First Lines: Funny Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror

Where Alex Shvartsman’s Unidentified Funny Objects collections (mostly) contain all new funny fiction, his series of Funny Fantasy / Science Fiction / Horror anthologies contain reprints of humorous genre fiction.

Now, of course, the boundaries between these genres is vague at best. And with the recurrence of several authors across all three volumes, read in rapid succession, in the end it all got a kind of samey. But there were definitely some good stories:

My favorites from Funny Fantasy include Tim Pratt’s “Another End of the Empire,” in which a Dark Lord gets the end of his reign foretold by an oracle; “A Mild Case of Death” by David Gerrold that gives the so-you-died-and-this-what-happens-next tale an excellent spin; and finally “Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel” by Shaenon K. Garrity, which takes on Borges’ infinite library of Babel (you know, the one which contains all possible permutations of all possible books) and contains the excellent line “…to me all books are ‘Moby-Dick,’ it’s just that some of them are really badly misprinted.”

In Funny Science Fiction Garrity’s “Flying on My Hatred of My Neighbor’s Dog” proposes a new energy source, making interstellar travel possible. “Miss Darcy’s First Intergalactic Ballet Class” by Dantzel Cherry delivers just what its title promises, “Whaliens” by Lavie Tidhar was delightful and contains Alien Whales from Outer Space, an finally there’s “Chicka-Chicka-Bow-Wow” by Mike Rimar, about an interplanetary porn star sent on a diplomatic mission.

Finally, from Funny Horror: “Kvetchula’s Daughter” by Darrell Schweitzer is about a daughter who has completely had it with her jewish vampire mom. Amanda C. Davis’ “Good Neighbors” was weird, but good weird. Tarl Kudrick’s “Hot Fudge and Whipped Cream” features a genie who gets tricked, and in “The God Whisperer” by Daniel J. Davis, Jack has a unruly little War God who needs some training.

Book read
Funny Fantasy, edited by Alex Shvartsman
First line
IT WAS WHEN a rat rose up on its hind legs and spoke to me in the middle of the street at one o’clock in the morning that I realized that this night was going to be different from all other nights. (Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger, by Laura Resnick)
Book read
Funny Science Fiction, edited by Alex Shvartsman
First line
Diary entry #17: It has been a long, hard struggle, but of course if the conquest of the galaxy is your goal, you don’t expect it to come easily. (Observation Post, by Mike Resnick)
Book read
Funny Horror, edited by Alex Shvartsman
First line
I AM EMMELINE. I am six. (No Children, No Pets, by Esther Friesner)

First Lines: Ibid, A Life

The reason I put Mark Dunn’s Ibid: A Life on my list of 40 books to read before my 40th birthday, was its novelty value. As explained in the introduction, the author wrote an biography of Jonathan Blashette (a circus performer born with three legs who goes on to make a fortune in the deodorant business and becomes a famous philanthropist) which accidentally got destroyed. All that was left were the end-notes, which his publisher wanted to publish anyway.

So, a biography of a fictitious, three-legged entrepreneur, told through nothing but end-notes. While I do believe that the concept could work if played straight, I was not that impressed by the execution. The author seems to have had a lot of fun making up all the references and events, but the whole thing was often too far-fetched, too on-the-nose, and, to be honest, not all that funny if it was supposed to be humorous. Conceptually it succeeds, but as a story, it under-delivers.

Book read
Ibid: A Life. A novel in footnotes by Mark Dunn
First line
1. “Turned out that womb of his mother’s wasn’t barren at all.”

First Lines: Desperation / The Regulators

As the story goes, my wife first spotted me reading a book by her favorite author while waiting for a show by her favorite artist. As I had finished my previous book on the fifteenth occasion of that historic moment, and I still needed to read it in the original English to count towards #66, I decided to pick up that book again.

Desperation is probably the last gory supernatural horror story Stephen King put out. Sure, later books have a bit of gore, or a supernatural angle, and pretty horrific things do certainly happen, but this seems to be the last one where all of that is so front and center. It is cruel and bleak and pretty horrible, and I can imagine King having a blast writing about this an aeons old demon (quite literally from The Pit) of unspeakable evil. He puts him a bunch of people in a remote and isolated mining town in Nevada, and from there on, they have to deal the best they can, while the casualties pile up. It might be middle-tier King at best, but it is still damn amusing.

As it doesn’t make sense to read Desperation without its ‘mirror’ piece The Regulators, that’s where I went next.

Richard Bachman’s widow found the completed manuscript of The Regulators in a box in the cellar. The cast of characters is, quite curiously, very similar to that of Desperation. Heck, even the bad guy, some demonic spirit from a pit in Ohio possessing an autistic boy, caries an uncanny resemblance. But other than that, the books are nothing alike. Well, okay, the casualties pile up here as well. It’s also an amusing read, but the other one’s my favorite.

Book read
Stephen King — Desperation
First line
“Oh! Oh, Jesus! Gross!”
Book read
Richard Bachman — The Regulators
First line
Summer’s here.

First Lines: The Great John Green Re-Read Project 2018, Part 1

My current night-time reading project is revisiting all of John Green’s novels in publication order. Since encountering them nine years ago I haven’t gone back, and I wanted to see how they’ve held up. In part one of this probably two-part series, I’ll start with the first three, Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns.

I first read these novels between September 2009 and February 2010. To give you some context: in September 2009 I was 29, I was living all by myself in a smallish, rent-controlled apartment just outside the city center of Amersfoort, I still didn’t know that the job I had was about to disappear on me and that I’d be working for the biggest online retailer in The Netherlands for the next five to six years.

Upon re-reading these books in 2018, I was 38, married to The Missus, living with her and a 17-year old Kid Awesome (who, when he doesn’t try to drive me stark-raving mad with his pubescent adolescing, I love to pieces) in our own apartment on the outskirts of Amersfoort’s lovely historic city center, I had switched jobs again, and was two aorta-related surgeries in the space of two years down the road from being relatively in prime condition.

You could say things changed a bit. And you’d not be wrong. But with that shift, this second reading left a whole different impression on those books.

Don’t get me wrong: I still think they’re pretty awesome. They’re still clever and smart books about young people finding out themselves, the world and their place in it, and that sort of stuff still ticks a lot of my boxes. And oh boy, while I don’t usually go looking for high-school lit class stuff like themes and symbols and deeper meanings, do they drip with them, or what?

Without turning this thing into some deep psycho-babble analysis of me, let’s just say that I am not in the same place I was nine years ago. As such, I am kinda over that whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl, You Will Meet This One Girl Who Will Totally Change Your Life For The Better™ fantasy thing I had going on inside my head. Green has been accused of using this trope, which is fairly unfair, as at least Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns try their darnedest to deconstruct this. No one is responsible for your life but you, you know?

So, looking back at my fairly gushing reviews, well, I know where I was coming from, but oh boy.

Book read
John Green — Looking for Alaska
First line
The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.
Book read
John Green — An Abundance of Katherines
First line
The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from highschool and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.
Book read
John Green — Paper Towns
First line
The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.

Seen Live: Daniël Lohues, “Vlier”

On account of me and The Missus taking my mother-in-law along, this year we journeyed West, to The Hague, to see Daniël Lohues perform a show in support of his latest album Vlier.

Compared to shows I saw in the more eastern parts of The Netherlands, two things are worth mentioning: first, most of the talking was done in Dutch instead of Low Saxon. I guess that is to make it easier for the audience outside of the Low Saxon-speaking area, which brings me to the second point: shame on you, greater-The Hague area. Lohues deserves a larger audience than a half-filled Koninklijke Schouwburg.

Daniël Lohues — Weg van alles (live @ Radio Gelderland)

In a few weeks time, he’ll be playing with an electric band again. Should be fun.

Seen live
“Vlier” by Daniël Lohues, at Koninklijke Schouwburg, Den Haag, on June 5th, 2018
Set list (Spotify)
Prachtig mooie dag / Volle moane / Elk mens die hef zich ‘n kruus te dragen / Kwelt / Bij de hemel in de rij / Weg van alles / De kerke / Ik haal mij’n hond op / Hier kom ik weg // De horizon komp dichterbij / En hij ploegde voort / As de liefde mar blef winnen / ‘t Stöf / Van hier tot Tokyo / A28 / Mar ik heur hier / Baat bij muziek // Angst is mar veur eben, spiet is veur altied / Op fietse / Allennig