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Monday, November 17, 2014

"Honeybee" by Caroline M. Yoachim

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online. Story found here.

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


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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"The Vitruvian Farmer" by Marcelina Vizcarra

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online. Story found here.

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

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

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

Definitely check this one out.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"If You Want" by Luc Reid

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online.

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

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

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

"Monoceros, Ptolemy Cluster" by Steven W. Johnson

Appeared in Flash Fiction Online.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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

Appeared in Daily SF. Online here.

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Whither Goes Literature? -- Literary News

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IX. Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XII. Cask vs. Heart: Comparative Literature

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