Friday, February 29, 2008

Books in 2008, #9

#9. The Fart Party by Julia Wertz

Similar to Jeffrey Brown's work, The Fart Party is a slightly skewed autobiographical account of a young woman living in San Fran at the time and dealing with issues of self-doubt, the monotony of daily life, and, of course, love. The artwork is simple, but the heart of the book lies in the way Wertz does not shy away from being vulgar, rude, crude, and in-your-face-offensive. It's here that she charms the reader, making herself look like a fool and allowing us to enjoy that experience with her. The book also comes packed with sketches, comics not presented online, some interviews, and guest work from her brother.

The only problem that I found was that a lot of the comics, strangely, read differently on paper than via the website/blog. Where her blog entries and comments are often angry and dismissive, here in the book she is presented much more easygoing. The first two-thirds of the book deal with a range of subjects, the best being flashbacks to childhood memories, and the last bit then takes on a relationship and its impending end. Good stuff, and definitely recommended to anyone that enjoys reading autobiographical comics, as well of fans of random spouts of violence.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Just received 300th rejection. Didn't even sting.

Onwards we go...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Books in 2008, #8

#8. Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown

Read this in one sitting. Brown has a way of just sucking a reader in, despite the loose artwork and constant self-obsession, and the story he tells touches on a myriad of relationshippy things. Clumsy is the story of a doomed love, of a deep look into sex, intimacy, and heartache. It is an autobiographical account of Brown', involvement...with a girl named Theresa. Sometimes the narrative is a bit unfollowable, which is to blame for the lack of a solid voice throughout. The back page of the book explains the timeline, but it still can be very unclear. One strip has them in bed together, the next they are miles away talking on the phone.

And boy are they in bed a lot. Brown doesn't shy away from detailing sex, during-sex, and after-sex moments. But I think that's what makes this book more special than any other graphic telling of young love. It doesn't dance around the most intimate of moments; instead, rather bluntly, it shows the world them, and for that Clumsy is a well-recommended read that I'm sure I'll pick up again at some point and immerse myself in fully.

One game beat, 7,938 to go

Holy spinach dip, I just finally beat Rogue Galaxy.

Whew. When I say finally, I mean finally. Hours logged: over 75. I became too OCD with this game, having to complete nearly every aspect before taking on the last boss. That meant making every item in the factory, forging every weapon I could, and finding the nine rare artifacts spanning the galaxy. Plus, the last time I took on the end boss it kicked my ass and I was so frustrated over losing that I never went back until I finished up some other things.

Hmm...watching the ending right now. Most overly dramatic part of the game, for sure. Kisala decides she wants to be the queen of Mariglenn. Jaster's response? "Oh, you're totally not queen material!" Ha!

Dang. Seems the game isn't technically over. There's a Ghost Ship to explore.


Black Box

Friday, February 22, 2008

Akira gets real

Looks like Akira is being made into a live-action film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Please, Hollywood...just stop. Go read a book or something. Don't do this to one of my favorite mangas, a great anime. Just leave it alone. How about you go do a live-action Pokemon film starring Brad Pitt as Ash? I'd rather see that than this. Please, please, please. I'm begging you. Leave Tetsuo, Kaneda, and the gang alone.

EDIT: Oops. Turns out Leon's producing the movie, not starring in it. My bad. Not as annoyed now, but still somewhat bothered.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Editing as I go

Up to about 1,600 words on the WOTF story. I'm aiming for maybe 5K or 6K, knowing that this contest actually prefers longer stories over shorter ones. Basically, I'm really writing this one specifically for them. Normally, it'd be darker or harsher, and a lot more concise. I prefer brevity over longwindedness. Not that my current writing is longwinded. Eh, you get what I mean.

Anyways, the writing is slow going, if only because I'm actually editing as I go. This is pretty new to me in that I'm studying prose a lot more than I normally do. I sit and think about modifiers, try out a few, read it out loud, try another, read it again, re-read the paragraph above to see if it flows well, edit it, edit the dialog, and so on. I hope this isn't making the piece worse. I like it so far, but then again...I'm my biggest fan.

Here's an oddity. For some reason, I used the verb scanned three times already. No, no, no. I think once will be enough, even for a futuristic SF piece.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Books in 2008, #7

#7. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

I can't really go into details about this book. I'm too bloody close to it. Or it to me. There really can be no explaining. Hornby channels through Rob Fleming these sad, wistful things about sex, love, relationships, parents, birthdays, music, heartache, childhood, adulthood, life and everything good and bad in it...and I get it. All of it. Each and every word is written as if plucked from my very brain and I can't help but feel like I just got done going through an unsuccessful stint of rehab. Drained, exasperated, all my energy sucked dry. Fuck. I love this book.

Tangent thoughts

This has been bothering me lately, but I'm not sure why, and I'm pretty sure no one else will know why either...

What happened to Tangent Online?

After being diligently run by Eugie Foster, Dave Truesdale came back in mid-September 2007 to reclaim his baby. Dismissed from her editing job, Foster strolled over to head up the revitalized Fix Online, where I now review short fiction and the like. There was no pressure to pick one site over the other or anything. Some said they'd stick with TO, others jumped ship and swam for a better fix (get it?), and a handful found it hard to side and chose to work for both review sites when the materials presented themselves. Fair is fair, but I've never dealt with Truesdale personally and only know what I do of him from online flamewars. So I went with the boss that I knew and trusted.

Within a month and some days, FO went live, downright swimmingly. The site has continued to publish reviews on a steady and excellent schedule, especially when one considers that this is a labor of love for reviewers, that their time and effort is spent because they know they have readers and a respectable place to post such thoughts. The site itself uses a Wordpress theme, looks very shiny, and does what it needs to do: get short fiction in people's faces. I'm fairly sure no one thought, "Gee, let's take five months to make the prettiest most elaborate site ever, that way when we post blocks and blocks of text it'll have a really nice border around it and people will love us dearly so!"

What has TO and company been up to since Truesdale's pillaging?


Not a single peep, unless you count an excuse-heavy post about what might or might not be happening in the future. Which is a shame, really. You ever have a friend that can kill a conversation immediately? That's what this feels like.

Truesdale says:

In all humility, Tangent and now TO changed the face of short sf/f reviewing for the *entire* field when it debuted in July/August 1993. That was almost 15 years ago. Even Locus, and then Locus Online changed demonstrably since Tangent came on the scene. Fact.

Okay, sure. Not arguing facts. But we're not living in the world that existed fifteen years ago. Things do need to be a bit speedier these days, and yes, there's irony there considering this is the publishing business and all, but come on. So long as the site is functional and not littered with Geocities ads then it is fine to continue posting reviews and such.

So much time has been wasted, so many missed opportunities, and for what? A little bit of "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

Thankfully, there is the Fix Online and even IROSF seems to have resurfaced. Sure, took longer than expected and it isn't completely finished, but they aren't worried about that. They want discussion, they want people's attention, they want to give something back. Not take it away.

More DS games

Well, I've gotten a few more Nintendo DS games since my last roundup. Here's what I've been playing (and not playing) over the last few months.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - Mmm, Zelda. This is a very fun game that truly uses the stylus and touch screen to its best capacity. Drawing on the map and making teeny notations is fun, and's Zelda! ZELDA! Hack-and-slash, baby! Rupees galore! The storyline is connected to the Gamecube game Windwaker, but I never played that one. No matter, really. There's lots to do, such as sailing, deep sea diving, and constructing one kickass boat, among other things. It can be quite challenging at times though, especially when it asks our young protagonist to be sneaky rather than stabby. Haven't got to play the multiplayer WiFi mini-game, but it looks tough. I'd rather slice at grass and buy bombchus, you know?

Flash Focus - There's a whole slew of these "training" games for the Nintendo DS, and from what I've seen they are more or less the same game. This one splits the daily tasks between sports and miscellaneous goals. Personally, I don't turn this on every day and train my brain like they'd like me to. I have my favorites--volleyball, soccer, box tap, boxing--and that's about it. Each time you play you up your stamp count, which eventually opens up more things in the game. There isn't a whole lot here, but for the price and the time it takes to do what one wants to do within it works out just fine. However, I absolutely hate ping pong on the Harder difficulty. It's enough to make me want to jump out my window.

Sim City DS - Okay, yet another impulse buy. Unlike Animal Crossing: Wild World, this one didn't turn out to surprise me in the end. I used to love playing Sim City on my SNES and part of me was hoping to relive those nostalgic moments. But it didn't happen. And won't any time soon. For one thing, the screen is way too small when it comes to mass planning a city. You can only zoom in once, and even then it is very difficult to see what is what and what is where. Just not what I thought/hoped it was going to be, unfortunately...

Drawn to Life - A very standard and linear 2D platformer that offers the unique ability of allowing the player to draw and create many pieces within the game itself. You can create the main character, the gun-like weapon he or she will carry, the clouds, flowers, submarines, rockets, and so on and so on. You are the Creator, an artistic god to the Raposa, a very anime-ish race of people that ask for your help in repopulating their village. And that's basically it. You go level to level, drawing things, jumping on enemies, searching for some items, and then back to see the mayor and learn about the next mission. I'm only halfway done with the game, but the fun, at least for me, and I suspect the reason most people bought the game, is drawing via the stylus. It doesn't make a subpar platformer brilliant, but it does help it shine a bit. The visuals are decent, the music is good, and seeing something you've created implemented (no matter how lightly) in a videogame is a whole lot of fun.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village - My latest purchase. Half a mystery adventure game and half a bottomless pit of puzzles, Curious Village is remarkably well done. The puzzles, the real meat of the game, range from super easy (almost downright silly) to oh-my-goodness-I-need-to-be-mauled-by-rhinos-I'm-so-dumb ones. Yup, they really test one's thinking. I've only gotten up to Chapter Four, which means I've found about 50 puzzles and have solved maybe 35-40 or so. There are a couple of other tasks to do in the game to keep things interesting, but really it is just puzzle after puzzle after puzzle. I suspect, by the end of it all, I'll be sick of the people in the village much like this. Still, the art style, animation, and voice work is all phenomenal, a real triumph for the system. Sometimes that's all that is stopping me from hurling the game against a wall in frustration simply because I can't figure out how to move ten quarts of orange juice into two other beakers so that they all have a specific amount and whatnot. Ugh! Good and frustrating, indeed!

So, there you have it. See you again in a few months? I can't stop buying DS games. They are too much fun.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rainy morning

It's a cold, rainy morning here in New Jersey. And no work today. Woo! I still got up early because I have lots of things that need working on today. MyLifeComics, the Outback Guide comics, the WOTF story, the review of Black Static #3 for The Fix, and some Nintendo DS-ing. Yes, I have to consider DS-ing work just to make time for it. Oh well. Coffee's made, I'm in my comfy clothes, and ready to get to it...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New story in the works

I've been thinking about what I want to do about the upcoming quarter for WOTF. I guess I knew all along that I wanted to write a new story since nothing in my collection really called to me. So, a few minutes before Thursday's LOST came on, a first sentence came flying out of nowhere and smacked me across the face. You know how they can be, sometimes.

I didn't get to do much with it until this morning though. So, 678 words done for now and I'm digging the piece already. Modified humans, annoying tourists, and air shows. Woo. I've had to remind myself a few times not to get too vulgar or crude with the piece though, considering the market I'm aiming this piece at. I've also set my word count a little high (5K or 6K, probably) if only because they actually like longer stories than not.

But now I have to pay bills, renew my car insurance, clean, and do other not-fun things like that. Maybe more later though...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Nine unique structures to be built soon

Some of these designs are crazy looking. The future is coming sooner than later...but when are we going to get flying cars? Huh? I'd rather have that than a building shaped like a giant drill.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An honorable mention

I received a phone call last night from Joni Labaqui of the WOTF contest letting me know my submission was an Honorable Mention for the first quarter of the year. I didn't get to return her call till this evening, but's weird to be talking on the phone about a story. A story that didn't win, let alone, but still...HMs aren't too shabby. I'll keep trying.

My name, along with other winners, should be up at the blog a little later on.

So, here's the stats: 4 submissions total (3 HMs, 1 Semi-Finalist)

I haven't sent in anything yet for the next quarter. Deadline is postmarked by March 31. I don't really feel like anything in my inventory is a good fit currently for WOTF. Too many curse words, too much sex, too much creepy creepiness. I might have to write something new. Me needs to think this one over a bit more...

An important reminder

Remember, couples everywhere, that...


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Writers' strike over

After 100 days, the writers' strike is over.

Thank goodness.

Not that is matters, considering I watch one or two shows total. But this should hopefully lower the number of dance contests, singing bees, and game shows built to embarrass and ruin lives that I have to flip past before landing on Mythbusters to take me away to a happy place.

Books in 2008, #6

#6. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I've noticed something about Picoult's novels, something that I've absolutely grown to hate. The twist endings. Hate, hate, hate them. This is the third book of hers that I've read, and so far she seems to hang every outcome on something that is both jarring and completely out there that it nearly ruins the book for me. Note: I said nearly, not that it does.

Some spoilers right now. In The Tenth Circle, the twist was Trixie's mother had committed the grueling murder of Jason. In Salem Falls, the novel ends on a shocker with a father making out with his daughter. Here, we're spoonfed a story so contumaciously forceful and unbelievable involving Josie, a second gun, and the boy she loved. I know it is meant to surprise, to shock shock shock, but what it really seems to do is undermine everything Picoult built from page one.

Still, I love her characters, the way they think and react and do ordinary things that are heavy on their consciouses. Strangely, Nineteen Minutes features two characters from the only other books of hers that I've read. It was kind of nice to see them again. Much like in Salem Falls, a lot of personalities don't begin to truly shine until the courtroom scenes begin.

But the book is about a school shooting, and it is tough material to absorb completely. There is no happy ending. There is no happy beginning. There is no true finale where everyone gets why what happened and move on with their lives. The action that troubled Peter takes is horrific, but Picoult manages to dance on the edge of calling him a monster versus calling everyone else monsters. No surprise, the book reminded me very much of high school. It made me think a lot about what I saw then, what I heard, what was done to me and how I reacted. There are extremes in this world, terrible ones, and Nineteen Minutes doesn't aim to answer them. Only console those that lived through them...

GoodReads widget

I've added a Flash widget for my GoodReads profile to the right-sided column of Wistful Writings. Scroll down until you see it. If you're on the site, feel free to add me as a friend! If you're not on the site, er, sign up. It's free, fun, and you get to geek out about books with an entire community that are they themselves geeking out just as hard.

I've been using the site for some time now, but am not even close to finishing up cataloging my books. Currently, it says I have 310. Hmm, not bad, not bad. Though this isn't taking into account that some are books I've read but do not own. I think when I hit 500 the floor of my apartment will give out from all the weight and send me crashing into the creepy basement.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dark Sword Miniatures #2 poll

George R.R. Martin is asking his fans to vote on the next set of miniatures featuring the cast from A Song of Ice and Fire.

It was a tough call for me, but I picked the Red Viper of Dorne over Samwell Tarly, simply for the fact that I can't get that momentous battle between him and the Mountain out of my head.

Who are you voting for?

Some changes, perhaps

In comparison to the thousands of other bloggers out in the e-world, I'm pretty terrible. I post sparingly, and generally it is just a long review that I'm mostly positive no more than three people read. And what's worse, I put a lot of time into them, really try and think about what I've read, and then worry what others will do to my feeble thoughts. Why? It doesn't matter, really.

With that said, I'm cutting back on reviews. I will continue with my gig at The Fix Online, but other than that I won't be taking on any more assigned (er, meaning promised) reviews. Just not worth the time and effort in the long run. Of course, I'll comment on stuff I'm reading when I can, but if it isn't some huge dive into the meaning of life and so forth then no biggie.

So, about being a bad blogger. I'd like to change that, post more interesting things, get a wee bit more personal, but there's a problem: I've already separated my personal life from Wistful Writings with my daily journal comic at MyLifeComics. I mean, I save most of the things that happen for over there, leaving this place to be the hot-spot for any and all things pertaining to my writings. Hah, I said hot-spot. As if.

But I'd like to talk more about things here. About music, about animals, about videogames, about food, about anything I feel like I want to.

I'm in a weird mood tonight. Might be the fact that I'm working on a short story about civilized cannibals (aren't they all?) and kidnapped little girl. Odd, creepy stuff. You know, my usual shtick.

Also, song lyrics will re-enter my life, just because...

You're the echoes of my everything,
You're the emptiness the whole world sings at night.
You're the laziness of afternoon,
You're the reason why I burst and why I bloom
You're the leaky sink of sentiment,
You're the failed attempts I never could forget.
You're the metaphors I can't create to comprehend this curse that I call love..
How will I break the news to you?

- "Hold Me Down" by Motion City Soundtrack

Pleading from a cranky old man

Hi World and Everybody In It,

Please stop talking about the rise of the genre ezine. Just let sleeping dogs lie. Also, me thinks, it doesn't matter.

Thank you,

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Books in 2008, #5

#5. Lace and Blade edited by Deborah J. Ross

"Lace and blade," as per Vera Nazarian in the publisher's note, is a term meant to cover a softer subform of the subgenre of adventurous sword and sorcery that is synonymous with names such as Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and Robert E. Howard. Aggression and over-the-top violence is left behind in preference for a more romantic look on the form. She also used the phrase "girl cooties," which is both comical and still appropriate. I will say upfront that this is not the sort of fiction I normally read, but was initially intrigued due to the inclusion of Tanith Lee.

In "Virtue and the Archangel" by Madeline E. Robins, Velliaune meCorse risked being banished from her family and its fortune for one night of fun in bed with Col haVandron at the Bronze Manticore. Unfortunately, amidst all the sweat and lustful desires, she loses the Archangel, a necklace that is precious to her parents. She writes to Nyana, a schoolmate from the past, pleading for her help. From there, the story follows Nyana on a short detective-like search for the missing necklace. Along the way she'll meet the mysterious Col himself, deal with an inn's less-than-helpful staff, and find herself in a brazenly bold swordfight. All in all, a good start to Lace and Blade edited by Deborah J. Ross. It's a strong mix of romance and swordplay though two aspects confused me: the reasoning behind everyone's last name (meCorse, haVandron, and meBarso) and the kiss at the end. It felt somewhat tacked on.

"The Crossroads" by Diana L. Paxson shared many similarities to the previous story, namely ending with a swordfight and a confusing introduction of some character named Exu that came, seemingly, out of nowhere. I'm pretty sure it went right over my head. Anyways, Claude DeLorme has sailed to a colonial Brazil to inquire about the status of a family emerald mine. Once there, he meets the seductively pleasant Corquisa and ultimately finds himself in a card game for the deed of his family's mine and the right to keep the cabaret she works for in safe keeping. Paxson has provided all the right ingredients to "The Crossroads" to make it an enjoyable, fast-paced piece of lyrical lace and blade. Despite a minor quibble with the ending, it's a fine story that builds tension well and delivers on the action.

If you were to guess that "Touch of Moonlight" by Robin Wayne Bailey was a werewolf story just off its title, you'd be absolutely correct. Elena Sanchez y Vega is on her way to deliver the ransom for her brother's life to Joaquin Cortez, the dark sorcerer that made her the beast she is under moonlight. Along the way, her carriage is robbed by a man claiming to be Ramon Estrada, a ghost of lore for their whereabouts. The story then takes leaps and bounds with credibility and the task of behooving the reader any sense of "being in the story." How so? At one point or another, both Elena and Ramon are butt-naked and fighting an inviolable werewolf. I kid thee not. The jump from Ramon the thief to Ramon the loverboy made me frown. It might've worked in a longer piece, but I didn't buy it here. Otherwise, the story goes on very much expected with a buildup to a fight before everyone achieves happiness.

Ah, the story that got me interested in reading Lace and Blade. Oddly enough, I couldn't finish her heavily S&S debut The Birthgrave. But this, yes, this was much more enjoyable. "Lace-Maker, Blade-Taker, Grave-Breaker, Priest" by Tanith Lee tells the story of a shipwreck and three of the travelers it was carrying across the sea. They survive, but a previous promise onboard permits that two of them will duel at once. Well, as soon as they can find some new swords. This multilayered tale is classic Lee: action, intrigue, wonderfully colorful characters, a hint of the unexpected, and well-written. I enjoyed it very much, especially the somewhat silly determination between Vendrei and Zephyrin to hate each other so devoutly despite just surviving a nasty shipwreck. Definitely one of the better stories in the anthology.

The titular queen in "The Beheaded Queen" by Dave Smeds is exactly that: beheaded. However, she is bound to her husband's life, as he is bound to the demon that allowed him to keep her still talking. As it turns out, her son Bredden is to marry a girl from another country and begs for his mother's opinion on the matter. I was surprised to find this piece to be so serious, focusing on politics and lovers' betrayal. Sure, the joke itself is there, that we're reading about a talking head, but strangely the queen is quite sympathetic. Strikingly different from a previous Smeds read, "Bearing Shadows," but still just as rewarding.

One small spell completely shatters Tanzi's life in "The Topaz Desert" by Catherine Asaro. She only did it to calm her owners' screaming baby. She is quickly discovered, bemoaned as a town witch, and sent to the Holding House for punishment. Lucky for her, she narrowly escapes but now must live in fear of those that hate her so. And she soon meets men who may or may not be helpful. Asaro does a good job of capturing Tanzi's innocence, as well as giving us some gray characters that keep us guessing. Rocks and gems seem to be a staple in fantasy stories, yet here they are treated a tiny bit differently, which is appreciated. I'd have liked to see more magic, but what can you do?

Highwaymen are the focus of "Night Wind" by Mary Rosenblum. Alvaro's entourage is ambushed, and he soon learns much about the brigands. They don't care to bargain, only take what they demand. When he arrives at the home of His Lordship Salvaria, Alvaro hears of the legendary Night Wind, the very same highwayman that robbed him of his money and horses earlier. Eh, I feel like this sort of story has been done before. Revealing that a mysterious robber or thief or bandit is a woman is not exactly original. Sure, it rounds things out for the anthology so Alvaro can feel like he's met his soulmate, but for plot purposes it just turned me off. No thanks, even though the worldbuilding and talk of horses were quite enjoyable.

"In the Night Street Baths" by Chaz Brenchley takes two side-characters from his novel Bridge of Dreams and shows us what they've been up to. This would probably be more, uh, neat if I'd read his book. But I haven't, and so I must enter a world already realized and try to figure out just what is going on. Set in a world similar to Arabian Nights, the streets are home to many a people: dwarves, eunuchs, and people that Shine. And Teo and Djago mean to unearth a city secret. Or just have an adventure. I don't really know. Maybe it was just me, but this felt rather pointless, almost aimlessly written for more of the author's enjoyment than that of his readers.

In "The Rule of Engagement" by Sherwood Smith, Ren Desvransa and many other prominent ladies are attending the Blue Moon Masque, a ball of celebration before the king of Duen Lesc went home for the winter. His court is divided and it shows. That's why he's implemented Ren and her brother Yvo into his court with hopes of solidifying everyone. The introduction teases us that this is "a story of choice, about honor, about the transforming power of love" and then goes on to blast a boastful rendition of the Huey Lewis pop song. Okay, maybe not true about that last part. Either way, it's a complex story, one that seems to truly define what Lace and Blade is all about. That is, courtly intrigue, brave deeds, and romantic, subtle fantasy. Plus, dueling. Always with the dueling. It's a good ending to a somewhat decent anthology.

While the entries from Tanith Lee and David Smeds were enjoyable, the remainder of the tales felt far too similar to really impress me. No country felt particularly fresh or different from any other medieval/European locale, every plot seemed to rely on a duel fight at the end to close things up, and too much emphasis was placed on soulmates or true loves upon characters just meeting members of the opposite sex for the first time. Not bad, but not great. Then again, as I mentioned earlier, this is not at all what I normally like to read about and could be way off on all accounts.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Some realizations

I don't read as much in the winter, nor do I have the same passion for reading in the winter as I do in the spring, summer, and fall when I can go to the park, curl up on a patch of grass, and immerse myself in a book for hours.

I need to add a third POV to the Novel. It has to be done because, right now, I feel like some stuff is too hard to explain without it and also I'd like to have a more gray set of villains rather than straight up bad people.

I need to lower my expectations...for everything.

I don't miss eating bread as much as I suspected, but I think I need to work some brown rice or something back into my diet because I cannot go without it, unfortunately.

I have to finish things I start, no matter how much I don't want to.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Books in 2008, #4

#4. Isaac Asimov's Halloween edited by Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams

Okay, the funny thing about this book is that I started to read it early on in October 2007, hoping to publish a review before the titular holiday arrived. Then, uh, I got busy. Doing something. I think writing shtuff. Oh well, I finally finished up the remaining stories so here's what I thought of them a few months later…

This rather misleading anthology of "tricks and treats" opens with "Words and Music" by William Sanders, a story of the ever-so-old battle between man and the Devil. A flat-toned Cherokee Indian medicine man attends a church gathering on the premise that there's evil afoot. Luckily, he brought his magical guitar with him. Not too long after midnight, a band shows up, and the music they play puts almost everyone under a dangerous spell. It's up to our medicine man to put the Devil in his place via a battle of guitar solos. While the story has its charm and authenticity, I couldn't help but grimace as the guitar solos got more and more dramatic. I liked a lot of the language and characters here, but the plot was a bit too much for me to enjoy…and I play guitar. Oi.

I guess Halloween is all about the Devil doin' y'all wrong. In "Beluthahatchie" by Andy Duncan, a man named John is riding a train to Hell, but refuses to get off at the penultimate stop. Instead, he keeps going until he finds himself in the barren town of Beluthahatchie. He first meets the hounds of Hell, which are hilariously non-Hellish, and then along comes…dum, dum, dum…the Devil. There's no real battle here, but John eventually decides he'd like to be some place else despite his songs being praised by the dead. So he plans to steal the Devil's ride.

Though "Renaissance" by Nancy Kress was published almost ten years before the under-acclaimed Gattaca ever saw SF light, I couldn't help but think of them as one in the same. A few key points differ, but it basically boils down to this: the ability to play God and genetically alter babies before they are born. A famous Hollywood couple decide to do just this while also using it as a publicity stunt to further their popularity. The baby's grandmother watches all this, horrified and ashamed, knowing full well the consequences of her daughter's dreams the moment she sees the child's perfectly programmed face. This was all right even though it relied a little too heavily on a surprise ending. However, I did enjoy the mythological griffin that appears in the grandmother's daughter's dreams.

"Dikduk" by Eliot Fintushel is about a young, Jewish boy who tries to invoke the power of Mephistopheles using an ancient, magical book he recently found. This one didn't hold my attention for too long, though the dialogue worked well enough, but I quickly discovered that there'd been an error in the story's printing. It was incomplete. The remaining half of the piece is available online, but I didn't care enough to finish it. Oh wells…

"Pickman's Modem" by Lawrence Watt-Evans is an interesting short story for all the things that it gets right about online transmissions. In it, a man named Pickman disappears for some time from the message board field only to return later on thanks to a newly purchased used modem. George Polushkin, a fan of reading Pickman's oafish retorts, quickly notice that his posts—and writing skills—have changed dramatically. Fearing that Pickman is merely a hacked account, George takes a trip to visit his friend the next day where he discovers that his still oafish-minded friend is not responsible for the online flamewars. This was a quick, wry, and fun story, despite its dark twist being ruined in the introduction from the mere mention of one word: Eldritch. If you have no idea what that's all about, you'll probably enjoy "Pickman's Modem" on the first go.

"Thorri the Poet's Saga" by S. N. Dyer & Lucy Kemnitzer is a murder-mystery set in old Iceland times. The piece is heavy on names, bloated on poetic clues, and slower than the sea on a calm day. The crime-solving duo were nearly interchangeable to me despite one having clairvoyance and the other having lots of attitude, and I think I can really just chalk this one up to being the sort of story I greatly dislike.

The only part of "He-We-Await" by Howard Waldrop that I actually enjoyed reading was the time devoted to the correct process of embalming. The rest of the novelette focuses on an ancient Egyptian king and his legacy, which was lost to the passing of time. Eh, this felt more like alternative history, and that's just never something I got into. The writing is good, even with the occasional wacky moments, but much like the previous story this just isn't the sort of thing that interests me. Others might find it more rewarding.

"The Shunned Trailer" by Esther M. Friesner is hilariously awesome. Friesner never seems to disappoint me. In this one, a Harvard lad partying it up on Spring Break wakes up after a crazy night to discover himself in a trailer park, cared for by frog-like people that worship the Great Cthuhlu. Sure, the premise is very out there, but Friesner manages to keep things interesting because she 1) writes strong prose and 2) seems to effortlessly channel Lovecraft here. What do Elder Gods and the such have to do with Halloween? Not much, but they make for well-imagined stories.

In "The Country Doctor" by Steven Utley, a man returns to his childhood town of Gardner when he learns the place is on the verge of flooding. Once there, he learns the secrets of dead residents. And one exhumed body reveals something more horrific than just losing a graveyard's worth of history. Utley gives us a slow story that is all about building memories and crushing those warm, remember-when feelings at the end. A very quiet piece, but I enjoyed it. I'd say more, but it might ruin the reveal, which I found to be fascinating and creepy.

The last story in Isaac Asimov's Halloween, "The Golden Keeper" by Ian R. MacLeod, is also the longest. In fact, it might just be a bit too long. We are in Ancient Rome with Lucius Fabius Maximus, an accountant that is on the search for lost artifacts. The story unfolds as journal entries, which never really make me want to fall face-first into the words, but it gets interesting once Lucius and a slave of his begin interacting. Otherwise the novelette is a whole lot of history and memories of Grandmother and times when things were much simpler. The piece goes on like this for some time before reaching an actually satisfying conclusion. So, the payoff is worth the read, but I'm worried many might be daunted at the slow—and I mean slow—start. Still, MacLeod writes very well and the bits pertaining to d├ęcor and what people ate back then kept my intrigue.

There you have it. Not the greatest gathering of stories, and certainly not even horror stories. Most were merely atmospheric in tone or place, but leaned more strongly towards fantasy than anything else. The only real reason I'd pass this one along is if someone like humorous tales about Lovecraftian mythos.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Review on a slab

Surfacing briefly to let y'all know that my review of City Slab #11 is now live over at the Fix Online. If you like your horror stories subtle, atmospheric, and not there simply for people to bleed and have their intestines ripped out, well you just very well might like this magazine.

Tomorrow I'll probably post a review of a book published in 2001 that no one will be truly interested in. I don't know why I sometimes put so much effort into everything I do. Anyways, stay tuned. It's worth ignoring, really.

(Ignore any snarkiness above; I'm currently sick.)

So there.

Sunday, February 03, 2008