Mike’s Prattle


Archive for March, 2007

George R. R. Martin “The Sworn Sword,” Bradley Denton – The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians…, Lucius Shepard – “Vacancy”

Posted by Mike on March 19, 2007

Oh yeah, I’ve been reading again, yes I have. It’s so rare lately that I was almost shocked with what I got finished. I’m gonna go backwards this time.

Martin’s “The Sworn Sword” is part of his Dunk and Egg “sequence” that is set earlier in time in his Ice and Fire series. I’d read the first novella, in Legends, right after it came out, but for some reason I wasn’t as quick to jump on this one, in Legends II, right away. I’ve long been weary of high fantasy, to the point where I barely start series anymore, or at least not open-ended series or series with gigantic books. While I wouldn’t quite classify Martin in the same area since his work veers closer to historical fiction, tends to be grittier and has no elves or orcs, the medieval era its set in also seemed to annoy me a little. The good thing about the Dunk and Egg stories, is they’re small stories, outside the bigger epic, and somewhat intimate as far as that’s concerned. This one had a few nice twists to it as well as the type of excellent characterization you expect from Martin.

Brad Denton’s collection, the name I’m starting to weary of typing out it’s so long, is actually the partner of another collection called “The Conflagration Artist,” Both were originally released together as part of a limited edition sort of thing, although both are available, quite expensively, through Wildside press. They both won the World Fantasy Award at the time, which is about all I need as a recco as I tend to do pretty good with that award. This collection is no different. The big title story features something of a purgatory for dead comedians, where the mysterious homerunners are the purgers. The story is pretty hysterical as it follows one such comedian through his afterlife in the home. The writing just snaps off the pages. Another story, about a young Mark Twain during the civil war creates an entirely different tone, but one no less skillful. I was really happy to have Conflagration Artist on the shelves as well as a couple of his novels, after finishing this up.

Shepard’s “Vacancy,” is his newest novella, although by the time I got to writing about it, it wasn’t! You can find it here. A typically great piece of work from a master, this story at heart is about a man whose bad karma is about to catch up with him, the karma basically related to the way Americans generally ignore and bulldoze over the cultural values of the countries’ its far more powerful (or maybe well off) than, of course, set in a much more personal milieu. Shepard’s work is generally very hard to classify, although this is one I’d call a horror story off the bat, although you’ll have to read it to see why. It’s all beautifully drawn from the descriptions of Florida to the great characters.


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So little time…

Posted by Mike on March 14, 2007

Incredibly busy of late, too busy to really get any chance to read or think or whatever. Trades, nephews, friends, the works. I wanted to talk a little about Elizabeth Hand’s book(s) Bibliomancy and Saffron & Brimstone, although I’m weeks from having finishing them both. Some fantastic writing though, just beautiful evocative prose and a sense of the intersection between myth/legend/imagination and the real world. It’s the kind of fantastic stuff I like the best these days, where the fantasy elements are light and background or somewhat ambiguous so the concentration is on character.

I read Bibliomancy first, from the story of the woman who can turns her victims into butterflies and who sets out on something of a subtle plan of revenge after she moves to London after being raped. It’s hard to describe how great Hand is with colors, the colors of the butterflies just shine with radiance, it’s as if you can see each unique species as they’re discussed.

My favorite story in Bibiomancy has to be the one about the Chip Crockett’s Christmas Special, a story about a divorced man with a severely autistic child who allows a famous musician friend, well past his prime, to move in with him. The Christmas Special is related to the fact that this musician, an obvious analog for Joey Ramone, is obsessed by this old television show, lost over time, with only small clips remaining who begins insisting a Christmas special will air again at some point. It’s basically a tale of redemption to some extent and all the various threads work to a wonderful ending.

Saffron & Brimstone is the US version of Bibliomancy, it’s not as pretty a book, it’s missing Chip Crockett (which can be found at scifiction anyway iirc), but it adds three (or six depending on how you count) new stories. The most resonant of these is the four part meta-story at the end of the book that deals with Greek myth in various different ways. The one about the woman living on the island off Maine that experiences a somewhat apocalyptic scenario offstage really got to me, the end paragraph in particular was awfully mystery tradition. Absolutely fabulous stuff.

I also finished Michael Swanwick’s Tales of Old Earth a while back. I’d read maybe four or five stories from it already when I used to subscribe to Asimov’s in the 90s, but it was a treat to read the rest. Swanwick deals out concepts like it’s as easy as taking a walk and there are just so many shorts here with great ideas and powerful endings. Not having the book in front of me makes it tough to remember any in particular, but there were few stinkers in it.

Right now I’m concentrating on three books. The first the Pritzker edition of the Zohar, first volume. Like the TARDIS, it’s bigger on the inside than the outside. Coming from the standpoint of a hermetic qabalist, I’m finding a lot of riches in the more traditional side, and there’s so much in these books it’s hard to know where to start. But I can imagine this is where so much of the concept of the qlippoth and the alt side of the tree comes from originally.

The other two books are Jack McDevitt’s Deepsix, a sequel to the Engines of God and similar in some ways, archaeologists trying to salvage relics where they shouldn’t be. Engines was great, this one, well I think I’m not all that much in the mood for SF lately, as I don’t think it’s quite so good so far, but still enjoyable as a romp. The other is Bradley Denton’s “The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians” which is a brilliant little collection (and something of a partner to “The Conflagration Artist), I’ve got one story, about a young Mark Twain, to read before I talk about it, but the title story is a doozy.

Other than that, trying to keep up with too many TV shows. Watching Battlestar take a huge nosedive of late to the point where I’m starting to get disgusted with it, ever since they left New Caprica I’ve been irritated with the story lines. Maybe they wanted us to get irritated before they killed off youknowwho so it wouldn’t seem as bad.

In fact one of these days I have to do a TV update as I think Friday Night Lights has probably gone to the head of the pack….

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