Saturday, June 30, 2007

June 2007 Reading

Since I am 99% sure that I will not finish another book today, here's the list of the June reading.

1. The Uplift War - David Brin
2. The Complete Peanuts: 1963-1964 - Charles M. Schulz
3. Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood
4. Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey - Chuck Palahniuk
5. Softspoken - Lucius Shepard
6. Magic or Madness - Justine Larbalestier
7. Two Trains Running - Lucius Shepard
8. Edge of Victory I: Conquest - Greg Keyes
9. Kushiel's Dart - Jacqueline Carey
10. Star Wars Legacy: Broken - John Ostrander
11. Prime Codex - Lawrence Shoen (editor)
12. The Dark Half - Stephen King
13. Edge of Victory II: Rebirth - Greg Keyes
14. Singularity Sky - Charles Stross
15. Cycle of the Werewolf - Stephen King

The next "Quick Takes" will cover the Ostrander, Keyes, and Stross which are unlinked. Cycle of the Werewolf may make it on that Quick Takes, but I would have to still write that up.

Best Book of the Month: Softspoken
Worst Book of the Month: Rant
Disappointment of the Month: Cat's Eye, Singularity Sky
Pleasant Surprise of the Month: Kushiel's Dart

The Dark Half, by Stephen King

The Dark Half
Stephen King
Viking: 1989

With The Dark Half I begin to delve into the work of Stephen King. This novel attempts to answer the question "where do you get your ideas from?", only King answers the question in a rather twisted way. Thad Beaumont is your mild mannered author and college professor. He has written one literary novel to great critical acclaim but poor sales and another literary novel to nothing more than poor sales. As George Stark, however, he has written three crime thrillers to great commercial success. The money, as they say, poured in. Up until the opening of The Dark Half, Thad had kept secret that he was the man behind George Stark, building a wall between that fictional author and his own life and work. Rather than allow another man to expose Thad as Stark, Thad allows People Magazine to do a feature on Thad as George Stark and the death, if you will, of George Stark.

Outside of an opening interlude into Thad's childhood, which is very relevant, the true beginning of The Dark Half is Thad and the fictional death of fictional George Stark in People Magazine. Then people start dying. Brutally. Creatively. The suspect: Thad Beaumont. His fingerprints are on the scene and except for the first murder, there is motive. The killings are connected to the outing and subsequent elimination of George Stark. The police initially think that Thad is responsible, but Thad wonders if it isn't George Stark, Thad's literary alter ego come to life.

Despite having to answer how a pen name for an author can come to life and kill, The Dark Half is a reasonably straightforward Stephen King novel. The focus for the first half or so of the book is mostly on Thad and his family and the police interactions with them, with the murders happening off the page. We see some set ups for the killings, but the deeds are done out of sight. As the novel progresses George Stark takes a stronger role in the story. The Dark Half contains several grotesque descriptions and things have the potential to get incredibly nasty in a hurry, but in terms of overall gore and disgust, The Dark Half is a fairly tame novel. It is written in a matter of fact manner which gives the feeling of King telling the reader the story rather than crafting it with sentences and ink on paper. It has that easy reading feel and moves along at a reasonably brisk clip.

The Dark Half is unlikely to hold up as one of Stephen King's strongest or "best" novels, but it was an entertaining read, reasonably well crafted with some dramatic tension. What could have been a real...oh, I'll just say it...nail biter, is tamer than I had anticipated. The Dark Half may not be the best starting point for new readers of Stephen King, but one also does not have to be a King aficionado to enjoy it. Stephen King is a talented storyteller and even in what must be one of his lesser efforts, King is still capable of taking the reader along for a ride. Some rides are just more exciting than others. The Dark Half is a solid piece of work, but not an exceptional piece of fiction.

Friday, June 29, 2007


I read a good hundred pages of Midnight Tides last night while waiting for my wife at the dentist. I would love to say that I had a reading breakthrough and its going to be smooth sailing from now on, but I doubt it.

I'm just having a difficult time following this story or really grasping how it fits in at all in a larger world. I know I should recognize Trull Sengar, but I don't remember who he is / was. Up until this point, the rest of the Sengar and Letharii stuff has been tough to fight through. Maybe now that we've got the golden emperor of the Edur, things will improve.

The one aspect of the novel that is working, that is entertaining is Tehol and his game (or sorts). I like the dead girl and Bugg and Kettle, and this section is quicker paced works.

300 pages in and nearly every page a battle for comprehension. No wonder I've read a handful of other books after starting this one. I may read a handful more before finishing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

29 Union Leaders Can't Be Wrong, by Genevieve Valentine

29 Union Leaders Can't Be Wrong
Genevieve Valentine
Strange Horizons: June 18, 2007

I liked this story. I have no idea how to describe it because it is such a unique subject, but I really like it.

I’ll give it a go anyway.

"This is normal," the doctor says, and, "Give yourself time, it's key," and, "The hospital psychiatrist will be speaking to you about some support groups."

"What about Marlene?"

"She's speaking with one of our counselors," the doctor says. "Full transplant is usually something of a shock to the loved one, at first."
Stephen is a full body transplant recipient. He died, somehow. Stephen does not know how. The story follows Stephen, once and once again a cop, as he tries to adapt to his life in a new body which his wife does not recognize.

The woman ignores it and looks at Marlene. "What are you feeling right now?"

Marlene says, "Lost. Alone. I mean, I know it's him, but I can't. I can't see him as him. I don't know how."
29 Union Leaders is not simply about Stephen and Marlene. It is about Stephen and himself, about Stephen and his police co-workers (specifically his partner Callahan, but the others, too), and just in general about life as a full transplant. An FT.

This is such an interesting concept for a story (only 13 pages) and while there is decent amount of time spent at the beginning just trying to figure out who Stephen was, what a full transplant means, that the confusion could potentially detract from the story, but given a couple of pages and Valentine settles things down quickly enough. After that, once the meat of the story begins, 29 Union Leaders Can't Be Wrong is a fascinating piece of short fiction with a bit of quirk at the heart of the idea. For whatever reason what should be a deeply serious piece of fiction has a light hearted feel to most of the story.

29 Union Leaders is perhaps the perfect length for the story Valentine is telling, but here's the key: I wanted more. I wanted another five to ten pages even knowing that another five to ten pages might have messed with the storytelling. I became invested in Stephen, in Callahan (perhaps mostly in Callahan), and in Marlene and Thomas. 29 Union Leaders is a story which I believe will stick with me for a while and one which I'll think back on and wonder what happens next and what happened in between the lines. That's a good story.

I suspect that 29 Union Leaders will not resonate with all readers in quite the same way it did with me, though I certainly hope it will. Unlike other offerings from Strange Horizons (Private Detective Molly or Dead. Nude. Girls. in particular) I did not get excited for the story from the first page. Rather, 29 Union Leaders grew on me as the story progressed and by the end I needed to go back and read certain passages again and then start from the beginning because the story fascinated me so.

Yeah. I like this story.

Arrived: Long Voyages, Great Lies

Having read Alan DeNiro's collection Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and being impressed, I thought that picking up a chapbook edited by DeNiro and his fellow ratbastards. Six stories, up coming talent, affordable ($6 + $1.50 shipping), I'd say it's worth the money.

Hopefully I'll enjoy the chapbook because I plan on ordering at least a couple more (the first chapbook contains all four ratbastards, the rest don't but I'm interested).

Long Voyages, Great Lies is the 2006 chapbook. Velocity Press has published five total, one a year stretching back to 2002.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Gingerbread Girl, by Stephen King

The Gingerbread Girl
Stephen King
Esquire: July 2007

The Gingerbread Girl opens with a woman, Emily, who needs to run. Her daughter had died in the crib and running was the only release to the pain. First to the end of the driveway, but later miles at a time. Running was essential. Her husband did not see running as a positive, but rather as a way to avoid the pain. Perhaps to avoid the pain of a failing marriage, perhaps just to get away, but Emily runs again, this time away from her husband. She accepts her father's offer to live his small vacation home in Vermillion Key, Florida and there she begins to heal. And run.

When Emily sees what appears to be a body in the trunk of a car owned by a neighbor she was warned about, Emily makes the mistake to take a closer look to make sure it isn't a fake. She sees that the body is the real thing, and that's when Emily's terror begins.

The Gingerbread Girl is not one of King's strongest stories and I say this having only read a small handful of King's short fiction output (or novel length output, for that matter). But, having read the four novellas in Different Seasons and knowing just how many stories of his have been adapted to movies, and having read a couple of his novels, The Gingerbread Girl does not hold up and it is unlikely to hold up as I get deeper into the back catalogue of Stephen King. It is a very straightforward story, no real twists, but some decent scary moments for the character (perhaps not so much for the reader.) With that said, I was entertained the entire way through The Gingerbread Girl. King has a very matter of fact writing style which I would imagine lends itself well to orally telling his stories. That’s just a guess. The feeling that comes from The Gingerbread Girl is that of Cool Uncle Stevie sitting down and telling a scary story about a woman who thought she was running away from something, but ended up running into a whole 'nother world of trouble. There is a conversational feel to The Gingerbread Girl.

The straightforward, matter of fact storytelling is effective in King's work. He moves the story along at a brisk pace and keeps the reader interested all the way through. That other novels and stories are creepier and more engaging is a mark of his talent. Stephen King can flat out tell a story, even one that has is only firing on two or three cylinders. I cannot hold The Gingerbread Girl up and say "Woo Hoo! Hey, guys, you’ve got to read this great story I just read. It's by Stephen King and..." It's not quite that good. The Gingerbread Girl is solid, though. It is entertaining. It is something of a beach read, fast paced, and worth the time spending stepping into the story. But even with my limited Stephen King experience, I’m positive that the man is capable of better. And that's okay. Even a lesser effort by Stephen King is a good read.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Prime Codex, by Lawrence Schoen and Michael Livingston (editors)

Prime Codex: The Hungry Edge of Speculative Fiction
Lawrence M. Schoen and Michael Livingston (editors)
Paper Golem: 2007

Prime Codex is the debut collection from the new small press publisher: Paper Golem. Subtitled "The Hungry Edge of Speculative Fiction", Prime Codex features newer and upcoming authors from the Codex Writer's Group. Some of the authors collected in Prime Codex include: Tobias Buckell, Cat Rambo, Elaine Isaak, Mary Robinette Kowal, and others. I focus on these four authors simply because these are names that make my head turn and take notice (i.e. I have at least heard of these authors).

Prime Codex begins with an introduction by Luc Reid, the founder of Codex. He explains how it came about and the unique nature of this collection: the authors are all part of the same writer's critique group and so have had access to critique each other's work, including the work found in this collection. This means that the stories are all influenced, in a sense, by each other because of the collaborative nature of the critique group. To what extent this influences extends to the content of the stories...well, that is up to interpretation or theory.

We'll start with the stories which were either not memorable or just did not work for whatever reason. Unfortunately this includes the opening story To the East, a Bright Star by James Maxey. It is an end of days type story, but focused on a limited scale to a character who is waiting for the world to end (a star crashing on the Earth). It is a well written story, but it does not quite work for me. I don't care about Tony or the soon to be end of the world. The next story which fails to excite is The Disenchantment of Kivron Ox-Master, by Elaine Isaak. The story improves as it progresses and it ends well, but even talking animals and a magician who can't undo his magic just doesn't grab a hold of the reader. Jim C. Hines' story Sister of the Hedge was dull. I had to force myself to keep going. Two other unmemorable stories are Ruth Nestvold's Rainmaker and Tobias Buckell's Tides.

That's what did not work. What did work for me is nearly every other story in this anthology. Ticktock Girl by Cat Rambo, the second story in the collection, made me sit up and take notice and wonder what else was in the collection if this story was included. Rampion by Mary Robinette Kowal was a very short, but mournful story and is an exquisite short work (very short work). Salt of Judas, by Eric James Stone, is a work which examines desire and treachery and magic and painting and lust and deception and it's a rather good story.

Also worth noting is Urban Renewal, by Tom Pendergrass. Written as a series of memos to the mayor's assistant, Urban Renewal is the results of an attempt to get rid of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe and the failure of that attempt. A pleasure to read.

The crowning story is the last story: Radical Acceptance by David W. Goldman. This story features alien / human contact, otters, science fiction (no, I mean science fiction discussion within a science fiction story), humor, television, and clever writing. This is the sort of story which readers should enjoy.

Overall, my impression of Prime Codex is far more positive than negative. As in any collection there are stories which fail to resonate, but Prime Codex had far more stories which worked than those which did not. As an anthology which will serve more as an introduction to some newer authors (mostly), Prime Codex serves its purpose well. It is a showcase of the Codex Writer's Group and there is quality coming out of Codex. This is an exciting collection from up and coming authors. It is one worth checking out for fans of SFF short fiction.

One final thing worth noting: All of these stories have been previously published elsewhere (Asimov's, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Analog, Realms of Fantasy, etc), but I imagine most of these will be new discoveries even for the savvy short fiction reader.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Arrived: Acacia

Thanks to Jay, FBS, and the good people at Doubleday for allowing FBS to run a giveaway contest for David Anthony Durham's fantasy debut Acacia. This should be some good reading! Friday was a fun mail day.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range, by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range
Matthew Sanborn Smith
Chiaroscuro: Issue 32

Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range is a hard boiled, western of a story with a twist. The characters are all teddy bears. While this adds a level of storytelling and interest in what is going on, this twist does not take the edge of the story.

Death comes swiftly on the teddy bear range when the night devils' silhouettes mar the purpling sky. I shiver in the chill nightfall. Muffin turns his back to me, lights a cigarette as if to ward off the darkness.

"Get the little ones inside," I say. "We're burning the fires bright tonight."

At our feet, the wind blew in a piece of red yarn tangled in a few strands of yellow fur. After a quiet couple of weeks the bastards are feeding again.

The feel of this story is of frontier life where there are dangerous creatures hunting the denizens at night and there is a slow war of attrition occurring. Two things make Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range work as a story: First, the language, the style of the story, how Smith paces things and provides the feel of the story (yes, that's more than one thing, but it all ties together as what I’m talking about).

I drop a rock on the glass vial and the eggs go up in a roar of flame. Willoughby yelps, falls back on his ass. I love tenderfoots.

"What are you worried about?" I ask. "You're young. I thought all you kids nowadays were fire-retardant!"

"That ain't the same as fire-proof! What’s that squealing sound?"

The second thing is simply the fact that these are walking, talking teddy bears with dreams of being held by little girls, even though such a thing doesn't exist in their world. The combination of it all works perfectly. It's a heck of a story and one I was absorbed into.

"There wasn't much left to identify," I say, "But you knew him. He had yellow fur, always wore that red sweater no matter what the weather was like. Never wore any pants."

Oh...that just cracks me up.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Interviews: Michaelis and Patchett

The Amazon Bookstore Blog is running an interview series right now. A couple of days ago there was an Ann Patchett interview (her novel Run comes out this year...exciting news!) and today there is David Michaelis.


Yeah. Well, he's got an autobiography of Charles Schulz coming out in October called Schulz and Peanuts which will be on my must read list.

Both interviews are brief, but worth reading all the same.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Arrived: Electric Velocipede Issue Eleven

Today there was a solitary envelope in the mailbox. No junk mail, just a brown envelope with John Klima's name on the return address. Inside the envelope: Electric Velocipede - Issue Eleven. This, like the other magazines I've mentioned recently, is the first issue of Electric Velocipede I have purchased.

Looks like a good line up: Tobias Buckell, Matthew Cheney, Jeffrey Ford, Catherynne M. Valente, and more.

Looking forward to it.

Oh, and I have started reading the first issue of Steampunk Magazine recently. The first of the stories (after an article and a couple of features on steampunky products) is up next. I'm not 100% sure, but I suspect I won't be ordering issue 2 or anything further (nor reading the free PDFs online because, well, I dislike reading PDFs)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Dart
Jacqueline Carey
Tor: 2001

I hesitated reading Kushiel's Dart for a number of years for that most superficial of reasons: the cover art. Kushiel's Dart looked like little more than a romance novel wrapped in the swaddling of fantasy. This novel, however, has received a fair amount of critical acclaim and good buzz has popped up in some of the online venues I keep an eye on. So, it is with a mild amount of trepidation which I opened the cover.

The story begins early on in the life of Phedre, a young girl who would soon to be given over to the care of the Night Court, a group of professional courtesans. After spending several years trained at the Night Court she is adopted, or better yet, purchased by a man named Delaunay. Delaunay purchased Phedre's "marque", that which Phedre will need to earn back before she has her complete freedom again. She is not a slave, but she is owned. Delaunay has grander plans than just using Phedre as a source of income. Phedre is to be trained to look, listen, and think, to work as something of a spy for Delaunay has she goes on her assignations with the elite of Terre d'Ange.

The first hundred pages or so cover Phedre's training, her friendship with a gypsy boy named Hyacinthe, and her training by Delaunay. Jacqueline Carey is setting the stage for what is to come and to prepare Phedre and the reader for the rest of the novel. It would be very easy, however, to close the book any time during the first hundred pages in frustration because while there is quite a bit going on, there is the feeling that nothing actually happened.

The second hundred pages or so solve this problem as Phedre is permitted to start earning her marquee back and starts working as a courtesan for Delaunay. These second hundred pages can veer, at times, to soft core pornography. There is a good deal of sex, and because of the nature of Phedre's gift (she is an anguissette, touched by the god Kushiel, which is of a benefit to her "work" and allows her pleasure in pain), the sex is frequently violent. Carey toes a very fine line in showing the reader the nature of Phedre's work without going into too explicit detail. There are several instances, though, where Carey shows us more than the others so we better know just how violent and sexual things are for Phedre and just how much pleasure she gets from the pain.

This is only the beginning of the story, though. There are still five hundred more pages of "action" and plot. When the intrigue which Delauney has introduced Phedre to but never quite gave her all of the details about comes full circle to threaten Delaunay and Phedre's life, Phedre must choose survival over pride and expedience over her own desires and wishes. Phedre must use all of the skills at her disposal, intellectual and physical, to survive and protect Terre d'Ange from treachery internal and threats external.

Kushiel's Dart was a pleasant surprise. The first person narration from Phedre was very effective as Carey perfectly captures the voice of the character and when Phedre declines to graphically explain certain events it does not harm the story, but rather gives the story shading and perspective from the narrating character. Carey is, perhaps, a bit long winded and spends a bit too much time having Phedre dealing with whatever her current situation is. It is all appropriate for the story, but Kushiel's Dart is also a 700 page doorstop of a novel and there is some fat in the novel which could well have been trimmed. In particular, the first two hundred pages had extraneous text, though Carey does a very good job in making reference later to what seemed at first to be padding. This is to say that while Kushiel's Dart is very much on the wordy side, Jacqueline Carey makes even unimportant events early on become important later in the novel. Because of this, it is difficult to say exactly what should have been trimmed, but 700 pages is still a bit much to ask for from the reader for a first novel.

With all of that said, Carey does an excellent job making Phedre a believable character and the political intrigue and motivations credible. Phedre's world feels like a place that could possibly exist. As the novel progresses, Phedre still uses the physical tools she has at her disposal (her body), but Carey no longer goes into great detail in what goes on between the sheets. This is to Carey's and the novel's benefit because had the sex not taken a back seat later in the novel Kushiel's Dart would have been little more than a soft core novel with some fantasy elements (i.e. more suited to be shelved in the romance section than fantasy).

Kushiel's Dart far exceeded my expectations and while I feel no inclination to rush out and find a copy of the next book, Kushiel's Chosen (another 700 page doorstop), I did enjoy the time spent in Terre d'Ange and will likely return for another visit to the intrigue of Phedre's world.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Biding Time, by Robert J. Sawyer

Biding Time
Robert J. Sawyer
Slipstreams (DAW: 2006)

Biding Time is a Martian detective story. Well, it is a detective story set on Mars. Megan Delahunt was murdered just after she transferred her consciousness from her aged human body to an immortal body. Apparently immortality will only get you so far. Alex Lomax is hired to investigate her death. Lomax is able to put together a hint of a motive early on while discussing the case with a dealer specializing in Martian fossils.

This was my first taste of Robert J. Sawyer's work, though I intend to read Hominids sometime in the next year or so. As an introduction to Sawyer, Biding Time is decent place to start. It is a well written, well constructed story with an interesting setting and Sawyer tells the story well. Sawyer moves the story along at a decent pace for the 15 pages of text and at all times I was interested in what happens next.

If I had to choose between recently read science fiction detective stories I would probably choose Private Detective Molly for the atmosphere, but Biding Time is very much worthy of consideration. The ending of the story, the great reveal, this is where Robert J. Sawyer delivers the goods. There is power in the last couple of pages. Well done.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Top 10 SF Novelists of the last decade

Great Posting.

Includes Stross, Scalzi, Peter Hamilton, and some others. Great place to find a recent SF reading list. I'm going to start with Vernor Vinge's True Names, since it got a plug at the end of the posting and it is a short novella (sure, it is from the early 80's, but is listed as a seminal work of the genre).

Then I'll think about some of the other stuff on this list. Good thing I've read all of Scalzi and half of Stross. Neal Asher and Alistair Reynolds both look interesting.

Quick Takes: Larbalestier, Shepard, Keyes

Magic or Madness, by Justine Larbalestier: After seeing Magic or Madness recommended on several sites and lots of praise heaped on Justine Labalestier, I decided finally to give Larbalestier's work a shot. Magic or Madness is a Young Adult fantasy featuring an Australian girl named Reason. At the start of the novel Reason is hiding with her mother from her grandmother who is a witch, believes in magic, and wants to harm reason. Two chapters later we find that Reason is on an airplane to live with her grandmother and Reason's mother is in a mental institution. Thus begins a story of mistrust, of magic, of magic doors, the culture clash between New York City and Australia, and of childhood friendships and beliefs. Things are not as they seem. The first handful of chapters of Magic or Madness feel choppy and while the concept of the story was moderately interesting, the execution early on was a bit rough. Once the story shifted to New York, however, Larbalestier hit a groove and pulled me a long to the very end. By the end I was impressed and found Magic or Madness to be a fun, well told story. I would definitely recommend this to fantasy fans and to the young adult audience it is aimed at. The beginning is rocky, but once Larbalestier settles down the story is a good one.

Two Trains Running, by Lucius Shepard: Two Trains Running is a collection of one nonfiction article for Spin, and two related short stories. The article, The FTRA Story, is an extended version of the original published article. The FTRA is the Freight Train Riders Association, something of a gang of hobos illegally riding the rails. Just how dangerous the FTRA actually may be is a matter of contention, but Shepard spend some time with various train riding hobos and he got as much information as it may be possible to do. Following the FTRA Story, Shepard brings us two works of short fiction based on his research and article. Over Yonder is the first and longer of the two stories and features a drugged and drunked out hobo catching a train with a man he views as an enemy, but the train ends up heading out somewhere into what the man believes to be the afterlife, but turns out to be another realm of existence and there is a hobo culture / society over yonder, as it is called. The final story, Jailbait, focuses on a girl who is underage but riding the rails and on the run looking for something. This themed collection, Two Trains Running, is a solid collection and one which explores an under represented part of America (in fantasy or just in fiction), and one which works for that reason. But, somehow it also does not leave the desire or the need to go find more hobo fiction, let alone hobo science fiction, but for a hundred page collection, it’s not a bad way to spend some time. I would recommend other work by Lucius Shepard (Softspoken, Aztechs, or the novella Vacancy) over this collection.

Edge of Victory I: Conquest, by Greg Keyes: This seventh volume of the New Jedi Order series has everything that the previous entry lacked. Adventure, fun, excitement, emotion, fewer than three hundred pages Greg Keyes gives us a fast paced, thoroughly enjoyable Star Wars novel focusing on Anakin Solo. Anakin is, perhaps, the Star Wars hero we’ve been waiting for who isn't part of the Big Three (Luke, Han, Leia). Star Wars fiction may be my guilty pleasure, but Edge of Victory: Conquest is simply that, a pleasure to read. Well done, Mr. Keyes, well done.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Things With the Same Name, by Nini Kiriki Hoffman

Things With the Same Name
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Lone Star Stories: Issue 21

My name was Charlie, which might have been my biggest problem. I died in one of those storms people called the Storm of the Century.
So begins Nina Kiriki Hoffman's story Things With the Same Name. Two sentences and we know that Charlie's name is a problem and that Charlie is dead. We also know that Charlie, being dead, is still narrating. From the first two sentences we know that something out of the ordinary is happening in Hoffman's story, but Hoffman follows up these two sentences with the ordinary. Charlie had a big fight with his mother, so he walked out into a Colorado snowstorm without a hat, coat, or gloves. A woman picks him up on the side of the road, but then leaves him isolated on the side of the road miles away because he told her his name.

This is when Charlie dies. This is when the story truly begins. This is where Charlie has a story to tell.

Finally I lay down on the snow beside the road. By that point I couldn't feel much of anything. It was like going to sleep, only colder.

When I woke up, the snow had made a blanket over me, covering my face, even. I sat up. Suddenly I was looking at that snowy sky above, but there was no feel or sound of snow moving off me. I looked down and saw that everything of me from the waist down was still under the snow.
Charlie described what it is like to discover being dead and it is the dead Charlie which is far more interesting than the living Charlie. Nina Kiriki Hoffman, after introducing the reader to a dead protagonist, has written a quiet story where the reader has to listen a little bit closer to the story. Nothing loud or flashy occurs, but the story is insistent that we keep reading. That we want to keep reading is to the credit of Hoffman.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Softspoken, by Lucius Shepard

Lucius Shepard
Night Shade Books: 2007

With Softspoken Lucius Shepard puts his spin on the ghost story / haunted house sub-genre of fiction. Sanie and her husband Jackson are transplants from Chapel Hill, North Carolina down to South Carolina so Jackson can study for the bar. To get away from all distractions, Jackson and Sanie are living in Jackson's childhood home. From the start Sanie hears voices, somebody calling out her name. After ruling out Jackson's brother and sister, who are each living at the house, Sanie starts thinking about ghosts.

Where the average author would tell a simple ghost story and veer into some Hill House related horror, Lucius Shepard does something different. He changes the nature of the game. Softspoken is not a simple ghost story. It is not a simple anything. Shepard presents us Sanie, a well put together woman who is pulled away from everything she knows to support her husband's studies. From a vibrant community she now lives in an insular town where Jackson Bullard's family has a bit of a reputation for madness. It is this madness which Sanie faces along with the voices and as the house and the town begins to exert some sort of influence on her husband and on herself.

Lucius Shepard is a master at packing in the most story and the most feeling into a short novel. Softspoken is, no pun intended, a haunting novel of hidden voices, ghosts, a breaking marriage, and the influence of small towns and family history. In a tight little package, Softspoken delivers a gripping story which gets more complex as the novel progresses and Shepard peels away layer after to layer to reveal far more than the reader initially anticipated. Lucius Shepard is a top shelf writer. Read him.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


7:51 PM -


feeling a bit off

7: 32 PM -

I'm catching other reports of zombie activity. Authors Elizabeth Bear and Cherie Priest are having trouble. Not to mention a host of other reports.

I got a feed from CNN before it went dark. The President has called all troops home to deal with the Zombie Problem, as W called it. Martial Law is in effect. I can hear fighter jets overhead and sonic booms as they breach the sound barrier. I guess we'll finally get the troops home from Iraq, but I think this is too late for the rest of us. I see explosions in the distance. I hope its the good guys fighting back. I hope my wife is okay. I have not been able to reach her on the phone. I love her so much!!!!!!

I don't feel very well. I think I need to lay down.

zombie man winter

7:23 PM -

I fought him off, Zombie Man Winter. I took the two larger kitchen knives. One of them is still lodged in his eye socket. He stumbled off and I got back inside. I hope he doesn't come back.

He bit me on the arm when I tried pushing him away.

zomb on the lawn

7:15 PM -

There is a zombie on my front lawn. I've accepted that is what is happening. He looks like a neighbor. Shoot! It is my neighbor! It's Old Man Winter!

I could really use a weapon right now. I don't have a gun. Not even a bat. A hockey stick might be helpful.

Hmm. There is an assortment of kitchen knives. I'm trying to peer through the cracks of the blinds. I dare not touch the blinds. I don't want to catch the eye of Zombie Man Winter.

Son of a ------

He's chewing the cable between the satellite dish and the house.

That's it!!

sweet zombie of mercy I am home

5:01 PM -

I am so scared right now. My mouth is shaking. I left work at 12:30 and I just got home now. This may take a while for me to type out.

The bosses at work sent everybody home early. I aimed towards 35W when I saw that part of the highway was ripped up. I should point out that Washington Ave was nearly empty. There were cars on fire, cars burnt out, people yelling and moaning and moving slowly. I shot towards 94 and that road was no better so I took the first exit I came to.

I don't know how to describe the next few hours. I drove semi-aimlessly through the streets of South Minneapolis heading ever more south. That's all I knew - go south. Get home.

Here is what I can put into words: There are riots on the streets of Minneapolis, even the nicer residential neighborhoods. Houses, stores, cars - all on fire. People with guns, crazed dogs. Roads are blocked. I was almost car-jacked by the slowest moving person ever. Half her face was chewed off but still she came as I tried to force my car past one abandoned in the middle of Lyndale.

I saw things that I don't think that will go away when I close my eyes.

All of the radio stations are static now, but that might be because something ate the antenna of my car.

I ran over a child to get home. I couldn't stop, couldn't swerve. The child was eating out the stomach of a dog and she looked up at me with blood dripping off her chin. I hit her and kept going.

I'm home. I thought I'd never be home. I just don't know if I'm safe. My wife is staying at work.

where there is smoke there are zombies?

7:52 AM - Traffic was fairly light this morning. Most of the cars were parked on the side of the Interstate, and everybody was out gawking at something. The middle lane was clear.

I know what they were looking at. There was an immense cloud of smoke coming from the direction of the Mall of America. Not a plume, a cloud. It nearly blotted out the sun on that side of town. The radio stations are unclear as to what is happening. Lots of screaming.

As I drove towards Minneapolis there were more cars getting onto the road. Folks still do need to go to work, but I don't know how productive today will be. Lots of ears will be glued to the radio and to whatever televisions are around. I would wager that local news websites will be flooded to a crawl. The Star Tribune was down when I just checked.

Worse, though. As I passed Lake Street I saw a couple of cars were overturned and on fire. Like the troubles in Bloomington have anything to do with the Lake Street residents. If North Minneapolis is causing problems, too, this will be just stupid.

Now this may be the last update until after work.

time to go, zombie boy

7:05 AM - Alright, I have to leave for work now.

There was just a huge explosion. I heard it from my home and I live so far on the other side of Bloomington I could not be farther away from the Mall and still be in Bloomington. Channel 5 news has gone dark, but KARE 11 and WCCO are still broadcasting.

Hopefully traffic won't be bad, but there may be some delays due to the road closings. Or maybe things will be better as folks try to find alternate routes. I'm out. I may not be able to update while I'm at work. I'm sure this will all be resolved by noon.

road closings

6:45 AM - I am keeping a close watch on all of this. It is like watching a car wreck, but worse. It reminds me, in a sense, of that day in September 2001. That's the feeling in the air right now. The Crosstown and 494 are closed between 35W and 35E.

There is something of a standoff at the Mall. Shots are still being fired, reportedly on both sides. I really hope folks don't do something stupid.

Crap! I still have to pack my lunch. Good thing I still have chili leftovers from this weekend.

IKEA, too?

6:15 AM - I have had the chance to eat some breakfast and walk my dog. There is an eerie quiet for a Wednesday morning. I think I am being paranoid. I had several nightmares last night about zombies taking over Bloomington and running amok. I woke up in a cold sweat, so much so I had to shower this morning. I hate morning showers. Anyway, I have zombies on the brain. Pun intended. I was all excited about writing about this hypothetical zombie uprising this morning and I just can't. The police stole my angle about covering the Mall of America and I’m creeped out by my dreams last night.

I am trying to keep up with what is going on at the Mall. There are no articles posted online, but something bad is going down. My wife and I were just there this weekend with her brother and his wife and kidlet. Scary! We realize that it can be this big and symbolic target, but you never think that something like this can really happen.

There are already reports of gunfire. More police have been called to the scene. The Mall is so big that I wonder if most of the police in the Metro area will be on the scene. State Troopers, city police. I don't think Bloomington has the presence to manage this, whatever this is. There have to be some really bad men at the Mall right now. Reports are that there is also a disturbance at the IKEA across the street. What is going on!? This is scary!

The MPR reporter at the scene just said that Governor Pawlenty better call in the National Guard before this gets out of hand.

it ain't zombies

5:30 AM - This morning is supposed to begin what I thought was a fun little exercise. Write as if you are facing a zombie uprising. Fun, right? Yeah, that's what I thought. It seemed like a good idea to me, a fun thing to do and a way to exercise some creativity. That's what I thought.

What happens when I turn on the radio this morning? I flip on MPR and there is breaking news. The Mall of America is being cordoned off by the police and nobody is being let in or out. At first I figured this was just some sort of joke, that the reporter on MPR is in on the joke and is doing her version of the zombie uprising. But, that doesn't make sense. I think that would be irresponsible and she would lose her job, and rightfully so.

I'm tired.

I checked some traffic maps online and the Highway 77 exits on 494 (east and west) have been closed and other news outlets are reporting the same thing. So, assuming that there isn't a mass hallucination, something bad is going on in East Bloomington. I can only imagine what it would be to close down some roads and block off the Mall of America. That's a major undertaking.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Classic Book Ads

The blog of the Senior Editor of the NY Times Book Review links some advertisements for books published between 1962 and 1973.

My personal favorite is this one here.

reading Amy Hempel

I've heard the name Amy Hempel for a while now. She is a major influence of Chuck Palahniuk and she has been mentioned on his website several times whenever a new collection of stories is published.

This is what Palahniuk had to say about Hempel back in 2002:
Every sentence isn't just crafted, it's tortured over. Every quote and joke, what Hempel tosses out comedian-style, is something funny or profound enough you'll remember it for years. The same way, I sense, Hempel has remembered it, held on to it, saved it for a place where it could really shine. Scary jewelry metaphor, but her stories are studded and set with these compelling bits. Chocolate chip cookies with no bland "cookie" matrix, just nothing but chips and chopped walnuts.

In that way, her experience becomes your experience. Teachers talk about how students need to have an emotional breakthrough, an "ah-hah!" discovery moment in order to retain information. Fran Lebowitz still writes about the moment she first looked at a clock and grasped the concept of telling time. Hempel's work is nothing but these flashes, and every flash makes you ache with recognition.

When I was looking for some more short fiction recently I ran across three of her stories: Offertory, The Harvest, and Today Will be a Quiet Day. It is in the minimalist style of writing in which we can see how she influenced Palahniuk.

The Harvest, I think, is a far better and much more interesting story than Offertory. It features a woman having suffered a car accident which almost killed her and then she narrates what happens after, learning about what comes next.

Then Hempel twists it. I might have to do some research to find out for sure, and I’m not terribly interested in doing the research is that Hempel throws a twist with the second half of the story. The way the rest reads is that Hempel is explaining the background to The Harvest and tells what the truth is and why the truth would not have worked in fiction, even truthful fiction.
I leave a lot out when I tell the truth. The same when I write a story. I'm going to start now to tell you what I have left out of "The Harvest," and maybe begin to wonder why I had to leave it out.

I rather liked The Harvest. Offertory did not really do much for me, and Today Will Be a Quiet Day was a good story, but not as good as The Harvest.

Real technical analysis, here, huh?

The Oracle Spoke, by Holly Phillips

The Oracle Spoke
Holly Phillips
Clarkesworld: June 2007

Lt. Caldwell hears his name called deep inside his soul. It is a woman's voice and hearing the voice guides him to find a woman in a hidden room. Cassandra. She appears at first to be nothing more than a common waif, but Caldwell brings Cassandra back to his military camp. There, in front of the General and others, she speaks a prophecy. Or, more precisely, the Oracle inside Cassandra spoke a prophecy. Cassandra herself has no memory of what the Oracle speaks when the Oracle takes over.

Caldwell feels protective towards Cassandra, whom it should be pointed out, is distrustful of most everybody, but it is apparent that Caldwell does not have the same greed of prophecy that others do. Half of the story is told from Caldwell's perspective, the other half from Cassandra's.

A normal usage of an Oracle in fiction is as a nameless, faceless woman who makes pronouncements about the future in often vague terms. What Holly Phillips does here is give a name and a face and a personality to the hose which the Oracle uses. Cassandra is described as speaking with a "ruined voice" and looking like "a skinny, tired out girl". She is broken by the Oracle speaking through her, with no control whatsoever of what is being said or when it is said, or even a memory of what is said. The Oracle Spoke is a sad story, and one which I did not expect much from at the beginning, but midway through the story my interest picked up. It isn't outstanding, but The Oracle Spoke is a decent story with a very strong ending.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, by Chuck Palahniuk

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
Chuck Palahniuk
Doubleday: 2007

Subtitled An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, Rant is an experimental novel by author Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Survivor, Haunted). Before the novel ever begins, Palahniuk explains what the oral biography tradition means to this novel. The tradition of oral biography means simply that the story of Buster Casey is told by multiple interviews of people who knew Casey, knew of Casey, and perhaps did not know Casey at all but wanted to be interviewed about Buster Casey. There is no true narrative thread in the sense of the reader seeing the action unfold from the perspective of Casey. Rant is entirely about Buster Casey, but from the viewpoint of others. What this means is that some of the interviewees will contradict with each other and disagree with what others have said about Buster Casey and the situations surrounding his life and death.

So, who is Buster Casey? This is the question which Rant attempts to answer. Early in the novel Buster "Rant" Casey is referred as one of the great mass murderers in history, but what is apparent from early on in the novel is that Rant Casey was a charismatic young man, but he never got far enough away to truly be a mass killer. How exactly, then, is this possible?

The journey Chuck Palahniuk takes his readers on is one of a young man who never quite fit in, but was always exceptionally popular. Oh, and he had rabies. Yes, this is vitally central of the story of Rant.

In the first paragraph I called Rant an experimental novel and it is. The narrative is not straight forward, it jumps around all over in chronology depending on what the interviewees are discussing at the time. Shifting chronology is not necessarily a major issue and it works with the format, but the shifting chronology and the multiple narrator format makes Rant a bit disjointed. Palahniuk spins something of a dystopian future novel, mixes in accidental genocide, time travel, rabies, spider bites, and a rather creative counter culture called Party Crashing (whatever you think it might be, it's not that). The ingredients are all here for something that could be quite good. Palahniuk fails to deliver the goods.

The multiple narrator format can work exceptionally well in fiction. Take Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Erdrich's Love Medicine as examples of how to do this well. As I Lay Dying is the standard. Now, Chuck Palahniuk is not exactly doing a true multiple narrator format as the format normally requires one narrator per chapter. Rant, as stated earlier and in the subtitle, is an oral biography. The chapters are collected by topic, not by narrator. Each chapter features short paragraphs (or several paragraphs) by each of the participants in the oral biography. Together it forms something of a narrative.

I believe it is the very format of Rant which contributes to Rant feeling disjointed and not at all compelling. Every time a particular point of view or storyline gets intense, it is pulled away by the next narrator. Rant is an interesting fiction experiment, and something that could work in short doses to complement a more conventional novel, but as a complete novel in an of itself, the oral biography in Palahniuk's hands does not work. This is a great disappointment because Palahniuk is capable of some outstanding fiction, lately his output has not lived up to the promise of his earlier work. Still, there is hope because Chuck Palahniuk is an immensely creative storyteller and one who is worth giving many chances to because when the man delivers, he can leave his reader short of breath.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Journal of a Seasoned COBRA Veteran

Journal of a Seasoned COBRA Veteran
Keith Pille
McSweeney's Internet Tendency

We sure seem to have a lot of ninjas on the COBRA payroll.

After the glory that is 2002's Journal of a New COBRA Recruit, I stumbled across a follow up story where our Recruit has been around the block and has just been promoted to work in the Terrordrome.
I was squaring off with that silly sailor they keep on the team, the one who brings his parrot into battle with him. I pretty much had him on the ropes, because he insisted on fighting with a pirate pistol and a set of grappling hooks. That's no match for a laser rifle and a good set of lungs to yell "COBRA!"
I think that the Recruit story is stronger and fresher than the Veteran story is, but that is also because the Recruit story was the first one and introduced us to the silliness that is COBRA, but Veteran is still decent enough. It's a quick little story.

Arrived: Subterranean Magazine #4

Forgot to mention the other day that Issue #4 of Subterranean Magazine arrived in the mail. While I have been a regular reader of Subterranean Online since it first began, I have never purchased anything from Subterranean Press (their limited editions books are a bit expensive for my budget, though they look amazing!).

I do not know if Subterranean will continue with their print magazines now that they are putting content available online for free, issue #7 is still at a pre-order and it is supposed to include Vacancy by Lucius Shepard, a story which has already appeared online.

Still, I expect to love issue #4. This is the John Scalzi edited cliche issue. It looks like a lot of fun to read and it also features the first professional sale of Rachel Swirsky, whom you may recognize from this mini review. This is fun, exciting stuff, folks.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Snow for Flowers, by Leslie Claire Walker

Snow for Flowers
Leslie Claire Walker
Chiaroscuro: Issue 32

Seems to be something of a combination of Snow White and Lot's wife turning to salt, but told from the perspective of a woman named Becca sent by the salt woman inside her crystal coffin to find a boy and bring him back.

Here, where once there had been a thick carpet of grass only clumps remained with their claws dug into crumbs of soil. Where once there had been a circle of palms, only stumps crouched, a reminder that this place had not always been below the surface. In the center of the circle lay a pillar of salt who had once been a woman, inside a crystal coffin.

All the stories the stone men told talked of how she came to them and brought the war with her to our doorstep. But they called her our salvation. Our answer, our end to war. They treated her like a goddess. They said that I’d not yet lived among them long enough to understand.
Leslie Claire Walker's story has a very serious tone to it. There is a war going on and Becca does not want to go above ground to find the boy, but she will anyway. Snow for Flowers is a strong story, a well written story. It does not provide visceral excitement or provide the thrill of reading that some other stories may provide, but Walker delivers a satisfying story. The journey of Becca in to the war torn world which still views our Snow White as a salvation (or a terror, perhaps, depending on what side of the line one falls on) is one which is interesting and not at all overwhelming in the Snow White / Lot's Wife allusion. That's just the backdrop of the story. Becca’s journey is the story.

Not at all what I would have expected, but somewhat satisfying all the same.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Studies in Classic American Literature

A co-worker and I have been discussing novels and stories recently. He is just starting to read fiction again and is going through quite a few short stories and the occasional book. I’ve sent him a couple I've rather enjoyed and we’ve talked about some that he's liked. Sadly, he did not quite appreciate The Journal of a New COBRA Recruit as much as I did, but that's because he wasn’t familiar with GI Joe and that familiarity is essential to truly appreciate the story. In return for the four I sent him the other day, he printed out the first chapter (6 pages) of D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature.

Little did he know that in college I spent three years trying to find a copy of that book. My student advisor and English professor put it on a recommended reading list one year and I could never find a copy of it anywhere. By the time I was more than a year out of college I had forgotten about it.

And then the first chapter shows up on my desk this morning and the entire text is available for free online! Who knew?! I didn’t find it at Project Gutenberg, but I never expected to have it, either.

Lawrence writes:
The artist usually sets out – or used to – to point a moral and adorn a tale. The tale, however, points the other way, as a rule. Two blankly opposing morals, the artist's and the tale's. Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.

Now we know our business in these studies; saving the American tale from the American artist.
Outstanding. Simply outstanding.

It helps that I agree completely with this point, though I generally would not go so far as to say we need to save a tale from the artist, but rather that the artist has one perception of his work, but there may be other ways to read a story. The is the story the author intended and then there is the story itself which is open to criticism and interpretation and as long as the text of the story supports another reading, that reading is equally as valid as the intent of the author.

Reading that first chapter, this is a bold essay, a bold book. He takes readers to task for not understanding their intellectual shackles and how the bias comes in. Who are the masters and can we identify it in our own thought? The man may have died in 1930, but there is some powerful thinking here which I think may still apply today, though perhaps in a different sort of way. I think I will need to see where Lawrence is taking this idea of finding the American cultural identity to figure out what exactly he means by:
American consciousness has so far been a false dawn. The negative ideal of democracy. But underneath, and contrary to this open ideal, the first hints and revelations of IT. IT, the American whole soul.

You have got to pull the democratic and idealistic clothes off American utterance, and see what you can of the dusky body of IT underneath.
I get, more or less how Lawrence came to this, but I don’t know where he is bringing this.

On to the next chapter!!!

Dead. Nude. Girls., by Lori Selke

Dead. Nude. Girls.
Lori Selke
Strange Horizons: February 12, 2007

We've seen the signs. Live Nude Girls. Typically this is the only advertisement for some sort of Strip club or a "Gentleman's" Club. Live Nude Girls. Well, what if they were Dead Nude Girls? That's the question which Lori Selke answers in her story Dead. Nude. Girls. The club has dancers on stage performing various routines for the patrons of that establishment, but the girls are dead. They look cold to the touch, blue lips, and are simply dead.
This dead girl is the best stripper he's ever seen. He will tip big.

All the girls in the club are dead. The sign out front flashes neon, three simple words: Dead. Nude. Girls.
Dead. Nude. Girls. is a story about a man who frequents this particular club and about one of the dead dancers who he takes an interest in. Lily is just like a live girl, except she's not.
Jim can't bear to look at the other customers. It's bad etiquette in a strip bar, but that's not the reason he avoids their gaze, tries to position himself so that he can't even see them out of the corner of his eye. He doesn't want to know what kind of guy prefers to come to a zombie bar. He doesn't want to remember what brought him here in the first place, before Lily.
It's fascinating story of love and undeath and an odd twist on I guess what could be called as the zombie genre, only not so much in the case of Dead. Nude. Girls. Because we know Lily is dead, and a stripper, there is a bit of the grotesque, but like the scene of a car crash we cannot look away. It makes us uncomfortable. And unlike, perhaps, a car crash, we do not want to look away because Selke's story is really good and one which holds the reader's attention until the last word.

Very much recommended.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tradition, by Jo Walton

Jo Walton
Lone Star Stories: Issue 21

Jo Walton's two and a half page store in Lone Star Stories is a pleasant little diversion. It features a man on a faraway planet who is not entirely part of the planet’s culture because unlike most of the humans, he had been born artificially. He did not have a family tradition of stories and history and things that have been done by tradition. He married a woman with a very large family and at one family gathering he tries to work out exactly why one particular tradition is the way it is.

It's a pleasant story and the ending is one of those endings which makes the reader smile and nod a little bit. It's a familiar feeling story and a semi-predictable ending, know? It was a nice little story which takes a short amount of time to read.

I'm glad I did.

And reading her journal I am reminded that her novel Farthing is nominated for a host of awards. Perhaps I should read it.

Quick Takes: Brin, Schulz, Atwood

The Uplift War, by David Brin: The Uplift War completes David Brin's first Uplift trilogy (Sundiver, Startide Rising, The Uplift War). There is conflict on the planet of Garth. Humans and their clients, the chims, are fighting for survival on Garth as they face an invasion by the Gubru, an avian race. This small conflict on Garth is a microcosm for the threats the wolfling humans, who claim to have never been uplifted by a patron race, face across the galaxy and home on Earth. Most of the five galaxies are against humanity for being such upstarts and even though the conflict is so big, David Brin chooses to examine the overall conflict by looking at one small aspect of it and that aspect can very well be representative. I think I can tell why The Uplift War won the Hugo, but while this follow up to Startide Rising is very ambitious, it does not work quite as well as Brin's previous Uplift offering. The problem, I think, is in the characters. There is no character which truly stands out. Yes, yes, Fiben is interesting, Robert's transition to Tarzan Boy / Warrior is fine, as is that Atha... alien woman, but somehow the story of chims and humans with the occasional alien, it doesn't hit full marks. The Uplift War is an impressive science fiction novel, but it fails to hit me where I live (the heart, that would be the heart).

The Complete Peanuts: 1963 - 1964, by Charles M. Schulz: As always, happiness is a collection of Peanuts strips. In this collection Schulz introduces a character named 5, Snoopy goes to the hospital, Linus runs for class president, Charlie Brown gets "Little Leaguer’s Elbow", Linus's blanket-hating-grandmother comes to visit, birds carry signs, Linus is aware of his tongue, Charlie Brown's favorite ballplayer Joe Shlabotnik keeps getting sent to the minors, and Charlie Brown just can't seem to get a Joe Shlabotnik baseball card. Good times were had by all, except for the Peanuts gang.

Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood: I'm not disappointed, per se, that this wasn't one of Atwood's science fiction offerings (and yes, no matter what Atwood tells us, she has written several science fiction novels). What I'm disappointed in, more or less, is just the story. According to the back cover of the paperback, Cat's Eye is about childhood female friendships and yeah, I suppose it is. Atwood shows the cattiness of girls and tells the story of an older woman who is a "controversial painter", although that part really does not matter, and she flashes back to her childhood and her friendships, such as they were. Actually, there are few true flashbacks because most of the novel is of the child. The perspective is given by the older woman. Cat's Eye just fails to engage or satisfy. There are four hundred or so pages, but they do not feel like they amount to anything or truly build towards anything. A disappointing effort by Margaret Atwood (whom I normally enjoy).

Oh, and that spooky image on the cover of Cat's Eye? The orb in question? It's a marble. How prosaic.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Private Detective Molly, by A. B. Goelman

Private Detective Molly
A.B. Goelman
Strange Horizons: June 4, 2007

From the first paragraph we know two things: Private Detective Molly is a science fiction story and it is a detective story with the feel of a pulp dime novel or a Marlowe (or Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music). The narrator is clearly a low rent detective who would be at home with the pulp gumshoes of yesteryear.
The first thing I see when the persona generator opens is the bedroom ceiling above me. It's a humid afternoon and the paint's peeling off the cracked plaster like some third-rate strip show. It's enough to make me want to stay in the generator.
The initially unnamed Private Detective is given a case...why, when the little girl who owns a persona generator attempts to get "Debutante Molly", does she get Private Detective Molly? Private Detective Molly, the story, is loaded with that pulp feeling narration.
I freeze with my hand on the door. Sounds like she's giving me a case. I spin around and look up at her face. "You want me to figure out who froze your dial and why?"

She nods, tears welling up in her eyes. I'm a sucker for a crying girl. You can call it programming if you want, but I think it's Molly-Doll nature. Just like human nature, but a whole lot more decent.
A.B. Goelman does two things extremely well in Private Detective Molly. Goelman hits the stylistic narration perfectly and he moves the story along at a brisk pace. Private Detective Molly is a clever twist on the detective story and is loaded with charm and personality.

Private Detective Molly is pure pleasure to read. We’ve got a child doll programmed as a private detective trying to investigate why it was programmed as a private detective, all for another child and while obeying its programming regarding authority. An outstandingly entertaining story to read.

If A.B. Goelman has written anything else Private Detective Molly is strong enough to make me want to find it.

Arrived: Steampunk Magazine #1

Today the first issue of Steampunk Magazine arrived in my mailbox. It was available for free online, and I do enjoy reading short fiction and essays and interviews online, but I do so very loathe reading PDFs. So, I up and ordered the premiere issue.

It's odd. I'm not really a big fan of Steampunk. I've read The Light Ages, which I'm pretty sure falls into the steampunk tradition, and it's not something that quite hits me. I was intrigued by the magazine. Offered for free online, or for cheap in print. I wanted something to hold in my hand if the alternative was to read a PDF.

The magazine itself is only $3, but I didn't take shipping into account and that brought the price up to $5.16. That's fine, but I could have ordered Electric Velocipede for the price, Subterranean, or a couple of other things.

So, I hope it's good. I'll be reviewing the stories and then giving an overview of my thoughts on the magazine itself with some discussion on the other features.

Iconic Covers...

Inspired by this thread on FantasyBookSpot regarding iconic covers in Fantasy. Jay wonders
what image pops up in your mind when you think of iconic cover from your experiences in Fantasy reading. What is that cover that just takes you back?
For me, it is this one. Pawn of Prophecy is that book and is that cover (actually, The Eye of the World was my first thought, but the cover of Pawn of Prophecy is really the iconic fantasy book cover of my childhood, or at least my early teenaged years).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Best American Fantasy on NPR

The Ann and Jeff Vandermeer edited Best American Fantasy collection (series editor Matthew Cheney) was mentioned on NPR's All Things Considered today.

Interestingly enough, the recommendation didn't make the main broadcast, but rather is for the online readers. Kelly Link does read from her story "Origin Story" as an online excerpt.

I'm a little disappointed that the collection didn't get a full mention on the radio, but glad all the same that the collection did get focused online and that Kelly Link's reading is included, as well as what looks like might be the full text of the story (or not, I'm not sure, I've never read that story before).

I just gave the 9 minute story a second listen, no mention at all about the collection. Still, check out the website, listen to the Kelly Link excerpt and then enjoy this collection when it comes out.

locus covers small presses, too

This may be common knowledge, but since I only follow Locus Magazine through Bloglines, I may not read carefully enough. I noticed in the 16 new feeds I had from Locus this morning that Locus covers the Small SFF presses as well as the large. Actually, I shouldn't be surprised as Locus is a leading SFF magazine and there is some seriously good work coming off the small presses...but it did surprise me.

What really helped prove to me how much Locus is keeping on top of things...they had a mention of Prime Codex, the debut book from Paper Golem (of which I have a copy for a forthcoming review).

This month's Small Press news also highlights Softspoken, by Lucius Shepard, which I have at home from the library and eagerly anticipate reading, and Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand.

I also see mention of several small publishers I had never heard of but now wish to find out more about: iUniverse (wow! Apparently this is a print on demand self publisher but it still got mentioned on Locus...), Sam's Dot (they seem to specialize in magazines, but I see several novels listed on Locus), Raw Dog Screaming Press, Haffner Press, Hippocampus Press (seems to specialize in horror type fiction), Avari Press (fantasy), A Midsummer Night's Press (genre poetry).

After going through all of these I'm rather impressed that there are quite a few small presses out there which I have never heard of. Good on them.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

magazines and misc

A list of magazines I currently read or plan on checking out in the near future. Some have free content online

Current Reads:
Subterranean Online: My current favorite. Consistently excellent stories.
Strange Horizons: I like, but hit or miss.
Clarkesworld: Two free stories a month.
Weird Tales: I subscribe and am waiting for the first issue to arrive (the next issue, 345, I believe)

To Check Out for Quality:
Electric Velocipede: I plan on purchasing a single issue and perhaps a chapbook.
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet: I'll be ordering issue 20 (my first) in a while.
Subterranean Magazine - the print edition: I just ordered issue #4, the Scalzi cliche issue. $6, no shipping charge
Steampunk Magazine: I ordered issue #1 (they are currently at #2). The issue is only $3, but with shipping $5.16
Darker Matter : free online content.
Heliotrope: free online content, but in PDF format (PDFs don't make for good copy and paste to a word doc).
Hub Magazine
Rabid Transit: Not a zine, but inexpensive chapbooks. Alan DeNiro is part of this whole series.

Anyone know of any other quality zines which provide free online content or are simply worth a few dollars to consider a single issue trial?

more library merger news

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune posted this article on May 31. The Governor dropped a line item veto on $4.5 million in state and local aid for the transition. Of course. He approved the merger, but isn't willing to pay for it.

Someone worried about layoffs on my last post. Now, I might be worried about layoffs because there will be less funds to smooth out the transition.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said that, without state funds, its unclear how the city and county will pay for the transition to a merged library computer system.

"We're going to go forward," McLaughlin said Thursday. "I think it makes the seas choppier, that's for sure. But I don't think it torpedoes it."

The mayor of Minneapolis expresses his disappointment.

"It's a one-two punch. An incredibly tough blow," a frustrated Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Thursday after losing more than $13 million in expected state aid in addition to the library transition funding.

"I've heard the governor talk about streamlining government to deliver better services; well, this goes against everything he says," Rybak added. "It's hypocrisy."

Hopefully the merger can still come together seamlessly and all city and county employees can keep their jobs.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ex Machina, by Margaret Ronald

Ex Machina
Margaret Ronald
Strange Horizons: May 28, 2007

A band of tinkers travel up a mountain following a call which only they can hear. They are seeking a particular building in a valley, but get sidetracked by helping others fix their mechanical equipment. On the mountain they stop at Hollow Base, a military base, and work on equipment there. Judith, the "lead" tinker who claims to not be in charge, is the focus of the story. She tries not to be overwhelmed by her "techsense", which is when all of the details of the technology flashes through her mind to the exclusion of everything else. Certain tinkers are gifted with this "techsense". Judith is warned that the commander is not what he seems to be.
The room was as bare as the rest of the base, though there were a few traces of personality. Several stools lined one wall, facing the broad desk and its cushioned chair. A broken base station for the communicators trailed wires over the top of the cabinet. Judith bit her lip. Exhaustion and techtrance gnawed at her, and the urge to take the damn thing down and fix it swelled like hunger in her.

"He could come back at any minute," she muttered aloud. On the other hand, her techsense whispered, better to do it now than succumb in the middle of a conversation. . . .

She could even see where it was broken. . . .
Ex Machina is a story not about technology, but about those who can truly understand technology and how technology can be misused in the hands of those looking only for personal greed. The first couple pages are tough because the reader attempts to figure out what this techsense is what the main thrust of the story is. Ex Machina only picks up and becomes more immediate midway through the story when Judith and the Tinkers are spending their first night at Hollow Base. At this point more of what is truly occurring becomes clear and the threat is realized.

Ex Machina is not the most outstanding story we will read in any given year, but the last nine of the eighteen pages make the story worth reading. There is no true explanation of what techsense is or how it works, but we just have to take it as something that does not need any more explanation other than the fact that it does work. Decent story.

May 2007 Reading

1. Aztechs - Lucius Shepard
2. A Thousand Deaths - George Alec Effinger
3. Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse - James Luceno
4. Spring Broke - Nathaniel Welch
5. Shadow Games - Glen Cook
6. Starship: Mutiny - Mike Resnick
7. Blowing My Cover - Lindsay Moran
8. In the Garden of Iden - Kage Baker
9. Into a Dark Realm - Raymond E. Feist
10. Balance Point - Kathy Tyers
11. The Sportswriter - Richard Ford
12. The Astonishing X-Men: Torn - Joss Whedon
13. The Last Colony - John Scalzi
14. The Naked God: Flight - Peter F. Hamilton

Best Book(s) of the Month: Shadow Games, Blowing My Cover. – There’s just something about a good Black Company novel which just satisfies.

Worst Book of the Month: Balance Point

Pleasant Surprise of the Month: Starship: Mutiny – Outside of a Hugo nominated story, this was my first taste of Mike Resnick’s work. I’d probably call this a science fiction beach read, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Good science fiction fun. Made me smile.

Disappointment of the Month: The Sportswriter

Scalzi of the Month: The Last Colony – What? I can’t call out work by one of my favorite authors?

For those keeping score at home, The Naked God: Flight was book #96 for the year.