A Weird and Beautiful Piece of Art Has Become a New Voice for Our Generation.

How Twitch Plays Pokemon has become the Internet’s Newest Artistic Masterpiece. 

Some examples of Religious artwork Twitch Plays Pokemon has inspired.

For me, the story of Twitch Plays Pokemon, a self proclaimed social experiment that allows thousands of people to play Pokemon Red Version simultaneously, starts in the shower.

A few friends had posted about this little chapter in internet history on facebook, but I had paid it little attention. Finally, someone posted a link to the feed. That is, finally, I could watch 50,000 people try to play the game at the same time.

In my room, I clicked the link and waited for my computer to get it going. As it often does, my computer took some time to load, so I decided to leave it and take a shower. For a moment, the only sound was running water, but a familiar tune crept its way in from the other room. I found myself whistling along with the background music of my childhood; a brisk little ditty that framed hours of gameplay trying to train my team of Pokemon to be the very best. The best that ever was. To catch them wasn’t really my real test, to train them to like, level 88 was my cause.

The feed had come on just in time for me to miss it. I swore under my breath and rolled my eyes. Typical computer! Oh well, I said to myself, I catch it when I get out and then I’ll see what it’s all about. Ten minutes later, I was still humming the same song and didn’t even realize. That seemed strange to me, as getting places in Pokemon never really took that long, and each time a new area is reached, the music changes. What the hell are they doing, I said aloud. No one takes ten minutes to go down that bike hill.

Oh how little I knew.

Go ahead and tune in to Twitch Plays Pokemon for a few minutes. If you do, you’ll notice something: watching 50,000 people try to play the game is like giving a Gameboy to a dog. The character walks in circles, opens the start button every few seconds, saves the game for no reason, talks to the same person three or four times, and generally fails to execute even the simplest of tasks. So when I wondered aloud why it was taking so long to essentially just push the down button and bike down a hill, I was unaware of exactly how this all works.

In simple terms, using a chat window, anyone can give the character of the game, Red, a command. Instead of holding a gameboy and pushing the control pad in the up direction, people type ‘up’ in the chat window and the character moves in that direction. Where it gets complicated is that while one person types ‘up’ another can type ‘left’ and another ‘down’ and another ‘b’ and well, here we go. Chaos.  It accepts these commands in the order they come and with everyone typing them in at the same time, they come in and are processed in a random order. Now, the creator of the stream has introduced two ways in which the emulator responds to commands; anarchy and democracy. Anarchy attempts to process all commands and offers a more random experience. Democracy processes the most frequently requested command within a 20 second period and instructs Red in this method. People can also vote on anarchy or democracy. A bar on the top of the stream informs the viewer/player as to what mode the feed is currently using.

Still confused? Imagine you are tasked with walking from your living room to your kitchen. The catch is, your movements are determined by a group of people giving you commands. You take these commands from a stack of paper. The first piece of paper tells you to walk forward one step, the next left one step, the next to examine the dog, the next to take a step forward, and after thirty sheets of paper you’re in the bathroom examining the toilet. So something easy, like taking four steps and taking a right, becomes difficult. Person # 10 anticipated you needing to take a left through the doorway but didn’t anticipate #8 and #7 telling you to go backwards. Now that left took you into a wall.

So there it is, an interesting social experiment, right? Right. But wrong. It is oh so much more now. Anyone from anywhere can play. Americans, Europeans and Australians make up the most. South Americans are coming up fast. Now, Twitch Plays Pokemon has become the greatest example of current internet culture the same way art of any kind in the real world captures culture. TPP is like the art of Andy Warhol, the music of Bob Dylan, political cartoons of the early twentieth century, even the pamphlets that circulated before the Revolutionary War. It is not the only voice of a generation, but has become a strong voice. In fact, I argue that it has become art.

What determines if something is art or not is a blurry, subjective line, but I feel that the rule goes like this: Art imitates life. Twitch plays Pokemon is certainly imitating life. Things have gone far beyond just a group of people playing a game. The game itself has become a brilliant and creative chatroom and reddit fueled narrative. Take a look at this link- http://www.reddit.com/r/twitchplayspokemon/wiki/historyoftpp. That is the full story of Twitch Plays Pokemon. Characters have been created based on the often silly and random names given to Red’s Pokemon. It has spawned a faux religion, adding to the story. In a basic sense, when you get 100,000 people together to play a game, they give it stakes. They’ve given characters to sprites and they’ve not only given themselves something to lose, but these characters something to lose as well.

Along with that, a great debate has sparked over what mode is best, democracy or anarchy? People often post their philosophy regarding how to play the game. All of a sudden, TPP has made us all into Socrates. People share plans for making things better, they argue for the merits of democracy or the woes of anarchy. They call for their peers to band together for the greater good all while praising their prophets and their god. Yes, it is all tongue-in-cheek and most of it is in good fun, but it certainly imitates life. The parody of it all doesn’t take away from it being art; in fact, it strengthens it. Some of the best art is parody; Saturday Night Live, Weird Al Yankovic, Space Balls!

And while a group of people playing a video game may seem like trite subject matter for art, all I have to say is this: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/95/Warhol-Campbell_Soup-1-screenprint-1968.jpg.

So now that Twitch Plays Pokemon has evolved into art, we can take it as something that speaks for our generation. Much the way The Great Gatsby was indicative of the way people were in the nineteen-twenties, TPP has become something that years from now, people can look back on and understand how our generation looked at art, how we spent our time. I’m not saying they’ll look back and say ‘oh, they all played one video game at the same time’ but rather that we took control of our own entertainment and used the tools at our disposal to create. The narrative that has spawned, the amount of people playing, the worldwide connection and dialogue, the artwork and memes that have sprouted up overnight are all ways in which the internet age, the age of this generation has shaped the world.

Let’s start with something very telling. On February 21, about a week after this all began, Reddit user Matoking used Google Forms to survey TPP users. And while he received a very small sample size, only over one thousand responses, the survey is still very interesting and very informative. The most important graph is the first, which shows that most people participating were born between the years 1988 and 1996, the most being born in 1993. A large part of TPP and internet culture as exemplified by social media in various forms is nostalgia. Pokemon Red Version was released in America in 1998, making the majority of Americans who play TPP between the ages of 10 and 2 when it came out and, according to the survey, the majority of people playing were only 5 when it was released. That seems like a large gap to reminisce fondly of this particular game, but Pokemon was wildly popular and has been for a long time. Pokemon Gold, Silver and Crystal were released in 2000, and if we factor in time it takes for things to really catch on plus the popularity of the television show and movies, it is safe to assume that a large group of kids, myself included, played Pokemon Red version at some point in time during their childhood. TPP is proof that they remember it fondly.

To add to this nostalgia factor, and updated version of Pokemon Red, complete with new graphics, was released as Pokemon FireRed in 2004 for the Gameboy Advance. I was 15 when that came out and old enough to remember the fun I had only six years prior to that. The same story, the same gameplay, it all was still fresh in our memories six years later.

A quick hop on facebook will give you all you need in the way of Nostalgia. I see people ‘liking’ groups on the site with names like ‘90’s or 80’s babies only’ or ‘Rugrats, Rocko’s Modern Life, Ren & Stimpy Were The Best’ or ‘Like Our Page if You Watched Captain Planet’.  George Takei posts various memes or visual jokes that are invested in Nostalgia that are shared frequently and seen by a large percent of Facebook. Pokemon Red was picked for this experiment specifically to drawn this generation; a generation that represents and controls internet culture more than any other.

But how does this become our Renaissance movement? How is has this become a shining example of current culture?

TPP has given us the best of internet culture at the moment. Using the ‘front page of the internet’, Reddit, a group of dedicated followers have enhanced and added to the growing narrative. The fact that a narrative exists is part of TPP’s cultural significance; it shows how creative and willing to have fun with something our generation is, as well as how quickly things move. We took a social experiment and ran with it. We ran far. The narrative is still growing on reddit and other social media sites. Twitch Plays Pokemon has grown into a fascinating and wonderful story that has spawned a faux religion, all created by those viewing, playing, and keeping up when they can.

Within this complicated story, TPP users have found a ‘god’ in the Helix Fossil, an in game item, a fossil that can produce the Pokemon Omanyte. After Red obtained the item in the game, he frequently opened the command menu and attempted to use the Fossil. This was, as all things are, fueled by so many people imputing various commands and it is amazing and creative that something as random as that was given a back story. The idea is that Red is consulting the fossil for guidance in his darkest times and this idea has made the Helix Fossil not only Red’s god but everyone’s god. From there, people ran with the story. One Pokemon is referred to as ‘Bird Jesus’ due to its penchant for winning battles and saving the team’s ass. There is also ‘The Keeper’ and ‘The Seed of Hope.’  A Pokemon named AAAAAAAAA has been nicknamed ‘The Fonz’ and now that he is the Pokemon Nidoking, ‘King Fonz’. A villain was even introduced, the Dome Fossil, the opposite choice of the Helix Fossil in the game that produces the Pokemon Kabuto.  Religious factions were created and it is not uncommon to browse comments on the dedicated Reddit and the chat of the stream and find people proclaiming ‘Praise Lord Helix!’

This is not uncommon for our generation. This narrative, complete with wild back stories, fanciful nicknames and plenty of parody, is representative of a culture that not only uses the internet for entertainment, but controls entertainment. This is a generation that uses our collective creativity to entertain ourselves and others. The internet offers the opportunity for creative outlet previously unheard of. Anyone can put anything they’ve created, whether it be music, written work, graphic design, photographs, drawings, really anything can be put on the internet for all to see. Seeing the popularity of their music skyrocket on the internet, bands have been signed to record labels never having played a show. Using the internet to be creative is what we do. So it is no wonder that something like a game played by 50,000 people that produces such random gameplay has been transformed into a creative plaything for our generation.  We are proactive about making our own entertainment and creating and sharing in various forms, all of which TPP has taken hold of.

Along with the amazing story that has been created using chat and reddit (staples of the internet in and of themselves, mind you), Twitch Plays Pokemon has spawned a plethora of one of the most popular parts of the internet: the meme. Nothing is safe with these parcels of parody, and TPP is no exception. A quick browse of the Reddit Site offers TPP themed memes based on Fairly Oddparents, Futurama, Spongebob Squarepants, Star Wars ,The Dark Night South Park, Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons and a plethora of reaction gifs, my favorite being this great Community gif. While these nuggets of pop culture aren’t created by those who use them, the manipulation of gifs and images to fit the Narrative is parody and nostalgia at its finest.

It has even popped up in real life. This popped up on a college campus. This person printed a Helix fossil with a 3D printer. It’s at Basketball games. This thing has gotten big, fast. And while a staple of the internet age is the passing of fads faster than they used to, Twitch Plays Pokemon has become a rare and beautiful piece of art. Even if it does pass and the memes stop and the basketball games are once again Helix free, we can still look back on this as a piece of art that evolved beyond a fad.

What started off as a social experiment has, true to internet form, turned into something much bigger. What’s amazing about Twitch Plays Pokemon is just how well it exemplifies the internet age. People from all over the world have united in an attempt to be part of something fun and exciting. TPP has illuminated the way this generation takes charge of our entertainment and subsequent art. Things move quickly in this age, and the sheer amount of people participating in various ways speaks to this illumination. Not only do things move more quickly now, they connect people from around the world. This project has evolved not because of one person in one country, because of many people in many countries. It’s all over reddit, twitter, facebook, hell, after this is complete and posted, WordPress. And the beautiful thing about this, like any piece of art, is that you don’t have to be involved in any way for it to speak for your generation. Twitch Plays Pokemon has offered hours of bingeable entertainment, a cult following, thousands of memes, people sharing music and stories they’ve written; all things that most people of our generation do on a day to day basis. TPP has simply assembled them into one strange, beautiful piece of art; a piece of art that represents the best of our generation taking the internet and using it at the fullest. The uniting of people from all over the world essentially creating something together is just what the internet should be for.

As Twitch Plays Pokemon nears the end of the game, the stream’s creator has given confirmation to the now millions of viewers that there will be a sequel, if you will, featuring Pokemon Gold/Silver. The uniting of thousands to play one game is going to be something that continues in the future until one day, I’m sure, thousands of people will band together to try beat Call of Duty or something much more complicated than Pokemon Red Version. But as more versions of the same project appear, each one loses a bit of its value as a piece of art. The first incarnation of Twitch Plays Pokemon, this one, has become a hilarious and quirky piece of art for many reasons, one being the value of its originality. The art has been established. The value of it as an illuminator for our generation is done. Now all that remains is to bask in the Nostalgic yet brand new glow of thousands of people trying to fight using 8bit sprites. Watch the struggle sometime, it is great fun. It’ll bring you back to the good old days when things were a bit easier in the world. The whole thing is a struggle for the viewer’s childhood- even the game modes. Do we play in the childlike wonder and randomness that is anarchy? Or do we take responsibility like adults and use democracy to set our goals and reach them together? All I know is this: The internet and its power to bring people together to create art from something so unexpected continues to amaze me every day.

 

 

Short Story- The Diary of Jonathan P. Willowbuss

The Diary of Jonathan P. Willowbuss

Day 1: I have resolved to set sail for the new world.  England has grown tiresome, and so I shall leave her behind. Like a woman I no longer love and who no longer loves me, she will be behind me. That is to say that the general direction I will be facing will be forward, and England will be at my back and therefore behind.

Father says I cannot be a writer but I challenge that!

I cannot think here anymore. Here the foggy nights cloud my mind over and I feel weak. I hear the new world is a splendid place full of sun and palms. I ache for warmth in the cold autumn.

That was pretty descriptive, I don’t know why father detests my writing so.

Julia, the girl I adore, shares father’s opinion. She loves me, I know she does, but she cannot see the value in the life of a writer.

I shall embark this afternoon. I keep this diary as a means of collecting stories that flock to me during my time in the new world. Someday, I will write a brilliant narrative based on these tales. I sip my morning tea with anticipation. The journey will be difficult, but I am ready. I am ready to prove myself. I will show father I am a man. I will prove to Julia that I am to be a worthy husband.

Day 2: I vomited over the side of the ship and the crew laughed at me. Our ship is The Gooseneck, named after the clam. I thought it was a silly name for a ship and suggested The Moon Lightning but the crew only laughed at me again. It is a spice ship, sent to the new world to collect the various peppers and sugars, just as I set off to collect peppers and sugars to add the flavours of spicy and sweet to my stories. All this thinking of flavours has upset my stomach again. I must relieve myself once again.

Day 4: Tonight at dinner I read a poem to the crew. I think they enjoyed it, although one or two sniggered. They were particularly fond of my comparing them to Albatross and me to gentle whale; admiring them from afar, wistfully beneath the sea.  Cracking good poem if I do say so myself.

Day 5: I saw Dolphins! They were beautiful creatures. I first mistook them for sharks and attempted to shoot them when Leon, the Captain, wrenched the gun from my hands and informed me they were the harmless jesterss of the sea.  Swim you jolly fools! Swim!

Day 7: Found the crew reading my poems and laughing at me. Not very nice of them. I am upset and have retired to my quarters for the remainder of the voyage.

Also, I must say their impression of me is nothing like me. I do not sound like a woman nor do I have ‘little chicken-boy legs’. Ingrates.

Day 23: I have not made an entry for some time, but I have been busy absorbing the wonders the New World has to offer. It is perpetually warm here and when it rains it is like the sky has built up an ocean that it needs to let out. I have been living on a tiny settlement next to a native village by the sea. Their habits are extraordinary and for an Englishman such as myself, refreshingly different. For example, every day Large Wilson, their chief, takes four men to go fishing for the night’s meal. Today, they caught many large fish and there was much rejoicing. I call the chief Large Wilson because I could not understand the chief’s native tongue when he introduced himself to me. Needing a way to refer to him, I nicknamed him Large Wilson, due to both his height and his uncanny albeit darker skinned resemblance to Wilson Pendergast, my riding companion. I have written Wilson already to inform him of his doppelganger here in the New World.

I have also written Father and Julia, expounding upon the wondrous sights and foods this land has to offer. I shall give my letters to the next ship that sails into port.

Day 25: I have taken on the role of designated water carrier, but the small stream where we get our water has begun to dry up. The waterfall has grown smaller and smaller. The natives seem worried but I keep assuring them there is an ocean full of water to drink!

Day 26: We have begun to ration water. Already, the diarrhea has come to our small village. Resolved to fix the problem, I collected water from the sea today instead of the waterfall. When Large Wilson drank it, he vomited and smacked me. ‘No water from sea!’ he exclaimed. I told him there was no reason to be so picky and drank a large gulp myself.

Ocean water is not drinkable! It burned like judgment day had descended upon my throat. I dry heaved for a quarter hour. The tribe seems very upset with me.

Day 27: It turns out the waterfall I believed to be drying up was only a small one on the wrong side of the small island we call home. It appears I was following my hand drawn map incorrectly. Large Wilson was displeased when I showed him the dried up little waterfall.

‘Not this!’ he exclaimed testily. He lead me about a half mile the other direction to a raging waterfall with a deep, clear pool at its base.

‘Here!’ he said.

‘Oh! Splendid. Sorry to worry everyone!’ He only grumbled and walked away.

I must win his respect back in some way…

Day 31: The natives talk in hushed tones of an exquisite visitor due to arrive tomorrow. From what I can gather, he is their God. I have decided in order to win Large Wilson’s respect I must kill this God and take my place as deity to these poor natives. It will be my greatest feat yet.

Day 32: As the Natives waited for their god, I laid in wait inside my hut. When I heard the Chief exchange greetings with this unknown all-powerful deity, I rushed from my hut, brandishing a bucket of ocean water. I believed it to be a toxic substance and therefore a deadly weapon. It certainly tastes the part. Well, as I ran down the beach screaming, I saw the god: A hairy, four legged beast with brown, matted fur and pointed ears. It truly was a noble, majestic creature that tensed as it heard my scream. I threw the ocean water at the creature and held my breath, expecting it to melt or explode or turn into the Devil himself. Instead, the creature merely shook itself off and turned to me. When it began licking my hand, I realized it was an ordinary dog. It seemed to enjoy the water bath and in fact and was very fond of me. I then realized that Large Wilson was in mid-handshake with Lord George Gingham, appointed mayor of this native province and a companion of my father.

The evening was spent catching up, and it was good to see Lord Gingham. I sent my first letters along with another set with his Ship for when he returns home. He promised to deliver them to Father by hand! Sweet fellow. His dog, Yale, was quite happy to see me and spent most of the night licking my hand. I am relieved there was no god. Being a deity sounded quite stressful.

Day 35: I truly have made a fool of myself now. Today, as I went to fetch the water, I came upon one of the native lads in the throngs of battle with a wild pig. Fearing for the boy’s life, I shot the pig. When the crack of my gun faded in to the distance, the boy turned to me furiously.

“You kill my pig!” he screamed at me. I explained that he was in great danger but he was not ready to listen. He threw a rock at my head and stormed off into the forest.

It turns out that young Lupitti, the boy, was fulfilling the tribal right of becoming a man by killing a wild boar. By interfering, I have robbed the boy of his chance to become a man. He has sulked all evening and ate dinner with the women. I feel terrible. I must remedy the situation.

Day 37: Lupitti has taken to wearing ladies garb and throwing rocks at me. To show solidarity, I too spent today wearing ladies clothing. Because of this, the men threw fish innards at me and called me names. I have returned to my normal clothing. I feel bad for Lupitti, but there is only so much fish anus a chap can have thrown his way.

Day 38:A party of Spaniards came to our settlement today. The natives, fearing them, presented them with elaborate gifts so as not to be killed. Or so I assumed. I told Large Wilson that there was no need to worry, that he was under English protection and, may I remind him, that we had thumped the Spanish Armada thoroughly. As I reminded the Spanish Captain of this defeat, he proceeded to pack away his goods. The Spanish, obviously still smarting from their embarrassing defeat, left in a tizzy. Large Wilson smacked my head again and explained that the Spanish were good trade partners. I believe I may have offended them and that they may not come again. Lupitti continues to throw rocks at me.

Day44: I have had a quiet few days until today. As I explored the island a bit, I came across a beautiful gemstone. Returning to the village, I showed the gem to Large Wilson who turned white as a ghost. He told me the precious stone belonged to their rival tribe and that they would surely think we had stolen it.

“Nonsense.” I assured him. “I will simply explain the situation. If there is one thing we English are good at that, it is apologizing for mishaps.”

A few hours later, a large group of rival tribesmen appeared. Their leader wore copper about his person in many places and snarled at us like a tiger. He and Large Wilson exchanged some words for a moment. Large Wilson then approached me and whispered in my ear:

“You may talk. Do not make bad.” He glared at me as I approached the rival chief.

“Oh, great chief!” I began, “There has been a terrible mix up. You see, I found this gem by accident.” I pulled them gem out of my pocket and showed it to the chief. His fellow tribesmen must have taken this as an aggressive act, because within a few seconds swords were drawn and pointed at me. It was at this moment that something in me snapped. My frustration with all my mix-ups loomed large over me and compelled my temper to burst forth like a great sea monster. I pulled my gun out and pointed it at the chief.

“Put down your swords or I will kill this man!” I screamed. Behind me, Large Wilson made frantic disapproving motions in an attempt to stop me. The swordsmen looked to their chief, confused. The chief’s brown eyes seemed to peer into my soul.

“Take it! I demand you take the gem!” I shouted, shoving the stone at the man. I grabbed his hand and thrust the stone into his palm. He looked at it blankly, then back at me. His countenance changed drastically as he smiled wide, laughing raucously. His swordsmen followed, laughing tentatively at first. Soon, everyone was laughing including me. The chief imitated me brandishing my weapon, laughing harder each time they did. After what felt like hours of laughing, the men departed. We breathed a collected sigh of relief and headed back to the village. I had finally done something right.

Day 47: I killed a snake twice as long as a man today. It scared me half to death and advanced upon me, so I shot it. The natives believe I have killed a sacred spirit and spit on me to ward off evil. Lupitti now throws rocks and spits on me. It has been a long day.

Day 50: As I stood by the ocean this evening, I brought my pipe along to see if I can map out a star chart. Smelling my tobacco, Large Wilson, his brother, and his sister’s husband came to me inquiring what as to what it was. I explained the pipe to them and showed them the aged tobacco I had brought with me. They took turns sharing the pipe and, in gratitude, shared some of their home-brewed alcohol with me. I fear I may have become a bit too tipsy and now find myself doodling Julia without her clothing. Ooops. Perhaps I should not have written that. Enclosed is a drawing. Oops.

Image

Day 51: I fear I may have gone too far this time. I woke up early this morning, beating the sun and feeling as though the Grim Reaper was en route to my doorstep. When I stumbled to the latrine to relieve myself, I lit a match to find my way. Unfortunately, I accidentally dropped the lit match into a jug of fermenting alcoholic beverage, which proceeded to explode in flames, burning down the temple and adjoining Shaman’s hut. The poor chap, infuriated at me, blew some sort of powder I believe was made of dried up birds in my face. He keeps cursing me and waving his Shaman wand in my face. To make matters worse, when the fire broke I did not realize I had caused it with a jug of alcohol. Believing the nearest jug to be water, I attempted to douse the flames with it, only spreading the flames and burning down Lupitti’s home. I may have gone too far over the edge today. I hide in my hut, taking no visitors. Large Wilson has already come looking for me three times today. Rocks have been flying all evening. I think Lupitti is waiting for me, possibly to kill me. I wait in fear.

Day 52: I fell asleep in terror last night and awoke this morning on a ship. From what I can gather, the natives paid this particular crew to take me from their village, fearing I was an Omen from their evil gods. Apparently, the crew accepted a small fortune to get rid of me. So I return to England. I will miss my friends in the new world but am glad to be returning home. I can hold my head high knowing my adventures have changed me for the better. I return to Father and Julia a new man: One ready for life’s most challenging moments.

Perhaps I’ll read a poem to the crew.

Andy Reads Books- March, 2013

From what country do I favor my authors to be? I’ve always read a mixture of American and British fiction. British fiction is wonderfully different from American fiction. My guess is I could tell you the nationality of an author based on the reading the book. Say, if you blindfolded me…and I ate the book? Damn.Wait.

Well, anyway, here is the breakdown of the nationalities of the authors I read this year.

American- 14

British- 8

Australian- 1

Scottish- 1

The authors I read were predominantly American, which is not surprising. I enjoy that I had one Australian and Scottish author in there as well. So far, I believe It’s a 1-1 tie of British and American authors (Tolkien and Moore). All that is about to change. In March, I made it to five books and a 3-2 ration of American to British authors. Here they are.

1. Snuff (image from wikipedia)

As soon as we got this book at the bookstore, I bought it. My love of Terry Pratchett goes back to Good Omens, a book Pratchett authored with another favorite of mine, Neil Gaiman. After reading Good Omens, I decided to give Mr. Pratchett a chance. I jumped in to Thud! and was thoroughly confused.

Terry Pratchett’s novels take place in a world of his own invention, the Discworld. Discworld is a large, flat world that sits atop the back of Four Elephants who, in turn, sit atop the back of The Great A’Tuin, a giant turtle who flies through space.

Pratchett’s novels often mirror our own world (the Discworld is a parallel universe to our own) and it’s great fun when it all clicks. I always describe Pratchett like the Lord of the Rings mashed together with Monty Python. The Discworld takes place in what is essentially late nineteenth-century England. I didn’t know that when I picked up Thud, and for a while I imagined it was modern day England.Once I realized what was going on, I caught on fast .

All likes of magical creatures exist in Pratchett’s world, some a bit more old-school fairy tale based than the post-Tolkien world much contemporary fantasy exists in. For example, pixies, gargoyles, werewolves and vampires all exist. Some Tolkien-esque creatures grace the pages as well, including Dwarves and Trolls. Snuff focuses on a much maligned race in Pratchett’s cannon: Goblins.

In the same way the locations and races of the Discworld mirror our own, so do Pratchett’s themes. He has previously played with technology, conflict in the middle east, culture shock, and in Snuff he explores inequality. The Goblin race is treated very poorly, much like Untouchables in Indian culture or slaves in the age of Mercantilism.

The main character is my favorite from Pratchett’s works, Commander Sam Vimes. Vimes is essentially the Police Chief of Ank-Morpork, the Discworld equivalent to London. He is a no nonsense type of man who started at the bottom and clawed his way to the top. In this novel, Vimes is forced to go on vacation. While in the country, Vimes learns the people of the village are using Goblin slave labor to manufacture cigars and then smuggle them into Ank-Morpork. Vimes is disgusted with the treatment Goblins receive and aims to straighten the mess out.

I enjoyed Snuff, although not as much as previous Pratchett works. His recent books have lost a bit of their old humor and taken on more of a serious tone. His previous book, Unseen Academicals, dealt with the same themes of inequality and progressive thinking in an otherwise old-fashioned society. Pratchett is as wonderful as ever, and I look forward to reading his new book, Raising Steam. 

That will come sooner than later for me because one perk of working at a Bookstore is getting free uncorrected proofs of books. And what did Andy receive?

ImageImage

2. Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. (image from MHBbooks.com)

Kurt Vonnegut is my other favorite author (aside from Chris Moore, remember?) and I picked this up at the bookstore and read through it fairly quick. It contains Vonnegut’s last interview before his death in 2007 along with a few other conversations, the best addition being the interview he and Joseph Heller (Catch-22) gave for Playboy in 1992.

The book itself was worth a read, considering that it was only 166 pages, but it was only a compilation of interviews. Reading what Vonnegut has to say about his career and how he frames it was insightful. Vonnegut was in the German city of Dresden when it was firebombed during WWII, and his  most famous novel, Slaughterhouse Five, is a semi-autobiographical-but-still-fiction-with-aliens account of his time in the city as a prisoner of war. Vonnegut’s feelings on the bombing and time it took for him to write in full regarding the incident are a great representative of the Historiography of Dresden. Because the city was bombed by the Allies it was, for a period of time, looked over. As time passed, the bombing of a city with little to no military significance and a death toll comprised mainly of citizens became a point of contention, and many wondered if it was a war crime. Vonnegut kept silent about Dresden for a while, his fiction touching on other topics instead. Finally, almost fifteen years after his first novel, Vonnegut wrote about his experience. His novel reflects the anti-war, not-everything-America-did-was-perfect attitude that came about years later.

I love the interview he did with Heller. The two were good friends and the interview reads like they got together for cocktails by the pool to talk. They are both rather tongue-in-cheek the entire time and my favorite part comes about halfway through when Heller mentions that he is writing a sequel to Catch-22, the book that would later become Closing Time. He says to Kurt right then and there that he is going to write him in as a character in his book. Vonnegut pretty much just says, ‘Okay, cool!’ and that’s that. And it happened. Heller wrote a small character who had survived the bombing of Dresden, a man named Vonnegut. So there you go. BFFs.

I conclude this passage with this picture of Mr. Vonnegut that looks like a selfie.

Kurt-Vonnegut-in-1983

Brilliant.

3. Villa Incognito (image from wikipedia)

When my girlfriend and I started dating, she told me frequently that I needed to read the book Still Life With Woodpecker. Eventually, I did. I absolutely loved it and subsequently fell in love with the novels of Tom Robbins.

I’ve never read anyone who can make metaphors like Robbins. Before this, I had read Woodpecker and Skinny Legs and All. I decided to give this one a shot because, like Moore’s Coyote Blue,  one of the characters is a god. Specifically Tanuki from Japanese lore.

If you need a refresher, a Tanuki is a raccoon dog.

In Japanese Mythology, Tanuki floated down from the heavens using his scrotum as a parachute.

Also, Mario wears a Tanuki suit.

Robbins’ novel is about three American soldiers who fought in Vietnam. At war’s end, instead of coming home, they escaped to the jungle and lived in secret, hiding from the government for almost forty years. A great-great granddaughter of Tanuki is the female protagonist and fiance of one of the hiding American soldiers.

The book explores themes of patriotism and mysticism and begs the question, where is home? Where do we come from? Where do we belong?

As I read more Robbins later in the summer, I found Villa didn’t live up to some of his other works, but it is his most recent and most definitely worth a read. It is full of wonderful characters, a nice dose of mythology, exotic landscapes, and Robbins’ poetic language.

4. Sacre Bleu (image from nitlitebookreviews.com)

Until later this year when the sequel to Fool; The Serpent of Venice, comes out, this is Christopher Moore’s most recent work. Hopefully I can catch Mr. Moore when his book tour comes through the city.

Now, Moore’s books have, in my opinion, very clever, absurd, and inspired plots. Sacre Bleu is no exception. Our hero is Lucien, baker/painter living in late nineteenth century France. He grew up in the thick of the Impressionist movement in France. His father, also a painter and baker, was inspired by his artist friends. He died when Lucien was young, leaving Lucien to take over the Bakery and the unfulfilled dreams of a painter.

The action of the story begins with Vincent Van Gogh who, in a twist on reality, is shot (Van Gogh’s death is in the history books as a suicide) by a broken, twisted little man. The news of Van Gogh’s ‘suicide’ reaches Lucien and his best friend, painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. We soon learn that the twisted little man who killed Van Gogh is known as the ‘Colorman’. He and his friend Bleu, a muse who inhabits the bodies (mostly women) of those who inspire painters. Once they are inspired, the painter uses the blue Aquamarine color the Colorman sells them. The color, on canvas, is infused with the love and inspiration of the painter. This is used to make more blue paint and keep Bleu and the Colorman living eternally. Lucien and Henri discover they are both victims of this viscious cycle, but when Bleu falls in love with Lucien, things get complicated.

The book features many real Impressionist painters as characters, and again, Moore’s careful and detailed research makes the book that much better. I have the hardcover version of the book, which features blue text and full color paintings. When Moore refers to a particular piece, it appears in full, glorious color for reference. My favorite is Monet’s ‘St. Lazare Train Station’

I was dismayed to learn that the paperback version of the book is in black and white. How the hell can you read a book that constantly references paintings that all feature the color blue when the paintings included are in black and white!? That’s like telling someone all about your trip to China then showing them postcards. It’s almost the same, but not exactly what you were going for.

This story is a rich and humorous as Christopher Moore’s best works. My recommendation: get a hardcover copy. It is well worth it.

And of course, some quotes.

“…being of noble birth myself, if I were to discriminate on the accident of birth I’d have to eschew the company of you horseshit commoners, and then who would I drink with?”

“He shrugged eloquently, his Oops, I accidentally frightened the maid with my penis and shot the one-eared Dutch painter, couldn’t be helped shrug.”

“Better than a bear on a bicycle eating a nun.”

“She is too beautiful, I think, to not be inherently evil.”

5. Pirates! In an Adventure with the Romantics (image from wikipedia)

This is not the cover of the version I have, but these books seem to be under everyone’s radar. This was, hands down, the funniest book I read last year. It is the fifth book in a series by British author Gideon Defoe.

The main character of the book is the Pirate Captain and, along with his crew of other pirates, he sails the seas to do Piratey things. The other pirates are known by descriptors, such as the Pirate with the Scarf or the Pirate who loved kittens and sunsets, or the Pirate in green. The Pirate Captain is not the brightest bulb in the box, but he is admired by his crew. The book begins with the Pirates in Geneva, Switzerland, with the Pirate Captain attempting to get a loan. When he finds he cannot (he tells the banker that he lives no life, that he’s ‘Never tasted the salty air on your tongue and waved heartily at a mermaid!’), he and the rest of the pirates find they are in need of money. They are saved by a chance meeting with Lord Byron, Percy Shelly and Mary Godwin (soon to be Mary Shelly). Byron is just as big a blowhard as the Pirate Captain and the two get along famously. The Pirate crew are hired by the romantic Writers to give them an adventure which they travel to England to accomplish.

The book is like one big Monty Python sketch. Defoe keeps you laughing the whole way through. Whether it be the pirate crew’s lack of intelligence, love of ham, the Captain’s crazy antics, or the comedic straight man the Pirate with the Scarf, there are plenty of reasons to pick this book up. I would often read on the Subway and find myself laughing hysterically out loud. Defoe uses plenty of recall in his humor as well, as the Pirates often do the same things over and over. At the beginning of each book, for example, they are always discussing if something is better than something else. The Pirate captain inevitably waltzes in, says something that makes no sense to anyone but him, and goes about his business.

If you want a quick, hilarious read, then pick this book up. It is so,so,so worth it.

Phew. Done. More for next month, including more Pirates! YAR.