PRESENTING: THE SUPER REMIXED COUNT OF MONTECRISTO!!!

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Dear Imaginary Reader:

SO, I am a complete failure at self-advertising (my idea of pushing my stuff is close to: “I have a book. It’s terrible, I’m sure….You don’t have to read this… I mean… I wish you would… But I understand… You’re busy… Reading is for nerds… Oh Gosh I’m so sorry for Having Wasted Your Time… This is so embarrassing…“)  That said, my new book,

THE SUPER REMIXED COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO 

is now available for sale at Amazon!!! I’m kind of excited to share it with y’all, and I hope it’s the beginning of a longer journey for us. I say “new book” with some hesitation because, as some of you may know, the project took a few years to complete. (Time-Traveling Memo to Self About Seven Years Ago: Maybe Don’t Tackle a 1,350 Page Novel as an Inexperienced Young Fool!)

Anyway. There it is. I hope you buy it, rent it, check it out, steal it, I don’t care, as long as you read it and it makes you smile. If it doesn’t make you smile, then my revenge shall be slow, methodical, and implacable. You have been warned.

Below, is the Prologue, in case you haven’t read along with some of my earlier, less polished experiments like The Super Remixed Marie Antoinette Saga (now in the process of being renovated from the ground up, so as to make it actually presentable to human eyes):

PROLOGUES AND EXPLANATIONS

Q: What the heck is “THE SUPER REMIXED ™ COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”?

A: It’s Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo,” the famed and perpetually popular epic saga of revenge, intrigue, and redemption! Except now it has been SUPER REMIXED ™ by me, Hans. That’s self—explanatory, peeps!

Q: Ok. So is this Fanfiction?

A: ALL OF LITERATURE IS FANFICTION. No book ever issued unsullied out of some artsy abyss. Writers do what they do because at some point in their susceptible youths they read SOMETHING and their reaction was: “Well, I want to write THAT…but MY WAY. And I want X to have sex with Y instead of with Z.”

The rest is just a magician’s act of misdirection, usually accomplished by merging two or maybe three of the writer’s favorite obsessions. If something ever strikes you as truly “original,” it might be that it’s merging FOUR of the writer’s obsessions into some unholy “original” mix. Say, a novel that simultaneously honors James Joyce, Star Trek (and specifically DS9), Rumiko Takahashi’s “Inu-yasha”, and the Ramayana. Go ahead and give that mix a try! You’re bound to win a National Book Award and / or  puzzle people with your dazzling originality!

There is no shame in fanfiction. Go back as far as you can, to “Genesis”— and that’s already Sumerian fanfiction. John Milton’s ”Paradise Lost”? “Genesis” fanfiction. Dante’s “Divine Comedy”? Basically a feverish mash—up of the “Book of Revelations” and Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” “The Aeneid,” of course, it’s Homer fanfiction. There’s hardly a Shakespeare play that didn’t start as someone else’s characters and situations. Willy just contributed his iambic pentameter, his incredibly filthy jokes, and…you know… his unrivaled poetic genius.

Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” often gets shouted out as the “First Western Novel”— and it’s already a loving parody of “Amadis de Gaula.” Which borrowed its best bits from the “Matter of Britain.”

(As an aside, do yourself a favor and check out DQ’s wondrous Chapter 6, in which we get a glimpse of the many works of fanfiction “Amadis” inspired: “Son of Amadis” “Amadis of Greece!” “The Return of the Son of Amadis!”)

So to reiterate,  it’s fanfiction turtles all the way down.

Except this. This is not fanfiction.

Q: But you just said…

A: Next question.

Q: So fine, if it’s not fanfiction, what is it? A parody?

A: Nope. A parody attempts to imitate certain exaggerated features of a writer’s style, usually for the purposes of mockery. There are MOMENTS of parody within, but this is not, overall, parodic of Dumas’ style. There’s plenty of other places for that.

Q: Ugh. Is it an abridgment, then?

A: Good question! You would think so, right? But not exactly. The main purpose of an abridgment is to make things shorter, and the main purpose of this enterprise was to make things… weirder, I guess? I may actually have EXPANDED upon some sections. Also, I hate abridgments and find them sacrilegious. It’s a SUPER REMIX ™, I told ya!

Q: Can you further discuss what you consider to be the similarities and differences between SUPER REMIXES ™, fanfiction, homages, pastiches, remakes, sequels, parodies, retellings, up—datings, and reboots?

A: I *CAN* but then my Portobello and Pesto Panini would go uneaten, and that would make me hostile. It’s almost lunchtime, you know.

Q: What would you say to your Dear Imaginary Readers who wonder why they should read something so familiar? I mean, SPOILER, the COUNT ESCAPES PRISON AND GETS HIS REVENGE!

A: I say there are FOUR Great Reasons:

  1. If you’ve never read “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and don’t know what awaits, then you’re just a lucky critter, because you’re about to jump into one of the most timeless, powerful, thrilling, immersive novels of all time, except now it has 27% more baguette jokes. I wish I could be you!!!
  2. If you HAVE read it, then here’s your chance to experience it entirely anew in a SUPER REMIXED ™ version that nonetheless hopes to retain everything that made you fall in love the first time.
  3. If you started to read it at some point and somehow your eyes glazed over when you saw the cast of characters was 10 pages long… I getcha! The times have a—changed! This is speedy, accessible and with 1/3rd the literary calories.
  4. If you started to read it and somehow your eyes glazed over and you were like: “Forget it, I’ll Netflix the movie” and now you think you know the plot…YOU KNOW NOTHING, JEAN NEIGE. No wimpy 2—hour movie can do justice to the tangled web the Count weaves. None of the versions even try: they keep the premise, a couple of early scenes, and then abandon the plot altogether. Except that anime where the Count was a psychedelically inspired alien-elf. That one was exactly what Dumas envisioned, obviously.

Q: Who’s Auguste Maquet, aka Auggy Mack?

          A: Dumas’ main homey. Maquet collaborated with Dumas during the intensely prolific period that saw “Monte Cristo”, “The Three Musketeers Epic,” “The Valois Trilogy,” “The Marie Antoinette Saga,” and a handful of other gems like “The Black Tulip,” “Olympe de Cleves,” and “The Bastard of Mauleon.” Maquet was far from Dumas’ only collaborator. His collaborators number the dozen, and of note are Gerard Nerval, the Countess Dash, and not one but three Pauls: Paul Bocage, Paul Lacroix, Paul Meurice. Think of it like a television show. Very rarely does the creator actually write every single episode by themselves- they have a writer’s room!- and Dumas was very much a showrunner. It is safe to say, though, that Dumas’ biggest novelistic hits were with Maquet. The Mack kept Alex on schedule with tight outlines and historical research, on top of which Dumas added his wit and flair. Also, you can bet Maquet was the one in charge of keeping the coffee hot on the pot.

Q: How many volumes will there be?

A: I love the concept of the serial, the “roman feuilleton.” In classic Dumasian tradition, there will be 5 volumes: “The Fall,” “The Rise,” “Patience and Faith,” “Deaths,” and “Resurrections.” They will be released every three months for your reading delectation. I’m hungry, let’s wrap this up.

Q: No one reads prologues anyway. Why is this one so long?

A: It’s a long project, it deserves a long prologue. I have a lot more to say, but you may be right, I’ll save the rest for an equally long epilogue.

Q: Speaking of long: what possessed you to tackle one of the longest novels of all time? Ambition? Hubris?

A: I may have bit off more than I can chew.

Q: Yeah! What were you thinking, you fool?!?

A: I was talking about my Portobello and Pesto Panini! This Prologue is over!

 

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Rules for Murder : S. S. Van Dine – “The Benson Murder Case” and “The Canary Murder Case” ( Philo Vance # 1 and 2)

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ABOVE: Benson and Hedges cigarettes were the cause of death.

Ah, the mystery of S. S. Van Dine (as the influential New York art critic Willard Huntington Wright preferred to call himself when he went slumming in the detective genre )! Most readers today do not learn about Van Dine through his art writing (he brought Cezanne to the attention of the American public) or through his once famous top-hatted, monocle-wearing investigator, Philo Vance. They first hear of him through his widely reprinted, canonical essay “Twenty Rules for Detective Writing,” which I include below.

“THE DETECTIVE story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort of Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author’s inner conscience. To wit:

1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It’s false pretenses.

5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader’s trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn’t know who his codeductor is. It’s like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion.

12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.

15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader’s everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author’s ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic seance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.”

Rules to be broken, surely. The Philo Vance novels, to all effects and purposes, have TWO detectives: Vance and District Attorney Markham, the lawman who facilitates Vance’s access to evidence and interrogations. (The police busies itself about but naturally they detect nothing). “Van Dine” himself is a character, a third wheel to the others, merely a chronicler. In that role, he’s so quiet that, while present in every scene, he’s all but effaced, and is only rarely invited into the conversation.

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ABOVE: William Powell and Louise Brooks in a still from the movie version of “The Canary Murder Case.” He is not even trying to pretend he isn’t a perv, is he? 

In the debut, “The Benson Murder Case,” a man is found on a sofa, toupee off, shot through the heart- the angle of the shot will determine the guilty party. In “The Canary Murder Case,” a woman is ALSO found on a sofa, clothes mostly off, strangled at the neck- a brilliant locked room mystery follows. Both of these puzzles are intelligently designed, and the writing is superior, but I have to say that Philo Vance himself is an insufferable prig, an unpleasant parody of affectation: he never lets a sentence drift by without finding occasion to insert a quote from Thucydides or a bit from Goethe, making Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion look like primary school dropouts by comparison. Like them, or like Sherlock Holmes, Vance also suffers from an excess of perfection, and there’s no topic too obscure for him:

“He was something of an authority on Japanese and Chinese prints; he knew tapestries and ceramics; and once I heard him give an impromptu causerie to a few guests on Tanagra figurines, which, had it been transcribed, would have made a most delightful and instructive monograph.”

Whenever Vance goes off on a long-winded theory, we sympathize with the annoyed Markham as he says: “Anything to dam this flow of erudition!”

RATING: COOL! for the detection, SHRUG for the detective.

 

Pot-Boilers : “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (#1 and 2)

(Re-read) Before J. K. Rowling was aiming for a stolid “Masterpiece Mystery!” slot, she was doing what the good Lord intended her to do with the fantasy books that set the template for almost two decades of children (and Y/A) series.

ABOVE: Pottermore than you bargained for.

On re-read, the Harry Potter books lose none of their charms.  The term “world-building” now evinces winces from most sane people, but “world-building” is something Rowling did wonderfully: Hogwarts is, without argument, one of the most vivid, re-visitable environments in imaginative literature, up there with  “Oz” , Narnia, Middle Earth, or Westeros. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher/ Sorcerer’s Stone” introduces everything efficiently: the school, the houses, the teachers, the students, and the Quidditch (a game whose rules I’m still not convinced by). Only the “who” in this first “whodunit” is weak; if Hogwarts had had a butler, he might as well have gotten the blame. Harry was still likable at this point in the game; Ron still a featureless side-kick, Hermione still shrill. Things would change quickly, as Hermione’s personality deepens, Ron develops a spine, and Harry becomes an insufferable, entitled twat only distinguishable from Draco by his hair color. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” ups the ante by developing an even more cinematic sensibility: the enchanted flying car, the monstrous Aragog, the final epic confrontation in the titular chamber… they all seem designed with an eye toward the eventual big-screen adaptation.

I love this crap, is what I’m saying. I’m currently re-reading the series more or less back to back before my birthday, (*cough cough* Just like I was re-reading ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ for my birthday last year *cough cough* I’ll finish one day, George R. R. Martin, you will see! *more cough-cough-coughing*)

RATING: MASTERPIECES!!!

Haitian Butterfly : M. Ketsia Theodore-Pharel – “Rope”

“Everywhere in the world, the roving Yankee takes his pleasure and his profit, indifferent to all risks. He drops anchor at random.”- Giaccomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” as quoted on the liner notes to Weezer’s “Pinkerton.”

The tale of the invading Yank who impregnates the naïve native only to abandon her to the painful consequences goes back much farther than Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.” It is, after all, a stark symbol of colonialism’s callous penetration made palatable by the operatic melodrama. It’s a story that can inspire both Boublil and Schomberg’s “Miss Saigon” and Weezer’s “Pinkerton”; it lends itself to revisiting and re-setting.

M. Ketsia Theodore-Pharel’s “Rope” takes the basic “Butterfly” concept and sets it not in the East, but much closer to American shores: Haiti in the 20s and 40s. It’s useful to know that in 1915, U.S. Marines occupied Port-Au-Prince in efforts to a) punish the popular lynching of U.S.-friendly dictator Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, b) protect the interests of the Haitian-American Sugar Company and c) keep the dreaded Imperial Huns’ supposed claws out of the Caribbean, roughly in that order.

Colvin Donner is one of those Marines, a rapist and an expert tracker whose grand achievement is to take care of the hanging of Chango Champagne Pepla, a legendary rebel “caco.” The hanging takes place with the novel’s titular rope, one that holds a curse which changes Colvin’s life, and leads him, curiously enough, to evangelism. Cut to 1945: that rope ties together the lives of Colvin; his son, Robert Donner; and the “Butterfly” of this tale, Moiselle, a girl who, like many before and after, believes that marrying a foreigner is the only ticket out of a limited Third World life.

Haiti’s society of the period is envisioned vibrantly: this is a locale where seemingly strict racial and class lines are frequently crossed; so are the lines between the mundane and the magical. The action scenes in “Rope” are as brutal as the romance between Donner and Moiselle is tender, (but is it a plot spoiler to mention it is doomed?) One only wishes Theodore-Pharel had provided more context to fill in the historical background; a certain familiarity with Haiti is assumed, and those who don’t necessarily know a lot about that country’s history beyond Toussaint Louverture and Papa Doc Duvalier (guilty!) might feel compelled to seek additional info elsewhere. It doesn’t matter: abundant plot twists (and knots) will entertain the rest, as the novel unfolds to its sequel-setting conclusion. “Rope” appears to be the first in a purported “Grace Donner” trilogy.

RATING: COOL!

 

Dark Matter : Tim Lebbon – “Dawn of the Jedi : Into the Void”

I rarely dive into the world of media tie-ins: they’re often written perfunctorily, either with the obvious boredom of the competent author exhibited in every trite plot-line, or with the deluded glee of the fan-fictioner gleaming through every broken sentence. But the compelling force of nostalgia led me to read Tim Lebbon’s “Dawn of the Jedi : Into the Void,” which falls in the former category. Recently and decently written, with no obvious howlers, this is a “Star Wars” novel that happens chronologically early (some guides will say it’s the earliest) in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It’s set before the establishment of the Galactic Republic, 26,000 years before “A New Hope.”

Image result for into the void star wars

For the uninitiated, all this means is that Jedi is spelled as Je’daii, and instead of light sabers there are regular, unlit sabers. The rest is business as usual in the eternally open cantina of the mind. For the initiated, it means that this is tied in to a Dark Horse comic-book series, “Dawn of the Jedi,” which means that after Disney / Marvel Comics acquired the Star Wars license, the events became “Legends” because they are non-canonical, which in turn means that almost 40 years of Star Wars novelizations and graphic novels are now rendered unimportant, as the history of the Galatic expansion can’t really be referenced anymore. (For the extra- initiated: LIFE is a constantly fluctuating fiction. Nothing is canon, all is subjective perspective.)

So ANYWAY. Lanoree Brock is a bad-ass Je’daii who is learning about the Force in the planet Tython, where the Order was founded. Her brat brother Dal is not very attuned to the Force, though, preferring brutal force. Cut some years ahead, and the brother is now a madman bent on using dark matter and Gree technology to basically allow galactic travel to expand. (The Je’daii are in opposition to what looks like a very good idea and seem kinda regressive here.) Lanoree is sent on a mission to stop him. The novel alternates back and forth between the childish sibling rivalry and the adult-(ish) procedural pursuit, but it feels like a set-up to a future that won’t happen anyway, because, again, this has all been retconned.

So is it worth my time or yours to read “Star Wars” Expanded Universe Novels? They’ve all been retconned into irrelevance? Were they relevant in the first place? Is ANYTHING relevant anyway?

Eh, I probably will read a few more of these things.

In space, no one can hear you sigh.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH