The OF Blog: October 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 27-30 Book Porn

There are five review copies and one purchase in this set of arrivals. The first photo includes two books received Monday and Tuesday, the second two for books received Wednesday, and the third one showcases books that arrived today.

Left: Laurell K. Hamilton, Swallowing Darkness (I tried to foist this upon my 59 year-old mother, but after a few pages, she abandoned it, saying it was "weird" and "icky."); Karen Traviss, Gears of War: Aspho Fields (this one I lent out to my middle brother, who hasn't completed a novel in almost 10 years. He's almost halfway through this one and enjoying it quite a bit, since he's a huge fan of the video game).

Left: Daniel Fox, Dragon in Chains (written under one of Chaz Brenchley's pseudonyms, this novel apparently ties together a real-world China and a mythical one full of dragons. Curious about this one); Ken MacLeod, Fractions: The First Half of the Fall Revolution (omnibus reprint of the first two novels in a series MacLeod had written in 1995-1996. Curious about this one and will likely read it before the year is out).

Left: Andrzej Sapkowski, Blood of Elves (the first of five serial novels - which follow two earlier short story collections, only one of which, The Last Wish, is available in English - starring the Witcher, Geralt. I read this earlier in Spanish and thought it was hilarious and I shall read it in English by this weekend, just to see how the English translation compares with the Spanish); Daren Simkin, The Traveler (small, inspirational sort of story, illustrated by the author's brother, Daniel. Shall read it later tonight, time/energy permitting).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another semiweekly passage photo

This ought to be a fairly easy passage for some to guess, but it was on my mind just now after I awoke too early from my sleep. Sometimes, a quote gets shared with a loved one and it's like a STD, only in this case, it is one's thoughts and imagination that is infected. Hopefully others will contract this infection.

And yes, feel free to guess the book/author, although a search engine result ought to yield readily the source.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Javier Negrete, Alejandro Magno y las águilas de Roma

- Ese cabrón tiene que morir.

- No hables así de él. Es Alejandro.

- Es mi esposo. Y tú eres su general y su amigo y te acabas de acostar conmigo. Otra vez.

( "That bastard must die."

"Don't speak so of him. He is Alexander."

"He is my husband. And you are his general and his friend and you just slept with me. Another time.")
So begins Javier Negrete's alt-history, Alejandro Magno y las águilas de Roma (Alexander the Great and the Eagles of Rome). It opens with the mysterious events in Babylon in the year 323 BCE that led to Alexander's death at the age of 32. Negrete posits that instead of contracting a fatal illness, that one of Alexander's wives, Roxana, the daughter of the former Satrap of Bactria, persuaded Perdiccas, cavalry commander of the King's Companions, to help her poison Alexander. But instead of dying, the ill Alexander is saved at the last moment by the near-miraculous appearance of a physician sent by the Delphi oracle, Néstor.

The tricky part about alt-histories is determining just how credible the alt-history (or ucronía in Spanish) is in relation to the events that actually unfolded. In the brief chapter that follows Néstor's intervention, Negrete utilizes a fragment of the official diary of Alexander kept by his secretary, Eumenes of Cardia, to tell briefly what happened in the immediate aftermath of Alexander's recovery from the attempted poisoning. Stretching from 323 BCE to 317 BCE, this journal briefly notes Alexander's division of his army, with one half sent to conquer the Arabian peninsula, while he himself returned to Macedonia in 322 BCE after a twelve year absence to quell an incipient rebellion begun by Antipater:

12 de dío:

«Después de más de once años, el rey ha vuelto a Macedonia. Las noticias de las sospechas de Alejandro han llegado a Antípatro. Él y Casandro han huido a Tesalia con un ejército.»

24 de dío:

«Batalla en Larisa. El ala izquierda de Antípatro se pasa al bando de Alejandro durante el combate. Antípatro se arroja sobre su espada antes de ser capturado. Casandro es apresado.»

25 de dío:

«Casandro es interrogado. Se declara inocente. Muere durante el interrogatorio.»

(October 12:

After more than eleven years, the king has returned to Macedonia. News of Alexander's suspicions [regarding Antipater's ambitions to seize power for himself] have reached Antipater. He and Cassander have fled to Thessaly with an army.

October 24:

Battle in Larisa. Antipater's left wing goes over to Alexander's side during combat. Antipater falls on his sword before being captured. Cassander is seized.

October 25:

Cassander is interrogated. He declares his innocence. He dies during the interrogation.)
Negrete uses this and PoVs from some of Alexander's generals, such as Craterus, as well as completely fictional characters such as Néstor and the Roman tribune Gaius Julius Caesar to tell an intricate story that extrapolates from the real-life Alexander's stated future conquest plans in order to create a vivid and very believable account of what might have transpired had Alexander lived and had turned his armies toward the western Mediterranean. Negrete, himself a former Professor of Greek at the Instituto de Educación Secundaria Gabriel y Galán de Plasencia in Spain, has researched the time period and the social and political conditions very assidiously. He bases his imagined conflict between the Macedonians and the Romans on events that did indeed transpire a generation later in the regions of Calabria and Sicily in southern Italy.

Rome, having just consolidated its power in central, Latin-speaking Italy, has begun to move to assert its dominance over the Greek colonies in Syracuse, Neapolis (Naples), and other parts of southern Italy. These colonies appealed to Alexander for intervention and in 317 BCE, he begins to move his forces into the region. The story the devotes the middle 300 pages of this 526 page novel toward developing the interactions between Alexander and his supporters in the region, as well as between Néstor, Gaius Julius Caesar, and a certain acquaintance Néstor has made. In addition, there is an ominus discovery by the Greek astronomer Euctemon - that the comet Icarus, full of ominous portents, was heading directly towards Earth/Gaea and might strike it.

For the most part, Negrete moves adroitly between these three main subplots. He has a vivid, direct style (of which my translated passages above give only the barest hint) and his characterizations of Alexander, Néstor, Euctemon, and Caesar are well-done, as each is shown in various reflective or emotional states that feel "real," even though some of these characters have no true basis in late fourth century BCE history. Negrete does not rush to the conclusion, but instead develops the scenes set in southern Italy and Rome until they and not the forthcoming, portent-filled battle are the true focus of the novel. In fact, the battle itself comprises only a single chapter and it serves to set the stage for a cliffhanger that ends this novel.

Alejandro Magno y las águilas de Roma won the Premio Ignotus award for Best Novel in September 2008 and based on Negrete's economical use of dialogue and his introspective looks into what would motivate ambitious people such as Alexander and Caesar to strive to attain their dreams, I found myself thinking that this probably was a very worthy winner. If this book were available in English translation, I suspect it would be very popular with ancient history fans, especially those who are interested in more than idle speculation over whether Macedonian phalanxes could overcome the Roman legions. Negrete tells an exciting story, but one that feels "authentic" in its characterizations, its setting, and in how certain events are portrayed and interpreted by the characters. I eagerly await the second half of this story.

Publication Date: May 2007 (Spain). Hardcover.

Publisher: Minotauro.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” - Aristotle

There are three skills that most language arts and social studies teachers dread teaching; writing, reading comprehension, and critical thinking skills. This unholy trinity comprises not the foundation of every poor student paper or presentation, but also serves as the root explanation for why so many university freshmen struggle so much. It is very difficult to teach students how to organize their thoughts, to construct rationales for their beliefs, to question assumptions found within a text or in the world around them, or to explore possibilities outside the very concrete.

As a high school social studies teacher (and a former English instructor before), I have seen many students get frustrated whenever they are asked to explain themselves or what another might be saying. If pressed, some facts might be tossed in, irrespective of their overall relevance to the topic at hand. After all, facts must be sacrosanct, no, since someone famous wrote them down? The notion that interpretations shape understanding, with facts being only one component out of many, is very difficult for people to grasp. I saw that quite a bit yesterday during an activity where they were working on analyzing primary source material from the late 19th century on tenement houses, child labor laws, and urban poverty. I have my work cut out for me on Monday, to say the least, especially since they have a countywide skills assessment test this Tuesday.

I have thought quite a bit on this issue for the past couple of weeks, before I began to realize that there might be a societal cause to the three root problems I listed above. Today, it is very difficult to contemplate matters, to dwell upon them and to reflect upon possibilities and consequences. Due to the fast-paced, 24/7, "life is short, ____ hard" attitudes prevalent in American society in particular, there is not as much value placed anymore upon contemplation. Philosophy, the searching for truths, has become a more and more marginalized field. Those who stop and question assumptions are too often branded as being "pretentious" or "elitist," even when it would behoove more people to reflect upon the consequences of a certain course of action before acting. This last attitude certainly has been seen in the 2008 Presidential Election, with McCain touting his "decisiveness," while many of his supporters have criticized Obama for being "out of touch" for his ponderous, reflective approach to many issues. Sound bites are preferable to exploratory policy discussions, right?

Some of this negativity towards contemplation is seen in how certain readers react to certain books. Read most online reviews (and even many print ones) and there often is not much in the way of a contemplative attitude toward a book; the book either "works" or "fails" on the level of plot/characterization without much consideration given to thematic discourse or to how the text has been constructed. I have seen many negative comments in regards to Susanna Clarke's 2004 novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, with most of them blasting her for writing a slow-paced novel that contains "little action." I wonder how many of them would care to admit that Clarke set out to write exactly that sort of novel, one that requires the reader to stop and to contemplate the character interactions, the witty repartees, or the conscious efforts Clarke made to emulate the prose of 19th century British authors such as Anthony Trollope or Jane Austen. It is one thing to admit that this isn't the sort of novel one didn't care to read; it is a very ignorant reader who claims that Clarke's novel is "poor" without taken into account (or rather, even understanding that such things exist in the first place) her apparent goals in writing that matter.

Almost two weeks ago, the first Blogger Book Club discussion of Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration led to some interesting splits of opinion regarding Disch's approaches to characterization and plot development. Some admitted that the novel had an "academic" feel to it, as if somehow that were a vague negative, even though I suspect (based on the comments that follow) that such claims were more to indicate the others' reactions to the story and to Louis Sacchetti. I do have to admit that processing that novel takes a lot of work. Disch didn't write an "easy" novel, nor one that could be processed solely on a superficial level. He aimed (often succeeding, but with some debatable missteps) to tell a multi-layered story in which our own means of interacting with a story would come into play, since after all the reader is given the same narrative point-of-view that the prison guards on the inside would have been reading and reacting to during the course of the story contained in Louis's journal. How does one process such a story, if one bothers at all?

That last question I suspect underlies a great many of the situations I mentioned above. Could it be more a case that whenever a reading requires contemplative thought rather than immediate processing/reacting that a dissonance is created between the Reader and the Text? Or is there more to the notion that many criticisms of "difficult" texts are but reflections of the Reader's cognitive disinterest in contemplating texts? That is something I shall contemplate more, I do believe...

A slightly harder passage

This one ought to be slightly more difficult that the Kahlil Gibran passage that Fábio and others got right, but I do expect some to be familiar with this one, which I first read when I was a history graduate student a dozen years ago. I can think there's one little clue in there that ought to give it all away...

But regardless, if you've read this particular book, what were your impressions of it? Also, if you have a camera available, how about taking a photo of a book you're reading/recently read that might be well-known to some and posting it on your blog and send me a link to it? I found out that I got a couple of people interested in Gibran's The Prophet based on the photographed passage. It'd be cool if we could be introduced to some excellent stories that way, right?

October 23-24 Book Porn

Just three bought books this week, but I've already finished one (with a photo posted in the entry directly below this one) and enjoyed it, am about 100 pages into the second and thinking it's an improvement of sorts over the author's debut work, and the final work intrigues me, since his previous writings have straddled the imaginary blurred line between mimetic and speculative fiction.

Left: Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet; Ian Cameron Esslemont, Return of the Crimson Guard (related to Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series); B.K. (Brian) Evenson, Aliens: No Exit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An interesting passage

I found this passage from a book I received recently to be quite thought-provoking, so I thought I'd take a picture of it and let others interpret it and/or guess the book in question. Any comments?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Disch remembrance, another Camp Concentration review

This past Saturday, friends and relatives of the late author Thomas M. Disch gathered together in New York City to pay respect to Disch. To the left is one of many photographs that Jacob Weisman, Disch's final editor, took at the remembrance celebration.

In addition, Jumpdrives and Cantrips has contributed a review of Disch's Camp Concentration as a late entry to the first Blogger Book Club discussion. While her impressions of the book were not as favorable as mine, it is fascinating to see just how much of a divide Disch's book caused among the participants. But do go to her blog and read that entry and then read a few more of her posts, as they are well worth the read.

October 17-22 Book Porn

Five books this time, three of them review copies and two that I purchased, including one for the upcoming December 2-6 Blogger Book Club discussion.

Left: Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix Plus (Sterling is one of those authors I've "heard of," but never got around to reading him until now, when I'll be reading this book sometime in November in preparation for the next Blogger Book Club discussion); Elizabeth Bear, All the Windwracked Stars (Bear is very prolific, but the few stories/novels of hers that I've read have all been entertaining, so I have hopes to read this one in the near future).

Left: R.A. and Geno Salvatore, The Stowaway (Salvatore and his son collaborate on their first true YA series. Don't know if I'll read it or have it available in a contest); John Scalzi, Agent to the Stars (originally a "trunk" novel posted on his site for years before it was first published in 2004, this is the first mass-release of this story); Jeff VanderMeer, Predator: South China Sea (I've never really watched much of the Predator movie series, but VanderMeer is one of my favorite writers and I am curious to see how he does within a shared universe mileau, so I ordered a copy and it arrived this morning. Expect a review before the end of the month).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Interesting Brandon Sanderson book trailer

I was sent this link today by one of Tor's publicists, Dot Lin, and I thought it to be interesting enough to post for those who are curious about Sanderson's work and what he has to say about working on the final WoT novel.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I just checked my Sitemeter stats and I see since mid-May 2007, there have been 100,002 visits (and almost 148,000 page views) to this site. Although I know this number is much smaller than the actual number of people who've read a post here (since I created the OF Blog back in August 2004 without stat trackers, not to mention the growing number of people who read the Blog via RSS feeders), it still is a fairly cool number.

Thanks everyone for visiting. I hope I didn't warp your minds too much with some of those videos lately...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Surrealistic Video

It's one of the best plucking videos you could watch now, ya know...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Matthew Stover, Caine Black Knife

I made a fist and hold it out. "Tonight is a good night to die."

They look at each other, at the niter-scaled walls, at the shadowed vault above. Anywhere but at me.

Christians like to say the truth will make you free. Guess I've got the wrong truth.

"Listen - " I let my fist go slack and rub my forehead. "Listen: I've got my share of problems, y'know? You all know it. I'm an asshole. Nobody likes me. Sometimes I don't like me much either."

I give them a second to disagree. Nobody jumps in. Big goddamn surprise.

"Shit weighs down on me, y'know? Like it does on everybody, I guess. I worry what the fuck I'm doing with my life. I've got a sick dad, and I can't take care of him, and this girl I'm hot for thinks I'm a jerk, and shit, y'know, she's right, but somehow I just can't help my - " I manage to avoid looking at her. "Ahh, forget all that, it's not important.

"Here's the point: that's all future stuff, y'know? Everything you worry about. Everything that keeps you awake at night. All the shitty things the world has waiting for all of us. You know: Failure. Old age. Loneliness. Heartbreak. Cancer. Whatever.

"All of that is gone, now. You get it? That's all shit to worry about tomorrow - but we won't have to. Not ever again.

"For us, there is no tomorrow.

"Think about it. We have nothing left to worry about. Nothing. Shit, those Black Knives out there tonight? They're giving us a gift. Because all that bad stuff, all the rotten fucking shit that could possibly happen for the rest of our lives...won't. Because the only rest of our lives we have left is a few minutes to decide how we're gonna die."

"What difference does that make?" somebody says. "Dead is dead."

"Don't care how you die? You don't even have to leave this room. Just step over here." I open my arms, offering. "You won't feel a thing."

No takers. No surprise.

"I'll tell you how I'm gonna die."

A long, slow look, eye to eye to eye. I let that spark in my balls heat up my voice. "I'm gonna drown in their smoking fucking blood." (pp. 84-85)

Matthew Stover in his first two The Acts of Caine novels, Heroes Die (1998) and Blade of Tyshalle (2001) created a brutal, violent, sadistic futuristic society in which a secular caste system controls life on Earth. Akin to the Roman gladiators, many lower-caste men and women found themselves agreeing to become Actors in a hyper-reality show in which they would be transported to an alternate dimension and their exploits (carefully edited, of course) would be beamed back to Earth. Each grunt, each slash of the knife would be felt in the homes of millions as if they were participating alongside the Actors. The most famous Actor, Caine (played by the formerly upcaste - before his father was demoted to Laborer caste for espousing dangerous ideas - Hari Michaelson), was the most famous Actor of them all, one whose blood-and-vomit filled adventures entranced millions and made him a star.

In the first two novels, Stover explores several thematic issues revolving around a Bread and Circuses-oriented totalitarian state, what "honor" means to someone who is smart but held down, how desire can create both opportunity and destruction, as well as exploring how religious/philosophical ideals evolve out of expediency. Caine's attitude, expressed in the passage quoted above, pervades virtually every single page of these three novels.

For Caine Black Knife, Stover had the difficult task of addressing the question of "Now that you've saved the world from outside imperial aggression, what do you do for an encore?" He chose a very complex story of atonement, showing Caine/Hari at the beginning of his Actor career making a name for himself by practically annihilating the fearsome Black Knife clan (and later being adopted by one of them, Orbek) despite the long odds depicted in the scene I quoted above, before then switching to the literary present, thirty years later. There Caine is not as brash or as eager to spit in the eye of Death; he has become worn down by age, injuries, and the knowledge that he is little more than a harbinger of destruction.

The "now" sections of the novel revolve around Caine's return to the Boedecken, the scene of his legend-creating adventures escaping the Black Knife clan. He is haunted by memories of the people he abandoned there, the hurt that the survivors told, although he also realizes that he did what he felt was necessary at the time to survive. Stover utilizes first-person accounts for both the "then" and "now" segments to construct a very complex composite character image. Caine's travails have altered him and while Stover does have Caine acknowledge this explicitly, more often this paradigm shift is shown in scenes such as this one, where a few snotty Artan/Earth rich kids have managed to get around the blocks on interdimensional travel and have appeared in simulated form:

"You're kids..." My brain had somehow turned into a wet wool blanket stuffed inside my skull. "You're all kids."

"Well, sure," one of the Sauds said. "This is still in beta, and they need playtesters, and Turner's really pretty all right, you know, he set us up, it's a real party, even though everything's virtual. The simichair hookup cost my dad a bundle, and he's itching to play, too. Maybe once they smoke the bugs out and get this ready for release. This is way sweeter than even firsthanding, because, you know, first off, the Studio hasn't even done that in like forever, and even then, if we were like firsthanding you, we'd just be riding along while you kill people. This way we get to kill them ourselves - "

"And eat them." Bush's tusks gleamed pale and wet in the moonlight. "We get to kill them and eat them. This is way harder core than even your stuff - no offense, y'know; I'm a real fan, not like Ass-Packard. I have your Collector's Platinum Edition box-set, plus I've got a bootleg master of Servant of the Empire - "

"Just 'cause your mom sucked Turner's wrinkled old grampadick for it," Packard sneered.

I shook my head. "You little shits understand that these are real people? You get it? This isn't just a fucking game - "

"Sure it is," Packard said. "Our pack gets points for every civilian we take out before the Knights knock us to pieces. We get extra points for taking out armsmen, and killing a Knight's an automatic win, unless another pack gets a Knight too, and they've got more civilian kills than - "

"And you get points too just for duration, you know?" Bush nodded enthusiastically. "We're short on kills, but just standing here talking to you we've racking our score, and that's bone grippy, because we get to meet you and everything, and we can still do our mission objective, because we came down the river - these grills we're piloting are already dead, y'know, they don't have to breathe - and the Knights aren't here yet - "

I couldn't get my mind around it. "You're just sonofabitching kids - "

Packard smirked at me. "Yeah, right. How old were you the first time you killed somebody?"

"The first time I killed somebody I was fighting for my life, you little bastard." Which was a damn lie, but what the hell. "You're a pack of spoiled Leisure brats sitting in simichairs a universe away - "

"Well, sure," the other Saud said, shaking his head at me like I was a goddamn idiot, which was exactly how I felt. "You think our parents would let us do this if we could actually get hurt? I mean, check it out - " He lighted his loincloth to show a ragged stump where the Smoke Hunter's cock had been severed at the root. "We can't even fuck. What are we supposed to do except kill people?"

"I never killed anybody just for fun - "

"No, you killed 'em for our fun." Bush's smirk was almost identical to Packard's. (pp. 274-275)
Much of the character interaction follows this basic path - people who know of Caine, but who do not understand him, despite their beliefs that they do. People who idolize his violence (while often secretly being terrified of being in a similar situation) but who fail to understand that he doesn't take pride in his violent, sometimes "evil" ways; he has tried to move on and wishes others would accept that as well. But his past still haunts him and as the novel progresses, he is forced into a confrontation with a ghost from his past, one that haunts him as this volume concludes on a cliffhanger.

Compared to the first two Caine novels, Caine Black Knife is just as intelligently plotted and written. Caine's character, strong as it is, never verges toward sanctimoniousness nor caricature. He remains a complex, dynamic character whose development makes for a fascinating read. Stover's use of the "then" and "now" chapters serves to highlight this shift in Caine's personality, creating a narrative tension that drives this novel towards a strong cliffhanger ending. Caine Black Knife is one of the best character-driven fantasy/SF novels that I have read this year and now I resume my wait for the final Caine novel, My Father's Fist.

Publication Date: October 14, 2008 (US). Tradeback.

Publisher: Del Rey

October 1-16 reads

Off to a relatively slow start here, although I expect to get quite a few books read the next couple of days. Some of these I've either already reviewed or plan on reviewing in some form in the near future, so not much in the way of commentary this time:

313 Thomas M. Disch, The Wall of America - already reviewed.

314 Jim Butcher, The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle (graphic novel) - nice artwork, solid story.

315 Lou Anders (ed.), Sideways in Crime - Excellent original anthology of stories that combine crime fiction with alt-histories. Might say more on this in a few weeks.

316 Félix de Azúa, Historia de una idiota contada por él mismo - OK thematic story, but I wasn't in the proper frame of mind to enjoy this like I normally would.

317 Jeffrey Ford, The Physiognomy

318 Jeffrey Ford, Memoranda

319 Jeffrey Ford, The Beyond

Each of Ford's novels in his The Well-Built City trilogy are re-reads for me (third time). Perhaps I'll write a review of them later, time permitting.

Currently reading:

Matthew Stover, Caine Black Knife - Review forthcoming this weekend.

Javier Negrete, Alejandro Magno y las águilas de Roma - Review in 1-3 weeks.

Each of these two novels are very strong candidates to make it to my year-end list, for very different reasons. That is, if they manage to keep the same level of quality each has had to this point. More on them and other novels shortly.

Also, I have 3 more reviews to post today and Saturday, time permitting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 16 Book Porn

Three more books today, all from Putnum/Penguin.

Top:  Fiona Patton, The Golden Tower (evil bug-thing?)

Left:  Martin H. Greenberg and Daniel M. Hoyt (eds.), Better Off Undead (original themed anthology dealing with zombies); Devon Monk, Magic to the Bone (and tattooed to the nines on the skin, which signifies something I believe).

What SF monster could compete with this?

Over at Ecstatic Days, Tessa is filling in for Jeff VanderMeer and she has a series of Ninjas vs. Pirates vs. [insert cowboys, stormtroopers, zombies, bears, etc.] contests. In one of the responses, I came up with a virtually unstoppable, unbeatable creature.

Yes. Squirrels that dance to Michael Jackson songs. Not even 50 Vogons reciting poetry can top that. Do you think you can, punk? Go ahead, make my day.

Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

Last year, I wrote this in regard to Brandon Sanderson's middle volume in the Mistborn trilogy:

But just because one chooses to use some of the older conventions does not mean that the story cannot be enjoyable or even innovative in places. Those who believe this might point out Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, now with the second volume, The Well of Ascension, in bookstores. There are no real shades of grey characters driving the plot, nor are there buckets of blood waiting to be poured out on the battlefields with vultures circling off in the distance. Instead, we see something a bit smaller, something perhaps more akin to a naive country bumpkin stumbling upon a great inner power, but we see it done differently and perhaps with more sincerity behind it.

Sanderson in his novels has started with a rather interesting question: What would happen if a prophesied hero were to fail at his task? What if the destined Frodo-like character had instead seized the forbidden power and had become corrupted? What would happen in a world where a Dark Lord would indeed reign for a thousand years?
Sanderson's concluding volume, The Hero of Ages, takes those questions that I had noted earlier and creates a story that is darker without being grim and better, a story whose character development is good, a story that is in turns surprising and logical in its plotting. When I read a galley proof of this book four months ago, the world around me was very different than it is today - who knew that companies such as Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, or Washington Mutual would sink in a red sea of bad debt? Who knew that millions of 401K retirement accounts would lose much of their value? Who knew that in 1/3 of a year, around 9 out of 10 Americans (and likely a similar percentage in much of the post-industrial world) would feel that things were so off-track and "wrong?"

In skimming through Sanderson's book after those developments, I cannot help but to wonder if outside matters such as the current financial crisis will color others' opinions of the story and its tone. I found that for myself, that the dark opening chapters, with the powerful Mistborn Vin and her consort-husband Elend (himself only recently endowed with Mistborn powers at the Well of Ascension) reeling from the onslaught of Ruin unleashed by their mistake at the Well, to contain some well-written scenes exploring the confusion and frustation that comes when one tries to hold back wave after wave of bad luck and horrid consequences. Just like today with many people searching for scapegoats to offer up as atonement for financial malfeasance/sin, there is that sense in the story of the protagonists and several supporting characters blindly seeking for understanding, with some placing blame rather than attempting to overcome their frustrations.

Much of The Hero of Ages deals with Vin and Elend learning how to confront Ruin and the forces he controls via dark arts such as Hemalurgy (the stealing of power via the driving of various metal spikes through the bodies of selected victims), as well as certain creatures created via the use of such spikes. At times, the story threatens to become yet one other travelogue, with the intrepid heroes gaining knowledge and wisdom, but Sanderson manages to overcome (for the most part) his tendency to have manna from heaven revelations and interventions by devoting more time to showing how certain peripheral characters, such as TenSoon, have developed and have been changed by their experiences. In addition, mysterious little elements, such as a certain piece of jewelry and the etching of important information on steel, are explored in greater depth and while for many astute readers these plot revelations will come as no surprise, nonetheless Sanderson incorporates them well into his tale.

Thematically, The Hero of Ages examines the duality of creation/destruction, eros/thanatos, and Preservation/Ruin. Character goals and aspirations, even when one considers events from the prior two novels, are cast in this dualist light. By the novel's conclusion, there is a marshaling of forces by both Ruin and Preservation, with surprising results. Referring back to my earlier review, I made the following observation:

It is rather obvious from reading Sanderson's novels and his interviews that the author is an optimistic person and in these novels, that sense of hope and joy of life pervades the pages and provides a lighter view of the imagined world than what one would find in the "gritty" novels such as Winterbirth.
The conclusion to The Hero of Ages fits this observation well. After a massive battle that had an extremely high body count, including PoV characters as well as the Imperial Stormtrooper stand-ins, the novel concludes with a twist, one that harks back to the original question about heroes and their "failures." Sanderson brings things full-circle and the end result is a denouement that feels complete; it would be very hard to justify returning to this world for future adventures based on how the story ended.

Although there were a few weaknesses with the novel (mostly in the dialogue and sometimes in how certain events were set up during the course of the novel), for the most part The Hero of Ages builds upon the accomplishments of Sanderson's earlier two novels. It was fast-paced and the conclusion was one of the best I had read in an epic fantasy in years. While doubtless there will be those who will be reading this series and especially this volume for clues as to how Sanderson will complete Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, those who read it expecting to find an enjoyable read likely will find this concluding volume to be his strongest and most solid work to date.

Publication Date: October 14, 2008 (US). Hardcover.

Publisher: Tor

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Next Blogger Book Club book, dates set

About a week or so, I asked Fábio Fernandes of Post-Weird Thoughts if he would be willing to host/select the next Blogger Book Club selection. He agreed and he just now posted his selection and the time for it.

The book chosen was Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix Plus and the dates for the discussions (following the same format as the one we just did for the Camp Concentration discussion) is the week of December 8-12.

If you think you might participate, respond either here or (preferably) at Fábio's blog. Hope to see everyone there (and here, and elsewhere...) then!

October 15 Book Porn

I was expecting only two books today, but instead I received 10. Out of these ten, six are review copies and four are purchases, including two books I imported from Spain but didn't expect until the end of the week. When it takes 24-48 hours to ship internationally and cost less than $30 for that shipment, I'm impressed. Now on with the books. These are arranged by order of arrival/parcel system. These first two books arrived via USPS and are review copies:

Left: Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages (review forthcoming); H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, The Watchers Out of Time (OK, I'm curious to see how these are, since I haven't read much at all by Lovecraft).

These are the two books that arrived internationally via DHL that I had ordered from Casa del Libro in Madrid, Spain. I think I've talked about the author before...

Left: Javier Negrete, Alejandro Magno y las águilas de Roma (see previous posts today about him); Negrete, El espíritu del mago (second volume in Negrete's epic fantasy that began with the excellent La espada del fuego).

The FedEx guy delivered these next four books, all review copies from Putnam/Penguin, a few hours ago:

Top: Juliet Marillier, Heir to Sevenwaters (I've heard of her, but haven't read any of her works, but apparently this is a new story set in an established setting of hers); Sharon Shinn, Fortune and Fate (see what I said in regards to Marillier).

Bottom: Denise Rossetti, The Flame and the Shadow (err...maybe later?); Diana Pharoah Francis, The Black Ship (second volume in her Crosspointe series. She still has the coolest middle name of virtually any author I've come across).

And finally, the UPS guy dropped these two Amazon orders off a few minutes ago.

Left: Kelly Link, Pretty Monsters (YA collection of many of her earlier stories from her first two collections, plus a few new ones, I think); Brian Francis Slattery, Liberation ( I enjoyed his Spaceman Blues earlier this year and I've heard this one might be even better).

Does this sound like an appealing story blurb to you?

Here is my translation of the back cover of Javier Negrete's 2007 novel, Alejandro Magno y las águilas de Roma:

323 years before Christ. Thirty-three years old, Alexander the Great, the greatest conqueror in history, is destined to die in Babylon. But Nestor, a mysterious doctor who says he has been sent by the Delphi oracle, appears at the precise instant in order to save his life.

Six years after the attempted assassination and after almost two decades of incessant campaigns in Asia and Greece, Alexander has turned his eyes towards the riches of the West. In his path to the dominion of the known world lies only the greatest military power of Italy, a city which like Alexander himself is convinced of the grandness of its destiny: Rome.

It is the moment of deciding who holds supremacy in the Mediterranean, if it is the Macedonian phalanxes or the Roman legions. The augurs and prophets warn of great catastrophes, such as the comet Icarus, which appeared to the same time that Alexander returned to life in Babylon, grows night by night in the firmament. Even worse, the calculations of the extravagant astronomer Euctemon predict that, as in the myth, Icarus will fall to the Earth. And in the meantime, Alexander and Rome are readying themselves to unleash the greatest battle in Antiquity in the vales of Mount Vesuvius.
Let's say this book was available on a local bookshelf and you could read it in your native language. After reading that blurb, as well as others noting the various awards Negrete won in Spain, how disposed would you be in purchasing/reading that book?

Interesting Book Trailer

This is a very cool book trailer I found for Javier Negrete's 2008 novel, Salamina. What I noticed was how the trailer uses Negrete himself (fitting, since he was a Professor of Greek until recently at a university in Spain) to narrate the setting of his novel, which revolves around one of the largest battles in antiquity. The pictoral slides playing in the background add even more power to his words. Very well-done trailer. I guess I'll be plunking down $50+ for this novel in the next month or two...

October 8-14 Book Porn

Seven books this time (there'll be another post later today for today's arrivals, which should end up being four, unless UPS or FedEx is bringing more to me than my Amazon orders), with six being review copies and the final book being one I bought. Interesting mix of styles here, including one of a rather repugnant storyline.

Left: Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, & Stephen R. Bissette, Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman (this looks to be more akin to Tigerbeat than to The History of Middle-Earth, but there is a place for short essays and interviews that explore the ins and outs of Gaiman's writings); John Birmingham, Without Warning (the story blurb left me tempted to send this to some John Birch Society member, as it deals with 99% of the American population (and some of its military not already stationed abroad) suddenly being wiped out by a mysterious energy force field and how those survivors and America's enemies deal with the aftermath. Needless to say, I highly, highly doubt I was the intended audience and I know there is no way in hell that I could give this sort of book a fair shake, since I would cringe and then become irritated at the jingoism, the rather extreme nationalist sentiment, and so forth. It would be akin to asking Rush Limbaugh to review favorably one of Karl Marx's books).

Top: Jack McDevitt, The Devil's Eye (I've only read excerpts of his SF, so I might browse through this in a few months when I'll have more reading time again).

Left: Steven L. Kent, The Clone Elite (apparently this is part of a series, called Clone Republic and outside of that, I know nothing about the author or series); Mike Shepherd, Kris Longknife: Intrepid (again, this is part of a series of novels dealing with the same protagonist, so no opinion on these, to be honest).

Left: James Luceno, Star Wars: Millennium Falcon (a Star Wars novel, something I haven't read in two decades now?); Matthew Stover, Caine Black Knife (I've loved his first two Caine novels and while I know he's probably better known for his own Star Wars novels, his Caine books have been uniformly outstanding. Expect a review of this one before the week is over.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thomas Disch, The Wall of America

As much as I enjoyed Thomas Disch's 1968 novel, Camp Concentration, I have to admit that his just-released posthumous short story collection, The Wall of America, shows Disch's writing range better. From pre-apocalyptic to post-apocalyptic to the quasi-apocalyptic and beyond, the nineteen stories in this collection display a savage wit and biting satire that I have rarely encountered in contemporary speculative fiction writing.

Take for instance this passage from "A Family of the Post-Apocalypse," where a non-Raptured family is dealing with a plague of locusts:

Big ones, and dressed, according to the prophecies, pretty much like the bikers in Mad Max, except that instead of riding Harleys their bikes were incorporated into their exoskeletons. It was the whirring of their huge wings that sounded like the revving of unmuffled engines. The Bible says at this point that in those days men shall seek death and not find it, shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. But it doesn't go into the details, it only says that the locusts had stings in their tails and the power to torment people five months, if they didn't have a particular mark on their forehead, which Mom and Dad didn't.

Five months is a limited sentence, but when you are being tortured around the clock by giant insects with stings in their tails and sadistic imaginations, it can seem an eternity, and in a sense, because of the temporal dilations produced by the pall of smoke that covered the sun and the moon and even the fluorescent lights in the kitchen, it was an eternity.

"How'd ya like a taste of this then!" Abaddon, the leader of the locusts, would sneer, waving his stinger back and forth, brushing their naked flesh with its venomous tip, and then, Whoop! he'd give it a flick and connect right to the swollen lymph gland in Dad's armpit, or Whap! Whap! across Mom's lacerated breasts. "Oh, I'm a bad one, yes I am," he'd quip, and all his locust cronies would guffaw on cue.

Abaddon also, which is not in the Bible but perfectly in keeping with his character, taught the Big Babies to act as their parents' tormentors, when the locusts in the house were too bored or drunk to torture Dad and Mom themselves. (p. 130)
This story, like most of the others in this collection, plays off of reader knowledge of things as diverse as an early Mel Gibson movie and apocalyptic Christianity. Each element carries its own semantical expectation - the biker locusts, the family unit, the expectation of suffering and wailing - but then Disch often provides a twist to these tales, such as the one to "A Family of the Post-Apocalypse":

The human body has a threshold beyond which pain stops registering, so there were times when the locusts would vanish for days at a time, leaving Dad and Mom to recuperate and make lamentations. "I don't understand it," Dad would say, shaking his head and wincing at the pain. "What did we do wrong? Why is this happening to us?"

"It was our fornications and abominations!" Mom lamented, reaching into the fireplace for a handful of ashes, which she rubbed into her wounds.

"What fornications! We're married, aren't we? Is that fornication?"

Mom groaned. "And what about the time you came home drunk and made me do you know what? Oh, Jesus, I wish I were dead!"

"You always hated sex," Dad complained, for the umpteenth time. (pp. 130-131)
Yes, much lamenting, wailing, and seeking death and not finding it. Although there is a bit more to this tale than what I have liberally excerpted here, it does serve as an example for Disch's basic approach to his tales - take a person who may or may not fit into a preconceived societal/cultural/religious role, place that person in a baffling, sometimes cruel situation, and then proceed to rip into any clichéd conceptions a reader might have regarding that juxtaposing of character and place. Whether it be American attitudes toward immigration (the eponymous short story) or post-literacy ("The Man Who Read a Book"), Disch rarely settles for straightfoward satire. Instead, he satirizes not just the situations presented in the book, but also the readers' likely preconceptions of how such a satire ought to proceed. For the most part, the stories work and occasionally, such as with "The Man Who Read a Book," are outright hilarious.

But Disch's stories bite, and there is much darkness to them. The conclusion to "The Wall of America" is one such example, as well as the bitterness behind "The White Man." People do foolish things and often pay the consequences for their stupidity and trust. In Disch's tales, underneath the humor, this facet of human life is explored often, making for a dark human comedy that a Honore Balzac would appreciate. I certainly did.

Publication Date: October 1, 2008 (US). Tradeback.

Publisher: Tachyon

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bible Porn

Outside of showing a friend of mine from El Salvador my collection, there's really no specific reason why I thought I'd post my collection of Bibles: Catholic Study (English), Vulgate New Testament (Latin), a Protestant Spanish one, a Protestant Haitian one, a Catholic Spanish one, as well as a Protestant (I think, since I believe the Orthodox have around the same number of books as do the Catholic ones) Serbian one. The last two books to the right are Benedictine Daily Prayer and the Autumn days for The Divine Hours. Not pictured are several meditations by Catholic Saints (Augustine, Teresa de Ávila, Thomas à Kempis) and a few books by the late Bishop Fulton Sheen. And so concludes a look at the religious side of my library. And yes, I can read passages in almost every single one of those languages, which surely is a sign of my madness, no?

Blogger Book Club Review: Thomas Disch, Camp Concentration

Almost 11 years ago, in late October 1997, I, two other history graduate students, and our professor attended a dress rehearsal of George Tabori's Mein Kampf. Like many of his plays, Tabori's titles and characters contained double-edged twists, as this story dealt not just with Hitler during his young adulthood in Vienna, but also with the struggles of the Austrian Jew Herzl as he learns of Hitler's probable fate. During the climatic scene, one of the characters uttered this devastating double entendre: "What is the shortest German Witz [joke]?" After a pause, he replies with "Auschwitz."

While many others who have reviewed Thomas Disch's 1968 novel, Camp Concentration, likely thought about matters such as the inversion of the "concentration camp" theme, I couldn't help but to wonder if Disch and Tabori ever were aware of one another during their lifetimes. In Tabori's play and in Disch's novel, there is a sense that there is some sort of cruel joke that is playing out during the course of the narrative, a joke whose punchline does not arrive until the final, chilling conclusions. What that "joke" is, however, is not a simple one-to-one connection with the various catastrophic events of the 20th century (the two World Wars, the Holocaust, demographic explosion), but rather is a multi-faceted commentary on life and how we perceive it to be.

Disch structures his novel as a journal written by a "conchie," a conscientious objector named Louis Saccheti (with some echoes of Sacco and Vanzetti there?) imprisoned for five years for refusing to fight in a Vietnam War that has continued well into the 1970s, this time with the Westmoreland strategy of "bomb them into the Stone Age" taken to the extreme of using nuclear weapons. Although this backdrop is rarely referenced, it serves as the first clue that there is a madness that is lurking at the edges of this novel, one that is reinforced throughout the narrative. Take for example one of Louis's opening entries:

However, we lead here no worse a life than we would be leading now outside these walls had we answered our draft calls. Nasty as this prison is, there is this advantage to it - that it will not lead so promptly, so probably, to death. Not to mention the inestimable advantage of righteousness.

Ah, but who is this "we"? Besides myself there are not more than a dozen other conchies here, and we are kept carefully apart, to prevent the possibility of esprit. The prisoners - the real prisoners - hold us in contempt. They have that more sustaining advantage than righteousness - guilt. So our isolation, my isolation, becomes ever more absolute. And, I fear, my self-pity. There are evenings when I sit here hoping that R.M. will come by to argue with me.

Four months! And my sentence is for five years...That is the Gorgon of all my thoughts (p. 2)
Louis, however, soon is taken from this first prison and taken to Camp Archimedes (doubtless an eureka moment for a few readers), where he is injected with a drug, Pallidine, which has the double-edged nature of increasing one's intelligence while simultaneously causing the rapid aging and disintegration of the body within a year. There he and the other inmates are tasked with discovering alchemical methods for how to prolong life (after all, it is in their best interest). It is in this second part that Disch's narrative musings, via Louis's numbered journal entries, begins to hit its full stride.

Dizzy with the burning Camels and attacked by bellycrabs as well, I found my attention straying from the prayer to the brute business of unsealing the egg, which was taking place almost directly above me. Only when this was accomplished did the Bishop's viscid incantations emerge from the humming darkness of the Latinate into the realm of ordinary humbug, just as sometimes, in a supermarket or elevator, one recognizes the tune playing on the Muzak.

"...and just as Thy only begotten son is at once God and man, just as He, born without sin and not subject to death's dominion, chose to die that we might be free of sin and live eternally in His presence, just as He rose glorious on the third day, just so is the Carmot, philosophic gold, without sin, ever the same and radiant, able to survive all trials, yet ready to die for its ailing and imperfect brothers. The Carmot, gloriously born anew, delivers them, tinctures them for life eternal, and bestows on them the consubstantial perfection of the state of pure gold. So do we now, in the name of that same Christ Jesus, ask of Thee this food of angels, this miraculous cornerstone of heaven, set in place for all eternity, to govern and reign with Thee, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever." (p. 100)
In this scene, not only is religious ritual seen to be hollow and out of place in a mad sort of experimental prison camp, with the reference to "philosophic gold," one finds echoes of the mad researched bequested upon Louis and his fellow Pallidine-infected prisoners by one of the prison commandants. Moreover, immediately following this quoted passage, there is a key twist to the story, one which takes nearly the rest of the novel to unfold. It is a twist that some might claim deals with the futility of hope, the madness of rational exploration, or of how life can cheat death for at least a little while longer. In other words, this quoted passage begins an exploration of the problems, worries, and wild expectations of humans trapped in that most vile of prison camps, that of Life.

Without science we wouldn't have these rows of uprisen stelae. It (science) is a veil over open lips, it is the word unspoken. Even the damned are reverent at that altar. (p. 114).

Someday in our colleges Himmler will be studied. The last of the great chiliasts. The landscapes of his interior world will elicit only an agreeable amount of terror. (Of Beauty, therefore.) Consider that the transcripts of the atrocity trials are already, these many years, offered for our entertainment in theaters. Beauty is nothing but the beginning... (p. 115)
The sin of death spares the sons of David. Hope is a swampland under a glouting sky. A prehistoric wilderness of island-nights. Hinges of cell-mud. Hell grows, joylessly, out of the testes of the dying. (Whispers: Oh, the lecherous thickets of death!) O Mephistopheles!

The death camps: fat, swollen, blossoming exorbitantly. Roots sucking at the ground made ready by the Almighty's plan. (Only He can.)

God? God is our F--er; and here between the floating flowers, mental organizational principles. These, birds of a strange nature, existing between behavior and reward. Standing in the muck, looking at something wrong, eyes slightly askew, as in an old woodcut.

"You are punished with stalks of bamboo," he says. You do as you're told...He felt his heart knocking against the god that had organized this camp. Ecclesiastes. (pp. 116-117)

These quoted passages form the central philosophical angle of Disch's novel. Science and its "veil." Atrocity as entertainment. The evocation of Mephistopheles, as if we were the willing Fausts who failed to consider the consequences of accepting Satan's bargain. The reference to the death camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, and countless others. God as being the organizing "principle" behind all of this. When taken as a whole, these are rather damning conclusions that Louis/Disch has made about human existence, one in which perhaps it is best to laugh off as a joke, rather than weep over. The shortest German Witz, indeed.

And so it goes to the conclusion, with Louis confronting several troubling facets of human societal goals and aspirations, each tying back into the theme of human Life/existence being but one more, mass form of the concentration/death camps. There is a plot twist at the end that solidifies this sense of sardonic hopelessness, one that Disch accomplished fairly well in retrospect, although I recall on my first reading of the novel believing was a sort of a weak cop-out. As a thematic exploration of fractured humanity beset with lusts and fears, Camp Concentration was a brilliant read, albeit a bit too disjointed in places, particularly in the first, slower-going half of the novel. But perhaps others have things to add to this?

October Blogger Book Club discussion: Thomas Disch, Camp Concentration

During this work week (October 13-17), there will be several bloggers posting their thoughts regarding Thomas Disch's 1968 novel, Camp Concentration. As I am made aware of these reviews, I'm going to edit this post, which will serve as a link depot for these reviews. Others participating in this first Blogger Book Club discussion are encouraged to click on these links and leave comments/questions for the person who reviewed the book. If you are reading this and didn't know about the Disch discussion but have questions/comments to make, feel free to make them here or on the others' blogs. My review (along with my planned comments on the others' blogs) will be up sometime in the late morning/early afternoon CDT.

Participating Blogs:

Adventures in Reading

The Reading Gaol

OF Blog of the Fallen

Fantasy Cafe

Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews

Post-Weird Thoughts

Jumpdrives and Cantrips

Related Link:

Instant Fanzine (2005)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Breaks are so cool!

I am off for the next week, so I should be able to get the following done:

  • Write the review for Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration, as the Blogger Book Club discussion of it begins Monday.
  • Review Disch's posthumous short story collection, The Wall of America, either tomorrow or Tuesday.
  • Finish a certain review for publication elsewhere, now that I'll have more than an hour's free time ahead of me.
  • Write long-delayed reviews of Tobias Buckell's Sly Mongoose and Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone, both delayed for the same reason I gave above for the unnamed review.
  • Review Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels
  • Read about a dozen books or so and maybe write 1-2 more short reviews, time permitting.
  • Stir shit up, as is usual when I'm not working for a week...

I wonder how many of these I'll have to mark off as being "incomplete" - anyone want to venture to guess or to detail what you hope to do this week?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Die anderen sind unser unglück?

The recent shouts of "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" at recent McCain-Palin rallies worries me greatly, for several reasons. While one might presume that my slight alteration of the "Die Juden sind unser unglück" ("The Jews are our misfortune") slogan that appeared at the August 15, 1935 National Socialist-sponsored rally in Berlin is but Godwin's Law on steroids, I would like to posit that instead of stooping to the facile comparison of certain McCain supporters to Nazis/Fascists, that perhaps one ought to delve deeper into the sources of societal unrest and unease.

The vast majority of German citizens who voted National Socialist in the 1930 and 1932 (twice) did not vote for pograms, Kristalnacht, or the Final Solution. Neither are the vast majority of McCain-Palin supporters pushing for the assassination of Barack Obama or (if Obama wins) for armed rebellion/insurrection. However, there is a common thread that underlies each group, that of uncertainty and the desire for something to be made certain for them.

Whereas the Jewish people existed in a sort of quasi-boogeyman status for several centuries in much of Europe (Christ killers "naturally" leading to periodic accusations that Jews sacrified children in their diabolical plots to subvert Christianity, among other such ridiculous beliefs of the medieval to early modern eras) before being transformed into revolutionary would-be world controls of the Protocals of the Elders of Zion, Ostara, and Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century, for much of the last two decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, American liberalism has been painted as being just as immoral, just as diabolical, just as much of a threat to "traditional moral values." But while most people in previous eras and locales rejected such intolerant, hate-filled speech (just as most do today), there always were (and still are) a few who are suspectible to such accusations. Why hasn't much yet been said in the daily news programs about such people and their suspectibilities?

Perhaps because it would open up a huge, messy can of worms. Prejudice of any stripe is very difficult to overcome. Many members of my own family struggle with the notion of voting for a biracial man for President. Often I have heard my family say things such as "Is he really a Christian? I heard he was a Muslim..." or "I don't know if he won't be assassinated by someone soon, so how can I support him?" I suspect that's just a cover for the worries of what would change if/when someone who has some African ancestry were to be voted President of the United States.

Even more than that is the search for certainty in uncertain times. Usually either people unify despite their sometimes-profound social/political differences (as the U.S. largely did during the Great Depression and World War II) or they begin to search for scapegoats (as a great many Germans did in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles). Are the people today wanting to work toward solutions or towards finding persons/groups to blame? I suspect it's more of a case of lip-service to the former while the latter becomes increasingly an attractive opiate that would calm the unsettled nerves.

Shall be interesting to see what the next few weeks will bring. It is worrisome in the meanwhile to hear of open discussion on several cable news outlets about things such as "the Bradley Effect" or the casting of blame for the global economic crisis on liberals/leftists, minority groups, gays (don't ask how, just know some believe this somehow), and occasionally conservatives, not to mention the passing nod to China, India, Mexico, all illegal/undocumented immigrants, and perhaps a stray speculator somewhere. I am just left feeling dizzy when I contemplate the possible ramifications of this; this virulent, vitriolic anger that is spilling out at Republican rallies (and to a lesser extent and without the personal namecalling at the Democratic ones) just scares and sickens me in a way that I haven't felt ever since I studied late Weimar/early Nazi era German cultural/religious history over a decade ago. Worried, scared people often do some irrational things and that is what I'm afraid will be the fruit of the generation of "culture wars" in my homeland. Anyone else feel anything like this?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Five years ago

Sometimes, bloggers can get a bit too caught up "in the moment," spending so much time trying to find "what's next," sometimes with the effect of one's "hot" reads being akin to a disposable camera, used and then discarded. A year before I began the OF Blog, I remember being introduced to a few books/authors and pimping them on wotmania's Other Fantasy section. In no particular order...

1. Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen - I had seen Link's name mentioned here and there (maybe on Fantastic Metropolis back when that site was active?) and I decided I had to own it. I bought it a few months when I still lived in south Florida, but it wasn't until a month or two after I moved back to Tennessee that I finally got around to reading it. I wish I hadn't waited so long, since Link's work is that damn good. Even though it contains many reprints, I'm going to buy her latest collection next week because stories like "The Specialist's Hat" are just superb.

2. Jeff VanderMeer, City of Saints and Madmen - I bought this book in the old $40 hardcover Prime PoD edition at the urging of a friend of mine at wotmania, Keith. Like the Link, it took me a few months before I got around to reading it (I was working full time at a depressing teaching position in West Palm Beach, and reading was not on my mind then), but it pushed the right buttons for me.

3. China Miéville, The Tain - Although I was introduced to him (again at the urging of Keith) in late 2002, it wasn't until I bought this limited-edition novella that I began to appreciate fully Miéville's talents as a writer. I still think this is his best writing and despite my copy now being worth hundreds of dollars and having the same story in two other collections, no way in hell am I selling it.

4. Jeffrey Ford, The Physiognomy; Memoranda; The Beyond - I'll say more on these books next week (hopefully), but they were my gateway to Ford and for that, I am forever grateful for having heard of them back then.

5. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow; Children of God - I found Emilio Sandoz's conflicted character and his tortured story to be one of the more moving reads of that year (and in recent years). I have yet to re-read it, probably because it takes a while to steel oneself for processing that sort of story again.

6. Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life - I had become aware of Chiang after his award-winning story, "Hell is the Absence of God" was made available as a free e-book read in the summer of 2003. I quickly bought his collection and I still think it is one of the strongest overall collections I have ever read.

7. Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves - This is one of the few "horror" novels that spooked me out and made me feel claustrophobic inside my own home when I read it in 2003. Trying to decide when I'm going to dare re-read it.

There are other good-to-great reads from that year, but they were by authors I had begun to read in previous years. Not too bad for a year, huh? It'll be curious to see which 2008 discoveries I'll remember as fondly in 2013. Any of you have books from that time period that you still recall fondly?

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio wins Nobel Prize for Literature

OK, this was a bit surprising to me. Not that I would have been familiar with a great many of those who could have been chosen, but rather that I can't recall ever hearing of Le Clézio before now. While I would have preferred that Milan Kundera, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, or Bob Dylan to get it, I am not going to bemoan the Nobel Prize committee's choice, at least not yet.

Instead, I am curious as to which works of his I ought to explore reading. Anyone familiar with Le Clézio's writings have a favorite to recommend to me?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

October 7 Book Porn

All of these books are Amazon purchases. The first three are gorgeous tradeback reprints of Jeffrey Ford's The Well-Built City trilogy, with the other two being respectively one for my background reading for my World War I unit that I'm writing, as well as a Spanish-language book that I learned about after Dark Wolf mentioned him in passing the other day.

Left: Jeffrey Ford, The Physiognomy; Memoranda; The Beyond.

I loved these books when I read them in 2003-2004 (and again a couple of years ago), so I'm certain I'll be re-reading them in the near future. What do people think of the covers and how they are interconnected?

Left: Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (This is the World War I history in the minds of many and I couldn't imagine doing background reading without having this, Modris Eksteins' The Rites of Spring, and J.M. Winter's The Experience of World War I forming the secondary source backdrop - with any luck, this will engage the vast majority of my students); Félix de Azúa, Historia de un idiota contada por él mismo (as I said above, I haven't heard of this author until Dark Wolf mentioned him, so this title intrigued me. Might read it during my Fall Break next week).

Bibliophile Stalker interview of me

Charles Tan conducted an interview with me a few weeks ago and he now has posted the finished work. For those curious to know more about me, just click this link.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Searching for discontinuities

Just thinking about cultural/social discontinuities now, those "moments" in which it seems even longue durée can't explain how X has now become Y. In particular, I've found myself thinking about the infamous "Rites of Spring" and the cultural history of that title by Modris Eksteins. I am set to immerse myself (for the first time since 1997, I ought to note) in a more "historical" frame of mind and I can't help but to wonder what sorts of books, historical and fiction alike, that might have something to say about these perceived historical discontinuities.

Can anyone think of novels or non-fiction books in which there is a sense, whether it be embedded in a fictional story or revealed in a historical (meta)narrative, of such drastic shifts of "moment"? Braudel comes to mind and perhaps I need to read more of his work (only have read excerpts in the past), but are there others that I'm overlooking?

2008 Premio Ignotus winners

I've been so busy with the preparations for my brother's wedding (he was married yesterday!) that I forgot to post the results for the 2008 Premio Ignotus Awards, announced the weekend before:

Ganadores de los Premios Ignotus 2007

  • Novela: Alejandro Magno y las Águilas de Roma, de Javier Negrete (Minotauro)

  • Novela Corta: Mundo al revés, de Ángel Padilla (Ediciones Parnaso)

  • Cuento: La apertura Slagar, de Santiago Eximeno y Alfredo Álamo (NGC 3660)

  • Antología: Premio UPC 2006, de VV. AA. (Ediciones B)

  • Libro de Ensayo: Fantástica Televisión, de Alfonso Merelo (Grupo AJEC)

  • Artículo: Hermeneútica relativista, de Gabriella Campbell (Hélice)

  • Ilustración: Cristales de fuego, de Felideus (Ediciones Parnaso)

  • Producción Audiovisual: REC, de Jaume Balagueró y Paco Plaza (film), de

  • Tebeo: La legión del espacio - Alfredo Álamo-Fedde - (Grupo AJEC)

  • Obra Poética: El árbol del dolor, de Gabriella Campbell y Víctor Miguel Gallardo Barragán (Ediciones Efímeras)

  • Revista: Hélice (Asociación Cultural Xatafi)

  • Novela Extranjera: La carretera, de Cormac McCarthy (Mondadori)

  • Cuento Extranjero: El monstruo de las galletas, de Vernor Vinge (Grupo AJEC)

  • Sitio Web: (NGC 3660 ) Pilar Barba

And now, again, this time in English for a couple of these:

Winners of the Ignotus Awards for 2007 works

Best Novel:
Javier Negrete, Alexander the Great and the Eagles of Rome

Foreign Novel: Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Great news on both fronts, as this is a Negrete novel I plan on ordering shortly, not to mention I've read McCarthy's book last year and thought it was stunning in its characterization and prose.
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