RE:VIEW ~ Before His Time by Darren Craske

Those of you paying attention will notice that this is the second book in a row to be reviewed by me here. If you’re very astute, you’ll notice it’s also the second book by the same author and the second book in his series, and… yes… well… anyway…

Cover of "Before His Time" by Darren Craske [cover art and design by Darren Craske]

Cover of “Before His Time” by Darren Craske
[cover art and design by Darren Craske]

Before His Time follows the same two protagonists as those in Above His Station, and the action picks up right after the first book left off in the post-​credits scene.

Yes, there’s a scene that shows up after the “thanks to…” and so on at the back of the book. There’s one in this book as well. One should be reading everything in a book, as there’s often surprize gifts in store.

As with the previous story, there’s not much I can say about this without giving a great deal of material away.

Had you been here watching me compose this, you’d have seen me pause a great length of time trying to work out how to carry on about this book without revealing much of anything. This is the problem with the book, if such a thing can be considered a ‘problem.’ The whole thing is so very tightly structured it’s much like an avalanche in that one tiny little thing leads irrevocably to the next thing and the next and so on and then one reveals the awful truth about Vader being Luke’s father and how he longs for the simplicity of playing with a sled in the snow when he was a child on Tatooine.

…or something.

The Station Guard, with anorak [illustration by the author]

The Station Guard, with anorak [illustration by the author]

I described the first book as not a normal one. Before His Time is even less normal, but even better written and and more fun yet. Darren Craske has successfully set-​up a world for his characters in which anything can – and usually does – happen, and he allows them the freedom to stretch imaginations as a result.

As with Above His Station, Mr. Craske provides an entirely believable impossible series of events within a ordinary man and his faithful talking rat companion overcome all the dangers which the dæmons of Hell can muster variety of plot, with characters who nearly always behave in normal ways (when they don’t it’s always in a fashion that is loyal to the plot) in which we can invest our understanding and sympathy.

There’s a third book to come, apparently, presumably with a title beginning with the letter “c” and the word “His” in the middle of it. Personally I can’t wait to read that one as well.

Read all of his books. Darren Craske is the business.

BEFORE HIS TIME by Darren Craske, Dec 29, 2012; ISBN: 1230000148553
EXPLICIT CONTENT: Not suitable for those under 13, as this book contains bad language and graphic descriptions of rodent intercourse.

Music: “Don’t Leave Me This Way [Gotham City Mix]” by The Communards with Sarah Jane Morris (1986; London Records)
Book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-​Time by Mark Haddon [ISBN 9780-​09945676-​6], Red Fox Books, 2003

RE:VIEW ~ Above His Station by Darren Craske

It’s not often I’ll write a review of a book, but it’s not often I get to read something so very, very different.

Cover of ABOVE HIS STATION by Darren Craske

Cover of ABOVE HIS STATION by Darren Craske

This is not a normal book, IT’S GREAT!

Right, that’s got the pull quote out of the way… which should make someone happy.

Now, what to say about the book per se… well… now comes the trickier part, because at least 90% of the joy of reading this is the constantly nagging question in the mind of what the hell is going on here? It’s not often that one can really have the feeling of discovering things along with the characters; typically one has a rough notion of where things are going ahead of time.

Not with this. No no.

Initially it seems like a fresh take on the set-​up presented in Arthur Machen’s 1917 novella The Terror, which also provided the starting structure of the Benji Spriteman Mysteries The Terror and the Tortoiseshell and The Designated Coconut. That’s just the starting point, however.

Once we’re past that… Lordy does the thing get up to cruising altitude quickly, and it stays there right until the end. Imagine trying to explain The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to someone who’s never even heard of it. How does one go from there’s a guy who’s going to get his house knocked over for a road… all the way to meeting a man who has two heads and three arms and who happens to be the Galactic President… without losing all credibility? You’ve barely got into the story at that point, as well.

Were any of the plot provided, too much would be given away. No, really: anything more than what you already have would ruin the surprise. There’s much in here to exclaim loudly at the page what? Are you insane? In a good way, obviously.

The characters are wonderfully developed over the length of the tale, the settings are excellently detailed, and the dialogue is grand stuff with all sorts of witty back-​and-​forth.

The Station Guard [sketch by the book’s author]

The Station Guard [sketch by the book’s author]

If there is any shortcoming to the book, it’s that it might benefit from a tiny bit of careful, very precise, surgical-​style editing. Hastening to emphasis the ‘tiny’ aspect of the criticism, as there’s so much to enjoy that someone simply looking for a dashed good read wouldn’t see a single thing wrong it. I just happen to be a bit more picky, which doesn’t make me any better, it merely makes me “different.”

The first chapter is considerably longer than the rest of them, but does have the herculean task of providing the entire back story of the protagonist and his relatives. While there might be some way to break-​up this block of material some way — possibly through the sort involving an initial arrival in Royal Street Station with a large tiger leaping at our hero, followed by a statement of the …but let me back up and tell you how I got here… variety — but I’m at a loss to suggest anything precise.

There are other points through the book that the Editor in me had thoughts of that last last exchange of dialogue ought to be trimmed back… as well as an occasional might be better to shift that ahead of the action it follows right now… but those both were few enough in instance to collectively count on one hand, and they’re only mentioned in order for this to not be seen as an altogether glowing and celebratory review. Praise the good, indicate the bits to work harder on next time; that’s my approach.

Honestly, the best suggestion I can make here is the following:

It’s great, it’s not like anything you’ve encountered before. It’s tough to really say much more, so just read it, okay?

Helpful links:

Mood: jubilant
Music: “The Ox”, The Who, Thirty Years of Maximum R&B (1965)
Book: Above His Station by Darren Craske [self-​published, ISBN: 1482531437]
Put on Something Sexy (medium)

OPINION: What's the Big Deal? When Should They Learn?

It’s not often that I’ll step out of my usual box of “someone ranting about arts” to discuss sexual things. Yet, that’s where this post is going. so I’ll warn you now that if topics such as “family planning” or “condoms” or “practising safe sex” or “sex education” or “animated porn cartoons” make you uncomfortable or even offend you, you should go away now.

Seriously: right now.

Okay… you’ve been warned…!

See, there’s this problem over in Nanaimo, where a Grade 8 kid (around 13 or so) was given a copy of a book. A flip-​book; you know, the kind where you let the pages flip quickly past your thumb and the series of images on the page seem to move, like a movie. Yeah, that sort of thing.

The flip book was given to him as a part of an in-​school programme with excellent goals.

As part of a new district policy to make better use of time during exam week, the school offered students personal health classes in personal health and planning this year.

AIDS Vancouver Island has provided some course materials for a number of years for the programme

Splendid! This is good, and something that needs to be taught to the kids somehow, sometime, by someone. Typically parents who say ” this sort of thing needs to be taught in the home” are also frequently the parents least likely to actually do the educating about sex at all. However, that’s beside the point here.

In addition to other materials from other similar organizations, AIDS Vancouver Island has been involved with providing course materials for a number of years as part of the programme, so the credentials of the content is both sound and respectable.

For more of the ins-​and-​outs of the matter itself, you can read THIS STORY on the CBC News site, as well as THIS STORY as well as A LATER ONE on the site for The Vancouver Sun.

What got me thinking about this at all was this tweet:

Learning about the delightful and intelligent Nadine Thornhill of Ottawa (but soon to be San Francisco-​based), I then gave some thought to the question of this particular educational material and its possible inappropriate use with 13-​year olds.

Here’s an animated *.GIF of the book, showing what you would would see if a copy of it was in your hand.

WARNING

This following graphic will show you images of two-​dimensional characters engaging in
the consensual act of coitus – apparently in a pleasurable fashion – and there is no
specification that they are actually married or even in a committed relationship.
You will also see a man’s willy, which has a condom placed upon it.

Proceed with caution if you feel this might cause you discomfort.

I’ve put this together from the original PDF (you can find that PDF here: CLICKY!) which was published by the Chee Mamuk Aboriginal Program, BC Centre for Disease Control in 2010 as part of their client resources. They describe it as “Flipping fun – a pocket-​sized flip book that models condom use.” The point of it is to promote “Safer sex and sexual health > Safer sex” and within the specific population it targets being “youth.” Presumably the very specific sub-​set of that is First Nations youth, as there have been concerns expressed about STI and HIV become more wide-​spread in recent years, and the promotion of safer sex and contraction of diseases in that community.

Put on Something Sexy (medium)

Put on Something Sexy (medium)

CLICK HERE to see the above animated version of Put on Something Sexy in a larger image size

Sticking with Twitter as a sort-​of litmus test of the acceptability of the material, here’s some reaction to the issue.

There’s the confirmation that the intention of the material has been met: education on how to use a prophylactic device. All good there. Huzzah! Knowledge is power, the use of a condom isn’t as difficult as you might have though, easy to do by anyone, and there’s at least one less mystery which might provide resistance to the use of them therefore.

How could someone object to this, one wonders. It’s possible that a thirteen-​year-​old male might feel uncomfortable discussing the matter with their parent, but it doesn’t seem to me possible that this same male could be un-​aware of the existence of condoms, nor that he might not be considering his options regarding sexual activity in the near future. Perhaps I’m presuming too much, but one might suggest that the innocence of the average 13-​year-​old male is hardly un-​touched long before he sees this fairly benign and un-​erotic booklet? There is the omnipresence of the interweb and its propensity to serve up anything you can state in a few words and which are shoved into Google.

There are a few things one can object to in the book, however.

Both of these quite good points.

The male’s tattoo, and the female’s feather accessory do both smack more than a little of tokenism to make the characters more readily identifiable as First Nations community members. Taken to a ridiculous extreme, this would also manifest itself as two people wearing wooden shoes to make them ‘more Dutch,’ or perhaps both of them smoking and frying some horse meat to make them ‘more French,’ or both of them firing off handguns to make them ‘more American.’ Still, the need to have two people who weren’t clearly white does require something more than a slight tinting to their flesh.

Additionally, the reality of sex – it’s a bit messy, and it’s certainly ain’t elegant as viewing material – is hardly on display here. The idealized images above don’t really grab the eye of the kids, and basically continue that style of textbook illustration that reduce to the barest essentials something far more complex and thus make it… well… a bit boring, really.

To return to the title of this post, however, and the real question this whole thing raises in my mind:

If the kid doesn’t get the information at school, and in the grade where they enter the level of education they start really concerning themselves with careers and other ‘adult-​oriented’ questions of how to live their lives, then where do they do it? Seriously: when?

Okay, sure, the chances are good that only a minority of the students in Grade 8 now will have experienced a sexual act that would necessitate the use of a condom (based on my experience in high school, anyway… not that I’m bitter or anything… no no), some of them actually will have done so by the time they get into the senior grades. Do we wait until they’re about to have sex, then rush up to the parked cars and set-​up the flip-​charts with diagrammes of reproduction systems, shove a handful of condoms through the window, and then hope for the best? Clearly that’s not going to work as they’re not going to be paying attention to anything other than how annoying the adults are being, and it’s already too damned late for them to remember anything.

No, telling them about stuff they need to know before they actually need to know it is the best, to my mind.

After all, we teach our youth about all of the traffic signs and potential behaviour that causes automobile accidents before they get behind the wheel of a car; why not teach them about STI /​HIV /​AIDS and how to use condoms and dental dams before they start navigating a bed?

NOTE ADDED LATER: It is only now that I’ve read Nadine Thornhill’s article about “Sex: A Tell-​All Exhibition” (although I may have read it months ago when she posted it originally). It’s only now that I realize the above final paragraph mirrors her closing argument about the teaching of material prior to its actual use. What can I say; great minds think a link… and fools seldom differ, yes, I know.

HotPink Crowd

RE-VIEW: Hot Pink

Okay, more of an “I was there” kinda thing-​a-​ring-​ding. Because I was there, and I enjoyed it. So there!

Last evening I went to “Hot Pink: an art event with works by Alex Stewart and Bret Taylor” which had the following as its ‘enticement text’:

CLICK to embiggen

This cake was made by Candice Roach of bakedinvancouver.com. HOORAY!

As your eyes wander up, a stiletto becomes a stocking becomes a hemline. It’s the tease that tempts you.

Artists Alex Stewart and Bret Taylor present Hot Pink: a night of temptation featuring the very definition of tease: the Pin-​Up Girl.

The two artists’ works were quite different, yet both strongly sensual /​evocative in their own way.

Alex Stewart’s pieces tended to a more mysterious feeling of sexuality, taking the approach that that which is not seen is more enticing to the imagination. Several people mentioned a feeling of art nouveau to the works, with their use of repeated, intricate designs overlapped on each other with contrasting – and sometimes clashing – colours creating an almost Turkish or East Indian effect, blocking out full view of the female figures which peeked through the gap in the screen-​like barrier between them and the viewer. There’s even a feeling of affinity with some of Klimt’s approach showing the face in a realistic fashion but the rest of the scene being merely coloured patterns (such as “Mäda Eugenia Primavesi”, “Water Snakes”, or most famously “The Kiss”). On the whole they’re enticing and draw the viewer in to explore rather than creating an impenetrable wall.

CLICK to embiggen

HotPink Artist [right] with HotPink Agent [left]

The works by Bret Taylor [image, left], are nothing if not bold, honest, and open to the viewer. Evoking the raw sensuality of the 1950s and early-‘60s pin-​up girls, simple lines with technical precision create more for the imagination to fill-​in than expected. His technical skill is exemplary, in the same way that it takes an artist like Davis or Ellington to play a 12-​bar solo consiting of a single note to know the precise note that needs to be used. I liked these a great deal due to their accessibility, even if the word “subtlety” might not ever be used about them.

The two artists’ works shared more than one might expect from the above, as they both presented the “Female as Icon”, along with a feeling that the viewer may want to interact with or reach-​out to them, but they are un-​obtainable in some way. Taylor’s figures tease, entice, and arouse but are too iconic to be real enough for us to encounter in reality. Stewart’s images are photographic in character, but we are not only separated from them by the screen/​pattern, but we also are limited to only seeing their face and sometimes not even more than an eye and a cheekbone, so we do not know if they exist beyond that.

Had I money to spend on the purchasing of art, there was at least one piece from each of the walls I would have purchased.

CLICK to embiggen

HotPink Hair at HotPink

The evening itself was enjoyable, even if there was a difficulty conducting a conversation some of the time due to the volume level. No doubt earlier in the day would have been better for that, but I was there from about 7:45 onward for the “Adults Only” part of the evening, thus the music was a bit more in the “PAR-​TAY TIME!!” levels. Nothing wrong with that, either.

Above all else, it was great to see @stepc, @CathyBrowne, @gusgreeper, @abc4, @DanielOong, @danudey, @BretInVancouver, @Kimli, and @cwcheeks at the event. It’s always great to see them, and combining that with art is better.

Art: HOORAY!

CLICK to embiggen

HotPink Shoes at HotPink

Mood: complacent
Music: “Light Arms” from After the Heat, by Eno, Moebius, Roedelius (1978, Sky Records)
Book: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkhov, (translated by George Bird); Melville International Crime [ISBN 9781612190761]

A WARNING: You Can Never Go Back, Only Forward

Despite the silence, life continues un-​abated here. Oh so very much life, oh yes. Some of it might even be something I will write about… someday.

Maybe…

For the moment, here’s some food for thought.

Ever since the spring of 2001, I’ve been on varying amounts of Effexor, to help me manage my chronic, clinical-​level of depression. The very first version of it were called that, then shortly they had to re-​jig the way it was made so it was more ‘time-​released’, as well as fixing a few things in the way they marketed it. Initially they claimed that the dosages could go up, go down, start, and stop all at a moment’s notice without any problems.

Oh my, no that wasn’t the case.

Once they got word of an on-​going number of suicides (completed and not), the common denominator being the reduction or complete stopping of intake of the anti-​depressant, they realized the claim above wasn’t as reliable as the testing documentation was purported to be.

Well, dang, it’s a good thing that they got all that squared away and it’s all fine now, I hear you say on behalf of me and anyone else who are prescribed the Venlafaxine.

Sadly, no, it’s not.

Corinna is someone I’ve met and got to know a bit, as we’re both artsy, cat-​mad, and living with mental health issues. Recently she and her doctor decided to shift her – very slowly – from Effexor over to another medication. They were just about at the last stage of things when…

But then, my doctor and I both mistook symptoms of Effexor withdrawal – heightened agitation, irritability, larger than life mood swings, plus the onset of some random crying, to name just a few, for a depressive episode that made sense based on the fact that there have been a lot of changes in my life recently and I was also processing an upcoming 10 year anniversary of a friend lost to suicide.

You can read the rest of this RIGHT HERE, and it’s recommended that you do.

I had harboured the hope that, someday, I could stop taking this stuff. Having watched Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive (I’m not manic, but about half of the show was spot-​on to my experience) and being met with the news that medication once begun can never be eliminated, I got a bit scared. Then, upon thinking more about the fact that things have changed since that Emmy Award winning “Best Documentary” was released in 2006 or so, hoped that medication had changed enough that this was no longer the case. Besides, mine is less complicated by ‘manic states’ and so on.

Then I read about this experience of Corinna’s, and started wondering. This section particularly grabbed my attention:

I actually don’t feel that bad if I keep my head still but haven’t been able to keep other symptoms such as bursting into tears or feeling so dysphoric that suicidal thoughts have become overwhelming and I’ve simply slouched over on the couch like a rag doll or meandered back to my bed.

How I remember what that’s like. So clearly, for that matter, that I wish not to return to that ever.

There’s a few quite substantial changes coming in the next 12 months for me (which are for a future post), but part of the fact that I’ve been able to survive this long is that I’ve qualified for the Provincial Government covering my shed-​load dimension of daily dose, and this might get pretty expensive for me in short order if I get a decent job to help me support myself in the way I’ll have to… which then means I’ll be back to having no money once I pay for the expensive and massive daily medication.

The end result of all this for me is an on-​going serious concern for my continuing mental health.

The end result of all this for you is that you ought to read Corinna’s post, in order to better understand how come [INSERT NAME HERE] went all crazy the other day on Facebook /​their blog /​on Twitter /​at the party in reply to me? Because there’s a good number of people who quietly deal with things their own way, without wearing their heart on their sleeve like I do. There’s loads of people dealing with the same shit that I do about which I am ignorant. Everyone deals with it in their own way; mine is to ‘let it all hang out there’ and hope that people take the bits from my output that they find entertaining and /​or useful.

Meanwhile, if things do have to be changed dramatically, I know that I’m not alone for others have gone before me and will be able to point the way.

So… there’s that, at least…

Mood: pessimistic
Music: “Ruby My Dear”, Thelonious Monk, recorded in Paris, 1963; Monk ’Round the World, Columbia Records
Book: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (translated by George Bird); Melville International Crime [ISBN 9781-​6121907-​61]