Monday, April 28, 2014


As someone who still gets called "ma'am" on the phone, I can relate to this.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fox In The White House


(Also, Smokey the Stray! Duckling death! Who knew the White House grounds were such a drama of life and death?)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bourgeois Book Club

The Happier Dead by Ivo Stourton

Twenty years from now, the rich get eternal youth through "The Treatment," complete with a stay at London's Great Spa. When one of those newly young rich people is murdered during his stay, ex-soldier turned policeman Chief Inspector Oates is called in to investigate. Though there is already a suspect complete with confession, an embittered Spa employee with a hatred for the wealthy he works for, there is much, much more to this case than homicidal class envy. Over the course of one long winter night, London explodes in an orgy of riots and violence by the young and unemployed, the identity of the killer is revealed, and the cost of immortality is shown to be far too dear for mere mortals.

The Happier Dead is brilliant as a mystery with science fiction trappings, but particularly noteworthy for its many layers and attention to one man's inner life. Instead of just a steely action character, we get an emotionally complex man struggling with the stresses of career on a father and husband. He worries about being a good father and husband. Oates is a tough SOB willing to use his fists, but also a man haunted by that violence inside him, in his former career as a soldier and now as a policeman. I've rarely read a book of this kind so concerned with a man's emotional life, and it's extremely refreshing.

The relationship between the inspector and his wife is perhaps my favorite part, because it feels more real than a lot of relationships come across in books of this type. They fight, they have strains about his work, but they love each other too. And the deep love and respect he has for her is really striking. It's really some of the realest and sweetest descriptions of love I've ever read, actually, because it's very mundane.

Add to this meditations on economic justice, mortality, corruption, generational conflict, free will, and what makes us human, and The Happier Dead's s one of the most pensive and complex books I've read in some time, all without sacrificing action or suspense, and clocking in at a fairly svelte three hundred or so pages.

My one main criticism is that there's a bit of Tragic Backstory, teased but not fully revealed until the middle of the book, that is more eye-rolling than affecting. It's a cliche with no real purpose except to add a bit of unnecessary Man Pain as a plot-mover. Frankly, I think the book is too good for such cheapness, and it's a sour note.

But that relatively minor criticism aside, The Happier Dead is a deceptively deep novel that uses a science fictional premise for its true purpose: the exploration of the human condition here and now, then and there, always and forever.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

You Know, At One Time, This Was All Some Poor Bastards Had To Masturbate To

Come for the funny old underwear ads, stay for the Auntie Mame quote (page 5)!

(Via Postmodernbarney, who had several images lifted without attribution. For shaaaaaame, Advocate!)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

I'll Be The Judge Of That... Pen!

In this era of consolidation and cut-backs and short attention spans, I rarely envy journalists, and it's not really a career I am temperamentally suited for in any case, but I would be willing to cut a bitch to be this guy at the stationery fair.

(Via The Awl)

Friday, April 04, 2014

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Bourgeois Book Club

Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Three Princes is the sort of novel I should love. An intriguing alternate history where the empire founded by Caesar and Cleopatra and the empire of Incas are the world's superpowers, Christianity never really got off the ground, and solar power and air travel were invented centuries before they were in our world. With a dash of James Bondian spy thriller/intrigue, complete with Blofeld, and prominent gay and female characters, it is a story that should hit all the right notes.

And, yet, a little over halfway through I realized I simply didn't care, and stopped reading. The worldbuilding is immersive and intriguing, but for a history nerd like me, terribly implausible. The main character, Lord Oken, is meant to be charming, but seems a bit lifeless to me. He's a little too much of a superficial James Bond clone. But all the characters, really, seem less than they should be. They're not really interesting, even if piled with "interesting" backstories, personalities, etc. It's all terribly, terribly disappointing.

I feel a traitor for not liking a story that involves so much diversity, written by a woman, and well within my genre interests, but one can't enjoy something for its politics, or at least I can't.

Raiders of the Nile by Steven Saylor

My favorite mystery series returns with a novel-length follow-up to 2012's Seven Wonders, a short story collection of Gordianus's travels in the East (on a tour to see the Seven Wonders of the World) as a young man. The end of that book saw Gordianus ensconced in Alexandria, a city important to his future development. Raiders of the Nile details more of young Gordianus's adventures in Ptolemaic Egypt. This time, mistaken identity and kidnapping lead Gordianus into banditry, and he must use all his talents to extricate himself and Bethesda from a potentially fatal caper.

Though I liked the travelogue-cum-mystery The Seven Wonders very much, I've been less-than-enthused about the backwards turn Saylor has taken with Gordianus. I have a great deal of antipathy for prequels (and, no, not just those ones). I always find going backwards in a story to be just not that interesting. The imagined backstory and prior adventures are just always so much better than the ones you end up with in "canon" with prequels. And the backdating of characters and developments are, I think, a challenge that most authors can't really manage. You have to devolve things, and it never quite works; thus, the rejuvenated characters never quite ring true to my ears. We've followed Gordianus "forward" through his life, and it's disorienting now to leap back to just before we "knew" him. We already know who he is, and how his life develops.

Gordianus had traveled extensively throughout the series, but my favorite books are those that take place within, or at least spend a large amount of time in, Rome. I like Gordianus's Rome. Late-Ptolemaic Alexandria? Just isn't the same. 

But it's still Saylor, and still Gordianus, so the humor and pace are as good as ever.

Europe In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

In a future Europe where borders multiply faster than E. coli in a petri dish, as every region, town, street, ethnicity, language enclave, park, and transcontinetnal railroad, might declare its independence and sovereignty at any moment, most of them at each others throats, even basic communication can be difficult. That's where the Coureurs, secret agents-cum-mailmen, come in. Rudi the Estonian chef finds himself recruited into this shadow world, and the deeper he goes, the closer he gets to a secret that transforms him from a minor agent to Europe's most wanted man. 

For a majority of the book, the extent of the science fiction is nothing more than the setting of a future Europe and a few neat gadgets, until a twist ending that ups the science fiction quotient way up.

It's a thrilling read, and I'm eager to read the continuation, especially after the big reveal at the end. My main criticism would be that it's very male. There are not many women, and the story is not terribly interested in them. Its place at the intersection of Le Carrean spy thriller and science fiction, both traditionally very male-focused genres, explains it, maybe, but doesn't quite forgive it.

Still, a good read, and look forward to more.