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Sunday, December 28, 2014

"From Darkness, Emerged, Returned" by Elizabeth Massie

First appeared in Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec's Beyond Rue Morgue.

Here's a tale that took me by surprise. Massie gives us the quiet granddaughter of famed detective Dupin in this quiet tale. Her boyfriend has been killed. She calls on the spirit of her grandfather to help her solve this crime. Her mother, meanwhile, has had an operation to make her smarter. Others fall under suspicion. A few somethings are not what they seem.

"Illimitable Domain" by Kim Newman

Appear in Ellen Datlow's Poe anthology. Reprinted by Christopher Golden.

Here's a curious oddity (I do like narrative oddities). It's basically a fictional nonfiction about alternate-world film industry. Basically--spoiler alert--Poe, who feels he's been under-appreciated, has taken over the art world in that all movies seem to be influenced by Poe, as if everyone was making the same Poe-flavored film. Interesting work. I would have liked a touch more narrative/story, but worth checking out.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dialogue and Dissonance in The Wolf of Wall Street

Most fascinating about this movie is its diction. It switches from elevated to vulgar in a beat. It mixes money, sex and drugs with the financial markets that move the world. Perhaps the film's game is to serve up what the nightly news revolves around (a subject likely to bore many) with something that will titillate some yet repel others.

The film opens with a brokerage-firm's commercial advertising "Stability, Integrity, Pride." Then the film contrasts the real firm throwing a dwarf-throwing contest with $25000 on the line. In an off-angle shot, Belfort (the narrator/protagonist) is shown having sex in a Ferrari while driving, and flying a copter while under the influence of cocaine. But Belfort has his own definition of those terms.

A person might be interested in ethical finances may not be interested in vulgar living. Looking at Amazon's unusually U-shaped reader-rating statistics makes the divide in audiences clear.

Try on this brilliant opening monologue that spells out what you're in for in this movie (and whether you'll want to watch it):
"On a daily basis, I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island and Queens for a month. 
"I take Quaaludes for back pain Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, pot to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me up again, and morphine, well, because it's awesome. 
"But of all the drugs under God's blue heaven, there is one that is my absolute favorite. You see, enough of this shit will make you invincible, able to conquer the world, and eviscerate your enemies. [Sniffs coke] And I'm not talking about this. I'm talking about this. [Snaps one hundred dollar bill and tosses it in trash.] 
"See money doesn't just buy you a better life, better food, better cars, better pussy. It also makes you a better person. 
"You can give generously to your church or political party of your choice. You can save the fucking spotted owl with money."
Some of the film's best parts were these monologues. Belfort is told and appears to accept he's an idiot. If so, he's a uniquely clever one.

Martin Scorsese's movie is written by Jordan Belfort, the movie's protagonist, and Terrence Winter, writer for The Sopranos. This movie critic supposed the audience hated the movie because it was 1) too excessive (even for a movie about excess), 2) released on Christmas, and 3) marketed with the wrong tone. (Caution for slow internet users: The link is packed with videos and advertisements.)

Spoiler: The ending, too, may feel like a let-down. The viewer has to ponder what Scorsese was up to. Audiences expect change. When Belfort walks out on stage as a motivational speaker, we don't think he's changed. He sobered up and then rushed back to the drugs. When given opportunities to turn around, he passes them up. It's just a new game: different players, different rules but the same con. At least, so the film suggests. Leonardo DiCaprio in an interview thinks differently:

Observe Scorsese's reaction shot. I'd be curious to hear/read Belfort's thoughts on a film he co-wrote.

Here's a list of other memorable quotes.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ender's Game, the movie

Ender's Game is the Star Wars (original series) of literary SF. It has impeccable dramatic timing. Both are so well constructed that you get sucked in. Ender's Game has the advantage of evoking thought as well, posing difficult dilemmas about war, bullies, and childhood.

Having loved the book, I hoped it would succeed but feared it would fizzle--from the moment they announced it. I thrilled to hear Harrison Ford was acting along with Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley. When they released the teaser trailer with Ford's voiceover. I thought either Ford had lost it, or the director failed because it was dry, brittle as winter leaves. Worse, it was just a bunch of ships flying around, hinting at no story.

Still, a buddy and I searched for its appearance in Honduras when it was to be released but we must have missed it. I recently caught it on video.

It tells of Ender Wiggins, a young boy who goes Battle school with other children to defeat the Buggers, an alien race that tried but failed to destroy the human race. Now humans have sent out ships to destroy the aliens, but the aliens are growing the war fleets, larger than ever.

The movie captured the book's dilemmas early on. The acting was well done (except that one voiceover introducing the aliens), and I was swept into the story.

It'd be nice to hear what those who haven't read the book have to say. They might have missed a few points due to trying to get all of the book's highlights in. Even the cut scenes are interesting.

The problem in eliminating the zero-g battles is that we don't get to build our admiration and know morea about the characters enough to be thrilled when they gather for the finale. The final battles are cool but compressed. Is it too fast?

Hood's instincts are good as evidenced by even the cut scenes. These could have given the movie needed breathers between action sequences. This might have been better to have had two movies, or a mini-series.

It's worth seeing, but I wish Hood had more money to develop more scenes. Hopefully, it inspires new readers to check out the book and wonder at what might have been. If only...

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning" by Joe R. Lansdale

First appeared in Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec's Beyond Rue Morgue. Reprinted by Paula Guran.

Dupin and the anonymous narrator look into a blue-fire lightning bolt. Dupin is an Archie Goodwin who does Dupin's footwork into the investigation. He misses things that Dupin does not from simply reading a newspaper article about the same event, such as the lightning starts from the ground and goes up.

Little by little, the story gets stranger. An ape and a decaying man procure body parts and spill some on the streets. The ape was formerly a man who has been in dabbling in powers he ought not to...
Discussion With an Oblique Spoiler:
Of the Auguste Dupin stories in this anthology, this one captures more of Poe's original voice, flavored with a dash of Arthur Conan Doyle and a splash of Nero Wolfe. The characters (Dupin and the anonymous narrator) have a bit more personality Poe's originals. It also plays in ideas from the original stories. It folds in basic Lovecraftian tropes to add a little cosmic horror.

It begins with a well-controlled Dupin tribute, and interesting ratiocination, and ends up in Lovecraftian territory. The ape from the original is a stroke of imaginative genius--a nod to Poe's "Murder in the Rue Morgue" with a new twist. One might hope for a resolution derived a bit more from Dupin's reasoning brain than Lovecraft's overpowering cosmic horror. The two universes would seem to come to conflict: Dupin's "There's a method behind this madness." vs. Lovecraft's "We're doomed! Everyone, run for your lives!"

Strangely, the story ends on a note that feels more Lovecraftian in tone:
"...a bright badge of normalcy, that from here on out I knew was a lie."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Character Love vs. Drama in Star Trek

I loved Star Trek series, but when The Next Generation came on with its variety of characters and SF verisimilitude, the show stole my heart. They upped the SF game on television for everyone.

When the original Star Trek hit the big screen, it became epic in ways its series could not be. I expected the same for The Next Generation -- not only a burst of SF coolness, but a scale not seen in its series.

But it never happened. Each felt like a double television episode. Fun but missing something vital for the big screen. I exited the theater a little disappointed.

When Nemesis came out, the marriage scene between Commander William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi made the problem clear. The scene has little tension. Everyone here loves each other and would never accidentally hurt another--except Data whom we can forgive because he's not a living organism. So let's tell a joke at his expense. Ha, ha, ha.

I recently re-watched the ST:TNG movies to puzzle out what went wrong. Nemesis--with its clone antagonist, Shinzon--may be the best. Flaws make people interesting, and the TNG writers shied away from giving the crew flaws, foibles, and conflicts between one another. The original Star Trek movies hit the character flaws head-on. They became an integral part of the story.

Ria Misra tackled "The Underlying Assumption That's Necessary For Every Star Trek Mission" with the astute observation that the crew accepted one another's observations as worthwhile. Now this is cool. However, if you take it too far, you lose dramatic potential.

In fact, we love TNG characters so much that we don't let them suffer or die.

Data is a different story. We can kill him because he's just a machine we adore, but hey, he's got a download so we can start over. His sacrifice matters, sort of, but not as much as if he couldn't return as if he'd never left.

Star Trek killed Spock. Let's say that again: They killed one of the main characters. Sure, he came back, but we didn't know that. They also made Chekov out to be a traitor and Kirk to appear to run away from troubles. The crew locked horns, even if they loved each other Platonically. This makes sense. Who has ever worked at a job where the conflicts didn't occur between boss and employees, employees and employees? Heck, who hasn't lived in a family whose members did not conflict--people who are supposed to love one another?

J.J. Abrams's Star-Trek reboots nailed the drama--within the crew and outside it. However, they rarely capture the camaraderie of the other two series, which as I've suggested before, may be linked to the fact that these characters have not worked with one another extended periods.

I have a working hypothesis that, despite knowing all humanity is flawed, contemporary society fears flaws in people. Flaws mean that someone is a bad guy. Good guys' teeth sparkle, their breath stays minty fresh, their boots never muddy. They always say the right thing. We also fear listening to perspectives that differ from our own, which is strange considering the SF genre is supposed to be all about that.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Degrees of Knowing

The Washington Post posted, "The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns."

I have not yet read the book or the rules, but it doesn't sound too different from the 1934 song "Santa Claus is coming to town!"
You better watch out, 
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town! 
He's making a list,
And checking it twice,
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
This, of course, is also a panopticon--albeit, a hidden one--which might be scarier in some ways as he's always there, out of sight.

But his aim is goodness. So 1) he's not out to trip people up. 2) Santa and the Elf do not actually see anything. They are not cameras or have eyes. 3) The point is, then, self-regulation. Some kids learn it better than others. 4) We all perform differently while being watched. Should we?

Might this doll create a sense that surveillance and loss of privacy is okay? Probably. But what are the actual scenarios: 1) Kid behaves well. Kid rewarded. Believes surveillance is good--possibly. 2) Kid behaves poorly. Kid rewarded. Believes surveillance is pointless--possibly. Or that he can get away with anything because there's not really anyone watching. 3) Kid behaves well. Kid is punished unfairly. Kid unfairly blames Elf who didn't do anything. Kid expected to be rewarded and/or protected but was not. He believes surveillance is bad unfairly--possibly. 4) Kid behaves poorly, believes he's justified in doing so. Kid is punished. a) Possibly hates surveillance because he should be able to behave as he sees fit. b) Possibly believes surveillance will help him behave better in the future.

Other scenarios are possible. What we see little of, though, is qualification. People make bold statements that might have validity under certain circumstances, without qualification--without the "might" or "possibly" necessary to inform the public. Or if we're given other possibilities, it is only to dismiss them, so that we only consider a narrow realm of possibility. Our world is skewed, especially if we only listen to those with whom we agree.

This is not to say that surveillance is good or bad. Rather, I speak to a larger issue--that of being better and more broadly informed. Honestly informed, with qualifications.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Accenting the Accent: "Dinner on a Flying Saucer" by Dean Wesley Smith

This short story first appeared in Denise Little's anthology, Front Lines. It is also available as a stand-alone ebook for $2.99.

Wife, Ethel, approaches narrator with a shotgun. He claims to have been abducted by aliens, had dinner, and left their sucker marks on him--not human hickeys.
Is this an SF story of a slipstream one?

Ethel doesn't believe him, and it becomes difficult for the reader as well. When his wife scoffs that he'd do anything with the widow Mattie, he seems to take it as a challenge, intimating that he may pay her a visit. However, he does appear to believe his own bluster. See quote referenced below to decide what you think  actually happened.

It is also a story focused on voice--a Southern one.

"I bet the widow Mattie would be real grateful like, and maybe give me a ride like she’d done to Chester. Especially when she found out I was a real war hero and all, keepin’ the world safe from them stick-slug invasions."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New and reissued books/ebooks

The Paul Di Filippo MEGAPACK 
22 Tales of the Fantastic 
by Paul Di Filippo  

The Dire Earth: 
A Novella 
(The Dire Earth Cycle) 
by Jason M. Hough 

Dead Man Tells Tale 
by Jonathan L. Howard 

Two Scott Nicholson books:

  1. The Spider Trilogy with J.R. Rain -- $0.99 
  2. After: Whiteout (AFTER post-apocalyptic series, Book 4) -- $3.99

Stories set in the PALE ZENITH universe 
by Wendy Rathbone 

Kristine Kathryn Rusch reissued two short stories 
$2.99 each

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig: 
A Novella 
(The Bobby Dollar Books Book 4) 
by Tad Williams 

Teaching the Dog to Read  (novella)
by Jonathan Carroll 

In Search of Wonder 
by Damon Knight 

Five by Five 3: 
Target Zone 
by Kevin J. Anderson and Michael A. Stackpole 

Skin Deep 
by Brandon Sanderson 

The Book of Feasts & Seasons 
by John C. Wright 

(Of Man and Manta Book 3) 
by Piers Anthony 

5 Robin McKinley books

  1. Sunshine $6.83 
  2. Deerskin $6.55 
  3. Rose Daughter $6.41 
  4. The Outlaws of Sherwood $7.49 
  5. The Door in the Hedge: and Other Stories $6.64
The Eternal Champion Sequence (3 books)
by Michael Moorcock 

Weird Heroes, 
A New American Pulp 
by Byron Preiss and Philip Jose Farmer 

by Richard Kadrey 

Star Bridge 
by James Gunn and Jack Williamson 

(Major Baahjan series Book 1) 
by Catherine Asaro 

by Charles de Lint 

Out Of This World 
(Wildlings Book 3) 
by Charles de Lint 

Willful Child 
by Steven Erikson 

Coming Home 
(An Alex Benedict Novel Book 7) 
by Jack McDevitt 

(Parasitology Book 2) 
by Mira Grant 

The Future Falls: 
Book Three of the Enchantment Emporium 
by Tanya Huff 

by Stephen Baxter 

15 Plays 
by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers by Andrea Hairston, John Kessel, Cecil Castelucci, James Patrick Kelly, Mac Rogers, August Schulenburg, Adam Szymkowicz, Liz Duffy Adams, 
Erin Underwood (Editor), Jen Gunnels (Editor) 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kickstarters and story bundles

Jeff Vandermeer has added a little more oomph to his tasty story bundle to get Helsinki the World Con bid:
"Anyone who buys our Storybundle at the bonus level (all of the e-books) will be eligible for their own secret life. Three randomly chosen readers will win a flash fiction written by me that incorporates details of their lives as the starting point. Handwritten, personalized, and one-of-a-kind. No other copies will ever exist. in addition, those three winners will receive the Area X hardcover of my NYT bestselling Southern Reach trilogy, with a limited edition Southern Reach art booklet. (Anyone who has already bought the Storybundle at the bonus level will be entered in the random drawing.)"

Here's a Kickstarter with what are basically six chapbooks by various up-and-comers.

  1. Martha Wells - Between Worlds: the Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories
  2. Will McIntosh - Futures Near and Far
  3. Tina Connolly - Scales & Other Transformations
  4. Stephen Gaskell - Transit & Other Stories
  5. Brenda Cooper - Beyond The Waterfall Door: Stories of the High Hills
  6. Bradley P. Beaulieu - Compartmentalized & Other Stories 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

C. Auguste Dupin, Detective: Genius and... Blowhard?

Edgar Allan Poe created the mystery genre through his popular genius detective, C. Auguste Dupin. Their influence, while far-reaching, rests on three stories:

  1. The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841),
  2. The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842), and
  3. The Purloined Letter (1844).
The first is perhaps the most dramatic and most famous. It has been filmed around a half dozen times. The latter two, once. 

Nonetheless, the most iconic, I contend, is the lattermost. It brought forth the idea [Note: I am about to deliver the dreaded spoiler, so read the tale now before your mind is forever corrupted] of hiding things in plain sight. The actual story isn't as simple as the concept it delivers. Dupin points out that 1) the astute can guess behavior patterns of people based on their intelligence, 2) you can make gains in politics through the destruction of another's morality (a lesson still in practice--perhaps more popular than ever), and 3) hiding things in plain sight... through simple disfigurement, while hanging with other items of similar disfigurement.

Paul Collins, a biographer of Poe, calls these essays. And they are--of a fictionalized sort--especially "The Purloined Letter". Dupin spends a great deal of time reasoning out all the extraneous matter and beating around to his final point. In the modern locked-room mystery, Dupin's stories represent the final unraveling, where the detective relates how the mystery occurred. His methods are similar to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes's. Doyle also employs a sidekick like Dupin who can become our proxy for our awe of the detective's mental prowess.

Doyle's sidekick, Watson, is superior in that he actually has a personality that develops across the stories. Poe's is an anonymous blank-slate. Even Dupin is something as a blank slate except for one thing: He talks a lot, demonstrating his genius.

If Dupin were real, some people would become enthralled and hang on in his every word. Most would probably lose track of what he was saying and think of other matters, waiting for him to finish what he had to say, stifling yawns and glancing at pocket watches: "My! Look at the time." I think the term "blowhard" is unfair as he is just explaining a crime at length, but that would likely be the feeling that most people would got in his presence, especially if they feared intellectual matters that shot over their heads.

According to Collins, Poe wrote literary puzzles for readers to figure out. I suspect that these Dupin stories were an outgrowth of such interest, exploring dramatic puzzles of crime. The idea of Dupin's character may never have come to mind. For all that Dupin might have been a pain to be around in real life, his reasoning has been fascinating to read for nearly 175 years.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What We Do in the Shadows -- trailer and clips

At Michael Knost's recommend, I hunted down these clips from a forthcoming New Zealand mockumentary about vampires. It seems reminiscent of Spinal Tap with a similar underground-classic appeal. Each vampire has a distinct character flavor that's rather charming and humorous--more in the smiling department than that of the guffaw one.


Other Clips (Some gore. Some overlap in content but each unique. Not all may be from the movie, but they carry a similar tone):

  1. Opening Scene
  2. Stu teaches technology!
  3. Dead but delicious.
  4. Vampires vs Werewolves: "Awooooo!"
  5. An evening with a vampire
  6. The bisgetti and cobra trick
  7. Incubus Seeks Succubus
  8. Passing Time
  9. Werewolves not Swearwolves
  10. Self Image Problems
  11. Blending in to Bleed Out
  12. Hypnosis in the Shadows
  13. Dating 101 with Viago
  14. Vampire's Guide to Vellington
  15. Vampire's Guide to Vellington Out-takes
  16. Behind The Lid - Vellington Sign

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Honeybee" by Caroline M. Yoachim

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online. Story found here.

In the future, the honeybees are dying, dead. Even the clones cannot survive. The narrator has been traveling time, even stealing almonds and raspberries from places about to be destroyed so they can recreate recipes otherwise impossible.


The honeybees from the past are transported to the future. It's not explicitly stated, but perhaps the time-traveling--transporting the bees from past to the future--is responsible for their demise. Ah, the meddlesome-ness of human nature.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"The Vitruvian Farmer" by Marcelina Vizcarra

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online. Story found here.

Here's an author to keep your eyes on: Marcelina Vizcarra. She has a lovely style without being overwrought, a temptation a number of stylists fall prey to.
"A week before Christmas, my father left the milk jar for me to skim off the fog-colored fat. I found his boot prints in the ice kicked out of the goats’ water pan."
Understandably, the narrator's mother responds with venom to the supposedly time-travelling father:
"My mother accused him of staging a time-travel triumph to make us admire him while we grieved his absence, instead of doing what we should be doing–growing bitter."
The daughter, on the other hand, is fascinated by the objects that disappear, cataloging them, leaving questions behind to which the father leaves inscrutable replies.

Spoiler: The ending is equally nigh-inscrutable. A man almost matching her father's description appears. She steals the machine and disappears herself. What's inscrutable is her purpose: To find her father? This seems possible but less likely. Wouldn't she have questioned the man first? It seems the time-traveling for time-traveling's sake is her aim. But the ending is unclear. It would have been to have received more clues, more ideas about the relationship between daughter and mother, daughter and father, but perhaps that's the point: The concept itself has hijacked human relationships, but this does not show a negative fall-out (perhaps because we are in the daughter's POV, but the author could have offered glimmers that this was a negative act if she desired).

The title comes from the Roman architect, Vitruvius, who believed that architecture came from nature, specifically as drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. This indicates, perhaps the father's "perfect" search for time has sown seeds in his daughter.

Definitely check this one out.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"If You Want" by Luc Reid

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online.

In a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style, Reid presents a second-person character to whom a world of misery slays him: from parents to orientation, to zombies, cryogenics and identity theft. The character is given his choices... (sort of a spoiler)

...and chooses something different. This one becomes powerful on reflection. Sometimes we humans pressure one another into binary decisions when another choice may actually be better. One might say this is about religion, but I think a better fit might simply be the arts (or politics or humanity) in how sometimes we pigeon-hole and limit what and who people can choose. But we have the ability to choose, to write our own stories. Potent.

The character isn't quite as sympathetic, perhaps because we never fully inhabit the character. The issue is the mirror opposite to Steven W. Johnson's "Monoceros, Ptolemy Cluster".

"Monoceros, Ptolemy Cluster" by Steven W. Johnson

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online.

This one reminded me of Barry B. Longyear's Nebula-winning Enemy Mine, which I recently reread and enjoyed. The movie has also stood up rather well, considering the special effects technology has moved on. They remain a moving dissection of prejudice--the other just looks foreign.

Johnson's tale is simpler: A criminal tries to steal a maglev off a doomed, dying planet--no one has bothered to render aid in years--to a better world. The security officer tries to spare both parties but...

This tiny glimpse bites off a little antagonism with some camaraderie of Longyear's. However, it lacks a deeper resonance. Still, it has charm for so brief a work. The issue is the mirror opposite to Luc Reid's "If You Want".

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Real Things We Learned as a Fake Band" by James Beamon

Appeared in Daily SF. Online here.

A human animatronic band is forced to play before an alien crowd.

It is a clever conceit with an apropos title. Hiding the alien crowd toward the middle limits idea development, however. Bringing it up front would have forced a deeper examination of the aliens and their victims. Still, it's worth a quick gander.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Whither Goes Literature? -- Literary News

The Economist discusses the future of the book, more encompassing (a warehouse of data) and bias but with less insight as Owens's assessment. Interesting format, though, to knock home a point.

Here are my thoughts that I haven't seen addressed. Note: I do not have definitive ideas but food for thought.  I am free to change my mind:

About 15 years ago, the big worry was about Borders/B&N killing independent bookstores, which was killing midlist writers. Writers were having careers destroyed by these bookstore giants. They'd order books and successively undercut. The tenor of the time was that the big-chain stores must be stopped. Support independents!* 
The dominance of the big-chain stores have disappeared due to Amazon, which you would think that would get the writers to applaud, but The Economist above cites it as an evil presence killing the midlist. Is that true? No real evidence bolsters this opinion.

Some claim the resurgence of independent bookstores. I'm not sure about this. They seem more like general purpose entertainments--books, music, games, movies. Maybe that's a good thing. 
Midlist writers can now publish their backlists. Everything. Some publishers may somehow still own all rights to books. A particular writer has books 20+ years old, and apparently cannot republish them, which seems bizarre to me. If a publisher hasn't done anything with a book for twenty years...? 
That said, some have legitimate beefs with Amazon. It'd be nice to read an honest assessment, an honest weighing of all evidence and perspectives. Is our society capable of unbiased assessment? 

* I blush that I haven't often done this (bookstores, that is. I've long supported small presses). But I haven't often had the money. I did what I could.  But the high cost of books raises another question:  Is literature a rich man's game? It seems more so now with literary magazines requiring fees to submit. Is literature excluding the voices of the less financially fortunate? Perhaps my perspective would alter were I running a literary magazine.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reader's Guide to "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe

Read online.
The narrator, Montresor, says because Fortunato has insulted and injured Montresor, he will get revenge through the object of the title.

Analysis with Questions and Spoilers:
The summary since Poe's plots are often simple on the surface, at least. Like "The Tell-Tale Heart" (discussion here), we have a murderer who details his murder. Section XII analyzes further similarities.

II. Title
What function does the object of the title serve?

The amontillado is a MacGuffin, an object pursued but has no real purpose to the plot except to provide a lure for the protagonist.

III. Opening
The story opens this way, explaining why Montresor killed:

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge."

Does Montresor mean a "thousand" when he says that number? What kind of injuries are meant? physical, mental, imaginary, spiritual? Does Montresor show signs of injury in the narrative? When someone is injured and they obsess over it, how well do they remember details, in general? What does this suggest about Montresor?

Montresor cannot name his injuries, does not show injury (except mentally in his desire to torture and starve someone to death), and uses vague figures. This suggests his injuries are invented. Furthermore, Fortunato goes with Montresor willingly. Even if drunk and flattered, their relations must be cordial. Fortunato thinks this all a joke, even toward the end. He cannot see what has eaten away at Montresor. Montresor does nothing more than vague gestures.

IV. Character of Fortunato
"You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed."
What might Montresor's description of Fortunato indicate?

Montresor does flatter Fortunato, but Montresor's comments tend to be true. If Fortunato were truly unloved and unhappy (which goes against his name--see below), it seems probably that Fortunato might have become wary about Montresor. Note, too, the blunt honesty in "you are happy, as once I was." Montresor is deceptive but not a teller of lies. One witnesses this again when Montresor pulls out a trowel to indicate he is a mason (not a freemason), which Fortunato must be.

Perhaps this suggests Montresor's true motive: jealousy. See next section.

V. Character of Lechresi and Fortunato Defined by Wine
"As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me --" 
"Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry." 
"And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own." 
"Come, let us go." 
What does this banter suggest about Fortunato and Luchresi?

Clearly, this is Montresor uses this as a ruse to goad Fortunato into coming. Fortunato does not argue that their tastes are equivalent. Are they equivalent in other manners?

What if Montresor had decided not to go, due to his illness? If Montresor is jealous about Fortunato's happiness, would Luchresi have done just as well?

VI. Dress of Fortunato
"The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells."
What does this costume suggest?

Fortunato is dressed as a fool, but is played for a fool, not vice versa. The repetition of the jingling bells makes this concrete, making for a potent finale.

VII. The Reader and the Soul
"You, who so well know the nature of my soul, "
What does the "you" suppose?

Collusion. Unlike "The Tell-Tale Heart", the reader is meant to vouch for Montresor. But maybe we do not have to, especially after hearing this story. This becomes fascinating later in the narrative. At first most readers may be dubious of his motives, but later we somehow do root for the murderer. We find him clever. We admire his craftiness. Note in the Wikipedia article how various scholars have tried to support the vague murderer. Why would we do that unless Poe's narrator hasn't brought us over to his side?

On the other hand, maybe the narrator is speaking with the devil, God, or some other being of the afterlife since "you" knows the nature of the soul. Later Montresor responds:

"For the love of God, Montresor!" 
"Yes," I said, "for the love of God!"

This may indicate Montresor believes he does this for the love of God.

VIII. Obfuscation
"You will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong."

What does "gave utterance to a threat" mean? Who threatened whom? Why write "it was resolved" and "is unredressed" twice? What kinds of sentences are these? What does "punish with impunity" mean?

The passage is overwritten. The sentences are so vague and passive that it is difficult to know who did what what to whom--actions without actors. Is it possible that, after all these years, that it was Montresor who had done the injuries? This is conjecture, but why else would he hide the actors?

When the narrator says, "punish with impunity," he wants to get away with slow torturous murder without any kind of punishment. Whatever injuries Fortunato may or may not have done, does that equal a tortured death?

IX. Names

What significance might the character names, Fortunato and Montresor, have? 

Fortunato means fortunate, which he is not in this story. Saints and martyrs have been named Fortunato.

Montrésor is a French castle whose 1493 owner, Imbert de Batarnay was a "skilful and cunning" councillor.

What seems a likely source of the name Montresor is Claude de Bourdeille, comte de Montrésor, who wrote memoirs and participated in intrigues. His memoirs are described by Encyclopedia Britannica interesting, naive, and frank.

American John Montresor wrote a Maine expeditionary guide that fell into the hands of traitor Benedict Arnold. Montresor also owned an island in New York which he named after himself. It was used as a British military post during the Revolutionary war and would later become a home to transported graves, asylums and hospitals.

Fortunato, then, is a (not so) fortunate martyr for amontillado. Montresor is frank if untrustworthy traitor, a likely insane conveyor of graves.

X. Fortunato's Achilles
"He had a weak point --this Fortunato --although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine..., but in the matter of old wines he was sincere." 
"Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry." [said by Fortunato]
If Amontillado is a Sherry, what does that tell us about Montresor's commentary on Fortunato and Fortunato's dialogue?

Montresor is correct. Pride in wine is Fortunato's downfall. A scholar says that the Amontillado is a Sherry; therefore, Fortunato is a true connoisseur. Possibly. This, however, disagrees with what Montressor believes. Another interpretation of the line is that Luchresi does not have refined enough tastes to distinguish an Amontillado.

XI. Montresor's Doubt
"I have my doubts." 
"No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position.... For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!"
Why does Montresor repeat "I have my doubts" three times? What does it mean that his heart grew sick? What significance can we attach to the last three words of the story?

Montresor repeats "I have my doubts" three times. The third time feels almost a poetic response compared to the other two instances, suggesting multiple meanings. Might he be suggesting more than doubts that the amontillado is genuine? Might he be having doubts about this entire venture?

That seems a dubious assertion in light of his opening lines, but what do we make of the last paragraph? He seems sad that Fortunato does not reply to his taunts. He admits his heart grows sick at this jingling of bells, but he assigns it to the dampness, which few of us probably buy. Finally, he bids his old enemy to rest in peace. If the narrator is confessing to a priest, God, or the devil, maybe he feels some regret he tries to obscure, to bury under other reasons. This matches his opening obfuscations and inability to describe what he's done.

XII. Cask vs. Heart: Comparative Literature

How does this narrative compare to "The Tell-Tale Heart"
  1. Both have unreliable narrators.
  2. Both rely on the reader as a participant.
    1. They differ in that we are not buy into "The Tell-Tale Heart"'s narrator
    2. Montresor does temporarily (or perhaps convincingly) get his readers to collude/condone his murder. There's something far more sinister in such a murderer.
  3. Both betray their victims, feigning kindness to kill them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reader's Guide to "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe

First appeared in The Pioneer. Reprinted more times than you can shake a stick: [by]  Edwin Baird, Alexander Laing, Philip Van Doren Stern, Boris Karloff, John L. Hardie, Robert K. Brunner, Howard Browne, Don Congdon, Charles Higham, Groff Conklin, Eric Protter, Syd Bentlif, Rosamund Morris, Robert A. W. Lowndes, Robert Arthur, David Aloian, Aidan Chambers, Nancy Chambers, Peter Haining, Mary Danby, Robert Potter, Les Daniels, Diane Thompson, Deborah Shine, Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg, Betty Ann Schwartz, Simon Petherick, Margaret Iverson, Rex Collings, Italo Calvino, Ron Hanna, Kathleen Blease, Martin H. Greenberg, Mike Baker, Leslie Pockell, Megan Dempster, Mollie Denman, Laura Kuhn, Alex Lubertozzi, Adele Hartley, Barry Moser, Chris Mould, Michael Hague, Devon Hague, Andrew Barger, Marie O'Regan, Paul Kane, Karen Henderson, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen Jones, Marguerite Kenner. <--partial a="" href="" listing.="">Online
A murderer explains his crime with what he assumes is reasonable reason.
Analysis with Questions and Spoilers:
Haven't read this? Remedy the matter here.

I. The Nature of the Tale
Strangely, this has been anthologized in ghost and monster collections. The monster appellation fits loosely as a metaphor, but ghost is likely problematic considering the nature of our narrator, established early on.

II. Opening
The story opens:
"TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?"
What is the narrator trying to accomplish here?

At least two things: 1) establish his veracity. He is. His events seem to align--in his mind, at least--with the facts. He admits to failings of nervousness. 2) say that he is not mad. We probably never buy into his arguments, which makes him unreliable narrator. We ask why he would tell us this if he weren't. It is probably the easiest way to establish something by denying it (even though, hypocritically, we have probably denied things that weren't true about ourselves).

III. Reader's Role
"The disease had sharpened my senses --not destroyed --not dulled them."
Who are we, the readers, in this narrative? What have we said to the narrator?

We are his accusers. We said 1) that he is mad, 2) that he's lost his senses, and 3) that he is diseased.

IV. The Narrator's Sanity

A. Narrator's Misunderstanding

How does the narrator respond? Does he understand the accusations?

Unlikely. While the narrator latches on to the idea of disease and combines it with the senses, we the accusers were probably stating the same thing in different words: You are insane. Your morality is corrupt (a less common usage of "disease").

B. Calm Passion
"Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily --how calmly I can tell you the whole story."
What can we conclude from this?

This may be but seems unlikely. Again, the denial and the repetition of the word "mad" establishes the madness. Note the exclamation points. We sense his difficulty to control his passion despite his claim to the telling as "calmly" told.

C. A Certain Uncertain Motivation
"It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever."
How do we accusers view his reasoning for murder?

He loves the old man, and doesn't know why he killed him except that the idea suddenly possessed him. Note he writes, "I think it was his eye!" He thinks? He confirms it to himself with detail that we roll with this reasoning if a nonsensical one. Yet he thinks? He has to convince himself. With such detail, how could he forget or be uncertain? Is it madness or a lying mind? Probably the latter since we learn he has exposed his own deed.

V. Kind to Be Cruel
"I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him."
What can we make of this line? What does it suggest? Who might the old man be?

For one, the irony makes it unintentionally (on the narrator's part) if darkly humorous. Also, the word "whole" paired with "week" as if that's a long time to be kind, especially  when you're planning to do in the kindness recipient, which adds a new wrinkle to the phrase "kill them with kindness."

This brings us to a recurrent character of Poe's the kind back-stabber or the faux friend. You'll find him stories like "The Cask of Amontillado" as well. Considering the evil and conniving nature of such villains, one might be able to guess Poe's opinion of such men or women.

In addition to age, the "old man" can refer amiably to one's father or an older man that one cares for. So this may be a story of patricide.

VI. Lineage and Genetics
"[P]erhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back --but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,).... 
"I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out --'Who's there?'
"I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; --just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall. 
"Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief --oh, no! --it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself --'It is nothing but the wind in the chimney --it is only a mouse crossing the floor,' or 'It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.' Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel --although he neither saw nor heard --to feel the presence of my head within the room. 
"When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down..."

Granted that this represents the narrator's perspective, how does the old man act?

If the old man is the narrator's father, the apple may not have fallen far from the tree. Their paranoia mirror each other although the father's seems closer to normal.

VII. Wisdom vs. Madness
"If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body."

Does this reassure you about the narrator's madness?

VIII. Fear Fear
"for what had I now to fear?... for what had I to fear?"

What does it mean that the narrator repeats this? What does he fear?

IX. Villainy of Perspective

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed!"

Who are the villains? 

More irony although he is the villain.

X. Ironic Structure

There is a further irony in the story's structure. Although the reader is supposedly the accuser, he is also the accused. When we read, we tend to cast our sympathies and consciousness in with the protagonist so that we paradoxically become both. What does this say about us? That we are both mad and sane? Villain, victim, and accuser?

I still recall first reading this in grade school, reading about a crazy man who justifies himself in a way that is reasonable even if his reasoning is flawed. He does not view himself evil or mad, but entirely rational through his own faculties. This ability amazed me then. Whenever I feel dismissive of the tale, I reread it and sense the mad power thrumming, beating like a heartbeat the wood boards of the words.

Note: It is important to remind readers that because a narrator is mad does not mean the author is also mad.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Mysterious Book Promo

I received an email this morning:

Henry Bloomburg

4:10 AM (4 hours ago)

to bcc: 
I don't know who this is going to reach, and I don't know what will happen when it does.

I'm sorry if he gets to you the way he got to me. 

My name is Henry Bloomburg, and I am a private investigator. I was on a case when I first noticed the man. Except he wasn't a man. 

I saw him from the corner of my eye, and it's like he's stuck there. Stuck inside me, somehow, and I can't get away.

I've tried, but I know the truth now - once you start searching, you can never go back. 

You have to look closer. Follow the clues - they're everywhere. If you follow them, you'll see him too. We have to see him to stop him. But I don't know how to get him out once he's there. I can feel him in me, crawling, like a fly on meat.

I can prove it's happening. There are clues all around. Just look. Look closer. You'll see him too, and I don't know if we'll all be damned or not so I'm sorry for this. I'm sorry.

Please. Help me. I can't stop. 

It's interesting if a bit vague. I guessed either someone was demented, or a writer had gotten hold of my email. I searched for "Henry Bloomburg" and "email" to see if it were a scam or a book. Book, it turns out.

Needless to say, some people will be ticked. An advertisement? I thought it was another Nigerian scam! 

But I'm intrigued. I like the semi-meta element and set-up. This campaign piqued my interest anyway. Hopefully, I didn't ruin his mystery through the powers of Googling. Good luck, Colum. Your ad worked on me.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gina Berriault on our contemporary culture's inability to venture or artificial limitation of venturing into writing about certain necessary subjects/themes

"We write to be acceptable. Some thing I wanted to write about, I haven't because I was afraid I wouldn't be published.... I like to believe... that I wrote truthfully, but I've always felt the presence of anonymous and not-so-anonymous authority."
--Gina Berriault from Passion and Craft interview

Has this trend gotten worse?

Gina Berriault on characters

"The way to escape from the person you figure you may be is to become many other in your imagination.... I haven't roamed far enough."
--Gina Berriault from Passion and Craft interview

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"[Why there is a gap between books is] a question that should never be asked. It opens a wound. What can a writer say about gaps and silences?"
--Gina Berriault from Passion and Craft interview

Gina Berriault on the failing of contemporary writers

"In Unanmo's Tragic Sense of Life he speaks about poets' desperate longing to be remembered, to be immortal. I think that concept of immortality is long... gone from our consciousness.... Now the vying with one another is only for present gain. When I asked the students if they'd read this-or-that greatwriter, most had read only contemporary writers."
--Gina Berriault from Passion and Craft interview

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gina Berriault on learning the craft with others

"I regret not having a formal, organized education.... I wish I'd studied world history, philosophy, comparative literatrue, and... several languages... [T]here is no excuse for my lack... of intellectual exploring.... [L]earn more about everything... rove... be curious, and... read more great writers from everywhere.... [Enter] a creative writing program... [to learn] how to shape what's already known and felt. Sometimes, when I taught workshops, I was glad I hadn't subjected myself to the unkind criticism of strangers. There's so much competitiveness, concealed and overt."
--Gina Berriault from Passion and Craft interview

Gina Berriault on learning the craft alone

"One thing I'd do was put a great writer's book beside the typewriter and... type out a beautiful and moving paragraph... and see those sentences rising up... and... think, 'Someday maybe I can write like that....' It was like a dream of possibilities for my own self. And maybe I began to know that there was no other way for the sentence... to... arouse the same feeling. The someone writing whose words were rising from the typewriter became like a mentor for me.... You shouldn't do it more than a few times because you must get on with your own work."
--Gina Berriault from Passion and Craft interview

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Manliness and Manitude (pt 1) in Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's Hurt Locker

Someone said she wouldn't read a book without females. Dave Wolverton suggests you populate your stories with a maximum of character types to maximize your audience. No doubt that's true, but life happens outside mixed groups, and fiction can get interesting when the focus narrows.

Bigelow and Boal's Hurt Locker tells (yes, there will be spoilers, so go watch it) with a three-man EOD team or a bomb diffusing squad.

Death: Amazingly, they toss big actors Guy Pearce and Ralph Fienes, and we the audience believe they'll be around for awhile. Boom. Nope. They want you to think this is life and death. The people you're used to rooting for, can die. That's war.... But it's also something that fascinates men--violence, death, honor, codes of conduct.

Violence, Honor, Codes of Conduct: The lead, Sergeant First Class William James [Jeremy Renner], takes an unnecessary risk with the smoke screen, which I doubt this character would take. It seems to me likely he'd take risks to defuse bombs, but not stop his mates from helping (unless he has reasoning we're not privy to). So in this case, we agree when Sergeant J. T. Sanborn [Anthony Mackie] punches James in the gut.

Violence, Honor, Codes of Conduct: Of course, not all men are equally drawn to these subjects, but most of us are to a degree or are fascinated by other men's fascination. The scene involving traded gut-punches evoked memories. One young wanted a group of us guys to organize wrestling matches. When I broke my arm playing rugby, he urged me to play again, with the broken limb. A river, inner-tube trip with another group of guys ended up in an impromptu mud-wrestling match. You play or you're a spoil sport. Or say, the pointless grade-school fight (started by someone claiming I said something I had not--someone bored, no doubt) ended up in friendship afterwards.

A Man's Life: We wind up focused on one man's life, William James (perhaps named after the famed 19th century philosopher/psychologist). He befriends a lad, threatening his life one minute, then saying he's joking the next, proving the joke by buying things from the kid and giving him bonuses (earned by defending James's terrible soccer kick). When James find a dead kid looking like the kid he befriended, he must avenge the kid's life, as if the kid were his own. He holds the man for whom the boy works. He interrogates a family. He shoots down three men in the street, one of whom is part of his EOD team. And it turns out James misidentified the kid.

When James goes home to the States, he tells his baby boy (not his wife) that for men all the things in life you love whittles down to one or two things. For him, there's only one. He returns to Iraq for another tour.

Part 2 regarding Michael Chabon's "Along the Frontage Road" appears here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Manliness and Manitude (pt 2)* in "Along the Frontage Road" by Michael Chabon

"Along the Frontage Road" first appeared in The New Yorker. Reprinted in Best American Short Stories.

Someone said she wouldn't read a book without females. Dave Wolverton suggests you populate your stories with a maximum of character types to maximize your audience. No doubt that's true, but life happens outside mixed groups, and fiction can get interesting when the focus narrows.

Chabon's story examines this from an angle different than Bigelow and Boal's (scheduled for release 10/21)*. Here the narrator seems less preoccupied by death and violence and yet it's there if buried. Mostly, perhaps to his surprise or chagrin (though his emotional response isn't recorded), the Manly Code of Conduct permeates their consciences--consciously or unconsciously--written differently on each "man" (term used loosely). Another difference is that manliness is on this character's mind, which the more pensive men tend to do.

Again there are spoilers, but it's hard to spoil literary stories.

The story opens with the narrator's family tradition: pumpkin selection for Halloween. So the weight of tradition, of generations hangs heavy on this story. There's a brief allusion to an infant child who died. Another gave this the story's full weight. But I don't read it that way. The story spends it's time on men interacting with men. The death (again, death) plays more of a catalyst's role, a way of bringing the men together. 

The Jewish narrator spots a young black boy bored and irritated that he's been left alone in the muscle car while his dad does manly things in the Bait shop (the narrator turns out to be correct). The boy, in other words, is left out of manly discourse. Note all or the manly things mentioned above. 

Meanwhile, the narrator's son selects his pumpkin. It is small, possibly too small to carve. The narrator is disappointed in his son's selection, agrees with the other boy who walks up to offer his commentary. When the other boy's father arrives, disappointed perhaps that his son would consort with Jews or other men?

I choose to follow a non-race interpretation, but yours may be different (after all, the narrator also quickly judged the other man's manhood, guessing him to be a drug dealer with no apparent evidence that I noticed). Instead, I see this as men disappointed in other men's manliness. That disapproval and perhaps guilt over telling his son what kind of pumpkin he should pick, causes him to attempt to erase what he said about picking a larger pumpkin. The boy should pick his own, say, manliness or pumpkin. The boy chooses both--his own, for the sister he'll never have, and a larger "normal" one for carving.

A "frontage road" is a service road, the one off a main road. According to Merriam-Webster, "frontage" can also mean "the act... of facing a given way," which verifies the different direction all of these men are pointing. Possibly, also "affront" is intended, the causing of offense. If so, these affronts are buried, unstated in each man's sense or orientation of what manliness is.

* * *

My point in examining these two works is to show the potency art can attain by limiting its focus. The same goes for women, of course (or any group). As an editor, I recently tried to vote for a wonderful tale set in an all-girls school. I've selected poems about being a woman from women and asked men to do the same. Crickets chirped. No one took the bait.

This isn't to say that literature has to be purposefully segregated or isolationist group--just that it can make for great art.

Those of us interested in humanity are interested art and life in their various manifestations, not limiting art and life to any one kind of ideological interaction. That said, many solely manly or womanly arts may not be to my taste. So it goes. No one is required to like everything.

Some may only want one type of literature--all men, all women, all mixed, all fantastic, no fantastic. That's fine, but please don't limit others in what they like to read/view/etc. Don't deprive others of art's richness. We live in a world of genetic variety. And don't threaten people's lives or livelihoods because you disagree, either, for that matter. Please. Play nice.

* * *

Aside:  Here was an amusing pair of lines, amusing in how Chabon switches tone:
"Toward the end of the year, however, with a regularity that approximates, in its way, the eternal rolling wheel of the seasons, men appear with trailers, straw bales, fence wire, and a desultory assortment of orange-and-black or red-and-green bunting. First they put up polystyrene human skeletons and battery-operated witches, and then, a few weeks later, string colored lights and evergreen swags."
* The point of reversing the order of the essay is so that they may appear in order later (first to post appears below the following post).