The OF Blog: April 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

At first glance, I would be one of the least likely people to engage in anything that would smack of even unconscious gender bias. For most of my adult working life, I have worked in female-dominated professions (mental health care, secondary education). Most of my close friends are female, and I grew up in a family environment strongly influenced by New Deal-era activism.

Yet the numbers do not lie. I keep a written log of the books I've read over the past 3.5 years and there has been a sharp drop in the number of books I've read that were written by women. I had read almost 50 books written by women by the end of April 2008. This year, I am only on number 15 out of 153. The overall percentage last year was over 25%; this year it isn't even at 10%. While I could argue that it's a statistical anomaly that will correct itself over the year, while I could argue that I haven't yet begun to re-read favorite novels written by women, it is fascinating/disturbing to see such a low percentage so far.

While I will cop to the near-total avoidance of urban fantasy/paranormal romances sent to me for review purposes, outside of that genre (which I had sampled in the past and didn't find much with which I could connect) there has to be something else going on. It's not like I don't visit websites where female authors are lauded. There are indeed novels and collections by female authors that I want to read. Mary Robinette Kowal is about to release what I believe is her debut short fiction collection; I want that. Catherynne M. Valente has written several stories and novels that I have enjoyed. I just ordered Ursula Le Guin's YA fantasy and am waiting for the first volume to arrive (the others arrived yesterday) so I can begin reading it.

But yet this would still be but a drop in the bucket compared to the books I read on a weekly basis. For the past month, I've been averaging over 10 books read per week, with maybe 1 of those each week (often 0) being books written by women. Puzzling, since I do want to read more speculative and mimetic fiction written by women. I wonder if there's some sort of unconscious bias that is filtering out qualified female authors. Or maybe it's something else all together.

What about you? Have you ever encountered something similar? What books/authors would you suggest to me? Doesn't have to be a genre fiction; I read quite a few narrative styles on occasion.

Should authors comment on reviews of their books?

James over at Speculative Horizons raises that question. He covers some incidents over the past year or so that occurred on the blogs and forums that he visits, in particular referring to two situations involving Richard Morgan and one with Peter Brett. His conclusions are in line with many that I have seen stated elsewhere recently, namely that authors probably ought to stay out of commenting on reviews of their own works.

I, however, think there are certainly situations in which it would be nice for an author to interact with the reviewer. As I've said several times over the past couple of years, I come from an academic background and I have had to review a colleague's grad research while that person was sitting there in front of me. There was then a session where we would respond to the comments, with the end result of strengthening not just my own understanding of my research, but also doing such a roundtable critique gave me greater insights into another writer/reviewer's work. While obviously things such as this have very limited applicability outside the academic world of history research, I think there could be some analogues to the peer-reviewed articles that could be done, if reviewer and author alike were agreeable to the task.

I have absolutely no problem with authors contacting me, whether here or via my email address, and discussing matters. I've even had discussions with a couple of authors about my reviews of other authors, discussions that I choose not to post here due to the private nature of the conversation. However, I will say that these were informative and that I learned quite a bit in the process.

I am not one of those reviewers who is going to be convinced that his/her point of view is immutable. I have a healthy skepticism about my own understanding of what I've read and am willing to consider alternate points. If someone with a relatively privileged point of view, say an author or someone else with a unique vantage point for the topic at hand, were to post comments highlighting their differences with my approach, I certainly would consider what they would have to say. It might even lead to a conversation, even within the review post, that would give readers more to consider than if it were just only my view alone.

Yes, sometimes things can be a bit hostile, but even that can be illuminating, if one is willing to look past the emotion and to the arguments being presented. But too often, both reviewers and authors alike tend to avoid mixing and mingling, which is a shame. Walled-off anything just leads to constraints, many of which are harmful for the free exchange of ideas.

But perhaps I'm mistaken in some of my opinions here. What would you argue on this topic?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why I love my alma mater

It's for moments like this, when the men's basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, decides to join in the fun at the annual Volscars on-campus celebration of UT athletics. Dude is crazy, but boy how I wish he had been on campus when I attended school there (mid-1990s).

Anyone else have footage of a school/sports official doing something like this?

Sturgeon's Inverse

Theodore Sturgeon seems at times to be more well-known for the so-called Sturgeon's Law (90% of anything is crud/crap, depending on who you ask) than he is for his own fiction these days among the general reading audience, but can such a statement be taken literally?

I suspect not, as one would have to take into account selection bias (I know what I like and I am pre-disposed toward buying certain types of books, thus increasing greatly the likelihood that I would enjoy any book that I choose to read), among other factors. But even if we were to accept that 90% crap/10% good ratio, what happens when the selection approaches infinity? Would that mean that if someone were to keep reading, that s/he in the course of a lifetime would be exposed to such a wealth of good things that would be overwhelming to imagine at once?

But enough of the idle speculation. What are some of the discoveries you've made recently that would fit in the "good" category? Doesn't have to be just fiction. For example, I'm currently listening to Bob Dylan's just-released CD, Together Through Life, and while differing quite a bit from his earlier records, this is just good stuff for me, full of passion for life in the music, lyrics, and singing alike. Perhaps there's something you're currently digging that another will investigate and end up loving?

Do the Evolution, Baby!

This Pearl Jam video (one of my favorite songs of theirs, I ought to add, amazing how they've evolved over the years, come and think of it) is a rather apt way to bridge into yet two more SF/F bloggers who've blogged recently about their blogs and what they want to do with them. While the word "evolution" isn't used in them, I think it's suitable for what Graeme and Adam have examined the past couple of days on their blogs.

Evolution is a vital thing in so many parts of our lives, not just for bloggers trying to find ways to mix in fun and joy with work and perhaps the need to remain "relevant." I myself have changed quite a bit over the years here, as the blog archives will show. This blog originally was meant to be a way of tying in larger SF/F stuff to what was going on at wotmania's Other Fantasy section. In the past couple of years, my priorities have reversed; I now consider the work I do here to be more relevant and important than what I am currently doing (almost nothing, sad to say) at wotmania.

Also, I am a relatively late newcomer to speculative fiction, or at least to the type of it sold in specially-marked parts of bookstores. I'm rediscovering my love for various types of mimetic or "literary" fiction, not to mention developing a taste for well-done graphic novels and other media of literary discourse. What I happen to like isn't going to appeal to a huge audience, but that's okay with me, as I like to push the boundaries a bit and sometimes that'll see me straying into literary territories where many cannot or will not follow me (non-English literature read in the original languages - especially Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese - or to books that have little to no speculative elements to them).

I'm like Adam in that I don't care to run competitions on this blog, although I am willing to host occasional ones for wotmania's OF section (and perhaps for the successor site set to begin in either August or September of this year). Interviews are fun, but draining. Am toying with the idea of arranging for occasional Q&As, where readers here (and people on various forums) can submit questions, I organize it into a single block of questions and an author can answer as s/he chooses, before posting the results back here. If there was interest for that and if I felt the participation would be there (I'd like a minimum of a dozen questions to make it worthwhile), I could see that being a nice supplement (but never a substitute) for the interviews that I like to do.

All this is dependent on my time and energy. Right now, I'm in crunch time at work and my posts will be shorter and my reviews fewer until late May. Might have a few surprises in store, but for now, I'm shuddering at the thought of getting up in 4 hours; Wednesday's planned day off will be quite invigorating, I hope. So if any of you want to weigh in about the possibility of establishing Q&As (and suggesting authors, although I'd prefer to limit it to ones with whom I'm familiar to some extent), please let me know in the comments section.

And in the meantime, continue doing the evolution.

2009 Locus Award Finalists

It seems April is the awards season, as this time, the Locus Award finalists are named. Pretty good selection here, as I've read a good percentage of books and stories in these categories. Winners will be announced the weekend of June 26-27. Books/stories that I've read are bolded. Books I own but haven't read are italicized.


* Matter, Iain M. Banks (Orbit UK)
* City at the End of Time, Greg Bear (Gollancz, Del Rey)
* Marsbound, Joe Haldeman (Ace)
* Anathem, Neal Stephenson (Atlantic UK, Morrow)
* Saturn's Children, Charles Stross (Orbit, Ace)


* The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)
* Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt)
* The Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
* The Dragons of Babel, Michael Swanwick (Tor)
* An Evil Guest, Gene Wolfe (Tor)


* Thunderer, Felix Gilman (Bantam Spectra)
* Black Ships, Jo Graham (Orbit US)
* Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Ballantine Del Rey)
* The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann, Knopf)
* Singularity's Ring, Paul Melko (Tor)


* Little Brother, Cory Doctorow (Tor)
* The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)
* Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
* Nation, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK, HarperCollins)
* Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi (Tor)


* "The Erdmann Nexus", Nancy Kress (Asimov’s 10-11/08)
* "Pretty Monsters", Kelly Link (Pretty Monsters)
* "The Tear", Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
* Once Upon a Time in the North, Philip Pullman (Knopf)
* "True Names", Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)


* "Pump Six", Paolo Bacigalupi (Pump Six and Other Stories)
* "The Ice War", Stephen Baxter (Asimov’s 9/08)
* "Shoggoths in Bloom"Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s 3/08)
* "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away", Cory Doctorow ( 8/08)
* "Pride and Prometheus", John Kessel (F&SF 1/08)


* "King Pelles the Sure", Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
* "Boojum", Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette (Fast Ships, Black Sails)
* "Exhalation", Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
* "The Kindness of Strangers", Nancy Kress (Fast Forward 2)
* "After the Coup", John Scalzi ( 7/08)


* Analog
* Asimov's
* F&SF
* Realms of Fantasy
* Subterranean


* Ace
* Baen
* Night Shade Books
* Subterranean Press
* Tor


* The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008: 21st Annual Collection, Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link & Gavin Grant, eds. (St. Martin's Griffin)
* Galactic Empires, Gardner Dozois, ed. (SFBC)
* The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin's)
* Eclipse Two, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Night Shade Books)
* The Starry Rift, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Viking)


* Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)
* The Drowned Life, Jeffrey Ford (HarperPerennial)
* Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link (Viking)
* The Best of Lucius Shepard, Lucius Shepard (Subterranean Press)
* The Best of Michael Swanwick, Michael Swanwick (Subterranean Press)


* Ellen Datlow
* Gardner Dozois
* David G. Hartwell
* Jonathan Strahan
* Gordon Van Gelder


* Bob Eggleton
* John Picacio
* Shaun Tan
* Charles Vess
* Michael Whelan


* Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
* What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction, Paul Kincaid (Beccon)
* Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
* P. Craig Russell, Coraline: The Graphic Novel, Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins)
* Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia (Allen & Unwin; Scholastic '09)

If I have time, in a month or so, I'll weigh in on this (wish I had had the time to do the same with the Nebula Awards, but Joe Sherry did a very good job with it at his blog, Adventures in Reading).

Monday, April 27, 2009

2008 Tiptree Award winners

Forgot to post this the other day, but the Tiptree Award winners for 2008 releases were announced this weekend as well, along with their Honor List.  The two winners:

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go 

Nisi Shawl, Filter House

I believe I have made at least a few passing comments over the past few months praising both books (the Shawl is a short fiction collection), and each is very deserving of this award.  The Honor List contains another six books that I have read (Sedia, Barzak, Frost, Lanagan, Le Guin, Park) and one that I ordered (the Wilce) and I would recommend each of those as well to readers here, for different reasons.  In fact, the Sedia and Le Guin need revisiting, since those were the two novels I most wanted to review last year yet could not organize my thoughts adequately at the time (summer 2008 had very few reviews, if memory serves, due to work issues and personal life stuff).  I really ought to revisit them in the next month or so.

Anyone else here read any of the winners or the Honor List?

Two new polls

First poll is the eighth weekly installment of the next non-2009 book that I should review on this blog. Last week's winner was Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and I should have a review up by mid-week. Still need to write that review of Junot Díaz's debut short fiction collection, Drown, in the near future, although I did read it earlier this year and liked it quite a bit.

The second poll is on a whim. Thinking about re-reading the entire Harry Potter series and writing a series of reviews, one per book. Curious to see what others think of this, although my decision will not be based on what the viewers choose. I do want to cover more YA fiction, of all stripes, here (well, minus the Stephanie Meyer novels. I had to endure part of that horridly-acted Twilight movie last Wednesday at school, as the juniors got to watch that after they finished their ACT testing at school, and I'd rather be castrated by a rabid squirrel's teeth than to endure watching that movie again), so I might do this in a few weeks, if I still have the time and energy.

Oh, expect a few more YA reviews in the near future. Been meaning to read/review Ursula Le Guin's YA trilogy from 2005-2007 (the last book, Powers, just won the Nebula for Best Novel) and since Ysabel Wilce won the Andre Nortion Award this past weekend for her Flora's Dare, I'll be reading and reviewing her work as well.

I'd say more, but it's nearly 1 AM and I'm in sore need of a few hours' rest before work tomorrow.

April 19-26 Reads

Sixteen books over eight days. Seven are re-reads. Three others are in Spanish, but most of these are available in English translation. Four are over 400 pages. Six are under 250 pages. Most of these I enjoyed. Now for the books and the short commentaries.

136 Michael Moorcock, The Cornelius Quartet - Omnibus of the first four Jerry Cornelius novels. Very much a product of the late 1960s in attitude, which quite a few hipster references. Good, but not to the level of his latter work.

137 Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman - Will be reviewing this in the next few days. Really good.

138 Thomas Glavinic, Night Work - Bought and read this after seeing it mentioned in a post on M. John Harrison's blog. Planning on writing a full review next weekend, time permitting. Very good take on a personal, post-apocalyptic trauma...or just a way of illustrating the tedium of being the last human on the planet.

139 Guillermo Arriaga, El búfalo de la noche - Like the Glavinic, I also bought and read this after seeing it mentioned on Harrison's blog. Terse, direct prose with a very good story that appealed strongly to me. Will review next weekend as well, time permitting.

140 Charles M. Schulz, Happiness is a Warm Puppy (re-read) - One of the first books I ever read, way back in early 1980 when I was 5 and I taught myself how to read while the teacher was just teaching us the letters. It still brings a smile to my face, almost 30 years later.

141 Jeffrey Ford, The Girl in the Glass (re-read) - Set in 1932 New York and involving seance swindlers and a deadly mystery, Ford's prose and story kept my attention the entire way. Re-reading his works as part of my preparation for an interview I'm conducting with him for the Nebula Awards Blog.

142 Jeffrey Ford, The Empire of Ice Cream (re-read) - Reviewed this back in 2007.

143 Jeffrey Ford, The Shadow Year (re-read) - As I re-read this, I thought of a few surface parallels with To Kill a Mockingbird. Might have to explore this train of thought further. Very good book.

144 Bill Ectric, Tamper - This book took me a while to get into, in part because I found the author's chosen style to be mismatched at times with the type of hallucingenic story that I believe he wanted to portray. This diluted the effect of what took place. I ultimately liked parts of the story, but I found myself wishing at times that the narrative voice had been developed more fully. Would read more of his work, however, as I think there is potential for the stories to become quite strong.

145 Tobias Buckell, Tides from the New Worlds - Placed my pre-order for this limited-edition short fiction collection from Wyrm Publishing almost two years ago. It was worth the rate. Buckell's strengths as a novelist are even more suited to the short story form, as he quickly develops his characters and setting and the plot moves at an even brisker pace in this format. Uniformly strong stories help quite a bit in my high praise for this collection.

146 Jeffrey Ford, The Drowned Life (re-read) - Mini-review back in November 2008. Still might pay $50+ for shipping this (and a few other books) to the friend I mentioned in that link.

147 Ernesto Cardenal, Poesía Completa: Tomo 1 - Cardenal is one of my favorite Latin American poets and this collection was like manna from heaven for me. "Oración por Marilyn Monroe" is but one of several favorites and I might translate a few of them in the coming months.

148 Michael Moorcock, The Laughter of Carthage - This second volume in his Pyat Quartet (featuring a recurring bit character from the Jerry Cornelius stories) is very close to the excellent Bzyantium Endures in quality of prose and plot. Looking forward to reading the final two volumes in the next month or so.

149 Daína Chaviano, La isla de los amores infinitos - Available in English translation, this novel by the Cuban-born Chaviano will appeal to many who enjoyed Isabel Allende's works. Chaviano's prose is elegant and yet personal and direct when the story calls for it. I liked it, even though at times I found myself paying more attention to her prose than to the story itself.

150 Shaun Tan, The Arrival (re-read) - First reviewed in 2007, I still re-read this at least once a year because of how powerful this wordless graphic novel is.

151 Enki Bilal and Pierre Christin, The Hunting Party (re-read) - This graphic novelization of life in 1980s Communist leaderships in Eastern Europe is short, powerful, and the graphic novel form accentuates the action of the events very effectively. Highly recommended.

In Progress:

Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Fall of Light

Escober, Chaos

Future Plans:

Ursula Le Guin, Gifts; Voices; Powers

Ysabel Wilce, Flora's Dare

Sunday, April 26, 2009

2008 Nebula Award winners announced

I followed the live feed from SF Awards Watch and the final results are now in for the major award categories. Sadly, I haven't read a one of these works, although I just placed orders for the Wilce and Le Guin books, in part because I want to cover more YA fiction on this blog and I'm curious to see if their works, from 2007/8 will compare favorably with my favorites from 2008.

Andre Norton Award (YA Fiction): Ysabeau S. Wilce, Flora's Dare

Bradbury Award: Joss Whedon

Grand Master Award: Harry Harrison

Short Story: Nina Kiriki Hoffman, "Trophy Wives"

Script: Wall-E

Novella: Catherine Asaro, The Spacetime Pool

Novelette: John Kessel, "Pride and Prometheus"

Novel: Ursula Le Guin, Powers

What are your thoughts on the winners? Did the "right" stories win? Are there stories that you are going to purchase/read now that the winners have been named? How much complaining do you think will take place now? Curious to know what others thought of these selections.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 13-25 Book Porn

Sixteen books over the past 12 days, with 10 of them being review copies and the remaining 6 being purchases. Have read or am in the middle of reading 5 of them, with mostly positive impressions so far.

Top: Michael Moorcock, The Laughter of Carthage (second volume in his Pyat Quartet, which got off to a great start with Byzantium Endures. Will be reading this one shortly); Evelio Rosero, Los ejércitos (powerful yet uneven novel that I will re-read in the near future to see if my opinions change in either direction); Mike Allen (ed.), Clockword Phoenix 2 (original anthology containing several authors that I enjoy. Will be reading and reviewing it shortly before its July release); Stephen Baxter, Flood (American release of a 2008 UK edition that garnered some interesting press. Might read this once the school year ends next month).

Top: Italo Calvino, Le Cittá Invisibili (Italian original for Invisible Cities. Enjoyed it, naturally); Tad Williams, Shadowplay (second volume in his latest trilogy, now appearing in MMPB format. Haven't read the first, so uncertain when I'll read this one); Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg (eds.), Terribly Twisted Tales (another entry in DAW's monthly themed anthologies. Uncertain again if I'll read this one); Edward Willett, Terra Insegura (I believe this SF novel is part of a series that I haven't read. Again, very hard to consider reviewing books when I don't have the first volume).

Top: Kage Baker, The Hotel Under the Sand (not for sure, but this might be Baker's first YA novel. Will be reading this in a month or so, closer to its summer release date); C.E. Murphy, The Pretender's Crown (Renaissance-type setting, sequel to The Queen's Bastard, which I have but have yet to read); Laini Taylor, Dreamdark: Blackbringer (2007 debut YA novel that was touted to me by her editor recently. I agreed to read it and its upcoming sequel to see if the editor's comparisons to D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo are apt. Will read and likely review in the next 2-3 weeks); Laini Taylor, Dreamdark: Silksinger (see my comments above).

Top: Guillermo Arriaga, El búfalo de la noche (bought this after seeing M. John Harrison praising it on his blog last week. Read it and I agree with the high praise. Will review in the near future, time/energy permitting); Ernesto Cardenal, Poesía Completa: Tomo 1 (first volume of the Nicaraguan priest/poet's poetry, containing "Oración por Marilyn Monroe," which is moving on many levels. The other poems are almost equally as good and I will translate 1-2 of them later this month or next); Tobias Buckell, Tides from the New Worlds (Buckell's first short fiction collection, issued in a signed, limited-edition hardcover by Wyrm Publishing. Almost done with it and I had positive reactions to virtually every story); Lane Robins, Kings and Assassins (this is the second volume of a multi-volume fantasy and while I've heard positive things about his work, I'll have to get around to buying the first volume before reading this one).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Oración por Marilyn Monroe

Received the following book in the mail this afternoon: Ernesto Cardenal, Poesía completa: Tomo 1. In it was one of my favorite poems in Spanish, and one I had to read four years ago when I was taking an Advanced Spanish course at a local university. I'll provide a link to the English edition at the end. But here's the link for the Spanish original that I copy/pasted:


recibe a esta muchacha conocida en toda la Tierra con el nombre de Marilyn Monroe,
aunque ése no era su verdadero nombre
(pero Tú conoces su verdadero nombre, el de la huerfanita violada a los 9 años
y la empleadita de tienda que a los 16 se había querido matar)
y que ahora se presenta ante Ti sin ningún maquillaje
sin su Agente de Prensa
sin fotógrafos y sin firmar autógrafos
sola como un astronauta frente a la noche espacial.
Ella soñó cuando niña que estaba desnuda en una iglesia (según cuenta el Times)
ante una multitud postrada, con las cabezas en el suelo
y tenía que caminar en puntillas para no pisar las cabezas.
Tú conoces nuestros sueños mejor que los psiquiatras.
Iglesia, casa, cueva, son la seguridad del seno materno
pero también algo más que eso...
Las cabezas son los admiradores, es claro
(la masa de cabezas en la oscuridad bajo el chorro de luz).
Pero el templo no son los estudios de la 20th Century-Fox.
El templo —de mármol y oro— es el templo de su cuerpo
en el que está el hijo de Hombre con un látigo en la mano
expulsando a los mercaderes de la 20th Century-Fox
que hicieron de Tu casa de oración una cueva de ladrones.
en este mundo contaminado de pecados y de radiactividad,
Tú no culparás tan sólo a una empleadita de tienda
que como toda empleadita de tienda soñó con ser estrella de cine.
Y su sueño fue realidad (pero como la realidad del tecnicolor).
Ella no hizo sino actuar según el script que le dimos,
el de nuestras propias vidas, y era un script absurdo.
Perdónala, Señor, y perdónanos a nosotros
por nuestra 20th Century
por esa Colosal Super-Producción en la que todos hemos trabajado.
Ella tenía hambre de amor y le ofrecimos tranquilizantes.
Para la tristeza de no ser santos
se le recomendó el Psicoanálisis.
Recuerda Señor su creciente pavor a la cámara
y el odio al maquillaje insistiendo en maquillarse en cada escena
y cómo se fue haciendo mayor el horror
y mayor la impuntualidad a los estudios.
Como toda empleadita de tienda
soñó ser estrella de cine.
Y su vida fue irreal como un sueño que un psiquiatra interpreta y archiva.
Sus romances fueron un beso con los ojos cerrados
que cuando se abren los ojos
se descubre que fue bajo reflectores
¡y se apagan los reflectores!
Y desmontan las dos paredes del aposento (era un set cinematográfico)
mientras el Director se aleja con su libreta
porque la escena ya fue tomada.
O como un viaje en yate, un beso en Singapur, un baile en Río
la recepción en la mansión del Duque y la Duquesa de Windsor
vistos en la salita del apartamento miserable.
La película terminó sin el beso final.
La hallaron muerta en su cama con la mano en el teléfono.
Y los detectives no supieron a quién iba a llamar.
como alguien que ha marcado el número de la única voz amiga
y oye tan solo la voz de un disco que le dice: WRONG NUMBER
O como alguien que herido por los gangsters
alarga la mano a un teléfono desconectado.
quienquiera que haya sido el que ella iba a llamar
y no llamó (y tal vez no era nadie
o era Alguien cuyo número no está en el Directorio de los Ángeles)
¡contesta Tú al teléfono!
English translation link:

Digression and reviews

A little over a week ago, the Guardian had an article on digression in book reviews. It focused on the issue of whether or not digression is an acceptable thing in a review and if too often there might be reviewers who spend more times focusing on anything but the book itself. Considering that there have been complaints on several blogs that I visit frequently about how Blogger X reviews books compared to Bloggers Y and Z, this article appeared at a fortuitous time.

I've made several posts in the past about things that I preferred in book reviews. However, I never really addressed the issue of digressions as much, in part because I saw that as a stylistic issue more than a substantive one. Over the past 17 years, ever since I started my collegiate studies, I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of reviews that run the gamut from Amazon fluff pieces from the likes of Harriet Klausner to 20+ page academic journal reviews. For each type of review, there were positive and negative traits alike, but on the whole, I found that when the reviewer was informed and had something to add, digressions can add to the work as a whole.

I myself sometimes will digress in a review. Sometimes there is a personal issue that I will interject in order to cast the book(s) being reviewed in a different light than if I had strictly focused just what was between the covers. A good many really good reviews will take the work at hand and contrast it with a larger whole. For example, Jorge Luis Borges is almost as well known in Argentina for his literary criticisms as he is for his short fiction and if one were to read a review of Borges, one would see that very often he would take one or two thematic elements from a story and he would pull them out from the text and then play around with them a bit, exploring what their implications could be before weighing in on this thoughts on the book.

Other times, a work can be so derivative and lacking in substance that a skilled reviewer, rather than just baldly stating that the work in question is deficient in X, Y, or Z, s/he will discuss the work in a larger framework, perhaps (this is especially true for non-fiction, particularly historical works) examining it from another writer's point of view. If I were to write a review of Daniel Goldhagen's works, I probably would have to digress a bit to cover just what other, more meticulous historians such as Christopher Browning, had to say on an issue before declaiming Goldhagen for some rather shoddy use of historical evidence in regards to the Einsatzgruppen and the beginning stages of the Holocaust. Sometimes, just stepping back and letting others speak for you can strengthen what you have to say when you want to explore just why a book did or didn't work for you.

But this still avoids the point. A point that the Guardian article could have made to bolster its arguments is that a review essentially is an essay that strives to communicate a specific point or points. I could load all sorts of invective into a bit of writing, but if my review doesn't read like a well-written essay, I would have failed to communicate the necessary points. While certainly essays need something of substance to sustain them and to help deliver maximum impact on a reader, a good review can incorpate digressions to strengthen the flow of the review essay and to make the whole something worth reading rather than a tedious writing exercise that bores the writer almost as much as it will bore the potential readers. So why not digress, if it adds to the telling of a story about a story a reader may or may not want to learn more about?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Translated Fictions: A Challenge site and books read

Meant to blog about this several days ago, but I was reading through E.L. Fay's blog, This Book and I Could Be Friends, when I came across a link she had posted to a challenge called Lost in Translation, where readers are challenged to read at least six books in translation (I presume in English translation from non-English language authors). Since I love promoting translated fiction (and non-English fiction that I read in the original, usually Spanish but sometimes Portuguese and Italian), I thought I'd list the books I've read to date that I either read in translation or that I read in the original language but which might be available in English translation:

Translated Fictions Read:

Thomas Bernhard, The Loser

Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne

Zoran Živković, The Last Book

Ferenc Karinthy, Metropole

Roberto Bolaño, The Romantic Dogs (bilingual edition; read both the original and the translation)

Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind

Alexandre Dumas, Georges

Yuri Andrukhovych, The Moscoviad

Zoran Živković, The Bridge

Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Naguib Mahfouz, Voices from the Other World

Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe

Marjane Satrapi, Chicken with Plums

António Lobo Antunes, Knowledge of Hell

Ismail Kadare, The Palace of Dreams

Thomas Glavinic, Night Work

Read in Spanish or Italian, but also available in English (or will be by 2010):

Horacio Castellanos Moya, Tirana memoria

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Juego del Ángel

Roberto Bolaño, Nocturno de Chile

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El príncipe de la niebla

Roberto Bolaño, Amuleto

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El palacio de la medianoche

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Diarios de motocicleta

Roberto Bolaño, La literatura nazi en América

Roberto Bolaño, El gaucho insufrible

Roberto Bolaño, El secreto del mal

Roberto Bolaño, Tres

Roberto Bolaño, La Universidad Desconocida

Roberto Bolaño, Amberes

Roberto Bolaño, Entre paréntesis

Roberto Bolaño, Monsieur Pain

Dino Buzzati, Il deserto dei Tartari

Dino Buzzati, La boutique del mistero

Dino Buzzati, Poema a fumetti

Evelio Rosero, Los ejércitos

Italo Calvino, Le città invisibili

Guillermo Arriaga, El búfalo de la noche (in progress)

Almost all of these are reads that I would highly recommend to others and hopefully at least one of these books will lead to further investigations by at least one reader. Care to share what translated fictions you have read and if you have met the Lost in Translation Challenge?

Monday, April 20, 2009

New poll, plus a tongue-in-cheek challenge to vote in another's poll

Got a bit delayed in posting a new reading poll this weekend, although I have already reviewed the winner, Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series. Have six new choices for the seventh round of this and I made a more conscious effort to include a variety of styles here. Read all but two, but each of these is more than deserving of a review, I believe; I just don't have the time to write 10 reviews a week, alas!

Anyways, that's it for my poll. Now here's a challenge for those of you who read my blog but who aren't regulars over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. Pat is currently running a similar poll, except his choices are a bit different than mine (only natural, since we like different things, with a few things in common). One of his choices is a personal favorite of mine (and a book I'll review this summer), Roberto Bolaño's 2666. As a way of skewing everything and raising hell, I think it'd be fun if people here would vote for Bolaño's book just to see what sort of review comes up.* I mean, who really wants to read a review of the John Scalzi-edited Metatropolis? Who gives a flying flip about James Enge's Blood of Ambrose? Who could be bothered to vote for Max Frei's The Stranger? And would the world be less if there weren't a review of Chris Wooding's Retribution Falls?

So why not wreak havoc and have some fun and vote for the Bolaño? Why not see what happens when a thousand or so page novel is reviewed that is really five distinct works in one? Why not strike a blow for Latin American literature on another's blog? So why not vote first here on my blog and then go and vote on Pat's? Win-win, baby!

*The above is facetious, as there are a few on that list I'd like to read sometime. I just want to see if we can have fun and get more talk of a positive, book-centered nature going on both this blog and on Pat's. There is no rivalry here, regardless of what a few might think. Besides, it's not like I'm as "stuffy" or "formal" as I've seen a few say in passing elsewhere. They'll get theirs as soon as they run their own damn polls!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

J.G. Ballard has died

As reported by the BBC, author J.G. Ballard has died today at the age of 78 after battling prostate cancer for several years. Here is something I wrote over a year ago about Ballard when I learned about his cancer:

As has often been the case lately, I have been battling a case of insomnia. Browsing through some of the sites in one set of Bookmarks, I come across a link to a newspaper article about British SF writer J.G. Ballard. It is one of those very sad, introspective pieces, as Ballard, now in his late 70s, apparently is in the last stages of his fight against prostate cancer. Diagnosed in 2006, Ballard decided to write his autobiography of his life growing up in war-torn China during the 1930s and 1940s, the setting for his most famous novel, Empire of the Sun.

Although I have been meaning to read more of his work (to date, I have only read his excellent 1978 short story collection, The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard), what little I have read to date has been enough to convince me that Ballard is one of the more gifted and inquisitive of SF writers, at least of the past 40 years. I recently re-read the short story collection and I couldn't help but notice how he not only knew how to begin and to end his tales, but that interwoven into a great many of his tales were some very troubling questions about human society and our passions. I had planned that "someday," when I had read much more of his work, that I would do an extended discussion of his work like I have done with Gene Wolfe's and am planning to do with Ursula Le Guin's. But I had no idea that Ballard was dying and part of me marvels at the tone he takes in that article. But after glancing through an extract of his soon-to-be-published autobiography, Miracles of Life, perhaps I need to find a way to make that "someday" much closer to the present.

And for those readers of this blog who are not familiar with J.G. Ballard, I can only hope that you will read these two links and my few, poor words and go to your local library or bookstore and read as much of his work as you can. Too often people on the SF blogosphere get caught up in exploring the best of the new. It just might be time to discover some of the talents from the rich past before they have faded into a tattered, moldy memory.

April 12-18 Reads

This was an exceptional week for reading, although I should note there were several graphic novels in this list, which might explain why there were only a couple of books read that were over 350 pages long. Regardless, it was a nice streak, one that I doubt will continue for long, as I'm beginning to feel a bit exhausted from work matters and likely will try to sleep more than I have been in recent weeks. Anyways, here's what I read and a few thoughts on each:

118 Peter Beagle, A Fine & Private Place/The Last Unicorn (SFBC omnibus edition) - Beagle's first two novels (1960, 1968). First was excellent and I may write a review in the near future. Review for the second here.

119 A.S. Byatt, Possession - So many levels to this wonderful tale. The parallels between the letter writers and the present-day characters were well-done and I want to re-read this before I attempt to write a formal review.

120 C.C. Finlay, The Patriot Witch - I'm in the final stages of an interview with Finlay and there'll be a longer review of this upcoming (May) book, the first of a trilogy of stories set in the American Revolution, but with witchcraft/magic involved. This was a good, fast-paced read. More in a week or two.

121 Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men - It's McCarthy. It's dark, raw, visceral, and poetic, all at once and without skimping on the characterizations.

122 Rikki Ducornet, The One Marvelous Thing (re-read from 2008) - Very good collection of short stories, micro fiction, and graphic novel stories.

123 Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity! - Very good, although this might have been the weakest of Eggers three memoir/novels that I have read. Considering how much I like What is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his weakest is much stronger than most other authors' best.

124 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (re-read from 2007) - Review of this and the other volumes here.

125 Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, & Stephen R. Bisette, Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman - Excellent resource for all of Gaiman's stories through early 2008. Consulted this while doing a read-through of The Sandman in preparation for my review of that series.

126 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: The Doll's House (re-read from 2007) - See review link above.

127 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Dream Country (re-read from 2008) - See review link above.

128 Roberto Bolaño and A.G. Porta, Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce seguido de Diario de Bar - Bolaño's first novel, co-written in 1984. It is weaker than his solo stories and while there are flashes of his latter style, this is very much a first novel.

129 Dino Buzzati, Poema a fumetti - Retelling of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth in comic format, with the story now occuring in contemporary Italy. Very good.

130 Ismail Kadere, The Palace of Dreams - Will review later. Very good conclusion, although the translation (translated from the French translation of the original Albanian) was a bit dodgy in places.

131 Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell, Murder Mysteries - Graphic novel adaptation of one of my favorite Gaiman short stories. Excellent artwork complements this story quite well.

132 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists - See review link above.

133 Evelio Rosero, Los ejércitos - Set in a Colombia divided by civil war, this is a story of how conflict divides families and one's own self. Good, but a bit tedious at times for me. Likely due to reading it during breaks at school.

134 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (re-read from 2008) - Might write a formal review later. Very, very good.

135 Italo Calvino, Le città invisibili - Italian original of the book I reviewed here.

In Progress:

Michael Moorcock, The Cornelius Quartet

Bill Ectric, Tamper

Future Plans:

Michael Moorcock, The Laughter of Carthage

A Reading Soundtrack

In a reflective mood tonight. Just thinking about several things, not all of them bad, but they are rather heavy thoughts. Thought about making a sort of "personal" soundtrack, something full of music that would speak to my particular mood (or perhaps moods is better, since it's not a dominant thought or feeling I've been having lately), before realizing that while such music soundtracks are commonplace, I hadn't done a reading version. Why not post a list of books that I would consider reading when certain moods are upon me? Why not let some try to apply some sort of Rorschach Test to this and see what they make out of it? Why not encourage others to create similar lists, to see what is chosen?

Below are 32 books, not necessarily my all-time favorites, that I would like to think reflect part of me and how I relate to the world. As for a music soundtrack?'d include at least two Bob Dylan songs, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "Every Grain of Sand." Oh, and Joan Manuel Serrat's adaptation of Antonio Machado's poetry, "Cantares." Now for the reading soundtrack list, in no particular order:

Stendhal, The Red and the Black

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

Gustave Flaubert, The Temptation of Saint Anthony

Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad

Roberto Bolaño, 2666

Ernesto Sabato, El túnel

Antonio Machado, Poémas

Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph

Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Rumi, The Essential Rumi

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

Jack Keroac, On the Road

Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso

T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

F. Scott FitzGerald, Tender is the Night

Sinclair Lewis, Main Street

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

Allen Ginsberg, "Howl"

William Thackerey, Vanity Fair

Now I have some more reading to do before I attempt sleep. This past week's reading list will be up in the early afternoon, along with some more book porn and a few other things, either later today or by Tuesday.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic series perhaps is his most famous work; it certainly now is the one that resonates most with me. Before I begin discussing what elements of this work that I enjoyed most, permit me to preface this with a personal story in which Dream plays a minor, yet important role:

Almost two years ago, around the beginning of May 2007, I was in a situation in some aspects similar to the one I am facing now, with an uncertain job future and some bitterness lingering from how the last job ended. I remember vaguely being quite demonstrative with a very close female friend of mine and I think I had said a few hurtful things to her on MSN Messenger at the time.

Fast forward to the end of June of that year. Still slightly down, although I had found a summer school teaching position and had some hopes for getting a position in an urban area nearby (I did, but that was a near-disaster), I was still a bit down about everything. Went and checked my mailbox. There was a letter there, with a May 4, 2007 post stamp, that somehow had been delayed in arriving until then. It had been mailed from Serbia, where this said female friend lives. I guess the USPS screwed up somehow in delivering it, but whatever. I opened it and began to read. Below is what I read:

Inside was a quote from the opening scene in Neil Gaiman's sixth The Sandman tradeback volume, Fables & Reflections. While familiar with Gaiman's latter works, I had not yet begun reading his most famous comics series, so reading these words at just the right time (there are "right" times and "wrong" times for most anything, right?) led me to begin exploring this work, despite having a long-standing aversion to the graphic novel format at the time. I have never looked back since, either in the reading, or even in my attitude toward certain career frustrations. But enough about me; this is but preface.

When I began reading the series in 2007, one of the first things that I noticed was how Gaiman conceived his titular character. Dream/Morpheus/The Sandman, etc. is one of seven anthropomorphic entities known as the Endless. Captured by ritual magic in England during World War I, Dream is locked away for over 70 years. When he finally manages to escape, he emerges into a world that has changed greatly during his captivity. Dream struggles to deal not just with the external changes (to his realm, the Dreaming, and elsewhere in a setting that pulls in elements of the DC Comics universe), but even more importantly, with the internal changes that he has undergone during his captivity. It is Dream's confrontation with the question of how does a truly "endless" representation of a vital substance such as dreams deal with the possibility of change? Can such an aspect of living existence manage to change, or does that aspect have to be shattered and created anew for change truly to occur?

This is what captured my attention from the first volume, Preludes & Nocturnes. While each volume has its own serial plot, from Dream's searching for his lost artefacts to confronting a dream vortex to dealing with Lucifer's abandonment of Hell to the final events of the series, each volume revolves around Dream's changing relationships with his brethren and with his former lovers. The Dream who sends Nada to spend 10,000 years in Hell is not the Dream who broods over Larissa's departure in Brief Lives. He is not the entity by the end of the series that uncreates the worst of his Nightmares or the one that gives the son of his captor the curse of eternal waking in its beginning. There is something going on with Dream, something that feels so human, yet while all the while Dream's problems and his very nature are hardly anything human.

Dreaming is a vital activity for the living, human and non-human alike. From replaying past events in altered form to creating possibilities that spark human invention, dreaming is one of the most precious things we have, even if most of us fail to remember more than a few fleeting bits upon awakening. Who hasn't dreamed of becoming the best in a certain field, of rising to become a famous benefactor for all humanity? Who hasn't conceived in dreams of solutions to horrible problems...or faced guilt for callous deeds? As Prospero said in Shakespeare's The Tempest (incidentally, Shakespeare appears in several guises in this series), "We are such stuff
as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." And in The Sandman, the various ways in which dreams influence us are demonstrated to great effect.

What Gaiman has done with this series is to meld two powerful meta-narratives, one concerning a tragic character who attempts (and often fails) to overcome his "fatal flaw," the other focusing on how powerful and pervasive of a force dreams are in human lives and, perhaps even more importantly, in their stories. Readers can choose either or both narratives to be the focal point of their thoughts and reactions; I did both. After all, sometimes one needs to remember that in dreams, sometimes one can fly after failing and falling. That certainly was the message I took from that passage I received in the mail.

The ending to the series, The Kindly Ones and The Wake, blends these two meta-narratives together in a powerful concoction. As Dream has to confront his own self-guilt and the terrible power of the Kindly Ones, so to does the reader have to deal with the awakening from dreams. What happens when dreams have led us to a certain destination? What are the tangled webs that are woven not of lies and deceit, but rather of hopes and dreams? What happens when we become ensnared in them - do we fall and keep falling, or is there a change that takes place in our lives by the very act of dreaming of something different than what we currently possess? Those are the questions that occurred to me as I read on and discovered the answer to Dream's inability to change as much as he needed to...or rather, what happens, as the Keeper of Secrets reveals, when a point of view changes.

It is for these very fundamental human issues that Gaiman addresses in rather creative ways (when he's not reminding us of how ancient these questions about dreams and lives have been and how others from Milton to Shakespeare to Chesterton to all others around and behind them have dealt with such) that I suspect The Sandman will continue to be one of the more important literary creations of the past century. It is, of course, as dream depths, leaving the reader to discover just how far down one can fall before emerging out of it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Peter Beagle, The Last Unicorn

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. but her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea. (p. 267, SFBC omnibus edition)
With this opening paragraph to The Last Unicorn (1968), Peter Beagle makes it clear that this story is as much about the relationships between myth and reality as it is about the eponymous unicorn's adventure quest that makes up a large portion of this novel. This solitary unicorn, apparently the last of its kind, is unaware of its ancientness, not to mention that she (when are there ever male unicorns in these stories?) is not what she appears to be. She is a relic, a last survivor in a world that has changed, as seen in the following paragraph:

Unicorns are immortal. It is their nature to live alone in one place: usually a forest where there is a pool clear enough for them to see themselves - for they are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magic besides. They mate very rarely, and no place is more enchanted than one where a unicorn has been born. The last time she had seen another unicorn the young virgins who still came seeking her now and then had called to her in a different tongue; but then, she had no idea of months and years and centuries, or even of seasons. It was always spring in her forest, because she lived there, and she wandered all day among the great beech trees, keeping watch over the animals that lived in the ground and under bushes, in nests and caves, earths and treetops. Generation after generation, wolves and rabbits alike, they hunted and loved and had children and died, and as the unicorn did none of these things, she never grew tired of watching them (pp. 267-268)

This one paragraph contains the germ for the story that follows. The vain unicorn discovers beauty outside herself. The distant years and seasons, although perhaps they meant nothing to the unicorn when this story opens, will have come to have great importance for her by its conclusion. The passive watcher of mortality ends up finding herself enmeshed in the affairs of mortals, as it discovers what love well as what loss can mean, even for an immortal, legendary creature such as the unicorn.

The Last Unicorn is the second Peter Beagle novel that I have read, after his first novel, A Fine & Private Place (which constitutes the first half of the omnibus tradeback that I bought). To my shame, I had never read any of Beagle's stories until earlier this year, but belated as I am to reading his fiction, I am also blessed to have discovered a writer who has a sometimes melancholy, but often poetic ring to his prose. While The Last Unicorn might have the sound of a fairy tale, it has the feel of a self-conscious, rather post-modern one, a tale that is all too aware of the ephemeral nature of such stories. After all, when a fairy tale is told, it almost immediately fades into a ghostlike, unreal existence. But in this particular case, Beagle uses that sense of fading, of loss to drive his tale.

The story is somewhat short, a little less than two hundred pages in my edition. As the unicorn begins her quest to discover if her long-lost kin still exist, she encounters deadly foes and unexpected friends. One such friend is the somewhat incompetent, second-rate magician, Schmendrick. In one passage early in the book, his comment to the unicorn reveals a divide between legend and reality:

"I knew it would come to this," he muttered. "I dreamed it differently, but I knew." He brought out a ring from which dangled several rusty keys. "You deserves the services of a great wizard," he said to the unicorn, "but I'm afraid you'll have to be glad of the aid of a second-rate pickpocket. Unicorns know nought of need, or shame, or doubt, or debt - but mortals, as you may have noticed, take what they can get. And Rukh can only concentrate on one thing at a time." (pp. 297-298)
This is but one example of how the mortals appearing in this story compare themselves to the unicorn they meet and how they end up viewing themselves in comparison to the legends that they have heard about her and others:

"Nay, Cully, you have it backward," she called to him. "there's no such a person as you, or me, or any of us. Robin and Marian are real, and we are the legend!" (p. 324)


"But whoever you are, you know ver well that Robin Hood is the fable and I am the reality. No ballads will accumulate around my name unless I write them myself; no children will read of my adventures in their schoolbooks and play at being me after school. And when the professors prowl through the old tales, and scholars sift the old songs to learn if Robin Hood ever truly live, they will never, never find my name, not till they crack the world for the grain of its heart. But you know, and therefore I am going to sing you the songs of Captain Cully. He was a good, gay rascal who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. In their gratitude, the people made up these simple verses about him."

Whereupon he sang them all, including the one that Willie Gentle had sung for Schmendrick. He paused often to comment on the varying rhythm patterns, the assonantal rhymes, and the modal melodies. (p. 326)
Without elaborating at length, Beagle allows the reader to fill in the blanks about the value of myths, legends, and fairy tales. Whereas the unicorn might have begun by viewing herself as being distant from the legends and realities surrounding her, this is offset by the humans telling tales in which their own deeds are magnified and distorted. Even if "Robin Hood" might not have existed as such, Beagle seems to imply that the stories surrounding the character likely had their basis in actual events done by real, mortal people.

So what does this have to do with his version of a fairy tale centering around a unicorn questing rather than it being the center of a quest? From what I gathered in this, my first reading of this story, there is a value in the things that we seek. Whether we assign the value to them or we are valued instead by others, there is something precious in this. The unicorn comes to learn so much about the world and its peoples, places, and things by opening herself up to exploring them, to discovering new facets that perhaps were lost before her kin disappeared and before she had to confront the terrible Red Bull to find them. Sometimes, as Beagle's excellent story makes clear, it is the act of questing that defines what is precious for us, rather than the object being quested for. And that, I suspect, is why the best fairy tales have a power over us long after their original creators and the conditions in which these stories developed have faded into dust.

Another "good fantasy" list

This time, from M. John Harrison's blog (with comments on the ones I've read/seen/heard in bold):

The House on the Borderland, 1908, William Hope Hodgson
The Wind in the Willows, 1908, Kenneth Grahame
The Great Return, 1915, Arthur Machen
From Ritual to Romance, 1920, Jessie L Weston
Nosferatu, 1922, dir FW Murnau
Mr Weston’s Good Wine, 1927, TF Powys
War in Heaven, 1930, Charles Williams
The Green Child, 1935, Herbert Read
At the Mountains of Madness, 1936, HP Lovecraft
At Swim-Two-Birds, 1939, Flann O’Brien
Fantasia, 1940, dir Walt Disney
The Journal of Albion Moonlight, 1941, Kenneth Patchen
That Hideous Strength, 1945, CS Lewis
The Martian Chronicles, 1950, Ray Bradbury
Mazirian the Magician, 1950, Jack Vance
E Pluribus Unicorn, 1953, Theodore Sturgeon
V, 1956, Thomas Pynchon
The Incredible Shrinking Man, 1957, dir Jack Arnold
The Vodi, 1959, John Braine
The Alexandria Quartet, 1957-1960, Lawrence Durrell
A Fine & Private Place, 1960, Peter Beagle
The Stealer of Souls, 1963, Michael Moorcock
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, 1963, Joan Aiken
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, 1964, Joanne Greenberg
The Magus, 1966, John Fowles
All Along the Watchtower, 1967, Bob Dylan
Mooncranker’s Gift, 1973, Barry Unsworth
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 1974, dir Werner Herzog
Diamond Dogs, 1974, David Bowie
Ritual Animal Disguise, 1977, EC Cawte
Stalker, 1979, dir Andrei Tarkovsky
The Bloody Chamber, 1979, Angela Carter
The Fall of the House of Usher, 1981, dir Jan Svankmajer
Mythago Wood, 1984, Robert Holdstock
Halo Jones, 1984, Alan Moore & Ian Gibson
Rain Dogs, 1985, Tom Waits
Blue Velvet, 1986, dir David Lynch
The Mortmere Stories, 1994, Edward Upward & Christopher Isherwood
Jumping Joan, 1994, dir Petra Freeman
Institute Benjamenta, 1995, dir The Brothers Quay
The Voice of the Fire, 1996, Alan Moore
Lost Highway, 1997, dir David Lynch
Simon Magus, 1999, dir Ben Hopkins
The Dream Archipelago, 1999, Christopher Priest
Under the Skin, 2000, Michel Faber
Ratchet & Clank, 2002, Insomniac Games
The Carpet Makers, 2006, Andreas Eschbach
Peter & the Wolf, 2006, dir Suzie Templeton
The Night Buffalo, 2007, Guillermo Arriaga
Night Work, 2008, Thomas Glavinic

Looks as though I have many more to explore, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shirley Jackson Award finalists

From the official site:


  • Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst (Riverhead Hardcover)
  • The Man on the Ceiling, Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem (Wizards of the Coast Discoveries)
  • Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
  • The Resurrectionist, Jack O’Connell (Algonquin Books)
  • The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow)
  • Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)


  • Disquiet, Julia Leigh (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton)
  • "Dormitory," Yoko Ogawa (The Diving Pool, Picador)
  • Living With the Dead, Darrell Schweitzer (PS Publishing)
  • The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti, Stephen Graham Jones (Chiasmus Press)
  • "N,", Stephen King (Just After Sunset, Scribner)


  • "Hunger Moon," Deborah Noyes (The Ghosts of Kerfol, Candlewick Press)
  • "The Lagerstatte," Laird Barron (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ballantine Books/Del Rey)
  • "Penguins of the Apocalypse," William Browning Spencer (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy, Subterranean Press)
  • "Pride and Prometheus," John Kessel (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 2008)
  • The Situation, Jeff Vandermeer (PS Publishing)


  • "68° 07’ 15"N, 31° 36’ 44"W," Conrad Williams (Fast Ships, Black Sails, Night Shade Books)
  • "The Dinner Party," Joshua Ferris (The New Yorker, August 11, 2008)
  • "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter’s Personal Account," M. Rickert (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Oct/Nov 2008)
  • "The Inner City," Karen Heuler (Cemetery Dance #58, 2008)
  • "Intertropical Convergence Zone," Nadia Bulkin (ChiZine, Issue 37, 2008)
  • "The Pile," Michael Bishop (Subterranean Online, Winter 2008)


  • A Better Angel, Chris Adrian (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
  • Dangerous Laughter, Steven Millhauser (Knopf)
  • The Diving Pool, Yoko Ogawa (Picador)
  • The Girl on the Fridge, Etgar Keret (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
  • Just After Sunset, Stephen King (Scribner)
  • Wild Nights!, Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco)


  • Bound for Evil, edited by Tom English (Dead Letter Press)
  • Exotic Gothic 2: New Tales of Taboo, edited by Danel Olson (Ash-Tree Press)
  • Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (Night Shade Books)
  • The New Uncanny, edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page (Comma Press)
  • Shades of Darkness, edited by Barbara and Christopher Roden (Ash-Tree Press)

This award, now in its second year, tends to be (along with the World Fantasy Awards, most of the time) closer to my preferred genre reading tastes than other spec fic awards. This is, I believe, a juried award (like the WFAs) so maybe that says something about me as well? Regardless, I have read three of the Best Novel finalists (Ford, Lanagan, and the Tems), will read the Gregory soon, should have bought the O'Connell but for some reason delayed, and will now look into the Dorst. Also, I have read Jeff VanderMeer's The Situation in the Novelette category, as well as Laird Barron's story there as well. Very pleased to see Etgar Keret's collection, The Girl on the Fridge (translated from Hebrew), be a finalist in the Collection category, while Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's original pirate-themed anthology, Fast Ships, Black Sails is the only one in the Anthology category that I've read to date.

What are your thoughts regarding these finalists?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fantasy of a different stripe

I usually don't post political stuff here, but this clip, which mixes quite a few double entendres in with a riposte directed at some rather asinine protests taking place tomorrow, I felt was worthy of posting here. Don't know of any fiction writer, living or dead, that might have imagined this sort of fantasy world. Do you?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Inaugural Gemmell Award finalists announced

Taken from here:

ABERCROMBIE, Joe – Last Argument of Kings (Gollancz)
MARILLIER, Juliet – Heir to Sevenwaters (Tor UK)
SANDERSON, Brandon - The Hero of Ages (Tor US)
SAPKOWSKI, Andrzej - Blood of Elves (Gollancz)
WEEKS, Brent - The Way of Shadows (Orbit)

The winner from this list will be determined by online voting, from what I understand. Registration and all that (I believe it's free) can be done at the site I linked to above.

As for these finalists? Well, they are all certainly fantasies that (mostly) fit the epic/secondary-world mode. I've read all of three (Abercrombie, Sanderson, Sapkowski) and the first 200 pages of another (Weeks). I have the Marillier but haven't read it.

Which one would I select out of this list? Well...I reviewed the Abercrombie book for Strange Horizons last year and while there were certainly strong points about it, there were also many deficiencies in the prose and characterizations. Sanderson's book was pretty good, but I still have problems with his prose and characterizations as well. Sapkowski's first book in The Saga of Geralt contains some of the better stories in this bunch and was the one that I enjoyed the most. I stopped after 200 pages in Weeks' first book because I wasn't in the mood then to read epic fantasies. It wasn't bad, but rather something I wasn't in the mood to read at the time. Might return to it later, but it certainly wouldn't be the one that I'd support, if I were to vote on this.

So out of this bunch, Sapkowski would get my vote, followed by Sanderson and Abercrombie in that order. Not that I'm particularly enthused about this shortlist, as only the Sapkowski has made either one of my 2007 or 2008 End of Year lists. But it certainly is a book (collection of novellas, really) that I would recommend for those who are both new to and are experienced in the epic fantasy genre. It and the Weeks are the only entrants remaining which are first volumes, making it harder for some to read and judge the remaining three without being familiar with that author's writing and setting.

Appropriation or Assimilation?

Interesting post made a week ago on the World SF News Blog. I wish I had more time to say something on this, but a combination of a nasty cold and (now) insomnia has left my brain rather dead these past three days. What I would have said in many more words than what follows is this:

Using any modes of communication to further a writing or to develop a dialogue can be a good thing. However, I would like to think that a writer, especially one of a non-gringo background, ought to come to own those communication modes in his/her writings. Just don't write stories set in an imagined McDonald's world if the setting and more importantly the characters do not fit in that schema. I, as a nominal gringo who isn't monolingual or even monocultural any more, would love to read stories in which the frissons between characters, setting, and presumed dominant cultural mode are explored. Roberto Bolaño did this in many of his novels and the Crack Manifesto and McOndoistas of Mexico and South America have developed this to greater heights. I want more of this. I want to see my native culture examined from an "outsider's" perspective. Vanilla is bad. Slavish reproductions of artistic works rarely results in anything of merit. Just give me something to read that's reflective of the writer's (and perhaps that writer's culture) reaction to the cultural modes of communication. That's what I love to read, plus for SF writers, I would imagine it would make for even stronger works of fiction, regardless of the idiom in which the story is told.

But what do I know? I just learn languages to understand better various cultures that interest me. I'd love to have a reason to learn Swahili, Vietnamese, Malay, etc. Just point me in the right path and I'll see what I can do.

Of course, right now the thing I'll do first is go to bed, as 4.5 hours of sleep is never fun when working, especially on Mondays after holiday breaks.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

April 5-11 Reads

Due to a combination of reading relatively short books and having more time this week for reading, this week's list is a bit longer than my previous weekly ones. Only two books are longer than 250 pages, with one just under 300 and the other clocking in just shy of 600 pages. Guess I'm finding the shorter stories more appealing to me right now. Now for this past week's books, with a few comments:

106 Jorge Volpi, El jardín devastado (re-read from 2008) - I'm a fan of Volpi's writing and I consider him to be one of Mexico's more important "young" novelists (he's in his early 40s, but has been writing for just over a decade). In this short 178 page book (which I reviewed back in 2008), he may have concentrated so much of what makes his stories intriguing into short, parable-like entries.

107 Naguib Mahfouz, Voices from the Other World (re-read from 2008) - The Egyptian Mahfouz was the first writer in Arabic to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and this early collection (1940s) of Pharonic-era tales is but a sampling of what emerged when he hit his stride in the 1950s. Very good, short (90 pages) fiction collection.

108 Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker - Will be writing a formal review in a month or two, closer to its release date. Liked it, but not as much as his Mistborn trilogy. Elements of his prose still leaves me cold. Will explain more in the review.

109 David Foster Wallace, This is Water - Just-released hardcover edition of his famous 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College about life and how to make one's way through it. Trying to decide if I'm going to write a dedicated post to this or not. It is certainly worthy of owning in some form or fashion and I do plan on giving this as a gift later on to someone very dear to me.

110 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: The Wake - Concluding volume in Gaiman's epic graphic novel series. Will have much more to say about this and the other volumes when I write a review in the next week or so (presuming it is voted in, as seems likely so far).

111 Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters - Such a beautiful story, matched only by Amano's gorgeous illustrations. More later.

112 Dino Buzzati, Il deserto dei Tartari - Yes, I first read this in Italian. Got the gist of it, but later read the English translation I bought as a backup just to make sure the story was as good as I thought.

113 Michael Moorcock, Behold the Man - Nice timing on the read, as I read this on Holy Thursday. Powerful novel, might write more about it after a re-read, as I think it merits one before I attempt to write down my thoughts on it.

114 Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe - English translation of #112. Dark, powerful novel. As with the Moorcock, will need a re-read (in both languages) before I write a formal review.

115 Dino Buzzati, La boutique del mistero (re-read from 2007) - Short fiction collection (in Italian) that contains a story, "The Columber," that I loved teaching in class a couple of years ago when I was a part-time English teacher in addition to my social studies classes. Very good stuff here. Buzzati might be an even better short fiction writer than he was a novelist.

116 Marjane Satrapi, Chicken with Plums - newly-released tradeback English translation of Satrapi's graphic novel rendition of her great-uncle's final eight days of life. Moving, as Satrapi's story, along with her illustrations, remind me of Art Spiegelman's best work.

117 António Lobo Antunes, Knowledge of Hell - One of the Portuguese writer's earliest works (1981), this is a dark, psychological novel that explores in part the ways that we can create our own hells. Very good.

In Progress:

Peter Beagle, A Fine & Private Place/The Last Unicorn (SFBC omnibus)

Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, and Stephen R. Bissette, Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman

A.S. Byatt, Possession

Bill Ectric, Tamper

Future Plans:

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman (vols. 1-4)

Michael Moorcock, Mother London
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