Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Archive for July, 2006

Books Received; Lucius Shepard “How the Wind Spoke at Madaket;” “The Jaguar Hunter;” “Mengele;” “The Fundamental Things;” “…How My Heart Breaks When I Sing This Song…;” Scott Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora; Connie Willis – Remake

Posted by Mike on July 25, 2006

  • Gene Wolfe – Storeys from an Old Hotel
  • Fritz Leiber – The Night of the Wolf
  • Stephen Wright – Going Native
  • Jeremy Leven – Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.
  • Datlow/Windling ed. – The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Sixteenth Annual Edition
  • The Worlds of Fritz Leiber
  • Jon Courtenay Grimwood – Effendi

It seems to be hot just about everywhere, but we’re down to about low 100F temperatures and it’s feeling cooler, which says a lot. Not a lot to do but try and stay cool, so plenty of reading time.

The Lucius Shepard short story marathon continues, and I’ve reached what is at least his first peak with the first three stories mentioned here and especially “The Jaguar Hunter” itself, the Nebula award winner, which is awe inspiring. Shepard’s stuff resonates with me largely because of the way he interfaces the real world (often in exotic Central American locations) with the occult, you’re never really sure what the nature of things are. “The Jaguar Hunter”s interface between the old indigenous world and the American corporate one also works well on several levels. It’s just an utterly brilliant story. “Madaket” is probably the closest I’ve seen Shepard get to a traditional horror story or weird tale, with the wind being an elemental of sorts. But it’s not just this element that makes the story tick, the juxtaposition of the stress the events have on the characters is amazing for their development. With Shepard you can feel relationships and people breathe. Mengele is an interesting moral take on the discovery of the old Nazi doctor still alive in South America, yet again Shepard illustrates all sides of a story and explores the morality therein.

The last two stories are uncollected, and as I may have said before, you can generally tell why most of his stories made it to collections, while some of the more off-beat ones didn’t. The last two here don’t really strike me as being all that “canonical” for a better word, although the musical issues in “Heart” do seem closer to home. I’ve forgotten the details of them for the most part, while the previous ones still resonate.

Scott Lynch’s _The Lies of Locke Lamora_ is the megahyped high fantasy novel of the year and I hadn’t read anything like this in quite some time, being fairly burnt out on the genre. Anyway this first novel came with a ton of press including many writers like George R. R. Martin, and comparisons to Leiber’s Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series, which is what got my attention. Anyway, this is a book well worth the hype for a rip roaring read. About 100-150 pages in I was finding it an enjoyable book but nothing special, but the plot has some great twists and turns in it and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t put it down. It’s nice to see the beginning of a series where the author claims the books will be self-contained. Lotta China Mieville in the writing as well as a bit of Robin Hobb and Martin Scott in the intrigue and humor respectively. A really well done debut and a nice diversion.

Finished another Connie Willis novella (or short novel, it’s on the cusp), Remake. I’m starting to get familiar with many of her ideas, particularly her extrapolation of political correctness into the near future, here it raises its head in the movie industry where our protagonist edits old movies to remove the alcohol scenes. He meets a young lady at the party who really wants to dance in the movies, although the industry is to the point where no real actors and actresses are used, video technology is at the point where classic actors and actresses are reused in remakes. It’s mostly a romance of sorts with some interesting science fictional ideas, and in a way seems to be a precursor to the universe of Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog with the hints of time travel to be discovered. A fun little story with some clever, humorous touches.

Other than these, I’ve still been moving through Sherry Decker’s Hook House collection, I have one novelette left to go in the Roma Eterna sequence, I read a rather creepy old horror story by Hugh B. Cave to dip into his Mugunstrumm and Other Stories collection, and I started M. John Harrison’s Viriconium series.

Oh and Deadwood is mighty fine this season.

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Books Received; Robert Reed “Baby Fire;” “Father to the Man;” Lucius Shepard “The Night of White Bhairab;” “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule;” “Reaper;” “The End of Life as We Know It;” Connie Willis “Uncharted Territory;” Fritz Leiber “The Automatic Pistol;” “Smoke Ghost”

Posted by Mike on July 17, 2006

  • Jeannette Winterson – Sexing the Cherry
  • Gardner Dozois, ed. – The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Fourth Annual
  • David Madsen – Confessions of a Flesh-Eater
  • Carol Emshwiller – The Start of the End of It All
  • Frances A. Yates – Giordano Bruno & the Hermetic Tradition
  • R. Scott Bakker – The Darkness that Comes Before
  • Asimov’s (a box full, plus some F&SF, Amazing, If, Analog and Hitchcock’s extras)
  • George Turner – Drowning Towers (aka The Sea and the Summer)
  • Theodore Sturgeon – A Saucer of Loneliness (Complete Stories, Vol. 7)
  • Peter Ackroyd – Hawksmoor
  • Brian Hodge – Lies and Ugliness
  • Sadegh Hedayat – The Blind Owl

Had a nice, peaceful weekend. Been reading a lot of shorts lately, although I’m plugging away at Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” as well, which is the first “epic/high” fantasy I’ve read in quite a while. It comes with a considerable amount of hype, including a George R. R. Martin blurb on the cover. So far it reminds me of a cross between the intrigue of Robin Hobb and the sassiness of a Steven Brust or Martin Scott. A lot of fun, if not particularly literary or deep (yet).

I was glad to finish Robert Reed’s Sister Alice series of novellas. I found it difficult to be interested in any of the main protagonists, all more or less posthuman, which probably made it difficult to stay with the story which seemed to revolve around a catastrophe a group of posthumans were responsible for. Some interesting future ideas, but the fourth novella Baby Fire, seemed like an elongated chase scene for the most part and the wrap-up novella wasn’t particularly satisfying.

Shepard’s work, in chronological order, improves as it goes, although it’s rather obvious why certain stories were anthologized, while others left to obscurity. Being more or less in the middle of his World Fantasy Award winning collection The Jaguar Hunter means it’s mostly good stuff, and I was particularly impressed with “The End of Life As We Know It,” a story about a couple on vacartion and at the end of their relationship and trying to hold it together even when impossible. It’s another example of why Shepard is often considered magical realist, the fantastic elements are often left unexplained and enigmatic. “Griaule” was also pretty interesting, although it’s another story that comes with a certain amount of hype that probably detracted from the impact. But as a different take on the high fantasy genre, it’s a worthwhile diversion. Anyway, I’m glad I decided to visit these in order as there’s a definite forward progression and I’m feeling like I’m starting to get into a peak period.

Haven’t read any Connie Willis since “Passage” which left me with a certain feeling of depression or malaise (which is different from most of what I’ve read that left with me with a sense of optimism). So I went for a short novel or novella which seemed to operate around a couple of famous planetary prospectors in a future universe where political correctness is at an all time high. The typical Willis humor is on display as is the clever writing, although I felt this to be something of a minor Willis work, a view into gender interaction under the guise of a romp.

Also read a couple Fritz Leiber shorties from the early days, both from the Night’s Black Agents collection. Most of the Leiber I’ve read are various Fafhrd & Gray Mouser shorts, which are long time favorites, but these two are from the Weird Tales era, one a rather unusual urban ghost story (at least for the time), the other a story about a strange, magic gun. Both fun, neither anywhere close to Leiber’s considerable and best work.

I actually spent most of the weekend with The Avram Davidson Treasury, which is definitely worth its weight in gold. Read my first Eszterhazy story as well as a bunch of others. Too early on Monday morning to remember any specifics, but those can wait until I’m done with the collection.

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Holiday for the soul

Posted by Mike on July 11, 2006

After an intense April-June, I decided to take a break from esoteric interests, which is probably the first time I’ve taken such a break in a few years. A friend called it a holiday for the soul, which works for me.

It has been nice, to say the least, and kind of strange because my dream activity has been through the roof in the last week. I have one dream or maybe type of dream that has been recurring for as long as I can remember and I had one this morning in full technicolor detail. I can’t really describe the dream, as it’s somewhat meaningless without longwinded explanation, but every time I have one, I feel like the dream is just a little longer, as if the story of the dream develops a little more every time. 

Daevid Allen’s lyrics (from You and “You’ll Never Blow Yr Trip Forever”):

the more you know
the more you know you
don’t know what you know

are really capturing the current paradigm of late.

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Books Received; Allen Steele “…Where Angels Fear to Tread;” Bruce Sterling “The Littlest Jackal;” “Sacred Cow;” David Marusek “Getting to Know You;” “Cabbages and Kales, or, How We Downsized North America”

Posted by Mike on July 11, 2006

Received:

  • Joe Haldeman – Camouflage
  • Fritz Leiber – The Mind Spider & Other Stories
  • Peter Ackroyd – The House of Dr. Dee
  • Richard F. Burton, trans. – Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night Part 2
  • Richard Matheson – Collected Stories Vol. 2
  • Richard Matheson – Collected Stories Vol. 3
  • Gardner Dozois ed. – The Year’s Best Science Fiction. Eighth Annual
  • Datlow/Windling ed. – The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Fourteenth Annual
  • Fritz Leiber – The Ghost Light
  • Cao Xuequin – The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber) Volume 1 The Golden Days
  • Geoff Ryman – Air
  • Anatole France – Revolt of the Angels
  • Lucius Shepard – Louisiana Breakdown
  • Asimov’s (2,3,4,6,7,8,9,10/1989) (mostly for Shepard’s The Father of Stones in 9)
  • James Tiptree Jr. – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (Tachyon)
  • Gene Wolfe – Strange Travelers
  • Gene Wolfe – Innocents Abroad
  • Theodore Sturgeon – The Perfect Host, The Complete Stories Vol. 5
  • Scott Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora

Still spending most of my reading time in shorts. Found Allen Steele’s Hugo-winning novella (title above) to be a good romp based on time travellers from the future who manage to blow an assignment having to do with the Hindenburg zeppelin and are lost in a new alternate timeline. I’ve read a couple of Steele’s shorts before and they’re always sharply written, good-time adventures in the pulp vein and this was no different.

I finished Bruce Sterling’s A Good Old Fashioned Future with what were probably the collection’s lesser two works, “The Littlest Jackal,” something of a comedy about terrorism in Finland, and “Sacred Cow,” about a futuristic Indian filmmaker. Both were fun reads, although I assumed I missed a lot of the humor in “Jackal,” much of it being political. Overall, a pretty great collection, worth it for the cycle ending with “Takalamakan.”

David Marusek’s shorts here are also part of a cycle, although it’s been a long time since I read the first story, if it weren’t for keeping tabs on what I’d already read, I’d have forgotten (it’s the one that was expanded for his first novel, Counting Heads). Marusek’s work here seems midway between Sterling or Vinge and Robert Reed. “Getting to Know You” deals with the evolution of new personal technology, while “Cabbages” deals with the president and his use of proxys (computer replicated images) during a time when the population surge has reached a crisis. Both are very readable novelettes. I’ve generally liked everything I’ve read by Marusek and these are no different.

Also read a couple more shorts in Sherry Decker’s Hook House collection, but will get to that when I’ve finished them all. And the fourth in Robert Reed’s Sister Alice novella series, whose title I can’t remember at the moment.

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Robert Silverberg – “A Hero of the Empire;” Christopher Priest – The Prestige; Robert Reed – “Mother Death;” Bruce Sterling “Maneki Neko;” w/ Rudy Rucker “Big Jelly”

Posted by Mike on July 6, 2006

More reading accomplished. I meant to post about the Silverberg story last week and conflated it with the last one and edited it out. Now that I remember, it’s a story about the rise of Mohammed (I don’t remember the spelling in the story) in the Roma Eterna universe. Someone from the empire who has pissed of the emperor is sent to the middle east, not an exile but close. There he encounters the charismatic leader of a new philosophy/religion. How he resolves the story ought to have put him on the same list Salman Rushdie is on.

Christopher Priest’s The Prestige won the World Fantasy Award in, I believe, 1996 and is set to be filmed as a movie. It would make a good one, the tale of two rival stage magicians whose legacy lasts down the generations. Priest tells the story through a short narrative by one of the magician’s modern descendants, before introducing you to a book written by the original one and, later, a diary written by his rival. What’s utterly fascinating about the narrative is how both magicians see the rivalry and how mistaken they are so often in their assumptions about what makes their rival tick. Not to mention the tangents into how the illusions operate and such. For the first half of the book I was wondering why it was considered fantasy, but it was not long after that that it became evident. Priest brings in Tesla and the dawn of electricity into the mix to startling effect. Overall, a great read, I had trouble putting it down almost from the very beginning.

Also read the third novella in Robert Reed’s Sister Alice series, which seemed to be a bit mixed up, or maybe it’s been too long since I read the first two. It hasn’t been long since I finished it but I’m having trouble remembering “what happened.” The basis of the series is that a group of posthumans were responsible for a star going supernova and wiping out billions of people, the postwoman responsible for this is then put up for trial. Meanwhile she’s gotten in touch with the youngest in the “Family” in order to help her, something to do with the mystery of why the accident happened. By this point, little is resolved and the “Talents” (powers?) of the post human and future universe are occasionally confusing.

Also read a few Avram Davidson stories in the Treasury, I hadn’t been back in a while, but will likely talk about it more when I’ve finished it. The two Sterling stories in his A Good Old-Fashioned Future were great fun. “Maneki Neko” (I think this one won the Locus award) is about a near future Japan, something of an extrapolation of that culture into the cyberage and its clash with American culture. A very enigmatic little piece. “Big Jelly” is about the partnership of a gay Silicon Valley scientist and a macho Texas oil tycoon and the extrapolation of jellyfish biology and its genetic manipulation through a new substance that has been coming up through the tycoon’s oilwells. Great character development and some fun concepts, it’s nice to see a story like this not turn into a disaster at the end.

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