What’s really up with Zits? Time travel Sherman Alexie style in Flight.

Hehehehehehe. Okay, if you have no appreciation of dark humor stop reading right now and stay far away from Flight–far far away. Got it? I’m warning you. This is no sweet flight of fancy tome.  Our hero is an angry fifteen year old male of Irish and Indian origin with some serious grief and father issues–among other things. Now sit back and sip your hot tea, latte or bloody mary and think about a young man who refers to himself as Zits. If you can’t relate then it’s probably in your best interests–and mine (yes, I do fear homicidal repercussions from unhappy readers)–to go nowhere near this particular Sherman Alexie book.  That said, last night I stayed up very late reading Flight via flashlight outside on the front porch–much to the dismay of anyone who had their doors or windows open to receive my hooting laughter when I turned to page 146.  Some folks do not find boiled birdies funny–and I do understand that such minds exist. On the other hand, there are minds, such as mine and apparently Alexie’s, which find self boiled birdies absolutely hilarious–especially in the context of a potentially violent encounter between a homeless Indian man and the usual well-heeled white dude. If by some means, like using your local public library, you garner a copy of Flight you too will be in serious need of comic relief by the time you turn to page 146. Though, hopefully, you’ll have found other darkly comic things to chuckle loudly about before page 146. But you’ll also have encountered several incidents of mayhem, murder and molestation along the way.  The lives of foster children are not all filled with sugar mommies and daddies. Nor do many events in American history since 1492 recount pleasant Thanksgiving din dins between Europeans and Indigenous folks.

Ever wonder how to diffuse the building anger of teenager? Well, Sherman Alexie offers one way–history lessons of the “not me” and the “me?!” variety. Yep, direct confrontations of some dark sad truths of reality provide the fodder for the adolescent mind to chew heartily on and time travel, complete with out-of-body experiences, is the medium.  From the Battle of the Little Bighorn to the grief ridden friendly skies of a private flight instructor Alexie takes us on a journey through history. Along the way he’ll shred your heart, sew it back together without anesthesia, and then shove it back into your chest.  You’re going to need every last piece of humor to endure the operation.  If you’re not laughing when Harry Potter takes a swan dive–then you might be dead and gone. Or you’ve abandoned Alexie’s exploration of time travelling adventures as an instruction manuel. Each episode serves as a short story with ethical issues galore. FBI agent Hank Storm may not get your heartstrings trembling–but Gus, Bow Boy and Small Saint could very well lay you flat on the floor demolishing an extra-large box of kleenex–or soaking an extra-large cotton hanky.

Zits experiences violence in many forms via his out-of-body time travelling–and this makes him seriously consider his pains of loss, abandonment and identity. Children NEED fathers–preferably decent men who care about their welfare. That lacking, one must find family where one can. Sometimes the concept of ‘family’ has not a damned thing to do with genetics and biology. It’s got to do with who gives a damn.

I’ve been a fan of Alexie’s work ever since reading his collection of poems and short stories The Business of Fancydancing. Yes, there’s a film by that title too– and it’s a great film. But–it was the text that had me wanting to scream and laugh from one page to the next. Ever felt bushwhacked by a writer? Well that’s how I felt while reading The Business of Fancydancing. It was great. Disturbing at times, but great nonetheless. I will never forget the story of the man, Eve and the post office. Hell, I’ve never entered a post office since and not thought of the story. The same holds true for Flight. It will not numb or bore you to tears. Not sure you can relate yet? Okay, who has had bad acne? Raise your hands now.

The Official Website of Sherman Alexie–be forewarned–it’s a tad off kilter:  http://www.fallsapart.com/

In the Garden of Iden with Kage Baker’s Company — Damn, will the Spanish Inquisition Never End?

Ah for years and years my old bud Mervius insisted my reading buffet would never be complete until I consumed Kage Baker’s In the Garden of Iden. On several occasions I tasted a page or two before detouring off to sample other fare.  I suspect the Spanish Inquisition just failed to fan the flares of my reading pheromones. It’s not good to venture into dark historical times when dark storm clouds are already cramping one’s interior mental landscape. So, time travel and Dr. Zeus notwithstanding, again and again I only wandered so far into Baker’s Garden–until now. Still plenty of dark shadows lurking in my attic, but this time Mendoza’s voice resonated with my own tuning fork and I ventured beyond the first chapter and into the second to meet Mendoza the child full of piss and vinegar galore. This child of the Inquisition is no snivelling little shy kitty but one determined plucky yard cat with an attitude that might make the rack think twice about its own viability.  When ‘baby’ Mendoza meets Joseph of Dr. Z and The Company affiliation the drawing and quartering  horses are off and running–straight to an English garden in Kent–of all places!

There have been many time travelling immortal cyborgs in fiction and film–but how many have been botanists sent on a mission to save a medically significant plant from certain extinction? Hmm? And how many of those cyborgs have had to endure life in the time of Bloody Mary? If I didn’t know better I’d think the English slang cuss word “bloody” had its dubious origins with Henry’s first-born child.  Furthermore, what other cyborg is a teenager experiencing first love with a very physically appealing religious heretic? Hmm? Ah yes, the catnip crazed kitty has nearly clawed its way out of the bag now.  What happens when a young cyborg on her first field trip into history falls in love with a human in times of pure political and religious lunacy?  Oh cyborg, cyborg, what does your garden grow? Hmm…yes, you will have to go smell Kage Baker’s garden offerings to learn what was going on in not so merry England prior to the Golden Age of the Virgin Queen. Hmmm, now there’s a reference to a personal garden that cunningly never grew nor bore fruit.

Hmm, I suspect I’ve been having way too much fun gleefully flipping images and mixing metaphors in my own little garden plot here. But–what the hell!

A few reasons why you should entertain notions of reading the late Kage Baker’s first novel:

You’re a fan of historical fiction that mixes it up with science fiction.

You’ve got some ethical issues about time travel you’d like resolved.

You’re a sucker for love stories.

You’ve got a thing for smartass dialogue.

You’re in the reading market for a completed series of tomes featuring a strong woman with ‘real history’ and a mission for eternity.

You enjoy damned good writing.

You’re bored out of your mind with the offerings on the current bestseller list and are willing to mine for reading gold in veins you’ve not yet explored.

Oh, yes, about the question in the title of this blog post–hmm, sits twiddling her thumbs for a moment–um, yes, well considering current events in the states, eg, NDAA,  one HAS to wonder if the Inquisition ever really ended.

    [Mendoza] “For God’s sake, it’s crazy! These people are giving up their civil rights! It’s a step back into the Middle Ages!”

“Funny thing about those Middle Ages, ” said Joseph. “They just keep coming back. Mortals keep thinking they’re in Modern Times, you know, they get all this neat technology  and pass all these humanitarian laws, and then something happens: there’s an economic crisis, or science makes some discovery people can’t deal with. And boom, people go right back to burning Jews and selling pieces of the True Cross. Don’t you ever make the mistake of thinking that mortals  want to live in a golden age. They hate thinking.”

“But this doesn’t have anything to do with intellect!” I [Mendoza] protested. “It’s a question of survival! Don’t they realize they’ve just voted absolute power to their enemies? My God, where’s their common sense?”

Well, Mendoza, I do believe that when we are brutally honest with ourselves, we mortals in general are keenly aware of our entire lack of any sense at all–common or otherwise. Resumes twiddling thumbs now.

Website for the ‘late’ Kage Baker’s wonderful literary work. Yes, I wrote “literary” in regard to a science fiction text. I dare anyone to read In the Garden of Iden and argue the point.    http://www.kagebaker.com/


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