Monday, July 14, 2008

American Nerd: the story of my people

by Benjamin Nugent

While the author makes no pretense of this being a scholarly approach to the history of nerd-dom, it does begin with what seems to be a reasonably comprehensive survey of the origin and early uses of not only the word but the very concept itself. It starts out literary-historical, but when the explication arrives at the recent past it gets a bit bogged down in the minutiae of certain pop culture instances of nerdiness.

The next phase is more philosophical and looks at contemporary cultures of nerditude; I particularly enjoyed the chapter that discusses the way hipsters co-opt aspects of nerd culture.

There's a thread of the author's personal life as a nerd throughout the book, and it continues to grow stronger, eventually forming the central theme of the final third of the book. While the personal stories (the author interviews some of his friends back in his D&D days) are, in a way, less interesting, they're also more poignant and come closest to a critique of the injustice of nerd persecution. It's touched upon in several instances, and any more wouldn't really fit within the scope of this book, but the day-to-day suffering of school-age nerds is a serious problem in contemporary American society.

Good flow, easy and relatively quick to read. Didn't blow my mind, but it was good enough and short enough that it didn't need to do so.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service,
vols. 1-3

by Eiji Otsuka

O - M - G !!!! This is, like, the best manga ever — and it doesn't even have any gay sex in it. (At one point there is, however, a very muscular, very well-hung re-animated corpse of a convicted and executed murderer.)

The series has a great cast of characters — a sexy/nerdy hacker; a Buddhist psychic who hears the voices of the dead; a doll-faced embalmer; a channeler who communicates with an alien via a sock puppet; and a "dowser" who can locate corpses instead of water — who are featured in stories of varying lengths that center around justice for the dead, which could be anything from solving a crime to simply moving the body to an appropriate place. It's sort of a cross between CSI and Buffy.

Another awesome thing is that this series, published by Oregon's own Dark Horse, comes with a guide to the "sound FX and notes", which provides panel-by-panel translations as well as an explanation of the history and (for lack of a better word) theory behind them as it relates to the history of the Japanese language and writing system(s).*

All in all, highly recommended for manga-lovers and the manga-curious, including teens. Exciting, well-told stories, visually entertaining; some nudity, but no sex (so far).

*The explanation pretty much blows out of the water (as predicted) my surmises in a previous post.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


by Karin Lowachee

There are some obvious parallels to Ender's Game, but this is a more mature novel. (My library has it cataloged as young adult, but I just checked two others that both have it as adult.) By the end, the protagonist is still a teenager but nearly post-adolescent; the violence is more gory and visceral; and there's some sexual innuendo — and pretty unsavory innuendo at that (child molestation, prostitution, human trafficking). There's also a much clearer and further psychological journey for the character. (It's been a while, but I remember Ender's Game as being more of a psychological journey for the reader than for the character; at the end of the book, Ender just seemed sort of flabbergasted, or like he had PTSD.)

I don't want to do a plot summary, because that'll make it seem more derivative than it actually is. I mean, on some level it is, but then (almost) all really good sci-fi books share certain story elements and plotting techniques. And this book is really good, potentially classic. (Also, the guy on the cover is hot, and I enjoyed having him in mind while reading the book. Too often the cover illustration ruins one's imagination of the character.)