Book Review: Meddling Kids

Subgenre: Uptempo Eldritch Sleuthpunk

That cover made me check the prices of old Monster In My Pocket sets on Ebay. Then I balked at the starting bids, read the book, and got far more fun out of it than if I’d spent the same amount of money on stale plastic figurines. The only accurate description I can come up with is that it’s like if P.G. Wodehouse did a line of coke off of a Hot Fuzz DVD.

Continue reading Book Review: Meddling Kids

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In Praise of Subgenres

Biopunk and solarpunk and silkpunk are apparently things now. You can argue about whether or not any of these things qualify as “punk,” like people have been doing with the political implications of steampunk. Or you can go the route of electronic music and just embrace categories breaking down into more and more specific subgenres. Because I know darn well what my shtick is, I’m taking the second route.

Here are some overly-specific subgenres for a few books I’ve read in celebration of categorization.

 

City of Stairs: Covert spectaculesque godwave



Love is the Law: Acerbic magickal punkpunk

Continue reading In Praise of Subgenres

Review – Molotov Hearts

Okay okay yes I read a rom-com and I’m not going to mince words with some “it’s a romantic comedy BUUUUT-” qualifying statements. Molotov Hearts by Chris Eng is an entertaining book whose plot centers on two people who catch feelings for each other. It isn’t solely about the love between the guy and the girl though, it’s also about the love for and within the punk scene. In the same sense that this review is about my love of minor spoilers.

Socially-maligned high schooler Jenn watches the punk kids loitering after school, particularly the cute guy always reading physics textbooks. After a fight with her abusive mother she sneaks off to join their punk house, dumpster dives, suffocates at basement shows, and gets to smash. But such a plot summary overlooks the hand-sewn details.

Molotov Hearts’ plot is propelled almost entirely by women’s agency. Jenn takes the initiative to goes over and talk to the punks and her dude, Becky bails her out at school after they break up, other punk girls front bands and lead the dumpster-diving excursion. There’s no synchronized shouting of “girl power” to oversell things, women getting shxt done is just the default state of the Molotov Hearts world. Jenn’s authoritarian mother is full of agency and fairly evil, but eh, representation isn’t always enough without class consciousness. And is this book ever conscious of its class! The life of the punk house isn’t a glamorized Lost Boys carefree adventure — the dumpster diving scene is as filthy and dangerous as it is calorie-dense, most of the punks dress themselves from piles on the floor (if they do dress themselves) and there’s an appropriate lack of headboards. It reads like it’s drawn from actual bummy quasi-commune experience rather than someone trying to piece together what dejected punk kids do based on Rancid and MxPx lyrics.

But that’s all window dressing, albeit window dressing that knows it should be old bedsheets instead of actual curtains. I wouldn’t have stuck with the book were it not for the characters. Jenn is smart and resourceful, but not tritely hypercompetent. She doesn’t get everything right; her friends straight-out tell her that her priorities are pretty screwed up at one point and there really aren’t enough books out there willing to let their protagonists be wrong about things. Or have friends that call them out on it and then actually talk about what’s going on. But even if fidelity to actual human behavior isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of fun and snark as the punks play off each other and pwn some posers. 

If I had a consistent rating system Molotov Hearts would get 4.5 out of 5 somethings. Let’s say 4.5 perfectly good wheels of cheese pulled out of the Safeway dumpster.
(I’m only marking it down because it doesn’t acknowledge that Blink-182’s first album was pretty legit and if we can’t have petty squabbles like that then what’s the point of a subculture anyways.)

Three Reviews

I don’t know how effective longer reviews on personal blogs really are, so I’m experimenting with shorter ones that’d fit on Goodreads since reviews on there seem to matter to industry people. However, my blog still craves content. So here’s three reviews of books that aren’t related aside from the fact that authors have signed them and I think more people need to know about ’em!

Part of me likes the idea of not really theming the reviews I group together here since a lot of books I’ve enjoyed were just blindly stumbled across while I was trying to find something else, so… here goes an attempt at recreating that.

threebooks

Stay Crazy, by Erica Satifka

I think a lot of portrayals of mental illness in media lack necessary nuance. In Stay Crazy, Emmeline struggles with the stigma of taking or not taking medication, worries over telling friends and family, and still manages to save the world from malicious interdimensional beings in the midst of all that.

The plot with Escodex and the potential invasion keeps the book moving at a steady pace, and the surreal elements have just enough deniability (at first) to put readers off-balance. Despite the alien provocateurs trying to contact Emmeline through RFID tags at her dead-end retail job, the book stays fairly grounded when dealing with her conditions, never stooping to basic “lol she just cra-ha-haaazy” jabs at her expense. There are plenty of jabs, though! They’re just all punching up.

Marrero, by Kataalyst Alcindor

Being in the audience of a good poetry slam is a better experience than having sex on the moon and I’m not gonna brook any complaints from more academic poets on that subject. Kataalyst is one of the best slam poets I’ve gotten to see here in New Orleans and, while the whole experience can’t be conveyed in print form, the words alone still hit like a pallet of cinderblocks.

There are some excellent indictments of America’s failings featured in Marrero, but the poem I found most interesting was “When Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor.” When it comes to men addressing sexual assault in writing, it feels like the default mode is to speak aggressively about the perpetrators. Kataalyst takes a different route and speaks with eloquent sympathy for the victimized and cautious optimism for those they let in to their lives. It’s fucking potent. Watch it here on Write About Now, then time your next New Orleans vacation to coincide with one of his readings because goddamn.

The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again, by A.C. Wise

With a stylized cover like that, I wasn’t really expecting anything more than fun camp with a nod towards representation. How glad I was to have underestimated this book.

Yeah, the Glitter Squadron’s adventures are full of 70s scifi action facing off against gribbly aliens and ancient mummies. But the Squadron members themselves are all well developed outside of their monster-fighting capacity. Before we see Bunny fight a sea monster, for example, we know why she became Bunny. But it shouldn’t be surprising that a confident, self-possessed character with healthy social support fares better against Lovecraftian horror than Lovecraft protagonists do. Wise’s thoughtful characterization even comes through in the themed cocktail recipes interspersed throughout the collection!