The Field Guide To Dumb Birds Of The Whole Stupid World by Matt Kracht

Matt Kracht loves birds enough to be perfectly blunt about what jerks they can be, to massively entertaining effect. In this follow-up to his initial The Field Guide To Dumb Birds Of North America, he expands his reporting on birds to cover avians of the entire world, gaining a significantly wider range for his mockery.

In service to that aim, he begins by breaking down the global zoogeographic regions throughout which birds are found, snarking a little on the history behind it all before suggesting his own alternatives to make life easier for laypeople. He also suggests a simplified physiology to help identify birds, before highlighting various interesting species worldwide in this field guide, choosing to classify them by such illuminating descriptions as “Typical Birds”, “Murder Birds” and “Fuckers” (the aptness becomes more apparent as you read.) Each description is accompanied by a mixed media color illustration drawn less by a professional than an enthusiast, as Mr Kracht obviously is. These illustrations, tbc, make up for any lack of technical precision with loads of expressiveness and charm.

Once past the field guide bit, Mr Kracht includes several interesting sections on birds in art and, essentially, how to build your own birding practice. Snarky and irreverent as this volume is, it’s also a soothing counterpoint to all the Very Serious bird guides currently on the market. I’ve always wanted to get into bird-watching, but every book out there makes me feel hopelessly inadequate. This guide, otoh, makes me feel like birding is something I could do (if I ever find the free time again.)

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Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space by David Fremont

While I’m sure I would have understood more of the passing references here had I started with volume one, this was still a more than alright place to begin with the Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher series, as my 10 year-old will happily attest.

As of this volume, Carlton Crumple is bored at home, on the alert for cryptids to catch while trying to dodge the annoying antics of his brother Milt. When he falls for one of Milt’s pranks and accidentally damages town property, his unsympathetic parents put him back to work at Chubbzy Cheeseburgers to make enough money for repairs. Carlton continues to be terrible at working in fast food, but might find a reprieve when he gets a frantic phone call from his aerialist friend, Lulu. Her beloved pets look like they’ve been kidnapped by aliens… but the true story is even stranger and more exciting, as Carlton’s skills as a Creature Catcher are finally exercised in order to save the day!

This is a goofy, fun comic that doesn’t take itself at all seriously, as the teenaged Carlton and his friends make creative use of their interests and strengths in order to find and secure a variety of creatures, terrestrial or otherwise. It’s not the most sophisticated tale, but it doesn’t really need to be given its target audience. Speaking of whom, I handed this to my eldest child to read and he absolutely loved it, far more than I did. I’ve added the rest of this series to his perpetual present list (since I’ve already purchased his Christmas selections and he’s particularly fond of books in series.)

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Hugo 2021 and Me

I hope that Ursula Vernon wins a Hugo every year she is nominated (under her main name or in her T. Kingfisher guise) because she uses the time allotted for her speech wisely. The year I was able to attend Worldcon, she gave a disquisition about whalefall, i.e., what happens to a dead whale as it falls through the water to the ocean’s floor. This year, slime molds were on her mind. Worldcon needs more of these speeches, and it is up to voters to ensure that they happen.

Discon robot

In the two not-a-Hugos presented at the Hugo Award ceremony, I agreed with the voters on half of their choices and might well have agreed on both of them if I had infinite time available for reading. For the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, I voted for A.K. Larkwood, the only writer in the category whose work I read before the voting deadline. (If I read every finalist, that would amount to somewhere between a third and half of my annual reading. That’s quite apart from Best Series, which this year would have been 31 books if I had not read any of them previously. I’m pleased as punch to be a Hugo voter, but I’m going to read other things, too.) Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name is a fine book, especially for a debut, and I would have been happy if it had won. The award went to Emily Tesh, who was in her second and final year of eligibility; she was also a finalist in 2020. Among the other finalists, I’ve been intrigued several times by The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, so maybe I will pick it up in 2022. The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book went to T. Kingfisher for A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking. It’s a delightful book, and I wholly approve. Plus it got Worldcon another thank-you speech from Ursula Vernon, which is a thing that should happen as often as possible.

A Worldcon may choose to create a one-time Hugo Award category, and DisCon chose to give an award for Best Video Game. The one-time category is a way to test fannish support for potential new Hugo Award categories — Helsinki did this for Best Series in 2017, for example — to see whether it should become a permanent category. The only finalist anyone in my household had played was Animal Crossing, so it got my vote. It placed second to Hades.

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Putting the World into Worldcon

The 2021 World Science Fiction Convention, DisCon III in Washington, DC, is in full swing as I write. In fact, presentations of this year’s Hugo Awards are set to begin in 15 minutes an hour and fifteen minutes, and I plan to write about those in the morning when I wake up and find out who won. I had hoped to be at DisCon III. I lived in DC for four years and still have friends in the area. The hotel where DisCon is being held is where I stayed when I visited Washington as a high school senior taking part in Presidential Classroom. It would have been neat to go back, especially as the summer dates for the con could have been made to coincide with my 25th graduate school reunion. (My cohort was small enough that I could have organized the event and set the dates.) The pandemic put paid to all of that. DisCon, unlike last year’s CoNZealand, is having an in-person convention — with significant virtual participation — but at the cost of moving the event from August to mid-December.

DisCon

The biggest news to come out of the convention so far is not about this year’s Worldcon, but about the convention in 2023. Members of a given year’s Worldcon select the site of the convention two years in the future. So, for example, voters from CoNZealand chose Chicago as the site of the 2022 Worldcon. One wrinkle is that voting in site selection involves extra costs, so typically a noticeably smaller slice of a year’s members will form the electorate to choose the location for two years hence. Another wrinkle is that in recent years (and in some of the coming years, too) bids to host Worldcon have been unopposed. Washington was unopposed in 2019, after having lost to Helsinki in 2015 for the right to host the 2017 convention. Glasgow, Scotland is presently unopposed for 2024. Yet another wrinkle is that the campaign to host a Worldcon often runs about 10 years, and is a grueling task for the volunteers who undertake a labor of considerable love.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/18/putting-the-world-into-worldcon/

Spílexm: A Weaving Of Recovery, Resilience, And Resurgence by Nicola I. Campbell

Hrm, well, if I’d known this was essentially a memoir by a woman in her 40s, I would have probably skipped it (as I do for memoirs by men in their 30s, and for roughly the same reasons.) I feel that the 40s are a bad age for a woman to try to do a retrospective on her life, and I think it has a lot to do with how Western thought has taught us that this is an age where we’ve achieved enough wisdom to look back on our lives and even-handedly consider them. Because, too, memoirs at this age seem to be a complacent “this is how I’ve achieved happiness” how-to, and then half the time reading them, I’m cringing because the author clearly has a lot of sublimated misery that another decade will absolutely help her figure out. Weirdly, memoirs by younger women don’t have this problem, probably because they’re not expected to have all the answers yet and are usually focused on single events or topics instead of being a whole life retrospective.

I actually didn’t realize this was a memoir at all when I started it: I thought it was the transcription of an oral history, or a collection — a weaving, as in the title — of the stories of a people, perhaps a family. And in large part, it is, or at least that’s where it begins, with letters written from Nicola I Campbell’s mom from when the author was a baby. Ms Campbell’s poetry is interspersed with short personal essays that detail her childhood and troubled adolescence, and how she assimilated her people’s culture and pain as she grew, eventually focusing on personal growth and then the upholding of her people’s ways and memories. Worthy aims certainly, and there are a lot of ways in which that last is manifested throughout this book. The use of Indigenous language and the frank discussions of the intergenerational trauma that continues to impact her and her people make for compelling reading. The poetry, too, isn’t bad.

And yet, and yet. While I appreciated the glossary at the end, I wish there’d been a pronunciation guide as well, so that my brain could spend more time on the prose and ideas rather than mulling over whether I was pronouncing the words properly in my head. Never mind not knowing what half of them meant in the moment: I could gather enough from context but kept snagging on how to correlate spelling with sound, with failure resulting in a sort of white noise effect in my head — very distracting when trying to read. There’s also a weird, crescendoing emphasis on exercise, such that when she finally mentioned she does Crossfit, my eyes rolled so far back in my head, I nearly gave myself a concussion. Contrast this with my impatience with her younger self’s waffling about canoeing in earlier chapters. As someone whose adult-onset asthma has sharply curtailed the amount of exercise I can get these past few years, I found the “just do it” chirpiness of the newly converted incredibly grating. If only, madam, if only.

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The Cursed Carnival And Other Calamities: New Stories About Mythic Heroes compiled by Rick Riordan

First, a small pat on the back to myself for slowly but surely catching up on my reading backlog.

Second, a huge pat on the back to everyone involved with Rick Riordan Presents, an imprint that showcases fantastic middle-grade fiction based on world mythologies. The representation is gloriously diverse and fascinatingly educational. I love mythology myself, but when I was growing up the only stories really accessible to me were the standard Greco-Roman. Sure, there were some Norse, but nowhere near as well explained as Greek — I’m still learning some of the Norse tales today! And as for the rest of the world’s mythologies? Nearly inaccessible, up to and including my own.

But now we have RRP, which presents entire books out of mythologies world-wide (with slight modifications, ofc) for readers of all ages. Younger me would have read these non-stop. Older me is just so glad to be able to share these with my kids, and so grateful that young people have this kind of thing available in their lives.

As of this writing, there are almost two dozen RRP books in print, covering a vast array of the world’s mythos. The Cursed Carnival And Other Calamities is essentially an introduction to several of those series, incorporating legends from almost all of the continents, giving readers a bite-sized idea of what the full books have to offer. The stories are overall very strong examples of fantasy/sci-fi writing for middle-grade, with perhaps my favorite being Yoon Ha Lee’s The Initiation, which continues the very cool space story begun in Dragon Pearl, following Min and Jun as they’re sent off to train as agents.

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Iranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard & Deloupy

It’s always so frustrating reading books like this and feeling the shock of recognition turn into a weariness, then a resentment at the fact that people don’t think this shit could happen to them, too.

The Iranians certainly didn’t think they’d lose their freedom in the late 70s when a coalition of communists and Islamic fundamentalists banded together to throw out the American-backed, corrupt Shah. The fundamentalists quickly turned on and routed the communists, setting up a hardline right-wing regime that was swiftly, if unwittingly, propped up by Iraqi aggression. Decades later and the Iranian fight for civil liberties seems to be on its last legs, the Green Revolution a dying gasp in the face of a brutal authoritarian state that hides behind theology to justify its excesses. The Iranian people are tired, and cowed, and doing whatever they can to survive.

This is the atmosphere that Jane Deuxard, the pseudonym for two journalists who travel through Iran undercover, reports on in the pages of this distressing graphic novel. Everyone they interview is in an extended state of coping: their material needs may be more or less cared for, but their psychological, existential crises almost bleed off the page. From the sincere young revolutionary broken by the death of Neda, the figurehead of the Green Revolution’s rebellion, to the gleefully anti-feminist young woman who insists that women are treated much better in Iran than in the West, the stories of these mostly young people makes for traumatizing reading.

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Dance Class Vol 12: The New Girl by BéKa and Crip

This slight but amusing volume is perfect for dance enthusiasts anywhere and of any age!

We catch up with Lucy, Alia and Julie as a new girl joins their classical ballet class. Maya’s real love is basketball, but she’s been forced by her mother to try ballet before it’s “too late”. Maya is a team player tho, so she’s ready to give it the old college try. However, her background in competitive team sports makes for a lot of culture shock, not only for her, but also for her new classmates and their teacher.

Meanwhile, mean girl Carla is up to her old tricks again. When she’s cast as the lead in their Afrojazz class recital, the rest of the girls decide to take her down a peg or two, to hilarious result. And while the older girls are working on their programs, the younger class, including Lucy’s irrepressible sister Capucine, are also hard at work, to the dismay of Capucine’s dad, who’s been roped in to his daughters’ efforts one time too many. Can he finally find a way to turn his daughters’ dance obsession to his own advantage?

Told in loose vignettes that highlight the humor of young dance-obsessed lives, this series continues to be an antidote to the superabundance of moody, self-destructive dancer narratives out there. And don’t get me wrong, I love me some messed up ballet psychodrama but it’s always nice to remember too the giddy joy of being a young dancer learning the craft, before it becomes a job or a chore or a burden.

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The Dead Don’t Sleep by Steven Max Russo

Steven Max Russo sent this to me with a warning about graphic violence, but honestly? I’ve read enough horror novels and thrillers that, while this book is definitely on the violent side, it never descends into gratuitous gore, instead giving a visceral depiction of what really happens in war and bloodshed and refusing to look away from the cost of taking a life and what that means for the killer, justified or otherwise.

The Dead Don’t Sleep tells the story of Frank Thompson, a mild-mannered Vietnam vet who’s recently lost his beloved wife. After grieving alone for a while in his rural Maine home, he decides to accept an invitation to spend a week with his nephew Bill and family down in New Jersey. While out trap shooting at a range with Bill, he runs into a face from the past, even tho he initially pretends to have no idea of their connection.

Jack Sprague is the kind of guy who never forgets a face, however. Despite having last encountered Frank decades ago, he instinctively remembers the man, as well as the grudge he still bears him. After recruiting several other vets who also knew Frank back in Vietnam, they trace Bill’s Jeep to its home address and spring an unpleasant surprise on their former brother-in-arm’s family.

Determined to protect what few relatives he has left, Frank makes it clear to his old “buddies” that he’s gotten the message and is clearing out of New Jersey post-haste. But his old comrades believe that revenge is a dish best served cold (and high), and decide to take their revenge trip on the road, following Frank back up to Maine for a final, lethal showdown.

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Station Island by Seamus Heaney

I still struggle with a notion I first mentioned when writing about Heaney’s inaugural collection, Death of a Naturalist, the idea that with each collection of poetry I should take time to live with it, read through several times, maybe even commit bits to memory so as to have them always at the ready. I remember a formative English teacher saying that you should read a poem seven times before thinking that you understand it. Much of my literary upbringing said that poetry should be absorbed as much as it should be read, it should become a part of the reader. The only poem I have come close to readily calling to mind is “Digging,” the very first poem in the very first collection.

Station Island by Seamus Heaney

The truth, though, is that I read Station Island like I read Heaney’s other collections: on the train during my daily commute, in between helping kids with homework, late in the evening when things are quiet and even, occasionally, during longer periods when I can devote some uninterrupted time to reading. I would like poetry to be like a pilgrimage, but in practice it’s more prosaic.

Heaney manages both in Station Island. The eponymous central section arises from a pilgrimage Heaney made more than once in his younger days to an island in Lough Derg in County Donegal, Ireland. The island is home to “Patrick’s Purgatory” and has been a pilgrimage site at least since 1185. As practiced today, the pilgrimage has a three-day fast, an all-night vigil the first night, and nine stations of prayer. Heaney’s poem has twelve stations, and in each of them the speaker encounters a ghostly presence, country people he has known, fellow poets, a young priest, James Joyce. I was most struck by the eleventh and twelfth parts: the eleventh for its nearly mystical vision of a fountain of life and its repeated invocation “although it is the night”; the twelfth for its conjuring Joyce’s voice in Dante’s stanzas, closing the poem with invocation and instruction, the ghost telling the poet “You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.”

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