Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The New 52: Part Two (or why you should care)

I am a big advocate for superheroes. Superheroes and the reading of them are like vitamins. They strengthen parts of the spirit and morale.

Reading is great for you. Reading fiction, even better for you. But contemporary fiction doesn't do much in the way of giving one things to aspire to. Literary fiction (and this is more or less true of a lot of genre fiction as well) relies on the conflicts produced by characters who have deep-seeded flaws.

Might it not be a good idea to now and then read about people whose defining characteristic is that they are inherently good? I mean, isn't that what the whole New Testament is supposed to be about? Here's this guy, he's just...really nice to everybody. Like as in nicer than nice. All the time. Look, he's handing out some fish to some strangers! Look, he's helping out some blind people! What a nice guy!

Reading superheroes lets you get all that positive Jesus-y energy without all the unpleasant Christianity. Comic books are chock-full of positive role models. Of people we could aspire to be.

But they're difficult to crack into. Comic books are arcane, they're drenched in nostalgia and stale narrative. They lock out all but the most devoted fans, pandering to those of us who are willing to retain encyclopaedic knowledge about character histories.

Now it's possible that the DC relaunch will quickly devolve into more of the same.
But it's also possible that the door into the DC universe might be unlocked to the uninitiated for the first time in decades. And there could be treasures within. What follows are some suggestions for books that should provide the easiest access to people who've never read a comic book in their lives.

1. Action Comics by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales. Rookie socialist Superman. If that three-word pitch doesn't sell you, you should probably stop reading now. Morrison has already done visionary work on Superman at the end of his career and is going back to the character's Seigel & Schuster roots for this story of Supe's first arrival in Metropolis. One of the best writers in comics on the medium's most iconic character.

2. Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo. Snyder's recent work on Detective Comics has been nothing short of amazing. His American Vampire, which started out as a collaboration with Stephen King, was so good that King got dropped off the title (okay, that's not exactly how it happened, but if writing American Vampire was an arm-wrestling match, Snyder would be Stallone in Over the Top and King would be...everyone else in Over the Top). He's the closest writer in ages to write a Batman that feels as basic and real as Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Greg Capullo's chunky artwork was practically made to draw Batman.

3. Justice League by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee.
One of the biggest writers in comics paired with one of the most influential (for better or worse) comics artists of the past twenty years. If they can keep this book on track and out on time, it should be pretty remarkable. Plus, this is the A-list Justice League: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern. The big guns. I'd imagine the notoriously dilatory Lee has six issues drawn already, since a lot of DC's hopes are riding on this book.

4. Batwoman by JH Williams & W. Haden Blackman. Now we get into risky territory. Williams is one of the best artists working in superheroes. He pushes the limits of what a page can look like. And Kathy Kane is DC's high profile lesbian superheroine. Under the pen of Greg Rucka, she was a wonderfully fleshed out and balanced character. Williams' writing is the x-factor here; he's one of several DC artists who are getting the bump up to writer. But unlike some of the others, Williams might have the chops to carry this book.

5. Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang. Here's a character that's been struggling for an identity for ages. For whatever reason, WW has never caught on at the level of Superman or Batman. I might have preferred a return of Gail Simone to this book, I'm interested to see what Azzarello brings to it. Mostly known as a crime writer, Azz is promising that Wonder Woman will have a strong horror vibe to it. Could be a disastrous return to the bondage fetishism of WW's roots, or a chance to set the Amazonian mythology aside and let Diana step up into DC's big three where she belongs.

6. Batgirl by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf. This one threatens to remain bogged down in continuity. Barbara Gordon reclaims the mantle of Batgirl after decades in a wheelchair. A whole lot of fans are, somewhat rightfully, offended at this mysterious, miraculous recovery and to keep those folks from rioting, there's going to be some 'splaining to do. But some of us think that Simone, one of the best writers on DC's stable and the only female writer involved in stage one of the relaunch, could be able to pull this off. Simone excels at writing strong, deeply realized female characters, which is exactly the treatment Barbara Gordon deserves, in or out of the chair.

7. Aquaman by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis. Okay, this probably shouldn't be on the list. After all, Aquaman's power is that he talks to fish. But I've always had a soft spot for the guy and desperately want him to be cool. Geoff Johns has made Hal Jordan cool and almost had me convinced Barry Allen wasn't a narrative dead end. I'm hopeful he can do the same for Arthur Curry. But that doesn't mean y'all need to read it.

8. Animal Man by Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman. Marvel has been very good at getting folks from indie comics to come write superheroes, with high levels of success. Huge paychecks probably don't hurt. DC's mostly plucked their talent from the mid-nineties and seems to have managed to piss off the very talented Brian Wood enough for him to abandon everything he's writing for DC. But Jeff Lemire is the real deal. His Essex County is stunning and Sweet Tooth continues to be on my reading list by virtue of being just wonderfullly weird. I wasn't huge on his Superboy work, although a lot of people were. But Animal Man, a superhero with strange animal-based powers and the ultra-rare ability to maintain a wife and two kids, could be the perfect fit for Lemire. And could be one of those books that creeps up and changes the game entirely, the way the big bad Brits did in the late eighties. Too much pressure for one book? Probably, but I'm betting Lemire is impressive right out of the gate.

Some of these might not be for you. And there might be some I'm leaving out that are totally for you. But if on some Wednesday this month, you happen to find yourself with three dollars to spare? Might not be a bad idea to go pick up a comic for once. Just saying.

Oh, and I swear pretty soon I'll start writing about books without pictures.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The New 52: Unsolicited Thoughts on the DC Comics Relaunch

It's apparent I haven't written for this blog in...oh, seventy years. Two and a half years, to be exact. I was thinking last week that, being between books at the moment (I'm in edits on one and pre-writing on another), maybe I would start up a new blog. Then I remembered I've had a whole bunch of blogs before and maybe I should just go back to this one.

Rather than doing anything remotely ambitious, I figured I'd talk about comic books.

For the record, the novel I'm starting to put notes together on has a lot to do with comics, comic book conventions and how fantasy narrative works. So I have an excuse.

In case you haven't heard, DC Comics, a company whose output makes up probably 40% of the floppies produced every year ("floppies" here refers to single issue comics, usually between twenty four and thirty six pages long with half that again in advertising, much of which is for other comics or comics-related merch), is about to do a company-wide relaunch of its superhero universe, releasing fifty-two number one issues in the month of September. If you're a comic book fan, this is huge news. In fact, it's hard to think of a cognate to this in any other form of entertainment.

Of course, it's a marketing move. Maybe not 100% a calculated marketing move, but largely a marketing move. DC has perennially lagged behind its competitor, Marvel Comics, in market share and this is what they're doing about it. Many of the characters are getting redesigned. Most if not all of them are going to be younger than they were before. And they're shedding the years of convoluted "continuity" that's come before, a sort of narrative baggage that the characters have been carting around for decades.

Continuity is another tricky thing to explain to an outsider, so let's try an analogy. If you were going to start reading the Harry Potter books (or watching the movies), you wouldn't start with the fourth one. Built into the fourth book is the expectation that you've read the previous three; there's a degree to which the narrative won't function if you don't bring that other knowledge in with you.

Now imagine that Harry Potter books have been coming out for fifty years. And that Harry lives in the same narrative universe as characters from the Narnia books, the Dark is Rising books and Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time books, each with fifty years of constant narrative trailing behind them. That's what comics continuity is like: dozens of characters who have amassed fifty years worth of intertwining, often contradictory stories (hard-core fans will do amazing mental acrobatics to reconcile discrepancies in continuity, as will comic book writers, many of whom started out as hard-core fans). And any of these stories can be called up into relevance at any time.

You can see where this might be daunting for a new fan. Someone who walks out of the Green Lantern movie, goes to their local store and picks up the latest issue will be left to stare blankly at a story that includes not just Green Lanterns, but Yellow, Orange, Violet, etc. This Lucky Charms of Lanterns situation is easily understood by someone (like me) who's been following the book for years. But it's illegible to a noob.

So in an attempt to bring in new readers, DC is ditching most (although not all; back to that later) of its continuity. And they're offering same-day digital availability of all of their titles, a move which might be more significant for the industry than everything else.

All of this has caused calamity within the comic book community and has gotten some amount of press in the world outside. A lot of fans are pissed off about the erasure of continuity. Which makes sense, especially for DC fans, because the DC universe is, in a way, about its continuity. Not only does DC trump Marvel in having superhero legacies (many DC icons have been, at one time or another, replaced by their sidekicks or someone new picking up the torch. See Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Starman. Of course, most of these torch-passings have been reversed eventually), the DC universe itself has been in a sort of existential crisis (that was an inside joke) about the contradictions in its shared narrative for decades. In an effort to "make it all fit", they've tried multiple dimensions, hypertime and the occasional rewriting of the timeline from scratch. Even this relaunch doesn't come out of nowhere: it supposedly flows out of the "Flashpoint" miniseries that wraps up tomorrow. We'll see about that.

But leaving aside the debates within the comics community (pants? no pants?), the question of whether or not this will bring in new readers remains. And while I'm rooting for this to be a huge success, here are a couple hurdles I can see.

1. Floppies are bite-sized. Most of us have watched enough television that we can handle serialized narrative. You hit the "Oh snap!" moment at the end of an episode of Lost, the screen goes black and you understand you'll have to wait a week for another fix. Most of us probably prefer binging our way through a full DVD worth one Saturday on the couch, but the waiting is part of a novelty cost: we get to see it right away. Then it's hurry up and wait.

But imagine if each episode of Lost was a half hour long. And they came out once a month. That's about the rate narrative gets doled out in comics.

For those of us who have been comics readers for a while, this is fine. We have several titles we follow and there's a ritual to going down the comic book store on a Wednesday and seeing which of the titles you dig has come out, then rushing home and moving incrementally ahead in the adventures of your favorite characters. And because the stories are going on in a shared universe, it becomes a little easier to keep incredibly long-form narratives in your head. Something that happens to Spider-Man may be referenced in a Captain America or Iron Man comic.

But these are very ingrained habits, and are foreign to most non-comic book readers. I'm not saying someone who doesn't read comics can't do this, I'm saying it may be difficult to get them to start. I started my wife (who is much smarter than me) reading The Unwritten and she really liked it. Until she had to wait every month for a new issue. By the time the next issue came out, the last one was more or less forgotten.

Among comics fans, there's a somewhat recent phenomenon referred to as "waiting for trade". What this means is that you stop following a comic on a monthly basis and wait for a whole storyline to be collected in a trade paperback. This is a much more natural form of reading and what most people probably prefer. The switch to reading in fits and starts, even with DC's commitment to getting books out on time, is going to be a tough sell to most readers.

2. The insularity of "top creative talent". It should first be noted that there have been numerous attempts to bring non-comics writers into the industry. Writers from Lost, Battlestar Gallactica and other series, as well as bigwigs like Stephen King and Kevin Smith have been given the keys to the shiniest narrative toys and told to let loose.

The results? Mixed at best. But the sales have generally been strong.

I will be the first to admit that many non-comics writers have failed to take advantage of some of the particular opportunities presented by the comics medium. I will also admit that most established, high end comics writers excel at exactly what they're doing. But outside of the industry, they're not marquee names.

This is particularly problematic within the DC relaunch, where many of the would-be marquee names are remnants of the nineties comic boom, their names largely forgotten (or never known) to the outside world and often snickered at within the industry. DC may have a hard enough time getting the fans excited about a book by Fabian Nicieza or Scott Lobdell (both keepers of the sprawling X-Men franchise through most of my teen years), much less getting anyone else's attention.

Yes, what this means is I want the writing staff of The Wire to take over the Batman books. Nothing against Treme, but seriously: right now.

3. The ladies were not excited about pants. When the relaunch was announced, one of the points DC editorial stressed was that all of its female characters would now wear pants. Not hot pants, regular pants.

In the minds of DC editorial, this seemed to be a major victory for feminism and a guaranteed increase in female readership. Of course, as game time approached, they reversed this decision and re-de-pantsed Wonder Woman. But pants (or tights, or whatever) are mostly colored in skin in a comic book, and the objections to Wonder Woman go deeper than the fact that she wears short shorts. It might not be a bad idea to enforce an editorial mandate against up-skirt shots and down-shirt shots by DC artists. If DC wants to really bring female readers on board, there are two major ways to do it.

Female writers and female artists.

I'm excited about Brian Azzarello writing Wonder Woman, because I'm excited about Brian Azzarello writing pretty much anything. But this should have been an opportunity for DC to frontline its current roster of female creators (which I think is pretty much Gail Simone, Nicola Scott and Amanda Conner) and bring new female creators into the fray. They should have been recruiting from all over the industry and beyond. What about Carla Speed McNeill writing the Legion of Superheroes? Or Karen Russell writing Element Girl? Hell, why not Sophia Coppola writing Catwoman? DC had a chance to bring in the ladies and all they had to offer was pants.

4. We're scrapping continuity. Well, not all the continuity. Marvel put out three huge superhero movies this year. DC put out one. Now not everyone was super-keen on Green Lantern, but it wasn't horrible and while it wasn't wildly successful, it wasn't an utter failure.

Folks coming to the continuity-free New 52 after digging on the Green Lantern movie might be surprised when they pick up Issue #1 of Green Lantern and find the man slinging the ring isn't Hal Jordan but Sinestro. Who is technically a Korugarian and not a man, but let's not split hairs.

Point here is, not all previous continuity is being jettisoned. It looks like all the continuity that DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns likes (or wrote) is still in play. So rather than a clean slate, we get a slightly muddied slate.

This brings up a numbers issue I'd like to address, one that illustrates just how dire the straits of comic books are right now. The lynchpin of the relaunch, Justice League #1, written by Johns and drawn by Jim "I only draw a comic every five years and it sells like crack" Lee, was pre-ordered at 200,000 copies. Biggest pre-order in a long long time. The comics industry is tumescent over numbers like that. The Green Lantern movie was pretty much considered a failure within the movie industry. It grossed $18 million in its first weekend. That means, figuring for a modest $10 ticket price, 1.8 million people saw the movie in its first weekend, almost ten times the number that will read what looks to be the best selling comic in three years.

I've gone on long enough. I'm hoping to post again on all the reasons you should get your ass down to the comic book store this month and start reading DC comics, but for now, while I'm pulling for them, I wish they'd gone a little bigger and a little smarter.

I'm also glad the Green Lantern books aren't getting the big continuity wipe. Because I'm a huge GL nerd.

Coming very soon: reasons you, yes you, should go buy some DC Comics starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reviews, mine.

Hey kids. In case you're interested, here's two book review pieces I've done recently, along with a review/meditation on some newly released Hank Williams stuff. Enjoy.

Omega: The Unknown by Jonathan Lethem
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
Hank Williams

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Debut of the new gig!

So it seems I am now the monthly country music columnist for PopMatters.com. Which I'm pretty excited about. I even did a little dance.

You can check out the first column here. Naturally I've decided to launch my journalistic career by misquoting Toby Keith. I'm pretty sure that's how HL Mencken got started.

In other news, I am about to dive face first into the second and hopefully final set of page proofs for the book. Do not envy me my headache. Small type's a bastard.

Oh yeah, and I'm back from Berlin. It was neat. I ate a blood sausage.

Monday, September 15, 2008

And so but.

So this is what brings me out of blog semi-retirement. Not the bike accident that tore up my face and left me with a shattered sense of what I looked like for weeks, so much so that when I look in the mirror, my eyes still go immediately to the new scars on my forehead, upper lip and chin, all of them faded now from their angry red to an apologetic pink. Not the cancer diagnosis that even now, as it enters its last week of real medical importance with the last of the offending tissue coming out of my neck in a chunk this Thursday, haunts my brain in a big black robe, checking its watch impatiently, or the accompanying paranoia regarding the upcoming surgery and its (statistically unlikely) threat to my facial-motor skills. Not any of the awfulness and growing despair surrounding the current election. No, not those. It's DFW.

One opens oneself up to derision (or at least would've last week) by claiming to be a David Foster Wallace fan. He was, after all, one of the smartest of the smart kids, and while he may have lacked some of the smarminess of Dave Eggers, his style had a type of intellectual intensity that reminded one, first and foremost, of the kid in the front row of the class, practically jumping up and down to get the teacher's attention, to answer yet another question posed to the entire class or worse, volunteer a bit of extra information on the subject at hand.

Extra information is certainly one of the first things that stood out in DFW's work, and as a style it's one I openly cribbed when working on my Flying Burrito Brothers book. Sure, it indicates certain...mental health issues when a writer cannot physically bear the thought of a stray related fact left on the cutting room floor. But it also indicates a deep investment in things, things in the William Carlos Williams sense: objects seething with meanings. In short (although nothing about DFW was ever in short), a sort of feeling that this fact might save your life. And if not that one, maybe this one. At the very least, maybe it'll be something you can turn over in your head for a little bit, while your laundry dries or in the seconds/minutes/hours before falling off to sleep.

This speaks, I think, to two things about DFW. The first is the difference between his mode of intellect (and expression of said intellect) and that of many of his contemporaneous young turks. When I finally got around to attempting "A Heartbreaking Stagger of Et Cetera", I was immediately (as in "before the first page"), I was immediately thrown out of the text by the feeling I was about to start a long conversation with someone who wanted me to know exactly how smart he was. The feeling was cold, condescending and alienating. DFW's work, no less showy and fact-packed (moreso on both counts) gives the opposite feeling. DFW was excited to tell us all the things he knew not so he could look at us smugly afterward, but because he knew we were smart. And he knew he was smart. And he wanted us to remember how fun that could be, how knowledge, even little trivial bits of it can light up the quotidian with the soothing warmth that a string of Christmas lights can give a kitchen, a sweet and needed opposite to the glaring overhead fluorescent of everything about the world that constantly threatens to overwhelm us with the almost blinding unknowledge of ideas ungrounded in things, of ideology uber alles. Or, in the case of many of DFW's characters (and possibly the author himself), the deafening roar of the solipsistic self. One of DFW's most resonant sentences (up there for me with Pynchon's devastating one-two, "They were in love. Fuck the war.") is Hal Incandenza's desperate lament at the beginning/end of Infinite Jest, when, unable to communicate from inside this all-encompassing sense of isolating self (whether because of a mystery drug as the novel suggests or because he's trapped in a pervasively ironic discourse where nothing can be said and meant, as the novel insists), he pleads to the "I am in here." As if the reader, speaker and author all need convincing.

The second, corollary to a love of knowledge because it's fun to be smart, is DFW's deep compassion. I can't find the quote now but I think it was Turgenev who suggested all art should prepare us for compassion. This sentiment might have seemed a little too moralistic for a lot of contemporary writers (and any statement that begins "the purpose of art is..." pretty much begs for a fight), but DFW seems to hold it close to his heart throughout his work. DFW was adept at drawing compassion out of a reader (often along with its ugly stepsisters, pity and revulsion) through his gift at a sort of narrative brutality, most notably in the threateningly honest "hitting bottom" narratives of "Infinite Jest"'s addicts, which serve not to advance the story but to offer an almost violent counterpoint to the ironic discourse employed by other characters in the novel (a discourse which, as previously mention, is one centrally concerned with non-meaning, anti-compassion and the protection of the solipsistic self and leads to one of the novel's central frustrations/thrills: a series of unsolvable ambiguities, sets of signs that mean neither one thing nor the other) and in the throat-grabbing two page piece, "Incarnations of Burned Children". But more often, DFW offered a training course in compassion through his intellectual investment in things. If he could teach readers to apply his sort of sprawling deconstructive techniques (not to be confused with Deconstructive techniques. Lower case, it means something like taking a watch apart to see how it works, learn how to put it together and possibly build a better watch. Upper case, it means something like taking a cat apart to see what a cat looks like when it's been taken apart) to objects around them, to invest those objects with attention and caring, DFW seemed to believe transference of those skills to the people around them would necessarily follow. This is of course not always the case: there are plenty of people who have a rabid curiosity for objects and no interest in other people. But in DFW's work, the two seem intrinsically linked. His obsessive inclusion is born of a sense of caring or attempting to care fiercely about the world outside of himself.

I first read "Infinite Jest" during my second summer in Boston. I could tell you I was living with a prostitute, dating a nineteen year old albino, drinking heavily and teaching sixty hours a week, but those are just a scattering of facts I've told so many times they have the snark of irony about them, for me at least. I could also tell you I'd just been kicked out of graduate school, which amounted, at the time, to the total destruction of every life-plan I'd had, and left me with the feeling of being completely adrift in myself, unconnected with the world ("life-plans" being, after all, just maps for how we want our selves to interact with/fit into the world). I could also tell you, in the spirit of inclusion, that when I went to Brookline Booksellers to buy "Infinite Jest" I nearly knocked over a small Asian woman who turned out to be Amy Tan. For those weeks of reading, mostly on the medievally slow B train of Boston's Green Line, the moments I passed locations mentioned in the book seemed like the first connection I'd had to the outside world, the fact of Mike's Liquor's, the actuality of the Cambridge subway station. Slowly, my feet extended out of myself and touched the ground again, legs shaky as a frequent subway rider's can become. In the months that followed, I returned to DFW's description of depression like a promise that mine would eventually retreat, that my depression and I were not identical (a difficult conclusion to reach from the inside of such a condition).

Of course, like Salinger, I could never read DFW if I had any plans to do writing of my own: the precision of his sentences, so different from Salinger's (closer, I've always thought, to a sort of hipster Henry James) but just as pristine, ringing, gorgeous, would invade and overtake my own cadence til I was thinking in DFWspeak. I would often point to one of the exchanges between Hal and his older brother in "Infinite Jest" as exemplifying all the modes of conversation Ford Maddox Ford and Joseph Conrad outlined and have recommended to numerous professor-friends the use of one or the other of his essays in their classes (I know I've focused largely on his fiction here, but the rest of the journalistic world is giving ample attention to his non-fiction). And I borrowed/stole his footnoting riff for my own nefarious uses. But his way of thinking, of taking things apart, putting them back together and taking them apart again, his ability not to distract the reader with facts but to ground and center the reader with them, to draw the reader out (rather than draw things out of the reader) into a space where they were vulnerable to ideas, to feelings, to other things became locked in my mind as a kind of underlying architecture, a palimpsest that changed the shape of everything written over it. I never scoured publishing schedules for news of DFW's next work or trawled through magazines hoping he'd contributed. New work would show up like the occasional and unexpected letter from an old friend, and like the best of old friends, the conversation would seem to pick up in the middle of a frantic sentence, bursting with a pent up enthusiasm that broke through every dull thing around it.

As goodbyes go, this one is overly long and rambles into places it need not. But I imagine DFW would have wanted it that way, and I'm a little less for knowing his next missive will never be delivered.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rediscovered: The Thermals' "The Body, The Blood, The Machine"

Six hours into what looks like it's going to be a fifteen hour work day and coming off listening to three straight hours of Yo La Tengo, I'm watching the rain roll in and out and enjoying the jesus reference out of the Thermals' "The Body, The Blood, The Machine". Like a punky John Darnielle grappling with issues of Christianity. Darn fine stuff.

Sorry, needed to put something new up here and not feeling entirely lucid. Deep coats of work glaze as a long week concludes. Put together a new muxtape though, as if that's some sort of achievement. Enjoy.


Monday, June 30, 2008

To Boldly Go Where No One Should Have Gone to Begin With...

I would have taken pictures, but there was really no point. Some time I’ll take you all to the Saturday Super Flea back home, you can imagine everyone there is wearing crimson with little triangular buttons and you’ll get the idea.

So as I’m writing this, I’m DJing the closing dance for the regional Starfleet Conference. Which is apparently like a Star Trek convention only not as freewheelin’. I think if we had done show of hands, at least sixty percent of these folks would either be card-carrying NRA members or at least highly sympathetic. Median age: 43 (to be fair, Helen throws off the curve a bit, this statistical outlier is certainly joining us from not just before the United Federation of Planets but a good decade before the United Nations). Median weight: deuce and a quarter and I’m being generous. Median facial hair: goatee. Lots of them and a fair count of mustaches.

When I arrived at the Ramada (seriously , how the fuck do I allow myself to be talked into these things?), I was greeted by the fairly ancient manager, who kindly waited til I had loaded in everything but a handful of XLR cables before asking if he could lend a hand. I snuck my gear in during the dinner, noting to my utter horror the lack of beer bottles and wine glasses on the dinner tables. A couple folks were sipping some sort of blue concoction, but for the most part this looked like a dry event. A dry dance party. I swear, I am never going to try DJing in Salt Lake City. You need social lubricant, people! Especially if you’re as socially…creaky as some of these ladies and gents.

Once I was set up, I snuck over to the McDonalds for dinner, where the young man at the counter sans front teeth reminded me that no matter how this week ended, I should count it in the plus column since I’m still wearing my whole face despite last Friday’s accident. A moment of relative peace before heading back. You know the view from up by the mall is actually…nonexistent.

Back to the Ramada, I excused myself to get passed a young lady managing to block the doorway all on her own. This is actually my first glimpse of the blue beverages, which I think Esteban jokingly mentioned to me as “synthahol” earlier in the afternoon. I think he was joking. The first emcee—

Time out. Two things have just happened. First, I noticed that everyone in the room was at the opposite end of the banquet hall, staring at me like the Blues Brothers in the country bar scene. Secondly, the very nice older dude with the hell of white mustache came over and requested some slow songs. His reasoning:

“A lot of us guys during this conference, we’ve got our ladies with us and we don’t get to spend much time with them. So this is our chance to make it up to them. So if we don’t have a couple slow dances, we’re screwed. Actually, we’re not getting screwed, which is the problem.”

Anyway, I put on “You Were Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson followed by “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers. And you know what? “Unchained Melody” kind of choked me up. No joke. I mean, that’s a whole lot of fucking song.

—the first emcee was giving out awards for Best Officer, Best Enlisted Man—

Time out again. Three Icelandic brothers, statistical outliers far to the left on the weight chart. All sporting hammer pendants. Hammer of Thor, they inform me. You’re thor? I’m tho thor I can’t thtand it. They don’t like me. No one here likes me.

—and so on. Did I mention that the Starfleet is divided into ships? Yep, it’s divided into ships. They’ve all got the name of their ship on their lanyards, along with their ranks, like, “Lt. Ed of the USS Syracuse. Why is it the Star Trek ships are all designated USS? Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of United Federation of Planets or is this just reinforcing US cultural/military hegemony? Hey, you know the Beatles version of “Twist and Shout” actually rocks pretty hard. And this whole endeavor is making me dumber by the minute. Also, not to be racist, but these people seem to only like music by white people. Stevie Wonder=death. Oh, and they all love KISS. And schmaltz! Any song I thought was far too sappy to be played went over like…I don’t know, what goes over well? Is that woman wearing fringed chaps?

Following the awards (which begin the trend of injokes I don’t at all grasp) is the auction of goods that would be passed over at your average flea market. Star Trek trading cards. Action figures on which the number imprinted on the foot must be checked before bidding can begin. Next time I go back to Buffalo, I’m totally digging out my old Star Wars toys and checking the tiny numbers on their feet. A picture of Patrick Stewart playing Captain Picard dressed as some kind of private eye, signed by Patrick Stewart. A set of commemorative coins that go for (no joke) a thousand dollars. More jokes I don’t get that slay the crowd.

And now it’s my big moment. I lead off with Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom”. Which I thought, you know, science fiction related. Involves counting. German. Can’t lose! The main organizer (decked out in what tuxedos will look like in the future) digs it, but he’s pretty much alone on that. At about this point, the first request for Faith Hill comes in and I started scanning the table around me for sharp objects. Requests that followed included: “Can you play some eighties?” during “In a Big Country”. House music. At least three separate requests for “Time Warp”. At least two separate requests for Journey. And I fucking hate Journey! Everyone knows that. I took out that ad in the Ithaca Times. At one point this eight year old kid starts requesting album tracks by Depeche Mode, waving away “Just Can’t Get Enough” in favor of “real Depeche Mode”. He’s thrilled I’ve got “Black Celebration” and for a moment I think there’s hope. Then his dad dragged him upstairs to their room and I’m left with the rest of them.

So the rest of them got me thinking a bit, as I warded off requests for really just the worst songs you can imagine. Now I am very much a geek in any number of ways. I can bend your ear on comic books, Star Wars, X-Files, you name it. I've never gone in for Dr. Who, but I own all of The Prisoner. But the Star Trek stuff has always left me pretty cold. I always thought it was because you had to keep track of a lot of stuff and I like my sci-fi pretty simple ("There's this Force. It has a Dark Side and...well, a side that isn't so dark.") But now I’m realizing the actual reason. Take Star Wars, for just a minute: a plucky band of rebels plots to destroy the oppressive empire. X-Files: a plucky pair of FBI agents attempts to decrypt a vast conspiracy by a shadowy and oppressive government. Star Trek: everyone dresses the same, has a military rank and everything’s pretty okay. It’s the ultimate dream of a police state, free will subjugated to a vaguely defined “common good”. The state is no longer the enemy: the state is ubiquitous. No wonder its fans seem to be, for the most part, conservative and fairly passive. They're supposed to be geeks, but geekism, I always thought, involves a basically inquisitive and acquisitional nature. There's nothing to acquire/inquire about the world of Star Trek that I can discern. Everything is in it's right place, Roddenberry's in his heaven and all is right with the world. All watched over by military-industrial complexes of loving grace.

And I realized I actually wished these people harm. I wanted bad things to happen to them. I wanted them to be eaten by Klingons or anally raped by Romulans or something unpleasant and thematically appropriate. But I couldn’t help trying to please them, struggling to make them like me, please for the love of god LIKE ME!

It didn’t work. They paid me, but they didn’t like me. And I’m out hopefully in time to see some of the Hubcap show. Those guys like me.