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I’d never heard of David Marusek when I was handed this collection*. Just told that I would like it, and I should read it. It sat on my bookshelf for a few months while I caught up with other reading material, but lately I’ve been trying to get through my back catalog, finish tasks, let go of things I don’t need anymore, and move on. Clear out my inboxes. Turn in what I owe people.
Read books that aren’t mine so I can give them back.
The collection of ten short stories was put together after his 2005 novel, COUNTING HEADS, got great reviews. Half of the stories are set in the same future, and one (“The Wedding Album”) won the Sturgeon Award.
“The Wedding Album” is a novella, the longest piece in the book, and switches perspective between a couple of different characters, though mostly it’s told from the view of a simulated Anne, captured on her wedding day. A couple of hundred years pass as civilization rises and falls through the evolution of their technology, but wedding-Anne has no say in what happens around her. It’s sad with brief bits of loving, though it’s mostly a look at how selfish one man can be.
“The Earth Is On The Mend” is a flash piece, well done, a slightly rambling account of one survivor’s day in the frozen wasteland that was the Earth. It tells you enough to suspect this story will end badly. That’s what flash is about – setting a scene, giving you one moment, and enough other bits to hint at a great deal more.
“Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz” was written as a letter to editor Gardner Dozios, who published it and gave Marusek his start as a published writer. The epistolary style isn’t one of my favorites, but this version is light-hearted. It’s got dying husbands and cryogenics and Alaska small-town culture – it qualifies as a science fiction story, certainly. In the end it’s just cheeky, daring you to enjoy it and daring Mr. Dozois to publish it. Worth a read.
“A Boy In Cathyland” was originally a chunk of “The Wedding Album” but was cut from the final version. Marusek revised it into a stand-alone short. It explains a minor detail from the novella, but that’s not what’s important about it. The best part of “A Boy” is that Marusek blends Russian into the dialogue without explaining the meaning. He places description and action around the non-English parts to give the reader enough context to suss out the meaning on their own. The story is weak without the knowledge of what happens in “Wedding Album” but I like his use of language a lot.
“We Were Out Of Our Minds With Joy” is another novella, Marusek’s second published piece and the first of this length. It’s set in the same universe as “Wedding Album” and makes up the beginning of his novel. Like several of his other stories, Marusek introduces an idea, then ignores it while he goes through all of the history and scene-setting, then gets back to his opening toward the end.
The introduction to “VTV” warns that it was an exercise in writing a miserable story, and the reader should feel free to skip it. I didn’t, and I’m glad, because while it contains many of Marusek’s most-used elements, it stands out from the others because of its subject matter. It’s more concerned with making a point which, while still negative, has the potential to affect our lives now instead of centuries in the future. One of the more interesting pieces.
“Cabbages and Kale or: How We Downsized North America” is another one about the same old things. So is ”Getting To Know You”. Not bad, but dull after reading all of the rest.
“Listen to Me” is written in second-person perspective, which immediately makes it stand out. It’s about boredom and, again, about isolation and selfishness. But it’s also set aboard a starship, which is different. It’s very short, and I liked it.
“My Morning Glory” is another flash piece, forcefully exuberant, a quick-step shuffle off the edge of the cliff that is the end of the book.
There isn’t much to connect with, emotionally, in this collection, except the overriding feeling of sadness. It’s sad that these people can’t be happy for long. It’s sad that technology outpaces humanity. It’s sad that the only other feeling to come across is one of isolation. I don’t know if Marusek is disconnected from the world or if it’s the one emotion he knows how to write well, but it’s there, with the sadness, in every story. They’re two sides of the same coin – the characters are sad because they’re distanced from the things that make us happy, like love and companionship and hope.
In a way, that’s what makes the book kind of boring. Marusek has a few ideas which he clearly loves, so much that he recycles them through several stories. His “original” ideas, the ones not part of his “Wedding Album” universe, appear in the shortest stories of the book, as if he didn’t want to - or couldn’t – write about them in the same way he writes about his holos, simulacrum, and clones. He even recycles characters (not just Cathy from “Cathyland” but Yurek Rutz, who’s mentioned in “VTV”) and locations – Alaska comes up a lot. I don’t mind any of that as much as I mind him recycling plot points. After all, so many of the stories are about the exact same thing: how do you handle living in a future where artificial people are common and naturally-born humans are not?
Apparently Marusek only has one answer to that question. I would like his work much more if he had more to say.
Overall I’d suggest reading this collection for the technique. The structures are crisp, the writing is clean, there’s rarely anything unnecessary going on. Parts which appear to be side stories get mentioned or dealt with again before the tale is finished. Marusek is a skillful writer and is able to keep control of stories with circular natures. This tight hold on where his writing is going takes some of the surprise out of the ending but I look at this collection like the start of something good. If he has this much skill when he’s starting out, all he needs to do is maintain that level of writing while adding in whatever he’s fascinated by next.
Read GETTING TO KNOW YOU one story at a time and take a break in between. You’ll appreciate it better that way.
* Another book loaned to me by Don, who has the best taste in reading, and has shaped the course of my literary education the last few years. He gave me copies of Craig Strete’s THE BLEEDING MAN, Maureen F. McHugh’s AFTER THE APOCALYPSE, Brian Wood’s DMZ, M. Rickert’s various stories, Fran Lebowitz’s METROPOLITAN LIFE and The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard. He convinced me to buy INTERFICTIONS, Ray Vukcevich’s BOARDING INSTRUCTIONS, Aimee Bender’s THE GIRL IN THE FLAMMABLE SKIRT, Karen Joy Fowler’s WHAT I DIDN’T SEE, AND OTHER STORIES, Kelly Link’s STRANGER THINGS HAPPEN, Stephen Elliott’S MY GIRLFRIEND COMES TO THE CITY AND BEATS ME UP and Ted Chiang’s STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS.
He also loaned me Etger Keret’s THE NIMROD FLIPOUT, though, sadly, I had to give that one back. (Click on the links to read my reviews of these titles.)
By far the most popular post I wrote in 2012 was Fuck You, Weird Tales, followed by Readercon 2012 – the sexual harrasment edition, proving once again that you people like it when I get wordy with righteous indignation. (Good, because it’s bound to happen again.)
I had slightly more than 15,600 views at the site this year, averaging about 45 a day. That’s up from 9000 views in 2011. (WP is only recently measuring visitors vs views, but current data suggests about 3/4 of my views are unique visitors.)
Most of my readers are from the United States (about 2/3), followed mainly by Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, and the Philippines, followed by less than 100 views each from dozens of other countries. I’m pleased to see that I have occasional readers in places like Fiji, Iraq, Nepal, Iceland, Vietnam, Ireland, Israel, and Japan.
Top referrers to my site (after a collection of search engines) are Twitter and Facebook, followed by SF Signal and Functional Nerds, as well as several fellow writers (NK Jemisin, Ken Liu, Matt Bennardo, Jim C. Hines, Matthew Cheney, and Don Pizarro). Which shows that being involved in social networking, writing guest posts, and promoting other writers pays off.
Speaking of search engines, the top search terms that drove people to the site were:
|writing about me||30|
|history of book cover design||23|
|what makes a thriller||23|
|book spine poetry||15|
|dmz graphic novel||13|
|ken liu writer||10|
which suggests I should spend a little more time talking about book cover design and typography, and update my post about Kanbanpad.
Overall these stats tell me that the more I post, the more readers I have (which may translate to more readers of my fiction/essays, and more sales of my work). It also tells me most of the people who come to my website are actually looking for me, which is always nice to know. In the coming year I plan to keep up with the book reviews, post more original fiction, keep promoting writers I admire, and continue to talk about the process of writing/publishing/book creation. Don’t worry, though, there’ll be snark and some sarcasm and the occasional rant, too.
After all, I know what you really come here for.
Recently Don, who happens to be both a man and a writer, talked about how he needed to read more male writers. He’s a voracious reader and especially loves indie writers, and has introduced me to some of the women who now live in my “favorite writers” list. As he says:
Everyone who does know me as a writer, or has read this blog, knows of my love of M. Rickert, Aimee Bender, Carol Emshwiller, Karen Joy Fowler (her short work, at least), and Kelly Link. I’ve recently acquired and devoured collections by Joan Aiken and Margaret St. Clair. My favorite issue of Tin House thus far is 33: Fantastic Women. The only novel I’ve really, truly enjoyed in the past few years was Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s Madeline is Sleeping. I wish I could write like Lydia Davis, Ann Beattie, and Amy Hempel. I also wish I had Fran Lebowitz’s brain. These writers have really sort of set the bar as far as what I look for in a story.
Sure, there are male writers who do that for me, too. Etgar Keret, Ray Vukcevich, Howard Waldrop, Peter S. Beagle, Harlan Ellison, Raymond Carver, Barry Hannah, and… um… and… and…
See, therein lies the problem.
Yes, that is a problem. I know how it used to be, when women didn’t get to be writers (especially not of genre fiction) unless they had a lot of male friends to stick up for them or submitted under a decidedly male pen name. It used to be that the only choices you had were male writers, and as we moved forward in time, the push to include female writers became almost a push back against the men. While you’d never find a convention panel on the mediocrity of female writers these days, panels on “Great Women Writers” abound. This is good, because it introduces lesser-know women to an audience that hadn’t read them before. That’s the point of the panel. Panels on the misogyny of male writers exist too. That’s not OK. (Edited to add: Neither is declining to let panelists speak because they’re “white males” and then following them around to harass them for being male, which I witnessed at this year’s Readercon.)
It’s just as sexist and wrong to label the entire male gender as “bad” as it was to label to entire female gender as “weak”. Yes, we needed to move past the point where men got the word counts and women got to be secretaries. BUT! It seems the drive to promote women in fiction has evolved into open season on men, as if a predominately male field of writers in the past means that men writing now must all be assholes.
Even Don, who loves women writers, and is having to force himself to read more men because his bookshelf is lacking in that department, has to carefully defend his choice lest he be labeled a woman-hater. This is what we’ve done, readers. We’ve allowed ourselves – as a community of writers and readers – to think that talking about women (in a positive way, of course) is right and good, but liking men leads to shady behavior. So here I am, a woman, and a writer, and a reader, proclaiming that when it comes to the authors I admire, I like Men. Not “the best”, not “only”, but there exists in my world a deep and abiding love for some very manly writers, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
Saturday morning was breakfast at Panera, then panels:
11 AM Book Design and Typography in the Digital Era Neil Clarke, Erin Kissane, Ken Liu, David G. Shaw (leader), Alicia Verlager. From this I found out that Ken knows quite a bit about the history of the book and its evolution from scroll to codex to ebook, making him officially one of my favorite people ever. This was one of the most informed panels I attended, and I felt that all of the panelists had useful things to add to the discussion. I only wished it were longer.
12:00 PM Daughters of the Female Man Matthew Cheney, Gwendolyn Clare, Elizabeth Hand (leader), Barbara Krasnoff, Chris Moriarty. I tend to avoid panels on women’s issues in fiction, honestly. I’m of the school that we should promote damn fine writers who happen to be women as opposed to promoting women writers and hoping they’re good. I come from an academic background and am particularly informed by the discussion about women’s place in art history, and the (absurd) question which always gets asked, “Why are there no good women artists?” However this panel was excellent both for it’s suggestions for further reader and for the way it didn’t focus on anything other than good writing by women. Notable for this panel was the absurd statement from the audience about how the panel should have done “a little more work” and created an annotated bibliography to hand out (you know, so we wouldn’t have to read anything on our own).