Up until recently, I’d been extremely selective about the “Song of Ice and Fire” commentary and analysis I paid attention to. The Westeros.org wiki can be a spoiler-laden minefield to navigate while you’re still trekking through the existing books, and I have no regrets yet about allowing BoiledLeather.com into my life. I was wrapping up an epic read through the latter’s chapter remix of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, though, and since it was my first time looking at both of those books, the goal had been to let as many shocks and delights unfold in their full glory as possible.
I’m 100% caught up on the series now, however, so I have no qualms about reading the new George R.R. Martin Flipboard magazine that Random House has launched. The publisher is actually backing two such author-themed ventures right now, one for Martin and one for author Margaret Atwood. And the more I think about them, the more I think these magazines mark a pretty smart move on Random House’s part.
Now, I’ve been on the fence and off again about Flipboard since I first tried it out on my first-gen (now aging, slow and nearly useless) iPad. At first glance, my thoughts were, “Why do I need an RSS reader that shows me fewer headlines at a time and requires more gestures and navigation to see everything I want to see?” Nevertheless, the interface and design have grown on me. Flipboard is a clever platform for tablet (and smartphone) reading when the content plays nicely with it. A lot of publishers just sort of show up, and some barely look like they care about being in Flipboard at all, but when it works, it works well, and I hope the library of accessible publishers who don’t make you click through to a web browser continues to grow.
Fan magazines like this new George R.R. Martin one seem like sensible fits, though, in theory. As I mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of Flipboard stories that require normal web browser viewing, but for magazine-type articles with curated content being mixed in, I could see “The World of Ice and Fire” working out really well. The iPad is where I do most of my novel reading these days, and having a magazine-like experience to complement that makes a lot of sense on Flipboard, both for reader use and an easy option for book publishers, who (let’s face it) can use all the help they can get to corral and connect with audiences these days. I’d love to see some similar Haruki Murakami and Salman Rushdie options show up to the party as well.
In lieu of some longer reviews right now, here a few scattered thoughts on what I’ve been reading and otherwise seeing or hearing the last few weeks:
- Ezra Claytan Daniels’s serialized Upgrade Soul comic on iPad: Andrew Hayward clued me into this one via his review at Mac|Life. It’s a slightly animated multimedia version of a comic with surreal and sci-fi elements, and it makes much better use of its medium that most other motion comics or similar narrative presentations that you’ve probably run into. I recommended trying an issue and seeing if it’s to your liking.
- Girls is back on at HBO, and I’m caught up with the first two episodes of Season 2 as of today. It’s interesting that show dived right into responding to last season’s race criticism by introducing Donald Glover’s new character Sandy. Nevertheless, it’s been a pretty shallow response as far as the writing goes. They’re upping the ante as far as Adam’s creep factor goes, but right now this is still a show my heart’s only about half into whenever it’s on.
- It started reading George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows, and was quickly steered toward reading the book simultaneously with A Dance with Dragons by Sean T. Collins. I’m reading Sean’s chapter remix sequence at the moment, and it feels very natural. Also, I think this is the approach that any real Tyrion lover should take, based on what I’ve seen so far.
- For $2.99, the new Archaia take on Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009 was a pleasant digital surprise. I picked up issue #0 from comiXology, not realizing that the new comic came with 60 pages of the original manga packed into the file as well. I’ll definitely be with this one for at least a few issues, but both the old and new material were a steal for the price.
I don’t necessarily avoid manga in my reading diet—it’s just not a staple. I’ve enjoyed Cromartie High School, Ghost in the Shell, Akira and even a little Yotsuba&!. Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto’s The Drops of God was little off the beaten path for me—not something I would have come to naturally. As David Brothers over at ComicsAlliance wrote last year, though, it’s manga about wine. What’s not to be interested in?
Being neither a manga nor wine connoisseur, this book only had things to teach me. It’s a comic about the son of a famous wine critic, who has a quest that conveniently allows him discover and describe real-life wines or trigger a lesson on the history of French winemaking. After you begin to understand the structure and story beats that are going on, you start to get curious as a reader about what’s around the corner, what’s on a label that’s being obscured or why a wine tastes a certain way.
Yes, there is a hokey quality to the melodrama that permeates the pages of The Drops of God. Those groan-inducing sequences of a manager belittling an employee or the story’s villain pondering his master plan snowball hilariously into moments of revelation that punctuate the chapters and keep things going at a respectable pace.
I’m only one volume into this series so far, but I’ve already learned more about Henri Jayer and French vineyards than I ever would have read and remembered anywhere else.
The near-photorealistic illustrations of the labels and bottles integrate seamlessly with cartoonish illustrations to stitch together the non fiction with the fiction.
And I should note that you won’t walk into the wine department at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods able to dazzle your friends with observations and interpretations after reading this manga. In fact, most of the knowledge you glean will only be useful under significantly more expensive circumstances. However, if you do happen to wander onto some French vineyards in the future, you may find yourself significantly more informed about why a crop of grapes is going to be ideally suited for whipping up a particularly good batch of wine, as well as why that batch shouldn’t be enjoyed for at least 20 years.
Every time I see Robert Pattinson in an image from David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis adaptation, I can’t help but think how impossible it sounds to get Twilight readers buying Don DeLillo books. (I remember picking up my hardcover up off the clearance shelf at a Barnes & Noble years ago.) But I guess stranger things have happened.
After finishing Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story a few weeks ago, I was struck by how intimately he had thought through the impact of technology on human relationships. His book anticipates the evolution of Facebook, as well as the descendants of devices such as the iPhone and yet-to-be-released Google glasses. The novel also picks apart the nuances of shared information, how credit scores and health records could define us publicly, and even what those details would mean in a world where biological immortality is an achievable (if prohibitively expensive) dream.
For tech geeks, as well as story lovers, there is a lot to digest in Shteyngart’s complex brink-of-collapse society. I wouldn’t want to spoil the political speculation and Chinese lending consequences that he also explores, but if you haven’t read SSTLS yet, here are five technologies that are present in the book and why the author’s vision for them may be worth your time.
1. Äppäräti, the PC evolved — As phones and tablets become more and more like out laptops and desktop PCs, the question of how many devices the average consumer will own and what they will look like is a valid one. In SSTLS, Shteyngart envisions something along the lines of Google’s glasses. There is a line at one point where a character makes fun of an outdated äppärät model by comparing it to an iPhone, clearly poking fun at how quickly our personal devices become outdated, but also positioning the äppärät as a replacement for smartphones. The gizmo is a networked link to the world, which also broadcasts information about the owner, whether they are looking for a restaurant or sizing up other singles in a bar. It’s the gateway to augmented reality fully realized.
2. GlobalTeens, the all-purpose network and communication platform — It wasn’t all that long ago that Facebook was just a site for college students looking to check out pictures of their friends and talk about classes. Shteyngart pokes fun at this evolution with SSTLS‘s Facebook analogue, which is called GlobalTeens. Although the name implies a young, immature audience, “Teening” (the verb for communicating over the network) is an activity that replaces instant messaging and email. If you want to call someone or talk to them in person, it means you want to “verbal.” The vocabulary from the book is hilarious and thought-provoking in this regard.
3. Socialized credit scores and health records, info habits that make “oversharing” seem like a word that only stodgy people use — Of all the practices and gadgets that change how people understand themselves in SSTLS, none are more eye-opening than the standard profiles available to complete strangers. You can imagine that single people are quite a bit more conscious of prospective mates’ credit scores in a world where everyone in the U.S. is over their heads in debt, but beyond that, everyone in the room can have a look at your health status and size up your probable lifespan. Most of these things would be totally doable via a smartphone app right now if users were willing, which just makes SSTL all the more believable.
4. The state of online shopping — Hand in hand with the äppärät, shopping for people who have money is a universally accessible option that allows purchases to be made anywhere and everywhere. There was also a brief moment where Lenny showcased the ease of cash transfers. Not wanting to accept money from Eunice’s father, he quickly transfers dollars straight into the man’s bank account. Services like Square and Paypal are already on top of options like this (and banks in many countries know that this is a convenience people want).
5. Post-Human Services, info habits that make “oversharing” seem like a word that stodgy people use — Lenny, the main character in SSTL, works for a company called Staatling-Wapachung, and his job is to sell life extension services to the world’s super-wealthy. Appropriately, the possibility of living forever impacts numerous other dimensions of day-to-day living. Everyone (including Lenny) seems bent on one-upping everyone else, devising a calculus of nutritional and financial choices that will let them live long enough to save up enough to afford extreme and indefinite life spans.