The OF Blog: March 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Christopher Priest's recent post on the 2012 Clarke Award shortlist serves as a reminder why strong, snark dissension has its place in literary discussion

Yesterday, there was somewhat of an uproar from some SF bloggers and critics on Twitter (and maybe on their own blogs; I haven't checked) regarding what author Christopher Priest wrote on his site about the recently-announced Clarke Award shortlist.  Take a few minutes to read carefully what he wrote there, as there is a lot to unpack.

When the shortlist was announced earlier this week, my initial reaction was mild dismay.  I saw there a heterogeneous listing of works that few could ever justify as being the best works of two-thirds of the authors on the shortlist.  I was disappointed to see that there were few "new" names (with the exception of debut novelist Drew Magary's The Postmortal/The End Specialist and the initial SFish novel by Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb – it was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, incidentally) on this shortlist.  Instead, we see the appearance of a relatively weak novel by China Miéville (Embassytown), yet another Charles Stross novel (Rule 34), and works by Greg Bear (Hull Zero Three) and Sheri Tepper (The Waters Rising) that have attracted relatively little attention and about as much praise from the SF blogosphere.  This year's shortlist did not spark any outrage from me, however.  It felt like a safe, stolid affair, as if one had put a damper on any potential sparks that could arise from reading the works in question (I will read and possibly review all but the Stross – I detest his prose so heartily that I cannot stomach the thought of trying to read another novel of his – and Rogers – her novel will not be released in the US until May 15, although I will read it soon after – before May 2; Miéville I reviewed last year).

That is about all I could say at the time about the books because I had so little invested in this award that is based in a country whose general tastes in literature, speculative and realist modes alike, differ in some degree from North American preferences.  Yet Priest is perturbed, if not outright outraged, by what the Clarke Award judges chose.  Although the fact that his novel, The Islanders, being snubbed may be a factor (he discounts this), I think what is important about his screed is that in discussing the deficiencies of the novels in question (as well as praising the merits of three novels he believes are superior – having read Lavie Tidhar's excellent Osama, I agree that it would have made for a really good alt-shortlist entry), he is participating in a discourse on SF works and their awards that too often SF fans are reluctant to engage.

To me, the true worth of an award, especially if it is chosen by a panel of judges or by peers, is how well the titles in question can withstanding the rigors of dissenting criticism.  When Miéville's Embassytown was published a year ago, the majority of the initial reactions, particularly from UK bloggers/reviewers, was more akin to a treacly squee! than to any real substantive engagement with the novel.  When I read it, I had problems with the central premise and how the language conceit was Swiss cheese-like with all of its holes and inconsistencies.  Priest touches upon the vagaries of characterization and particular character/environment interaction, which I didn't mention in my review last year, but with which I agree.  These are not momentary or occasional issues with Miéville's writings; they are a recurring flaw that negatively impacts the quality of his stories.  Like many, I think Miéville is capable of writing much better, but if he (or any writer) hears 95% uncritical praise, then who but the most demanding of self-critics is going to strive to improve those weak, sloppy areas?

That is why it can be refreshing to read such bracing criticism about works, particularly those that garner fairly prestigious awards nomination.  Question Priest's motives all you want (there may be ulterior motives that are uglier than critiquing the quality of the actual shortlisted titles; I think it was hyberbole at best and pettiness at worst when it comes to the issue of the judges, although they too should not be immune from criticism), but I do believe he does raise issues about this particular shortlist that should be considered.  As I said above, I am reading the majority of the shortlisted titles.  If I have the time, I may review them here before May 2 on this blog (I also have the Tiptree Award winner Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire and the remaining Nebula Award novel nominees to read/review here, along with several other reviews and commentaries at Gogol's Overcoat and Weird Fiction Review).  When I am done reading all but one of them (again, I highly doubt Stross could ever make a positive impression on me after I've suffered through a few of his earlier novels, so it is pointless to read something that already suffers the burden of such antipathy), I may write a short post listing my thoughts about the quality of the shortlist after having read most of the works in question.  My opinion may change from my initial one; it may grow even more negative.  But if I do so, it too will be an engagement with the meanings associated with this particular award.  Hopefully others will do the same if they intend on reading some or all of the shortlisted titles.  To do otherwise would demean the intent behind having literary awards much more than any negative blasting of the books/judges ever could.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

So here's to contributing to sniping about an insular genre award

As much as I try to distance myself (not too much, since I'm writing about this picayune affair) from SF fandom (not individual fans/writers, but from anything that reeks of an institution), I see that recent posts about Hugo eligibility in the Fanzine category has raised the ire of one Mike Glyer of File 770 (I see it is famous enough to have its own Wikipedia page.  If only I could be so well known, le sigh.)  If I were of the bon ton set when this august fanzine was founded in 1978 (instead, I was less than a year removed from potty training), then maybe I could have read about something similar back in the 1980s when doubtless there were Usenet enthusiasts who protested the antiquated form of producing xeroxes or mimeographed copies of fandom news for the hundred or so people who might clipped a coupon from the back of a convention guide to receive a free trial issue and a decoder ring.  But no, I'm too young for even Usenet.

In principle, I am not opposed to there being an award for the people who have devoted decades of their lives to engaging in a hobby.  Just as I'm not opposed to having those three extremely old golfers tee off first from the Masters, I think there is a place and recognition for the same small number of people who forge on and produce something that might have been relevant in 1967 but which now is as influential on spreading information of genre matters as this being a cutting edge bit of technology.  As I said, I am not really all that opposed to there being an award where the old-timers can take a few pills and reminisce over what happened over sixty years ago at a particular convention.  I just merely take exception to the implied attitude contained within Glyer's posts.

No, I am not upset by any of this (sure, I was suggested as a Fan Writer/Fanzine nominee by George R.R. Martin himself, linked to earlier in this post, but I do not consider myself primarily a SF/F critic), but I do think what Glyer and others of his ilk do not care to address is the growing recognition that the main discussion topics of who deserves award recognition has shifted away from the convention attendees toward those who sit down at a computer (and more and more, their tablets and phones) and blog and/or tweet to their heart's content.  There's no longer (if there truly ever was) a small, monolithic "fandom."  Things have fractured and gone more visibly global these days.  I have a relatively small readership compared to the largest single-person blogs, but I still get nearly a thousand page views daily on average.  If I said writer X is great, then maybe a half-dozen or more people who follow this blog or my Twitter account will respond.  Some positive, some negative, some indifferent, no doubt, but in turn that might lead to one or more of those people linking to/retweeting what I have to say and that could lead to some people checking out a book that may not be on the publicity radar.  What I do, others do with an even larger audience. 

That, I believe, is behind the arguments of several that if one wants to honor those who create such valuable services for fandom, that blogs should either have their own category or at least be eligible with the older format printed fanzines.  The argument regarding "discrete issues" sounds rather ridiculous when one stops to consider that periodicals now almost-continuously update their own publications online.  There just isn't anything "discrete" anymore in the digital age; all is subject to revision at a moment's notice, sometimes with supplements and with some incorporating blogs into the content.  The times, they have a'changed.  If some want to limit the newer formats from being eligible for a society award, that is, of course, their prerogative.  Just as it is the prerogative of those who don't care as much about society guidelines to note that it seems to be more a case of the old guard falling more and more out of step with the younger generations that do read SF.  It might behoove a few to realize that the majority of the times that people such as myself (at the relatively old age of 37 for a blogger/tweeter) are even made aware of the 'zines is when someone tweets or blogs about it.  That perhaps is as large of a supporting fact for having some avenue for blogs (and other social media, particularly those where it is more than a single person manning the helm) to be recognized (if, again, there just has to be fan categories.  Some might think it is akin to arguing over who gets the gold star for cleanest desk in first grade.) as anything else out there being argued.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Here's a little bit of what I've been reading lately

I burned out last week from reviewing.  I had written several reviews for Gogol's Overcoat and Weird Fiction Review over the past month, nearly a review/commentary a day, and I was very exhausted.  I ended up taking a longer break from posting than I had planned (I do need to write two Faulkner Friday posts to make up for the one postponed from last week - I did read the stories, however), but I did find myself revisiting some authors and literary genres that I hadn't devoted much time to over the past couple of years.

A couple of weeks ago, my dad had me do a bit of improv translation when we were working out in the gym and a young Latino told him "¿Como estás?"  Although I could communicate more or less, it was also obvious that my spoken Spanish had deteriorated over the past few years.  To make up for it, I decided that I needed to read/re-read some of the over 400 books/e-books that I have in Spanish.  I began by re-reading the opening to a four-volume epic fantasy by Spanish writer Javier Negrete, La espada de fuego (The Fire Sword).  Negrete is well-regarded in Spanish fandom (he's won several awards, including the Premio Ignotus, their version of the Hugo Awards) and while I prefer his alt-histories (and actual histories; he is a Classics professor as well) and SF to his fantasy series, this was a fairly decent melange of Sword and Sorcery (a genre that appeals to me much more than its oft-bloated epic fantasy cousin), quest fantasy, and I believe I detected some hints of SF underpinnings to his world.  The setting may not be appealing to those who equate graphic sex/violence with "realism," but I found Negrete's writing to be excellent and the characterizations to be better than average.  I will be dipping into the remaining three volumes of his Saga de Tramórea series over the next couple of months.

I also re-read two recent Premio Alfaguara winners:  2005's El turno del escriba (co-written by Argentine writers Graciela Montes and Ema Wolf) and 2011's El ruido de las cosas al caer (by Juan Gabriel Vásquez).  I have read each of the award winners since the prize was re-founded in 1998 and generally speaking, it is one of the more reliable ones for me in terms of enjoying the winning book.  Montes and Wolf's historical fiction dealing with the transmission of knowledge of Marco Polo's voyages is fascinating in how certain elements of Polo's story came to be passed down (likely with some alterations) from the transcription of his conversations while in prison to the rapid dissemination into the major European languages of the late medieval period.  Vásquez's novel is a mystery, yet one that touches upon the socio-cultural climate of late 20th century Colombian history, that develops nicely over its nearly 260 pages.  There is something to be said for a well-written work that is complex without needing several hundred pages to unfold all of its mysteries.

Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet has been a favorite of mine for the past eight years, ever since I learned enough Spanish to read novels without depending upon translations or dictionaries.  One of the founding members of the McOndo movement that was a reaction against magic realism and perceptions regarding what constitutes "Latin American literature," Fuguet's fiction is raw, visceral, and occasionally confessional in tone.  His latest book, 2011's Aeropuertos, is one of his shorter novels (it is a shade under 200 pages).  Told in episodic pieces from 1992 to 2008, it traces the lives of three middle-class Chileans:  a former couple and their son who was conceived during a vacation while both parents were in their teens.  Fuguet explores here the dynamics of a distant, "non-traditional" family in which each member (well, the father and son much more than the mother here, as it is the father-son relationship that interests Fuguet the most) questions the state of things as one grows older without having really settled down and another who seeks to understand this barely-acquainted father who has missed the important milestones of his life.  There are a few, minor longeurs here, namely in a middle chapter that focuses on the father Álvaro's musings on his current life, but the airport meetings at the beginning and end of the book make this one of Fuguet's more powerful stories in a career that has seen him produce several memorable works (I often recommend English-language readers to read The Movies of My Life to get a feel for how Fuguet approaches his protagonists and the themes he likes to explore, especially that of the alienated Chilean youth who struggle to meld Chilean life with American-dominated pop culture influences).

Portuguese writer Gonçalo M. Tavares was praised several years ago by José Saramago has being one of the best Portuguese writers to emerge in the first decade of the 21st century.  His loosely-connected "Kingdom" trilogy has received quite a few acclaims.  I read the first and third "volumes" of this "trilogy" recently in Spanish and English translations (I read the second associated book, Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique, last year and enjoyed it).  Jerusalén (Jerusalem) follows the lives of despondent, lonely men and women as they try to piece together why they have been brought together when some only want to commit suicide to get it over.  Joseph Walser's Machine concerns itself with the disruption of routine in a way that the short, sometimes fractured chapters (which Tavares utilizes in each of the three novels of this "trilogy") accentuate.  I want to re-read each volume before commenting more, but Tavares certainly has made a very positive impression on me.

Hungarian writer Lászlo Krasznahorkai's classic 1985 novel, Satantango, was finally published in English translation earlier this month.  This is an unsettling novel (I wish I could find a copy of the 6+ hour movie made from this 274 page book) in which the lines between reality and madness are blurred.  I may write a full, formal review of this later, but it will require a re-read first to make sure I understand more of what transpires over the final third of the novel.  Certainly one that I would recommend to readers who like psychological and/or weird fictions.

Still trying to process what I read yesterday, when I finished reading Saramago's "lost" first novel, Claraboia.  It was written over 50 years ago and was likely not published at first due to the political situation at the time (it is a very candid look at Portuguese life under the military dictatorship of the time).  I was very surprised to see just how different a conventional narrative structure (normal-length paragraphs and sentences) affected his thematic execution (the impact was not as strong as when he eschewed differentiating between direct and indirect speech in his 1980s-2010 writings).  Argentine writer César Aira's El congreso de literatura (available in English as The Literary Conference) is an odd, comic novel of a half-mad megalomaniac translator/writer (also named César) who dreams of conquering the world (after the aforementioned literary conference he is attending) with a clone army derived from his favorite writer, Carlos Fuentes.  Aira writes incisive tales in novella-length segments (this was 66 pages on my iPad) and here the result is something that works both as a comic work and as a serious look at literary influences.

There are others that I have read over the past week or two, but some will be covered later on other sites (I may write a formal review of Steven Millhauser's PEN/Faulkner-nominated collection, We Others, which is excellent, by the way) or I just don't have much to say about them other than most didn't suck squirrel nuts.  Although a few titles aren't yet available in English, I did try to note the ones that are available in it (plus a few are available in Portuguese, German, French, and other European languages), so hopefully a few of you may end up investigating some of the authors mentioned briefly here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Springtime Book Porn

Was bored today with what I had on hand to read, so I decided to make a trip again to McKay's.  Browsed through the foreign language section first (as I am wont to do) and I found two very dissimilar books that caught my eye.  The first is Che Guevara's El diario del Che en Bolivia, in Spanish of course.  The other seems to be a fairly popular German epic fantasy series opener (a prequel in this case) by Michael Peinkofer called Die Zauberer (The Magician is the English translation for the title).  My German is too rusty to consider tackling this in the near future, but I bought it in part because this 2009 cover might be of interest to those who like hooded cover characters.  Thoughts on this cover and how it compares to US/UK covers of the 2009-2012 period?

Also decided to check out a 19th century play by el Duque de Rivas, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino, and a translation by an Italian writer, Dacia Maraini's Voices, based on the blurb's focus on Maraini's tendency to "ask fundamental questions about the human condition."

Boniface Mongo-Mboussa's Désir D'Afrique caught my attention because I am very unfamiliar with African writers writing in French (not that I'm all that well-informed of those writing in English or other languages).  Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek is one of those modern classics that I have yet to read.  I hope to rectify that in the near future.

Fae Menne Ng's Bone attracted my attention due to its description of Asian-American life in San Francisco's Chinatown.  Doris Lessing is an author I've been meaning to read more of over the past few years, so buying a copy of her The Memoirs of a Survivor was a no-brainer.

McKay's has begun selling a small number of new books at their new location and Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild has an intriguing premise to it.  I really enjoyed the two Colson Whitehead books I've read to date (Zone One and The Colossus of New York), so I am looking forward to reading John Henry Days in the near future, around the time I read his The Intuitionist.

Still have almost $5 in store credit.  Not bad for barely taking in any books this time (I plan to take in much more the next time I go, after I begin another book cull to reduce the numbers in my house by 100-200 over the next three months).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Been quiet, but I've been reading/reviewing some award winners elsewhere

I just realized that I haven't updated (or really even viewed much) this blog since Monday.  Been busy writing several reviews over at Gogol's Overcoat, including reviewing some of the finalists (and winner) for this year's Man Asian Prize for Asian Literature published in 2010/2011 in English/translation, Korean writer Kyung-sook Shin's outstanding Please Look After Mom.  Later today or this weekend, I'll write a links post for the essays/reviews that I've written over the past month at Gogol's Overcoat and Weird Fiction Review.

A few days ago, the Tiptree Award winner and honor lists were announced.  This year's winner was Andrea Hairston's Redtree and Wildfire, which I've already read and will review here sometime in the next week or so.

Will be writing my latest Faulkner Friday piece later today and hope to have it done by nighttime (had to predate the last couple of entries due to being busy studying for my certification exams) and posted at Gogol's Overcoat.  Then comes more reviews of finalists/winners for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Man Asian Prize, and the PEN/Faulkner Award (to be announced March 26); these will be posted on Gogol's Overcoat.

So far, 11 weeks into the year, I seem to have written around 30 reviews and commentaries on prose and poetry on three sites.  I wonder how long that pace can be kept, since I'm averaging over 1000 words/essay.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Working out and progress made after five weeks

For the past five weeks, I've been working about 2-3 times a week at a local gym, after a physical turned up a potential issue with triglyceride and liver enzyme levels.  I had already developed that middle age paunch and I was pretty much told that if I wanted to live and to enjoy a long life, that I better shed weight quickly. 

I've lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 lbs. over those five weeks, as I also eliminated sodas from my diet (for Lent, but likely for a long while after) and have very few meals with fried meats.  Only supplements I'm taking are fiber capsules and fish oil, a few times a week for each.  Funny how the body adapts to changes.  I am not as tired mentally or physically due to having very few carbs (most of my daily sugar intake was via the sodas, as I can only eat a small amount of milk chocolate before getting ill and other sugary snacks taste awful to me) and the high amount of proteins I take in are not being converted to fat.

I have a recumbent bike and two 15 lb. ketteballs that I use 2-3 times a week that I do not go to the gym.  When I'm at home exercising, I like to do one or two 30-60 minute sessions on the bike at around 10 mph, followed by 3x/20 military and incline press, 3x/20 bicep curls, and 3x/20 deadlifts with the kettleballs.  When I go to the gym, I usually start by riding their stationary bike for 35-40 minutes, increasing the resistance from medium to maximum in 5-10 minute intervals, with a few minutes at the beginning and end for stretching and cooling down.  Then I'll do bicep curls at 70-80 lbs. for 3x/10-20 reps, tricep curls at 60-70 lbs for the same sets/reps, military press at 140/160/180 lbs. in 3 sets of 10, and then on various days I'll do incline bench, leg extension, leg curls, and chest fly at 80 lbs. for 3 sets of 10.

I started out doing this only 2x/week at the gym and 1-2x/week at home, but I'm looking to expand the amount of time that I work out both at home and at the gym to 75 minutes instead of the 50-55 minutes I have been doing and maybe going 4x/week at the gym and 1-2x/week at home, perhaps with higher reps and slightly higher weights once I am certain that my muscles are well-conditioned enough to not become too sore.  If I'm lucky and stick to it, I hope to see that I can break my old free weight maxes from when I was 23 (which was after a year of rehab on my right elbow after I broke the radial head through a fall during pickup basketball), which for those who are curious to know is as follows:  bench press, 270 lbs. (225 with 7 reps), 250 lbs. power clean, 450 lbs. squats (a rep of five).  Doubt I'll do the latter two in a gym designed more for people who want cardio, but I think the bench might be a doable goal by the end of the year if I work out strong.

Any of you work out regularly?  If so, what sorts of weights/exercises do you do to burn fat/streamline muscle?  Despite what I said above, I am not as much interested in bulking up (I haven't been "small" since I hit my growth spurt in high school) as I am in toning the body steadily and with an emphasis on rebuilding my biceps, triceps, pectorals, quads, and hamstrings.  I'd love to hear any routines that might make things easier for me.  It'd be nice to fit into a pair of 34s again and look 50 lbs. lighter than my actual weight.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

To celebrate surviving two grueling exams, I went to the new Nashville McKay's

Since I'm at the moment debating whether or not to return to public education next year or the year after, I decided to take certification tests to add teaching endorsements to the two (History, Government) that I currently hold (I've taught English for years without a full endorsement under a waiver provision that allows teachers to teach two class periods out of their field).  So I signed up to take two tests this morning:  7:30 AM was for English Literature and Grammar:  Content Knowledge and 10:45 AM I took the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages exam (I should note that outside of teaching ESOL/ESL students in a sheltered program for two years in Florida a decade ago, I have had no classes related to this field).

The English test went very well.  There were maybe 4-5 questions out of 120 that I was uncertain about, so I should pass that one well enough, as might be expected of someone whose mother taught English for 40 years and who himself taught it part-time for parts of three years.  The ESOL/ESL test was difficult, because I never had any coursework in some of the content areas covered (only studied them cursorily over the past few weeks), but I think I did well enough to pass or at least be very close to passing on the first attempt without knowing much about what would be on the test.

After the test, I hit the interstate and drove north into Nashville to shop at the new McKay's used bookstore, which opened today.  It was difficult to find parking, but I managed to do so.  When I dropped off two cartons of books to be processed for store credit, they said it could be upwards of 90 minutes waiting period, due to at least double the regular volume for the opening.  I had a bit of time to kill (my family left to go on a spring training vacation to Tampa while I took the test and got suckered into caring for my sister's Yorkie/Poodle mix, so I was in no rush to go anywhere), so I thought I'd take a picture of the new layout (I got about 2/3 of the shelves and part of the second floor, which is dedicated to CDs):

A view from the second floor.  There are a few hundred thousand books on those shelves and the ones to the right of the picture.

After browsing for an hour, I saw where my books had been processed earlier than expected, so I turned in my ticket and learned I had just over $90 of store credit to spend.  Only bought a little over $50, but below are the ones that I bought there, with the exception of the first photo.  That photo contains a couple of review copies that I thought some might find interesting (I may read them in the near future before deciding if I want to review them):

It amuses me that a graphic novel adaptation and a parody of George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones arrives on the same day.
Philip Caputo's Acts of Faith and Louis de Bernières' Corelli's Mandolin.

Ah, poetry!  The Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf (with the original Anglo-Saxon provided) and Percy Bysshe Shelley:  Selected Poems
Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing, the middle volume in his Border Trilogy and an intriguing non-fiction book, Joyce Carol Oates, The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982

G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man and the first American edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion.  Both cost a combined $7

The Romans apparently liked to write odes to their penes, thus this The Priapus Poems being available for posterity (or for me to quote when I want to annoy someone).  Oh, and a Franklin Mint edition on Rembrandt.

Buying a nicer, larger edition of Mario Vargas Llosa's La tía Julia y el escribidor and taking a flier on a few French books, starting with Jean Anouilh's Le voyageur sans bagage
Two Ionesco books for your viewing pleasure:  La cantatrice chauve and Rhinocéros

François Mauriac's Thérèse Desqueyroux and Maupassant's La Maison Tellier une Partie de Campagne

André Gide's La Symphonie Pastorale and Marivaux's le jeu de l'amour et du hasard

Any of these photos/books appeal to you?

Friday, March 09, 2012

I was considering reviewing all of the shortlisted Nebula Award for Best Novel, but...

I forgot to post this list for the Nebula Awards for Best Novel (I had considered briefly covering the other shortlisted titles, then realized that with my current reviewing schedule, I wouldn't have time), but seeing that the winner will be announced around May 19-20, I thought I might as well start acquiring the books that I haven't yet read (bold for the ones I've already read):

    Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
    Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey; Subterranean Press)
    Firebird, Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)
    God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
    Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime Books)
    The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Based on the authors that I've read, it's not a bad list...with one notable exception.  I see that yet once again, a Jack McDevitt novel appears on the shortlist.  For the past decade, one could hardly go a year without something by him appearing on a Nebula shortlist.  Sure, it's SF and it seems he has a devoted fanbase, but I become quite skeptical about this, ever since I sampled one of his novels (I believe it was Chindi) several years ago and found it to be competent but far from very good.

Now I have heard rumors that McDevitt was one of several SFWA authors who would solicit votes much more vigorous than just a simple "hey, something of mine is eligible" post somewhere and while I do not know how valid those rumors are (after all, I likely will never be a SFWA member), there is that contrarian streak in me that does not want to promote with a review a work that may have been placed on a shortlist more due to personal ties than to quality of work.  True, the possibility of others appearing here due to "popularity" issues rather than story quality is at least plausible, but my experiences with their works has been better than my fleeting encounter with an older McDevitt work.

So I plan on reading the Walton and Jemisin (even though it means I have to read her second novel, The Broken Kingdoms, as well) in addition to re-reading the Hurley and Valentine for review purposes (I gave a mixed review to Miéville's book last year).   I just will not be reading or reviewing one of the finalists for reasons stated above.  It may seem a bit petty, but it is one way to protest the suspected state of affairs, even if many may believe this to be a mistaken policy.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

2012 National Book Critics Circle Award winners announced (plus links to several reviews I've done to date)

The 2012 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced on March 8, 2012.  I read all of the entries for Fiction, Criticism, and Poetry and to date have written eight reviews of those works (will finish the one remaining fiction and poetry finalists in the next day and may review only the winners in the other categories, now that I own e-book editions for the winners in Nonfiction, Biography, and Autobiography).  I will put an asterisk by the winners and at the end of each finalist in the three categories I read in full (I also read and reviewed two of the Autobiography finalists last year) I will put a number indicating which I thought was the best in the category and on down the line. 

Maybe others reading this who've read some of these finalists will want to weigh in with their thoughts on the winners and the shortlists. 


Teju Cole, Open City (Random House) (1)
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)(4)
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (Knopf)(5)
* Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision (Lookout Books)(3)
Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (Scribner)(2)


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 a 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)(1)
* Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf)(4)
Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday)(5)
Dubravka Ugresic, Karaoke Culture (Open Letter)(2)
Ellen Willis, Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (University of Minnesota Press)(3)


Forrest Gander, Core Samples from the World (New Directions)(1)
Aracelis Girmay, Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions)(5)
* Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press)(2)
Yusef Komunyakaa, The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)(4)
Bruce Smith, Devotions (University of Chicago Press)(3)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

It's Eric Basso Week over at Weird Fiction Review

I don't plan on making it a habit to promote my essays written for other blogs/sites/magazines, outside of a monthly links post, but I do think what WFR is doing this week by featuring a week of essays and excerpts from poet/dramatist/writer Eric Basso's oeuvre is worth promoting here.  So here is what's up, three days into this five-day publication:


Introductory essay by Adam Mills

101 Weird Writers essay on "The Beak Doctor" by myself

Excerpt from "The Beak Doctor"

Interview with Basso, conducted by Adam Mills


Part I of Basso's essay, "Annihilation" (Part II is on Thursday, I believe)

"Drowning in Time:  The Work of Eric Basso" by Matthew Pridham


"An Encounter with 'The Beak Doctor'" by D.F. Lewis

"Caught in the Moment:  The Poetry of Eric Basso" by myself

Full versions of Basso's poetry that were excerpted in my essay

There is more planned for Thursday and Friday, so if you liked what you read via these links, be sure to visit WFR those days for more (provided, of course, that you aren't visiting it regularly for the wonderful content that is added several times per week).

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Another fine example of "pretentious" book porn

Jim Harrison's Songs of Unreason and Dawn Lundy Martin's Discipline

Every now and then, I tend the presumed epithet of "pretentious" lobbed my way.  More often than not, it's because I criticized something that another found to be good or that I happen to also like reading literary fictions, histories, and works in foreign languages.  I usually get a kick out of such accusations, as there certainly are pretensions to improving my literacy and awareness of excellent works of fiction and non-fiction.  With that in mind, enjoy the latest photos.  The first is for two poetry collections by Jim Harrison and Dawn Lundy Martin that are nominees for the 2012 LA Times Book Prize for Poetry.

Gonçalo M. Tavares' Joseph Walser's Machine and Hari Kunzru's Gods Without Men
 The second photo features the just-published Dalkey Archive translation of Portuguese writer Gonçalo M. Tavares (note the blurb on its clover) and the just-released American edition of Hari Kunzru's Gods Without Men, that features a possible surrealist setting yet not marketed to genre audiences.  Or something like that, maybe?

Library of America's second volume on the American Civil War, The Civil War:  The Second Year by Those Who Lived It

Can anything be more "pretentious" than buying not just a history book but a primary source-laden edition devoted solely to the Civil War's 1862 events?

Javier Negrete's El Sueño de los Dioses and El Corazón de Tramórea

And finally, for those wanting to see a new epic fantasy series volume featured here, here are the last two volumes of Spanish classicist/writer Javier Negrete's epic fantasy series.  Oh yeah, they're in Spanish.  I do wonder if they may be translated into English in the near future, though.  I'll read and maybe review in a month or two.

Friday, March 02, 2012

What does one learn over 2000 posts made over 7 years, 6 months, and 10 days?

Here are a few things that I've learned during that time span:

  • It is better to say what you feel than to pretend that you don't feel at all.
  • There are plenty of talented people writing today that many are unaware of due to linguistic/cultural differences.
  • There is an audience for almost anything.
  • There are plenty of people who are more passionate than I am about a whole host of things.  Sometimes, that passion is even in the right spot.
  • People look forward to me skewering something/someone, yet don't respond that much when I praise something read/someone else.
  • Learning other languages helps with the understanding of others as well as your own abilities and limitations.
  • Very few bloggers have groupies of any gender.  I am no exception to that.
  • If you do something exceptional, many will doubt that you did it alone.   Sometimes, they are even correct, but for the wrong reasons most of the time.
  • Procrastination and insomnia are never your friends when blogging, reviewing, or translating.
  • Friendships can be made through blogging.
  • Canadians are never to be trusted when it comes to blogging about books and/or cover art.  They likely still rock out to Air Supply and Hall and Oates. 
  • Not everyone blogs hoping to "make the big time."  Some of us have no desire to be writers or publicists.
  • If you know how to balance a friendship with a writer with honest reviews (or better, private comments but no public reviews in case personal bias has set in), you might find yourself receiving strange packages in the mail on occasion.
  • YouTube clips of authors doing interpretative dance routines scare the hell out of me.
  • When you hold a physical book that has a translation of yours inside, it is a very special feeling, even more than when the e-edition was viewed earlier.
  • Generosity is a cherished thing.  Others cherish it at least as much, so keep that in mind.
  • You can learn a lot from an argument/debate if you'll listen for a minute.  Doesn't mean you accept what's heard, though.
  • Squirrels are very lovable creatures, even if they read faster and more diligently than most humans do.
  • Jacques Barcia may one day be able to train that cagefighting alpaca that I urged him to write about years ago.
  • Paul Smith seems to be trying without realizing it to prove that the myth of ginger=soulless is false.
  • Mihai/Dark Wolf is too good of a person to be dealing with the likes of me on a regular basis.
  • Fábio Fernandes is the rare sort of writer/friend who understands that when I noted something off, it was meant to help and not castigate.
  • Aishwarya knows how to joke with me while making very good, serious points about literature.
  • Harry Markov will one day admit that Serbian rabid reading squirrels are superior to his native Bulgarian ones.
  • Ken/Neth someday will agree with me regarding fantasy literature, but despite it all, he's been a good person to know for the past 10 years.
  • Aidan Moher is one of the few Canadians worth knowing ;)
  •  Charles Tan is not really Satan.
  • Danny Bonaduce has yet to write that killer novel that I believe he is capable of producing
  • There really are too many good people in this world to dwell on the negative aspects of life, literature, and blogging.  I should remember that more often.

I think that covers what I would say in public (in private, there'd be another to thank, but I think it best to say that elsewhere).   Thanks for reading, for however long you have been reading this blog.

P.S.  This is the blog's 2000th post, not my 2000th here.  But between here, Vaguely Borgesian, Best American Fantasy, Weird Fiction Review, and Gogol's Overcoat, I've made over 2000 posts.

P.P.S.  Yes, the squirrels did write part of the entries here.  Can you blame them for wanting more love?

P.P.P.S.  I will be an uncle for the first time in late September/early October.  I just didn't want to say that in a full post and here is a great time to mention that exciting part in my personal life, which I don't discuss much here on this blog.

What do you know of the American Civil War?

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War, but 1862 was the year in which several of the larger-scale battles were fought in my native state of Tennessee.  I am thinking of traveling to visit a few of the battlesites this year (Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson, whose battles were fought in February 1862, and Shiloh, whose 150th anniversary is on April 6) and blogging about my impressions.  I'm also hoping to read during the next month or two the first two volumes of a planned four-volume set by the Library of America that utilizes primary sources for roughly a year per volume of that conflict.

But as a historian (albeit one who studied German cultural/religious history of the early 20th century as opposed to US History), I am curious to know what readers, Americans and non-Americans alike, know about this conflict and what they associate with it.  So if you want to share, please do so in the comments, as I do value other perspectives.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

February 2012 Reads

I seem to be a bit more motivated than usual to post this, so here's what I read last month, less than 24 hours after said leap month ended.  33 books, a slight improvement over January, possibly due to reading while riding the exercise bike as I work to get myself back in the shape I was when I was 22-23, a long 15 years ago.  Only 3 of the 33 were re-reads, 11 were written solely by women (and in another, some female authors contributed), 3 were in Spanish and 2 in French, and in several, squirrels make an appearance.  And now, the list:

31  Forrest Gander, Core Samples from the World (reviewed on Gogol's Overcoat)

32  Aracelis Girmay, Kingdom Animalia (to be reviewed shortly on Gogol's Overcoat)

33  Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon (reviewed here)

34  Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains (to be reviewed shortly on Gogol's Overcoat)

35  Soledad Puértolas, Una enfermedad moral (Spanish; very good)

36  William Faulkner, New Orleans Sketches (reviewed on Gogol's Overcoat)

37  William Faulkner, The Marble Faun and A Green Bough (poetry; to be reviewed later)

38  Jean Ray, Les Contes du Whisky (French; re-read; to be featured later on Weird Fiction Review)

39  Jean Ray, Malpertuis (French; re-read; to be discussed later on Weird Fiction Review)

40  Ian Cameron Esslemont, Orb, Sceptre, Throne (not as good as his previous two novels)

41  Elena Garro, La Casa junto al Río (Spanish; very good)

42  Eric Basso, The Beak Doctor (re-read; to be featured next week on Weird Fiction Review)

43  Teju Cole, Open City (to be reviewed this weekend or next week at Gogol's Overcoat)

44  Antonio Machado, Antonio Machado por niños (Spanish; poetry; very good)

45  Dubravka Ugrešić, Karaoke Culture (review in near future on Gogol's Overcoat)

46  Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence (review in near future on Gogol's Overcoat)

47  William Faulkner, Novels 1930-1935 (omnibus of the novels reviewed on Gogol's Overcoat in January and February)

48  Jenny Boully, not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them (may write something here in a few weeks)

49  Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child (review next week on Gogol's Overcoat)

50  Ellen Willis, Out of the Vinyl Deeps:  Ellen Willis on Rock Music (review in near future on Gogol's Overcoat)

51  Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition:  Selected Essays and Reviews (review in near future on Gogol's Overcoat)

52  Cynthia Duncan, Unraveling the Real:  The Fantastic in Spanish-American Ficciones (might use this in a future column)

53  Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (review next week on Gogol's Overcoat)

54  David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?:  Translation and the Meaning of Everything (review in near future on Gogol's Overcoat)

55  Joseph O'Connor, Ghost Light (review in next 2-3 weeks on Gogol's Overcoat)

56  Zoran Živković, The Five Wonders of the Danube (hope to review this in the near future here)

57 Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table (review in next 2-3 weeks on Gogol's Overcoat)

58  Victor Pelevin, The Hall of the Singing Caryatids (good short novel)

59  Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance (review next month on Gogol's Overcoat)

60  Jamil Ahmad, The Wandering Falcon (review next month on Gogol's Overcoat)

61  Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake (review in 2-3 weeks on Gogol's Overcoat)

62  Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown (eds.), Three Messages and a Warning:  Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic (disappointing anthology)

63  Kyung-sook Shin, Please Look After Mom (review in next 2-3 weeks on Gogol's Overcoat)

Yes, more and more of the actual review content will be found on Gogol's Overcoat and, to a smaller degree, on Weird Fiction Review.  If you follow me for my reviews, I suggest bookmarking those sites and checking in 2-3 times a week.  Not much will be published here in 2012 in terms of reviews.

Why do you bother visiting this blog when I don't care to cover "core genre" fantasy/SF anymore?

It is a question that I have thought for some time.  I just glanced at my February 2012 reading list.  I finished 33 books that month.  Only three would most people agree are "core genre" fantasy/SF:

  • Saladin Ahmed, The Throne of the Crescent Moon (which was a very good debut novel)
  • Ian Cameron Esslemont, Orb, Sceptre, Throne (a weaker effort from him)
  • Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown (eds.), Three Messages and a Warning:  Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic (it was not a good anthology at all; very disappointed with virtually all the stories)
I just don't like what is being produced that much outside of weird fiction, which I often tend to separate from the various fantasies (epic, sword and sorcery, urban) and SF.  The writing, especially for more recent works, tends to be dialogue-heavy with a "cinematic" feel to it.  I hate most Hollywood productions of the past two generations for their formulaic approach to storytelling and I feel more and more the same way to see what I'm seeing published from the main genre imprints.  I don't want to read about another "gritty" badass that lives in "shades of grey" (as if that really means something in a technicolor world), spouting off tired clichés that are meant to be appealing to the callow at heart.  I really don't want to encounter what I consider to be reactionary social positions regarding class, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, race, etc.  When I read fans of certain writers arguing that certain groups (insert group of choice here) "have to be repressed" because "it is realistic," I just want to shake my head.  Or I want to just walk away from it all.

So with that growing antipathy for a certain segment of publishing occurring, why do people bother to visit here when I am becoming much more interested in weird fiction, realist novels, and especially poetry?  It does confuse me to see that I have almost as high of an audience now as I did 2-3 years ago when I did cover more of the newer "core genre" releases.  Am I covering something different that people want to read?  I don't know.  It's just something that's puzzling me, so I thought I'd just ask those reading this who have followed this blog for a while, why do you still read this blog when my focus has changed so much over the years?
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