Lateral Move

Hansel Castro is now writing (much more prolifically) over at PICKSHERRY

Please adjust your bookmarks and go visit me there now. New posts appear daily, Mondays Thru Fridays.

The Pageaholic dealt solely with the books, Picksherry covers the books- AND the movies, and the music albums, and the TV shows, and the videogames, and the whatevers. “Oh, another all-purpose pop culture website, the Internet can never have enough of those!”  But Picksherry is a little different, as you will notice as soon as you land there. I hope you will come to love the kooky krew of kritics that compose the Picksherry family. I think their reviews, which may appear odd at first, will eventually strike a chord with people like you or me, who feel that the coin never has two sides: simple examination of a coin shows it has at least THREE easily visible sides. As a 3 dimensional object, it’s sort of a squashed-in cylinder. And if you start counting all the depressions and striations on a coin,you’ll realize it’s a veeeery complex object.



I will see you there.


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*)


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.



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.”

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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.


The Casual Vacancy : Anthony Trollope – “Barchester Towers” (Chronicles of Barsetshire #2) (Re-read)

Anthony Trollope’s lengthy “Chronicles of Barsetshire,” demand, and reward, patience. They also seem best suited for people with the luxury of sunny afternoons lounging on Victorian settees; privileged people, would go the modern accusation. Maybe that’s not fair: they’re not entirely escapist entertainment. In its time, a novel like “Barchester Towers” must have had some gentle venom in its satire of internecine warfare between the nearly-Papist pageantry of old-school High Churchers and the fashionable febrility of then-new-school Evangelicals. But if the above sentence left you nonplussed don’t feel bad: it just means you were born sometime after the 1880s, and your upbringing took place in a location that didn’t end with the suffix of -Shire or -Hampton.It’s not that a novel like “Barchester Towers” is hopelessly old-fashioned, or unentertaining: it’s that it’s hard to picture anyone entering its parochial world of low-stakes gossip unbidden, unless they’re period nostalgists (it’s fine: as long as the BBC  exports Anglophilia, there will be plenty of us.)

When Death comes for the Bishop of Barchester , a vacancy is opened, and mild impoliteness rages between the candidates: presumptive heir Archdeacon Grantly  and out-of-towner Bishop Proudie. Bishop Proudie’s testicles are being squeezed and tugged (in different directions) by the odious Mrs. Proudie and the unctuous Obadiah Slope. Slope, the book’s best character, is plotting to marry (a.k.a. acquire the fortune of) the unwitting, recently widowed Eleanor Bold, Grantly’s sister-in-law. Then things get (very mildly) complicated when Prebendary Stanhope arrives in town with a dissolute son, Bertie, and a daughter, Madeline Neroni (the book’s second best character) whose licentious, scandalous past involves marriage to an abusive Continental Eyetalian AND, if you were doubting as to the deformity of her character, she also LIMPS. Slope begins to flirt with Neroni, Bertie flirts with Eleanor. Will Eleanor fall for sloppy Slope or burn-our Bertie? We might have wondered for three volumes, except that Trollope’s intrusive narrator comes in, in a suspense-killing moment of proto-post-modernism, to let us known Eleanor’s much too pure to see herself compromised this way and none of these things will happen.

Alan Rickman, it should be mentioned, played the conniving Mr. Slope in a BBC adaptation of “The Warden” and “Barchester Towers”; perioxploitation mastermind Julian “Downton Abbey” Fellowes is working on a TV version of “Doctor Thorne,” book 3 in the “Barsetshire Chronicles.”

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ABOVE: If I were a Rickman, ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum