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Archive for August, 2006

Books Received; Lucius Shepard “Sparring Partner;” Neil Gaiman: The Sandman Volume Two: The Doll’s House; Etc.

Posted by Mike on August 31, 2006

  • Steven Erickson – Tours of the Black Clock
  • John Morressy – The Kedrigern Chronicles Volume II: Dudgeon & Dragons
  • Howard Waldrop – Howard Who?
  • Patrick Harpur – Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld
  • Cynthia Ozik – The Pagan Rabbi & Other Stories
  • James Hilton – Lost Horizon
  • Kazuo Ishiguro – When We Were Orphans
  • Djuna Barnes – Nightwood
  • Clive Barker – The Thief of Always (advance reading copy)
  • Louis De Bernieres – Corelli’s Mandolin
  • Wiliam Faulkner – Absalom, Absalom!
  • Neil Gaiman: The Sandman Volume Two: The Doll’s House
  • Neil Gaiman: The Sandman Volume Three: Dream Country
  • Grant Morrison: The Invisibles: Apocalipstick

Not a hell of a lot going on, I seem to be starting more books than I’m finishing lately. The Shepard story, uncollected, is a story about a female boxer and I think the first entirely mainstream fiction story I’ve read by LS, he’s certainly no less powerful with realism.

In talking about Gaiman’s Sandman series, I almost feel like a classical music fan trying to explain why people should listen to Mozart. Anyway, the second volume is a big step up from the first, and so much of the power of the storytelling, is the “big” encroaching into the “little,” the acts of beings beyond human kin having an affect on a very personal level. Really enjoying the series.

Other than that, there’s too little time during the week to do everything I want to. I’m finding my nephews to be an utterly delight at their age (4 and almost 2 I believe), so I’m trying to make more time to see em, which always means sacrificing something else.

The season finale of Deadwood was one of TV’s greatest disappointments ever, like a … well the only metaphor I can think of is coitus sans climax (ask your girlfriends or wives if you don’t know what this means ;)). I can’t think of a single ep of the show that wasn’t excellent until this one. It only averts catastrophe by the promise of two movies.

Anyway, a four day weekend starts imminently and it’s already nearly full…. Maybe I’ll get in the mood to talk about more rums then.

Oh and I’m looking forward to raving about Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, it’s one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in a long time, assuming the last 150 pages match up to the first 200 or so.

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Rums: Zaya; Sea Wynde

Posted by Mike on August 24, 2006

Recently taken up a bit of interest in various quality rums, so I figured I’d talk about a couple recently on the palate.

Probably the best premium brand I’ve tried recently is this Guatemalan 12 year old called Zaya. This is a very sweet dark rum, sugary, honey, sherry, burnt sugar, molasses. Absolutely smooth and elegant. It seduces you with its drinkability until you stand up.

The other is something of a contrast, a pot still rum called Sea Wynde, apparently a product of Jamaica & Guyana. This is a much drier tasting rum, the sugar seems more back of the tongue and it reminds me more of a drier sherry in some ways, but like anything over 80 proof (this says 46% alc/vol) it has a bit of a sting to it. I think I need to add a bit of water to it and see what happens.

My running favorite, especially for the price is the Pyrat XO reserve, maybe I’ll talk more about it when I break open the new bottle. 

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Books Received; Lucius Shepard “Dancing It All Away at Nadoka;” “The Glassblower’s Dragon;” “The Sun Spider;” Isaac Asimov “Robot Dreams;” Steve Aylett – Lint; Fred Chappell – Dagon; Robert Silverberg “Nightwings” + Neil Gaiman: The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes

Posted by Mike on August 21, 2006

  • Felipe Alfau – Locos: A Comedy of Gestures
  • Elizabeth Bowen – Collected Stories
  • A. Merritt – Dwellers in the Mirage
  • Harlan Ellison – Deathbird Stories
  • D. M. Thomas – Ararat
  • Camille Flammarion -Lumen
  • Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo) – Hadrian the Seventh
  • Connie Willis, ed. – The New Hugo Winners Vol. III
  • John Crowley – Novelties and Souvenirs
  • Gardner Dozois/Susan Caspar, ed. – Ripper!
  • Fritz Leiber – The Best of Fritz Leiber
  • Gardner Dozois, ed. – Year’s Best Science Fiction Twelfth Annual
  • James Blish, ed. – Nebula Awards 5
  • Alvaro Mutis – The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll
  • Manuel Muji Lainez – The Wandering Unicorn
  • Neil Gaiman – The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
  • Joseph S. Lisiewski, Ph.D – Kabbalistic Handbook for the Practicing Magician

The Shepard stories include two uncollected pieces, one is one of the shortest stories I’ve read by him. The collected piece, “The Sun Spider,” in Beast of the Heartland (or Barnacle Bill the Spacer, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on), is one of Shepard’s few overtly science fiction stories (you probably have to go back to the Clarion story for the last). I didn’t like it much for a reason I haven’t been able to place, although the relationship between the two protagonists (who trade off chapters as first person) makes for an interesting development later on. “Dancing” is an old Asimov’s story, about a man on the run and his experiences with some old music machines in the small town Nadoka. Definitely a very readable piece, but not anything eye-popping. “The Glassblower’s Dragon,” on the other hand, was a gorgeous short, probably the only uncollected story I’ve read from Shepard that I wish was (I found it in Nebula Awards 23, ahem). A couple’s relationship, probably at the end, is renewed through art, the descriptive power of the denouement still lingers in the mind.

Isaac Asimov’s “Robot Dreams” was in the same Asimov’s as Nadoka, so given I’d read most of his robot stories in the way past, I figured I’d give this Susan Calvin shorty a go. Asimov’s robot stories often remind me more of mysteries than science fiction, with the added dialogue of the philosophy of the sentience of the robot to spice it up. Short, sweet, and perhaps a little dated, it was still intriguing.

I’ve mentioned Lint in a few previous blogs, it’s a damn funny, if a not entirely perfect work. Part of the issue is that writer Jeff Link, which the book is a fake biography of, writes so obscurely it would make PKD’s VALIS seem like a young adult novel. There are dozens and dozens of quotes of Lint’s throughout the books, and few of them make any sense whatsoever, but often you’re still laughing at the deadplan delivery and the implication that there is some sort of profundity hiding behind the words. Lint is beyond eccentric, but it’s often how his friends, fan and business associates relate to him that provides much of the humor. There’s a page from a Star Trek script that never was filmed, that has Chekhov flirting with McCoy (thus coining the expression “Flirting with McCoy”) and some great cover pictures of old books including a repress of one in the yellow spined DAW format that still makes me laugh. And then Lint’s short-lived comic, “The Caterer,” which apparently has had one issue reprinted. I get the severe impression with this book that the humor of the book is directly related to how much you know the science fiction field, especially the pulp era (Aylett names all sorts of magazines from Astounding, Startling Stories, etc. to fake ones like Horrible, Terrible Stories and the like). Anyway I best not recount more detail cuz the book was stuffed with it. Great fun overall.

Dagon is Fred Chappell’s third book and is something of an homage to Lovecraft as well as being a Mythos story in its own right (although you might not know if it wasn’t for the usual namedrops of Cthulhu and the like, in fact these seem to add more to atmosphere than anything else). I wanted to read it because Chappell is pretty highly regarded, unlike many post-Lovecraft mythos writers, and it turn out to be a decent read, even if your sympathy for the protagonist flies out the window after he commits a baffling and horrifying act. Out in the country he is (and it’s not clear how) bewitched by an unusual looking daughter of a neighbor (shades of Innsmouth here) and gets drawn into what seems like a backwoods cult of sorts. It’s pretty well written (certainly better than most in the field) but it gets darker and more depressing as it goes, making the new agey ending something of a cop out.

Silverberg’s “Nightwings” is the novella rather than the novel, although I’m intrigued enough to try out the full novel now as this was a great piece. Reminded me in some ways of Wolfe’s New Sun books in its far future setting. A Hugo-winner it presents a future society with the thread of impending invasion at a time when most people don’t believe it’s going to happen. So you can imagine what does.

I’m not much of a comic book guy, mostly because I don’t need another hobby, but I was curious to check out this highly regarded series and wasn’t disappointed. While later volumes are supposed to be much better (because they don’t tie in as much with other comic characters like John Constantine), the artwork is fantastic and the story intrigues as it goes. I’m kind of amazed that in many ways the main protagonist of the story is a god of sorts, although so many other well drawn minor characters keep the narrative grounded. Great fun and I enjoyed it more than the first omnibus of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, which is the only other book I own.

And Deadwood last night? Could have been one of the best episodes of the series.

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Lucius Shepard – “The Jaguar Hunter”

Posted by Mike on August 16, 2006

I had no idea, but this story, what I’d consider the best of what I’ve read of his fiction so far (and that is saying something), can be found here. For those who know what I mean, I’d call it a Gnosis 14 easy. You can also find other links to more recent stories (mostly at scifiction.com) at the Wikipedia entry here. So go get introduced.

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Books Received; Lucius Shepard “Romance of the Century;” Sherry Decker Hook House and Other Horrors; Steven Brust – Dzur

Posted by Mike on August 15, 2006

  • Richard Brautigan – A Confederate General from Big Sur/Dreaming of Babylon/The Hawkline Monster
  • The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce
  • Fritz Leiber – The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich
  • Carol Emshwiller – Carmen Dog
  • J. Sheridan LeFanu – Best Ghost Stories of
  • Jon Courtenay Grimwood – Felaheen
  • William Beckford – Vathek
  • Layne/Lake ed. – Polyphony 1
  • Layne/Lake ed. – Polyphony 2
  • Barrington J. Bayley – The Knights of the Limits
  • Keith Roberts – Grainne

You can find “Romance of the Century” here. It’s not a typical Shepard story for the most part, although it does have some of his touches in the relationship aspects. It’s in second person and describes a number of possible futuristic dare-seeking hobbies. It’s not a surprise it hasn’t shown up in a collection, it would definitely be the odd one out.

I managed to finished Sherry Decker’s Hook House collection, which is a rather nice collection of horror, mystery and fantasy stories with a unique voice. All the stories are good, but the title novella with a house with a curse and its effects on the generations was one of the best in the book, I liked the way the relationship of the protagonist weaved through the story through the years. Most of the other stories are shorter and most have female protagonists which give them a very contemporary feel. I think the closest comparison I could make would be to the work of Kelly Link, but Decker’s narratives generally aren’t as ambiguous, I still sense a little M.R. James, Blackwood and the like.

Steven Brust’s Dzur is the tenth Vlad Taltos novel, a light hearted series I’ve enjoyed reading and thought was getting better and better as each new book added to the overall complexity of the world and story. In fact, Issola, the last book was probably the best of the series yet, so it’s with some disappointment that I have to say that this one was more akin to Dragon or some of the early novels, with a more straightforward narrative. It reads like a mystery novel for the most part with Taltos spending over half the book trying to figure out a puzzle that involves his ex-wife. As good as it was to get back to the Taltos/Loioish banter and wit, it seemed mostly like a big set up with all sorts of pieces coming together, for … nothing to really happen. A stalemate is reached that more or less reset the novel to the beginning. Taltos knows a little more that he did before, but there are no startling plot twists are moments of awe, like in the better books of the series. It was funny, flipping through the book it was as if most of the writing was constant conversations, often only 3-10 words long, so the read just zipped by. I’ll still be reading the series, but it was a little disappointing.

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Glad to be of service!

Posted by Mike on August 12, 2006

I just wanted everyone to know that my blog was found on one occurence by the search “50 cent sexing a lady.”

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Books Received; Lucius Shepard “The Arcevoalo;” “Voyage South from Thousand Willows;” Weapons of Mass Seduction; Philip Jose Farmer “Riders of the Purple Wage;” Fritz Leiber “Gonna Roll Them Bones;” Harlan Ellison “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”

Posted by Mike on August 11, 2006

  • Fritz Leiber – Day Dark, Night Bright
  • Jeff VanderMeer – Shriek: An Afterward
  • Steven Brust – Dzur
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan – To Charles Fort, With Love
  • Paul Di Filippo – The Steampunk Trilogy
  • Alan DeNiro – Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead
  • Martin Scott – Thraxas and the Sorcerers
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan – Threshold

Couple more Shepard shorts down, both of them somewhat minor, although “The Arcevoalo” still demonstrates one of the aspects about Shepard’s writings I really appreciate, a blurring of the fantastic/occult aspects with reality so that there’s always some sort of ambiguity to the experience. Like most of his great work, it’s about the characters and their experiences, often how the interaction in a relationship changes because of a certain event. Oh, and the other thing: complex morality issues. Rarely is anything clear cut or black and white in Shepard’s worlds. For someone as outspoken as Shepard is on the role of the United States in the Third World, issues are still balanced in the stories and all sides looked at.

Which brings me to his nonfiction collection of film reviews, Weapons of Mass Seduction. Most of this collection can be found if you get a (free) account at Electric Story and then click over to Shepard’s Exclusive Movie Reviews. This is a collection of some of the best film criticism I’ve ever witnessed. So much criticism is about saying such and such is bad or good, rare is that you’re given explanations and reasoning for these opinions. Shepard knows films so well, that it’s easy to get a good grasp of his opinions on why he thinks a film worked or didn’t. After finishing this, I had to resist hitting Blockbuster or Netflix with a huge list, movie collecting is a new hobby I don’t need.

The remaining stories here are all from the second volume of Hugo Award Winners, but if I’m not mistaken I think they’re also all from Harlan Ellison’s legendary “Dangerous Visions” collection. The Farmer novella is quite weird, a near future vision with new sexual mores and the like, it took at least 5-10 pages for me to get grounded with it. The Leiber story is something of a classic, a gambler who takes on the wrong (supernatural) opponent. The Ellison story, also something of a famous piece, is an awfully tragic piece about the last survivors of the human race, kept alive and tortured by the computer that destroyed the rest of the population. Undoubtedly a brilliant if depressing piece.

I’m also starting to watch the BBC program Life on Mars, which is about a modern cop who gets hit by a car and wakes up as a 70s cop. So far, so good, although I can’t imagine how they’re managing to squeeze what is almost an hour long program into an hour long BBC America slot without losing substantial minutes. Great acting, plotting and mood here, the strength of the show contrasting the differences of the 70s to now.

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Lucius Shepard “Green Radiant Star;” “Aymara;” Fritz Leiber “Spider Mansion;” “The Hound;” Larry Niven “One Face;” “Eye of an Octopus;” “The Warriors;” “Bordered in Black;” “Neutron Star”

Posted by Mike on August 7, 2006

Shepard’s short fiction continues to astound. Although I’ve been reading the stories in chronological order, I took a step forward in time with “Green Radiant Star” as it’s the last story in the refurbished The Jaguar Hunter. It also won the Locus award for novella a few years back, and for good reason, it’s the story of a young man who works in a travelling circus who wishes revenge on his father. He falls in love with a new girl at the circus and eventually the past and future converge in startling ways. Shepard’s strengths in character development are quite apparent here, especially in how those resonances affect the plot. “Aymara” is earlier but nearly as brilliant, a unique example of a temporal paradox that reminds me a little of Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog or more closely in tone, Dan Simmons’ The Rise of Endymion. One thing’s for sure, I’m becoming very fond of the novella format, Shepard is definitely a master of it. I couldn’t recommend The Jaguar Hunter any higher, I can’t really think of a better shorts collection, although The Ends of the Earth, his second compilation might end up being better (tis where “Fire Zone Emerald” and “Aymara” are from).

Leiber’s shorts in the 40s are generally pretty formulaic, even if they do hint at his future mastery. Both “Spider Mansion” and “The Hound” have the early Weird Tales style down, even if neither are at Lovecraft’s level (nor are they pastiches of Lovecraft fortunately). “Spider Mansion” is more or less Hammer Horror with the science out of control theme. “The Hound” undoubtedly is reminiscent of Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” if not quite as good.

I managed to finish off the latest Niven/Known Space jaunt, which was basically to get me through “Neutron Star” so I could continue trying to finish the big Hugo Awards book. Most of these stories are heavy on idea and plot, light on character development or little moments. Niven’s generally very clever with the ideas and themes, with some great ideas for planets and such, but except for “Neutron Star” itself, the stories are vehicles for the science, some of which is fairly dated today (most of these shorts are mid-60s). Not that “Neutron Star” isn’t idea-driven, it’s just relatively a little more modern.

Finished a couple more Decker stories, a little more in Gene Wolfe’s Citadel of the Autarch, a little more Lint, a little M. John Harrison in The Pastel City. I’m continuing through with the Hugo book with Philip Jose Farmer’s nearly inpenetrable “Riders of the Purple Wage” (which, incidentally, reminds me of how erotic his work could get – more on that when I’m done). And a little Avram Davidson of course.

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Books Received

Posted by Mike on August 5, 2006

Major haul here, including lots from a couple library sales: 

  • Richard F. Burton, trans., A Thousand Nights and One Night Volume 3
  • Gene Wolfe – Starwater Strains
  • Karl Edward Wagner – Gods in Darkness (3 Kane novels)
  • Charles Williams – The Greater Trump
  • Steve Aylett – Bigot Hall
  • Gustav Meyrink – The Golem
  • Ellen Datlow ed. – The Dark
  • Fritz Leiber – The Black Gondolier
  • W. Wynn Westcott – Collectanea Hermetica
  • Fritz Leiber – Destiny Times Three/Norman Spinrad – Riding the Torch
  • C. M. Kornbluth – His Share of Glory (The Complete Short Science Fiction of)
  • Gene Wolfe – The Knight
  • Jack McDevitt – Deepsix
  • Steven Brust – The Lord of Castle Black
  • Robert J. Sawyer – Mindscan
  • Robertson Davies – The Salterton Trilogy
  • Philip Jose Farmer – Time’s Last Gift
  • Clive Barker – In the Flesh
  • R. A. MacAvoy – Twisting the Rope
  • James Joyce – A Portrait of a Young Man
  • Herman Melville – Moby Dick
  • Clive Barker – The Damnation Game
  • Clive Barker – The Inhuman Condition
  • Clive Barker – Imajica
  • Edgar Pangborn – Davy
  • Robert A. Heinlein – The Past Through Tomorrow
  • Toni Morrison – Beloved
  • Franz Kafka – The Penal Colony
  • Karen Joy Fowler – Sarah Canary
  • C. J. Cherryh – Hellburner
  • Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace
  • Ray Bradbury – The October Country
  • Gardner Dozois, ed. – The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Fifteenth Annual Collection
  • Homer – The Iliad
  • Homer – The Odyssey
  • David Greene trans., Herodotus – The History
  • Charles Dickens – Bleak House
  • Glen Cook – She is the Darkness
  • Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Things Past (Swann’s Way and Within a Budding Grove)
  • Charles de Lint – Moonlight and Vines
  • Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White
  • Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses
  • William Faulkner – Collected Stories
  • Bruno Schulz – The Street of Crocodiles
  • Sherman Alexie – Reservation Blues
  • The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg – Volume 1 Secret Sharers
  • Gardner Dozois, ed. – Nebula Awards: Showcase 2006
  • Flannery O’Connor – The Complete Stories
  • Flannery O’Connor – Wise Blood
  • Matthew G. Lewis – The Monk
  • Nikolai Gogol – Dead Souls
  • John Gardner – Grendel
  • Gunter Grass – The Tin Drum
  • Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Lotsa 50 cent specials in there!

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Books Received; Fritz Leiber “The Inheritance” aka “The Phantom Slayer;” “The Hill and the Hole;” Connie Willis “The Winds of Marble Arch;” Lucius Shepard “A Spanish Lesson;” “Fire Zone Emerald;” “R&R;” Larry Niven – World of Ptavvs

Posted by Mike on August 1, 2006

  • Neil Gaiman – Coraline
  • Daniel C. Matt, trans. – The Zohar, Pritzker Edition Volume III (it’s amazing to think that Volumes 1-3, in their entirety, consist of a commentary on Genesis)
  • Gene Wolfe – Castle of Days
  • Gene Wolfe – Endangered Species
  • Cao Xuequin – The Crab-Flower Club (The Story of the Stone, Vol. 2)
  • Steve Aylett – Lint (so far this is hysterical)
  • Karel Capek – War With the Newts

I’m probably enjoying the Lint book in small part due to reading some of Fritz Leiber’s early stories. Lint is sort of a fake bio of a pulp-era science fiction writer, so even if Leiber’s stuff is probably better than the average weird tale, it’s reminding me of the era and enhancing the book. But even so, Leiber’s 40s stories, if not the classics to come, are still rather good, “The Phantom Slayer” being about a man who moves into his dead uncle’s apartment. His uncle, a retired policeman was following a certain murder case before he died, a case the protagonist becomes intimately familiar with. “The Hill and the Hole” is very “Weird Tales,” a story of a cartographic anomaly in the midwest, a hill that isn’t really a hill which hides something nasty.

Connie Willis’ Hugo-winning novella, “The Winds of Marble Arch” is about the London subway/underground, which brings back a lot of childhood memories from when I used to visit London when I lived over there. An American tourist starts running into strange winds and sensations travelling all over the London underground and becomes sucked in by the mystery of what is happening. There’s a rather unusual idea at work here, but for the most part this is pretty typical Willis, where characters run around at 100 miles a second. Quite nice though, some great character and relationship thoughts at work.

Shepard’s short work continues to kick ass. “A Spanish Lesson” blurs the lines between reality and magic as it seems Shepard himself is the narrator from a time when he was an expatriate living on the Mediterranean. A strange couple moves to the beach who Shepard and some of the other inhabitants clash with, only to find out a mystery is behind their appearance. The story revisits similar themes to that of “Mengele,” and the story becomes quite science fictional by the end, more so than much of his work.

“Fire Zone Emerald” and “R&R” are stories from the future Salvadorian milieu that would end up in his second novel Life During Wartime. Or to be more specific, “Fire Zone Emerald” is something of a preliminary story for the “universe” where “R&R” is actually the novella that is the first quarter of the book (there’s a section of the book also called “Fire Zone Emerald” but it’s not the story). There’s a war going on in the future with the requisite increase in technology (particularly in relationship to ESP), but the stories all focus on the characters caught up in the war and how they deal with the trauma. All of this takes place in the mystical central America I’m familiar with from many of Shepard’s stories and his skill of blurring the line between the real and occult is at its most impressive here. And as usual, he tackles huge themes, particularly those of responsibility and fate. I’ll be looking forward to reading the rest of Life During Wartime.

In comparison, the Niven book is barely worth mentioning. I wanted to get some background on his “Known Space” universe for some of the early stories, but this book about a powerful, inimical alien coming to earth brings in too many characters and confusing narratives to work too well, at times it was difficult to keep straight what was going on, particularly in that the alien’s strong mental powers turns one human being into something of a copy of the alien, making it difficult to keep things straight at times. But hey, it’s an early Niven book and certainly a dated one with the dominant male characters and military mindset. Thankfully it was short.

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