As If!, by Jen Chaney

As If!Clueless is one of those movies that I watched a million times as a teenager and probably owned in multiple formats and it’s entirely possible (read: entirely true) that I owned the PC game and gave myself virtual makeovers on the regular. I hadn’t watched the movie in ages before picking up this book and then having to watch it again immediately, but the outfits and the quotes and the general snarky feel of the movie are definitely imprinted on my person.

So when I saw that this book existed, of course I read it! It’s an oral history of the making of the movie, from when it was but a wee idea in the mind of Amy Heckerling to when it came out and was a huge surprise hit to now, when current teenagers apparently still watch and love this movie as much as I did even though it is twenty years old and how does that even happen I am so old.

Ahem. Anyway. This was actually my first non-fictional oral history (unless someone’s not telling me something about the zombie apocalypse…), so it was interesting to see how the actual style works. It was jarring at first to see how the narrative was stitched together, basically a bunch of quotes from various interviews across time and space all shoved in together with very little connective narration. Some bits of the book are just lots of people saying basically the same thing six different ways, and some bits purport to be about one particular thing (fashion, technology, a specific scene) but it’s hard to tell how the quotes actually relate to said thing.

But, regardless, there’s a lot of great information about a movie I hold dear, which is always great. There are bits about casting and who might have played who if things had worked out differently, and bits about how hard it was to find the movie a home where it could thrive, and whole chapters on the awesome fashion and trendsetting of the movie. I was maybe hoping for some crazy revelations (like Cary Elwes’s medical troubles in The Princess Bride), but probably the wildest thing you find out in this book is that Alicia Silverstone as a teenager did not in fact know how to pronounce Haitians.

Even without wild reveals, though, this is a super fun book for anyone who has ever watched Clueless, and if you haven’t, you really should. (And if you haven’t watched this movie since you were a teenager, do it now. You, like I, may have had a few jokes fly straight past your nose.)

Recommendation: For fans of Clueless and people who like oral histories of things.

Rating: 7/10

The Strange Death of Sullivan Chance, by Thierry Maugenest

The Strange Death of Sullivan ChanceThis book seemed like a super slam dunk for me. The title is intriguing and the description, which talked of a dude going on an Amazing-Race-style trip around the world, had me hooked. The conceit of the story, that we already know that this Chance fellow is dead and we’re going back to find out why and how it happened, is one of my favorites. But even with all that going for it, the book just fell flat for me.

It started off well enough. The book is styled like an oral history, which I’ve had some decent luck with lately, so I was excited to see how that would go. There are statements from the Hollywood types who helped put the show together and people who grew up with Sullivan in BFE Arizona and various other people who met Sullivan along the way. You find out quickly that Sullivan was chosen to be in a sort of one-man Around the World in Eighty Days TV knockoff, wherein he would circumnavigate the globe with only a valid passport, paid visas, and the clothing on his back (and a camera crew, but who’s counting?). You find out equally quickly that the game is rigged, but Sullivan makes for some compelling TV so whatever. And of course you know that he’s dead, but no one can really agree on whodunnit or why.

So that’s pretty cool! But the oral history conceit falls apart pretty quickly as the author introduces excerpts from books written about Sullivan’s journey, most of which are basically novelizations of the show with varying amounts of extra made-up material about this already made-up story, which is a level of meta that threatens the brain. These excerpts are what really pulled me out of the story as all of the novelization versions completely ignore the fact that Sullivan is followed by a camera crew for most of his journey and also purport to know the inner workings of Sullivan Chance, and they account for the bulk of what we learn about Sullivan and the show and I just can’t even. I get that that’s probably on purpose and that there are several levels of criticism inherent in this book, but it just bothered the heck out of me. An oral history, I could have done, or a novel about this odd TV show, but not a mix of the two, apparently.

The other thing that bothered the heck out of me was the ending, which is so completely at odds with the rest of the novel that my eyes literally (second definition) (read: figuratively) rolled out of my head and down a hallway à la Minority Report. Seriously, I had no idea what was going on and then I totally knew what was going on and I spent those last chapters hoping I would find myself pleasantly surprised at a different ending but it was not to be. It doesn’t make sense, it’s too easy, and it has none of the savvy criticism of the rest of the book. I am not happy with Maugenest’s editor, is what I am saying.

But still, it’s got a great premise and some decent writing, and if you just don’t read the end it’s a fascinating view into the world of competition television and instant celebrity, and maybe now that you know about the end it won’t upset you so much? I don’t know. This is one of those books that I want to send back to be rewritten as the book I wanted it to be, which is probably something like Lost and Found so maybe I should just go read that again?

Recommendation: For readers intrigued by reality TV, but not people who want to read about a journey around the world, because there’s very little of that.

Rating: 6/10

Weekend Shorts: Rocket Girl and Unlocked

Happy weekend! If you’re like me and have all the plans today, here are some things you can read when you have a spare minute or two!

Rocket Girl #2: “Objects in Motion Tend to Stay in Motion…”
Rocket Girl 2I loved the first issue of this comic, which featured our teenaged Rocket Girl causing time-travel troubles and generally being awesome. Less travelling in this issue, but lots of time troubles, for sure. In 1986 the scientists whose work Dayoung destroyed are trying to keep Dayoung from running around being Rocket Girl, but of course that doesn’t happen. In 2013, we see Dayoung and her partner Leshawn listening in to a Quintum Mechanics meeting in which it is revealed that QM sent itself the time machine from the future to give itself a head start in time travel, which, ouchies in the brain. To be continued…

Rocket Girl #3: “Double Reagent”
Rocket Girl 3…here! Dayoung has been arrested in 1986 for her hijinks, and all her future equipment “given back” to QM by the police, but it turns out that she does not need rocket boots to be a badass (damn right she doesn’t). Then in 2013 we see her plan to come back in time play out with subterfuge and trickery that turns out to be entirely unnecessary, and also learn that the future seems to be going on just fine, but the QM powers that be decide to send some dudes back in time to make sure everything works out.

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, by John Scalzi
UnlockedSo a while back Scalzi talked about his upcoming book, Lock In, on his blog, and I was like, John Scalzi book? Sold. John Scalzi book with “occasional murders and explosions and intrigue”?? SUPER sold. So when later he announced this companion ebook short story thing, I was literally sold and preordered it immediately.

This tiny book is, as the title says, an oral history of the disease that Lock In is based on, in which people get sick, some die and some get sicker, and then some of those die and the rest get “locked in” to their bodies, alive and conscious but unable to move a single muscle. Which sounds HORRIBLE. Zillions of dollars are poured into research to cure the disease, but (spoiler? Eh, whatever) the only thing research can really come up with is an awesome “personal traveler” device like in the movie Surrogates but absolutely only for people who are locked in, to the disappointment of people who like money.

I loved the oral history conceit of this story, which allowed narration from military types and entrepreneur types and locked in types as well, and which had a beautiful gender parity not seen in certain other fictional oral histories.

But even better was the included first chapter of Lock In, which indicates that this book is going to be a combination of the best parts of Intelligence (awesome premise, terrible show) and Almost Human (awesome premise, awesome show, so of course cancelled by Fox) and OMG why is it not August yet so I can read the heck out of this book???

Ahem. What good short things are y’all reading this week?

The Oxford Project, by Peter Feldstein and Stephen G. Bloom (8 June)

I saw a bit about this book on the NPR website (here) and immediately put this book on the hold list at the library. I thought it would be neat to see some pictures taken 20 years apart of people in a small town in Iowa. I was right, but be warned! When I tried to find the book on my library’s holds shelf, I couldn’t — it was too big and was stacked elsewhere where it could fit. This is a large book. Almost 300 pages, something like 10″ by 13″ in size… I needed a bigger bag. 🙂

But it is really cool! If you didn’t check out the above link already, here’s the deal: Peter Feldstein, a professor at the University of Iowa, set up his camera in his adopted hometown of Oxford, Iowa in 1984 and asked all of the residents to come in and get a picture taken. Six hundred seventy did. Feldstein had a small showing, then threw all the photos in a cabinet and forgot about them. In 2005, he decided to track down all of his subjects and photograph them again, this time with the help of Stephen Bloom to take down the residents’ stories and put them all in this giant book.

The stories range from fairly boring to scandalous (stripping in Phoenix, Arizona?! Oh my!). They are organized more or less by family, though not everyone is chronicled (and thank goodness, that would be a lot of anecdotes!). It’s interesting to me, being the suburb-dweller I am, that so many of these families are deeply connected and that many of the people interviewed were glad simply to graduate high school.

Also, the scary buckskinning-guy-cum-preacher makes me giggle every time I see his picture.

Rating: 8/10
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