Bill & Ted’s Triumphant Return – Brian Lynch

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The aspiring musicians Bill and Ted are the protagonists of two classic sci-fi comedies released around the time I was born. Something like a combination of Wayne’s World and Doctor Who, the films revolve around Bill and Ted using a time-travelling phone booth to guarantee their destiny as messianic rockstars who establish a bizarre future utopia. They’re great fun, though the bit where their evil robot doppelgangers open their skin seriously freaked me out as a kid. Last year Bill and Ted returned in Boom Studios’ comic called, er, Bill and Ted’s Triumphant Return.

Written by Brian Lynch, the main story begins after the conclusion of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Bill and Ted are having trouble writing their second song, so they decide to visit their future utopia to plagiarize themselves. (I have no idea how ethical that is…) They get sidetracked when they encounter a younger version of someone who tried to murder them, and he’s so pathetic that they befriend him. From there, the duo have to deal with parallel timelines, depressed Martian scientists and a tyrannical society where all forms of music have been banned.

It’s a fun story. It builds from the concepts and characters introduced in the original film, but takes them in new directions that seem inevitable in hindsight.

There’s also a few short stories at the end. My favourite was one about Dante irritating the Bill and Ted version of death, but the Ryan North’s story about robots being affected by email spam was also excellent.

The art was bright and colourful, suiting the cartoony feel of the original series.

If Bill & Ted mean anything to you, you’ll enjoy to this comic. Now I need to go watch the originals.

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The Batman Strikes: Scarface is Gonna Go Boom

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Here’s a children’s comic about Batman fighting an evil ventriloquist. The stylised art was enjoyable and the simple script was effective. At the end there were these educational questions inviting the reader to invent a story for the dummy’s scar, and asking them if they understood basic comic conventions or if they could understand why Batman was sad when another character mentioned his parents. I thought these insulted the reader’s intelligence, a kid smart enough to read this comic would know all about that stuff.

Marathon Man – William Goldman

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I had a hard time keeping track of what was going on this book, I think the reason is the recent hot weather combined with the switch between the two main protagonists every chapter. Which is a pity, because I think the Marathon Man would’ve been a great thriller if I was fully paying attention. William Goldman, being the brilliant screenwriter he is, has a natural ear for dialogue and the main villain, a Nazi dentist, is genuinely chilling. I want to see the film.

The Lifted Brow: Capital Issue

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The Lifted Brow is a self-described ‘quarterly attack journal’ that prints stories, essays, poems and comics by talented young artists from Australia and overseas.

I first read this magazine in 2013, when I was given a canvas bag full of issues as part of a short story prize. They were printed like old-fashioned newspapers, frail A3 sheets without staples. Although I made it through a few interesting pieces, the format was too impractical for me to handle. After learning that I could order the newest Lifted Brow for whatever price I wanted, I decided to give the journal another chance and bought a new copy for four dollars. The presentation has been radically improved, now The Lifted Brow is a cardboard paperback with all the pages glued to a spine, just as they should be. It’s great.

Usually in Australian literary journals, the creative non-fiction bits are the best part. Fiona Wrights There’s No Dirt in my Food was an insightful look into how nutrition and morality have become entangled in popular culture, and the disturbing health outcomes such thinking can lead to. Scott Esposito’s review of a Bansky film that danced on the edge of the viewer’s disbelief was appropriately mindboggling, at times to Borgesian levels. And while I found Daniel Levin Becker’s detailed attempt to explain Kanye West entertaining, I think I know the solution. I’m fairly certain Kanye is bipolar.

The fiction was pretty good, too. Allee Richard’s Australian story was a satirical fake autobiography of Bindi Irwin, exploring her rise to fame and the crucial role remembering her father’s death has in that fame. Bindi is never explicitly named, probably for legal reasons, but the slightly blasphemous defamatory nature of the whole thing was delicious. There was an extract from Cesar Aire’s novel Ema the Captive, describing the financial dealings between an American fort and the local native tribes with a slightly Magical Realist atmosphere, which was also pretty good, though not as fun as the Richard story.

Poetry and comics were also contained within this edition of The Lifted Brow, and neither did much for me. Finding poems I like is hard, the best way I can describe it is like finding a good novel in a world where novels aren’t classified by genre or ascribed to authors. Reading poetry is always going to be a gamble, and for me it’s rarely worth the effort. The comics weren’t bad, but as an avid reader of American superheroes I feel that there’s something missing when a comic story focuses on mundane day-to-day matters. Australian comics always seems to be either realistic or inaccessibly avante-garde, and while there’s a place for both of those qualities in comics, I really wish we had an iconic graphic novel about a protagonist whose name ends with ‘man’. Someone needs to make a book about Condoman so daring and insightful that it wins a bunch of prizes and triggers an important National Conversation about whether graphic novels count as Literature. That’s what I want for the Australian comic scene. The comic stories The Lifted Brow had were good, but they don’t have what I look for in comics.

If The Lifted Brow offers future issues on a name-your-price basis, I’ll get them. I wouldn’t pay the recommended retail price though, not because I don’t think it’d be worth it, but because my finances are far from what they should be. Were I to have more money I’d probably read more Australian literary journals. I like Meanjin and I’ve tried Southerly, but there’s a few others that deserve my attention.

You, on the other hand, ought to check out The Lifted Brow, if you’re interested in supporting young Australian artists. You can buy it here.

Obelisk – Stephen Baxter

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Seventeen stories from Stephen Baxter, covering previously unseen incidents from his Proxima-Ultima sequence, events from alternative histories, and miscellaneous sci-fi moments from the near future.

All good stuff, although some of the alternative histories were bogged down by necessary exposition. My favourite story from this was the one about the time-travelling rats, although the creepy story about a small boy wandering around after the apocalypse stuck with me.

What really surprised me was all the romance. The first story had a couple fall in love after literally crashing into each other in the Martian sky, in another a royal governess flirted with a high-ranking soldier, and divorced dad protagonist of the rat story was visibly attracted to his daughter’s science teacher. That’s a far happier ending than I expect for Baxter characters. I’m not complaining, it’s just a bit weird.

Still, Obelisk is full of great science fiction, so if that’s what you need right now, check it out.

The Long Cosmos – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

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The Long Cosmos is easily the best book in the whole Long Earth saga.

The premise of the series is that in the near future, people learn how to step into parallel Earths. None of these other worlds have humans on them, although they do have exotic new hominids with fantasy names like elves and trolls. This moves the focus away from speculating about historical what-ifs and onto encounters with bizarre animals, geography and the impact that all this extra space has on humanity. The Long Earth series is what you’d get if you mixed Sliders with David Attenborough. Lots of dramatic stuff went down in the previous four books, including Yellowstone erupting, an expedition across parallel Marses, the emergence of a typically patronising posthuman subspecies and an alien invasion of an alternate Earth, but the Long Cosmos tops them all with an interstellar message instructing mankind how to build a computer the size of a continent.

Speculative fiction that about travelling usually ends up presenting a series of increasingly cool and mind-blowing ideas. The one from The Long Cosmos that really stuck with me was the gigantic forest, with trees the size of skyscrapers supported by helium. Their reproduction strategy involves spreading seeds when they inevitably explode during bushfires. I also amazed by the sentient islands that sampled life while moving between worlds, and that ridiculously large computer.

The Long Cosmos felt more coherent and less disjointed than the previous books in the series. I can’t explain why I feel this way. Maybe it was because the plotlines felt more related, and came to a satisfactory conclusion?

What really intrigues me about the Long Earth series are the pop culture references. Two of the main protagonists watch the Blues Brothers, the Tim Allen comedy Galaxy Quest is mentioned far more often then you’d expect, and the interstellar signal plot draws from Contact. There’s also a nun who really, really likes Jim Steinman. At first I though there were so many of these references because this would’ve been the first time in a long while Pratchett could directly invoke them , without forcing them into a fantasy context. But after reading another Baxter book, where a cyborg remembers Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs as a beloved childhood classic, I’m thinking he was also responsible. Either way, I need to see Galaxy Quest.

The Long Cosmos’ genre means that it feels more like a Baxter book than a Pratchett one, although there is a fair bit of whimsy about. And I really don’t think it would make much sense without reading the rest of the series. Look at it this way – if you’re a fan of these authors and you’ve never heard of the Long Earth before, today’s your lucky day.

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Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is a book written by Jane Austen. Neither requires an introduction.

It contains a surplus of irritating and unlikeable characters. These include the selfish Mr and Mrs Bennet, the sociopathic Mr Wickham, the slimy Mr Collins and the shallow Mary Bennet. Like The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm, we are meant to enjoy the social mistakes committed by these at-times grotesque characters. Unfortunately, the cultural differences between now and that author’s time means that such humour is limited. The only really sympathetic character was Mr Darcy, whose policy of making grumpy faces at dances seems reasonable considering the company he is forced to keep.

The phraseology is another alienating aspect of Pride and Prejudice. The characters speak in a dialect that I’ve yet to see replicated outside of Stephen Fry’s ramblings on QI. In fact, I can only hope that there is an audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry, because that is the only way I see the book’s language gaining any sort of authenticity.

One of Austen’s particularly annoying habits is using the word ‘cried’ as a dialogue tag. I do not interpret ‘cried’ as the sad crying, more of an excited yelp. Characters are always crying about this and that. Sister eloping with a creep? ‘Oh no!’ cries Elizabeth. Are the characters walking through a pretty garden? ‘Oh yeah!’ cries someone else. There is simply too much crying in this book. Austen’s editor should have done something about it. It’s melodramatic.

There is an unintentional reoccurring gag that I’m quite fond of. Austen’s characters do a lot of communication through mail, and they end their letters with their name in capital letters. I don’t know why, but the sudden transition into all-caps SCREAMING makes me laugh.

Pride and Prejudice does contain some fairly apt witticisms. Unfortunately, they are buried in a sea of problems I’ve previously identified within the text. The interaction between Mr and Mrs Bennet can also be somewhat amusing.

Given my lack of enthusiasm for Pride and Prejudice readers may wonder why I even read the book at all. The answer is that my own surreal ebook, Blue Blue City, was ultimately derived from Pride and Prejudice. Reading Pride and Prejudice was how I paid my dues.

My verdict is that Pride and Prejudice is not a text worth reading within itself, but may contain some historical nuggets for anthropologists investigating the mating rituals of British gentry.

PETER KELLY

 

And another thing that annoyed me about P’n’P was when the silly sister, I think her name was Kitty Bennet or something cutesy like that, ran off to marry the creepy Bingly and all her siblings were like: ‘Nup, we’re not gonna let that happen’. I think they tried to get Mr. Darcy to intervene, I can’t remember that well. But the whole thing bothered me because they really didn’t respect Kitty’s capacity to make choices for herself, even if they were bad ones.