The OF Blog: January 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 25-31 Reads

Due to the ice/snow mix, I missed a couple days at work this week, thus giving me time to have my biggest reading week so far into this young year. For the first time this year, I will end the week (and month) averaging more than a book read a day. If I somehow manage to keep this pace (doubtful, depending on my mood/work), I will surpass last year's 385 books. This current batch ought to be intriguing to some, due to the wide mixture of styles:

23 Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction - This late 2008 book of SF criticism would have made my 2008 list for Best Non-Fiction if I had read it before now. Will review sometime later in the year, but I do recommend it for those who like things to consider about the SF genre.

24 Junot Díaz, Drown - Much as I loved Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, this 1997 collection is even more impressive in its power and range. Already it's one of my all-time favorite short fiction collections.

25 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy - One of the best religious apologias that I have read. Chesterton's prose is outstanding and I suspect even non-believers would find things of merit in what he has to offer.

26 Brian Evenson, The Wavering Knife (re-read) - First read this last spring, but this 2004 collection is outstanding. I'm currently in the middle of an interview with him and I suspect there'll be references to this collection (and others) in it by the time it is completed.

27 Felix Gilman, Thunderer (re-read) - This book made my 2008 Favorite Fictions list. A re-read only improved my opinion of this work.

28 Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman, 08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail - This graphic novel-formatted political summarization of the 2008 Presidential Campaign came out on the 27th and purportedly is the first book on the campaign cycle to come out. Crowley and Goldman do a good job balancing a look at the Obama, McCain, and (earlier) Clinton campaigns with perspectives that alternate between praising and criticizing each of the major candidates. The artwork was well-done and perhaps I'll figure out a way of working this into my lesson planning at the end of the school year.

29 Felix Gilman, Gears of the City - This sequel to Thunderer contains a darker, more mysterious plot and combined with more taut prose, it emerged in my opinion as the stronger work of the two.

30 Peter Brett, The Warded Man - I'll have more to say on this book very shortly in a formal review, but right now, it's going to get a mostly positive review. Some flaws, but not enough to overwhelm the story or the strong prose.

31 Brian Evenson, Altmann's Tongue - This first collection of Evenson's, released in 1994, caused him all sorts of grief from family and Church (he was later excommunicated from the Mormon church due in part to the reception of these often-violent stories). They also happen to be very, very good. More about this in the interview, I hope.

32 Roberto Bolaño, Amuleto - 1999 short novel set in Mexico continues the adventures of Arturo Belano (the author's alter ego) during the early 1970s. Beautiful prose, even if the plot isn't what exactly drives this story. Enjoyed it nonetheless. More on Bolaño this spring or summer.

33 Holly Phillips, The Engine's Child - Lush, beautiful prose. Characters not of the WASP mode. Intriguing, dark mystery. Strong, complex female lead character. The story I mostly liked, although I suspect there will be more written in that setting that will read to a reappraisal of this book. Good to very good, but not great as a result of my suspicions regarding a continuation of this story in the near future.

In Progress:

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Daniel Fox, Dragon in Chains

Future Plans:

Will Elliott, The Pilo Family Circus

David Moody, Hater

Roland Toper, The Tenant

January 21-31 Book Porn

Seven books this time, four of them bought and three being review copies sent to me. Interesting mix of the old and new here, as there are two debut authors and one making her debut as a novelist, to go along with four established novelists. Two short story collections, a short novel, and only two books that go past 400 pages. Interested to know more? Read on!

Left: Holly Phillips, The Engine's Child (I enjoyed her debut collection, In the Palace of Repose, so I plan on reading her debut novel sometime in the next month or so); Peter Beagle, We Never Talk About My Brother (this collection, coming out in March, will likely be read/reviewed around then. Looking forward to it); Roberto Bolaño, Amuleto (originally released in Spanish in 1999, this short novel so far, 25 pages in, seems to be on par for Bolaño's writing - direct and yet evocative at the same time).

Left: Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go (if I remember correctly, this was the book that Martin Lewis claimed was one of his best YA novels for 2008. I've only read the first couple of chapters so far, but it does seem to be worthy of consideration for genre awards for YA); Brian Evenson, Altmann's Tongue (just finished reading it about an hour ago. Damn good, unsettling story collection. This was Evenson's first book, published in 1994, and it certainly stirred up plenty of talk, not all of it positive. I'm currently in the middle of conducting an interview with Evenson and hopefully the final result will lead to people going out and reading his work).

Left: C.S. Friedman, Wings of Wrath (this is the second volume in her latest trilogy, and unfortunately, I haven't yet gotten around to buying the first. However, I will do that in the very near future, as her previous stories have been a joy to read); David Moody, Hater (expect to hear a lot of talk about this book in the near future, as it has an interesting history from going from a 2006 self-published book to the author, without the aid of an agent, selling the movie rights to Guillermo del Toro, J.A. Bayona, and Mark Johnson - all top-notch producers, before St. Martin's Press bought the US rights. I'll be reading it sometime in the next few weeks and if I like it as much as the premise intrigues me, I might even see about conducting an interview with Moody).

The wotmania Files: My 2007 April Fool's Post

I'll be also posting occasional posts, like this, that I think readers here would enjoy reading. These posts won't be on a set schedule, but hey, sometimes people need a laugh or something, right. Here's what I wrote for AFD in 2007:

Hugo Awards in Jeopardy Due to Low Voter Turnout

Due to the plummeting voter turnouts at recent WorldCons, there has been some speculation in the past week that this might end up being the final year for the Hugo Awards in their current format. With a reported nominator list of only just over 300 people out of the reported 5,000 who were registered for either the last WorldCon in L.A. or the upcoming one in Japan, many questions have been raised as to whether or not the Hugos were a viable symbol of international fandom as they may have once been.

When reached for comment, William Lexner reiterated that the WorldCon committees ought to have been more flexible about issues involving increasing at-the-gate participation and computerized voting. In response, Kevin Standlee, an apparent SMoF (Secret Master of Fandom) and past WorldCon (San Jose) committee member, rattled off about thirty different parliamentary procedural reasons why the present system had to be followed, despite recent anemic voting and active membership participation. (Edit: When I wrote this in 2007, I just used Kevin's name as someone I knew who worked with the WorldCons. He's actually quite involved in exploring ways of making the Hugos better, and in case any viewed my joke comment in the wrong way, my apologies. Same goes for others below.)

David Langford, of The Ansible, who has won Hugos for a record 20+ years running, reportedly said in his "Infinitely Improbable" section that he was quite relieved to hear of the possible demise of the Hugos, as that would save him the expense of flying from Great Britain every year to accept a trophy that looked like one of the most ridiculous phallic symbols to ever grace an award trophy.

And finally, the international George R.R. Martin fan club/social gathering, the Brotherhood without Banners (or BwB), was seen on their Westeros forum torn between being excited over the Hugos’ apparent demise, downtrodden that Martin’s upcoming A Dance with Dragons might not get the chance to finally win that long-coveted (for reasons quite nebulous to some) phallic Rocket Ship, or just gathering in some random city anyways and getting shitfaced and partying until they dropped.

More on this as I hear more.
April Fool’s of course, as no doubt the next entry will reveal *chuckle*

Terry Goodkind Reportedly Candidate for Nobel Prize for Literature

It is being reported on one of Goodkind’s “official sites” (leading one to question if there are any “unofficial” Goodkind sites) that Terry Goodkind is being rumored as being one of the apparent finalists for the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature.

Webmaster mystar has been noting that worldwide response to Goodkind’s 10th volume of his Sword of Truth series, Phantom, has pushed worldwide sales of Goodkind’s books to the amazing 100 million book sold mark. “It is a testimony to the manor in which Terry rights about the nobility of the human spirit (and of goats, of course!!!) that even those dam socialist Sweeds have to aknowlege what Terry has manged to acomplish with his works of art. As Terry has said all long, SoT is not a fantasy but insted a triumph of the nobility of the human spirit.”

Word of this was followed by lots of jubilant celebration over at the Goodkind is Our God website, where they were so overcome with joy that some even remembered how to spell Terry’s name correctly.

George R.R. Martin Announces Completion of A Dance with Dragons

After almost two hard years of labor, George R. R. Martin announces that he has finally completed the long-awaited fifth volume in his formerly-projected quadrilogy, A Dance with Dragons. “After working for seven years on how to best tell Tyrion’s story since the slaying of his father on the privy, I finally have figured out that the best way to complete ADwD is to write about the other characters that were left out of the last book, such as Jon and Dany, and instead devote my newly-retitled sixth book, One Day in the Life of Tyrion Lannister, to telling of Tyrion’s epic flight from King’s Landing to Braavos, with scads of scantily-clad courtesans and would-be assassins lurking along the way. I figure this would allow me to develop a spin-off series devoted to Tyrion (similar to my Dunk and Egg novellas) and garner me enough money to pay for more needed room renovations. Besides, who doesn’t want to read about a disfigured dwarf’s sexual adventures told against a backdrop of incest, murder, and betrayal?”

When word of this appeared on Westeros, initial responses were those of stunned silence, followed by riotous laughter. Forum mods Xray the Enforcer and Werthead were torn between laughing this off as an April Fool’s Day prank or downing as many shots of gin or any other liquor within reach in preparation for all of the bitching and moaning that would be certain to follow this. Or perhaps both, as who understands mods anyways?

Pat’s Hotlist reportedly on Harriet Klausner’s Hit List

Although most of us have been rather open about our disdain for Klausner’s infamously vacuous “reviews” on Amazon and her reported ability to read and to summarize from the blurbs of 4,000 books a year, it seems that Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, with its rather meteoric rise to prominence since January 2005, has led to poor Pat becoming Enemy #1 on Harriet’s Hit List.

She was recently heard complaining to DAW books about how Pat was the first to receive an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of Patrick Rothfuss’ just-released The Name of the Wind while she couldn’t get her copy until the day before the March 27th US release date. In a bitter aside to yet another bland, non-informative “review” on Amazon (of the latest Danielle Steele novel, I believe), she said something to the effect that Pat would be but the first of many to experience the “Wrath of Harriet.” She then proceeds to demonstrate her new-found vindictive side by giving Robert Newcomb’s latest novel 4 stars rather than her customary 5 star rating. Pat, on the other hand, was too busy offering contests to see who could win books from Steven Erikson, R. Scott Bakker, and William Shatner, while hinting at the possibility of snagging an interview with the legendary Danny Bonaduce and his upcoming fantasy debut novel, How I Shagged Beyonce.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The wotmania Files: Interview with Greg Ketter of Dreamhaven Books (1/10/2003)

As plans stand now, every Tuesday and Thursday for the next few months, I'll be reposting interviews that I and others conducted at wotmania from 2003-2006. This was my second interview and at the time, I had thought of interviewing those who worked more in the editing/selling part of the industry rather than authors, although this would soon change. The following interview was with Greg Ketter, owner of the large independent SF/F bookstore, Dreamhaven, in Minneapolis.


1) Many of our readers are aspiring fantasy/sci-fi writers. What tips would you give them for submitting a work that's more likely to be accepted?

I'm afraid that I don't accept any open submissions. Since I'm really a one-man publishing venture and only do perhaps one book a year, I limit my publications to authors whose work I'm very familiar with and whose sales potential I'm confident about. I really can't speak for other publishers since I don't know their requirements.

2) Locus Online featured an interview last week on the future of science fiction. In particular was a discussion of "science fantasy." What are your thoughts on this emergence of crossgenre fiction?

I don't think that "science fantasy" is particularly an "emerging" sub-genre. It's been around almost as long as science fiction. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote lots of it. We had Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, which was more fantasy than science fiction. Much of what is published is really science fantasy - a melding of hard science with some made up bits of magic. A great recent example is China Mieville's Perdido Street Station (highly recommended). It has a basic background of science where certain magical tropes are used in scientific settings. It's a big sprawling work and it works quite well. I haven't yet read the second in the same world, The Scar, but I'll get to it soon.

3) Some writers also aspire to be artists, and therefore have sketches or drawings of characters or locations in their work. Have you come across such, and if so, have you/do you consider integrating them into a prospective publication?

Once in a while a competent writer is also a competent artist. I imagine some good visuals along with a manuscript could help an editor get a bit more excited about a work. But, they had better be very good visuals or you risk turning the editor off to what might otherwise be a fine story. A good presentation package never hurts.

4) Do you have a particular POV that you gravitate towards? How about your co-workers?

"POV"? I'm not sure what this question means. If I understand it, I guess you could say I am (we are) fairly liberal in our attitudes and try to present various viewpoints. I try to carry extreme material because it usually represents a minority view and too often these groups do not have a voice. We fully support the First Amendment above all others; without it, there would be no other freedoms as far as I'm concerned. We support people's right to read what they like and try to fulfill those desires.

5) Roughly how many people will read a manuscript before it's decided that it's suitable to be published?

I really couldn't tell you. I know it varies from publisher to publisher.

6) How active of a reader are you outside of the slushpile? Do you keep up with what other publishers in the genre are putting out, or do you tend to read material from outside of the genre on your own time?

As I've said, I don't read slushpile - if I receive unsolicited work, I return it unread. I just don't have time to read them. I read quite a lot mostly within the SF/Fantasy field, also mysteries and film material.

7) Dreamhaven appears to wear many hats, from speciality press to collectible fantasy to being a featured partner in some of Neil Gaiman's works. How do you manage to balance out the various needs of these respective areas?

We do what we have to to survive. We're fortunate to be booksellers and publishers; it gives us a fairly unique perspective from both angles. We've learned the problems from both sides and have learned to deal with them with new vision.

8) There is a growing number of fantasy and sci-fi writers outside the English-speaking world. Are there any plans to publish any English-language translations of their works?

It's unlikely I'd ever come across one of them since I only read English and a very little bit of French so finding them would be difficult at best. We did try to publish some French language comics once but it just never worked out.

9) Are there any particular authors for which we here at Other Fantasy should be on the lookout?

China Mieville, R. A. Lafferty, John Sladek, Keith Roberts.

10) Our site has a large number of non-native English speakers, around 10% of the people who visit there. How do you get the word out regarding your authors to such a global audience? Is it more of a use of traditional marketing techniques, or have newer methods of communication with potential readers been developed?

The internet. In particular, Neil Gaiman has an international audience and they find us through our websites. We do attend conventions in Britain and Europe so we do find some customers that way. We have also advertised in a few European magazines but haven't done so in some time.

11) In what ways, if any, have fansites had an impact on your business?

Again, Neil Gaiman in particular has been a topic on fansites and they generally find us through word of mouth. DreamHaven has been a prescence on the web for nearly 8 years and we do have a good reputation so many people do find us. Go to a search engine like Google and type in Monster Magazines, Neil Gaiman, Science Fiction Booksellers and you'll see us in the top few sites mentioned. People do notice.

Greg Ketter
Owner, DreamHaven Books

Very interesting. If you are in search for a rare collectible item in sci-fi/fantasy, I would recommend trying to find things there, since Dreamhaven seems to be loaded with rare items. As I've said in reply, thanks again must go to Mr. Ketter for being so gracious as to reply to our request in such a timely fashion.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I wonder if this has occurred to others as well

I'm currently about halfway into Felix Gilman's second novel, Gears of the City, and I see he has named a character Potocki. I immediately thought of the 18th century Polish author Jan Potocki who wrote The Manuscript Found in Saragossa (by the way, do go out and grab a copy of it, as it is quite good). I wonder what other famous authors/names others have discovered while reading a novel.

Old poll results, new poll up

Recently, I ran the following poll:

Which 2008 books do you think are most likely to make the Nebula/Hugo/World Fantasy shortlists? (multiple choices allowed)

Ursula Le Guin, Lavinia
32 (46%)
Jeffrey Ford, The Shadow Year
8 (11%)
Kay Kenyon, A World Too Near
2 (2%)
Joe Abercrombie, Last Argument of Kings
22 (31%)
Lou Anders (ed.), Fast Forward 2
5 (7%)
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), The New Weird
17 (24%)
Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels
6 (8%)
Cory Doctorow, Little Brother
26 (37%)
Neal Stephenson, Anathem
42 (60%)
Thomas Disch, The Wall of America
5 (7%)
Ellen Datlow (ed.), The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
3 (4%)
Gene Wolfe, An Evil Guest
16 (23%)
Other/None of the Above
8 (11%)

Now I have a new poll up, this time on a book to review next weekend. Curious to see what people will choose there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

MRI results

Received a call back from the orthopedic surgeon an hour ago. MRI results were much better than had been anticipated. Turns out that my left knee has the exact same problem as my right (malformed patella that is much "looser" than it should be) and that with extensive physical therapy, I should be able to avoid surgery, as there isn't any significant meniscus damage.

So yeah, that means I'll be doing some grueling exercises (about damn time!) and hopefully that, with the resultant weight loss, will have my knee feeling much, much better by the summertime.

The wotmania Files: Interview with Gavin Grant (1/7/2003)

Since I would like to preserve the interviews that I and others did at wotmania (or rather, the pre-2006 ones, as those through the present have been crossposted here or originated with here), about 1-2 times a week, I'm going to be reposting those links here, with little commentaries. The first one, with Gavin Grant, author/reviewer/publisher of Small Beer Press, was my first interview and I think it is obvious just how much I've developed as an interviewer since then. Again, many thanks to Gavin for agreeing back then to do this interview:


here are some answers:


1) Many of our readers are aspiring fantasy/sci-fi writers. What tips would you give them for submitting a work that's more likely to be accepted?

Start with the basics, make sure your manuscript is formatted correctly (double spaced, sans serif font such as Courier, name, title and page number at the top of each page, one inch margins all round, only printed on one side of the page). Include a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) and read the guidelines for the magazine or publisher you're interested in. If they only publish fantasy, don't send them horror, etc., etc. Other than that, write, rewrite, and rewrite, and don't worry too much if your stories keep coming back.

2) What trends have you noticed developing in today's sci-fi/fantasy?

Maybe it's because we publish work that crosses borders, but we get more and more stories that mix things up. Traditional storytelling is getting turned on their heads and old genres are getting a shake-up. Space opera is undergoing a renaissance, which is unexpected, and fantasy has become less obvious -- less quest based, more on how the fantastic might touch everyday life.

3) Some writers also aspire to be artists, and therefore have sketches or drawings of characters or locations in their work. Have you come across such, and if so, have you/do you consider integrating them into a prospective publication?

That's a hard one. Some people are talented in many areas and their art might complement their writing, but that may be unusual. We want to put out books that look as good as we can make them, and that usually involves using experienced artists. How did they become experienced? By studying, training, and/or working their way up. You, the writer/artist can do the same, but it may take a long time. The best thing is probably to send just the book or story and then ask about the illustrations later. Unless it's a comic!

4) Do you have a particular POV that you gravitate towards? How about your co-workers?

No. Except for a slight bias against stories written about characters who seem to exist alone in the world, no family, no friends, etc.

5) Roughly how many people will read a manuscript before it's decided that it's suitable to be published?

For the zine, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, I will read it myself, but for any other Small Beer Press project (book or chapbook) it will be me and my wife and partner, Kelly Link.

6) How active of a reader are you outside of the slushpile? Do you keep up with what other publishers in the genre are putting out, or do you tend to read material from outside of the genre on your own time?

I review books and do interviews of genre and nongenre authors, so I tend to read a wide variety of books. I also read a lot of zines, most of which are nongenre, because I love the variety of writing and creativity in them. Probably like most people, I wish I had more time to read, but the reviewing at least tends to keep me up to date in the field.

7) From what I've seen, Small Beer Press seems to be focusing more on collected works of short fiction. What advantages do shorter works of fiction have over the multi-volume series that seem to dominant in mainstream fantasy today?

In short stories writers can lean slightly more heavily on sleight of hand. In a novel -- or series of novels -- the worldbuilding has to be solid. If Quork the Magnificent is dead in Book Three, he'd better not go rampaging around in Book ten (unless it's a prequel, of course!).

Sales-wise collections tend not to be as big as novels, and yet they can sometimes be easier to read. They can be read on the go, picked up and put down, read backwards and forwards. We are concentrating on short story collections in the hope that more attention will be given to them in

8) There is a growing number of fantasy and sci-fi writers outside the English-speaking world. Are there any plans to publish any English-language translations of their works?

In July 2003 we will publish Kalpa Imperial by Argentinian author Angelica Gorodischer translated into English by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is a great book, a history of an imaginary empire and the translation, as you might imagine, is fantastic. We are very lucky to be publishing it. I can't wait until it's out and other people get to read it.

I'm originally from Scotland, so I am well aware of the many books that come out there and not here, and that makes me very curious about all the books we don't know about because they are published in other languages.

9) Are there any particular authors for which we here at Other Fantasy should be on the lookout?

Well, that is a huge question! Everyone we've published, of course: Carol Emshwiller, an octogenarian who is unstoppable at the moment; Ray Vukcevich who can do in 1,000 words what it takes most writers a book to accomplish; James Sallis, who writes odd fantasy and wonderful mysteries; Jeffrey Ford whose collection The Fantasy Writer's Assistant is a must-have; Karen Joy Fowler, her short fiction is terrifyingly strong; I still like Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, 20 years and 25+ books later; Patrick O'Leary whose novels are so good and so smart; Molly Gloss.... I could go on and on
(and have been known to!).

10) Our site has a large number of non-native English speakers, around 10% of the people who visit there. How do you get the word out regarding your authors to such a global audience? Is it more of a use of traditional marketing techniques, or have newer methods of communication with potential readers been developed?

That's a good question that we haven't touched on very much. Most of the books we've published have received some degree of interest from publishers abroad, and that is through the publishers watching reviews and keeping up with what's going on here. A couple of Kelly Link's stories have been translated into Japanese and she has some slated to be translated into Catalan and Hungarian. We're very open to translations --but we can't help with finding a publisher!

I like Google's translation page, but think it will be a while before we can rely on it!

Gavin Grant

Again, as I said in a reply to Mr. Grant, thanks greatly for doing this. If you are curious about many of the authors he named above, please visit Small Beer Press's site listed below. There are story excerpts provided free of charge for people to sample. I highly recommend people read these fascinating stories.

wotmania shutting its doors after almost 12 years

This was just announced about a half hour ago. Apparently the final posts will be in either August or September, to give time for a transitioning of materials. As a moderator/Administrator there for its Other Fantasy section (despite my decision last month to pretty much leave it), there are a few emotions tied in, some of them sad, but more of them of a cheerful, resigned note. However, there were a lot of things that I and others on the OF Admin Team had posted over the years, so expect to see in the coming days and weeks, a lot of activity as older, pre-Blog interviews are reposted here, along with the occasional review. There is a good chance that some of my colleagues will be posting here again, so for those who've grown bored with my reviews and commentaries, there may be others with whom you can grow bored as well!

So yeah, that's about it. Other than wotmania 1998-2009 RIP.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brian Evenson, Last Days

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.

- St. Paul, I Corinthians 7:29-31

The New Testament verses above were read today, the traditional Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in my parish church and they comprise part of the apocalyptic comments of St. Paul in reference to the "last days." Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed the period from June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009 to be a special jubilee in honor of the traditional 2000th anniversary of St. Paul's birth.

These religious celebrations are mentioned here because they inform and add layers of depth to Brian Evenson's latest book, Last Days. Throughout this book, itself an expansion upon 2003's The Brotherhood of Mutilation (which comprises the first part of this novel), references to St. Paul, to his visions of how to lead a holy life and especially to his views on the coming end to the world, abound. Today in this world, there are those who take the words of prophets and other religious men so literally that we see such a self-effacement taking place as to make outsiders wonder what could move them to inflict such pain and suffering upon themselves and upon others. Evenson addresses some of those questions in Last Days, but as it is with trying to grasp the mentalité of those whose very world-views are so alien to ours, there are times where the narrative falters and the reader is left confronted with the raw, visceral "otherness" that has fallen across adherents to such extreme manifestations of religious faith.

Last Days begins with detective Kline, himself a recent victim to a severing of his right hand, being approached by a secretive religious cult that revolves around the passage of Matthew 5:29-30 referring to if one's hand causes one to commit sin, that such a member ought to be severed and cast off in order for one to remain righteous. Instead of telling this in a direct fashion, Evenson uses the first paragraph not just to foreshadow this first contact, but also to go beyond it and to hint at the meanings embedded with the story:

It was only later that he realized the reason they had called him, but by then it was too late for the information to do him any good. At the time, all the two men had told him on the telephone was that they'd seen his picture in the paper, read about his infiltration and so-called heroism and how, even when faced with the man with the cleaver - or the "gentleman with the cleaver" as they chose to call him - he hadn't flinched, hadn't given a thing away. Was it true, they wanted to know, that he hadn't flinched? That he had simply watched the man raise the cleaver and bring it down, his hand suddenly becoming a separate, moribund creature?" (p. 1)
For the "they" involved, the Brotherhood of Mutilation, it wasn't as much Kline's loss of hand that interested them, but rather his unflinching resolve, his self-cauterization of the wound by use of a hotplate, more than his "heroics." But even more than that, Kline's description of the event, with his severed hand "suddenly becoming a separate, moribund creature," sets the tone for the rest of the story. Mutilation is not simply the loss of an integral part, but rather the separation of parts that may run counter to the needs and goals of an immortal soul. This I believe lies at the heart of the narrative, or at least at the heart of the Brotherhood of Mutilation.

After contact is made, Kline enters a world in which initiates are referred to by the number of body parts lost, or rather by the number of mutilations. Rank, such as it is, lies within the number of mutilations, not in the degree of those mutilations. Therefore, a person who has lost his genitals and two arms would count only as a Three, while someone who had four fingers on each hand removed would be an Eight and thus have precedence over the Three. In scenes such as this, Evenson displays a rather dark humor, but it also serves to highlight the religious component of this Brotherhood. How is order of rank determined? Which is the Right and True way to proceed in affairs? Is Holiness obtained by the degree to which one has made a sacrifice (in this case, the voluntary mutilations) or by the number of sacrifices offered?

Kline is taken to a Twelve, Borchert, who asks him to investigate the disappearance and likely murder of Aline, the founder of the Brotherhood who has, like Johnny in Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, lost as much as could be taken from his body and still live. However, being but a lowly One in the eyes of the cult, Kline finds himself stimied in his investigation of Aline's disappearance. In the scene quoted below, Kline and Borchert talk about a mysterious tape recording and how the cult's rules are caught up in it:

"I need to see them," said Kline.

"Them?" asked Borchert. "My dear Kline, who?"

"The people on the tape."

"Mr. Kline," said Borchert. "You're a one. You can hardly expect someone in the double digits - "

"I need to see them," said Kline.

"But Mr. Kline - "

"Something's wrong with the tape," said Kline. "With the questions. It doesn't all mesh."

Borchert looked at him, coolly. "I don't think that you should let the tape trouble you, Mr. Kline. Why don't you simply accept it for what it purports to be?"

"Because it's not what it is," said Kline. (p. 49)
This scene is important not simply because it reveals Borchert's unwillingness to bend the Brotherhood's rules for Kline to do his investigation, but that it gives a subtle hint as to what the remainder of Part One deals with, the investigation of Truth in a setting in which all such questions regarding it have been caught up in a hierarchial web of dismemberment sacrifice, with power being granted to those who separate themselves from various body parts. As the mystery of Aline's disappearance unfolds, the setting becomes ever more macabre, with cult members being depicted with severed genitals, guards with only one eye, and at the heart of it, Borchert and his quest to become ever more holy...and his attempt to have Kline ensnarled in this pattern. Part One ends with the mystery of Aline solved and a brutal conflict between Borchert and Kline that reenacts in part the beginning of this tale.

Part Two, "Last Days," written five years after "Brotherhood of Mutilation," struggles to maintain the intensity of the opening part. While "Brotherhood" concludes nicely, "Last Days" often sputters to maintain the force of the narrative. At times, I felt a sense of burnout in reading about Kline's second foray into the world of the cultists, as too much felt like a sequel to a big action/horror movie; the body counts rise, the gore splashes, and the blood flows, but often at the expense of the narrative tension developed in the original. I liked Evenson's use of the Pauls, a schismatic sect within the Brotherhood, to serve as a focus here. Not only is there now an even more explicit connection with the the Gospel passage about severing those body parts that cause one to do evil, but there is a greater sense of doom hovering within these pages. Kline no longer is seeking to solve a mystery involving another; the focus has shifted to him and his dealing with revelations surrounding the cult and his own role within it. Kline is at once a character within the tale and a representation of ideas surrounding that tale. The conversation below between Kline and a Paul reveals much:

"You're Paul," said Kline.

"Who isn't?" asked the Paul. "Even you might well be Paul, were there not another role prepared for you."

"Who says I want to accept it?" said Kline.

"Surely you don't believe, friend Kline, that we have any choice in the paths our lives take? God is the only one who controls our fate. We are predestined from the beginning. You believe in God, don't you?"

Kline didn't answer.

"No matter," said the Paul. It makes no difference whether you believe in God, since God, so I have been led to understand, believes in you. And we believe in you as well, friend Kline. At first we weren't sure you were the one, so we watched. But now we're sure. From the moment you chose to go with their messengers to the compound, your fate has ground itself inexorably forward."

"Who's we?"

"We," said the Paul, and spred his arms wide. "Paul."

"I'm not the one, Paul," said Kline. "Whatever it is, I'm not it."

"But you are," said the Paul.

Kline shook his head.

"You made us certain when, instead of being killed by them, you extricated yourself wielding a sword of destruction. Metaphorically, I mean. By a sword I mean a gun."

"Like hell," said Kline.

"Yes, said Paul. "Exactly like hell. You harrowed them." (pp. 110-111)

Here, Kline's role has shifted from an investigator, a seeker of truth, to a vengeful quasi-angel of death. Such a role inflicts damage upon the psyche and Kline's transformation reflects heavily upon this. However, the narrative suffers as well, as with Kline becoming more of an initiator of violence (even as he himself is being tracked down by the non-Pauline cultists) than a seeker of knowledge, the tension between what is understood and what is happening falters. But perhaps it is fitting that in an apocalyptic atmosphere, that the original meaning of apocalypse, "revealing," comes to the fore. While the Kline that closes Last Days differs greatly from the one that opened it, the journey, stumbling as it does in places as the violent acts threaten to numb the reader's reaction to the horrific developments, ultimately is worth the effort. The world in its present form has passed away and those who were not weeping are now left weeping as time runs out.

Publication Date: February 1, 2009 (US). Tradeback.

Publisher: Underland Press

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 18-24 Reads

A bit more time to read this week, as I was off work Monday and Tuesday, making for a nice four-day break devoted mostly to reading (and MRIs, but we'll focus on the reading here). Getting close to averaging a book a day again and I might reach it tomorrow, if I have the time, but here's this week's list, with a few thoughts provided:

13 Brian Evenson, Last Days (re-read) - I will be posting a review of this book sometime on Sunday. I have quite a few things to say, mostly positive, but with some criticisms as well in regards to the tone and pacing.

14 Michael Moorcock, Gloriana - This 1978 alt-history/court intrigue/etc. novel differs quite a bit in tone, characterization, and prose from the Elric stories, but I found myself liking this standalone book at least as much as those stories.

15 Jack Finney, Time and Again - This 1970 novel was an excellent, excellent read. While the time travelling aspects were not really explained (and for this type of story, explanation would have ruined the flow of the tale), the way Finney used 1880s photographs of New York to add a touch of versimilitude to this story made it easy for me to get caught up in it and to enjoy it greatly.

16 Ferenc Karinthy, Metropole - This 2008 translation of 1960s Hungarian work was outstanding in its fairly original way of portraying Hell as being a linguistic nightmare of people packed together, but with no way of communicating with words.

17 Juan José Millás, El Mundo - This 2007 Premio Planeta winning tale combines narrative with autobiographical information. Solid, but my attention wandered at times.

18 Roberto Bolaño, The Romantic Dogs - Bilingual collection of this late Chilean author's poetry. Raw, visceral, it contains many of the brutally honest elements that comprises much of his more well-known novels and short fiction.

19 Carlos Ruin Záfon, El príncipe de la niebla - Zafón's first novel from the mid-1990s, this YA mystery is fast-paced, with writing that doesn't get florid (a complaint some have had of his adult fiction, alas, but not me!) but instead serves to create a nice tension and a good payoff. Very good first effort, but the style is much different than what readers of his adult fiction alone might expect.

20 Neal Stephenson, Anathem - This massive secondary-world fiction involving monastic math/science people was very good in places, but I ultimately found the story to feel a bit hollow. Enjoyed it, but not as much as his previous story cycles.

21 F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (re-read from the 1990s) - For the first time in about a dozen years or so, I read Fitzgerald's 1920 first novel. Messy, digressive, and yet somehow, it has this energy about it. In his lifetime, it was his most well-regarded and commercially successful novel and while I like Tender is the Night the best of his stories, this one was well worth the re-read.

22 W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk - This 1903 social commentary piece foreshadows so much of what Du Bois and others would fight for during the rest of their lives. February 12 will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP and I will be using this book again (I used it in class on Friday) to highlight some of the historical developments in the African-American civil rights movement. Excellent, moving read for those such as myself who want to understand more the dynamics that were/are involved in racial/ethnic clashes.


Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Near-Future Reading Plans:

Felix Gilman, Thunderer (re-read); Gears of the City

Junot Díaz, Drown

Jo Graham, Hand of Isis

Why I Blog

In such a statement, the I becomes the focal point of not just the writer, but also any potential readers. But despite any attempts to scry the intents, purposes, motivations, and other elements of this I, ultimately such attempts are as futile as those of the scientists in 2001 trying to grasp the import of the black monolith. But yet that I still lurks there, developing meanings beyond the ken of even itself.

So when I title this article "Why I Blog," I have to be mindful not just of my own self, blind and deaf as I can be, but also to the blindness and deafness of that equally vague and possible nefarious Other reading this. But I shall soldier on and shift away from the philosophical to the more practical realm of discourse.

I created this blog almost five years ago and added four others to the posting list (most of whom haven't posted here since 2007). When I created it, I was a very active member of a fansite forum, wotmania and particularly its Other Fantasy section. I had been a member there since 2000, when I was 26, and by the time that I took this blog out of its part-time status in June 2007, I was almost 33 and things had changed a lot in the interim. Internet forums can at first glance be very interesting places, especially for moderate extroverts such as myself who look constantly for interactions and places to have discourses. However, the more one becomes a member in these entities, especially larger ones containing membership rolls in the tens of thousands or more, the focus shifts too much from things of interest to people of interest. Much as I love people (by my best guesstimations, I have had at least a 5 minute conversation with somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people over the course of my lifetime, if not double that in terms of having slightly briefer conversations with still tens of thousands of others), there comes a point when this "personal" part of forum interactions becomes a bit much. When "I am tired of so-and-so going on for the umpteenth time on this issue!" or "So s/he doesn't care for me because I don't always respond immediately to what s/he has to say? WTF?" becomes a large part of my reaction to dealing with people on forums after a period of time, I get rather burned out.

I recently decided almost two months ago that I would participate in forum talks on a strictly "book discussion" level. I took an indefinite hiatus from all Administrator duties at wotmania (in part because I was tired of dealing with people 10-18 years younger than me and in part because the direction of the discussions at the OF section were unappealing to me and I didn't feel that I should stand in the way of the flood of TV/Movie talk, even when such conversations tend to drown out substantive discussions), cut back on posting at other SF/F forums, and just thought I'd blog.

Because over the past 20 months or so that I've been active on this blog, I've discovered that the social dynamics are different. I can still get that quasi-social thing (even though I prefer face-to-face talks) while there is enough of a distance that discussions here (or discussions when I comment on others' blogs) stay more on the Object level than on the Personal one. When there's something contentious that happens, I've noticed that there isn't as much (still some, especially when I read certain, larger blogs with comment levels being in the hundreds compared to the 1-20 that respond here on average) personal animosity coming up. I love disagreements such as this one, where author Hal Duncan took a reaction of mine to the word "rape" being used in a forum discussion and turned it into a very thoughtful 4-part series on word conventions. Everything stays on the object/intellectual level and never devolves into the personal. I love that.

That's not to say that I don't like personal posts of any sort. I occasionally have blogged about things from my personal/professional life, even though I tend to value the boundaries I've set up between my job/personal life and blogging about books. I do enjoy reading about other bloggers' personal stories, even if I choose not to respond to most of them. But there are boundaries, and I don't care for the part of crossing over to where I'm expected to read others' thoughts on certain subjects, just as I wouldn't want to expect others to read my opinions. There is a certain necessary distance in blogging that I think makes for a healthy blogging environment. Good fences making for good neighbors and all that.

However, when I blog, I do it with the hope of a balancing act between stating my opinions to the four winds and sharing in a larger conversation. I refuse to Twitter, just like I don't care to use my MySpace or Facebook accounts for more than reading another's comments when I'm directly linked to those. There can be an insidious tyranny in devoting so much time to social matters. I don't blog to please others, although I certainly don't mind it if something I say sparks a reaction from another and a conversation develops. I don't need others to feel as though they have to keep up with my thoughts, reflections, and personal anecdotes; I certainly don't like anyone thinking that I'm obliged to do so for them. After all, I have upwards of 30 often-needy students a class period to fulfill my obligations to pay close, constant attention to others; I don't need to extend that to the sometimes nebulous online world, since I'd rather have some "me" space on occasion.

So why again do I blog? Because I'm me and I like some interaction with others, whether they be writers, publicists, editors, other reviewers, or just curious passers-by. Blogging seems to be a happy medium between the potentially-oppressive social networking and forum climates and the cold solitude of solitary reading/thinking. So yeah, that's pretty much it. Just something I wanted to address for a few weeks now, even if there have been a few posts, such as this one, that made me decide to just go ahead and blog my thoughts...for my own sake. And please, do read that link, as it has several good points about other facets of online communication than the ones I'm obliquely making here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

BSFA Award Finalists announced

I've been mostly out of the SF loop the past few days, so I missed this (along with a few other things that I'll do in the morning Saturday) announcement that Niall Harrison posted:

Best Novel

Flood by Stephen Baxter
The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Best Short Fiction

"Exhalation" by Ted Chiang (Eclipse 2)
"Crystal Nights" by Greg Egan (Interzone 215)
"Little Lost Robot" by Paul McAuley (Interzone 217)
"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" by M. Rickert (F&SF, Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Non-Fiction

"Physics for Amnesia" by John Clute (talk given at the Gresham College Symposium "Science Fiction as a Literary Genre")
Superheroes!: Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films by Roz Kaveney (I.B. Tauris)
What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon)
Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan)

Best Artwork

Cover of Subterfuge, ed. Ian Whates, by Andy Bigwood
Cover of Flood by Stephen Baxter, by Blacksheep
Cover of Swiftly by Adam Roberts, by Blacksheep
Cover of Murky Depths 4, by Vincent Chong
Cover of Interzone 218, by Warwick Fraser Coombe

I have read/partially read (and will finish reading in the near future) two of the Novel finalists (Stephenson, Harkaway), as well as Chiang's story (typical for Chiang, meaning it is great stuff), plus the Kincaid and Mendlesohn non-fiction books that I reviewed last summer (and which I talked about in my year-end wrapups as being excellent books for those more interested in SF criticism). Based on what I've heard of most of the others (and the point is, I have heard of virtually all these authors/stories before now), this finalist list isn't that bad. In fact, some of it I couldn't argue with (plus I think the Harkaway novel is one of those polarizing novels that hints, from what I've read so, that it isn't going to fit easily into a pre-fab cubbyhole) being there. Shall be interesting to read the reaction from other quarters this weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Apparently there's this new meme about the Guardian SFF list

I'll have another post for the non-genre fiction in a bit (since I suspect I'll have read around an equal number, perhaps more, from that list. But here's the SFF list, with the bold denoting the ones I've read:

1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)

3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)

4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)

5. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)

6. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)

7. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)

8. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)

9. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)

10. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)

11. Greg Bear: Darwin's Radio (1999)

12. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)

13. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)

14. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)

15. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)

16. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)

17. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)

18. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)

19. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)

20. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)

21. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)

22. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)

23. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)

24. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)

25. Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

26. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

27. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)

28. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)

29. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood's End (1953)

30. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

31. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)

32. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)

33. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)

34. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)

35. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)

36. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)

37. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

38. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)

39. Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum (1988)

40. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)

41. John Fowles: The Magus (1966)

42. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)

43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)

44. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)

45. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)

46. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)

47. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)

48. M John Harrison: Light (2002)

49. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)

50. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)

51. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)

52. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)

53. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)

54. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)

55. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)

56. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)

57. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

58. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)

59. PD James: The Children of Men (1992)

60. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)

61. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)

62. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)

63. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)

64. Stephen King: The Shining (1977)

65. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)

66. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)

67. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)

68. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)

69. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)

70. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)

71. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)

72. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)

73. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)

74. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)

75. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)

76. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)

77. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)

78. China Miéville: The Scar (2002)

79. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)

80. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)

81. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)

82. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)

83. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)

84. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)

85. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)

86. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)

87. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)

88. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)

89. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)

90. Flann O'Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)

91. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)

92. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)

93. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)

94. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)

95. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)

96. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)

97. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)

98. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

99. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)

100. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)

101. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)

102. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)

103. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)

104. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)

105. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)

106. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)

107. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)

108. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)

109. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)

110. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

111. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)

112. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)

113. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (1889)

114. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)

115. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)

116. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)

117. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)

118. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)

119. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)

120. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)

121. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)

122. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)

123. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)

124. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

55 out of 124. Not too shabby, I suppose, although this list is rather...odd. Time to check out the Top 1000.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A self-pitying book porn splurge

First, an update on this morning's post: I not only managed to have the consultation, but I also had an MRI exam done 5 hours later. The doctor thinks that a meniscus tear is the most likely culprit, but although his test of the knee indicated no ligament damage, the MRI was ordered just to make sure on the extent of the cartilage damage. I will know the results by Friday afternoon.

Since I had about 5 hours to waste, I spent the time shopping in a few stores in Nashville, including visits to a B&N and the local Davis-Kidd. 11 out of the 16 books pictured here are from that splurge. In addition, I received another 5 books in the mail either after yesterday's post or today. However, all but two these are purchases and one of those that isn't ought to be quite obvious by its spine.

Top: Roberto Bolaño, The Romantic Dogs (Bilingual poetry collection of the late, great Chilean/Spanish writer. While not as immediately eye-grabbing as his novels, these poems are viscerally raw and to the point. Recommended highly, as I read this while waiting for the MRI.); Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El principe de la niebla; Las luces de septiembre, El palacio de la medianoche (Before The Shadow of the Wind, Zafón made his mark as a YA author. Sometimes, some of those who look askance at YA lit and yet who praise Zafón's work might want to consider the origins of his writing career ;)); Alexandre Dumas, Georges (It's a Dumas story that I've yet to read. Enough said, right?); Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Martian Tales Trilogy (so I was in the mood for something a bit "campy" - sue me?).

Top: W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (This will be quite helpful in some of my lesson planning for early next week, plus I've wanted to read more about DuBois for years now); F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (Just buying a hardcover to replace the MMPB of one of my favorite Fitzgerald tales); Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.,The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (Just so I can keep up to date with the SF criticism models...); Dean Koontz, Frankenstein: Prodigal Son (Graphic novel story from the Dabel Brothers and Del Rey. Don't know anything else about it yet, to be honest, as it is a review copy sent to me).

Top: Ferenc Karinthy, Metropole (Purchased this recently after reading E.L. Fay praising it. Read it last night. It is worthy of such praise.); Junot Díaz, Drown (Been meaning to buy this for a while, ever since I read and loved his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in late 2007); Roland Topor, The Tenant (I've had my eye on this horror book for a while now, so when I saw it in the bookstore today, I just had to get it); G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (I wanted to read his apologia for Christianity and why he became a Catholic. Will read this one in the very near future, likely before Ash Wednesday begins on 2/25); Juan José Millás, El Mundo (This won the 2007 Premio Planeta and is a mixture of imaginative storytelling and a relation of the author's inspirations to write); Aaron Allston, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi (This is the first of a trilogy dealing with events after yet another series, the Legacy one, I think).

Not bad for a self-pitying buying splurge, huh? I'll forego photographing the clothes and other things I bought as well.

I'm off to see the doctor now

I've had this date virtually circled on my virtual calendar for 15 days now, but it's been almost 20 years in the making. I have a left knee that "locks" on occasion, particularly in cold weather, plus it's now started to hurt whenever I have to make lateral movement. I first hurt it in a soccer/football match when I was 15, back in early 1990, on a slide tackle and it was judged then to be a severely sprained ligament, but no MRIs were done (this is back before most of the innovations in it then and the cost perhaps was too much for my dad to care to pay). Started to get worse in college, as I first had to give up playing rec volleyball (on asphalt, mostly) then rec basketball (well, that was after I broke my right radial head in a fall my junior year), and then it's progressed.

Back in September, though, I aggravated it when I stepped wrong on a step in my then-classroom and the knee buckled a bit. I thought I heard a slight pop, but since my knee now pops a few times a week, I thought it'd just be momentary pain. But although the levels of pain have varied, it has been a near constant since then, so I gave in and in about 45 minutes, I'm leaving for a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon. I'll probably have to have another MRI scheduled in the next couple of weeks and then based on those results, I likely will have either arthroscopic or open knee surgery, depending on whether or not I have ligament tears in addition to the meniscus tear that I certainly have.

Either way, it'll be a relief to get something done on this knee, as limping like a crippled elderly man at the age of 34 isn't all that appealing to me right now...

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 12-19 Book Porn

Six books this time, with four being purchases and two being review copies sent to me. Half of these books are in Spanish and one is the most expensive purchase I've made to date for a fiction collection (around $75, although I do have several books that are now worth over $200 each that I had purchased several years before when they sold for $25-30 each). I have already read the two pictured above me and I have plans for reading virtually all or perhaps all of the others.

Left: Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia (while the story told in The Arrival was more powerful, this illustrated book of short stories was a very enjoyable, highly recommended read); Roberto Bolaño, Nocturno de Chile (available in English as By Night in Chile, this short novel will serve as an excellent introduction to Bolaño's fiction).

Left: Patricia Briggs, Bone Crossed (fourth volume in her Mercy Thompson novels, this is one that I would consider reading, if I didn't suspect that I would have to be familiar with the other three volumes first); Daniel Fox, Dragon in Chains (China-based fantasy tale, first in a trilogy. Will read this one in the next month or so).

Left: San Juan de la Cruz, Obra Completa, I (Collection of this 17th century Spanish mystics writings/poetry. Been meaning to read him ever since I heard his name appear in a Nick Cave song a few years ago); Lope de Vega, Obras Completas: Poesía, I: La Dragontea, Isidro, Fiestas de Denia, La hermosura de Angélica (this is the $75 book - minus the $30 shipping that I paid for it and the San Juan de la Cruz book - that I mentioned above. He is one of Spain's greatest poets and playwrights and I wanted this book in particular for his take on Angelica, one of the female characters that appears in Boiardo and Ariosto's Orlando poems).

Whitewashing diversity

Today marks the 23rd celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Almost 20 years after his assassination in Memphis in April 1968, MLK is perhaps the most well-known and influential American of the 20th century that never held a political office. His "I Have a Dream" speech often is cited as being one of the greatest and most inspirational speeches of American History. Forty years after his death, the American public elected a biracial senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, to be the 44th President of the United States. Tomorrow, he will be inaugurated with the largest crowd ever in the history of such events (estimates run as high as 3 million people attending, up from the approximately 500,000 people at the largest recorded inaugural celebration). These events have been held up as a symbol of the diversity that the United States claims to cherish, E pluribus unum and all that jazz.

But in many corners of American (and global) society, "diversity" is a threatening world. It signals the collapse of the belief that one's own worldview is THE worldview to have. It hints, when it doesn't shout from the mountaintop, that there needs to be a stronger discourse between elements of society that have a mutual distrust of each other. It can mean admitting that one's understanding of history is flawed at best, propagandistic at worst. Considering the ramifications of this can create a vertigo-like effect for so many. Is it no surprise then that so many would rather just pull the blanket over their heads and hope that such discussions would pass them by?

Recently, I made an observation about SF/Urban Fantasy covers. Instead of focusing on possible sexism (my personal thought was that it was a very mild form of sexism, one that both genders participate in on a regular basis, but that perhaps is a column for another time?), I instead noticed the ethnicity being portrayed. Almost without fail (and in those rare cases, the women portrayed were of Middle Eastern or Native American heritage), the images were of fair-skinned, usually very thin Caucasian young women.

Although I didn't say it in that post, I remembered an article by Pam Noles called "Shame" that articulates well so many of the issues surrounding literary (and cover art) representation of non-Caucasians (I refuse to say "minorities" here, since in large parts of the world, non-Latino whites are just as much of a minority as others, and the use of that term "minority" can carry negative connotations). Out of the many fine points that Noles makes in her essay, there is one part, a citation from an interview with Ursula Le Guin that sticks out:

"I think it is possible that a good many readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don't notice, maybe don't care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being 'colorblind.' Nobody else does."
Sometimes it is jarring to realize that one's perceptions of the world are not universally held ones. What is "fat" to one will be "voluptuous" to another. What is one person's kink will be another's vanilla. What we presume to be "true" often turns out to be but one more interpretative model of separating the appealing from the unappealing. It is that sense of diversity of opinion, that people differ not just in skin tone, facial features, or hair coarseness, but also in how they view the world, how best to achieve goals, how individuals and groups fit into these goals - all of this can make for a bewildering mix. It can lead to, as Le Guin notes, certain groups that dominate the means of cultural discourse (OK, I know this is appropriating elements of Marxism, but this schema is a good one for this topic) to the point where other possible viewpoints are so submerged as to become "invisible" in the sense of Ralph Ellison's protagonist in Invisible Man.

Others have been confronting this issue lately as well. This past week, there was a post started on the Westeros forum asking for suggestions for dark-skinned leads in SF/Fantasy works. The discussion that ensued was fascinating. In particular, there were a series of exchanges involving MattD (Matt Denault) that I think gets to the heart of the matter, so I will quote a bit of what he said inside that thread:

It can be nice for us hetero white boys as well...there's something to be said for fiction that lowers the wall of the other a bit, helps establish that while there may be aspects of being the other that we can never understand, there are also aspects that we can share. That doesn't mean that real differences between people and between beliefs/cultures/value systems don't exist, but I think that one reason that the other tends to be demonized is that it can be hard for many people to believe that humanity can have such a wide range of beliefs and values, and yet all still be equally human. But it is so.

Also, so much of the difficulty everyone has with race relations is getting a handle on race vs. culture vs. personal traits: how to be aware of the possibilities for difference while not making assumptions about any given individual. I have to think that encountering as many well-written portrayals of believably human non-white, hetero, male characters and their different experiences and concerns can't help but be a good thing in that regard.

I think science fiction badly needs to have a conversation with itself about diversity...because the implicit message in so much of this sort of science fiction is that diversity is bad, that everything would be better and we would all be morally superior if we could just all act the same [1] and treat race the same way we do haircuts. And this may be true; certainly diversity -- pluralism rather than toleration -- is difficult to maintain, puts strains and stresses on a society. But I wish there were more SF authors using the speculative possibilities of fiction to examine the pros and cons of diversity. What do we lose in these future worlds that have no need for the concept of the other: what are the implications for the ways societies grow and solve problems; what are the implications for the arts; how does that impact the inner life of people?

[1] That is, like us WASPs.

Matt's sentiments correlate very strongly to my own evolving opinion. Too often in the SF that I have read (perhaps a couple hundred of books over the years, so it is very possible that I might not have read the right sorts of SF), way too often are the issues surrounding diversity/Otherness presented from the dominant culture's point of view. While many SF authors over the years have taken great pains to avoid the "White Man's Burden" point of view dominating their stories of First Contact, all too often the notion of "discovery" that creeps into these tales is that these Others (perhaps analogues for Africans, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, etc. in US society today?) is that these "discovered" peoples (aliens) are ciphers, are often dangerous or at least potentially threatening, and that too often there isn't a concerted effort even to "understand" these alien groups.

With such attitudes underlying so many SF/Fantasy texts, is it any wonder that perhaps this is one of several reasons that many ethnic groups inside the US don't feel strongly drawn to genre fiction? Who are on the covers? When humans appear, they are almost always fair-skinned. Whose standards of beauty are depicted for women? With the buxom but lithe fair-skinned, straight-haired thin females that appear to dominate the urban fantasy covers, other beauty types seem to be excluded. While the argument can and has been made that much of the marketing decisions are based on who buys the books, I cannot help but to wonder if that is a bass ackwards approach. After all, similar arguments were made throughout the 20th century (and to a degree now in the 21st) that US ethnic minorities "were not ready" to own businesses, that there was no need to have ethnic-centered publications geared towards their tastes, since there wasn't a proven market for such. The success of African-American venues such as BET and Ebony surely proves the falseness of such claims, no?

Perhaps there will be a day when SF communities will embrace diversity among its potential readership more readily than it seems to cast notions of diversity as being either far-off in the future or using alien analogues to represent the unease that some (not all, but some) SF writers (and fans) feel towards the issue of diversity. Perhaps then diversity will not be a whitewashed term, but instead will be embraced for all of its glorious differences and challenges to one's presumptions regarding life.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Short bit involving this reader's biases in reading a text

Tomorrow sometime, I am going to be writing a review of Brian Evenson's Last Days. I also may be interviewing him in the near future (at least that is in the works), so I decided that I would read through some of the links on his website. I came across a French review of Last Days and although my French is very elementary (to say the least), I began reading it. Near the beginning, the reviewer talks about how the main character has lost his right hand before the story begins. It was then that I paused and I went, "What?"

Not that I disbelieved the reviewer; it is in the text (yes, I made sure). It was rather that I had somehow imagined that it was his left hand, due to all the talk of Kline, the main character, having to learn how to use his other hand. Although strictly speaking, I am ambidextrous in that I can write, throw, and kick with either hand, I have a marked preference for using my left hand for carrying objects and I seem to have transferred this preference of mine into a reading of how the fictional character was dealing with his injury. Fascinating how subtle and subconscious-like one's views of the world can creep into the interpretation of a text, isn't it?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How to destroy a (wannabe) writing career

Nick Mamatas has all the relevant links.

I have to admit it's rather funny to an extent, someone signing his name to one of those "I wish you would die" comments that typically are anonymous, then have the recipient, an editor who has some connections within the short fiction, GLBT fiction, and speculative fiction communities, search through his email and discover that the person submitting said request had written him a short time before, complaining about a negative comment (not even a formal review) that he had given that other person's story!

But I have to say, like so many others have said, it sounds as though this Kevin W. Reardon (aka Cole A. Adams) has thoroughly fucked up any chance of him getting a writing career established.  Couldn't have happened to a "better" person, no?

And that concludes the PSA/Laugh at the Dipshit post of the week.


That's the number of books (some of them duplicates, as many are galleys/ARCs and then final versions) that I currently have here in my possession. I knew it was somewhere around 1700, but I wasn't for sure how close it was to that. I suspect I'll reach 2000 either later this year or early next, depending on how many review copies I continue to receive and whether or not I spend as much money buying books (especially imports) this year.

What about you? What's the approximate size of your personal library?

January 11-17 Reads

I think for a while at least, I'll try to have a regular Saturday post updating my reading list for that week, with short commentaries in case I don't end up writing a review of that book soon afterward.

6 Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Juego del Ángel (re-read) - Posted a second review of it on Tuesday.

7 Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia - Although I am uncertain if I will attempt a review, I did enjoy this new book of his quite a bit. Thought the writing came close to the wonderful weirdness of the images, although the stories didn't quite have the same impact on me as did his The Arrival. Still a book I'd recommend for most to read.

8 James Morrow, Shambling Towards Hiroshima - I am thinking about writing a review of this quasi-alt-history short novel in the near future, but on the whole, I enjoyed it. I just need to think about it some more before I write anything more about it, however.

9 Richard Morgan, The Steel Remains - Just wrote a review of it today.

10 Zoran Živković, The Last Book (re-read) - This is one of those books that I might never write a proper review for, as it is difficult to sum up just why the prose and plot appealed to me, but suffice to say that this tale of mysterious deaths in a bookstore will appeal to those of us who love books being at the center of a deadly mystery.

11 Roberto Bolaño, Nocturno de Chile - I'll probably write a short commentary on this feverish stream of consciousness-like novel when I do a post on several of Bolaño's books sometime in the coming months. That last line was a killer one, but I'll leave it up to others to read it to discover why.

12 Angela Carter, Heroes & Villains - Short fantasy novel from the 1970s that I just finished. Combines elements of Western past and possible future (barbarians co-existing with certain technological developments) that revolves around an interesting relationship between two characters. Enjoyed it, but I think I need to re-read it before I could ever think of writing a proper review of it.

In Progress:

Michael Moorcock, Gloriana - 50 pages in and the writing is quite a bit different from his Elric novels. Intriguing, so far. Hope to finish it later tonight.

Brian Evenson, Last Days (re-read) - just begun. Want to have a review ready by Monday.

Future Plans for this Holiday Weekend:

Felix Gilman, Thunderer (re-read); Gears of the City

Jo Graham, Hand of Isis

Jack Finney, Time and Again

*wonders if Fábio will feel pressured now*....
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