Friday, December 29, 2017

The Belated and Unnecessary Twelfth Anniversary Post

This blog came into existence on October 4th, 2005, and I keep forgetting that exact date as each Fall rolls around and it's time to look back on the past Year in Blogging. This year, as you can plainly see, is another example.

I decided, after only realizing I'd overrun the date two weeks later, that I'd give myself a month's leeway, instead of trying to bash out this post on the day I noticed I'd missed it. I had no idea if you folks would see any difference -- even more, how can you see a difference between this post and the one I didn't do? -- but it was a reasonable plan, and I love plans.

Then, when I overran that deadline, I figured what trouble could another month do? And when that deadline loomed, well, the end of the year was in sight, and isn't that time more suitable? Of course it is. And so here we are now, in the cold dark of late December, exactly the right time to look backwards and wonder where the hell we went wrong.

Following last year's precedent, this year's post will have SEO-friendly bolded keywords rather than headings, because we're in Internet 3.0, goddamn it. Perhaps this will aid you as you scan the trackless sea of text ahead of you and heave a sigh, or even entice you to read a bit instead of immediately moving on to that next cute picture of a cat or explanation of why {insert opposition political party} is the very worst thing that has ever existed in the world.

In case anyone out there is bad at math, let me say for the record that I've now been doing this for twelve years. And I thought I would be better at it by now, or at least managed to keep up a routine.

I always begin this post about looking back by looking back: so here are links to the previous anniversary posts: the plain first, the hoopla of the second, the hullabaloo of the third, the excitement of the fourth, the missing fifth, the razzamatazz of the sixththe fantabulous sevenththe gala eighth, the splendiferous ninth, and the delayed and rushed tenth and the muted and melancholy eleventh. Among them, they represent a massive amount of time-wasting, which you will certainly not need unless you are the Chris Pratt character in Passengers.

Next up, always, is the legend of the founding of the blog. Long ago, in the before-time, the great warrior Hornswoggler delved deep into the Swamp of Google, seeking the Blog Template that would grant him vast fame and riches and the hand of the king's daughter. Sadly, he didn't find it, and so Antick Musings instead came to be. But that mighty warrior is still using that template that he did find on October 4, 2005, perhaps in hopes his constancy will prove an acceptable replacement for good taste and usefulness.

Then we need to get into the ritual comparing of post counts, which is exactly as much of a dick-measuring contest as you fear it will be. (I'm deeply sorry.) Since I had the bad judgment to begin a blog in the middle of a year (October 4th, in case you've forgotten), each year is substantially disjoint from the calendar.
  • 2016-2017 -- 263 posts
  • 2015-2016 -- 144 posts
  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts
Then I have to complicate the matter by throwing in my second blog, Editorial Explanations, which ran for nearly three years (February of 2011 through the end of 2013), since it started as a series of posts on Antick Musings.

Editorial Explanations:
  • 2012-2013 -- 560 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 802 posts
  • early 2011 -- 760 posts
And that means, when you put all of it together, you get:
  • 2016-2017 -- 263 posts
  • 2015-2016 -- 144 posts
  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 + 560 = 845 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 + 802 = 1,134 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 + 760 = 1,205 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts
While we're waiting for the highly-paid stats experts to explain what that all means -- spoiler alert: they never will -- we can see clearly that this blog has been diminishing and going into the West. (Though there is a bit of a bounce this past year -- perhaps a dead-cat bounce, but a bounce nonetheless.) But I hope that it has remained Antick Musings and will always continue as it began: random, desultory, odd, unreliable, and defiantly un-pigeonholed.

Antick Musings was meant to be the place where I wrote about things other than books, because I did books for a living. Well, I haven't done books for a living for a while, and haven't done the books I really liked for a living for a decade now. So it's probably not surprising that it turned into a book blog along the way. I do miss writing about movies (and watching them, more than a few times a year), and I do wonder why I keep rotating the places I dump large clusters of words. (Most of the '90s were Usenet, specifically rec.arts.sf.written. Then came the Straight Dope Message Board, then here. Most recently, I seem to be typing stuff into web boxes on Quora. One might think I would keep those clumps of words here, in a place I control, but one would evidently be wrong.)

So, then, to make up the bulk of this anniversary post, here are some of the sentences I wrote about books in the past year, linked to the longer collections of sentences about those books:

I don't know if comics needs another chronicler of low-key business failure and despair, but we seem to have just gotten one.

We all know That Guy: the one who always has a plan to get ahead, a scheme to get rich, a quick shortcut onto Easy Street, and a boundless optimism that he can do it all with just the tiniest bit of help.

Um, we all know what it means when a middle-aged creator does a book-length story about a body part, right? OK, maybe it could be some thing thrillingly obscure, like body integrity identity disorder, but 99 times out of a hundred, it means The Big C.

All of these are unpleasant people who do dull things in annoying ways and are both deeply horrible and deeply boring.

The four Eltingville lads are deeply horrible people, but they're verbally horrible in that pop-culture way, all references and insults and mean-spirited trivia contests and in-group insults. Each story is draining, as it must be -- the expression of another year's worth of anger at the stupid things that comics/SF/gaming people do to each other and the world.

I like to think I'm a thoughtful reader.  Not perfect, of course -- who is? -- but good at working out metaphors and allegories and fictional schemas of all kinds. If I can see that there's a shape moving under the surface of a book, I can usually make a decent guess at what kind of leviathan lurks down there. 

There's a standard for autobiographical comics: they have to be about "you," obviously, but that "you" must be larger than life. Whatever your actual flaws are, make them bigger and funnier -- your cartoon avatar must be a cartoon, in all of the senses of that word that you can manage.

A metaphor has to become concretized in a story, to be something other than the words that make it up -- it has to mean actual things that happen in the story or underpin it.

I don't know if I completely understood it -- I'm the kind of reader who wants to know how worlds work, and this isn't a world that can be clearly explicated -- but I liked it, and respected it, and cared about the people in it.

But there may be something like an ending not too far in the future, and not just an endless stream of cliffhangers for as long as people keep buying the book. I hope so: I like stories that have endings. It makes them stories.

You might have heard that Alan Moore does not have the best relationship with DC Comics recently. (For values of "recently" that include the last twenty-plus years, and values of "not the best relationship" that include Moore hurling actual attempted magickal spells at them from his secret base in darkest Northampton.)

In every group of close-knit friends, there's always one -- at least one -- not as tightly connected as the others. That's the friend who would be thrown out of the sleigh first when the wolves get closer, the comic relief who the slasher picks off before the opening credits, the one who was always there and dependable but somehow no more than that.

Something in this world does not want you to read Miracleman stories, and each one must be snatched from the claws of that something and dragged out into the wider world.

I wish I could just hand this book to you so you could go into it as ignorant as I was.

Hellboy was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.

(Look, folks: dressing up in colorful clothes and running around beating up people is essentially silly. Please stop calling attention to how silly it is!)

I like to think I'm good at talking about narrative -- I was an editor for a long time, and have been deconstructing stories in my head since I learned those tools. I'm not necessarily right, or even in the right neighborhood, since no one ever is. But I'm usually plausible, which is what talking-about-narrative game aims for.

(And "near the end," for a strip that ran fifty years, still means there were four years to go. And four years, as we're all about to learn, can be a really long time.)

In a world overrun by dirty hippies, grubby hicks, P.C. killjoys, sickos, ex-wives, and today's angry teens, we all need someone to tell us what is right and true.

I've been giving the various Hellboy books a pass from one of my core reading rules -- I don't like to read books that murder me or my family just to make a dangerous background for the heroes to wander through -- but I'm having less and less patience with each new story.

Friendly comedy is "look at what a goof I am," while hostile comedy is "look at those jerks over there."

If you're looking for the usual superhero fare, where violence solves problems...well, you probably should read Plutona, because that's not what violence actually does.

In retrospect, this set the tone for a lot of writer Grant Morrison's later work: portentous superhero operas, with characters emoting in high style, skating by on charm and flash and eye-candy to distract from the fact that the moments of the story don't entirely track and that sensible human beings would never actually act in these ways.

But it does seem to me that every Moebius epic inevitably ends with a big-nosed Everyman on the run from a totalitarian strongman in a dream world, pursuing the image of the perfect woman, who is not so much a character as an idea, even if she's supposed to be a real person.

It was as weird and exhilarating as it sounds, and if it made it difficult for anyone to follow, well, that's the problem with metafiction. It's difficult to step back down to plain old fiction afterward.

I do not think I'm doing a good job of making this book sound appealing. Maybe I should come in at this from a different direction.

If Jim Ballard had mellowed into a gentle wryness in his extreme old age, he might have provided a script for a book like Mooncop, the story of a man left behind by a now-fading space age, one guy left to do a pointless job in a place beautiful and hard and cold and alien.

This is not a story about the interstellar war, or the unlikely economy, or the sail-powered globe-trotting ultra-luxury cruise liners that are nevertheless repeatedly attacked and conquered by murderous pirates.

If you're not willing to deeply believe in this neurotic young woman, and insist along with her that blogging about clothing is a serious and worthy pursuit for an adult, you will be left cold, grumpy and entirely outside the story.

And, since time wounds all heels, I'm chagrined to realize that Akiko ended a good decade ago, and that Crilley, who I thought of as a young guy, is actually a couple of years older than me (and so is young slightly less than I am, which is already not much at all).

This is no way looks like a step forward from what she used to do.

There are times when you can't merely resign, for whatever reason. No, you have to make the bastards kick you out.

At some point in your life, you either realize that punching people is not the solution to problems, or you become a full-blown psychopath.

I really do not want to be that guy.

His world is more Phildickian, if you want to reach for a prose SF equivalent: full of people just scraping by, slaves to their obsessions and circumstances, capable of love but often hobbled by it, human in the most basic and humbling ways.

Forty years in the MU has ground him down enough that he can appear in Secret Wars, or whatever bullshit crossover it is this year, and make a few more cents for his corporate masters.

The great thing about life, though, is that it's never too late to read a good book as long as you can read: any book that is worse read later is not that good to begin with.

You goddamn asshole, P.J. O'Rourke.

So the fact that any one of us is not diagnosed with autism doesn't mean we're "normal" -- it just means we think in ways that haven't caused this particular kind of problem yet, or that our differences are less diagnose-able, or just that we're functional enough that it's not worth the resources to investigate us.

I've tagged this book as "Fantasy," but I don't think it really is. But it's a book about the fantasies that we have, and about how fantasy creatures can make real life bearable.

That's just one example: death and pain and destruction lurk around every corner, and the people who are responsible so often skate on blithely while the people around them pay the price.

It's good to know our limits. If this is outside yours, good for you.

But, still, the spectre of English Fascism in 1937 is a creaky, anachronistic thing to read a long screed against, and Wigan Pier is more than 50% screed by volume.

It's important to check your assumptions against reality regularly: we often find that what we think is true actually has very little do with with what really happened.

If you're the kind of American whose conception of "comics" is entirely filled by people in bright colors punching each other, this is very much not the book for you. I hope there aren't actually that many of you, but -- since I'm a pessimist -- I tend to assume you're the majority, you thick-knuckled vulgarians you.

In Murderbot, Wells has created the first slacker killer-robot, which I deeply love.

There are immediate meanings, the implied history of this world, deeper satires of academic life and the foibles of humanity in general, plus silly pictures that have circles and arrows pointing to places where a dragon is lurking unseen.

Every so often a reader needs to take on a masterpiece. You can only bump along with decent or pretty good books for so long: once in a while you need to open the floodgates wide and let a writer at the full tide of his powers wash over you.

The great thing about history is that it never stops being history. It might technically get older, but, realistically, a hundred years is the same as a hundred and twenty. Old is old, dead is dead.  

As I noted above, this has basically turned into a book blog. One major part of the book-blog is the criticism of what one has read; I just listed far too many examples of that. Other major parts of a book blog are the author interview (but I don't like talking to people), the book giveaway (which, again, requires talking to people), and the regular Presentation of The Swag (which I can actually do). In my case, I call those posts Reviewing the Mail and run them every Monday morning. I used to make a rigid distinction between books I got for free, which went into that post, and books I bought, which went into different posts, and books from the library, which I mostly neglected to mention until I read them, and books given to me as gifts, which...yeah, it was too complicated. Everything is now going into the same Monday-morning post, for my own sanity. 

I have mostly avoided writing about politics here, for which forbearance I'm sure you thank me. But when politics wanders into places where I used to live, such as the publishing world, I sometimes toss out some ill-informed opinions. And so I did back in January, about Milo Yannopolous, who we've probably all forgotten about already.

I wrote about the record Charming Tales by the Brooklyn-based musical act Charming Disaster back in April, and I'm still listening regularly to songs from that record. And I'll repeat that their densely allusive lyrical style and often-genre subject matter is just the kind of thing that a lot of people who read the kind of books I read would also enjoy a lot.

I had an annoying computer issue with my work laptop this year, and complained about it. (The alt-tab switcher would default to the older, less useful style after sleeping.) After that post, I figured out how to fix it: use Task Manager to kill and restart Explorer every time it happens. The solution to every computer problem, I think, is to stop something and restart it.

That was what I was nattering on about during the Twelfth Year of the Blog. Look for a similar post covering the thirteenth year on October 4, 2018...or possibly somewhat later than that.

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