Category Archives: Alex Reads

Platonically in Love with Radio Silence

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He laughed again and hid his face under the blanket. “Why are you so nice to me?”
“Because I’m an angel.”
“You are.” He stretched out his arm and patted me on the head. “And I’m platonically in love with you.”
“That was literally the boy-girl version of ‘no homo’, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

Radio Silence p.108

[This post is mostly spoiler free! Minor spoilers are noted when they appear.]

Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence has rocketed into place alongside Fangirl and Afterworlds to form a sort of holy trifecta of YA books that effectively present and deal with fandom and creativity. Though, interestingly enough, out of those three Fangirl stands out like a sore thumb for being comparatively super straight and super white. But Radio Silence stands out, to me, as well as for being a book about creativity, for being a book that is overwhelmingly and positively about the love between friends. Which, though it’s an integral part of most people’s lives, you don’t normally see as the star concept of a novel.

Radio Silence follows seventeen-year-old British-Ethiopian study machine Frances Janvier, who knew she wanted to get into Cambridge University as soon as she heard of it at age ten and figured that was where the smart people went. She became Head Girl so it would look good on her Cambridge application. She has read hundreds of books she can’t really get her head around so the list will look long and impressive in her Cambridge interview. She’s not really friends with any of her friends because what she’s best at is studying, and when they make fun of her for being boring her immediate response is always “fair enough”. Her only spark of passion outside the Cambridge goal is a surreal sci-fi podcast called Universe City, which she secretly adores and spends her spare time drawing fan art for. So imagine her surprise when the podcast’s creator asks her to do the official art for the show… and imagine her double surprise when the creator turns out to be a quiet and unassuming friend-of-a-friend she knows in real life. Continue reading

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Writing about Writing about Writing (about Death Gods): A Review of Afterworlds

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If you’re involved in any writing course or writers’ group you’ll invariably find yourself faced with a seminar of some sort about The Publishing Industry. These are generally informative and terrifying, and detail all sorts of fun stuff like the importance of getting an agent, rejection letters, editors missing the point of the story and wanting to change weird shit, and how you must rewrite everything at least sixty times before it’s ready to hit an appraisal office’s desk let alone shelves. It can all be disheartening and scary and all that business can shrivel your creativity to a raisin-like state, so it was a breath of fresh and intriguing air to find a novel about The Publishing Industry in Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds. And one that got really gay, too! Bonus!

Lizzie Scofield survives a terrorist attack by pretending to be dead—and she pretends so well that she wills herself in the afterworld, the in-between grey-scale realm populated by ghosts and spirit guides. This act has planted her in a limbo state between alive and dead that makes her a spirit guide/grim reaper/psychopomp/Valkyrie herself, and she begins to learn how this all works from the sparkling and handsome Yamaraj… this is the plot of Darcy Patel’s debut novel. By luck that even she can’t quite believe, Darcy’s passion project (created for something that is never named NaNoWriMo but definitely is) is accepted by a New York publisher and bought for a huge sum of money, propelling the eighteen-year-old into the world of Professional Writers. Continue reading

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The Chances of Anything Coming From Maaars: A Clash with Classics Part 6

My first experience with H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was not the Victorian novel itself but the Jeff Wayne concept album, which my parents have on vinyl, and must have had on tape as well because I have a distinct and deeply-lodged memory of listening to it on a long car trip and lying in bed that night gripped by the terror that tentacley aliens were going to ooze through the ceiling vent and eat me. It was… with some trepidation and assurances to my eight-year-old self that it couldn’t be that bad, we’ve moved past this by now, come on, that I picked up the original book to read for a class on genre fiction.

I was wrong. To both the credit of Wells’ story and my eight-year-old self, this crap is terrifying.

The War of the Worlds is the grandfather of the modern alien invasion story as we know it today, or at least, carries all the hallmarks that the alien invasion story as we know it today loves. Being more familiar with the Men From Mars!! plotline as it appears in (parodies of) pulp 50s and 60s sci-fi and its later, grittier incarnations like Independence Day, it was a little odd to see it transplanted so naturally into 19th century England. There are still horses and carts trundling around, steam power is in its heyday, and the lush, quaint landscape of a country town and its quiet heath forms the stage for the beginning of a terrifying alien conquest that will make mankind question everything it knows about itself. Continue reading

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Caitlin Doughty and the Not-So-Grim Grim Reaper

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When a character in The Sims 2 dies, whether because they’ve reached old age or their pool ladder has mysteriously disappeared, the Grim Reaper comes to collect them, makes some notes, mumbles in a deep and gloomy voice, then disappears in a shaft of light. The dead Sim becomes either a little grey urn, or, if you move the object outside, a headstone, and the house that pot or grave marker sits in will henceforth be haunted by a disgruntled ghost of the appropriate colour (red for death by fire, blue for drowning—who also leave infuriating puddles all over the place). This was, in a weird but real way, my first exposure to the funerary process. I mean, minus the colour-coded ghosts, dead people do magically turn into either urns or headstones, right? Continue reading

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Overthinking Bargain Books: Sellevision

After being so pleasantly neutral about The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex, it’s sort of morbidly satisfying to have the next obscure novel plucked from the sales shelf be one that I’m so baffled and outraged by.

Hey, it sounded fun—after all, what could be more ripe for comedy than the quirky, white-lit, commercial world of a home shopping channel? There’s something intriguing about that alien landscape and the glittering hosts who rule over it, whether they’re joyfully explaining what this particular powder makeup can do to clear your skin and improve your life or playing out entertaining fabricated loops of domestic bliss vs greyscale footage of clumsy terror in infomercials.

For some people, existing and thriving in this weird world of advertising is their job and their life. Sellevision asks “what must it be like behind the scenes?” in… what I assume was meant to be a satirical way.

Where do I even start with this? Continue reading

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Faustian Contracts… IN SPACE! Alex Reads Ava’s Demon

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It’s a strange business, reviewing things that you haven’t finished—generally I try not to do it, because after all, how can you judge a story when the story isn’t done with being told? However, sometimes the amount of beauty and intrigue in a work is not balanced by its update schedule, and you find yourself not wanting to wait years more to talk about it. And that is how I find myself peering into the swirling, fiery galactic pool of wonderment and bizarreness that is Ava’s Demon… or at least, it’s first seventeen chapters or so.

Michelle Czajkowski’s webcomic throws you (or at least, me) for a loop by promising ‘demons’ in the title and then landing its protagonists in space. Not to say, of course, that something we would name ‘demons’ cannot exist in space—it’s an artful blurring of the lines between fantasy and sci-fi, juxtaposing an ancient, magical-looking alien race and their sorcery against a blue-screens-and-white-panelling technological powerhouse. And caught in the middle of it is an ordinary girl named Ava, or at least, as ordinary as you can be when you appear to have a malicious, fiery spirit whispering threats and discouragements over your shoulder, and have done for your entire life. Continue reading

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Overthinking Bargain Books: The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex

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In 1986, a million dollar Picasso painting disappeared overnight. A neat white placard informed patrons of the National Gallery of Victoria that the artwork had been removed by the A.C.T., which many presumed to mean that it had simply gone on a road trip to a be displayed in the Australian Capital Territory… when, in fact, it was being held ransom by the Australian Cultural Terrorists, who threatened to keep and/or destroy the famous painting if the government didn’t raise the abysmal funding it gave to the arts. The painting was found, safe and sound and in fact strangely well cared for, in a locker in a train station some weeks later, and the thieves were never caught.

This is their story, or at least, a story that could have been theirs, tangled up with the stories of several other ordinary people and a South American ghost legend in a great dramatic fishing net and flung into the Yarra River. Continue reading

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