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Monday, March 31, 2014

Octavio Paz: 100th anniversary of his birth

Born 100 years ago today.

  1.  Motion
  2. Proem
  3. In Her Splendor Islanded (translated by Muriel Rukeyser)
Favorite lines from "In Her Splendor Islanded":
Here is the moment burning and returned 
Drowning itself in itself and never consumed

Biographies and Criticisms:

  1. Poetry Foundation
  3. Nobel 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cat Dixon's debut book of poetry

Cat Dixon, self-described confessional poet, had her debut book of poetry, Too Heavy to Carry, come out mid-February from Stephen F. Austin University Press.  Here's the jacket blurb:
"People expect that their lives move in majestic sweeps, but that’s only because memory and legend work that way, but reality works in the small moments of our experience. Too Heavy to Carry explores those moments by focusing in close. This wonderful collection aims to name the evils that people live through: loneliness, betrayal, inadequacy, and loss. Dixon easily captures not just the glimpse of hope, but shows the agony and obstacles one must endure before she crawls out of the bottom of the well. This is a must for survivors of any variety—divorce, depression, domestic violence, abandonment/neglect and other painful experiences."
Her poetry is often visceral as if carved out with a blunt instrument. Here's a video interview with the poet and a brief excerpt.  Here's her website with a few sample poems.

Free and reduced ebook lunches

Of A Feather 
by Ken Goldman 

Further Adventures 
by Jon Stephen Fink 

(with two bonus short stories): 
The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book One 
by Kevin Hearne 

Wizard's Worlds 
(Witch World Series) 
by Andre Norton 

The Magic Kingdom of Landover Volume 1: 
Magic Kingdom For Sale SOLD! - The Black Unicorn - Wizard at Large 
by Terry Brooks 

9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life: 
A Psychologist Learns from His Patients What Really Works and What Doesn't 
by Dr. Henry Cloud 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dylan Thomas, Robert Heinlein and Flannery O'Connor Speak from the Grave

Robert Heinlein hasn't much to say (they briefly speak with him 13 min in), but it's interesting to hear his voice from his hey-day
Interview focuses on people involved with Destination Moon. It's early in TV's career as the reporters waste too much time boggling at their own wonder--either of being on TV or of being on a movie set.
"Flannery O’Connor on Why the Grotesque Appeals to Us, Plus a Rare Recording of Her Reading"

Dylan Thomas photo animated -- very strange:
"In My Craft or Sullen Art" by Dylan Thomas:

Story/Plot Pattern in H. P. Lovecraft stories: Five-act structure

  1. Narrator announces general state of fear and inexplicable, nefarious background events. He's not a believer, but he soon will be.
  2. Mystery clues. More evil (blasphemous cult or others dabbling in cult, yadda, yadda)
  3. First fruits of clues. This will be vanquished (or disappear on own).
  4. But that's not all, folks. A deeper evil lurks, which may or may not be vanquished.
  5. Maybe a deeper (deepest) evil surges below this. It hasn't attacked but will one day. Nothing  you can do. You're doomed. Humanity is doomed. All you can do is wait for the inevitable demise of our corrupt culture.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Poetry links

Poetry Isn't as Useless as a Lot of Poets Say It Is 
A recent speech at Yale inadvertently sums up what's wrong with the art form these days: Its gatekeepers believe poetry matters because it's poetry, not because of what it says by NOAH BERLATSKY
Poetic Techniques: OULIPO


"The Dunwich Horror" by H. P. Lovecraft

First appeared in Weird Tales, reprinted by Phyllis Cerf Wagner, Herbert Wise, Betty M. Owen, Robert M. Price, Tom English, Gwendolyn Toynton, John Gregory Betancourt, Colin Azariah-Kribbs, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer. 

Other Media: 

Online. Audio drama. Recent movie (decent camp for low-budget/acting quality--3.7 out of 10 on IMDB--although I must admit it's not especially faithful and I skimmed parts). Hard to find good images illustrating the story although I left out a semi-accurate if gruesome one.


Dunwich recently* had troubles that were hushed up. Satan and his minions have been a close part of the New England community since it was first founded--if you believe the rumors, which the narrator does not, at first.

We focus on the Whatelys, a decadent,** homely, goat-looking lot. In 1913, Lavinia gives birth to Wilbur, who frightens the village. He grows up too quickly and seven-feet tall. The community steer clear of the house where screams and an awful stench emanate. People disappear. Even the mother disappears. The people blame the boy.

Wilbur shows up at the Library, seeking a copy of the Necronomicon, especially page 751 (which adds to the unlucky 13). The librarian says no, but Wilbur returns only to die to a librarian guard dog. Wilbur decays before the villagers' eyes.

No, Lovecraft does not end there. He is a writer of scope. The monster still in the house is famished. It prowls the countryside to abate its hunger.


The whippoorwills add a nice touch of creepiness, signaling imminent death. What's cool is that whose death is signaled remains masked until their death.

The monsters themselves are like a scale of creepiness that Lovecraft ascends, which he called "so fiendish" that no one would want to print it. Little wonder. We have the boy who is humanly grotesque--even if his end comes too quickly and undramatically. Far worse, we have the monster, hungry, prowling the countryside in search of food. Nothing can keep it out, and it smashes locked doors, climbs sheer cliffs. S.T. Joshi dismissed the tale as one of good vs. evil, where good triumphs, but Lovecraft implies yet a third entity. The humans have surmounted the brothers, but not their father, whom presumably they cannot surmount.

The key trouble is character, which is not Lovecraft's strong suit. If he'd created personalities of dimension, Joshi would not be able to call it "stock." (I need to revisit "The Hound" which was my favorite at one time--interesting characters, memory says.)

Nonetheless, one character bears fascinating aspects. Professor Henry Armitage--the librarian who refuses Wilbur the book--shares his knowledge of arcane data, takes it seriously, and uses it. This is very different from the standard genre story. I once mentioned in a workshop with James Gunn that astronauts would have read various SF authors. While SF writers pay tribute to the old masters, one was not to reference those works directly--odd considering that the future will involve those who have read such authors. Here, though, Lovecraft references those stories directly. They prepare Armitage, which is a relief for readers familiar with the genre who ask, "Why does everyone have to be so stupid?"

*Okay, 1928, but that's while Lovecraft wrote the tale and a year after it was published. When revisiting Lovecraftian realms, writers tend to return to the twenties. Clearly, Lovecraft flipped back to the past but primarily set his stories in and addressed his day, but to revisit Lovecraft, addressing one's own day may keep with Lovecraft's spirit.

** It's hard to know what Lovecraft means by this term except that it is bad. Like many of his excessive adjectives, it may serve no other purpose than to create atmosphere.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

New & Free ebook lunches by J. Kathleen Cheney, Astrid Julian, and Matthew Hughes

Free ebook by J. Kathleen Cheney

I reviewed this on SF Site.


Every ebook of Astrid Julian's is free.


The Compleat Guth Bandar 
by Matthew Hughes 

Lucius Shepard

There are several in-memoriams. Here are some of the best:

I was not shy about my admiration of the man's work at Clarion West, and I got to meet him at someone's backyard party one Saturday. I loved "Beast of the Heartland" (which he liked) and "The All-Consuming" (which he was less fond of). He shared a novel he was working on--something about gondolas that I didn't quite follow. He told me not to take his idea--"Not that you would," he added. I didn't. I haven't ever heard of this published as a novel or a story, so apparently he has various manuscripts that have not seen the light.

One of the finest writers inside or out of the genre has enlightened us, leaving behind much to enlighten future generations. Now it's the worms' turn to be enlightened as apparently he might have said, according to Swanwick--just as Shakespeare told us through Hamlet. May he live on through us.

Image from Wikipedia

Friday, March 21, 2014

New, reduced, and bundled ebook lunches

(Childe Cycle) 
by Gordon R. Dickson 

The Galactic Center Companion 
by Gregory Benford 

Humble Bundle:

Your price:

  1. Wil Wheaton -- The Happiest Days of Our Lives 
  2. Holly Black -- Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale 
  3. Steven Gould -- Jumper 
  4. Various Authors -- Zombies Versus Unicorns - An Anthology 

Pay over the average of $10.76 to unlock

  1. Yahtzee Croshaw -- Mogworld 
  2. Scott Westerfeld -- Uglies 

Pay $15 or more to unlock

  1. Homeland audiobook -- Cory Doctorow and narrated by Wil Wheaton 

"The Call of Cthulhu" by H. P. Lovecraft

First appeared in Weird Tales, reprinted by T. Everett Harré, August Derleth, Peter Haining, Les Daniels, David G. Hartwell, Robert M. Price, Leslie Pockell, S. T. Joshi, John Gregory Betancourt, Colin Azariah-Kribbs--gaining more import in later years. It has spawned a movie, role-playing games and a radio drama.

Due it's piecemeal construction (a format I'm usually fond of if the sum is more than the parts) and Lovecraft's focus on mood over plot, this story challenges summary--at least, the through-line is tenuous.

I. The Horror In Clay

The narrator finds an evil-looking statuette made by an artist who, like many artists during a certain period in New England, became sensitive to vile dreams and visions. The narrator's uncle had the artist write down what he half-remembered of his dreams, which mostly consisted dripping caves and a half-seen monster.

II. The Tale of Inspector Legrasse

The reason Professor Angell is interested in these dreams is because he'd run into a New Orleans cult, which had a similar sculpture. Their voodoo is more vile than any other.

After deaths and arrests, they find the cult is based around beings who came to Earth and slept, waiting to be revived and bring doom.

The narrator is suspicious of his uncle's death.

III. The Madness from the Sea

After meditating on the confluence of events, the narrator gets a hold of papers to locate this beast on a Pacific island. Cthulhu is awakened. They barely escape with their lives.


While Robert E. Howard and Michel Houellebecq consider this one of Lovecraft's best, E. F. Bleiler called it "a fragmented essay with narrative inclusions". Both views shed insight. The piecemeal effect creates a sense of deep-time, as if this has a long history. The style is much like an essay, but much of Lovecraft has a distancing effect as if it were an essay written more for veracity than for moving the reader. Events are told at a distance both in time and at a remove through secondary narrators. We do not feel the events directly.

In fact, both of these effects are often seen. It's fascinating the amount of effort Lovecraft goes to prove veracity. Whereas if a modern author had a character say, "I am not insane!", we would automatically categorize him as such; with Lovecraft we tend to trust his verification, as events appear to back up testimony. Moreover, it is generally the rational who go insane--lovely paradox--as perhaps they must if they encounter true knowledge of the universe. So why does Lovecraft verify?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Art of Humor: the third beat and the surprise: Hamster Alliance

Via Facebook, I received this video without attribution. I'd seen it before but didn't remember the dialogue. While extremely vulgar, it was also extremely  hilarious.  I cried.  I thought, "Surely, this was faked. No one speaks that funny of dialogue."  In fact, with the disparate references and scenarios, I suspected multiple authors. Someone surely staged this.

Actually, it's a real event on silent video--I hate embarrassing videos where people secretly capture others behaving foolishly. A group called Hamster Alliance dubbed in the dialogue, which was well done until you find the real video and realize the teller is female (not to mention that some dialogue occurs without the actors opening their mouths).

If you can't stomach vulgar language, I'll PG and analyze it here:

We begin en medias res:

--Don't tell me _____. Unless you're speaking McNuggets into my hands, I don't want to hear it.

Genius, too-good-to-be-true dialogue. Clever retort.

--Ma'am, it's 10:30 am. We don't serve Chicken McNuggets at this time.
--Yes, you do.
--No, we don't.
--Why not?

The switch up could be real dialogue since humans our change tactics all the time, but it's still funny since it flips from certainty about a thing's existence to questioning why it doesn't exist. But that's not all. The irate customer goes on:

--You know what? Rawr!
--Did you just hiss at me?

The customer is reduced to impotent rage, with a child-like growl. Genius. In case you didn't understand what you were hearing, the teller lets you know by questioning what the customer just did. So a no-no becomes acceptable and also makes the ridiculous credible because the teller is also incredulous.

This also represents a third beat in comedy. The previous two exchanges are mildly humorous in retrospect, but it wouldn't have been funny alone. Neither would the third beat/punch line have been as funny if it were alone. We are lead down one track and find ourselves on an entirely new one.

--I'll do more than just _____ hiss at you.
--Yeah, get your skinny ___ out of the car.

Finally, the teller gets a funny line although backing up while supposedly saying it, making this dialogue three things at once: comment on 1. actual customer, 2. actual self, 3. supposed boldness of self. That both parties are funny is a giveaway that this is staged (or dubbed).

--Don't you _______ run away from me, you fat meatbag, I will end you. 

Typical, realistic angry words. Not especially funny except for the hyperbole of running away and ending someone. But here comes the third beat:

Don't make me assume my ultimate form, I will ______ wreck--

Wait, what? "Ultimate form"? She thinks she's a superhero?

This third beat is doubled with the following threat made impotent by her drunken attempt to climb into the building:

--Just wait. I'm gonna come in there, and I'm going to wreck you.

Some high-pitched cussing followed by the taunt that's semi-realistic until she follows that up:

--Do you know who I am? Rawr. Rawr!

She's so famous who she is should be obvious. That the character feels the need to sat this means the teller doesn't know who she is, either. Then she follows with the "hiss"--which is like bringing back a running gag.

The next dialogue is only funny because of the vile threats made impotent and muffled behind the glass.

--You want a piece of me? I will go super saiyan.

For those not up on pop-culture, here's a link. The rest of the dialogue is more angry, muffled yelling, that's meant to be threatening but again it's funny because it's unintelligible and possibly impotent behind the glass.

5 Italo Calvino ebooks for $1.99

5 Italo Calvino ebooks for $1.99:

Image: Watercolor by Colleen Corradi Brannigan from her Invisible Cities collection.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Don't watch this before going to bed

Extremely creepy video made, apparently, by a David Sandberg, called "Lights Out."

Although I'm not sure about the ending, there are positives and negatives (great ending but should there be a reveal?). If you don't like such things, don't watch it. Seriously.

Monday, March 17, 2014

"The Colour Out of Space" by H. P. Lovecraft -- More keys to understanding Lovecraft

First appeared in Amazing Stories, reprinted by August Derleth, Mary Gnaedinger, Groff Conklin, Sam Moskowitz, Bryan A. Netherwood, Leslie A. Fiedler, Peter Haining, Martin H. Greenberg, Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Mike Baker, Garyn G. Roberts, Michael Kelahan, Guy Anthony De Marco, John Gregory Betancourt, Colin Azariah-Kribbs--a few of which were genre retrospectives. A movie (see trailer below) and radio dramas have sprouted from this tale.

This one of Lovecraft's more straightforward tales. A meteorite lands in a farmer's yard. Scientists are unable to analyze it. After a storm where lightning strikes the meteorite six times in an hour, it disappears... as does the samples the scientists took.

The crops look exceedingly large and tasty, but they are laced with bitterness. The family moves the cows far from the home, so their milk isn't tainted. The grass and plants turn grey and brittle. The family gradually grows insane. Sons throw themselves into the well. When a family friend stops by, the family is gone, only scuttling creatures that decay remain. The property glows.

As a straight-forward piece, unlaced by cumbersome, fulsome, fearsome, and other over-complicated "Cyclopean" adjectives--so many adjectives that you forget what the sentence was about--this work has more energy than others.

It culminates not with the family, though, an ending that would satisfy other writers, but it would not fulfill Lovecraft's vision of the cosmos. Rather, others investigate the place and witness the  above well vision to the right. Something escapes to the cosmos, and something yet stays behind. The witnesses should leave but cannot--just as Nahum warned.

As an ending that informs the rest of the work, it repeats the same, Lovecraftian notes over and over, reminding me why I cannot stomach more than a few Lovecraft tales at a time. For those tired of Hollywood triumph-over-tragedy type stories, Lovecraft must come as a non-relieving relief. The endings readers prefer could become a new psychological pessimist/optimist-spectrum indicator that psychologists could name after Lovecraft.

Reduced ebook lunches

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: 10 Plants that Shook the World by Gillian Richardson

10 Plants that Shook the World Gillian Richardson, authorKim Rosen, illustratorAnnick Press Ltd.

The ten plants are papyrus (writing), pepper (spice trade), tea, sugarcane, cotton (clothing), cacao, cinchona, rubber, potato, and corn. What makes this fascinating or unusual is that it's usually the machines we focus on having changed the world (and they have) as opposed to the plants that occur naturally. If you doubt their importance, Richardson points out that wars were fought over these plants.

It's nice to find an author who captures the secret language of kids--a language of charm and fun--that often gets lost when we become adults. Richardson does just that:
"[P]epper has another, unexpected effect. It can make you sneeze. Achoo!"
Richardson occasionally tells things that needn't be told but on the whole, the balance of interesting information weighs in its favor. Richardson, also performs well on the delivery of information: boxes of information describing the plants' born, age, likes, dislikes, stats, history of names, pros + cons, facts, as well as other related information tightly packaged in a few paragraphs, trying to capture the impact these plants have made on civilization.

The author also tries to place readers in the historical shoes of those who might experience the plants firsthand--a fantastic idea to incorporate fiction and nonfiction. While the results are a little uneven (the brief narratives have nowhere to go), they are worth doing to get a sense of what this crop originally meant to those who helped shape modern civilization.

On the whole, this slender volume is a fast, enjoyable read and bound to convert hundreds into becoming new botanists for the world, out to make civilization better for everyone.

"The Horror at Red Hook" by H. P. Lovecraft -- Keys to understanding Lovecraft's work

First published by Weird Tales, reprinted by Christine Campbell Thomson, Herbert Asbury, Charles M. Collins, August Derleth, and Barry J. Gillis. Free online.

The impoverished children of New York are disappearing and Thomas F. Malone is on the case. Robert Suydam, who gets younger and more invigorated, comes under suspicion when a child's face is spotted in one of Suydam's basement windows. Malone stops by various properties and finds fleeing foreigners, charnel stench, mysterious instruments, and blood spatters.

Lovecraft wrote of the tale's origin:
"The idea that black magic exists in secret today, or that hellish antique rites still exist in obscurity, is one that I have used and shall use again. When you see my new tale "The Horror at Red Hook", you will see what use I make of the idea in connexion with the gangs of young loafers & herds of evil-looking foreigners that one sees everywhere in New York." 
From our twenty-first-century perspective, the tale's origin is an embarrassment of racism, yet Lovecraft's influence permeates the genre and wider culture. We need to understand where we've come from. Plus, it's too easy to be dismissive of times other than one's own. As Roger Luckhurst points out in his introduction to Oxford University Press's The Classic Horror Stories by H. P. Lovecraft, following the millions devastated by W.W.I and the Spanish flu, western civilization was felt to be on the decline. Moreover, social Darwinism gave racism an intellectual justification, with such prominent proponents as Jack London. Lovecraft likely considered himself an intellectual studying myth and even penning a chemistry textbook.

Lovecraft's racism comes from a slightly different place. Tragedy filled his personal life: a father who went insane from syphilis; the loss of the grandfather, his fortune, and displacement from his home so that Lovecraft felt like a wanderer; his mother's insanity; and Lovecraft's own financial instability. No wonder he felt the imminent, inexorable collapse, the encroaching horror that has no respite, no escape. This describes not only Lovecraft's key story elements but also his plot structures. The evil of the foreigner is inextricably linked to the uncaring and amoral gods--rather beings from another plane.

The story opens with the protagonist's madness ("Malone was content to keep unshared the secret of what could reduce a dauntless fighter to a quivering neurotic"--a term that Lovecraft, according to Lockhurst, once used to describe himself), and the opening quote from Arthur Machen discusses evolution:
"It is possible that man may sometimes return on the track of evolution, and it is my belief that an awful lore is not yet dead.”
So we witness the typical, inevitable doom of the Lovecraftian tale. His life mirrored civilization, and his fiction mirrored both. While many critics are dismissive of this tale, Lockhurst sets the story in a primary position, and it does appear to illuminate Lovecraft's work.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

99 cent books by Bradley Beaulieu (last hours)

Books on sale:

Free ebooks: Diamandis Florakis

Paul di Filippo directs our attention to Greek writer, Diamandis Florakis, who has several free ebooks available:

  1. Return to the Future
  2. The Ponotrons and the Anarchists of the Absolute
  3. Scale: 1:1.000.000*
*For those used to commas, that's one million.

Portable Childhoods by Ellen Klages

Portable Childhoods was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. With such charm and wit, it's easy to see why. While her work isn't always plotted, often other pleasures abound. I especially recommend "Ringing Up Baby" and "In the House of the Seven Librarians." For easy reference, here is an index to stories I've looked at so far:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Call for Submissions: Dreams & Nightmares for special issue 100.

David C. Kopaska-Merkel, editor of Dreams & Nightmares, put out a special call for his issue #100 theme on time:
 "Time" isn't really a theme, per se. But I want poems having to do with time. Not just time travel, but poems in which the passage of time, or other aspects of time, play a role. You can start submitting now; just earmark submissions for #100.

Nebula Nominee: Vylar Kaftan's "The Weight of the Sunrise" from Asimov's

This is a current Nebula nominee which first appeared in Asimov's. The pdf for the story can be found here.

Lanchi Ronpa, grandson of an English expat, has lived in the Incan Empire. He is called on to translate between an American and the god-emperor himself. The American claims to ave a cure for small pox and is willing to give it in exchange for 4,000 times his weight in gold, the weight of the sunrise. What he doesn't know is that the Incans don't see gold as money but as spiritual. They will have to sacrifice 1200 to appease the gods for this trade.

Loddington's goal is political and multi-pronged. He wants money to fund the American independence war against Britain. He wants to create peace between the Incan empire and the newly independent American colonies, and finally, he wants equality, a brotherhood of men. But the irony is that he carries with him a slave who is his half-brother but does not consider the boy an equal.

Negotiations are difficult, and the first pox trials succeed. They sign, but little else will go according to plan, including a revolution fomenting within the Incan Empire, not to mention other double-crossers who want to ensure the safety of their family and other citizens.

This well illustrates how humans often claim to hold one value though we truly do not--at least not in all cases.

"The Green Glass Sea" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in Strange Horizons. Reprinted by Peter Straub's view of the new horror in Poe's Children. It was up for a Locus award. 

Dewey Kerrigan is sent to live with the Gordons in Los Alamos. Like her father, Dr. Gordon is scientist who has a girl, Suze, her age. They have a picnic to watch the bright flash that has something to do with "the gadget," whatever that was.

They drive out to a green glass sea, for Suze's birthday present. They select pieces as souvenirs.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Guys' Day Out" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in Sci Fiction.

Although recommended to institutionalize his mentally retarded son, Andrew keeps the boy, Tommy. Wheen Andrew takes Tommy fishing who needs explanation of simple things.

"Household Management" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in Strange Horizons

Underneath Sherlock Holmes' nose is the landlady who cares for the famous, highly observant detective. However, he does not see how she manipulates and pulls off feats and unpleasant deeds without his notice.

Young woman with autism shows what it feels like

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Mobius, Stripped of a Muse" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in Portable ChildhoodsReprinted in audio

A character is about to get killed when... A future writer--first novelist in space--has stumbled against writer's block in the middle of his noir thriller... which is written a Thirties writer down on his luck... which written by... which is read by... which is...

A circular tale endlessly writing itself.

$1.99 ebooks from Harper Voyager

"Two fabulous fantasy books on ebook sale:"

  1. DREAMS AND SHADOWS, by C. Robert Cargill
  2. DEAD SETby Richard Kadrey

"Ringing up Baby" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in NatureReprinted in audio

A second grade girl wants a sister, someone she can boss around. Her mother's busy (and will give rearing to someone else anyway), so she gets to decide the traits. [Insert rubbing hand and maniacal laughter here.] 

Fantastic child's voice, thought-pattern, and imagination. Of all her plotless charm set pieces, this may be her best. Great ending. This may be the best story I've read in Nature.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Intelligent Design" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in Strange Horizons. Reprinted by Jonathan Strahan's Year's Best and in audio -- twice

God invents the universe at his grandmother's house. It fulfills the promise of its opening quotation, through a child's eyes:
"If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation, it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles." —J.B.S. Haldane, 1951
 Although it sounds like it will hold up adherents to ridicule, apart from making God a child, it's actual more of a plot-less inventive charm centered around the quote than a slam on those beliefs different to the author.

"Travel Agency" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in Strange Horizons (no longer available online). Reprinted by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best. 

An aunt is excited by her niece's excitement to be staying in a proper attic, alone with a bunch of books. The aunt goes for her and finds she's traveled to another land "for a holiday," quite literally (literalizing the metaphor of what books do). The aunt is quite pleased although it remains slightly disturbing as well--whisking the child away without expression permission of the child or parents--which adds a dimension of deviousness to the tale.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Through the Cooking Glass" by Vylar Kaftan

First appeared in Raven Electrick. It was up for the 2007 WSFA Small Press Award. Toasted Cake "reprinted" it for audio.

This poignant tale's so short, you might as well read it before I spoil it for you.

Mrs. Wallace makes gingerbread cookies that come to life in her oven. She blushes when they procreate, but watches fascinated as they build homes. When they start to burn, they try fruitlessly to escape. Mrs. Wallace simply seals the stove and opens the windows, apparently afraid of their intrusion on her life, what that might mean. This makes for a nice parallel to our own lives: What do we do when we can make someone's life better?

Great title.

"Echoes of Aurora" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in What Remains from Aqueduct Press. Reprinted in Strahan's Year's Best.

This tale builds on nostalgia for old things and mysterious stranger who nonetheless looks familiar. Two middle-aged women fall in love. As suspected, the stranger is magical and cannot stay. Although the plot takes a while to kick in, it's a bittersweet ending.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Story Bundle

Truly Epic Fantasy Bundle
For $3 or more:
  1. The Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch 
  2. Spirit Walker by David Farland 
  3. MythWorld by James A. Owen 
  4. The Camelot Papers by Peter David 
  5. The Monarch of the Glen by Neil Gaiman 
  6. Bloodletting by Peter J. Wacks & Mark Ryan 

Bonus for $12 or more:
  1. Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson 
  2. The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson 
  3. The Immortals by Tracy Hickman

"In the House of the Seven Librarians" by Ellen Klages

First appeared in Firebirds Rising, an anthology of children's fiction. It was up for the Locus award. Reprinted in two year's best anthologies by Jonathan Strahan, Ellen Datlow, Gavin J. Grant, Kelly Link, and Rachel Swirsky did the audio

This story positively oozes charm, a Klages specialty: protagonists you care about. Bonus: a cool speculative library.

The beautifully built Carnegie library is abandoned for new technology. Seven librarians are left behind with this forgotten library and one day a child is left with them. She grows up among the spinsters in a library that fulfills wishes (a teddy bear, if well used), hides readers in alcoves that disappear later, and bends time (or maybe the librarians aren't especially good at monitoring the days--they celebrate the fourth of July during a snowstorm).

The story doesn't gather steam until the librarians want to hand the keys over to the new girl as another retires because she cannot reach the shelves any longer.  But she wants to witness the world before taking over, first.

"Basement Magic" by Ellen Klages -- Addendum added

This first appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, won a Nebula award, and was reprinted by Kathryn Cramer, David G. Hartwell, Gardner Dozois, and Paula Guran.

Klages does a fine job building our sympathy for an adorable girl, Mary Louise:
"[Mary Louise] closes her book and tucks Bankie securely under one arm. She follow Ruby down the wide front stairs, her small green-socked feet making no sound at all on the thick beige carpet."
Mary Louise's father is absent and her new stepmother, Kitty, is cold. She hires Ruby as a maid. Ruby takes an immediate shine to Mary Louise, making grilled cheese sandwiches. When Mary Louise has problems with Kitty, Ruby solves them with simple household items that protect Mary Louise and makes Kitty's hair fall out. This only serves to make Kitty angry, so that Mary Louise needs more protection. Ruby teaches what she knows, but one day Kitty finds the alcohol cabinet unlocked and blames Ruby, firing her.

Spoiler: A protection Mary Louise made electrocutes Kitty.

Did Kitty deserve death? Who caused the death? The child, the teacher, or the magic? These are the questions the narrative leaves me. Are these what I'm supposed to ponder? Kitty was not loving or especially generous, but not killing others and not even intending damage to others in so far as I can tell. This is far more than an eye-for-an-eye justice. Maybe this is intended as an accidental "The Veldt".

Addendum: In the comments below, John Williams astutely points out that Kitty may not have died. This is a critical possibility I overlooked, which may be true as she is able to howl. If true, this would eliminate a serious ethical problem although new questions arise.

The good news is that Mary Louise is able to use her basement magic on her own, it appears. The bad is that she uses it to run and hide. At this age she may be able to do no more. Therefore, she needs a spokesperson to speak on her behalf. Negotiations.should be opened. Granted, the stepmother has powers over the child (as do all parents), but so does the child over the parent. While children make good points adults ought to consider, often their perspective is skewed, limited to themselves. Having power without perspective may cause her to torture her stepmother--as we've seen.

The best scenario, seeing that cruel punishments have been meted out to the stepmother, is to keep Ruby and work things out. They'd need to concoct an explanation for why she was in the liquor cabinet that needn't involve magic: i.e. "Sorry, it was me. I was playing in there, but I saw you in there, but I didn't drink anything. Please don't fire Ruby." Come up with some agreed upon compromise. After all, the child shouldn't be in the liquor cabinet. Besides Ruby could use a good recommend if she is leaving.

Anyway, negotiations should be exhausted, and if Kitty is cruel and deserves punishment, she shouldn't have married in the first place. Maybe she didn't know she didn't work well with other people's children (or children, period). As someone who works with and cares for other people's children, it's easier to see this character needs more voice.  By the way, I am glad this wasn't a plain and simple bad stepmother.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Free and reduced ebook lunches

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories 
by Melanie Lamaga 

The Red Church 
by Scott Nicholson 

 Bradbury Stories: 
100 of His Most Celebrated Tales 
by Ray Bradbury 

by Neal Stephenson 

Miss Marple: 
The Complete Short Stories: 
A Miss Marple Collection
by Agatha Christie

by Lucy Christopher 

The Sherlock Holmes Handbook 
by Ransom Riggs 

The Complete Stories 
by Flannery O'Connor 

Manhattan In Reverse: And Other Stories 
by Peter F. Hamilton 

"Copping Squid" by Michael Shea -- Analysis

This originally appeared as the title story in his 2009 collection (pictured) and was reprinted three other times in major retrospectives by S.T. Joshi, Paula Guran, and Joe R. Lansdale.

This must be one of Shea's most fun to ponder stories. The events are pretty simple. Ricky Deuce, a young late-night clerk of Irish heritage working at a small market, has gone three years trying to clean up his act: going sober and avoiding fights. A young black man with a knife, Andre, demands Ricky's money. Ricky laughs at first, but when he dodges the blade, he gets out his own knife and slices Andre's arm.

That appears to be exactly what Andre wants. He threatens to call the cops if Ricky doesn't give up ten dollars and a ride to where Andre wants to go. Ricky's incredulous: Ten dollars? But Ricky relents.

On the ride into Andre's territory, Andre explains his motives--he wants immortality--and he needs blood money (the ten dollars) and a witness to his actions (Ricky).

The ending reveals, as many readers have also probably questioned, that Ricky could have left at any time but, staying, he sold out for a lot less than many others would have.

The events are pretty typical of Cthulhu stories. Andre's description of the god, capitalizes it as "Him" equating (or remaking or conflating) gods. This and the description of immortality make not only this but also all Cthulhu stories feel like stories about religion--an odd statement considering that Lovecraft was atheist. But maybe this is a way for an atheist to wrestle with the "religion demon," so to speak:  often as the outsider looking in, and often horrified by the amoral acts that these cosmic gods commit.

Why a black man? Possibly a doorway to another world, foreign to the narrator (racial doorway, not racist because there appears to be no condescension), to stand at the threshold of a far stranger one. Also, Ricky's last name is Deuce, which in tennis means a tie score (add this to Ricky's low economic position--doubled by a last name the indicates the lowest standing in the deck and two dollars--and his ownership of a Mustang. In other words, Ricky's an average Schmo. Other definitions of "deuce" that may be in play here:  bad luck, the devil, extreme example, reprimand), so we may deduce the characters are equivalent. This equality can also be seen in the next paragraph.

Why is the narrator so willing to follow Andre? After all, Andre's motives are initially strange and incomprehensible. Even Ricky's suspicious. Like the reader who's followed Ricky through these worlds, Ricky realizes he is a willing participant (even abandoning his job to see where this adventure leads). We readers actually paid to follow them, albeit at a safe remove. Ricky is a "witness," which not only has religious overtones but also suggests an accomplice in a crime.

The name Ricky suggests a hard ruler. Andre misunderstands Ricky's name as Richie (connotations of riches, which he does not have except in the end as a semi-literal but mostly metaphorical sense). But in a sense this isn't misunderstanding but a renaming. Ricky and Richie can both derive from Richard, meaning brave, hardy ruler. Andre also calls him Rocky, which will lead most readers to think of the fictitious boxer, a fighter like Ricky. Rocky denotes hardness, connoting stubbornness and insensitivity (no doubt due to the term "rock"), but also shakiness, proneness to failure, and dizziness due to inebriation. However, we don't witness much of this hard and failure behavior except for the knife incident (and a scarcely mentioned past). Perhaps this is meant to foretell what happens in an otherwise ambiguous narrative that refuses to show what the narrator chooses to do next.

Lastly, the title itself is a fascinating onion of meaning. "Squid" can probably only refer to one thing--Cthulhu (although slang may also be at play: slowness or ineptitude from CA, which is where the author was from; and Urban Dictionary's overestimating one's abilities, which may refer to Cthulhu, Andre or Ricky).

"Copping" is far more complex. It could an adjective describing the squid or a verbial describing the act upon on the squid. Perhaps the squid is becoming a cop of sorts. The verb form fits the narrative a little better as the verb "cop" may mean catching, stealing, adopting, taking unwanted sexual advances, admitting, but also contrarily getting something wanted or unwanted. Andre, in his CTHULHU RULES T-shirt, certainly believes he's gaining something greater:

"I have gone up to see Him, and have looked through His eyes, and I have been where He is, time without end! An I'm here to tell you, all you dearly beloved mongrel dogs of mine, I'm here to tell you that it's consumed me! My flesh and my time, have been blown off my bones, by the searing wings of His breath! I'm not far off now from eternity!"
"I'm more alive than you will ever be, and when I'm all consumed, I'll be far more alive, and I will live forever!"
Most people may want a longer--even immortal--life. How you feel about being consumed may be another story. Again, the story or Ricky's next decision is left ambiguous, but his past impulsive actions and the meaning of names might suggest where the story's headed next.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Growlimb" by Michael Shea

First appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, reprinted in Stephen Jones' Year's Best. It won the World Fantasy award and was nominated for the International Horror Guild Award.

Carl Larken and Marjorie both happen to work at the nonprofit, Humanity, Inc. While she's the rich-liberal-do-gooder-with-nothing-else-to-do-to-keep-boredom-at-bay, he's the uncouth-liberal-oddity in a brambly beard and grey locks, dressed in cut offs. Despite their disparate circumstances, the pair share the wanderer.

Largely well written, the narrative, too, meanders, which suits the work's purpose:
"[T]he idea I want to get across to you, is that's how short your life on this earth will have been, Guy, when you check out a year or so from now. Your whole stay on this glorious green globe will be like that bird's landing and flying off again. It'll hardly have happened at all."
Carl Larken seeks unknown and/or undiscovered gods buried in the earth, seeks signs from them. The reader's not entirely sure if he's sane. Marjorie, meanwhile, trails him, and, horrified, discovers the true  meaninglessness of her marching-along existence in an unfathomable cosmos.

"The Autopsy" by Michael Shea (updated)

First appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, reprinted in seven major genre retrospectives by editors Edward L. Ferman, Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg, Frank McSherry, Jr., Anne Jordan, David G. Hartwell, Karl Edward Wagner, Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann, John Pelan, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer. It was up for the Nebula, Hugo and Locus awards.

Shea recently passed away.  The family is asking for tributes to those moved by his work.

Clearly upheld as a classic for over thirty years,  the tale relates a drunk pathologist's story of uncovering what had occurred in a mining accident--was it a bomb?--to appease the insurance company.  Before tackling the bodies, Nate Craven, the sheriff, gives a little background:

People were disappearing in the area. Too many. Due to flies, they locate bodies except in an unusual state, as if prepared for the butcher. They deputize two men to watch over the bodies, but the bodies and the deputies disappear. They run across a man who's supposed to be dead, Edward Sykes, except he now calls himself Joe Allen. Pursuing the man disappears into a mine that collapses.  Whether that collapse was set off purposefully, our protagonist has to discover.

After a number of autopsies and strange consistencies, the patologist senses something odd afoot. He urges himself to run, but does not. Instead, he comes face-to-face (as nearly as can be expected) with the responsible party. It does not go well.

An effective SF horror story, especially the prolonged incapacitation of the protagonist as his new parasite goes through a long, elaborate ritual in preparation. Some of the dialogue/narration over-stresses elevated language, but the horror remains.

Different versions exist. Sometimes the cut or additions improve the tale, sometimes not. It'd be interesting to take a closer look at each one to see what the author was driving at.

Another aspect that may be worth investigating is how much of the tale is not real. After all, the guy has a history of abusing drink and is in the middle of abusing it [see Alcohol-Related Psychosis]. An argument against this is how capable is a man of doing this final act? (In light of that act, how clever is the "auto" of autopsy?)

Anyway, check it out for yourself. It provokes thought.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

New Ebook Releases

Serpent Catch trilogy by David Farland ($3.99 each)
  1. Spirit Walker
  2. Serpent Catch
  3. Blade Kin


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fiction Vortex Readers' and Editors' poll awards

2013 editor:

  • Gene-mod researcher discovers one of the mice can talk. He finds himself falling for her (although never explicitly stated). Circumstances force them apart. Neither goes where they want to, but they make do.  
  • Complex, interesting characters. The narrative lost me a time or two, but compelling work. Worth a read.
  • Author appears to be a poet.

2013 reader award
PROMISED LAND By Rebecca Ann Jordan

  • A strange yet appealing confluence of high fantasy, tradition, and technology.
  • Ariadne is the king's daughter and wants to be his champion. Through trickery and the voices she hears, she not only does this before a swarm of cameras, but takes over the king's position. We learn she has had other orders all along.
  • This story could have ended in many places and maybe should have, in theory. However, the places it might stopped at would have made it too predictable. As such, this has the scope more of a novel than of a story. This frequent change-up impedes flow and becomes hard to follow when the story changes direction and loses sight of whatever trajectory it was following. Nonetheless, the inventive and zealous imagination makes up for any shortcomings. Read to be swept away, not to follow a story-line. It's a roller-coaster ride with the anticipation taken out--just drops, twists and turns.
  • The author (and editor) can be found at various journals, including Bartleby Snopes.

Feb 2014 editor:

  • A would-be boy slayer of dragons is taken in by the dragon. Although the boy slayer managed to stick his sword in, he didn't live to finish the job. The interesting start does not gain momentum until about half way in when the boy, who once longed for the dragon's death, suddenly fears for the dragon--perhaps fearing for his own death with the dragon. They protect one another until the inevitable end. 
  • Stylistically handled and moving. Although a fantasy, a common biological theme runs through this.
  • Author, also an editor, has appeared in Strange Horizons and Daily Science Fiction.