"There was one time out in Asia, though, when I thought that all the emphysema in the world wasn't going to save me." (Firing Squad, 107)
"It's hard to decide what you want to do with your life until you know how it's going to end." (Not Waving But Drowning, 161)
"My death. And yes, it does bring me comfort--but not as much as you'd think. Like just knowing a story has a happy ending alone doesn't make it a good story." (After Many Years, 249)
"What good is knowing the future if you can't do anything with the knowledge?" (Friendly Fire, 267)
"The speck of my soul floating in all this meat." (Loss of Blood, 319)
"It's just words. It's just the end of the story." (Heat Death of the Universe, 404)
"You can't just say what's going to happen ahead of time. That's not how physical law works. That's narrative. And when reality is twisted to fit narrative, that's not natural. That's someone making stories happen." (?, 422)
1. Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki! (454 pages)
Based on an idea proposed by that dinosaur comic (that there is a machine that, like the Oracle at Delphi, will cryptically and enigmatically tell you how you will die, vaguely), this is a brilliant collection of short stories that approach such a basic idea from every possible angle. And, in doing so, explores the very nature of mortality, humanity, destiny, tragedy, triumph, love, joy, hatred, fear, and ecstasy. I don't think I've ever read such a strong collection of stories, nor one that was so very thought-provoking on so many levels.
The big question, of course, is, would you use the Machine of Death? Logically, as a literature major, I know that it is never a good idea to know the future, much less how you die. It always ends badly. On the other hand, how could you possibly, as a human being, restrain yourself from obtaining that kind of information? To be human is to open Pandora's Box, to climb Mount Everest, to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. The maddening thing is that, even as such information could totally ruin the rest of our life, it could very possibly be the best thing to happen to our life. It could be as freeing as it could be constricting. It could cripple us with fear, or release us completely from it.
Even worse, could the knowledge of how we die, like with every Greek hero ever, cause that death? In running from fate, would we run right into it? Would this be self-fulfilling prophecy? Would we be like Sleeping Beauty, in being protected from the spinning wheel, run to prick our fingers on it?
Would the very existence of the Machine, the very ability to have this knowledge ruin life, mortality, and death?
If you were the one to invent the Machine, could you release it on the world? Would you feel responsible for the outcome? For the deaths? Would you be a savior, or a monster?
Would knowing affect everything? Is this a question of fate and destiny, or of human psychology, the self-fulfilling prophecy? Do we fight against the dying of the light or do we accept fate and die with a whimper?
Furthermore, is the Machine accurate? If it spits out "JOY" or "SUICIDE" or "ALMOND", is the truth in the fate what the Machine meant, or does the human psyche make it so?
Then we get into the meta part of this. Isn't modern medical technology essentially Machines of Death? Do we have any ability to try to face or change fate? Can we?
Moreover (and here we get literary), does the manner in which we die reflect the way we live? Does the end of our story reflect the beginning and middle? Is our death, the end of our story, random or determined? Is it a reflection of who we are as people? Does our manner of death reflect our manner of life?
Furthermore, could humanity ever possibly live with such divine (or meta) knowledge as the ending of our own stories? Would is save our lives or destroy them? Make us worse or make us better? Could humanity ever cope with certitude? Is hope a curse or a blessing? Can humans ever be human without hope? Would we ever strive to know or fight or do without hope?
If we (both as a human character in this alternative world and as the reader of these stories) know the ending of the story (the death), how does it affect the reader, the writer, the characters? Oh, fuck, do I love that double layer!
Because, death gives life. Death affects life.
My favorite stories: Suicide by David Michael Wharton, Almond by John Chernega, Starvation by M. Bennardo, Killed By Daniel by Julia Wainwright, Cocaine and Painkillers by Daivd Malki!, Loss of Blood by Jeff Stautz, and Miscarriage by James L. Sutter.
This collection is highly addicting, incredibly absorbing, comprehensive, clever, imaginative, thought-provoking, and utterly brilliant. Grade: A+
2. The Sandman Volume 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman (228 pages)
I'm pretty sure that Neil Gaiman is going to ruin me for all other comic books/graphic novels. Holy crap.
As Dream/The Sandman regains control of his realm, he realizes some of his minions are missing, that there is a living Vortex named Rose Walker, and that his little sister, Desire, is up to no good. The story is deeply engaging, but transcends being "just" an exciting, brilliant, and imaginative story due to Gaiman's trademark brilliant storytelling style and his ability to flawlessly and enchantingly weave mythology and fairy tale into creating his own brilliant story. He is a master storyteller, the likes of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, authors who also could blur the worlds of dream, reality, and literature. Grade: A+
"We're in English class, which for most of us is an excruciating exercise in staying awake through the great classics of literature."
"If there's anything I'm starting to learn about people it's (a) that they are fundamentally suspicious and afraid of anyone who is "different" and (b) that fear makes them do and say asinine things."
3. Going Bovine by Libba Bray (480 pages) Part Norse mythology, part The Odyssey, part Dante's Divine Comedy, Going Bovine is the epic journey of Cameron Smith, apathetic 16-year-old, who is diagnosed with terminal mad cow disease. With his best friend, a hypochondriac dwarf named Gonzo, and a garden gnome that is the Norse god Balder, Cameron is charged with saving the world from the dimension-hopping Doctor X by a punk angel, which sends him on a picaresque journey across the United States. Hilarious, full of character, unabashedly accurate in its portrayal of high school and teenage life (i.e., contains sex, drugs, and alcohol), packed with intelligent literary references, this young adult book is so very refreshing, original, and thought-provoking. Cameron is a likeable, disingenuous, irreverent and observant character who subtly and perfectly changes throughout the book as he faces life and death. If the book has a fault, it is its picaresque nature, which is disjointed and moves too quickly, with little detail. But smart, clever, and witty readers of all ages should adore this refreshingly brilliant tale. Grade: A
4. Wonderstuck by Brian Selznick (637 pages) Rose, living in 1927 and deaf, runs away from home to New York City. Her story is told through illustrations. Ben, orphaned and living in 1977, is struck deaf by lightning and runs away to New York City in search of his missing father. His story is told in narrative. The two stories intertwine sweetly, though predictably. Selznick may not be the most gifted storyteller, but he pushes the boundaries creatively and refreshingly. Form brilliantly follows substance (a tale of two, lonely, lost people who cannot hear, told in pictures and words, constricting and simultaneously widening the senses of the reader), packed with enchanting details (the Natural History Museum, Cabinets of Wonder, silent film, etc.). Quick, beautiful, charming tale. Grade: A-
"All love that which they destroy."
"Weak people believe what is forced on them. Strong people what they wish to believe, forcing that to be real."
5. The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe (276 pages) Neil Gaiman called this book the greatest fantasy of the past century, and I'm sort of wondering what he was thinking. Particularly because, as Neil Gaiman, he must have read his own books.
A Torturer is expelled from his order because he mercy killed a woman he fell in love with. And that's pretty much it. The book is beautifully written, creates a fascinatingly bizarre, original, complex, and dark world, but it is confusingly written with awkward vocabulary and the details bog the story down, never allowing the characters to become real or interesting. The worst thing is that it's just plain boring. Potential is there, but it's just not worth it. Very disappointing. Grade: C
2012 Page Count: 2075