Ken Doll Crotch = Evil

rocker_strainIf there’s one thing that popular media has taught me in the last 10 years, it’s that you can’t trust a man who is anatomically incorrect. Recently this universal axiom was exposed again on Guillermo del Toro’s FX series, The Strain.

Here are a few other examples of genital-free villains:

dynamicman_twelveDynamic Man – “The Twelve”
Spoiler: If you made it to the end of this comic series (12 issues were published over a span of 58 months), you were probably too numbed to care that Dynamic Man turned out to be a sexless android.



carver_niptuckThe Carver – “Nip/Tuck”
I won’t completely spoil this serial killer plot from 2005. Let’s just say that a Ken Doll Crotch is involved



julie_yourhighnessJulie – “Your Highness”
Ew, gross! Toby Jones plays a spy whose mean streak isn’t revealed until he does some streaking of his own.


ken_toystory3Ken – “Toy Story 3″
I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning the granddaddy or glandlessness, who took a villain turn in the last Toy Story movie.



Putting Toy Story 3 aside, I wonder why the Ken Doll Crotch seems to be such a popular  scare tactic? Is it the fact that it plays on the Freudian fear of castration? Or just a profane way to shock an audience while implicitly maintaining a PG-13 or TV-14 rating? And when will this trend stop? Won’t someone please think of the poor special effects teams that have to mold and apply these fake crotches? Someone should call the union!

I just read: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice‘Quite a few’ is a weird term. I wonder why adding ‘quite’ to ‘a few’ changes its meaning to ‘a lot?’ Any-whoo, I’ve read quite a few space operas in the last year, and I’ve been struck by how many similar themes and ideas pop up in each of them. Some of these ideas get a fresh spin in Ancillary Justice.

Cloning will be a substitute for space travel.
Make copies of yourself, and you can be many places at once. This is especially helpful when these locations are light years apart. Now keep cloning yourself, and you can effectively live for thousands of years. This is the Ann Leckie’s premise behind the imperial villain in Ancillary Justice. This is also the premise behind Charles Stross’ villain in his novel Neptune’s Brood. The unique spin that Leckie puts on her multiplied monarch is that her motives are not entirely villainous. But she is utterly ruthless in the way she gets things done.

Spaceships will have personalities, and they’ll dress up in human bodies.
The heroine of Iain M. Banks’ novel Surface Detail has several encounters with humanoid avatars of huge, nearly omniscient battleships. In Ancillary Justice, the heroine is an avatar of a gigantic, super-intelligent battleship. Breq is one component (a copy) of an interstellar ship’s AI. She’s been…let’s say ‘separated’…from the rest of herself, and she’s on a mission to right the wrongs that have been done to herself and to the ones she cares for. Breq explains the rationale behind her hardwired emotions: “Without feelings insignificant decisions become excruciating attempts to compare endless arrays of inconsequential things. It’s easier to handle those with emotions.”

In the future, humans will redefine what it means to be human.
Many writers have speculated that life outside of a ‘gravity well’ will change human physiology, change the way humans communicate (both verbally and nonverbally), and create new tribal tensions between planets and planetoids. In 2312, many space-dwellers upgrade their brains and their…naughty bits. When the two main characters decide to hook up, the reader realizes that they are both hermaphrodites.

Ancillary Justice is set in a future that is mostly post-gender. X and Y chromosomes are still in effect (as are, I assume, wee-wees and hey-nanner-nanners), but everyone is called’ she.’ I was surprised at how troubled I was by this ambiguousness. Leckie seems nonchalant as she prunes her pronouns to one gender. As she should be. This is what her characters are used to; they don’t particularly care if their peers are males or females. And I can honestly say that the character’s genders do not affect the plot or even the character arcs in the book. But even now my primitive, binary-sexed brain can’t fully grasp the characters. Was Breq truly a female? No, she was basically a robot. And no, it shouldn’t matter. But why do I want to call her a ‘heroine’ when she could simply be called a ‘hero?’

I Just Read: Life After Life

Life After LifeSnow. Darkness falls. Snow. Darkness falls. If you’ve read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, those words probably make you think of dead kids, and you probably agree with me that Edwardian England was in sore need of a DFACS. The book’s heroine, Ursula, is killed and reborn several times while she’s an adolescent. Whoo-wee there’s some negligent parenting going on here! And when Ursula finally makes it to womanhood, that’s when the sexual assault and spousal abuse begins.

Sound brutal? Atkinson’s novel about reincarnation, fate, chance, and redemption often is brutal. And also fascinating. It’s a piece of onyx carved by a mad, ingenious sculptor. Turn the carved stone over and over—new facets catch the light, jagged razor-sharp edges leave impressions on your palms. This is what the book was like for me, as Atkinson continuously cycles through the milestones of Ursula life (and of England’s history from WWI through WWII). Occasionally I worried that this series of revisited/revised scenes would get monotonous. Each time I got to that point, Atkinson would deftly hew the script into some new bend of her labyrinth.

With each life, Ursula becomes wiser and more aware of he situation (if always just nebulously), and she evolves into a Valkyrie who—in the name of love—is ready to obliterate the whole of our world history and start the second half of the 20th century from scratch. When the novel ends (the cycle of Samsara doesn’t), Ursula is more like Franka Potente in Run Lola Run than Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors.

Stylistically, Atkinson strays far from standard writing format. She doesn’t use commas when she’s technically supposed to. She layers flashbacks over flashbacks over flashbacks, and loves to use asides nested in parentheses. (“Don’t use parentheses,” Strunk & White would say.) The plot often bleeds into cluster of two or three scenes striated together, which actually fits quite nicely with the central idea of the book. In Life After Life, time is not linear. It’s an onion. It’s a Moebius strip, a flat circle. (Cue Matthew McConaughey and a beer-can doll).

Highly recommended. The end. Darkness falls.

I just read: The Magician King

magiciankingIn June of last year, I was lucky enough to read two great books back-to-back: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Some readers might cringe at my drawing a connection between both of them. Reader reviews of The Magicians have been mixed. Some people dismiss it as simply a New Adult version of Harry Potter (others have praised it as a New Adult version of Harry Potter). The Secret History, on the other hand, is an overwhelmingly (and deservingly) adored.

Both novels are set in cloistered collegiate environments, and the authors hardly try at all to make you like their characters, who are selfish, cliquish, and arrogant. In The Secret History, the character’s misanthropic tendencies are the whole point of the book. In The Magicians, the flaws of the characters help to highlight the treacherousness, the ruthlessness of their magical world. To me, reading The Secret History was an event—it slightly skewed everything I’ve read and written since. The Magicians wasn’t that momentous to me, but it was just as enjoyable. Of the two, I would re-read The Magicians first. And when I finished it last June, I was raring to pick up its sequel.

And that’s when I made one of my classic reading mistakes. I told myself to wait. I don’t know why this is my usual inclination when I find a series I like…to let it linger, as the Cranberries would say. It’s like I think genre books are rich desserts, or Italian meals—part of me thinks I need a buffer period between each, or I’d get sick of them. So instead of reading The Magician King right after The Magicians, I read The Secret History, and that ended up being a good choice. But then I read something else. Then something else.

Before I knew it, a whole year had passed before Grossman’s second Magicians book bobbed back to the top of my reading list. And it was just as fun, as scary, and as intricate as his first. Harry Potter was adapted into theme park rides and Lego video games. The Magicians’ world would be more likely to become a series on FX. Sometimes Grossman’s word-choice gets a little clunky: “He took a breath, tremblier than he wanted to be.” But often his descriptions are beautiful. I read several paragraphs twice. He breathes life into his fantastic scenes with small, mundane details. That’s a technique that I hope to remember and use myself. And he’s really good at taking a ridiculous mystical being and making that entity totally terrifying. Which of course, it would be, if you actually saw it in real life.

Here’s hoping that the final book in his trilogy will be just as fun and harsh. The Magician Land will hit shelves on August 5. I’ve learned my lesson this time; I won’t defer my gratification. I’ll snap that book up right away.

A writing tip that ruined me

This post goes out to anyone who ever felt the stirrings of a panic attack while reading Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. So many rules, so many words, so many snidely delivered suggestions! Sometimes I’ll take in a writing tip (not necessarily from Strunk and/or White), and the illogical complexity of it will turn me squishy, grammatically paralyzed. In the spirit of kvetching, I thought I’d share one of those paralyzing bits of advice with you.

You’re welcome?

Today’s writing tip that ruined me is the difference between alternate and alternative.

Alternate and alternative are often used as adjectives to mean the same thing: “available as another possibility.” To properly fit this definition, ‘alternate’ is an imperfect alternative. Alternate more properly means ‘every other’ (alternate Saturdays, or alternating Saturdays).

All of that makes pretty good sense, until I start thinking about a term like ‘alternate reality,’ which sounds so much better an ‘alternative reality.’ Or an ‘alternate juror,’ versus an ‘alternative juror.’

Urrgh! Luckily the erroneous synonymity of alternative and alternate is being slowly accepted as a part of our standard English lexicon. Ain’t that cool?

I Just Read: Wynne’s War

ImageLately, I’ve been on the lookout for modern novels that heavily feature horses. But fictional horses seem fairly scarce in the 21st century. Damn you Henry Ford! (And to a lesser extent, Preston Tucker!) So I jumped at Wynne’s War (by Aaron Gwyn) when I saw it. Here’s the basic premise: An Army Ranger, who’s also a horse expert, helps prep a special forces team to ride horses into enemy territory in the mountains of Afghanistan. The book is short, adorned with “simple, masculine prose.” (For some reason, I relate this exact phrase with Ernest Hemingway, although I can’t find anything that confirms the veracity of that association.) The setting descriptions throughout the book are quite elegant, which reminded me of one of my favorite classic novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls. (I loved most of the books I was assigned to read in school, but this is one of the few I re-read after graduating.)

The book features fascinating details on horses and warfare. Consider the fact that firing an automatic rifle in an enclosed space will creates strains in air pressure that will leave you eyes hurting for days. Call of Duty 4 didn’t go into this stuff! My biggest complaint would be that sometimes the action turns cliched. Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
• A mortally wounded enemy is tortured into a secret (ala Taken, 24)
• A character is nicknamed Ox (ala Saved by the Bell)
• The hero receives stitches without anesthetic (ala Roadhouse)
• The only female in a 1000 square miles falls in love with and beds down with the hero (ala every movie ever starring any member of the Expendables cast)

On the whole, Wynne’s War goes pretty much the way you’d expect it to go, but that doesn’t mean the journey isn’t enjoyable along the way.