The OF Blog: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Which is worse between these two covers?

When I saw the first cover from May 1985, I thought "No way they could be more stupid and sexist in a single cover art image."  Then I saw the August 1985 issue.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  Let's see what we have here:  a blue naked woman with a bow-like object covering her most private parts standing on a very fat bearded man with moobs.  As if that weren't bad enough, look at where the other woman is in this picture.

Sigh...with covers like this, no wonder American SF has often been relegated to the nerd bins of history.  Comments?

Monday, January 30, 2012

A hypothetical situation and a question

Let's say an American film maker, an Egyptian poet, a German philosopher, a Mande jeli, a Chinese monk, and a Bolivian singer were to gather in a room to collaborate on a story.  What story form do you think they would use and what might be some of the elements of that story?

Titles that are on my e-book readers awaiting to be read in full

For those rare few that care to know what I have on Kindle for iPad and iBooks to read, here's the list of titles unread or partially read that I've purchased:

John Langan, House of Windows

Kelly Barnhill, The Mostly True Story of Jack

Benjamin Percy, Refresh, Refresh:  Stories

David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?:  Translation and the Meaning of Everything

Ellen Willis, et al., Out of the Vinyl Deep: Ellen Willis on Rock Music

Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains

Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition:  Selected Essays and Reviews

Alberto Moravia, Boredom

Yasunari Kawabata, The Old Capital

Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher

Imre Kertesz, Fatelessness

Maureen McHugh, After the Apocalypse

Ivan Bunin, The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories

Sigrid Undset, Jenny

Wladyslaw Reymont, Komediantka

Henryk Sienkiewicz, With Fire and Sword

Paul Heyse, Das Mädchen von Treppi

Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Der Pilger Kamanita

José Echegaray, O Locura o Santidad

Giosuè Carducci, Odi Barbare

Selma Lagerlöf, Jerusalem

Selma Lagerlöf, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

Carlo Ginzburg, Threads and Traces:  True False Fictive

José Maria Eça de Queirós, A Relíquia

José Maria Eça de Queirós, Contos
Luiz Vaz de Camões, Os Lusiadas

Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme conquistata


Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstacy of Influence

Dubravka Ugrešić, Karaoke Culture

Aracelis Girmay, Kingdom Animalia

Teju Cole, Open City

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

Grazia Deledda, Canne al vento

Isak Dinesan, Seven Gothic Tales

Isak Dinesan, Out of Africa

Jacinto Benavente, Los intereses creados

Vera Nazarian, Lords of Rainbow

Henrik Pontoppidan, The Apothecary's Daughters

Plenty of good reading ahead for me in addition to several print editions.  Which ones have you read/want to read and what did you think of them/want to know more about?

A look at the aborted Best American Fantasy 4 shortlist and where these authors are today (Part I)

It was around 18 months ago that the decision was made to put the Best American Fantasy series on hiatus.  I was the new series editor at the time and I had just compiled a list of 66 print (and a couple of online) works (Alan Swirsky I believe handled all but a handful of the online submissions)  that I thought were worthy of the guest editor Minister Faust's consideration for the final list of 20-25 titles.  Glancing over that list, I found that there were several emerging voices to go with the more established writers and I thought that it might be a good idea to make a post listing these authors and recent publications, in case a few want to check out their works.  Order is based on the listing I did in August 2010, which was by order of story read:

1.  Leah Bobet.  Her debut novel, Above, comes out on April 1, 2012.  I see she has a blurb from Emma Donoghue, whose Room I thought was an excellent novel.  Pre-ordered this.

2.  Kelly Barnhill.  She has released a few children's/YA novels (the latest being 2011's Mostly True Story of Jack, which was an Amazon Best of Month for August 2011).  Just purchased the e-book edition, as I am kicking myself for overlooking this when it was released.

3.  Peter Beagle.  Beagle has written several classic novels and short stories.  His latest collection, Sleight of Hand (2011), is a must-read for those who either haven't read his recent output or want to discover a new author.

4.  John Langan.  Langan has twice been nominated for the International Horror Guild Award for short fiction.  I thought his debut collection Mr. Gaunt & Other Uneasy Encounters was excellent.  Just purchased his 2010 debut novel, House of Windows, as an e-book.

5.  Ander Monson.  Monson is an established essayist, poet, and occasional fiction writer.  His latest work, the July 2010 poetry collection, The Available World, looks promising (but I'm a poetry lover at heart).

6.  Antonia Clark.  No readily-found collections or books.

7.  Robert Mayette.  He has appeared in a few magazines, but no collections or books.

8.  Rachel Swirsky.  Swirsky has been nominated for the World Fantasy, Hugo, and Nebula awards in the past two years, winning the 2010 Nebula Award for "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window."  Her stories appear regularly on and they have appeared in several anthologies.  Her debut collection, Through the Drowsy Dark, was released by Aqueduct Press in 2010, which I recommend as a starting place before reading her excellent new pieces.

9.  N.K. Jemisin.  Jemisin's works, both short fiction and her novels alike, have been nominated for the major SF/F awards over the past two years.  Her upcoming novel, The Killing Moon, comes out in May 2012.

10.  Eric Schaller.  Schaller is both an illustrator and a writer.  His stories have appeared in several magazines, but I didn't find any collections or novels that had been released.

11.  Christian Moody.  Moody appeared in Best American Fantasy 2 and in other anthologies, but no separate collection was found during a search.

12.  Julee Newberger.  No collections or novels were found.

13.  Matt Bell.  Bell has helped edit at Dzanc Books, appeared in Best American Fantasy 2, and his 2010 collection, How They Were Found, was reviewed here back in late 2010.

14.  Deborah Schwartz.  No information was found as to any collections or novels.

15.  Fred McGavran.  See the comments to this post for what he has had published.  Looks interesting.

16.  Benjamin Percy.  Percy released both a novel and his second collection, Refresh, Refresh, in late 2010. 

17.  Aimee Bender.  Bender has written several collections of fiction and her latest novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, was released in 2010.

18.  Brian Beglin.  No information found in regards to collections or novels.

19.  Saladin Ahmed.  Ahmed has been a finalist for the Campbell and Nebula Awards and his debut novel, The Throne of the Crescent Moon (which I'm currently reading and will be reviewing shortly) comes out in a week in the US and I think later in the UK.

20.  Catherynne M. Valente.  Valente has had several award-winning and nominated short fiction and novels released in the past couple of years.  Her latest novel, The Folded World (November 2011), I would highly recommend to those who are even remotely familiar with the Prester John myth.

21.  Michael Blumlein.  Blumstein was nominated in years past for the World Fantasy Award and the Bram Stoker award, but he hasn't had any new collections or novels released since 2005.

22.  Eugene Mirabelli.  Mirabelli has been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Nebula Award for his fiction and according to his website, he has a new novel, Rento, the Painter, coming out later in 2012.

23.  Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig.  Ya-Chu Cowhig released a drama, Lidless, in late 2010.

24.  Jenny Boully.  Boully's latest novel, not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them, was released in June 2011.  Just ordered a copy (not on Amazon)

25.  Joe Celizic.  Celizic has appeared in several anthologies, but no separate collections or novels.

26.  Christopher Boucher.  Boucher's debut novel, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, was released in August 2011.  Tempting to add that to the other purchases I've made.

27.  Deirdra McAfee.  McAfree has had several other stories published, but no separate collection or novel.

28.  Amit Majmudar.  Majmudar has released at least one poetry collection and a debut novel, Partitions (June 2011), the latter of which I read and enjoyed last year.

29.  Will Kaufman.  Could not find any definitive news on any collections or novels he may have had released since 2010.

30.  Joan Connor.  Connor's most recent collection, How to Stop Loving Someone, won the 2010 Leapfrog Fiction Contest and was published in book form in September 2011.

31.  L. Annette Binder.  Binder's debut collection, Rise, comes out later this year.  She is a previous Pushcart Prize winner.

Since this is taking longer than I had expected, I'll do the second half in 2-3 days.  So far, it's been pleasant to discover all of the accolades and awards several of these writers have enjoyed.  Hopefully, this will inspire some of you to investigate their works further and perhaps purchase/read a few.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Interesting article on racism and sexism found in Tolkien's works

Generally I don't say much about the racist, sexist, and classist attitudes found in much of J.R.R. Tolkien's fictions, as I would think by now that it should be apparent to 21st century readers, but Requires Only That You Hate (one of my new favorites to read because her takes on social/cultural issues in genre fiction and video gaming often makes me reassess my own views) has written a piece on those odious elements in Tolkien's work that is well worth reading.  In particular, her comments on Tolkien's analogy of his dwarves having "Semitic" qualities to their language and their wanderings is very well-argued.

Although I don't mind people leaving comments here, I think it'd be best to leave comments at her blog.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Which is the more significant book?

As the title says, which is the more significant work?  Why did you choose that work?

Friday, January 27, 2012

A couple of Friday morning links

Black Gate article on authors fading due to age.

Beyond the possible attempt to bait fans of George R.R. Martin, I found this article to be very flawed.  One could argue that in the case of authors who write primarily multi-volume epic fantasies is that after a stage, it is increasingly difficult to balance creativity (after all, the main exposition occurs early in such tales) and continuity.  And when one goes outside that narrow field, the premise becomes even more ridiculous.  After all, I'm typing this with a copy of Umberto Eco's Confessions of a Young Novelist, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and several of Jorge Luis Borges' collections on shelves around me.

Worst part about articles such as this is that they show the provincialism that seems to infect so many bloggers who want to sound as though they are making a profound point.  Rather than even entertaining the possibility that it might be fossilized narratives and nearly-as-ancient "fan" expectations, simple, flawed arguments such as this piece are written.

Requires Only That You Hate takes on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

Nothing really to say but those quotes really are damning, aren't they?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

1980s SF Magazine Cover Art, Part I

Over the next few days/weeks, I'm going to be posting images of old SF magazines that my grandmother saved before her death back in November. I'm trying my best to remove the subscription labels, but remnants will appear in the photos. Some of these images are truly WTF? quality. Enjoy.

What could go better than racist and sexist cover art?  Ironic considering who appears in each issue.

Dinosaur SF...WTW or WTF?

More weird images.  Looks like dragons have a soft, downy side.

Run, Forrest, Run!  Those floating orbs are after you!

Assassin's Creed:  Africa?

Space-granny tells her grandson:  "This is what you get when you're out in the sun too long without proper hydration."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A preview of old SF magazine cover art and two 80s-era covers

Just a few more items that I inherited (I have a few dozen of the various SF magazines she subscribed to over the 1960s-1980s that I'll post in the coming days, once I remove the labels the best I can), but I have to say that this Asimov's cover is very, very disturbing.  I wonder why...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Some people seem to think that I hate epic/heroic fantasies...

Rarely does a month go by that somewhere, whether it be on this blog, on a few forums that I frequent, or even via email that I receive reader queries/responses wondering why I don't seem to like epic (or heroic) fantasies as much as they or the next person do.

It is a fair question and it has been on my mind lately, but when some inquisitive soul, who hails from the place named "abandoned fields" in the local Apalachee language, decided to mail me the response below, well I had to say something.

Dear near-the-sea fungi lover, I really don't write most of the reviews that you see.  As I said two years ago, I leave most of the review writing (and all of the epic/heroic fantasy reviews) to my highly-trained Serbian reading squirrels.  They were a bit busy reading Eric Basso's poetry to respond in full, but they did allow for representations of them to pose with a message for this reader:

Hope this clears up any confusion.  The squirrels, although not bear-friendly, do enjoy weirdness and they hope that others will go rabid and become one with the squirrels...even if it means not loving every single epic/heroic fantasy out there.

Shitting Your Bed: A Snarky Look at the Incestuousness of "Book Blogger" and PR/Authors

Although I have operated this book for nearly eight years, I have never considered myself to be a "book blogger," as what I do revolves more around discussing what interests myself much more than trying to promote anything that may pejoratively be labeled "the new shiny."  There is something liberating to be said for covering dead tree works written by dead people in a variety of languages.  I don't have to worry about pleasing people (pissing them off is a worry of a different sort, one that I only occasionally have some vague inkling of remorse).  I am, in short, that sort of literary asshole that makes occasional assholish statements because sometimes this world isn't full of cotton candy and flying unicorns that fart rainbows. 

So it goes with the writing of book commentaries online, often for an honorarium or gratis.  Some, like myself, view this as a way of writing commentaries that are incisive and might mean something to readers besides those who choose to eschew Wikipedia and instead plagiarize my reviews for their papers (Yes, I'm certain this happens.  No, I won't be calling out anyone).  Others seem to view book reviewing as a sort of online party where they can make BFFs or discover which authors are best to take to a bar and get shitfaced with them.  Not that there's anything wrong with thi....fuck that.  There's quite a bit wrong with that.

I don't go out and search these things online (I prefer to read about dead people and dead languages like Sumerian than actively search for inanity), but I was linked today on Twitter to a post that was almost positively dripping treacle.  I am not going to be making any blanket statements about the presumed genre(s) that attract such coziness between authors and book bloggers (a term I use in the context of these people not aiming to write anything remotely analytical; they seek to promote works and not to dissect them if necessary).  What struck me about this post (and really, it's not an unusual post, only the first such one linked to me today) is that it's almost like a loveletter in the language used and the general tone of the piece.  Hey!  We <3 ya!  You rawk! 

Yeah, typing that made me feel ill.  I couldn't help but think, "Why do these people keep shitting their beds?"  After all, too close of an identification between a book blogger and an author (or in some cases, their publicists as well) can lead to some rather odd behavior, especially on that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Goodreads.  There are authors I converse with, including one with whom I've done some collaborations.  I also don't review those authors anymore, because of conflict of interest.  If I wanted to just say, over and over again like a parrot, "I liked this and you may too!," I'd start a Tumblr and post that same sentiment over and over again while alternating between showing images of a squirrel attacking a dog and a squirrel biting a snake.  Perhaps such is the easiest way to make a point, because if in some quarters, one writes a negative commentary, it seems that Kumbaya Hi-Pro Glow feeling of fuzziness fades rather quickly and the knives are drawn.

Such strong and virulent reactions to a negative commentary, whether they appear on Goodreads, a review forum, or even saintly humble abodes such as this one, in many cases speaks to the too-intimate bonds that sometimes form between readers and authors.  Oh, sure, I could lambast say a Robert Stanek and get at most a few sockpuppet responses.  But what if I were to say that I thought a popular author (fictitious for this example) was whoring him/herself out too much by promoting constantly on his/her site reader comments that could have been the work of a barely-literate third grader?  Beyond those that would (rightly) question if I should "be going there," there would be those who would take immediate offense, make some meant-to-be-disparaging comment about my blog, my career, my looks, my age, my gender, my ethnicity, my religion, my dog, squirrels, etc.  While I might not be called "a cow," as one such book blogger was by an author (or was it her publicist) in a spat that led to a massive one-starring of the offending post at Goodreads (again, must I reiterate my contempt for "five star reviews" and "one star reviews?"), I could imagine some heated commentary for criticizing an author's writing and his/her blatant attempts to manipulate coverage.

But the worst thing about it?  Knowing that there are numerous "book bloggers" (again, used to denote those who view themselves as fans first and critics lastly, if at all) who will engage in verbal pleasuring of their favorite authors just so they can get more attention, more perks, more hits at Goodreads, etc.  Those are the ones who seem to be shitting the proverbial bed here, not those who guard against being too intimate with writers.  It wouldn't bother me so much if I didn't already know that in some quarters, even those who try to write from a critical distance are lumped in with these fans whose commentaries often serve to diminish the value of online reviews for readers who can't get all yippy-skippy in their glee at reading an amateur blurb.

Others will have dissenting opinions, no doubt.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

One of the funniest newspaper clips I've read in some time!

I saw this on a friend's Facebook wall and I couldn't resist snatching this image and posting it here.  Apparently there is news to be reported when cows are assaulted by burros and die from it.  The parts in red are the best, of course.  "the Municipality considers that the cow provoked the ass" and "it was around a young burro, with much strength, and of course the cow left itself completely nude with its teats to the air, well of course it [the donkey] left its mother and charged."

There are some sad realities embedded in that, but oh how odd this story reads!

National Book Critics Circle Awards finalists announced

Details are found here at the organization's website.  Asterisks denote books that I have read, most of which I reviewed last year (with links provided to those reviews):

Teju Cole, Open City (Random House)
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (Knopf)
* Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision (Lookout Books)
* Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (Scribner)

Amanda Foreman, A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War (Random)
James Gleick, The Information (Pantheon)
Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Maya Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War (Knopf)
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead: Essays (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux)

Diane Ackerman, One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing (W.W. Norton)
Mira Bartók, The Memory Palace (Free Press)
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Little, Brown)
Luis J. Rodríguez, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone)
Deb Olin Unferth, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt)

* Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of the Revolution (Little, Brown)
John Lewis Gaddis, George F. Kennan: An American Life (Penguin Press)
Paul Hendrickson, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 (Knopf)
* Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking)
Ezra F. Vogel, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Belknap Press: Harvard University Press)

David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything (Faber & Faber)
Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf)
Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday)
Dubravka Ugresic, Karaoke Culture (Open Letter)
Ellen Willis, Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (University of Minnesota Press)

Forrest Gander, Core Samples from the World (New Directions)
Aracelis Girmay, Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions)
Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press)
* Yusef Komunyakaa, The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
* Bruce Smith, Devotions (University of Chicago Press)

Before the winners are announced March 8, I may review some, if not all, of the Fiction finalists and later tackle the winners in the other categories (provided that I haven't already reviewed them).  These reviews will likely appear at Gogol's Overcoat, with an overview post/review links here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A nearly violence-free month of reading

A little over a month ago, I wrote a piece about what I saw as the problematic issue of graphic violence in certain fictions.  In it, I said this:

But despite the round-and-round nature of the often-derailed discussion, I think the core issue (or "core" to me at least, but then again, I was the one who initiated that discussion there) is the problematic issue of graphic violence in fiction.  I am not a pacifist; sometimes violence is a regrettably necessary last resort to aggressive violence.  But I have experienced enough over my professional career (which at times has involved me working directly with or teaching teens that have suffered emotional, physical, and mental traumas, including sexual abuse) to abhor graphic violence for the sake of "authenticity" in fiction (read "violence for violence's sake).

It is strange to read comments arguing that violence has to be included in order for something to be "real;" especially odd when the works in question are epic fantasies.  Yes, yes, I can hear almost the thoughts of those who are thinking, "Hey!  But if the setting is a violent world, shouldn't one reasonably expect there to be violence?"  This of course presumes that violence is somehow necessary in order for the story to be told, something that often is not the case (I doubt Patricia McKillip's The Riddle-Master trilogy would be improved with gore, explicit swearing, and a rape or three thrown in to show how "dark," "grim," and "gritty" the setting is).

But let's humor that train of thought that says in a violent world, violence must be shown.  How explicit should it be?  Should there be an unrelenting amount of violence described in detail, down to the downy ass hairs of those being raped in every possible orifice?  Most people would probably say no, that there are limits to the effectiveness of depicting such violent acts.  Yet "too much" is a blurred line. 
These are, of course, opinions I still hold over a month later.  Yet I thought it'd be interesting to look at what I've finished so far in January 2011 and what I am reading to see what acts of violence, if any, were depicted and the level of graphicness.  Here's what I noticed so far:

1.  Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory.  There is an intensity to this tale set in southern Mexico in the 1930s during a period of anti-clerical repression that makes this tale seem more violent than what is depicted (there are very few deaths and none that are shown "on screen" here), yet the action seems to benefit from this not being spelled out.

2.  William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.  Family chronicle that is a memorable read, yet no acts of violence occur here.

3.  Zora Neale Hurston, Jonah's Gourd Vine.  Tale of an African-American minister in the early 20th century sinking under the weight of parishioner expectations and his infidelity.  No violence outside of spousal abuse very early in the novel, which the boy stops his mother's paramour from harming her.

4.  E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread.  Going to be writing about his works at length this month, so I'll content myself with noting no violence in this novel.

5.  E.M. Forster, A Room With a View.  See above.

6.  Pietro Aretino, Sonetti lussuriosi.  Renaissance sonnets devoted to lust, particularly the poet's preference to have anal sex with women.  No violence, however. (Italian)

7.  Anthero Tarquino de Quental, Os sonetos completos de Anthero de Quental.  More sonnets, but no anal sex depicted.  No violence, neither. (Portuguese)

8.  Graham Greene, The Quiet American.  Despite the backdrop of Vietnam in the mid-1950s as the French are pulling out and the Americans moving in, the tale has much more to do with intrigue, romantic and political alike, than anything truly violent.

9.  Augusto Monterroso, Cuentos.  His stories read more like fables.  Some acts of violence hinted at, but nothing described in detail. (Spanish)

10. Herta Müller, Tot el que tinc, ho duc al damunt.  Her 2009 novel about Romanian Germans being rounded up by the Soviets in the last year of the Soviet Union.  Devastating, with some acts of violence toward some of the characters, but nothing truly graphic. (read in Catalan translation, as it was the only one available in e-book form)

11.  Sohrab Sepehri, Water's Footfall.  Bilingual (Persian and English) mystic poem.  Nothing violent.

12.  Sully Prudhomme, Les vaines tendresses.  Late 19th century poetry.  No violence. (French)

13.  Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  A few depictions of marital abuse, but nothing that is portrayed in explicit detail.

14.  Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandra Quartet.  Intrigue, but no real violence depicted.

15.  William Faulkner, Sanctuary.  The most violent story I've read this month.  A "fade to black" rape scene and a couple of murders that take place, with brief descriptions of the shootings.  Mob lynching at the end.

16.  Maurice Maeterlinck, Death.  Essay on death.   Nothing violent.

17.  Forugh Farrokhzad, Remembering the Flight:  Twenty Poems by Forugh Farrokhzad.  Passionate 20th century Persian poetry, in a bilingual edition.  No violence.

18.  Adonis, A Time Between Ashes and Roses.  Mid-to-late 20th century Arabic poetry published in a bilingual edition.  No violence outside of allusions to protests and wars.

19.  E.M. Forster, Howards End.  See above.

20.  Various, The Upanishads.  Ancient Hindu scriptures.  Not violent.

21.  E.M. Forster, A Passage to India.  See above.

22.  (In Progress)  Ben Marcus, The Flame Alphabet.  Children's words physically afflict parents, but nothing graphic about this.

23.  (In Progress) Tomas Tranströmer, The Great Enigma:  New Collected Poems.  It's poetry.  No violence.

24.  (In Progress) Giosuè Carducci, Rime Nuove.  Late 19th-early 20th century poetry.  No violence. (Italian)

These are mostly reads (with the exception of Faulkner and Hurston) that I only decided to read shortly before I finished reading them; no real premeditation on what I would read.  Seems I'm more in the mood for reading poetry, even odd, amorous poetry about the poet's love of anal sex, than I am about reading anything truly violent, at least in the sense of the action being described in detail.  Just thought that was an interesting sidenote to last month's discussion, so make of it what you will, I suppose.

Today is Squirrel Appreciation Day

Yes, once again it's that most wonderful time of the year, where the most interesting, vicious, and voracious creatures on this planet get their own day of appreciation.  Be sure to take a moment (or hours) today, if you can, to watch your local squirrels in action (or see them battle snakes on YouTube).  And if you are blessed enough to have rabid Serbian reading squirrels (like I am), be sure to read plenty of squirrel-friendly material today, otherwise they might gnaw your crappy books into shreds.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

More cover art to delight and fright you

Here are some books that I have bought or received over the past half-week. Some have excellent cover art, while others are trashy. Which ones do you like and which do you disdain?

The Persian edition of Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl and a bilingual Arabic/English edition of Adonis' collection.

Two new books.  The first is an Edgar Rice Burroughs anthology and the other is Saladin Ahmed's debut novel.

New Mark Hodder and a reprint by Tachyon of a 2009 de Lint novel.

Ben Marcus' just released novel and a famous book by the 1951 Nobel Literature laureate.

Two French editions of Sartre and Molière.

There's a couple of jokes can could be made here.  Make them.

ARC cover for the new Kress and a really crappy cover for Tolkien's poem translations.

Very 70s to me.

Also a 70s cover, but uh...

Finally got my hands on a print edition of The Weird

Recognize the translator?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reviews that you have missed if you have not followed me to Gogol's Overcoat

As I said last month, not many reviews will be appearing here on The OF Blog in 2012 due to commitments elsewhere, namely Weird Fiction Review and Gogol's Overcoat.  But for those of you unaware of what I have written review-wise for the first 18 days of this year, here are some bits for you to consider:

Weird Fiction Review:

Article on Augusto Monterroso

Article on Julio Cortázar (goes live sometime in the next 1-2 weeks; draft completed this morning)

Gogol's Overcoat:

Faulkner Friday:  As I Lay Dying (1930)

Zora Neale Hurston, Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934)

Faulkner Friday:  "A Rose for Emily" (1930)

1961 Nobel Finalists:  J.R.R. Tolkien

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Scheduled for Review January 20-31:

20 - William Faulkner, Sanctuary (Gogol's Overcoat)

22 - 1961 Nobel Finalists: E.M. Forster (Gogol's Overcoat)

24 - Ben Marcus, The Flame Alphabet (Gogol's Overcoat or OF Blog)

25 - Zora Neale Hurston, Mosses, Man of the Mountain (Gogol's Overcoat)

27 - William Faulkner, "Barn Burning" (Gogol's Overcoat)

28 - Draft due of article on Mercé Rodoreda (Weird Fiction Review)

29 - 1961 Nobel Finalists:  Robert Frost (Gogol's Overcoat)

30 - Zora Neale Hurston, Seraph of the Suwanee (Gogol's Overcoat)

31 - Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon (OF Blog)

A couple of these might move up or down a few days (minus the Faulkner pieces, which will be set in stone for Fridays), but I think this ought to get some readers excited.  So if you want to read more review pieces by me, be sure to bookmark the sites above and to visit frequently (should note WFR is updated almost daily and my contributions are a very small part to that wonderful site).  Also, if you happen to like one of the reviews, feel free to leave a comment or to forward it onto others, as it'd be nice to have more word of mouth for Gogol's Overcoat, new as it is and all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In protest of ineffectual protests, I'm leaving the lights on

The older I get, the more cynical I've become about a few matters.  Much as I have disdain for the possible ramifications of the SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act), this notion of "going dark" (or having a website "down" or not updating for a day) strikes me more as an ineffectual gesture than perhaps just simply calling for people to flood the phonelines, Facebook walls, Twitter accounts, and email inboxes of those local Representatives and Senators that have indicated possible support for the provisions in this proposed law that would damage more than foreign pirating websites.  Something tells me that 99.99% of those who are debating this bill will never be aware of even a Wikipedia "going dark," so perhaps it might be better to just organize in a more effective way and just lobby the hell out of those wavering senators?

In the meantime, I'll be working on two reviews, checking my email, and perhaps send an actual email in protest rather than posturing and pretending that's such a great thing to do.  After all, the revolution won't be televised...nor will it occur by having a few, minor symbolic protests that will not get the attention of those who decide these things.  Maybe it'd be best if you put actual money where your mouths are and donate to those lobbying against it?  After all, $5 will certainly be better than 0.00001% of the populace being aware that you "went dark" for a single day.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A few book/e-book statistics on my foreign language collections/libraries

I thought I would do an inventory of the non-English language books/e-books that I currently own (doing a similar thing for my English-language books would be pointless, since I trade in several dozen if not a hundred or more a month, so it'd be too fluid of a number).  I'm going to divide this into two parts, secular and religious, to account for where I shelve some of these books and the uses to which I may or may not put them.  The numbers were surprising.  The total numbers will be listed first, followed by e-book numbers, if applicable.  Not all of these have been read, mind you (some I just collect because I can), but here goes:


438 Spanish (15 e-books)
141 French (19 e-books)
 65 German (3 e-books)
 41 Italian (10 e-books)
 35 Portuguese (7 e-books)
 31 Serbian
 11 Latin
  5 Russian
  3 Attic Greek
  4 Persian (3 bilingual poems, 1 volume of Hedayat's writings)
  2 Romanian
  2 Catalan (1 e-book)
  1 Modern Greek
  1 Polish
  1 Hungarian
  1 Irish
  1 Norwegian (1 e-book)
  1 Arabic (bilingual poem)
781 secular books (56 e-books)


2 Koine Greek (1 Septuagint, 1 New Testament)
2 Latin (1 Vulgate Old Testament (e-book), 1 Revised Vulgate New Testament)
3 Spanish (1 Protestant edition, 1 Catholic edition, 1 Prayer Book)
1 Haitian (Protestant)
1 Serbian (Protestant)
1 Croatian (1 Prayer/Songbook)
1 Gullah (New Testament)
1 Portuguese (New Testament)
1 Russian (New Testament)
1 Romanian (New Testament)
1 French (Protestant)
1 Czech (New Testament)
1 Turkish (New Testament)
1 German (New Testament)
1 Indonesian (New Testament)
1 Persian (Devotional guide)
20 religious books (1 e-book).  Most of these were printed by Protestant publishing houses that I found for a cheap price at a used book store or received as a gift (exceptions being the Greek and Latin copies and the noted Spanish edition, not to mention the two prayer/songbooks).

Almost forgot to add the various grammars, phrasebooks, bilingual dictionaries, and defining dictionaries (only 1 for Spanish, none for the others) that I own:

4 Attic Greek grammars
2 Koine Greek grammars (religious)
1 Modern Greek grammar/phrasebook
2 Latin grammars, 1 Latin phrasebook, 2 bilingual dictionaries
1 Persian grammar, 1 bilingual dictionary
1 Gujarati grammar
1 Hindu/Urdu phrasebook
3 Portuguese grammars, 2 bilingual dictionaries
2 Arabic grammars
2 Italian grammars, 2 bilingual dictionaries
1 Irish grammar
1 Swahili grammar
1 Basque grammar
2 Chinese grammars
1 Hungarian dictionary
1 Welsh grammar
3 Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian grammars, 1 dictionary
1 Thai phrasebook
2 Romanian grammars, 1 dictionary
1 Haitian grammar
2 Russian grammars, 1 dictionary
1 German grammar, 2 dictionaries
1 Quechua grammar
1 Finnish grammar
38 total

Combined with an estimated 1400-1500 English-language works that I still remain, it seems foreign languages are occupying more and more of my libraries, secular and religious alike.  Not too bad.  Now if only I could be as fluent in all of them as I am with English or even Spanish.

1/19/12 Update:

Changed the totals to reflect 1 Spanish, 2 French, 1 Arabic, and 1 Persian secular books and 1 Persian religious book that I've purchased over the past three days and now have in my possession.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

So there's raging butthurt on the intarwebs this weekend!

I see that Liz Bourke's review of Michael J. Sullivan's Theft of Swords has stirred quite a ruckus on Strange Horizons, with around 50 comments the last time I checked.  Such things fascinate me, similar to how I used to watch a candle glow and the molten wax carve channels; I just can't look away, even if I have seen it hundreds of times before.

So Bourke writes a strongly opinionated piece that skewers Sullivan's reprinted (and formerly self-published) first two novels.  She uses hyperbolic language to create a heightened sense of her disapproval of this epic fantasy's structure, before going on to lay out the reasons why she thinks the work is crappy.  Attention is drawn from the beginning, but yet not to the detriment of her actual argument that the story is clichéd, the writing is uneven to atrocious (with quotes provided as evidence of these assertions), with questionable plot logic and characterizations.  Nothing out of the ordinary, considering that this format has a long and storied tradition in Anglo-American reviewing (see some of Edmund Wilson or H.L. Mencken's negative reviews, for example) and that Strange Horizon has a long tradition of encouraging its reviewers to be as forceful and strong with their opinions as the review merits.

So what's the fuss, you wonder?  Well, from what I've seen, there were several people tweeting and retweeting links to the review.  Several of these people had either read Sullivan's works before and either did not agree with the substance of the review or they took exception to the manner of presentation.  It always fascinates me to see which types of reviews draw the most responses.  Almost without fail, those reviews are of romance novels, paranormal romances, so-called "urban fantasies," and epic fantasies.  None of these literary genres occupy a privileged position; several critics take a rather dim view of works whose main defining traits are their ability to mimic the tone, structure, characterization, theme, and even prose of other works. 

When asked to describe why these works are liked by them despite others having misgivings about the quality of the prose, narrative, themes, or characterizations, frequently there will be variations on the apologia that the work was "light," that it was a "real page-turner," or that it was "fun."  What isn't really said here is that those words do not define any real characteristics of the book at hand as it tries to place that book in context to other, similar works whose main trait is that their supporters tend to be inarticulate in their praise of works that others find to be weary, derivative, and on occasion stultifying works. 

If we drop the above-mentioned "light," "page-turner," and "fun" from the critical examination/defense of the review in question, what is left is an almost inchoate babble that the reviewer is "too forceful" with her opinions, that since she is studying to be a classics historian that she is "not qualified" to discuss these works, that the piece is "an attack piece" or "hatchet job," and so on ad nauseam.  What is not found is an actual substantive defense of Sullivan's work, despite the requests from a few for those commentators who have read his novels to elaborate on their disagreement with the argument itself (rather than the tone and thrust of the argument, which many there have settled for doing), but instead an obfuscation of what could be an excellent opportunity to make a cogent counterpoint(s).

Many know that I have an ambiguous stance in regards to epic fantasies.  As a narrative form, it does have the potential to say certain things about how we view the world, particularly in a metaphysical way, yet too often there is this perception that writers don't go far enough, either in their development of the narrative themes or in the mechanics of the narrative (prose, characterization).  It would be nice to see those who love this form to dare be articulate about why this form is worth reading, for when they use near-meaningless platitudes ("fun," "light reading," etc.) without placing them in a better context, the more positive part of their counterarguments sounds more like a sulking child saying "No, it's not!" without ever demonstrating an ability to cast their preferred reading in a positive light.

And then there are the ad hominems and tone arguments.  Bourke has caught some flak for not being invested in the area, as if she (and by extension, Strange Horizons) were somehow aiming to take down epic fantasy releases by not showering them all with hugs and rainbows.  I suspect those making such comments are not regular readers of the site's reviews section, which has covered several epic fantasies more favorably than some (myself included) would have done.  Yet there's a nasty undertone to a few of the comments:  Bourke is not qualified because of her other interests (as if reading Chaucer means one cannot appreciate a well-told epic fantasy - that was one of my favorite dumb comments to read in quite some time) or, as could be darkly hinted in a couple of responses, because she is a woman.

Sure, that might not be directly stated as such, but if one were to parse what some said carefully, there is this sense that the "sweetheart" and "dollface" comments from a now-banned commentator are meant to denigrate her views and to dismiss what she had to say because she is a woman.  Although that was the strongest and most extreme example, one cannot help but wonder if some of these comments attacking the reviewer (while failing to provide plausible counters to the review itself) are signs of something else.  Maybe, maybe not, but that niggling doubt is now there for me at least.

As I said above, the responses have largely devolved to an inchoate mess.  I see only a little discussion of the narrative itself and that on the whole seems involved tortured logic to explain away Bourke's criticism of the prose and the female characters.  If only the comments were limited to even this rudimentary discussion, then perhaps there wouldn't be such an uproar.  But when the main issues seem to revolve around the tone of Bourke's review and whether or not she (and by extension, Strange Horizons) is qualified to post negative reviews of epic fantasy, with the ancillary concern that some of these comments are motivated by problematic concerns, it is hard for me to fail to conclude that this entire issue is a matter of what some might eruditely call "raging butthurt on the intarwebs."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ballantine Adult Fantasy covers, Part II

And here's part II. Hope these cover art images do not scar you for life.

Trippy.  It's like a slinky man inside of the woman while a butterfly and a unicorn are inside of another.

I've always wondered why giant birds prefer virginal women.  Can someone explain this to me?

I think someone was on acid when designing that attire for that woman in the corner.  Oh, and there's a definite bird fetish going on in these covers.

It's a stairway to heaven and I think the spider is taking it.  The wizard can't seem to decide between the sea serpent and the ship. 

Goes to show that the misappropriation of non-Western motifs can be a very, very, very bad idea.  Almost as bad as the butterfly dude on the second cover.

Giant cobra temple/queen or flame-breathing swan:  can't decide which is more frightening to contemplate.

Didn't know horses like to eat peacock shrubs.  Or maybe those are just the dude to the right on the first cover's camouflaged brethren?

Oily sea serpents and fish with wings...okay, was LSD really that good back in the 60s and early 70s?

Yes, next time you want crab meat, remember that they too are the spawn of Cthulhu. 

There's a battle raging, but what the hell is up with the hog?

Ballantine Adult Fantasy covers, Part I

I was asked several days ago if I would ever post the Ballantine Adult Fantasy covers I have, after mentioning that I had several on Westeros. Although I think I posted most of these before at some point, I thought I'd post them in two parts, with a few captions added this time. Enjoy?

Nothing says the '60s like women wearing a flowing rainbow, unless one likes the Land'o'Lakes princess looking at her reflection.

There's a decipher why these colors were chosen.

Eve:  Butterfly Princess?  And let's not try to think about the second cover much.

I guess battling sea serpents brings all the little people to the yard.

The first cover takes "gravity defying" to a whole new level.  The second just makes me want to sing "London Bridge."

There be gnomes!  And now featuring the worst phallic image I've ever seen on a book cover.

I think the unicorn has more scales than the giant snake.  Some gardens just are weirder than others.

If you stare at it long enough, it might make sense.  Or you might go blind.  Your choice.

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