Reading

Review: Clarkesworld 101 (Feb 2015)

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LADY AND THE SHIP, by Atilgan Asikuzun

 

The Last Surviving Gondola Widow, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

5/5 *

A properly steampunk story, in that the time period fits, it contained Victorian Super Technology, and actually used steam/coal to fuel the machines. Nicely researched alt-history focusing on Chicago after the Civil War; bonus points for including a magic system that makes sense, and a female main character that fit well within the context of the story. Good steampunk is hard to find, since it requires that the alt-tech is actually necessary for the world, and isn’t just gears slapped onto a story. Rusch’s characters, setting, and plot all work together into something extraordinary, and I’m delighted to have read it.

Indelible, by Gwendolyn Clare

2/5*

Eh. I can’t remember a worse story in Clarkesworld, which is usually home to the best of the best of SFF short fiction. It’s not terribly bad, it just isn’t good, isn’t unique, isn’t much different from work I reject on a regular basis. I’m tired of the Western/English predisposition to using ze/zer/mx for genderless pronouns; it’s not the only way to express “them” even in human languages, so why is it the only way we see it written in SFF? Especially considering that the main character has an Asian name — they have words in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and several other Asian languages for this exact situation that don’t translate into English as “zer”. (Much more likely to be “this person” or “that person”.) Beyond that, the story is nothing special. The twist at the end isn’t well-supported, and doesn’t answer the essential “question” that the opening evokes. Two stars only because it’s okay enough that if you were completely unfamiliar with this sort of tale, you might enjoy it somewhat.

(TW for rape, violence) The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, by Kelly Robson

4/5*

Having it be 9/11 doesn’t add anything to the story for me, and sets the reader up looking for a connection which never quite materializes (and for me, wasn’t at all necessary to make the rest of the story work). And, I questioned the suddenness of the big decision at the very end, but not so much that I couldn’t buy it. Otherwise, it’s great! Visceral, moving, dark SF bordering on horror. I easily connected with the character — a teenage girl, sexually abused, neglected by her parents — but I don’t think you need to have been any of those things to be well and truly creeped out.

Meshed, by Rich Larson

5/5*

Ah, so good! Intelligent extrapolation from current events/cultural mores to a not-so-distant future, giving us a glimpse of crisp SF from the perspective of an everyday guy. It’s fun, quickly worded, completely plausible, and yet also emotionally solid. There is nothing in this story that I didn’t think, “Yes, sure, that could happen,” about.

The Osteomancer’s Son, by Greg van Eeekhout (First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2006.)

4/5*

I’m a fan of van Eeekhout’s work, but if you’re not, this story is a good introduction. It’s self-contained, but relates to his bone-magic tales, and gives the reader a sense of van Eeekhout’s casual, conversational style: the way he turns big reveals in side comments, and ends a sentence before the surprise has leaked all the way out of it. He’s a fun author, even when he’s telling a dark story, and this is an enjoyable read.

It Takes Two, by Nicola Griffith (First published in Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan.)

3/5*

I was thrown immediately by the opening line: “It began, as these things often do, at a bar—” which immediately distances the reader by telling you that you’re not watching the scene unfold, you’re being told about the story after it’s already over. That particular story structure removes the immediacy of this tale, which already involves so much required belief in what one character is telling another at different points in the story. For me, that takes away from what should be the reader’s experience parallel to the narrator’s. As the story develops, it gets more interesting, if not very original, at least in being a newer (GLBT) presentation on a common theme. It’s a strong story, though, and if you like those “hooker with a heart of gold” stories, or the “it’s real love this time, I promise” trope, then you’ll enjoy Griffith’s telling of it.

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Book Review: Dial M for Monkey

3 of 5*

Only 60+ pages; this quick read can be started and finished in well under an hour, and that alone makes it not a waste of time. The stories are a mix of “high impact” and “needs an editor” – I kept wanting to revise or strike his last lines, over and over.

Maxwell sticks to a format of “Here’s the story, wait, no there’s a twist coming up, TWIST”, expanding it sometimes to “Here’s the story, wait, no there’s a twist coming up, wait for it, wait for it, really I mean it, keep waiting, TWIST, he he he” for most of the collection. Most of the characters are middle-aged, blue collar, London-area blokes, and a lot of the humor is crude (“He got hit in the balls with a block, lol” type of stuff.)

Probably the best are “I Almost Spanked A Monkey”, “Sprouts” (which is one of the few near-genre stories in the book), and “Is That To Go?”. All use Maxwell’s preferred format successfully, and none go on too long.

The longer pieces aren’t quite as good as the flash, IMO, but at the same time Maxwell brings in an earthy, working class, feel to his fiction that I don’t often see in lit flash. It’s an important perspective because it’s not often published, and some of the pieces do work very well. Don’t read it because it’s the best ever (it’s not) but it is a valuable use of an hour, even if you’re only learning what not to do yourself.

What SF Wished It Was: a review of “Transit of Earth”, a Playboy Science Fiction collection (1971)

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars, with individual stories rated differently below. All male authors; anthology published in 1971, with stories originally appearing in Playboy Magazine from 1958 to 1971.

This is an excellent read for anyone wondering about this “classic” SF that certain members of SFWA and the genre community so desperately want to hold on to. It is, much like you’d expect, filled with reasonably well-off white males of middle age and up, who fancy themselves smart, well-read, charming, and wise in the ways of liquor, business, and women. There are a few gems — both in speculative literature and hard science — and a few that fall flat, with most in between. There are a couple of stories (including two by Ray Bradbury) which are decently written but not SF in any way, at all.

Of women, there are only a couple of stories which include them. Two with the “typical” flawed wife, causing her husband’s downfall; one prostitute, one burlesque dancer who refuses to be bought, one stewardess (with a mention of a couple others); one judge; one teen girl. All are mentioned briefly, all are devices around which the story maneuvers but never centers on. One is — implied — eaten by aliens, one causes her husband’s death, one inspires her husband to murder (her, he hopes, but not her, as it turns out). Two are murdered. The man with the prostitute is relieved when she asks for money so he won’t have to worry about the stress of either wooing or leaving her. The burlesque dancer is murdered because she doesn’t agree to become a prostitute. The two married women and the judge get full names; the prostitute, dancer, and teen girl don’t get named at all — though the men are fully named in every story.

Aside from the mutant human “toys” in “Cephalotron” and the undescribed maybe ethnicity of “Dr. Ramos” in “Speed Trap”, everyone in the entire book is white — though variations of Irish, California Irish, Italian, Canadian Italian, and Jewish are made clear, as if that’s just enough diversity, thank you, but no more.

For the most part, the tales are sprinkled with words big enough to ensure the readers had a college education, or at least the kind of respectable book learning that comes from being poor but a constant in the library, or having associated yourself with academics as part of your business. Lots of first person narration; emphasis here on “I am a man’s man, a smart, science/business savvy man that you wish you could buy a drink for, let me tell you my story ” with a few “let me tell you the story of how some other man failed to be as awesome as me as suffered for it” types thrown in.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to love in this collection! A couple of these stories serve as master classes in how to do that sort of story right, and are worth the price of admission for them alone. Even if you’re not interested in learning to be a better writer, read this collection for the history lesson, and increased awareness in what women/PoC/QUILTBAG/international authors/anyone different have to overcome when trying to write — or find themselves in — American science fiction.

5/5* “Transit of Earth” – title story. 1st person narrative. Starts with statement of inevitable death, comparison to historical figures. Placement in time and space. Excuse for narrative (final thoughts before death). Story begins by contemplating 3 options for death (1 inevitable, 2 choosing earlier deaths) and explains why none suit hit. Also reveals he wasn’t quite right for the mission because he’s afraid of underwater suffocation. Via narrative, it’s revealed he started training in his 20s. It’s May 11, 1984 now. He’s on Mars, awaiting the transit of Earth. 4 other crewmen stranded with him but they’re dead now; 10 others took off for Earth already. End hints at possible rescue he’s ignoring, also strange deaths of his comrades. Did he kill them so he could live long enough to see the transit? Grand finale, exit stage left.

2/5* “Button, Button” Average punchline horror story and mid 20th century misogyny. Typical grasping wife feels she deserves more. Noble but distant husband refuses to trade a stranger’s life for $50k but the wife takes the deal behind his back. “For us,” she says, but really, for her. Husband killed, wife gets $50k insurance and a message (when she protests it was supposed to be someone she didn’t know): “You didn’t really know your husband, did you?” *yawn* Credit given for the fact this is an early example in SF, but isn’t even the 1st. (more…)

Current State of the To Be Read Pile, May 2014

I spent part of the weekend sorting and assembling my current reading list. I’m limiting myself to actual print books at the moment because my backlog is enormous, and because my ebooks tend to be fiction: short story collections and novels. Right now, I want to focus on reading to fill in the gaps in my education, support my academic research, and finish a bunch of reviews for books I’ve already read (which means going over them again).

Some of these are books I’ve had for a couple of years; a big group of them are from my recent excursion to the annual library book sale. I’ve sorted them by my goals, not by the order in which I expect to read them.

Literary Studies (aka, Carrie’s Build Your Own MFA Program)

The Aleph and Other Stories, Jorge Luis Borges
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer; trans. by Frank Ernst Hill (1932 edition)
The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, ed. by Charles Neider
Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics, volume 1
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, Dennis O’Neil
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Virtual Unrealities, the Short Fiction of Alfred Bester
12 Classics of Science Fiction, ed. by Groff Conklin
The Best American Noir of the Century, ed. by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler
Bradbury Stories, 100 of his most celebrated tales
Colonial & Postcolonial Literature, Elleke Boehmer
A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, 2 volumes, ed. by Anthony Boucher
Black Noir, mystery, crime, and suspense fiction by African-American writers, ed. by Otto Penzler
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm
Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
English Literary Criticism: The Medieval Phase, J.W.H. Atkins (1943)
English Literary Criticism: The Renascence*, J.W.H. Atkins (1947)
English Literary Criticism: 17th and 18th Centuries, J.W.H. Atkins (1951)
An Age of Criticism, 1900-1950, William Van O’Connor (1952)
The Complete Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Future Imperfect, James Gunn
The Best of Judith Merril
Orbit 2, ed. by Damon Knight
Strangers in the Universe, Clifford D. Simak
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing, ed. by Tara L. Masih
Ellison Wonderland, Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Female Man, Joanna Russ
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
Mindswap, Robert Sheckley
Stories From the Twilight Zone, Rod Serling
The New Weird, ed. by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Horror, Filipino Fiction for Young Adults, ed. by Dean Francis Alfar, Kenneth Yu
Demons of the New Year, an anthology of Horror Fiction from the Philippines, ed. by Karl R. De Mesa, Joseph Frederic F. Nacino
The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebub Wristlet, ed. by Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, ed. by Kate Bernheimer
Other Worlds, Better Lives, a Howard Waldrop Reader
War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Watership Down, Richard Adams
So Long Been Dreaming, ed. by Nalo Hopkinson & Uppinder Mehan
The Age of Fable, volumes 1 to 4, Bullfinch
The Golden Bough, Frazer
Stars Fell on Alabama, Carl Carmer
French Realism: The Critical Reaction, 1830 – 1870, Bernard Weinberg (1937)
A Treasury of New England Folklore, ed. by B.A. Botkin (1947)
The Rise of The Novel, Ian Watt
The Art of the Novel, Critical Prefaces, Henry James
Beowulf and thee Finnesburg Fragment, trans. by John R. Clark Hall, preface by J.R.R. Tolkein (1911)
Intersections, ed. by John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name, Richard Butner
Lost in the Funhouse, John Barth
Edmund Spenser’s Poetry, ed. by Hugh Maclean and Anne Lake Prescott

(and about 100 lit magazines)

Research

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Douglas Keister
Old Books & New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture, Leslie Howsam
Book History, Volume 14, 2011
An Introduction to Book History, David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery
All In Color For a Dime, ed. by Dick Lupoff & Don Thompson
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, David Hajdu
How Pathogenic Viruses Work, Lauren Sompayrac
The Circus Age, culture & society under the America big top, Janet M. Davis
The History of Japanese Printing and Book Illustration, David Chibbett

To Review

The Future is Japanese, ed. by Haikasoru
Interfictions 2, ed. by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak
SuperNoirTural Tales, Ian Rogers
North American Lake Monsters, Nathan Ballingrud
Manila Noir, ed. by Jessica Hagedorn
MIND MGMT, volumes 1 and 2, Matt Kindt
Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2014
Project 17, Eliza Victoria
Now, Then, and Elsewhen, Nikki Alfar
Demonstra, Bryan Thao Worra
Mockingbird, Chuck Wendig
Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig
Through Splintered Walls, Kaaron Warren

*spelled as titled

Note: the DIY MFA list isn’t meant to be a recommendation, or all-encompassing. It’s the place I’m starting to read through a wide range of material. When I’ve finished a text, I’ll review it here, and if it’s something I’d suggest you read, I’ll add it to my DIY MFA page.

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What I’ve Been Reading: Rickert, Burstein, Sharma, Tobler

This week’s reading was a collection of stories I randomly discovered online, either because someone recommended it, or because I stumbled it across it while looking for something else.

The Mothers of Voorhisvill”  by Mary Rickert, Tor.com (novella)

5 out of 5 stars

There is a grandeur to Rickert’s work which is almost immediately obvious but not overwhelming. You begin to read the tale she’s written, sentences unfolding simply, with hints of strangeness, until a few paragraphs in you start to see the edges of the world she’s created — and it hits you. It’s never “let me tell you about every aspect of this setting for three pages before anything happens”. It’s not “this happened and then this happened and then this happened”. She understands her characters, where they live and how they move about in that place, so well that when she writes the story, it’s just you (the reader) and them (the fictional characters), having a dialogue.

Reading Rickert is like listening to the chatty neighbors you’d never noticed until they happened to be the most fascinating people you’ve ever met. You’ll find everything you’re looking for by the time it’s done.

The shape of this story is as a series of interviews conducted with various women who’ve, they admit at the beginning, done something terrible, or wonderful, and now they’re explaining why. There’s contrast between the things they’re admitting, the events they’re saying didn’t happen quite that way, and and the moments of “well, sure, it did happen, but she’s completely wrong about the way she describes it”. We read how the women see not only the events of the story but their own worlds so differently from one another. All the pieces of “Mothers”, not disparate but simply not the same, weave together until what you finally have is so large, so monstrous and beautiful and greater than you’d imagined, that “grandeur” is the best word to describe it.

There are definite hints of Witches of Eastwick, and Nightvale, but there are sensual details — the hundred scents, the beauty of light, of women, of creative arts — which swell as the women do, breaking free from other influences. Those details carry on as the story changes, gets darker and more desperate, breathing life into individual moments with the names of board games, the color of jam. It’s real without being weighted down; terrible in the way that it makes perfect sense. I continue to be in awe of Rickert’s ability to tell a complete story, full without going on for too long, like a ripe peach on the last day before it’s plucked and eaten.

Kaddish for the Last Survivor” by Michael A. Burstein, Apex Magazine.

2 out of 5 stars

A SF tale about Holocaust deniers? You might think it would be preachy, pointed, too invested in its message, and Burstein’s story is all of those things. It was also nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2001, and it’s worth figuring out why. (more…)