My rambling gonzo* epic-mundane** essay “A Ghost Can Only Take” about walking the liminal zone inside an industrial city, ghosts, history, and landscape memory has been published over at Reckoning Magazine. While you’re there you should check out the rest of the magazine. There’s lots of good weird stuff in there.
One thing I wish to highlight about that essay is how much it’s unfinished as it can’t be finished, as it’s about where I live and the present moment in all it’s fluid, ever-changing glory.
Let me give you two examples. First, since I wrote that piece there’s been an earthquake on the north side of town that left a few hundred people homeless. Second, if Trump’s steel tariffs go through they’ll heavily impact where I live and work since the steel company in town is one of the leading steel companies in the world. If they start feeling the squeeze the whole city will. And that’s leaving aside any and all nonsense about a possible war on the peninsula.
Anyway, please give it a read if you’re inclined, or scroll through and look at all the pictures. (And if you like the pictures, there are plenty more where they came from.)
* What the editor called it.
** What I called it.
Here are my three favorite reads from last month.
Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley: Easiest way to describe this is it’s like Watership Down except only the really trippy bits and about crows instead of rabbits. But it’s more than that. It’s a series of linked stories centered on the interaction of Dar Oakley an immortal crow and various humans – a bronze age shaman, an Irish monk, a Native American storyteller, a spiritualist medium in the 1870s, and a near future professor. But it’s more than that too. It’s about language, memories, names, love, and death.
The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip: I think the cover oversells the magic in this book and doesn’t depict the rather mundane majority of it, but so it goes. Phelan’s a teacher at the local bard college working on a dissertation about the legendary bard Nairn when strange things start to happen to him and his friends, all of which are tied to the riddle contest Nairn lost in the remote past. McKillip’s fantasy is more Ren Faire than Renaissance, but she uses that to her advantage. The fun for me was that she’s writing a story centered more or less in one location (a literal college town), and in a world that’s menacing but not cruel. (Also, am I wrong to see nods to William Kennedy’s Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game in this? Both novels are about guys named Phelan who have dads who are drunks.)
Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans: 1890s French novel about the ailing, misanthropic aristocrat Des Esseintes who decides to move to an isolated villa where he can indulge his taste for luxury without any interruptions. What follows then are chapter long musings on art, literature, nightmares, and diet as Des Esseintes roams about his home decorating and organizing his library. It’s a bit of an absurd book, and I don’t know how much of that’s intentional. Des Esseintes is a pretty awful human being, but sometimes comically so. I went back and forth between reading this as a black comedy and a horror novel. I also wanted to scream “Get a f—ing job!” at Des Esseintes. It almost made me happy that the Great War came along.
I think these were on display to celebrate the Lunar New Year (Seollal) last week.
I enjoyed the hell out of Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 even though it felt like four seasons squashed into one and had plenty of TV style whiplash plotting. My big hope for the next season is that there’s less of that whiplash and it’s more relaxed and introspective, which maybe about a quarter of season one was.
I’ll assume if you’re still reading you’ve either seen the season or don’t mind spoilers. Here goes:
- Michele Yeoh makes a better recurring villain than Q ever did. But hopefully she’ll be kept to a rarity as will the Mirror Universe in general.
- Please no holodeck episodes! Unless it’s all the main deck crew Ditmars, Burns, and the Android hanging out at the beach where they have a good time and nothing bad happens to them.
- In fact, a stand-alone episode that’s all about the background faces would be welcome.
- Captain Saru always.
- We’ll see Saru’s living quarters. You know he plays the harp like Spock.
- Speaking of Spock, he’ll show up, and his relationship with Burnham will be comically and needlessly melodramatic. He’ll probably be linked to those Vulcan logic terrorists and will be a man-splaing sea-lion with pointy ears.
- Ash will come back for an episode or two because a group of Klingons needs help and he only trusts Discovery. Tears and heartbreak will ensue.
- Harry Mudd will show up and do a bad thing.
- Doctor Culper will return as a hologram or god in the mycelial web and Stamets will need to deal. Tilly will help him.
- The spore-drive will get taken out of service and won’t be the magical device it was in season one.
We’ll see how wrong I am in a year or so. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments.
Here are things I had published in 2017. Give them a read or listen if you have the inclination. I’m quite proud of them.
A Late Quintessence: a story about censorship, alchemy, and the regenerative power of ideas from the perspective of a villain coming to realize too late that he was on the wrong side of history. May it come to pass. (Link / Audio)
Behind the Sun: this is a faux travelogue about a weird civilization that exists in the center of our hollow earth. Witness the strange past-times of the inhabitants! Realize that struggle and communal effort have the power to rehabilitate us all! (Link)
This coming year should see a few more things published. Stay tuned!
Before I get into a rundown of the books I wanted to acknowledge the passing of one of the greats, Ursula K. Le Guin. I fell in love with The Wizard of Earthsea as a kid, and later when I was in my 20s and doing a lot of thrift and second hand book store prowling I knew anything I found by her would be a treat. At some point I had the chance to see her speak and it was great. She was fierce and funny and kind in all the best ways.
Now, about the books… you see I went back to the USA in December and that meant a lot of time on planes and in airports and jet-lag making me to keep all sorts of odd hours. In other words I read a ton over the past two months, but as not to bore you all (my two readers) I’ll keep my reviews to a sentence or two.
So sit back and relax as I blather.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter: A Gothic novel set in 1960s London about a teenage girl sent to live with her creepy toy-maker uncle after the death of her parents. The first of the books I read that featured incest as not an awful thing.
The Faithful Executioner, Life and Death, Honor and Shame, in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century by Joel F. Harrington: A fascinating read about the life and times of one Franz Schmidt, an executioner in 16th century Nuremberg, using Schmidt’s own journal as its source. A must read for history and true crime fans.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon: A woman seeks to solve the mystery of her mother’s death on board an intergalactic generation ship that’s managed to replicate an approximation of the slave society of the American South. A rough read at times, but worth it.
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel: All the movers and shakers in the French Revolution knew each other from middle school and carried the hurts and rivalries from those days into the revolution, except for Danton. The sadness of this book is not simply the tragedy of the Terror but that it’s not hard to see your high school self in the various characters.
Head Lopper, The Island or A Plague of Beasts by Andrew Maclean with Mike Spicer: Head Lopper’s a barbarian swordsman who carries around a cackling hag’s head for reasons. Fun and weird.
The Giant, O’Brien by Hilary Mantel: Set in London during the 1780s, this is a tragedy about the conflict between the folk wisdom of the Irish giant O’Brien and the cold scientific materialism of Scottish Surgeon John Hunter. It’s a short, savage book, and a quicker read than A Place of Greater Safety.
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz: Pirates and robots in the later half of the 22nd century. This was a great book to be stuck with on a trans-Pacific flight.
Collected Folk Tales by Alan Garner: Garner’s goal with this was to write a collection of folk tales that read less like anthropology and more as oral accounts you would hear spoken by family or friends. In that he largely succeeds.
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng: The truth about Fairy land is that there is no truth, and the search for answers is less about the answers and more about the search. A great read, despite the inevitable incest.
Solution Three by Naomi Mitchison: A utopian novel set in a future where all the best gay pot smoking college professors have taken over and a poor heterosexual couple hopes to find a bigger apartment. Fortunately everyone learns the real enemy is greed.
2018 is the year I go back to posting quotidian pictures. Sorry, not sorry.