In Books on August 31, 2009 at 3:41 AM
From good old Lev Grossman’s “Good Novels Don’t Have to Be Hard Work”:
The revolution is under way. The novel is getting entertaining again. Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction: fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction, romance. They’re forging connections between literary spheres that have been hermetically sealed off from one another for a century. Look at Cormac McCarthy, who for years appeared to be the oldest living Modernist in captivity, but who has inaugurated his late period with a serial-killer novel followed by a work of apocalyptic science fiction. Look at Thomas Pynchon—in “Inherent Vice” he has swapped his usual cumbersome verbal calisthenics for the more maneuverable chassis of a hard-boiled detective novel….
…In fact the true postmodern novel is here, hiding in plain sight. We just haven’t noticed it because we’re looking in the wrong aisle. We were trained—by the Modernists, who else—to expect a literary revolution to be a revolution of the avant-garde: typographically altered, grammatically shattered, rhetorically obscure. Difficult, in a word. This is different. It’s a revolution from below, up from the supermarket racks.
I would recommend checking the whole column out. It’s not quite a revelation (the above-referenced Michael Chabon’s been writing about and exemplifying these basic ideas for a while), but Grossman does a good job of paying “popular” fiction its due, without sliding into the common/easy rant against literary elitism. What do you guys think? Are we on the doorstep of the “true postmodern” era? Is that era going to be dominated by taut plot lines and genre fiction? I could handle that.
In Comics on August 30, 2009 at 2:11 PM
Ah, Sunday mornings. Nothing better than lounging in a white terry-cloth robe and drinking a cup of coffee while reading the comics. But what comics do you read! Time is limited and there are so many comic strips in the newspaper—at least two pages worth! So you have the above two comics, right now they’re too small to read the text, so based on all other things—layout, drawing, font—which do you choose?
In Personal Tech on August 29, 2009 at 1:09 AM
TIME recently reported that many fans of Swedish furniture and lifestyle store Ikea are appalled with the decision to move from Futura to Verdana for use in Ikea’s catalogues and print ads. Most complaints note that Verdana was designed to be read on computer screens, and looks amateurish in other contexts. After checking out some photos of Ikea’s new promotional materials, it’s hard to say they’re wrong.
On a related note, on the August 18 episode of Best Show on WFMU, writer Matt Fraction voiced his desire for a bumper sticker that said Semper Fi in Comic Sans. So, Gutterheads, if you could make a major font swap happen, what would you do? Replace Garamond with Sand on your resume, and show future employers your edge? Use Curls MT for this poster?
Un-Helvetica the world? Negative points for anyone thinking about making a Wingdings
joke. Too easy, friend.
In Personal Tech on August 28, 2009 at 5:24 AM
Can I just say how clever Apple was to abandon the numeric naming of its operating systems. Without having the reference of OS 9.5 or OS 7.0 to jog the memory of past, less impressive operating systems, each of Apples’ OS X iterations stands as a unique creation. The only thing connecting them (Panther, Tiger, Jaguar, Leopard, etc.) is images of strong, big cats connoting speed, power, and grace. What a wonderful marketing feat. Don Draper would be proud.
Snow Leopard has arrived (29 dollars, but if you bought your Apple computer after June 8, you’re probably qualified for the upgrade for nine dollars), and in Apple’s words, it’s an evolution, not a revolution. The user interface remains mostly unchanged, and there are no entirely new programs or additions.
Instead, the upgrade includes lots of tweaks to the user interface, and some hefty behind the scenes changes. All of the operating system’s programs will now take advantage of the Intel chip’s 64-bit processing power. In addition, the entire OS is considerably smaller, so more space for music and movies.
In the end, the upgrade will be well worth the 29 dollars. Change the GUI, and people will drop hundreds of dollars on the newer flashier OS, but since Apple make many visible changes, you get the benefit of having a cheaper yet still significant upgrade.
Update: New York Times just published a review: Apple’s Sleek Upgrade
In Games on August 27, 2009 at 9:06 PM
I have maintained for a while that a good puzzle is one in which the maker notices something interesting, then tricks the player into noticing it as well. In some sense this is what cryptic crosswords are all about: each clue comes from a linguistic pun, and by decoding it the solver rediscovers the pun for himself.
There’s a scene in the crossword documentary Wordplay which only makes sense when you look at puzzles this way. Cruciverbalist Merl Reagle is shown driving around and commenting on interesting features of the words he sees: DUNKIN DONUTS, when you move the first D to the end of its word, becomes UNKIND DONUTS. NOAH’S ARK, with two letters transposed, becomes NO! A SHARK! When I watched this with some less puzzle-inclined friends, they chuckled at how insane the guy sounds. And this is true, until you realize that each of these bizarre facts is simply a puzzle that hasn’t been written yet.
So far, I’d only really thought of this model in terms of word puzzles, because that’s where it makes the most sense. It’s true that the maxim could also apply to most logic puzzles, because by solving these one discovers the sorts of lemmas I talked about earlier. But this sort of misses the point, because those lemmas aren’t usually observed by the creator beforehand. What I’m more interested is how puzzles can be used as a subtle communication of facts, and that communication is less exciting when the message is an inadvertent one.
That’s why I was delighted to discovered BOXGAME by indie developer Sophie Houlden. (You’ll have to install Unity to play, but don’t let that stop you.) While it plays like your average puzzle-platformer, you’ll need to make an interesting geometric observation if you want to be good enough to finish the game. This might be a good point for you to go play it for yourself, and see if you can figure out what I’m referring to.
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In Comics on August 27, 2009 at 4:31 AM
Holy hell, this is a great comic.
Batman and Robin #3 concludes -well, kind of concludes- the title’s first story arc, with old-Robin-new-Batman Dick Grayson and new Robin Damian Wayne stopping Professor Pyg from spreading disease over Gotham. There are hints that Pyg is only part of a coordinated wave of attacks (“we’re only footsoldiers,” says one henchman), meaning it might take writer Grant Morrison twelve issues to complete the story he started with issue one. But as the end of an introductory arc, B&R #3 is still satisfying, and almost perfectly executed. Frank Quitely’s art is highly expressive, and in a quiet way very ambitious, while still advancing the story with every panel. Morrison’s attention to character is also apparent in every line from hyperviolent brat Damian.
Midway through B&R #3, Commissioner Gordon gives readers Professor Pyg’s backstory in two speech balloons. Morrison isn’t attempting to hastily tie up dangling plot threads here–he’s making an argument that the sensations villains like Pyg ought to provoke in readers are more important than the context these characters exist in. (Notably, there’s not even a grand unmasking moment with Pyg–his origin, his face, are incidential.) Nearer to the issue’s start, Pyg subjects Robin, who he has captured and bound, to what’s best described as a dance-rant. Damian knows next to nothing about Pyg. Readers more or less share Damian’s perspective here, and don’t know much more. Pyg prances and poses, spouting gibberish with vagrant’s conviction and brandishing a power tool. Read the rest of this entry »
In Food on August 26, 2009 at 2:29 PM
There are so many varieties of food in the world that it can be exhausting to even think to try all of them. Though we might fail, we at the Gutter pledge that whatever is placed in front of us—where in the world we may find ourselves sitting down to eat—we’ll eat it, and if it’s interesting enough, tell you about it.
A few weeks ago, while sitting at a Hot Pot restaurant, I tried duck vocal chord for the first time, it was simultaneously chewy and crunchy, but it didn’t taste like much. It was like eating a potato chips distant half cousin. But a few days ago, when I was offered the full duck neck—and spicy neck no less—I knew I couldn’t turn it down.
Duck Neck is sold in Shanghai at meat vendors all around the city. You’d expect large cuts of meats to hang in the windows of most butchers, but these vendors have bins and bins of different lumps of meat. I didn’t ask what the other cuts of meat were, but had I asked, I know I wouldn’t have understood any of their names. In China, Duck Neck is a standard finger food for eating with beer, a kind of Chinese chicken wings that would be sold at Chinese bars if they existed.
Read on for more pictures and video of me eating the Essence of Duck Neck
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In Games on August 26, 2009 at 1:27 AM
Want: ice-breathing robo steed (I have no idea why this caption keeps appearing at the top of my post)
I never subscribed to Dragon
–at the peak of my Dungeons & Dragons mania, I was a year or so out from my first real job, and needed that $14.95 for essentials like the Epic Level Handbook
and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, books that cost roughly quadruple that–but every once in a while, I picked up an issue to fill the gaps between bigger purchases. Still, even such minimal contact with the magazine ranks high on my list of nerdiest acts of nerddom, mostly because the magazine was so bad. Reading Dragon
was never informative, indeed it was rarely even enjoyable as most magazines are meant to be. It was a stopgap, a quick fix, an excuse for thinking about D&D when I couldn’t actually play
it–it was RPG porn.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic to find a few old issues at a local flea market, dating from 1989-1991. (For anyone who doesn’t know, flea markets are home to some of the greatest concentrations of early nerd artifacts anywhere.) Along with a timely review of the recently re-released Curse of Monkey Island (original retail: $69.95 with VGA graphics upgrade), I found a few pages I thought were worth sharing. More, including a *Free Printable Crossword Puzzle!*, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »
In Comics on August 25, 2009 at 2:41 AM
I’ve written briefly about Batman and Robin before, but not at The Gutter. To catch up, click here.
So far, Grant Morrison’s time spent writing Batman been simultaneously like and unlike the recent work on DC Comics’ other flagship titles. There has been, arguably, a deeply conservative character to most of the editorial decisions made at DC in the last decade. Hal Jordan has returned as DC’s (primary) Green Lantern, and more recently, Barry Allen as the Flash. These characters, both of whom were created in the late fifties, replaced the younger characters who had been DC’s Flash and GL for the last ten or more years. The implication is that Jordan and Allen are the definitive versions, never mind that they were also originally created as attempts to modernize an earlier concept.
Some fans have loved DC’s decision to bring back Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. Others, like me, think it’s a victory of nostalgia over the impulse to tell new stories. It might just be a matter of whether or not one likes the work of Geoff Johns, the writer who supervised the returns of each character. Like Johns, Morrison has shown an keen awareness of comics history during his tenture writing Batman. His “Batman R.I.P.” story arc, for instance, drew on a particular Batman comic several decades old. But if both writers have done some excavating, Morrison (along with collaborator Frank Quitely) has worked alchemy as well. The first two issues of Batman and Robin had the rarest of things for a mainstream superhero book–the resounding feeling of newness.
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In Comics on August 22, 2009 at 12:38 AM
Throughout the “Return of the King” story arc, Daredevil, a.k.a Matt Murdock, has been fighting villainous ninja clan the Hand after rejecting their offer to become Hand leader. Once mobster Wilson Fisk attempts to assume leadership of the Hand himself, Daredevil reconsiders. Issue #500 ends as initiation rights commence, with Murdock intent on reforming the group of assassins from within.
In his final issue, writer Ed Brubaker depicts Murdock as psychologically complex and ultimately flawed, as he has throughout his run. (Not a new approach to superhero storytelling, sure, but it’s still rare to see it done so well.) Murdock’s decision is an admission that he can’t lead a conventional life, after repeatedly trying, failing, and endangering loved ones in the process.* And he’s not wrong–but Brubaker still suggests that this isn’t simply a moment of clarity. As Daredevil walks at the head of a mass of Hand warriors, he thinks to himself, “I have so much to answer for.” It’s another bout of guilt for Catholicism’s contribution to superheroism.
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