in total seriousness ever ended a sentence with “Whaaaaat!”  No one has ever had a group photo and told everyone to say “Kawaii!”  No one thinks being 32 years old is ancient.  People don’t seem to be able to exist outside social media.  All of Batgirl’s equipment is essentially stolen from the local college.

She fucking forgets how to be Batgirl.

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No seriously, she’s fighting two girls on two motorcycles who are supposed to be cosplays of villains from an anime she watched when she was seven.  How can she possibly defeat them!?Why she’ll flashback to when she was a kid and remember how the anime protagonist beat them… then do the same thing.

You are fucking Batgirl.  You are smart, resourceful, and strong.  Or at least you used to be.

She isn’t fighting crime or solving mysteries.  This is a series of events involving her life as Barbara and her status as Batgirl.  I’m not saying she shouldn’t fight crime that directly involves herself, but the only one that really threatened human life was the Hooq app and its plan to maximum-over-swipe with space lasers.

To give credit where credit is due there is a varied cast of characters that cover different ethnicities, sexualities, and genders.  Especially since they don’t try and throw it out there too far.  The cop that Barbara dates brings some nice tension to the situation and humanizes Barbara a little more.  The art style is fucking delightful.

After you find out the Hooq app is swiping left on all of Gotham there is a nice little bit where you see the events of the brain scan becoming sentient.  You see it remembering her past, her trauma, and her efforts to overcome herself and her obstacles.  And then it sees the current Batgirl essentially devolving into a tween-y mess and it becomes enraged seeing her body go to waste.

Man, how fucking redeemed would this comic be if the Hooq app actually defeated her and returned to her body to become Gail Simone’s Batgirl again?  Like- switch back to the old art style and everything.  Holy shit.

Well there you have it.  My three part arc about Batgirl and why I love her, and hate how she changed.  Change isn’t a bad thing, they were trying something new and its just not jiving with me.  That’s my problem, not theirs.

At the very least I still have Batman.  He’s tried and true.  They wouldn’t try something-

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Note: I will kill myself if the villain turns out to be Spotify.