Lovelace and Babbage

Okay, so technically this book is called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage but…the adventures really aren’t that thrilling? So, we’re going with just Lovelace and Babbage because the book is still educational and interesting it’s just not, y’know, exciting.

In case you don’t know, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage theoretically invented computing – theoretically because they never actually made the Analytical Engine they wrote about. As such, that title still belongs to Alan Turing because he actually made the thing. But they did come up with the first ideas of a bunch of stuff that we still use today and that’s still pretty impressive for people who were alive in the 1800s. It’s worth noting that pretty much everything in the book after the first section that describes the (actual, depressing) historical events is historical fiction and therefore not real. I thought it was going to be like they were Batman and Robin solving crimes but it was actually just cartoonish accounts of interactions that mostly actually occurred with the addition of the Analytical Engine as though it had actually been built and used and Lovelace not dying super young.

So… THIS HAS THE MOST FOOTNOTES OF ANY COMIC I’VE EVER READ. (I’d really like to say it has the most footnotes of anything I’ve ever read at all, but alas I have read a David Foster Wallace.) Kind of an offputting number of footnotes, honestly. But about halfway through I decided to just read the comic like it was a comic and come back for the footnotes (and also the extensive endnotes) after I was done and that worked way better for me. Especially since the added notes mostly don’t pertain to any particular sentence or frame, they’re just letting you know that although there’s no way to verify that this scene occurred, they are definitely pretty close to actual historical events and people.

The art in this is so cool! I really kind of want to buy a second copy and use it like a coloring book (something I also still badly want to do with the Scott Pilgrim series…maybe I just love coloring books and black and white graphic novels really resemble coloring books but with cooler themes…).

A Babbage party

An amalgam of all of Babbage’s famous party guests in one place

Also there are excellent historical figures! Ada Lovelace is pretty kickass – her dad was Byron and her mom was so worried that she’d be a philandering mess like him that she refused to let her daughter read any poetry or even abstract math concepts ’cause that’s like the poetry of math, I guess. And Charles Babbage sounds like a cantankerous weirdo and it’s delightful that the author of this book is clearly in love with both of them. And there’s a cast of secondary characters who are historical figures I knew almost nothing about before reading this book.

Lovelace and Babbage nerding out at a party

Lovelace and Babbage

In conclusion, this book is cool but only read it if you were looking for a history, math, or engineering lesson NOT if you were looking for people in capes fighting crime. ‘Cause then you might be a little disappointed at the lack of explosions.

 

The Midnight Assassin

So, The Midnight Assassin is not at all something I would normally have read or even heard about. I’m not really on top of my historical crime novels anymore. (Although I willingly admit to having read a ton of them in the past.)

But my mom’s book club read it and she gave me her copy when she was done with it. AND IT’S GREAT. I mean, it would be better if it had a definitive conclusion (like, say if they caught the guy before he maybe went on to be Jack the Ripper or whatever). But still, it’s super interesting and very well written.

One of my favorite aspects of it was that it was also a narrative of the history of Austin. In the background of these grizzly, seemingly random murders, the place I currently live is growing from a small town into a real city. The pictures of things like the Driscoll hotel right after they finished building it standing alone on a 6th Street that is not yet crawling with drunk college kids, and the UT campus surrounded by green space and “overflowing with 230 students” were almost impossible to believe considering how big the city is now and almost as interesting to read about as the murders themselves or the historical racism that definitely contributed to them never being solved.

Also, if you’re a fan of the Texas Monthly’s long form journalism, this is basically just an extra long article. Skip Hollandsworth has written some of my favorite Texas Monthly pieces – all of those are great reads if you have a free hour or so before anyone expects you to do anything. If you have actual stuff humans expect you to do in the world, here’s an overview Texas Monthly did of Skip Hollandsworth and the super weird stuff he likes to write about that’s a much more reasonable length.

Preacher

I feel obliged to post this before the TV show starts up (May 22nd, in case you didn’t know) even though I just finished reading all the comics a few days ago. So I feel like I’m still thinking them over .

I really enjoyed these comics overall! (Cool, got that nicety out of the way. Now to complain! And then after that more nice things, I promise.)

So, the art was probably my biggest issue with the series. Which seems so silly. But it is absolutely the most generic 90’s comic book art. All of the faces are drawn exactly the same. If characters don’t have different specific outfits they wear in every single frame (good thing Jesse has a priest collar on, honestly) it’s hard to tell them apart. Nothing is pretty. Nothing even stands out. It’s just visually plain and honestly a little confusing when side characters are introduced who aren’t readily distinguishable from the main ones.

(Jesse, Cassidy, and Tulip in a diner.)

Generic human faces. And these are the three main characters in a well lit room, so this is as good as it gets.

Also, as was pretty common in 90’s comics, women make up about 5% of this universe. There’s Tulip (yay Tulip!), her one friend (who is a barely developed character except that she is in love with Jesse and talks to both Tulip and Jesse about that at various points, which is not a particularly believable human thing), Jesse’s evil grandma, Featherstone (the Grail apparently controls Catholicism the world over but only needed one lady operative), and some girls who are only mentioned because of the fact that Cassidy either does or does not date them (spoilers: it ends poorly both ways). That’s it. And only Tulip has any character development or affect on the plot. Which is a real bummer.

And the guys who get so much plot and backstory and importance thrown at them? They both kinda suck. At being people. Also at life. For additional data, the list of characters who warranted Preacher Specials: Cassidy, Herr Starr, Arseface, The Saint of Killers, and “The Good Ol’ Boys” aka Jesse’s terrifying (southern stereotype) violent, inbred, hick cousins. (I read these, none of them were particularly good. Just in case you were curious.)

Jesse is basically the face of benevolent sexism. Tulip is like the only reliable person he knows. Also, as she repeatedly demonstrates throughout the story, she’s super great at killing people. But he leaves her behind every single time he can because he cares about her and she’s a lady human so it’s the right thing to do.

(Tulip being badass.)

Tulip being badass. (Those are bad guys, in case that’s not clear.)

Cassidy… Damnit, you guys. This guy was my favorite for a while. He’s sarcastic and mean AND Irish AND a vampire? But then he’s also your friendly neighborhood rapist, abuser, and absentee father. What. The. Fuck. And then, I guess, that’s all okay because he kind of helps but actually just doesn’t kill Jesse – he only breaks his collar bone and then asks for forgiveness. Which, I guess, if these are supposed to have Catholic morals maybe has its own consistent internal logic? Still,  I am full of rage for the ongoing non-death of Cassidy.

ANYWAYS I promised you pros and I have them! I am not a liar!

The plot of these comics is just awesome. There was probably some stuff I missed with the hierarchy of angels and demons and god and maybe even Jesse’s creepy family where knowing a little bit more about religious texts would have been helpful. Even without that understanding, I still speed read my way through them because I just had to know what happened.

Also there’s Tulip! I don’t know, have I mentioned that she’s really cool already? Why couldn’t this just be her story? She’s raised by her survivalist single dad until he dies and she goes to private school and meets her rich best friend who she then saves at a party and spends most of the rest of her life protecting good people she encounters just because it’s the right thing to do. Tulip is the real hero, guys.

And The Saint of Killers! Who I primarily like because he is basically Roland Deschain back before the Dark Tower went on way too long and I started to hate him.

So I have long since learned not to get my hopes up about TV adaptations (or movies, or radio shows…all of it is mostly a let down). But I am definitely going to watch this to find out.

But so far it looks like THEY ADDED DIVERSITY! (At least a little bit. I’ve only seen the photos of the cast they’ve put on Instagram so far.)

I can’t help but wonder how they’re going to do the special effects exactly though. This could be horrendously cheesy or very interesting… TBD.

(Glowing ball of angry space baby)

How are they gonna do this in a way that’s not hilarious?

Will religious people burn the AMC offices down? Does AMC even have offices? We’ll find out!

(Jesse meet Genesis. Genesis, Jesse.)

Jesse meet Genesis. Genesis, Jesse.

My ongoing, completely one-sided, love affair with Amy Poehler

As I mentioned (forever ago, in a blog post I’m totally sure she read) I really wanted Amy Poehler to write a book. And then she did! (In 2014, I’m way late to the game on this one.) I’m going to pretend she did it as a special favor to me. It’s called Yes Please and it’s wonderful.

I suppose I should acknowledge that even if this book were bad I would probably still love it because of Amy Poehler’s general awesomeness. Parks & Rec is one of my favorite TV shows. And generally everything she touches is gold: Broad City, Mean Girls, Arrested Development, Inside Out… Her level of involvement in those things varies drastically. But she is somehow related to all of them and they are all great. Also she seems like an excellent person in real life. And Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls warms the cockles of my cold, cold heart. [Side note: Had to look up cockles to make sure I was spelling it correctly (I was) and apparently only in this idiom it means depths. If it’s not in this specific phrase it means mollusks. Words are weird, you guys.]

So the book is…not really a book. It’s kind of an overview of an autobiography with a lot of snippets of life advice and random pictures thrown in. All of which I felt was hilariously accurate and pretty obvious if very hard to follow in practice. I aspire to someday be as self aware and strong as Amy Poehler advises people to be in this book. Also, from the stories, it sounds like Amy Poehler does too. A lot of the stories are stories of her past mistakes and how she acknowledged and moved on from them but somehow makes them all sound very universal. Here’s an example quote full of things that are obviously personal examples but that is still, somehow (I assume), true for everyone:

“That voice that talks badly to you is a demon voice. This very patient and determined demon shows up in your bedroom one day and refuses to leave. You are six or twelve or fifteen and you look in the mirror and you hear a voice so awful and mean that it takes your breath away. It tells you that you are fat and ugly and you don’t deserve love. And the scary part is the demon is your own voice. But it doesn’t sound like you. It sounds like a strangled and seductive version of you. Think Darth Vader or an angry Lauren Bacall. The good news is there are ways to make it stop talking. The bad news is it never goes away. If you are lucky, you can live a life where the demon is generally forgotten, relegated to a back shelf in a closet next to your old field hockey equipment. You may even have days or years when you think the demon is gone. But it is not. It is sitting very quietly, waiting for you. This motherfucker is patient. It says, “Take your time.” It says, “Go fall in love and exercise and surround yourself with people who make you feel beautiful.” It says, “Don’t worry, I’ll wait.” And then one day, you go through a breakup or you can’t lose your baby weight or you look at your reflection in a soup spoon and that slimy bugger is back. It moves its sour mouth up to your ear and reminds you that you are fat and ugly and don’t deserve love. This demon is some Stephen King from-the-sewer devil-level shit.”

I would argue that this is excellent life advice (that I am personally terrible at):

Figure Out What You Want (image from Yes Please)You can see how many post-its I put in this book for things I liked and might want to come back to in this picture. It’s basically all the pages.

But that this, while still completely true, is somewhat less important (although I did text a picture of it to a bunch of tall jerks I know the second I read it):Short People DO NOT Like to be Picked Up (image from Yes Please)

Also, as you can see from these images…this book does not have all that many words in it. I mean, sure, it is not all artsy-layouts, but there’s more of them than you’d think. So it’s a pretty quick read if you’re bored sometime. I hear the audio book is also excellent because she reads it herself (and Seth Meyers reads the chapter he wrote) and that it’s hilarious. (Disclaimer: I have not actually listened to the audio book. People have just told me that it is also good.) I know some people who were a little indignant about how short the actual text was and how some of the text is dedicated to writing about how hard writing is. And while those things were not my favorite, this book still is.

So, in conclusion, here’s one more quote from this wonderful human’s book: “Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please. I love saying “yes” and I love saying “please.” Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. “Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request.”

Do Whatever You Like (image from Yes Please)

 

Gillian Flynn???

I think I am in love with you, Gillian Flynn.

You also scare the bajeezes out of me.

Probably this is partially my fault for only reading your books when I’m alone in strange cities on business trips. Somehow I read Gone Girl alone at night in a hotel in Pittsburgh, Dark Places alone at night in a hotel in Boston, and Sharp Objects at night in an AirBNB also in Boston where I was alone with the stranger whose room I was renting (who turned out not to be a murderer, but I didn’t know that at the time). None of those were a great time to be reading interpersonal horror* (a phrase I’m making up now but for which there probably already exists better terminology…someone let me know what it is and I’ll fix this). Why do I make obviously poor situational reading choices? Like when I started reading Preacher comics on the airplane while I was sitting in a middle seat. My seatmates definitely assumed I was a monster. I should definitely work on that.

Back to you: you are an excellent writer. You and Tana French are the only two people who write books that I genuinely cannot put down once I’ve started reading them. I worry about your characters while I’m out in the world unable to read more because I’m doing dumb things – like working. Your characters and the world you writer for them feel real – and, again, terrifying. I’m honestly sort of annoyed I’ve never seen any of your books shelved in the horror section of a bookstore. (To be continued: I have a whole rant about how book stores sort things based on useless trivia like the author’s gender. BUT ANYWAYS.) And I will fight anyone who says they could have guessed the endings of your books before they read them. A+ for plot twists that don’t seem cliche.

And on top of all that, you seem like a really kickass person, based on the few interviews I’ve read of yours. Particularly this one with the Guardian where you respond to the recurring accusation that your books are misogynist because none of the women in them are likeable. But there are a bunch of others that are also excellent.

I especially liked this bit from a post on your website:”I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we had nothing more interesting to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some. The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important.”

In conclusion, please write more books before I go on any more business trips so I can have something terrifying to read while I’m gone.

*Interpersonal horror: (as defined by me) horror but where the monster lives inside someone you love. Like how interpersonal violence is the smaller cruelties that people exact against each other every day instead of, like, the bombs of movie violence.

Whoops…

You know when you set up a blog and then neglect to post anything in it for over two years? No? Then you’re probably better at being a person than I am. Because I definitely did that. 

Gonna fix that starting today!

A Love Letter to Terry Pratchett

I just finished reading Night Watch by Terry Pratchett. It’s a Disc World book that’s not about Rincewind or, particularly, wizards, so I quite enjoyed it. (I suppose at some later point, I’ll write about why so many of the Disc World books annoy me but not today!)

I especially like this one because the Night Watch, as opposed to the other Disc World books I’ve read (there are a lot, so I’ve maybe read 10 or so of them but there are still so many to go), played a real part. They were something thieves and general criminals mentioned occasionally in a “Let’s avoid the Night Watch” sort of way. But it’s nice to know that there are some moderately good people in Ankh-Morpork.

My favorite Pratchett books are definitely the Tiffany Aching series though. I really wish there were more of those because I would basically read about Tiffany Aching doing anything. How is she so cool?! (If you know, let me know. I would consider it helpful life advice.) Also the Nac Mac Feegle (who are basically drunk, Scottish Smurfs) should play a larger role in all of Pratchett’s novels.

My only general-Terry-Pratchett complaint that also applies to Night Watch is that there are no chapter breaks! C’mon. It’s over 400 pages long. Give your readers a break. It doesn’t seem like this would be a big deal but I am wholeheartedly against dogearing books and a bookmark just narrows it down to two pages. It’s a minor inconvenience that drives me crazy. Pet peeve, I guess.

PS: For clarification, there is another sci-fi book that was also made into a movie called Night Watch. It’s by Sergei Lukyanenko and distinctly Russian. So these two things are completely unrelated. The movies are excellent. I have not yet read the books, so I cannot vouch for them. But probably they’re better, because that’s the rule.