Archive | December 2011

One Book Four Covers

Here’s an assortment of covers from the book I recently finished. I get a kick out of seeing how each would have shaped my expectations.

I read the second one from the left. It’s not a bad cover. Somewhat classy. The first one brings to mind a 1950s young adult novel — not a bad thing and I like the artwork. The third one looks like an off-market, but probably decent D&D supplement (maybe a Harn module). And the last one is kind of all over the place like the artist proposed three covers and the publisher decided to go with all of them. None of them make you really want to read the book, nor do they make the characters look appealing. Well, maybe the fourth one does or at least it comes the closest. The rest, eh, not so much. Which is a shame, because it’s a pretty damn good book if you like your vikings mixed in with Dumas-style adventurous swashbuckling.

Do the Pulps Still Matter?

I love the tradition but hate our adherence to them.

I love that authors have been working with the fantastic for so long that there are literally hundreds of years of material from around the world to get lost in. I love that every week I can potentially encounter a new author’s work. But I hate our desire to delineate genres and name epochs.

I hate tradition. I hate the collector scum, mylar bagging bull shit. (“Well, blah blah, American SF really starts with Hugo Gernsback.”) I’d rather no one walled the genres apart from each other. I’d rather find my own Golden Age than be stuck with someone else’s.

The Golden Age is the books you read when you were ten. The classics are any author writing before you were born. The walls can’t erode fast enough — and the more the pulp squad circles their wagons and closes their ranks around their andropause and incunabula the more I say good riddance.

Fandom doesn’t matter. The community doesn’t matter. Books matter. Reading matters. I fear we often forget this.

One could look at fandom as junkies on one side (“GRRM, I need my fix!”) and fetishists on the other. (“Oh my god! Sniff this book’s binding!”) What some marketing department decides to name Steampunk or what some editor calls the “new” Sword & Sorcery (when really it’s just recent sword and sorcery) or what some grad student writes about the “sense of wonder” doesn’t matter. They’re either tour guides or real estate agents who’ve positioned themselves between a reader and a book. At best they are useful in small doses.

This might be why I raise my eyebrows whenever I hear an SF writer say: “I love science fiction”. It smells too much of an abusive relationship loaded with codependency. I love to read, and I love books, and most of the books I love happen to be genre books, but I don’t love the genres.

The squishier and spongier they get, the happier I am.

From Olaf Stapledon’s The Last and First Men

Olaf on Americans:

“In the Far West, the United States of America openly claimed to be custodians of the whole planet. Universally feared and envied, universally respected for their enterprise, yet for their complacency very widely despised, the Americans were rapidly changing the whole character of man’s existence.

What wonder then that America even while she was despised, irresistibly molded the whole human race. This, perhaps, would not have mattered, had America been able to give of her very rare best. But inevitably only her worst could be propagated. Only the most vulgar traits of that potentially great people could get through into the minds of foreigners by means of these crude instruments. And so, by the flood of poisons issuing from this people’s baser members, the whole world, and with it the nobler parts of America herself, were irrevocably corrupted.”

“These best were after all a minority in a huge wilderness of opinionated self-deceivers, in whom surprisingly an outworn religious dogma was championed with the intolerant optimism of youth. For this was essentially a race of bright, but arrested, adolescents.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Give You This

One of my students is on a “portrait” kick. Most of his victims are not amused. Anyway, I sat for him today during the break between classes. With any luck the picture will age while I stay 35 forever.

He then drew one of my co-teacher. It was less than flattering. He wanted to give it to her, but I said he shouldn’t because she’d likely kill him. He did it anyway. My co-teacher laughed, tore it up, and threw it away before chasing him from the room.

For now he lives to draw another day.

Favorite Reads 2011

It’s December. You can expect some year end posts. Here’s my list of 10 favorite reads from this past year.

1. The King Must Die by Mary Renault: A historical novel set in ancient Greece retelling the early life of Theseus up to his killing the minotaur and returning to Athens. It walks a fine line between the real and the fantastic because while nothing “magical” happens, the characters believe their world is magical.

2. God’s War by Kameron Hurley: Probably the most recently published book on this list. Some people have a problem with science fantasy. I don’t. This read like a hybrid of China Mieville and Anne McCaffrey. If that doesn’t sound great then I don’t even want to hear it. In a way it recalled the 1970s when genre lines weren’t so fiercely defined. I’ll probably read the sequel Infidel when I’m home next month.

3. The Last Days by Brian Evenson: An absurdly violent detective novel about a cop infiltrating a cult of extreme self-mutilators. This is one of those books that grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go. Not for the squeamish.

4. Warlock by Oakley Hall: A western with an introduction by Thomas Pynchon. Hall is one of those “writer’s writers”, I think. He never was popular but he worked in popular genres. (I’ll also track down his Ambrose Bierce detective novels when Stateside.) This reminded me some of Deadwood, but it probed more into the American habit of making heroes of violent men.

5. I Was Looking For A Street by Charles Willeford: Willeford’s memoir of being a freight riding runaway during the Depression. Parts are heart-breaking, but other parts show a compassion for humanity in all our absurdity.

6. Freaks’ Amour by Tom De Haven: Another disturbing and violent book. It read like Sid & Nancy meets Tod Brownings’ Freaks or Philip K. Dick meets punk rock. Take your pick. Mutant entertainers try to survive in a world that despises them. The book’s a weird relic of the 1970s and the Cold War, but oddly relevant. The most likable character is a drug-dealer who sells mutant goldfish eggs.

7. The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George Higgins: I blathered about this one before.

8. Flanders by Patricia Anthony: A magic realist novel set in the trenches of World War One? Maybe. The Last Temptation of Christ meets Goodbye To All That? An American sniper in World War One slowly begins to crack due to combat stress and the homicidal tendencies of his fellow soldiers. While in No Man’s Land he begins to see visions of the dead and those about to die.

9. The Double Shadow by Frederick Turner: A lost classic of the New Wave? It’s a shame Turner didn’t write more SF. He might have won a name for himself as a peer of M. John Harrison, Samuel R. Delany, and Gene Wolfe. (Though he did go on to a career as a poet and teacher.) On a terraformed Mars the scions of two royal families engage in a status war fought with aesthetics and style. Even if the book was meant as a critique of an emergent culture of narcissism, it still works as an SF novel. Definitely worth tracking down.

10. Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison: The Spacewoman in question is a communications officer / ambassador / diplomat in a future utopian society.  There’s little in the way of plot and “thrills”, but a lot of wonder as she recounts her experiences from a life time of alien contact.

Sometimes One Even Does It By Oneself

“During their leisure time you will see them promenading on the streets and boulevards. One of them takes his friend, male or female, by the hand and they set out on a stroll, going back and forth with purposefulness as if they had a goal in mind, but their only intention is talk and relaxation. Sometimes one even does it by oneself. They say it is useful for reflection, for revealing hidden thoughts, and for discovering new ways of doing things; and I tried it and it was true.”

- Disorienting Encounters: Travels of a Moroccan Scholar in France in 1845 – 1846. The Voyage of Muhammad As-Saffar

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