Låt den rätte komma in

When I saw the movie, I didn’t know there was a book. I think the movie just kind of showed up one day and moved into my Netflix queue. All very normal. Who knew? Then, I watched it. I was so amazed by the originality and atmosphere and everything of the movie that when someone mentioned, “The book is better,” I knew I had to read that too. However, it sat on my stack unread. In fact, I almost gave it away as a present since it seemed a shame to waste a brand new book like that if I wasn’t going to read it.

Then, I’m not sure why, but I picked it up. And, devoured it. But, the whole time I kept thinking to myself, “I wish I’d read the book first.” The pacing seemed really slow to me as I was reading it. I felt that had to be because I’d seen the movie and so I wasn’t discovering the story for the first time. It had to be something, because it was a wonderful story to read.

Well, maybe the word “wonderful” isn’t right, is it? It’s a bleak affair, after all. The pacing is part of the atmosphere. Everyone is struggling to find love in spite of their dysfunctions in a world which indifferently exists around them. I’d say hostile, but that’s not really it. Everyone is doing what they can to survive as wounded individuals, and sometimes that means hurting other people. But, it’s not really out of malice, even the bullies are really not so much vicious as much as indifferently cruel because they are living. And, there’s really no good people, per se, as much as everyone being flawed in such a way that it’s all ultimately ambiguous. And, in the cold and wintery dark, isn’t that idea the real horror? To be alone is to die, but to be around others is to get hurt. To live is to decide to continue hurting and being hurt, and to refuse this is to refuse to go on living. And, that struggle is one that strangles the heart in strange ways, unless you can find the right one that balances out that struggle for a while. So, try to let the right one in.

(It’s an odd coincidence, which will only make sense to those having read the book, that I was proofreading Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente as I was reading the book. After you finish the book, go and read through this Liber to see why this stuck me as synchronicity.)

Then I finished with the story and watched the movie again. As I watched the movie, I realized how very different the two were from each other. The pacing of the movie really was strikingly fast, and after the book the movie is almost dizzying. The movie literally zooms from the start to somewhere in the middle of the book across a couple of minutes. I was really shocked at how much wasn’t there from the book that I had to reassure myself that, in fact, the author was also the writer of the screenplay. Now, that makes it very interesting to think about what got left out, by the author’s own hand; in collaboration, to be sure, but still. Re-watching the movie, I realized there were things that couldn’t have made sense the first time, things that must have seemed odd or wrong about the plot. The movie could have been so very much creepier and scarier. But, it also turned the story from one of many individuals trying for survival, trying to live in a indifferently hostile world, into more of a love story.

In fact so much was left out, that, given what was left unexplored on screen the first time, I’m holding out a bit of hope now that the Americanized remake will actually be truer to the book. Faint hope to be sure, if I’m relying on American cinema to outdo a European film for awesome moody dread and willingness to go uncomfortable places, without turning to shlock and satire.

Of course, I’m reminded of anything by Bergman, but that’s too easy. Like in Cyrano de Bergerac, no one really gets what they want in the end. Like the end of The Princess Bride, it’s really not clear how much time there’s left for those riding off into the sunset. And, as I think about this I’m strongly reminded of my experience of The Silence of the Lambs, because of the realization that instead of any of what would normally be the creepiest stuff, the violence and gore and so on, what really was creepy was the psychological, existential horror that went on in the exchange between the main characters.

While reading the book, there were two places where it seemed to me the translator’s choices stuck out in odd ways, and there was one point past the half way point in the story where I had a feeling that the style of storytelling had abruptly changed. But, all in all the writing and translation seemed to carry me along and into the narrative without making themselves obvious, dissolving into a seamless experience. Nothing here like a tour de force of language, but well suited to the story and did well to maintain my immersion and momentum through to the end.

Now I’m flummoxed over whether I’d rather have read the book first or not. I actually like the movie a lot less now than I did before I read the book. The book is a much richer tapestry and much creepier and much more compelling. I can only, in the end, recommend both, and highly, even in spite of my confusion. They’re such different creatures, the movie and the book, that they both almost live unlives of their own. Both manage to survive, to find a way through the dark; both manage to come out in the end. At least, for a while.

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Ebba Segerberg, translator
St. Martin’s Griffin
October, 2008
Paperback, 480, pages
ISBN: 0312355297 (ISBN13: 9780312355296)

Let The Right One In [DVD]; Tomas Alfredson, director; John Ajvide Lindqvist, writer; Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Released March 10, 2009
114 minutes

Originally posted over on my personal blog at Låt den rätte komma in.

Third Time is the Charm

I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut, but I can no longer let certain things go by without comment. I am quite sure I will offend some of the True Faithful, but that cannot be helped.

I am here today to speak aloud these words: J K Rowling is wrong. In fact, not only is she wrong about two things she thinks that she got wrong, but actually got right; Rowling is also wrong about something she thinks she got right, but actually got completely wrong.

Many would have you believe that the wrongs J K Rowling has unleashed on the world are something along the lines of an inappropriately out of the closet Dumbledore, the traumatic death of Dumbledore (for entirely unrelated reasons to his homosexuality), rampant incipient Satanism and Witchcraft, and any number of those sorts of things. But, no. I’m fine will all that, as should you be as well. I’m talking about more important issues here!

Three strikes and you’re out, right? You know that thing where you write something the first time and then try to re-write it but nothing is better than the first thing you wrote, only now you’ve lost that because of your subsequent changes? Yeah. That. Someone needs to take the pen out of J K Rowling’s hand. She’s drunk and should go home. Let me demonstrate:

The First Wrong of J K Rowling

Oh, so many moons ago, I read that J K Rowling no longer liked the opening to the first book. I can’t quite just now find a reference. But, what I remember is that she wished she had re-written the opening of the first book to be more obvious in genre setting and quicker into the story, instead of the way it appears in print.

She is wrong.

The opening is delightful in how it starts out normal and slowly the increasing number of owls reveals to the reader and the character of Mr Dursley just how abnormal the world really is. I know that there is advice out there, I forget from whom, about making clear in the very first sentence what genre one is in, but I absolutely adore the way normality melts away in the opening of the first book. Moreover, we get to be present at the very moment when Mr Dursley’s sanity dissolves and he becomes unhinged. And, I will abide no loose talk about changing that feature.

The Second Wrong of J K Rowling

Recently, J K Rowling has publicly stated that Harry and Hermione should have gotten together, and she regretted that they didn’t. This is an idea which should be killed in its crib … but, um, successfully this time.

She is wrong.

First off, even if Hermione wanted to end up with Harry at any point, there is no way that Hermione would have stabbed her friend Ginny in the back like that. In order to double-cross Ginny like that Hermione would have to become a selfish narcissist instead of who she was, and that would have been against her very character, and if allowed would have been the beginning of the end for everyone, because without a good-at-heart Hermione everything would have fallen apart and fizzled into infinite darkness under the real Dark Lord.

But, I’d argue that the fact that Harry and Hermione didn’t end up together is part of what helped Harry not turn into his father, and merely repeat the same story as the previous generation acted out. And, all the other characters would have fallen into enacting the same systemic failures demonstrated in the flashbacks and revelations about how completely shitty the Marauders really were to everyone else. Ginny saved Harry, not the other way around; because it was in Harry’s relationship with Ginny that he became a fully functioning and feeling adult; and it was always in Hermione’s hands how this entire story unfolded.

You think I’m overstating that? Let me put it this way: Harry had absolutely no apparent talent of his own until he discovered he was a natural at Quidditch. And, there is no way that Harry would have ever been discovered and joined the team if Hermione hadn’t used a fully functional and useful spell to repair Harry’s glasses in the very first book so Harry could actually see anything at all.

And, there’s no way Hermoine would have ended up with someone with a complete absence of actual magical aptitude … um, okay, at least Ron could play chess and throw gnomes like nobody’s business! And, red hair! They made beautiful babies, so shut up!

In fact, I bet, by the end, Hermione full and well realized that without the Horcrux in his head, Harry Potter was nothing more than a magically inept, whiney rich jock who liked to beat up on goth kids. There’s no way she would have gone for someone like that … well, you know, after she learned her lesson from how it didn’t work out with Victor Krum, anyway.

The Third Wrong of J K Rowling

J K Rowling lost the plot in the end. Yes, the entire end of the series was screwed up. Harry was no hero, for reasons I think I’ve already detailed. So, the only other kid left, and someone mentioned specifically in the books as fulfilling the same prophecy as Harry supposedly did: Neville Longbottom.

Rowling would have you believe that Harry was the hero and saved the day after coming back to life, a pathetic attempt to twist the actual truth and instead turn Harry into a risen Christ figure.

She is wrong.

In fact, without the stolen power of the Horcrux in his head and the overly patient coddling of whiz kid Hermione and the army of people around him doing all the actual work, Harry Potter would have been nothing better than how Neville Longbottom is portrayed throughout most of the series. But even still, the truth will out. You cannot deny that Neville Longbottom steps up, grows a pair, and stands up to Voldemort, and if he had half as much preparation as Harry did there’s no telling what he could have done. Probably have sealed things up behind the scenes of book three while Harry was busy being freaked out about what turns out to be his escaped petting zoo godfather.

In fact, even still, Harry died. That Harry died killed Voldemort’s horcrux in his head and left both Voldemort and Harry relatively powerless, there’s sympathy and contagion between these two that people only vaguely realize, after all. As the inaccurate Rowling version of events unfolded, unless Voldemort went completely off the rails and challenged Harry to a Quidditch match … (Hey, dumber things have been known to happen, people!) there really was no longer any chance for Voldemort at all, really just a matter of time, if he didn’t simply die at that moment the last Horcrux was broken, by Voldemort killing Harry, who is merely a functional and folkloric double of himself. And Harry should have stayed dead, or transformed into the Dark Lord he was always incipiently to become, which would have left Neville Longbottom to fulfill his destiny as the person referenced in the prophecy as the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord, i.e., to kill Zombie Harry, back from the dead to assume his rightful rôle in the succession scheme of evil! And, in a beautiful Delphic-style twist, the assumption that the Dark Lord mentioned in the prophecy refers to Voldemort is simply a mistake only revealed in hindsight: the one who lives is Neville and the Dark Lord is actually what snivelly rich jock Harry of the future cycle of the generational system would become! And, there was some guy named Voldemort who died too, but no one really remembers what he had to do with anything.

And, shit, people, just look at pictures of Neville nowadays and just try to tell me that guy doesn’t look like a real Big Goddamned Hero who pretty much towers over Harry, who went off to become some kind of Auror, like, pshaw, whatever, prance around like a naked pony on stage, and write Beat poetry.

Originally posted over on my personal blog at Third Time is the Charm.

King Dork is Partridge to Andromeda Klein’s Scooby

A while ago I read and reviewed Andromeda Klein, and one of the things I mentioned was that I was going to read King Dork, Frank Portman‘s first book. Well, I did.

But, wait, before starting this, I think it’s important to set the mood. You should be listening to the right kind of music as you read this review, and, frankly, while your read King Dork. So, you should have prepared a playlist. Be sure to select some post-punk. For this review, go find tracks by the Mr T. Experience, Frank Portman’s group, and can also suggest a Mr T. Experience station on your Internet radio of choice.

And, really, you’ve simply got to have the MTX track “Even Hitler Had A Girlfriend” in there somewhere. Okay?

King Dork is the story of Thomas Henderson and his struggles to find his place in the world in and out of high school through the lenses of music, sort of, and The Catcher in the Rye, sort of. Yeah, he’s a wannabe rebel without a tune. But, he’s working on that.

Look, by now there’s been plenty of other reviews for this book, so I’m going to just talk about what I want to talk about. Instead of just going over the story I’m going to talk about other things, however I will say KD is a better book that to me is not quite as good as AK. Don’t get me wrong about this, because I really liked KD a lot, but I’m glad I read AK first. I think KD reads easier and feels more solidly written and speaks in a voice more grounded.

That’s not to say that both aren’t grounded. I find this groundedness to be one of the best parts of both these books and that they are both quite essentially real. I made a comment in my AK review about possible connections to the Wold Newton universe (and, there’s even internal cross-over between KD and AK), but on reflection I think that the passing and silly suggestion of moving these stories into the world of the pulps would seriously be a disservice to the essentially real nature of these two narratives. Although wild and wonderful, there’s really nothing in either of these books that couldn’t be some person’s non-fictional lived experience. That’s especially important, for me, for AK, but it’s also true of KD.

(The most implausible thing for me across either of these book was the library in AK being full of weegie books that has survived in a so very complete and unmolested form for so long, but even that I can, kind of, conceive of existing in the real world and, at least, in any case, it’s not, no matter how unlikely, an entirely impossible thing that required a complete conceit. Yeah, I know, it’s not that the geeks win … I’ve got to allow myself some necessary illusions, right? Moving on …)

But, hey, check this out: KD has a dénouement, or maybe for KD more appropriately a coda, which kind of wraps it all up; the absence of which in AK makes me wonder if this was something the publisher demanded in KD. I think this is part of what makes KD more readable and smooth, but also is interestingly less idiosyncratic in comparison. It seems a bit like a bizarro Clockwork Orange, where the retrospective ending got added instead of lopped off.

Well, KD sure seems to be more popular …

… ah, and there’s the rub, innit? I mean, KD is kind of a romantic comedy. (And, whereas Buffy asked what if the cheerleader kicks ass, AK sort of asks what if then Buffy died, and kinda skips to Season 6?)

I made such a big deal out of AK not being an orphan in my other review, that I have to get this out of the way. King Dork is an orphan, of sorts, due to his dad being dead. But, KD doesn’t really have super powers … or does he? (Compared to my life, he sure seems magical.) But, no, really, I’m getting distracted from the fact that my point here is to back-peddle, so … I think it’s great and awesome that AK isn’t an orphan. I’m slightly miffed at how formulaic KD is, as a loser boy who turns out super cool and gets the chicks; but, you know, I’ll get over it. Frankly, I identify more with AK and I wish I were more like KD; but, you know, I want to be both, really.

So, KD is pretty heroicly the outsider, reading this first book made me realize again how awesome it was to have the main character of AK be a woman, and moreover a woman engaged in magick in a real way. I know this post was really supposed to be about KD, but I’ve already blurred the two and I can’t pass up this chance to hit the high note in the refrain about how wonderful AK is. There’s still a lot of explicit and implicit misogyny in ceremonial magick and it’s important to point that out, but also to celebrate, in order to recover and reveal, the often hidden work of women. Yeah, yeah, I know AK is fiction, but it’s part of an important trend of telling women’s stories. There was a post over on Plutonica a little while ago that also points some of this out, and it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored; I’ve also certainly noticed what seems like coded (and, honestly, sometimes completely open and plain) misogyny in the way that some ceremonials talk about witches, for sure, and even in the way those two terms seem inherently gender segregated. (At the same time, it’s important to recognize that some of this expression is about the larger cultural context, not always inherent in the specific system, in which those expressing it are in, and so sometimes, but not always, a symptom not a disease.) AK is a woman, fictional to be sure, doing magick, moreover ceremonial magick. (I don’t know, but it’s also something interesting that like both Starhawk and Moina Mathers, this woman is also of Jewish descent. Why do these things seem to colocate? Is it an exotification filter?) Even within the realm of fictional stories, so very often the main protagonist is male. There’s been a strong recent trend in stories featuring Sheroes, for example Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy and the extensive series of Tortall stories by Tamora Pierce, in which AK participates by virtue of her gender; and it’s a good thing that we’ve moved not away but to include more than just the boy who would be king or jesus in our current cultural mélange of metaphor and myth.

KD is a hero of course. He gets more action in the couple of months covered by the book than I did in my entire high school career, and let us not even mention the state of my life now, okay? No reason to end this in tears, after all. Yeah, that’s a sad thing to admit, I suppose: even the fictional KD gets more action than I do.

But, as much as KD is a hero to the geek in me, AK is more dear to my heart. I think it’s really quite simply down to the interiority of AK, which speaks more to my own experience and my experience of my thoughts in the world. I have to admit AK feels more real to me; but, KD is a more grounded read. But, here’s a thing: the more or less ease of the read seems to reflect the interior confidence of the character through whose voice each story is told. In AK, the narrator is essentially uncertain with her own self, and struggling through the exterior world in order to find her inner strength. In KD, the narrator is essentially confident of his interior life, but is struggling with finding a place in the exterior world that reflects that inner confidence. These seem to directly reflect stereotyped cultural gender identity norms of expectation and experience. So, I actually find the differences in voice as they appear through the text as I’ve read them to be reflective of the characters themselves, and some really important exploration of culturally defined gender as it is displayed in identity formation for each individual.

There are wild similarities wildly made in my mind between these two books, like the characters and quirks were tossed into a bingo hamper and spun around. I suppose that’s one reason that I’m finding myself talking about both at the same time so much, but …

… parental invasive-compulsive disorder, mysterious death, duplicitous sidekick, disguised girls, hyper-dysfunctional mother, kinda-cool father figure, vicious school environment, special-effect laden bully comeuppance, mystery message, character with twisted word problem, topical obsession by main character, a hospital visit near the climax, a bit of mistaken Satanic Panic …

… you know, to sum all that up: they both are about teenagers in high school.

As similar as the two are, in a kind of mixed-up fairy tale kind of way, there are marked differences. And here’s the crux of it as it seems to me: where AK was seeking connection and meaning through interiority, KD is yearning for connection and meaning through exteriority. About the interiority in the one versus the other, I have to wonder if that’s reflective of a gender stereotype somehow; but, I already talked about that.

Okay, so now check out the covers. See the hand-drawn “suicide” King of Hearts sans mustache only partially revealed on KD. Now, check out the tarot card on the front of AK. Hearts are equivalent to cups. So, KD is represented by the King of Cups to AK’s 3 of Swords. (If you’re inclined, chew on that for a while, and then come back. I’ll wait.)

The illustration of KD as the King of Hearts on the cover actually contains several interesting symbols which are meaningful to the story without really giving anything away without having read the story, which was one of the points I made about the AK cover. In the old decks, the King of Hearts was Charles, and thus Charlemagne. Charles is Tom Henderson’s middle name. In Alice in Wonderland, the King of Hearts is merciful but childish. Being sans mustache, as opposed to the actual appearance of the King of Hearts, points out pre-pubescence and youth, or at least the ascension of youth to the trappings of adulthood. And, a Suicide King is topically relevant to the story.

Also, if it weren’t for the back cover text revealing the relevancy of Catcher in the Rye, the cover would be pretty brilliantly subtle on that point.

Now the whole deconstructed book cover for the book cover thing I noticed for AK makes more sense, right? It’s another theme, another cross-over echo between the two. I hope future books from Frank Portman keep it up, and don’t drop the theme for a re-design and break what I now see as an awesome aesthetic for something “more marketable”. Bah! and Blah! I say. (Yes, I’m looking at you, US editions of Winter Wood. You make me cry, you!)

Oh, one thing I know is going to sound pedantic, and inevitably dorky; but I have to take exception to the way that “D&D” is called “D and D” in the book. It’s a silly thing maybe, and maybe that is actually how the kids are doing it these days; but it’s “D&D” damnit. (And, I can never manage to suppress a giggle when the Dialogue and Deliberation community calls itself “D&D” …)

Swear to gods, I want KD and crew and AK and crew to meet. I can’t decide whether I’d rather they coöperate or compete. Maybe it can be like a mirror, mirror Partridge Family meets Scooby-Doo, bus to van and group to gang, snapping fingers, snapping fingers, in Zombieland?

Image used with permission of Travis Pitts
[flickr,imagekind,threadless]

From a post on the Telstar Logistics corporate blog

Only, there’s so many similarities with a twist between these two books that it’s more like some rock-opera about a time when the Mystery Machine drove past the Misery Machine …

… and with perfect comedic timing, and a double take shaking of heads and rubbing of rummy eyes, forced to ask, “was it an illusion? an hallucination? or … the beginning of the best mirror-mirror crossover story arc ever?!” And, “um, hey, isn’t that the same actor in both?!” And, “Sure, of course, Buffy/Daphne, but, damn, Willow/Velma sure is hot, yeahs shir!”

I find I desperately want to read the story which pits the 93’s against the Chi-Mo’s in a race to unravel a magical, mythical, musical mystery where they ultimately, gloriously team up in a battle against the machinations of a murderous conspiracy between the Black Brothers of the P∴M∴R∴C∴ and the diabolical minds behind elevator music and boy bands. Maybe they can be rivals across a couple of books, or at least one, before they team up and form the Justice League of Angst? (Say, what’s Joss Whedon up to these days, anyway? Oh, right, Dr. Horrible 2. Yeah! But, also darn.)

Look, I’m being silly again with the suggestions. But, like the awesome first segment in Shaun of the Dead, there’s a way to go places grounded but through a lens. Both KD and AK have threads of core mystery within the tapestry of these stories, and there’s a way to ask “what does it look like in real life?” when exploring esoterica, like AK did; while still being fun, like both do.

See, I want my Scooby Doo with some ambiguity, because there’s no freakin’ way that those junkyard Rube Goldberg disguises and machinations would have actually fooled anyone as completely as the gang was constantly, unless something very interesting was really going on; and, I don’t need to have that explained, and even prefer it have a bit of that unknown remain in both process and result. As for Scooby, I suppose I don’t mind some scientific rationalism in my mix as long as it is neither all there is nor is it just plain dumb.

So, I don’t really mean to suggest to change the essential groundedness of either. I just mean, this is the stuff I found myself thinking about. And, the real point is: “Please, sir, can I have some more?”

And, as long as I’m on the topic of comparing, as a parting thought, I can’t help but noticing that KD is contained in both King Dork and Andromeda Klein; but in a reversed reflection (a relefection? anybody? anybody? can I keep it? huh? can I?), as if what was plainly revealed in the first is hidden and concealed in the second, or to be cute about it, “half known and half concealed” (Liber CCXX, I, 34). (And, since I mentioned Scooby Doo, seriously, Velma’s initials are VD. I mean, really … that’s just messed up.)

Oh, and, the appearance of Sam Hellerman in both books is a hint of possible things to come … maybe in the forthcoming King Dork Actually … or, I should be so lucky, volume 2 of Liber K? Oh, I’ll settle for the Will Ferrell movie adaptation of King Dork, fo’ sure (and, if Ferrell is the dad, pb-pb-pb-pb-pb-pblease, can Anna Friel be the mom?) … for a while; but, I’m looking forward to more. (Or, you know, maybe like Lt. and Mrs. Columbo … they both have a series where the other never appears but they end up mentioning each other in funny anecdotes?)

Anyhow, one thing is for damned sure: I need to join a band. I have a strong feeling a song is coming on. And, while I’m in the garage with my band, you know, coming up with cool band names until we learn to play something … pick up King Dork and revel in the rebel once again.

King Dork by Frank Portman
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
February, 2008
ISBN: 0385734506 (ISBN-13: 9780385734509)
Paperback, 368 pages

Originally posted over on my personal blog at King Dork is Partridge to Andromeda Klein’s Scooby

Andromeda Klein is unrepentantly and uniquely kickass.

Andromeda Klein

I ran into mention of Frank Portman‘s Andromeda Klein in one of my various frequent search safaris. Here was a “young adult” novel that showed up on my radar because of a surfeit of esoteric references. It seemed unlikely that the story would live up to the seriousness of the references that brought it to my attention. But, even the first few pages seemed thick with terms that most readers might not manage to get past.

For just a minor example, in the first few pages one runs into references to Hermes Trismegistus, Thoth, Mrs. John King van Rensselaer, the ancient Egyptian city Hermopolis, mention and description of several specific tarot cards including Two of Swords, the term ‘soror’, the Warburg Institute, A. E. Waite, Aleister Crowley, Francis Yates, Pamela Coleman Smith, Celtic Cross spread, the Qabalah, some Hebrew letters, the world of Yetzirah, the Sephera Chokmah, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Giordano Bruno, Madame Blavatsky, witches, Lemurians, gnomes … and, not last or least, bone disease. This is all within the first ten pages … of a young adult novel.

I mean, I’m into this stuff and so I can hardly imagine what it would be like to read this story if I were coming to it fresh without background. Picking up this book for a newbie must be a bit like going into an initiation of sorts. One might have some sense of the general idea that’s going to be explored, but the specifics are going to be a surprise unless you’re the kind that ruins that sense of adventure by reading ahead. But even still, there’s this sense that things just won’t necessarily make sense right away, and maybe only make sense after doing research over time.

King Dork

And, the story is definitely thick with references and only some of them are explained at all. My initial thought was that for the generation that’s never been without google or wikipedia, that’d be a good thing … reason to look stuff up and find things on their own. It definitely doesn’t apologize for the data, and after finishing the novel (in spite of the glossary unceremoniously placed at the end) there are many references that aren’t explained. Seems like the author’s first novel, King Dork might be a bit like that too, actually; including having a glossary at the end, but with different kinds of references. Frank Portman seems to not make much by way of concession in talking down to the reader. That’s actually kinda refreshing. I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for a nominally “young adult” novel, but it’s definitely different. And, really, why not have a difference from the bazillion bland books being bandied about by bookshops as hopefully half a fraction as attractive as Harry Potter, books heavy on the fantasy but light on the quality. Here’s a book that takes the laudable chance that standing out, and being different, is worth it in the end. But, this doesn’t seem to be a book for kids. Definitely this seems like something for an older target audience than kids, and, indeed, the suggested age is 14 and up. But then again, kids nowadays …

Okay, except, here’s one thing that struck me. The cover of this book seems to have a gratuitous lightning bolt.

Andromeda Klein detail

My first reaction was that It seems an annoying thing if the only reason that’s there is to resonate with Harry Potter fans. There’s no reason for it that I recall from the story, so it seems simply to be deceptive visual marketing. I’m not saying the cover isn’t nice. I like it.

Andromeda Klein EP

Frankly, I like the cover of the two song EP [also,et], which music was composed and sung the author, better as visual art, but the book does have a nice cover design, though not spectacular. Again, it’s different than the many copycat covers trying to simply knock off the Harry Potter cover styles, but in a way that kind of makes the superfluous lightning bolt even more cheap as a design choice. Then again, it occurs to me that I can rationalize the cover as a graffiti riff off the Harry Potter cover font and design, with a self-consciously mutilated printed page; that is to say, this could represent a DIY-culture statement of self-conscious identity both claiming and disclaiming connection. Other than that, the cover is brilliant in the same way that the GranPré covers for the US Harry Potter books tie into some main part of the plot without giving anything away in a spoiler.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at the hardcover, be sure to check out the inside of the dustcover. There’s a great, and even more great because unnecessary, touch there. (If you want to check it out, there’s a picture of that here.) At first sighting, I thought it was an alternate cover meant to look like one of Andromeda’s school textbook or notebook covers, the kind I was always doodling on back in the day my own self. But, it’s mainly just a bonus bit of design, which is as entirely appropriate to the story as the primary side of the dust cover. (Some day one of these series of books is going to make the spines create an interesting image on the bookshelf when they’re next to each other, and it’d be neato if this idea of using an alternate cover design were how that’s done.)

As I read Andromeda Klein, I felt the pacing and delivery to be appropriately punkishly quick and even a little syncopated (especially given the author’s background). For me it’s fast-paced with information, but it’s also fun. Could I even say a hint of Tom Robbins in feel to me? Sure, I can say it. There are lots of things that are revealed in the story, and not just plot points. There are a lot of terms, concepts and ideas that are explained a paragraph or more past where they first appear. But, there are also some that take a lot longer or aren’t explained at all. In at least one case, I found myself wondering if the choice to not explain a reference was strategic: Anton LaVey is mentioned but the abbreviation “CoS” is never explained to “Church of Satan”. That choice seems a bit ironic since there’s a bit of appropriately absurd satanic panic included in the plot, but it might just be one example of something that is simply never explained. Seems to me this would either be something a reader would love or not love, and that’s another refreshing thing; instead of being denatured in order to be more accessible.

Look, this is to Harry Potter or Harry Dresden as The Invisibles series is to The Illuminatus! books. It’s punk, damnit. Andromeda Klein is grounded in the gritty reality of a world where kids do things like have sex, drink, cut, die, fight, and, of course, are attracted to the occult. This is also a world where both kids and adults can be troubled, irrational, suspicious, narrow-minded and cruel. But, there’s also striving to find meaning and connection. And, for a rare few, there’s the drive to develop and change the world, even if that’s just one person at a time starting, like a well-known conversation between Krsna and Arjuna, with the self.

This story has a style, which seems to be the overall style of the author, which isn’t compromised. That’s a delightful thing. The story might have been told without this style, but why? Why make the telling of a story just another bland porridge of words lulling the reader along easily toward a final “meh”? The style of this story makes the reading of it an experiential example of the way the main character thinks and sees the world. Some of this distinctiveness is mediated by the realization that it isn’t completely unique since it appears at first blush to be the author’s overall style as well in King Dork; but, it really works for this character and this story natheless. (This, of course, must needs be tested by reading King Dork, ASAP!)

The references are a bit thick, and it’s also got its own idiom. There’s a lot to decypher in this story, just like in much of the source materials contained in the esoteric books mentioned within. Won’t say or imply it’s Clockwork Orange level of idiom, but to me it’s got a kind of Whedonesque flavour in its willingness to develop its own language and quick (oc)cultural references. At first it seems to be doing self-conscious name and concept dropping, but I came to like it. It’s part of the fun. Won’t say or imply it’s a got a lot of hidden meaning that requires one to actually treat the text to analysis through esoteric techniques, but the story demonstrates and models the main character going through a lot of esoteric thinking, pattern seeking and connection exploring.

One of the consistently fun dimensions of this story for me was the use and playfulness of language, terms, concepts, idiom, malapropism … it’s word play without being superfluous. Unlike, say, a Xanth novel where the story simply seems to end up being a delivery method for word play which came before or independently from plot development, instead the word play is integrated and an essential character to the development of this story and character, where language and the fractured nature of that is a reflection of the nature of the main character. Not a few times, I thought to myself as I was reading a passage with a fun malapropism: I wish I could more spontaneously talk like that. The only other time I recall right now I’ve felt that was reading some Heinlein dialog, the parts where there are several conversations going on at once, syncopated. I feel this is a unique experience of the written word when compared to others nominally intended for the young adult audience, although I somewhat gather that there will be a similar sense to the author’s other work. The point is that this story definitely has a voice, and one that was compelling to me.

Andromeda Klein has got a lot in there to offend uptight parents and squares, with magick, sex, drugs, death, language and more attitude. Even those uptight about esotericism will likely get tweaked. It’s kind of refreshing, actually. There’s way, way too many stories with weakly developed “magic” in them. I mean, she does an LBRP in the library and is actively practicing Liber Jugorum, for just an example among many. And the frankness about which a wide number of topics are discussed is interesting and similarly refreshing. It’s spiffy.

The author’s approach to a wide variety of topics is refreshing and unique. Probably nothing exemplifies this more clearly as a single example to give the character of the rest than the simple fact that Aleister Crowley is not a boogeyman in this story even though he and his work are included both implicitly and explicitly throughout the story. But, these references are matters not treated with sensationalism or as an ersatz archetype of evil, both of which are so very often the case when authors seem to take the easy, lazy way out. Rather, the life of Andromeda Klein is suffused with fictionally drawn and developed, to be sure, but also essentially normal and natural magical practice and rite and thinking in both action during the story and exposition of events outside the timeline in the book.

All this, you know, talking about interesting things, can’t come without cost, of course. I read that one of the author’s appearances at a school was cancelled because of parent complaints. And, I think this actually is the book that all the reactionaries thought Harry Potter was, as far as even only the esoteric references go. But, you know, even if you took all that out there’d be plenty left to cheese off the same kind of people that couldn’t even handle Judy Bloom, maybe enough even on just about any single page. However, I’m really heartened by the statement on the copyright page that “Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.” That statement doesn’t appear on the copyright page of the edition of King Dork that I picked up that includes a preview of Andromeda Klein, so that statement appears to be uniquely in this book. Good on them, anyhow, to stand up with and for a work like this. And, I suppose one of the best things for getting the word out would be for more people to freak out and thus only advertise wider that it exists but also essentially prove that the book is something worth reading.

I once lamented the treatment of magick in stories like Harry Potter and others, essentially convenient literary mechanisms with no real meaning or necessity. What would a story look like if it were written with real magick in it, I wondered. Well, this story may be the closest thing to what I imagined yet. The Universe moves or not for Andromeda because she’s making progress working on herself and her environment in accordance with her inner drive to find and then fulfill her own individual purpose.

This story shows a kind of magical thinking that isn’t offered in other stories. It’s explicitly ceremonial and symbolic. It’s not just a MacGuffin or Deus Ex Machina to drive the story, it is the story. Rather, magick literally has personality. Moreover, magick has several characters. There is a demonstrated Intelligence, and that makes the story surprisingly intelligent.

I find myself feeling that Andromeda Klein will have a place next to The Various and Below the Root for me. While reading I held up that hope it would hold up. At times, I even crossed my fingers. In fact, for me the comparison to Below the Root is apt, especially because of the way that Snyder’s novel was frank about sex and drug use as well as also being similar in that it faced complaints from parents and adults for that treatment.

And, know what else is cool? She’s not an orphan. it’s a little thing, but that’s refreshing too. Of course, there’s Harry Potter and quite a few current literary protagonists like Lyra and Lirael and Sabriel and Dorothy and Superman and Batman and even Dahl’s Matilda was essentially, if not technically, an orphan until the end of her story. Further, there’s Moses and Vulcan/Hephaestus to name only a few more historical examples. The archetype of orphan is an almost obligatory line item in the pedigree of literary children with special powers, and it is extremely overused even if I also recognize that it has very strong resonance. [see,et,et] As I read the story, I actually had a creeping dread that Andromeda would turn out, somehow, to be an orphan just because of how overused that trope is in such stories.

However, while not an orphan Andromeda is very much a rough ashlar, of course, but the formula is different. She still fulfills an archetypal function which represents a flawed origin. Andromeda is Batman to Harry Potter’s Superman. She is not miraculously the chosen one, but rather has gotten to be who she is through hard work and lots of research. Andromeda is maybe a post-modern Everyman or Chauncey or Zelig, on a kind of Fool’s journey toward attainment, even so far as to starting out, not as the blank protagonist, but rather as a physically, socially and emotionally flawed former sidekick to her late best friend. So, actually, in some ways, Andromeda is, perhaps, like a young Robin in a universe where Batman died too soon and his parents didn’t (See, because even Robin was also an orphan!), learning to become Nightwing on his own, without actual super powers but still a hero with amazing skills and a story worth telling.

As I read this story, it was in my mind’s eye like a mashup as if Welcome to the Dollhouse [also] would have been directed by Alfonso Cuarón [see].

The library angle is definitely a nice touch. The excitement I thought I’d feel while reading is what I thought I’d feel reading Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat after such heartfelt recommendations from the librarians I once worked with, though for me Weetzie Bat didn’t quite live up to my built up expectation. There’s not nearly as many library science references as there are esoteric ones, but there’s mention of interlibrary loans, reference desks; and, the politics of the public library as part of a library system and in the community is definitely part of the story.

So, honestly, after finishing the book, I’m actually not entirely sure that the ending was quote-unquote satisfying. But, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This was a story that was also unique in that it wasn’t a perfect Hollywood ending wrapped in a perfectly explained and ordered bow. Like many European or non-Hollywood films, I’m left with the experience of a compelling story, regardless of some notion of being satisfied, that I could hardly put down and read the whole way hoping for it not to end all the while looking forward to each new revelation. There’s ambiguity left over at the end, even if there were, to be honest, also a couple bits of dénouement that had me rolling my eyes or feeling an opportunity was missed, and not just sequel-ready ambiguity. Sublimely, some of that ambiguity is around the ultimate nature of magick, and that such a central element to the story is left as an exercise for the reader to decide about for themselves seems to me to be a beautiful thing because first and foremost it rejects a fantasy of magic for a truth of magick. In fact, I can imagine how hard it might be to develop a sequel to this story, as there’s so much character and world development in the esoteric references and thinking that to re-hash that, as sequels often are forced to do to bring new readers up to speed in case they’ve not read the first installment, would require re-telling so much of the same story as to be ponderous and overwhelming. This could easily be forever a standalone novel, even with the left over ambiguity. Maybe even better because of that left over ambiguity after all.

Even though I find the ambiguity and uniqueness praiseworthy, I find myself drawn to wonder idly where does Andromeda fit in the Wold Newton family and how long until there’s an appearance of Andromeda in Wizard Rock. Perhaps these are just whimsical questions, but I did find myself wondering about them.

However, in spite of, but moreover maybe because of the apparent flaws; I, for one, would happily read the other, as yet unwritten, 21 volumes of Liber K. And, I recommend this book to both you and your precocious, precious little snowflakes.

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman [kindle, paperback]
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
August, 2009
ISBN: 0385735251 (isbn13: 9780385735254)
Hardcover, 432 pages

Originally posted over on my personal blog at Andromeda Klein is unrepentantly and uniquely kickass.

A Darkness Surrounds Him

Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta, &al., collects the first issues in an interesting new story in just as dark and depressing a world as Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and the show. It’s an interesting take on possession horror, but here’s the thing: I’ve gotten tired of the depressing and awful trudge through mud that is The Walking Dead, and that’s not even mentioning the unappealing-to-me descent fully into torture porn, so the promise of another whole series just as persistently relentlessly repetitively rotten and dark just doesn’t do it for me. Beyond the gore in this one, given the way exorcism horror goes, more torture porn is sure to come as well. It’s not bad. It’s actually good at what it does. I just have trouble finding a way to want to go further in either story. But, if you’ve got the wanderlust for more dark travels without respite, this would no doubt appeal. For myself, I enjoyed it for a while, and again here, but I’ve moved on.

Originally posted on my personal blog at A Darkness Surrounds Him