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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"The Rag Thing" by Donald A. Wollheim

First appeared in F&SF.  Reprinted (once in a major genre retrospective) by Groff Conklin, Terry Carr, Martin H. Greenberg, Isaac Asimov, Al Sarrantonio, Robert Weinberg, and Stefan R. Dziemianowicz.

Landlady leaves her "cleaning rag" out (presumably, it is not a rag) last November.  The landlady turns off the heat too soon in March, so that the rag seeks out warmth.

Once again, we have the misunderstood single man in the apartment.  This time he set his apartment ablaze, but why?  They chalk it up to careless smoking in bed.  A new woman buys the boarding house....

Perhaps this explains why landladies shouldn't turn the heat off too soon.

New and reduced ebook lunches

Hard City 
by Clark Howard 

The Dragon and the Unicorn 
(The Perilous Order of Camelot) 
by A. A. Attanasio 
for a few more hours

Theology: A Very Short Introduction
by David Ford 

Dreaming in Chinese 
by Deborah Fallows 

Welcome to Your Brain 
by Sam Wang, Sandra Aamodt 

White Bones: 1 
(Katie Maguire) 
by Graham Masterton 

by Seanan McGuire 

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Civil War 
by William L. Barney 

New issue of Shimmer Magazine 

Analysis of "Mimic" by Donald A. Wollheim

First appeared in Astonishing Stories. Reprinted--in a few major genre retrospectives--by Alden H. Norton, Mary Gnaedinger, Chester Whitehorn, Robert Arthur, Terry Carr, Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, Brian Thomsen, Steven Utley, Michael Bishop, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer.  Made into a movie directed by Guillermo del Toro.  Read online.

Fascinating use of plot structure and societal prejudices.  The plot relies on an unusual structure for its effectiveness.  It begins with nonfiction, then delivers the speculative content in a narrative manner although the narrator isn't heavily involved in the tale except as an observer.  Nonetheless, it delivers quite a creepiness punch as the narrative closely parallels the nonfiction.

First, it tallies off all of humanity's recent discoveries to say how little we know about the world we live in (raise credibility for the incredible that's to come).  Next, it describes mimicry in nature, how various insects have used it, how it's used to protect itself by looking like something dangerous. Third, we are introduced to a solitary man who clothes himself mysteriously in slouch hat and coat, keeps to himself, draws himself up short when women pass, and makes strange noises in his apartment.  Finally, the narrator and police let themselves into his apartment after a time when he doesn't show.  He's passed away....


As you may have guessed, the single man/recluse is an "it."  Various parts are made to look like normal human parts, i.e. wings are his coat, etc.  If that's not creepy enough, the best is saved for last:

The creature has had babies.  When they open a box, out fly a bunch of little men creatures into the night.   And the narrator--no one else--spies a creature in the shape of a chimney, peel off a roof and pursue the little men.  Cool.

I haven't investigated Wollheim's initial claims for the example creatures of mimicry in nature, but his point remains the same.

What's most fascinating is a hidden assumption within the text.  As a single guy who's lived in tiny towns, where residents are so bored they make guesses about your sexuality (decorated on desks, whispered to you by preschoolers, newly placed chairs propped next to your bedroom window), how intriguing it is that the single man is a mysterious alien creature whose motives are impossible to fathom.   He was and apparently still is--at least in some areas of the US.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Dying Earth or Mazirian the Magician


Interesting series of semi-related stories.  Had the series not had similar characters, I'd have been hard-pressed or surprised to learn that they were connected.  They don't elevate one another on a plot level and very little on the character level.  They do share commonalities in tone, mood, style, and theme.

The title The Dying Earth fits the overall theme or mood of the series better than Mazirian the Magician, who is an unlikeable protagonist in one tale.  I'm not sure sure why it was retitled although the book cover that depicts a scene from that tale (see above link) best depicts Jack Vance's stylistic flavor.

An overall decadence unites the series which the original title captures, giving into amorality or perhaps a self morality.  Moreover, although the unseen underpinning of this world is technology, the abandonment of such and knowledge may have led to its "dying."

Later books have accentuated the baroque flavor and stylistic tendencies.

Analysis of “Guyal of Sfere” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in The Dying Earth.  Reprinted by Robert Silverberg.

The novel ends on a coming-of-age story, "Guyal of Sfere"--a young lad so fond of knowledge he pesters his dad to death (figuratively) with questions.  Finally the father suggests the boy goes to the Curator [at the Museum of Man], in such a way as to suggest to the reader "Creator"--some all-powerful Oz.

The key, however, is the title and character's name, which might be pronounced "guy-al."  This leads us to "guile" and the dictionary:  guile: "the use of clever and usually dishonest methods to achieve something." --Webster's.  Now Guyal is initially guileless.  A couple of people suggest he ask the Curator, but it's as if with a wink or smirk.  What do they know?  We don't know how Guyal reacts except he takes on the sojourn or quest, anyway, presumably with some naïveté.

This doesn't last long.

The father arms his son with blessings so long as the boy doesn't depart from the trail.  This is not the hero's journey--not yet formulated at this time (at least not in storytelling terms)--but a traditional quest, and a pretty clever one:  a guileless quest for knowledge [a MacGuffin], which is transformed into something else.

First stop, he finds one who claims to know all but cannot prove it, encounters oasts--which are like but different from his horse.  A young girl and her uncle invite him to tarry awhile.  Guyal senses oddness but cannot put his finger on it.  She wants him to play her uncle's flute, but Guyal says no thanks.  The uncle appears dejected, but she says he's just hard of hearing.  The uncle plays instead, and the niece still insists Guyal play her uncle's flute even though Guyal has one of his own.  He plays his, joining the uncle, and the music escalates.  The niece dances and dances until she no longer looks young, dances to her death.

What did it mean that she wanted Guyal to play?  It's not clear.  No knowledge is gained.  Guyal is no more enlightened than when he arrived, but perhaps he's lost a little guilelessness when faced with the guile of the young lady.

Next, he meets men on the road whom he tells about a ghost he's seen.  Through connivance and a "domesticated" monster that spooks his horse, the men force Guyal to be penalized for having broken a law, but the penance seems minor.  He has to judge a beauty contest, and none of the ladies act particularly enthused.  That's because the winner and Guyal will be forced to go the Museum of Man (which many act as if this means death.  Presumably others do not return.  Why?  They learn their society is not worth returning to?   It's unclear).  Again, Guyal faces guile, unbeknownst to him until later, but this time he loses and is forced on this journey.  Yet the loss is a gain because he gets to go where he intended.

They encounter malign ghosts, who would stop Guyal's knowledge quest, but they're banished by light (i.e. enlightenment):
"Behind the ghost formed itself—a tall white thing in white robes, and the dark eye-holes stared like outlets into non-imagination." [emphasis mine]
Even the Curator is senile or insane, which is restored by a machine (i.e. technology).  Only through guile in the museum against Blikdak and the Curator himself will Guyal achieve what he wants.

But has he gained knowledge?  As a person, not really, but he has gained guile.  Also, in theory, he's gained all knowledge that humanity has gained, stored in computers.

Where to now, Jeeves?  The novel ends this way:
" 'Knowledge is ours, Shierl—all of knowing to our call. And what shall we do?' Together they looked up to the white stars. 'What shall we do ...' "
 What does this mean?  Two possibilities, at least.  Humanity is headed to something or somewhere of which they don't have knowledge in order to gain the more--a continual renewal of learning.  Or is the final question humorously rhetorical, and Guyal really doesn't know?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sales + State of the genre

20% off all Mad Scientist Journal Quarterlies with these coupon codes.

2 ebooks 
by Cassandra Rose Clarke
-- finalist for Philip K. Dick award for The Mad Scientist’s Daughter

Horror 101: The Way Forward 
by Steve Rasnic Tem, Graham Masterton, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Harry Shannon, Ellen Datlow, Iain Rob Wright, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Mynhardt, Mort Castle 

State of the Genre:

How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future By Eileen Gunn at Smithsonian Magazine
"The literary genre isn’t meant to predict the future, but implausible ideas that fire inventors’ imaginations often, amazingly, come true"
Why Today's Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction by Rebecca J. Rosen
"MIT researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner argue that the mind-bending worlds of authors such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke can help us not just come up with ideas for new gadgets, but anticipate their consequences."

The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction by Chris Beckett
"Why do so many readers still look down on the genre of Orwell and Atwood?" 

The genre debate: Science fiction travels farther than literary fiction*
"In the second of our series on literary definitions, novelist Juliet McKenna argues that far from being inferior to literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy can create debate around the most complex political issues"

* -- clearly an article of bias, especially as it's written by a speculative author.  Each genre has its merits and probably should not be compared, lest lines be drawn and someone do an actual comparison and show similar lacks because, say, the speculative field does not concern itself with such topics.  H.P. Lovecraft trashed Henry James because Lovecraft examined James through a single lens: Does James evoke fear powerfully enough? Still the article's worth checking out.

“Ulan Dhor" or “Ulan Dhor Ends a Dream” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in The Dying Earth.

Ulan Dhor, nephew of Prince Kandive the Golden, is sent on a mission to collect tablets from the lost city of.Ampridatvir.  Both desire to become more powerful magicians.  They read a scroll about the legend, explaining what had happened to the city:
"Ampridatvir now is lost. My people have forsaken the doctrine of strength and discipline and concern themselves only with superstition and theology. Unending is the bicker: Is Pansiu the excellent principle and Cazdal depraved, or is Cazdal the virtuous god, and Pansiu the essential evil? " 
"These questions are debated with fire and steel."
Ulan Dhor finds the city and encounters two groups--one that will wear green and not gray, and another vice versa.  Ulan Dhor fruitlessly argues that you can wear any color you want.  He discovers that the two groups are unable to see each other (until he unites the tablets).  He meets and falls for Elai, a young lady of the grays.  They fly about in a flying car, grab the tablets, unite them and...


...they release the people to see one another so that they attack.

When Ulan Dhor unleashes the knowledge, he didn't realize the high priest of these religions would still be alive (at least the nervous system of it).  The priest thought he'd only be asleep for a generation before the different religions created peace, but it was 5000 years--and not even an adherent did it.  So he's bent on destroying everyone and saving only Ulan Dhor and Elai to repopulate the religion... except neither wants a part of this. Ulan Dhor thrusts his sword at the brain and flees.  He prays to his flying car, that it help him escape.

Although this hasn't been reprinted, this for me was the highlight of the collection--a thought-provoking meditation on perceived differences between peoples of color or religious groups.  Clearly, differences exist, but they do not justify hate.

The author goes beyond just this.  The prophet-god (?) destroys.  Ulan considers it mad, tries to destroy it, and prays to technology instead.  The scroll reading above basically tells the story.  See esp.: "[The believers] concern themselves only with superstition and theology."  Due to the nature of "and," the last two nouns may be conflated.

Note: I do not have to agree with something to admire its aesthetics.  The over-simplification could read as an insult to religions and their adherents.  There's no need to boycott Jack Vance (I don't know his religious affiliation or politics, if any).  Rather, it's better to engage in dialogue.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

“Liane the Wayfarer” or “The Loom of Darkness” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in Worlds Beyond. Reprinted in a few major genre retrospectives by Lin Carter, Tom Shippey, Terry Carr, Martin H. Greenberg, and Robert Silverberg.  Online.

Eric Flint on Vance:
"Vance and his unique style of storytelling has been one of the inseparable aspects of the genre's orchestral coloration."
Dave Drake:
"Vance's prose is remarkably colorful and inventive. His plots are complex, he creates neologisms which must be understood from context, and he better than any other writer I'm familiar with makes figments of his imagination concrete on the page." 
"[H]e writes with a flat affect. Neither the narrator nor the internal dialogue of characters in a Jack Vance story explains how the reader should feel about what's being described. Liane, the viewpoint character in this story, is a sociopath, but Vance to a greater or lesser extent uses the same technique in all his fiction. I was drawn to that tendency in the first Vance story I read ("The Moon Moth").... [S]ome people believe that because a writer doesn't tell readers how to feel, the writer himself feels nothing about the horrors he describes. That's not true of me; I very much doubt it's true of Vance."
Liane the Wayfarer finds a ring that allows to him to go to another land.  He encounters an attractive witch, Lith, whom he wants amorously but also as a servant.  First he must serve her, she says.  Chun the Unavoidable has the other half of her golden tapestry and she wants it back.

So Liane sets off, ready to give her what-for once he’s returned with the tapestry.  To stay at an inn, he pays with an object from a far away land while wizards pay with magic.  This sets the stage for when Liane announces his goal to get tapestry, and earns the fear of all wizards there--all, mightier than he, fear Chun the Unavoidable.  The innkeeper points out all the warriors done in.  In regular tale, this just raises the stakes as opposed to a rascal character for whom we are to feel for his foolishness (at least in retrospect).

Undaunted, Liane sets off for the Place of Whispers, abode of Chun.  Through cracks in the hall, he spies the tapestry but no Chun.  Again through another crack, no Chun.  He grabs the tapestry.

*SPOILERS HERE ON* Chun appears.  Everywhere he goes, so Liane ducks into magic place with his ring.  Effective moment that.

Lith, alas, has honestly misled Liane to his place in the world.

Once more, like “Mazirian the Magician”, Vance hands the primary POV position to the antagonist, perhaps undermining the traditional fantasy hero's position although it's generally clear who's good and who's not.

Chun's pursuit and surprise and Lith's ending make this piece effective.  While other parts show promise of Vance's talent--innkeeper moment mentioned above and not-so-subtle badness of Liane--the best of these stories is yet to come.

“T'sais” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in The Dying Earth.

T'sais fights her desire to destroy things (their sight offends her).  She visits Pandelume to visit Earth in order to see beauty.  He grants her wish with a few protective spells and a live sword that attacks of its own.

She watches Liane the Wayfarer as he prods a couple he has bound.  He will torture them until the man reveals where his brother is.  She decides the Liane is evil and attacks, releases the couple--the wife now dead.

Three moor-men capture her and plan to show her “love”.  She is able to get her sword eventually, but only escapes to a deodand.  Finally, a hooded man, Etarr, rescues and cares for her wounds.  T'sais is disillusioned, but Etarr, her savior, has been scarred due to a lover, Javanne.  She gave him the face that most disgusted him.  He wants to find her at the Black Sabbath to return his face but doesn’t revenge.  He still sees beauty in the world.

The Black Sabbath is interrupted.  "The Green Legion of Valdaran the Just arrives to vanquish the demons.

*SPOILERS HERE ON*  Javanne escapes but Etarr captures her, learns that his face was destroyed in the attack.  They launch spells each other into immobility.  T’sais aids Etarr, so that they are able to fly to the God of the past who restores justice.

Characters take on dimension here, complexity, a little shading here and there.  Etarr, with his scarred past, desires a straight future. T'sais, formerly a caricature of her hate, seeks love and finds it in a difficult place.  Likely, what kept this from having as frequent reprintings as others in the novel was the difficult subject matter.  The novel's first cover draws its image from this tale.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

“Mazirian the Magician” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in The Dying Earth.  Reprinted in a few major genre retrospectives by L. Sprague de Camp, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G. Waugh, Robert Silverberg, and Margaret Weis.

Mazirian is a rather unpleasant magician, watches creatures die for pleasure.  A woman who enchants him, evades his spells.  He keeps Turjan in a trap beneath his feet because he will not disclose how to make creatures.  Turjan is in glass box, almost relentlessly pursued by a dragon, kept until he discloses his secrets.  Mazirian makes a creature, but it immediately attacks; later it calms.  Turjan intimates he’d help Mazirian catch if released:  He’d wear live boots and hold a headful of spells.

So Mazirian locks Turjan away but follows his advice.  Mazirian spies, gives chase, but his live boots run out of juice.  He discovers the horse, but not the girl.  He runs across a deodand and a thrang, which he dispatches with two spells in his head.  The girl runs out of spells herself so that its brawn and wit against brawn.

I read this tale separately, earlier.  As a stand-alone work, it loses power from not having been read after “Turjan of Miir” which supplies a modicum of Turjan’s personality.  Read alone, readers cannot know if one magician is any better than another.  Read as a series, we know beforehand which characters care  for one another (so the reader may guess who the woman is).

Part of the pleasure is that we know things that the POV person does not (Vance departs briefly from Mazirian’s POV into a Twk-man riding a dragonfly, in order to show us that the woman has planned that the Twk-man give her position away). In this way, by tale rubbing against tale and by revealing things that the POV does not know, the series gains strength.

Like  “Liane the Wayfarer”, Vance hands the primary POV position to the antagonist.

“Turjan of Miir” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in The Dying Earth.  Reprinted by Lin Carter.

This is the first story of Vance’s acclaimed Dying Earth series--a magical far future, fulfilling Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  The  novel/collection was voted 16th in the Locus All-Time Best Fantasy Novel and for a Retro Hugo.

Word of warning:  Do not expect a true short story, nor a novel but a curious combination.  These are like short stories without end, one tacked on another.  Rather, luxuriate in the imagination as Vance experiments in exploring this far future, and the characters slowly accrete in development.

Turjan creates humans in his vats but fails.  He seeks wisdom from Sage who says Turjan needs to go to Pandelume, who has the knowledge needed.  There Turjan meets T’sais, a beautiful woman who tries to kill Turjan.  She is a creature of Pandelume’s, grown in his vats although she was made with a flaw.  To gain knowledge, Turjan must find Prince Kandive the Golden, of Kaiin, remove his amulet and give it to Pandelume.  This is done with some ease.  Pandelume fights off an unknown creature and is grateful without being grateful, taking Turjan under his wing to build creatures.  The first is killed by T’sais.  The second is her twin, T’sain, except mentally unflawed, stable.  T’sain partially  convinces T’sais to find beauty and love on Earth, and Turjan not to kill .

The tale’s semi-circularity brings some satisfaction: Turjan can’t make humans, jumps through hoops, fails, succeeds, but it doesn’t quite flesh out or utilize Turjan as a character.  It feels like more of an origin story or mythic underpinning.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Reduced ebook lunches

Today only:
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis 
by Lydia Davis 

The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories 
by Ethan Rutherford 


Up Jumps the Devil 
by Michael Poore 

Who Goes There? 
by John W. Campbell 

Marya: A Life 
by Joyce Carol Oates 

The Cove 
by Ron Rash 

The Child in Time 
by Ian McEwan 

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love 
by Oscar Hijuelos 

by Ed McBain 

Kurt Vonnegut novels and collections 

 Day of the Minotaur 
by Thomas Burnett Swann 

"Whatness" by Benjamin Crowell

Appeared in Asimov's.  Online.

An alien being accidentally erases the human spacetime, except two:  A man and his dog.  The being discusses with the man what kind of universe did he want.  But the man dithers, weighing, uncertain.  So the being turns to the consciousness left.

Light humor but with a point.  Purposefully unrealized universe--in a classic SF mode.

"The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight

First appeared in F&SF. Reprinted in various major genre retrospectives by Judith Merril, Brian W. Aldiss, James Blish, Robert Silverberg, Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois, Gregory Fitz Gerald, John Dillon, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, Kingsley Amis, and Isaac Asimov. Up for the Locus All-Time Poll.

The narrator starts the story by driving and torching a car that wasn't his.  The parking attendant does nothing because he cannot interact with a criminal like the narrator.  Since he can do whatever he wants, he considers himself the king of the world.

He ends a tennis game and pursues a female into a kitchen, who closes her eyes. He throws hot cheese all around her but not at.  He's about to throw something cool at her, to make her think it too is hot.  But someone interrupts his attempt.  He tries to throw the hot cheese, but he blacks out.

For men like himself, the narrator has been altered so that he cannot commit violence.  He also is programmed to have an odious stench so that everyone knows he's coming.  The narrator received this treatment killing his girlfriend (he'd only meant to scare her).

Underwater, another woman almost falls for him... until she smells him and knows him for what he is.

In the end he tries to incite a young boy to join him in violence but cannot get the boy's attention.  The narrator's unacknowledged loneliness is palpable.

James Blish called this, "one of the most uncomfortable parables in our language."  That eases my feelings toward this story.  Like "Not with a Bang", I sympathize with a bad man and wonder, "Is anyone else feeling this?"  Sometimes it appears in our present society no one can sympathize with those unlike them.  We attempt to burn people down we don't like or disagree with, permanently ostracize, cheer, and pat ourselves on the back for a good deed done.  Therefore, Knight's tale must read as a utopia.  However, if you made a mistake, would you want to be on the receiving end?

What's interesting is how the narrator sees himself as the society's only artist.  Is that what art is?  Getting someone to notice an ugly truth, but none want to pay attention?  Is that what an artist is, the outlier, the ostracized, the condemned?

On the other hand, maybe we're supposed to note merely his delusional state (after reading the pamphlet of rules against him):
"The words stopped meaning anything, as they always did at that point. I didn't want to read any farther; it was all nonsense, anyway. I was the king of the world."
In other words, bad men are delusional and don't understand the cruelty we do to them, so it's okay to mistreat them.  But if it's okay, why would this story be uncomfortable?  We can do as we feel to others and feel not just comfortable but vindicated.

The title is a play off of H.G. Wells' "The Country of Blind" which states:
"In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King."
 But he isn't.  Likewise, the man who can do violence should be king, but isn't.  Perhaps this backs up the comfortable interpretation.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Free & Reduced ebook lunches (some today only)

The Hotel Under the Sand 
by Kage Baker 
Up Andre Norton, Locus, and Mythopoeic awards
(today only)

The Mind Parasites 
by Colin Wilson 
Recently passed away
(today only)

North American Lake Monsters: Stories 
by Nathan Ballingrud 
Up for the current Bram Stoker award
(today only)

Won British SF award -- up for Clarke, Hugo, and Locus

Includes Nebula winner

The Jonah Kit 
by Ian Watson 
Won British SF award

E.E.'Doc' Smith -- Skylark series

  1. The Skylark of Space Free!
  2. Skylark Three $3.79 
  3. Skylark of Valeron $3.99 
  4. Skylark DuQuesne $3.99

"The Territory" by Bradley Denton

First appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Reprinted in major genre retrospectives by Brad Templeton, Gardner Dozois, and Gordon Van Gelder.  Up for Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Locus awards.

After his brother dies, Samuel Clemens signs up with a Missouri Confederate group to get revenge.  Clemens can't shoot, ride or do anything very well, but he joins.  The threat of calling him a Yankee spy seems ever present.  He and two others are sent to Lawrence, Kansas--a stronghold for the abolitionists who have stolen "property" [i.e. slaves and real objects].  They find out that the town has no suspicion that they might come under attack.

Meanwhile, Henry, a boy Clemens ran into at the newspaper, dogs Clemens' footsteps much to Clemens' annoyance. Clemens taps his cigar ash on the boy's head to be rid of him, but he does need the boy later.

Clemens dreams of future events and knows when people will die.  He dreams of the boy's death which haunts him.  He expects the boy to blame Clemens for his death.  Worse, the Confederates are needlessly cruel and kill men uninvolved in the war if they don't aid the Confederates' cause.  Clemens has a change of heart but cannot escape, lest they shoot him down--him inferior to the Confederates in every way... except in lying.

The humor seems more W.C. Fields' than Samuel Clemens, but the interaction between the boy and Clemens is classic--worth studying--not to mention vital for establishing Clemens' motive for a change in heart.  Well played.

The boy has a number of annoying features, and we feel some tension when the questions dig toward Clemens' motive for being in the town.  Denton brilliantly walks a fine line between showing innocence and deviousness masquerading as innocence.  Does the boy suspect or no?  Which makes him all the more annoying, necessitating Clemens' brushing the kid off without offending but eventually Clemens does the cigar, which is cruel and something most folks wouldn't do, but he's pressured to act.

While he succeeds in brushing off the boy, Clemens discovers he needs the boy's timepiece in order to finish his reconnaissance.  A cigar as payment is arranged.  Neither likes the other.

One of the better extended scenes in the genre.  Beautiful tension.  Without this scene, there'd be less sympathy for the boy's possible demise.

Writers of the Future, volume 30

These are links to detailed summaries and commentaries of the anthology.  An actual review will appear on SF Site later.

Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask by Randy Henderson
Another Range of Mountains by Megan E. O’Keefe
Shifter by Paul Eckheart
Beneath the Surface of Two Kills by Shauna O’Meara
Animal by Terry Madden
Rainbows for Other Days by C. Stuart Hardwick
Giants at the End of the World by Leena Likitalo
The Clouds in Her Eyes by Liz Colter
What Moves the Sun and Other Stars by K.C. Norton
Long Jump by Oleg Kazantsev
These Walls of Despair by Anaea Lay
The Shaadi Exile by Amanda Forrest
The Pushbike Legion by Timothy Jordan

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask" by Randy Henderson

Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  It is the grand prize winner of the contest.  Author website.  

Trystan visits his grandfather on his deathbed.  His mother coaches him to inherit his grandfather's memories in order to become a lawspeaker/justice like his grandfather, who puts away people for sellling illegal memories.  Instead, Trystan he wants to be a healer.  However, Trystan has "tainted" or illegal memories himself which his grandfather suspects.  Nonetheless, his grandfather gives Trystan memories of the law.  While Grandfather seemed heartless in not aiding Trystan's family, he had a plan.  Even Trystan's flawed memories become a part of it.

A politically moving piece in terms of following mythical figures like Robin Hood or the Scarlet Pimpernel.  Not as idea rich as other stories, but it's also shorter.  Maybe other tales bit off more worldbuilding than their stories chew?  Just guessing the judges' motives.

"The Pushbike Legion" by Timothy Jordan

Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  

Although Aleck is excited to join the wooden pushbike ranks, he arrives late. Fossey, one member, drives himself into the desert that surrounds the town.  The old man explodes into dust.  "Waste of a good bike," says Praetor Jones.

Aleck is given a new house and wife-to-be, Martha.  He's not comfortable about their being thrust together although he finally comes to terms with this.

Wisps and sand figures step off the desert and spook the cows.  The villagers steer clear of the creatures.  The old sage--Charlie Potato, a potato farmer--turns out to know what caused the desert:  People were chock-full of nanites but an update, which contained a computer virus, turned everything to dust

What begins as fantasy becomes SF.  Fun.

A cool story with images that stick to your ribs.  Although it deals with nanotechnology, ecological damage haunts this tale as it does many in the volume, and it does so subtly.  However, if all that's left is a little strip of land, deep in the interior of a country, the land is doomed and should be fighting against the encroaching desert--nano or not.  The tale's beginning and ending meander ("driving to the story" as it's sometimes called) instead of socking it to the reader.  While it all could use a little paring, the tale's solid and likely to please most readers.

New Shirley Jackson online + new and reduced ebook lunches

Shirley Jackson's "The Man in the Woods" at New Yorker

Octoberland (The Dominions of Irth) by A. A. Attanasio $0.99

Comrades in Arms by Kevin J. Anderson $0.99
Description sounded cool:
"A damaged cyborg soldier and an enemy alien fighter turn their backs on the war and try to escape. But the human and alien governments can't tolerate the two deserters working together, so they join forces to hunt them down."

The Dragon and the George (The Dragon Knight Series) by Gordon R. Dickson  $1.99

The Seeing Stone (The Spiderwick Chronicles) by Holly Black , Tony DiTerlizzi $1.99

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory $11.04

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"The Shaadi Exile" by Amanda Forrest

Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author website.  

Daliya, a content mail-order bride across the universe who has lost her husband, prepares wedding gifts for the new brides that arrive on their planet.  The latest one puzzles her.  The family of the originating planet is supposed to send happy messages from her home planet, even though the family might have passed away.  Daliya has been receiving messages from home even though she's certain that her mother has gone, a fact which disturbs her.

But this latest bride is receiving awful pictures from home.  Why?  The groom reveals that the pictures represent threats to the bride, who is malformed.  Nanite technology is forbidden on her home planet.  If she gets repaired, they will harm her family.  Daliya and the groom plot how to give the bride a happy home with the threats hanging over her head.  Meanwhile, planet representatives watch, and escape is an admission of guilt....

Forrest executes well planned motives, cause and consequence.  The ending is not easy and not completely happy, but satisfactory.  Two tiny flaws in an otherwise well-wrought story (I am loathe to bring them up as mentioning the flaws may distort my admiration) are 1) the opening paragraphs which simply introduce a sensory moment of the world and 2) not enough motivation to shore up Daliya's choice.  This needs to be hard --Forrest excels at this--but I'd like a little more justification.  But these are nitpicks in a solid four-star tale--the voice of the critic who complains that space lasers make noise during Star Wars.

James Patterson on reading and writing

  • How to get your kid to be a fanatic reader By James Patterson
    • "Sorry, moms and dads, but it's your job -- not the schools' -- to find books to get your kids reading and to make sure they read them."
    • "The more kids read, the better readers they become."
    • "Drop Everything and Read schools devote one period a day to kids -- and their teachers -- doing nothing but reading, and mostly reading what they want to. The results can be dramatic."
    • "The best role models are in the home: brothers, fathers, grandfathers; mothers, sisters, grandmothers. Moms and dads, it's important that your kids see you reading. Not just books -- reading the newspaper is good too."
  • How James Patterson Sells More Books Than J.K. Rowling Or Stephen King
    •  "He will publish 15 books this year alone."
    • "It's story, story, story. I'm a storyteller."
    • "It's a combination of pace and then trying to make sure that the characters I'm writing about hold people's interest and they want to be involved with them."
    • "[Y]ou're only going to hear about the architecture if it really is relevant to the story I'm telling."
    • "[W]riting and rewriting is a matter of "getting better.... "I'll put "Be there" on a top of a chapter sometimes. I need to be in the scene. I need to have put enough detail in there where I'm seeing it, I'm certainly feeling it. The dialogue needs to be somewhat true. It needs to be moving the thing forward instead of marching in place."
    • "[C]ollaboration workflow: The outline will be 60 to 80 pages.... I want their ideas. I want them invested.... They are into it emotionally. I insist on seeing stuff every two or three weeks....This is going well, remember this. Hold it, we're off the tracks. We got to stop it and figure out where this went."

    • "I try to be there... to put the kind of detail in stories that will make people experience what the characters are experiencing, within reason."

                Monday, April 21, 2014

                "Robots Don't Cry" by Mike Resnick

                First appeared in Asimov's.  Reprinted by Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois, Steve Eley.  Up for the Hugo and Asimovs readers' awards. Audio.

                Like Card's story, Mike Resnick's tale represents what the contest judge says he's looking for in a story:

                1. SF'nal
                2. Futuristic setting
                3. A very human story
                Resnick's fits the bill nicely--if ironically for #3.  A pair of "grave robbers"--rather junk dealers--of abandoned planets run into an abandoned robot.  They get it back into commission.  He used to be nursemaid to a young girl who has a prosthetic leg and not loved by those around her.  There's a rather inconclusive argument about whether or not the robot cares for and misses his former mistress.  That is, logically, it's inconclusive, but it's pretty clear he does care.  While he can't cry, he doesn't want to serve another master as he'd promised never to leave her.  

                A moving tale.  There's a nice ironic contrast to the human protagonist who seems to be a little less than "human" but he changes his mind, a little. One might complain that the main characters are not especially affected by the outcome, but it works, as is, which leads us to ask how he was able to break the standard writing rule.  

                This reminds me, if memory serves, of Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master", which I plan to reread.  Ray Aldridge reprised a similar canto in "Click" which was in the second Writers of the Future volume.  That's a story I've reread and found it effective each time.  I remember reading Aldridge's stuff in SF Age and flipping back to the first page, wondering, "Who wrote this?  This is cool."  

                Where is he anyway?  Here's an inconclusive thread on F&SF website.  Ah, here we go.  Someone harass him to put a collection together already.  He does have a trilogy available, but that does not forgive of the unconscionable crime of not giving readers a collection.  Paging Ray Aldridge, Ray Aldridge, please come to the principal's office and explain yourself.

                "These Walls of Despair" by Anaea Lay

                Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author website.  

                This tale reminded me of other stories I've read on Strange Horizons (Lay regularly contributes to the website and has published a story there), the kind of thing that Carol Emshwiller might do.  The world takes an abstraction and makes it literal, yet it is never exactly played literally, either, giving the tale a funky ambiance that's weird but never quite real--half SF, half allegory, half surreal.  Generally, it's the level of description, which is that of a minimalist literary story even though it's strange enough to beg for more.  The author usually focuses on character over description.  This type of tale is common enough to deserve a moniker.  Let's call it Emshwiller-esque or Emshwillesque, which is easier on the tongue.  If you think of a better name, let me know.

                Here Georg is a sentimancer, he gives, takes, mixes emotions for people--whatever they need to get through the situation they're going through.  In this case, Georg is still new at his art and works at a prison.  The prisoner has tried to end the world by waking Dhalig Mora, a creator.  She gloms on to how Georg is new at this (or incompetent) and challenges him to learn despair before she will tell him what he wants to know.  His trainers, however, won't teach him.  Why?
                "There's no such thing as a bad emotion.  People feel, and need to feel.  It's our job to free them from the limitations or short circuits in their bodies that can miss one step or get stuck on another."
                In other words, they're there to help. Georg runs into the hollow people, one imitating a loved one who passed away.  Georg expects death but it doesn't come. Next, he retraces the antagonist's step to find out exactly what the prisoner did.  She had claimed to have had hollow people attack her vehicle but not her person, which seems unlikely.  Georg does learn what he needs but sees, too, the prisoner's plans are worse than he imagined.

                The world is so rich that towards the tale's end we are still learning new terms about it without explanation.  Likely this is part of a novel.  Nonetheless, the story works as is, although you'll have to keep on your toes.  On reflection, I would like to read more of this world.  It is so simple to destroy the world that I wonder how it keeps itself together, which could make for a rather fascinating ecology.

                Sunday, April 20, 2014

                Hugos announced (which are online) + Free & reduced ebook lunches (updated to add Farland, Powers, Day)

                Hugo award announced (and where to find them if online)


                The Last Witchking 
                by Vox Day
                Up for the current Hugo.  Controversial.  A number speculated, without reading, whether this should be on the ballot. He has enemies but also active loyal readers according to the reviews.  Time to ignore both camps and seek the truth for yourself.

                Spirit Walker 
                (Serpent Catch) 
                by David Farland 
                The opening book in a science fantasy series.  It appears to be redivided from the original.  One novel appears to have fallen short of a Nebula nomination.

                The Bible Repairman and Other Stories 
                by Tim Powers 
                Featured in best-of collections and up for a Locus.

                Beyond the Rift 
                by Peter Watts 
                Some of these stories won or were up for about every SF award.  Only a few hours left!

                Cosmic Kaleidoscope 
                by Bob Shaw 
                 A few classic stories

                by Bob Shaw 
                Won the British SF award

                The Star-Spangled Future 
                by Norman Spinrad 
                 A few classic stories

                by Leigh Kennedy 
                Stories up for Locus, Nebula and in Best SF

                The Journal of Nicholas the American 
                by Leigh Kennedy 
                Up for a Nebula 

                The Songbirds of Pain 
                by Garry Kilworth 
                collection up for World Fantasy

                In the Hollow of the Deep-Sea Wave 
                by Garry Kilworth 
                 A few classic stories

                Roma Eterna 
                by Robert Silverberg 
                Up for Locus awards, Best SF

                A Song Called Youth 
                by John Shirley 
                early cyberpunk -- three novels!

                Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- Life, Thought and Work

                Stories and Excerpts

                The New Yorker

                The Modern Word (resources)



                1. The Paris Review
                2. Pete Hamill at Vanity Fair
                3. Oprah
                4. New York Times
                5. The Atlantic:
                Biographies, News and Appreciations:
                1. “[W]hat I like about you is the serious way you make up nonsense.”
                2. Time: "And when he died on Thursday in his home in Mexico City, it did not seem impossible that a man could open his mouth and songbirds would fly out." 
                3. Peter Carey
                4. Edwidge Danticat
                5. Edmund White
                6. "Nobel author Gabriel García Márquez wins 17-year legal fight over murder classic: Colombian court rules against man who claimed author used his life story for main character in Chronicle of a Death Foretold."
                7. Wikipedia
                8. Mental Floss

                Saturday, April 19, 2014

                Summary and Analysis of "The Enormous Radio" by John Cheever

                First appeared in The New Yorker.  Reprinted by Ray Bradbury, Harry Harrison, Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joyce Carol Oates.  Audio.

                The story opens:
                "Jim and Irene Westcott were the kind of people who seem to strike that satisfactory average of income, endeavor, and respectability that is reached by the statistical reports in college alumni bulletins."
                In other words, we have an average family.  The story ends with a "suave and noncommittal" radio announcer giving the news:  a train wreck, a hospital fire, and the weather.  While severe and devastating to the people it's happening, likely it's a typical day's news.  This is the frame within which he relates his extraordinary tale.

                The Westcotts buy a floor radio*.  It initially intimidates if not frightens Irene.  She even hides it away.  Eventually she listens and hears another layer of noise.  They fix it.

                Irene hears voices and gets Jim to hear.  Jim yells at the device to see if he can be heard as well.  He cannot.  She recognizes the voices of neighbors.  Some of what they say is scandalous and horrifying.  When they attend parties, Irene cannot see her neighbors the same.  They've lost their gloss, their human decency.

                The radio's gossip consumes Irene.  She begs Jim to intervene in other couples' problems.  He won't, but he will fix the radio.  This time the repair works, but the fix is expensive.  Jim confronts Irene over unpaid bills.  They have a spat equivalent to their neighbors'.

                Here's where the frame fits in.  With plenty of dirt on each other, they are no better than anyone else, have no justification to feel morally superior.  The Westcott's tale seems more relevant with our radio the internet, flooding the information world with our sins, with many coming to the rescue or condemning their neighbors.

                Cheever adds a nice duality of perspective, which is demanded of its readers to have a full understanding:  Some readers will identify more with Jim, some Irene, while other readers will empathize with both.

                * This is 1947-ish.  Household radio technology is still shiny even if it had been around for twenty-odd years, as can be seen by a $400 charge to repair the apparatus.  Something about new technologies gives it a paradoxically mythological air.  Twilight Zone did a similar story where a man witnesses, on his television, the future crimes he will commit.

                Free, reduced and new ebook lunches (updated to add Bob Shaw)

                Flower and Weed 
                by Margo Lanagan 

                Gawain and Ragnell 
                (The Pendragon Chronicles) 
                by Ruth Nestvold

                In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair 
                by Cate Gardner 

                Elephant's Graveyard & Other Sci-Fi Stories 
                by David Alexander, Hayford Peirce 
                The title story was up for a reader Anlab award.  Hayford Peirce authored "Mail Supremacy"--which memory says was a good one.

                by Bob Shaw 

                Beyond the Glass Slipper: 
                Ten Neglected Fairy Tales To Fall In Love With 
                by Kate Wolford 
                A slender but informative volume of and on fairy tales.

                "Long Jump" by Oleg Kazantsev

                Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author interview with Hardwick.  

                Mix a little virtual reality, cyberspace, funky time travel, and space drama and you get Oleg Kazantsev's tale.  The tale starts toward its end where Ulysses' virtual girlfriend, Nancy, keeps trying to kill herself.  And then backs up years earlier with Phoebe, his (presumably ex-)wife, on Mars near the Nigerian spaceport there.  Ulysses is kidnapped to a facility where he is to be the replacement astronaut to fly through time.  The first, Milos, had gotten stuck in time.  (Presumably they changed things after the first time, or maybe accomplish something different.)

                During his time in time, Ulysses does virtual simulations which, starting with his son, rebel against him.  They don't do/say whatever Ulysses wants.  He meets Milos's girlfriend, Nancy, in the process of killing herself on a busy highway.  They meet, and begin to fall in love.  Until one day, climbing a mountain, Ulysses races ahead and Nancy dies.

                The individual scenes are well written and conceived.  Kazantsev has a good sense of what it takes to involve his readers with a different world and sweep you into it in terms of plot and character.  The only flaw, which I might not have seen if I hadn't tried to summarize it, is that the scenes don't hang well together.  You grab the theme if possible (why killing self earlier? why wait to kill self again? why help her die?).  Let's call it:  Take control of your life's reality or maybe You can't change reality even if it's virtual--and some parts don't really match.  That early scene--great drama--where the character is abducted, you could shoehorn it in thematically, but not comfortably.  Also, it doesn't fit the characters:  That is, he seems self-convinced, anyway.

                That said, one of my favorite novels, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, uses the opening ten percent of his novel to zip us through a world that really has nothing to do with the rest of the novel.  When Kazantsev has a good sense of what belongs and what doesn't, readers will clamor for his work.

                Friday, April 18, 2014

                "What Moves the Sun and Other Stars" by K.C. Norton

                Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author interview with Hardwick.  

                Here's a futuristic Wizard-of-Oz type quest-adventure--only with a narrator who's more acerbic.  The narrator, VRG11, is a thousand-year-old robot who feels his years are largely a waste.  He's been living or sleeping on this comet for longer than he cares to count.  He runs into Pilgrim, who is fascinated by VRG11 and urges it to join an escape off the comet.  VRG11 is curiously drawn to this charismatic Pilgrim who emits his own light.  Although incredulous they can escape (it's been attempted before), he joins.

                They find a winged hermaphrodite, a mutant, whom Pilgrim invites to come along.  They run into their opposites, their trio of villains:  Sergeant Leon, his lover, and a nameless third with many teeth (but who is coward).  There is a strange conflict, and they escape only to fall into a pit.  VRG11 had been placed on here on the comet for some reason, and is the first of the first AI with many years of witnessing history [sort of.  He says it's mostly sleep and darkness].

                One of the nicest moments is when VRG11 challenges Odd Nobody to escape, and it is not a simple process.  Just a grueling, repetitive leap and climb.

                A compelling read.  Norton invokes a lot of different literary classics:  Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Dante's Divine Comedy, Baum's The Wizard of Oz--probably others.  The background story is a bit thin.  The author is fantastic at hand-waving ("These are not the droids you seek," and the reader thinks "These are not the droids I seek."), but at some point the SF readers will ask for more details of why these events came to be.  (It may be that the work is intended only as an allegory, which is fine, but SF readers tend to want to understand the universe they're inhabiting.  As she is compelling, I will be on the lookout for more of Norton's work.

                Thursday, April 17, 2014

                Free and reduced ebook lunches

                by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin

                by Elizabeth Massie 
                Winner of the Bram Stoker award

                Reboots + Diabolical Streak (two books)
                by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin 

                by Andrew Macrae 
                The Weightless 1-Day Sale title for April 17th, 2014! 
                This is up for awards in Australia. Sounds pretty cool.  Author's PhD thesis.  Only a few hours left!

                The Stress of Her Regard 
                by Tim Powers 
                multiple World Fantasy and Philip K. Dick award winner (I'm sure he's written disappointing stuff, but I just haven't found it yet.)

                Steven Barnes has a name your price program that's supposed to be the secret to The Secret.  I will get it eventually and report.  I've been motivated by his programs thus far, if that's what you're needing now.

                On Stephen King

                I haven't had a favorite novel, but I believe my favorite story of his was "The Raft", which I recently saw had been up for a Locus award.  I should reread it to see what I think now.

                Richard Thomas lists his top 11 Stephen-King essentials. 

                Gilbert Cruz ranks all of Stephen King's books.

                As the above two confirm, in my ongoing anecdotal survey, The Stand is consistently ranked #1.

                It is to be two films.  The first half of the first movie was indeed spooky.  The second, less so.  It will be interesting to see how this one fairs.

                Stephen King: How I wrote Carrie:
                "The author describes the inspirations for his first novel, and how the horror landmark – 40 years old this week – was very nearly destroyed."

                "The Clouds in Her Eyes" by Liz Colter

                Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author website.

                An excellent tale--sweeping and imaginative.

                Amba has literal clouds in her eyes.  She helps her father harvest the sparkers, a grub-like worm that provides electricity and a little water.  Although rain hasn't visited their land in a long while, the father siphons water from the earth to keep the sparkers from drowning.

                Meanwhile, a ship (real or unreal?) gets closer and closer over months.  Finally, it arrives.  The captain learns her true name "storm-bringer" and spurs, stirs latent abilities.  But should she disturb the current, delicate ecology?

                Like many in the anthology this years, the author is concerned with ecology, but she seems to have a good handle on developing what feels like the ecology of the place.  It may be worth studying her example.  I'll be looking for Liz Colter's name.  Write like the wind! ( ever the wind writes... breezy? with gusto?)

                Wednesday, April 16, 2014

                In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era by Robert Silverberg

                I've been collecting Silverberg's story collections but hesitated on this one.  He writes:
                "I have to confess, right up front here, that you will not find a great deal of poetic vision in these stories, or singing prose, or deep insight into character.  Nor are these stories that will tell you much about the human condition."
                He needn't confess.  Describing what a work isn't, isn't necessary.  Just say what it is.  I haven't read or bought books by authors whom I've admired because they belittled their own work--Bear, Fowler, Powers.  On the one hand, you don't want to raise expectations, so that the reader never reads your stuff again. But on the other, the reader might like it.

                I reciprocated for Fowler when she asked me to sign a story.  I dismissed the tale, flushing, embarrassed that my literary hero was asking me for a signature.  What if she didn't like it?  Unless the work is really bad, please don't dismiss it.  Let the reader decide.  Point out what the tale is or attempts, or that it was early work.

                In Silverberg's essay, the lines that follow are enough.  These are simple pulp tales written speedily for the money.  That's descriptor enough.  If a person doesn't like pulp, they won't buy it.  For those that do, they'll buy it.

                The collection's tales and the accompanying biographical material are a romp....  Aliens come to Earth seeking advanced technology, but the lines are long--at least two year long.  ...unless you can think of a way to shorten the time, like play on human preconceptions of danger.

                Or an escaped prisoner--one who is always optimistic he'll get out of this fix--crash-lands on a planet where he will have to be a Robinson Crusoe... only the natives have different plans.

                The plots aren't fresh but fun.  The biographical material sold me.  How did Silverberg establish homself?  If you enjoy Silverberg's Reflections columns for Asimov's magazine, you'll find this one a similar treat.

                Speaking of which, why hasn't anyone collected his Reflections columns?

                "Carousel" by Orson Scott Card

                First appeared in 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology. Reprinted by Dave Wolverton.

                Card introduces this story as what most fits a WotF story:

                1. Complete in itself (not part of a series)
                2. Have emotional impact
                3. Clear resolution
                4. Idea intriguing enough that people want to talk about it
                5. Story must be mailed.
                Cyril doesn't get along with his wife, Alice, who is dead.  She's a lot more blunt, willing to talk about sex with her husband to her kids--going so far to say how it's helped or hurt them.  Alice encourages the kids to live on the edge because, after all, death's been pretty good to her.  When the kids pass away, their banter is even harsher than his wife's.

                Cyril finds a carousel.  There he meets Dorcas, the dead woman who runs the carousel.  And God.  He's tried to make people happy by setting up the resurrection, but of course the people complain.  The best lines:
                Cyril said[,] "I want my wife to love me."
                "I can't make people love other people," said God. "Then it wouldn't be love." 
                "You really have a limited skill set."
                [Spoiler] Cyril's given a new child.  It's not about moving somewhere but about the ride.

                Not only a novel use of the zombie trope, but also a cleverly developed speculative idea to show that people in a place may not understand the harm it may cause another.

                Does it align with Card's thought of what a WotF story should be?
                1. The story is complete--not necessarily an easy one.
                2. It hits in the hardest way: family lost.
                3. It resolves with the idea of why life is worth living.  
                4. Loved ones come back, even after death.  While not gruesome, it's not especially lovely.
                5. It's published.
                It's a little dialogue-heavy, but witty banter helps.  I'm not sure if a new writer could get away with abandoning the zombie trope for a god one, or even introducing the big fella.  But I defer to Card's greater knowledge.

                New and reduced ebook lunches

                The Shadow Eater 
                (The Dominions of Irth) 
                by A. Attanasio 

                The Shining 
                by Stephen King 
                Up for Locus and Gandalf awards

                Different Seasons 
                by Stephen King 
                Up for World Fantasy and Locus awards

                Heir to the Glimmering World 
                by Cynthia Ozick 

                by Stephen King 

                The Essential Rumi 
                - reissue: New Expanded Edition 
                by Jalal al-Din Rumi, 
                Coleman Barks (Translator) 

                Rumi: Bridge to the Soul 
                by Coleman Barks 

                The Moon King 
                by Neil Williamson 

                The Gallery of His Dreams 
                by Kristine Kathryn Rusch 
                Note: novella.
                Won Locus and HOMer awards. Up for Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Asimov's Reader Poll

                The Falling Woman 
                by Pat Murphy 
                Won Nebula award. Up for Locus and Mythopoeic.

                Points of Departure: Stories 
                by Pat Murphy 
                won Philip K. Dick award and up for Locus

                The City, Not Long After 
                by Pat Murphy 
                up for Locus, Mythopoeic, Clarke awards

                Bad Grrlz' Guide to Reality: 
                The Complete Novels Wild Angel and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell 
                by Pat Murphy 

                Unwrapped Sky 
                by Rjurik Davidson