Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spring 2011 texts

For those who are curious, here are the texts for my spring 2011 class, UH 300-009 a.k.a. 21st-Century Fantasy: The Dark Fantastic. The title is a bit misleading, as we'll spend the first third of the semester on some influential precursors before we hit the current stuff.
  • Jeffrey Ford, The Shadow Year (2008)
  • Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book (2008)
  • Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box (2007)
  • Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
  • Stephen King, Under the Dome (2009)
  • Kelly Link, Pretty Monsters (2008)
  • Peter Straub, American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to Now (2 vols., 2009)
  • Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger (2009)
I reserve the right to add or subtract texts, of course, but the above is the list I have sent the bookstore. Movies I haven't quite decided on, but they definitely will include The Haunting (dir. Robert Wise, 1963) and might include Pan's Labyrinth (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006) or The Orphanage (dir. Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007) or Let the Right One In (dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2008).

I'd like to wedge Terry Pratchett's new Tiffany Aching novel onto the syllabus, too, but I'd hate to do that without the previous three T.A. novels as well ... and there's only so much room. Grumble, gnash, grind.

Please help spread the word to those who might be interested.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alternate History

So Boneshaker was my first steampunk novel, and I enjoyed the idea of alternate history as a sub genre of science fiction. I guess its just the history major in me. I'm not the biggest fan of the Victorian era, and absolutely don't believe the Civil War could ever last 17 or so years, but it was fun nonetheless. Since I'm still relatively new to science fiction literature, I was wondering if there are any other eras in history that have science fiction literature? Mostly what I read is futuristic, but I'm just curious if there is anything else out there history wise other than the Victorian era.


So Jordan and I went to Yarnes Ignoble after class Wednesday so I could buy The Windup Girl (which by the way is not my idea of an easy read...8 pages in and I have NO idea what is going on. Back cover is useless as well. I hope it gets better) So we're searching for this book in the scifi section and both of us notice another Cherie Priest book that looked identical to Boneshaker. This one is called Dreadnought. Though we expected it to be a spin off or sequel, it seemed to be unrelated to Boneshaker. Hopefully, when I get free time (meaning when I graduate) I'll be able to read it. What caught my attention was the title. For those of you that are not history geeks, the Dreadnought was, at least in part, to blame for the start of World War I. Dreadnoughts were extreme battle ships that all the great powers were struggling to produce in the years leading up to WWI. Now Dreadnoughts didn't show up until shortly after the Victorian period (which is obviously the central era of the steampunk genre) technically came to a close. Queen Victoria died in 1901 and the first Dreadnaught The Royal Navy's appropriately titled Dreadnaught was launched in 1906. I am still interested to see how these behemoth, modern warships tie into Priest's steampunk novel. If anybody beats me to actually reading it, please let me know how it is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Steampunk crazy

So I realize I already posted once today, but this was too good not to show you guys. I've gone a little steampunk crazy since we started reading Boneshaker, and I think I'm going to go steampunk for Halloween. I was looking at some online picture galleries to get ideas. The gallery in the title of this post is from Dragon*Con and it's pretty good. I love love love the steampunk Wizard of Oz and X-men crews.
And the video linked at the end of that gallery is amazing. The guy who's dressed as Steampunk Dr. Charles Xavier actually made his wheelchair. It functions and looks awesome. It even dispenses drinks! hahaha This video shows you all that and more :]

How cool is that? I loooove X-men and the fact that people at conventions and stuff are thinking to turn old favorites into steampunk characters? Brilliant. Then I realized that the Brotherhood of Mutants from the old cartoons was kind of steampunkish already.

Airship Pirates

In the spirit of Boneshaker, I felt that it would be appropriate to share a song by a steampunk band I stumbled upon last year. Abney Park makes quite a bit of interesting music, but the embedded video is especially relevant.

Star Wars striking back on the big screen

Hey guys, you might already know this but I thought it was pretty exciting. Lucasfilm is planning to release Star Wars again on the big screen, in 3D! Now, I'm not a huge fan of the 3D craze, but I will definitely go see my favorite saga of all time in theaters again. They're set to begin releases in 2012 with *sigh* The Phantom Menace. (Kind of wish they'd just left that one off, but oh well.)

Here's a link to a video about it.

Twist Ending

For those of you who haven't finished Boneshaker yet, this post contains spoilers!!!

I was totally surprised by the ending of this book. I know last week we discussed how Moon may or may not have had a twist in the plot. I felt this book totally had a twist. I was fully expecting Minnericht to be Levi Blue and for them to come to the realization and there to be a somewhat happy ending. Instead, Angeline kills him. We find out that Briar had killed Levi and that he had stole the money from the banks. This was not the ending I was envisioning at all. It completely hit me from left field.

Did anyone else feel this way?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John's whirlwind tour around the internet and big ol' blogpost

We've got plenty to go on today! So let the adventure begin!

First (and really only): ZOMBIES!!!

Alright, as some of you may remember, way back at the beginning of the semester we discussed the phenomenon of the sexiness of vampires. This was in direct opposition to the lack of sexiness we see in werewolves (Twilight excluded) and the almost anti-sexiness of zombies. We decided we couldn't even identify with the walking dead, let alone see anything remotely attractive about them, but the Swedish electronica band Naked Ape (signed to the appropriately named Lombotom Records) is trying to change all that. I found these guys a couple of years ago while just messing around online (no, I did not google 'zombie strippers'), and I seriously put the emphasis on TRYING. I mean, I don't think they've been very successful at making zombies any sexier, but you can draw your own conclusions (if you dare!):

****WARNING**** The following music videos are pretty extreme (mainly the second one) and are not meant for the faint-hearted, the weakly-stomached, or those who are NOT okay with blood (especially the second one) or strippers (again, second one). Really, it can be intense, and you've been warned.

Naked Ape - Fashion Freak
Naked Ape - Undo Redo

Also, I have found a most magical and fun new addiction: Minecraft.

Minecraft is a goofy videogame that has both zombies AND digging, so I thought it would fit in perfectly with Boneshaker, and it is made in Sweden and, again, has zombies, so it fits with the first part of my post. I can't say enough about this game except how much fun it is to play. I mean, it looks horrible, its buggy as hell, and its not really science fiction (my bad), but it is still so much fun. Think of legos on steroids: you deconstruct your block filled world only to reconstruct it in your image. Highly recommended (unless you are easily seduced by simple fun, and then this becomes the enemy of productivity). There is even a free version online where you can build and dig to your hearts content.


I have been reading Boneshaker and even though I really enjoy the steampunk genre, I am not really getting into this book. It has all the aspects of a good steampunk novel (zombies, zeppelins, Victoria era setting, machines run by steam) but I just can't seem to get into the story. I don't really understand why Zeke would risk life and limb to try to rewrite the past. I don't think his reasoning for entering Seattle was solid enough to warrant his actions. A steampunk novel that I really recommend is called The Affinity Bridge. It's awesome.

Mother and Son

For those of you who have gotten there[hopefully everyone :-)], what do you think of the ending of this story? Were you surprised by Briar's "revelation" about what happened to Levi or did you see it coming?

I wasn't really too surprised by the ending but I did think it was a bit of a waste of time. Overall I did like the story, it was fast-paced and pretty interesting; but the reasons why Zeke had to enter the city seemed like a bit of a reach. Briar should have just told him what happened to his father from the beginning. I can understand why Briar wouldn't want to tell Zeke what happened to his father when he was a little kid. As a teenager, however, he obviously seems pretty adapt at handling things. And it's not like his father was loved by all. He caused the deaths (and re-animation) of thousands of people and destroyed an entire city for personal gain! I just find it hard to believe that anyone, even Zeke, could fault Briar for killing the guy.

Boo At the Zoo

Okay, so this is something a little different. I've been working at the Birmingham Zoo for about four and a half years now as a seasonal employee - basically, since I've been living in Tuscaloosa, I work summers, Spring Break, and the weekends during October. During these weekends in October, the zoo holds "Boo At the Zoo," and it's always more or less the same thing. This year, though, I noticed for the first time how Sci-Fi-esque the whole event is. One of our main attractions (and definitely the only one that is even remotely scary) is the Alien Reptile Experience or something like that. It's basically the Reptile House turned into a haunted house-type attraction based around this 'plot' that alien/reptile things have landed on Earth and are experimenting on humans in the building. In addition to that, the train ride this year was turned into a sort of Jurassic Park knock-off. There are life-like (though much smaller, of course) dinosaurs set up all along the track and I believe their little story is similar to that of the Speilberg movies, where the dinosaurs were genetically engineered by present-day scientists.
The most in-your-face sci-fi aspect of the event, though, is the presence of tons of people payed to walk around in Star Wars attire. It's pretty funny when you're at work and suddenly a group of storm troopers walks by you, stopping only to take pictures with groups of little kids dressed as Buzz Lightyear and Spiderman. Here are some pictures of the Star Wars characters:

It's also fun just to see how many of the kids dress up in a sci-fi related costume. There were lots of kids in Star Wars related costumes, as well as tons of other movies and tv shows with sci-fi leanings.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I am not sure what to make of the steampunk genre. It hits a lot of my Do Not Want buttons, and I've never really had to explore why until I started reading Boneshaker. I, personally, hate the Victorian era. It is the second most boring era of history for me, and I wish people would let it rest a while. I also don't really like the aesthetic of the technology. The whole genre feels really regressive in a lot of ways and I just can't get into it.
That being said, Boneshaker manages to largely avoid a lot of my buttons, which is fortunate. I like the main plot enough that I can fudge some of the setting details, and I've been glossing over the tech descriptions because those give me stigmata of the eye.


I am just trucking on through Boneshaker, but one thing that I have noticed most is a feeling of claustrophobia. Even before they entered the city, I felt trapped in the outskirts and the small world that existed for Zeke and Briar. Then, on the airship, I felt constricted too. But once they got inside the city, I feel smothered. There is constant mention of the smothering mask, and the people exist in the highly sealed, separated air pockets within the city. The entire time, I just feel like I am trapped with no way out. I'm sure Priest has done this on purpose to illustrate how the city feels inside the walls, but it still makes reading a little overwhelming. Does anyone else get this feeling from reading the book?


So...Google has made automated cars. They've been testing them on the streets of California and already driven 1,000 miles without any human interaction and over 140,000 miles with limited human control. Apparently, the technology should be ready for commercial use in about 8 years. I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it would be great for long car trips and I see the technology having less issues on a highway. However, I would be reluctant to trust it in a city. What do you think?

(Title is a link to the NY Times article)