Sidereal ramblings

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Four More (again)

"Dead Sea Fruit" by Kaaron Warren was interesting only for its sexual content and the Fiji-centric cultural and mythological content.

"Directions" by Caleb Wilson is a very short (two-page) story which is someone giving, well, directions. The descriptions are fantastical and extremely vivid. This would make a good speech piece.

Terry Dowling is another of those names I recognize from earlier years. His "La Profonde" is a short, dark, revenge-based tale.

It took me a bit to get into M. Rickert's "Journey into the Kingdom." It's a longer story (nearly 20 pages), and it takes a bit to get going, but eventually the reader realizes that every detail is essential. There's a bit of a story within a story within a story, which all comes together in the end. Moments from the end, I didn't know where the story was going -- it could have ended in a couple of different ways. A nice bit of writing, that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Some Good Stuff

I've never read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (though it's definitely on my list of things-to-be-read-at-some-point). Somewhat more surprisingly, I've never seen the film Apocalypse Now, based on Conrad's story. But it's enough of a presence in pop culture that I understand to some degree the idea of the character of Kurtz. Enough so that I was able to enjoy the story "The Extraordinary Limits of Darkness" by Simon Clark, sort of a sequel to Heart of Darkness, touching on the Kurtz legend.

I'm a big fan of group books in comics form. I like Avengers, Fantastic Four, Teen Titans, and Justice League of America (at least as concepts) more than Spider-man or Batman, for example. I like the Scooby Gang in Buffy and Angel's investigative group. I think I'd like the Doc Savage stories, though I've never read them. I like the BPRD in Hellboy. All as a preface to say that I really enjoyed Tim Pratt's story, "Cup and Table," about a group of paranormal adventurers who might be seeking the Holy Grail, or maybe looking for God himself, for varying reasons. It's a great little short story, which would make a terrific movie (easily adaptable into a longer form, I'm thinking). In the twenty minutes it took me to read this, I found myself wishing for an expanded novel about this group of characters.

One of the benefits of reading short stories like this is encountering new writers, and then re-encountering (is that even a word?) them again later. I've found a few writers I've really come to like through doing this; Michael Marshall Smith comes immediately to mind (check out some of his short fiction -- you won't be disappointed). I just came across a story by another name I recognized: Nicholas Royle. All I know about him is that I've read other short stories by him which really struck a chord. This one, "The Churring," was a bit more subtle than others, but the writing is masterful. In a fairly short number of pages, he manages to introduce a fairly large number of characters, all with unique personalities and habits. Great writing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Four More

"La Fee Verte" by Delia Sherman is a long short story, set in France in the late 1800s that deals with prostitution and precognition among other things. Well written but ultimately forgettable.

"Father Muerte & the Flesh" by Lee Battersby is described as "one of a series of 'Father Muerte' stories, and I think it suffers for that, or maybe for the fact that I'm unfamiliar with the other ones. It's an interesting tale about the Pope Joan legend (which I find kind of fascinating) -- and even references, obliquely, Jack the Ripper -- but I have to wonder about some of the revelations concerning the main character, if this is only one of a series of stories about him.

Margo Lanagan's "Winkie" takes a creepy, nightmarish look at a childhood legend, though for me the storytelling wasn't clear enough.

I really enjoyed "Dog Person" by Scott Nicholson. This one told a clear, straightforward story. In fact, it was so straightforward that I was expecting some kind of twist ending, but the outcome of the story was pretty clear to me about halfway through. Still, I did really like the writing and the story that was told.

(I wrote an earlier version of this post, but lost my internet connection -- thank you, Acoustic Cafe -- just before I tired to publish it, and lost the whole post. Frustrating.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Bike

I picked up my new bike in Fairmont on Friday. I did some riding this weekend, and really enjoyed it. The new bike is fabulous (once I got rid of the toeclips on the pedals; it should be even better now). I'm in Winona again, and went for a ride this afternoon on my old bike, the one I've had for twenty years or more. It's hard to believe I used to ride twice around the lake on a daily basis -- of course, it's also hard to believe I used to be younger than I am now. I try to deny that as much as possible. I made it around the lakes once today, and a second time around the west (smaller) side. It's amazing how after only a couple days, the old bike seems so much...well, older than my new one. The new bike is much lighter, and a bit bigger. I realize that my old bike isn't really the right size for me, and it's just harder to ride. It almost seems like I'm getting more exercise on the old one -- harder to move it, heavier, etc. -- but the exact opposite is actually true. I can't wait to get back to Fairmont (didn't think I'd ever be saying that) and get on the new Trek 1.2.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

I saw the new The Incredible Hulk movie today. While I wouldn't say it was "incredible" it was pretty good, much better than I'd anticipated from the previews and commercials. Both the CGI-ed Hulk and Abomination looked a lot better than I thought they would. Even all the little in-jokes and nods (Lou Ferrigno, Bill Bixby, Stan Lee) worked better in this movie than most of Marvel's offerings.

Marvel is doing something really interesting here. They're building a universe -- in the movies, like the one in their comics. (Face it, 95% of the people who see the movie -- or who saw Spider-man, the X-Men, or Iron Man -- have never read the comics. Most of those moviegoers might have an idea who the Hulk is, but don't know anything about the Marvel Universe.) The Hulk movie contains references to and/or appearances by S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, Stark Industries, the super-soldier program (supposedly at one point, Captain America was going to appear in the Hulk), and I don't think I'm giving away any secrets to say that Robert Downey, Jr., makes an appearance as Tony Stark. Marvel is trying to build a cohesive universe among their various movies. I don't think anyone's ever tried anything like that before, certainly not on the scale Marvel has planned. I hope it works.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fantasy and Horror

I thought I might mention where the stories I've been reading (and "reviewing") came from: this book, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007, the Twentieth Annual Collection. Which, I suspect, explains the proclivity for ghost stories I've alluded to.

I've read all of the previous 19 volumes of this series, and I often will rave to anyone foolish enough to listen to me about how good they are. They are, though; I've seldom been disappointed in many of the stories therein. I'm not sure about this latest collection, though. (The 2007 edition, which was released late last year, collects stories published in 2006, and it isn't until the following summer that I get around to reading them, so I guess I'm a couple years behind. But still.) Maybe it's because I've been paying a bit more attention, or focusing on things I might otherwise not since I know I'm going to be writing about them, but somehow the stories in this volume just haven't equalled the quality of previous years' collections for me.
Case in point: the story I just read tonight called "Halfway House." Obviously coming from the fantasy side of the title (and I've found the horror stories to be better, in general), but so obliquely written that I couldn't really discern what was happening or who the characters even were. To me, that's just bad writing.


I would never have thought to structure a story around a training center specializing in training helicopter pilots how to get out of their craft after a water crash with the vehicle upside down in the water. Mostly because, if I'd even known such a thing existed, I wouldn't know anything about it. English writer Stephen Gallagher apparently does, because that's the basis and setting for his short story, "The Box." The details strike me -- from an outsider's perspective -- as being highly realistic and believable; almost to the point of being a bit boring, but it's those details which are necessary to set up the twist ending. Need I say it? Another ghost story.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Questions Raised by Stories

How much do you want, or need, to give away? How explicit do you need to be? Where is the line between "showing" and "telling"? How much can be revealed in the course of telling the story? These are some of the questions that came to mind as I was reading the latest round of short stories. "Another Word for Map is Faith" by Christopher Rowe had a pretty interesting premise: basically a group of people who were "correcting" the physical world so it would match what their maps showed. (There was a religious element to it, hence the word "faith" in the title.) Though it was interesting, it was hard to understand at first because the premise wasn't explained, but unfolded gradually. Certainly, that should be the story is told, but I felt a little more explanation was called for. Next I read a story by Ira Sher called "Lionflower Hedge" which, at barely two pages long, didn't seem to have enough space to develop. "A Fearful Symmetry" by Minsoo Kang also suffered from not having enough room to develop, I thought. It contained several stories being told that had to do with Korea and military bases. It reminded me a bit of the recently-reread The Things They Carried, one of my favorite novels, though the Kang story was nowhere nearly as good. One of my favorite stories so far was "Messages" by Brett Alexander Savory. This story, though relatively short at ten pages, did take its time to develop its plot. I don't want to give a lot away, but it was a very odd situation, but the "explanations" for the situation, revealed slowly over the course of the story, really made sense in the way it unfolded. It kind of showed me the "right" way to do that, which I'd been questioning over the previous couple of days.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Three More Stories

I really enjoyed "In the House of the Seven Librarians" by Ellen Klages, about a young girl, abandoned as a baby on the doorstep, who is raised in an otherwise deserted, unused old library by the seven spinster librarians who call the place home. A really delightful, fun little fantasy that really emphasizes the importance of books. The ending -- and this one had a really good one -- even made me a little sad, as the girl, now grown, heads out into the world to make her own life, not knowing if she'll ever return to her home. Kind of reminded me of recent events in my own life, and got me choked up a little.

"Drowning Palmer" by Sarah Monette was an interesting ghost story (and I've read a lot of those this summer, it seems). Satisfying but hardly memorable.

"Landfill" by Joyce Carol Oates was the story of a death, or rather the aftereffects of that death with certain speculations on the causes leading up to it. Oates' styles is always interesting but this kind of seemed to go nowhere.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Summer Short Story Reading Program

Like previous summers, I have embarked on a short story reading program; the idea is to read (at least) one short story per day through the months of June, July, and August. I thought this year, I might update my blog, give a daily response to my short story reading. Since it's June 5th already, I obviously didn't get that going. However, here's what I've read so far:

"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" by Geoff Ryman. A rather forgettable fantasy that doesn't live up to the promise of its title.

"First Kisses from Beyond the Grave" by Nik Houser. This is my favorite story thus far. It's about a young boy who may or may not be dead, who ends up being sent to a high school for dead kids. There are ghouls, ghosts, vampires, zombies, skeletons, etc. "Not much different than a regular high school," as the narrator puts it. A fun little read.

"The Last to Be Found" by Christopher Harman. A ghost story (maybe) that really does an excellent job of building suspense, but the ending was a bit of a let-down.

"Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery" by John Schoffstall. I really liked the format of this story -- a series of letters written by a woman to an ex-boyfriend who's trying to win her back by sending her odd gifts -- and there were a lot of nice details, but again, I felt it faded off toward the end.

"The Night Whiskey" by Jeffrey Ford. I was really looking forward to this one, since I fondly recall Ford's short story "A Night in the Tropics" but found this a little harder to get into. It's kind of creepy, and a bit gory, and it did have a slightly more satisfying ending, but I still felt a little let down.

More later...

Biking in Winona

I've been in Winona since late Monday. I've been "working" in Rushford every evening, but have spent some days in the old hometown. I brought my bike with me -- I should say my "old bike" though I haven't gotten a new one yet. I ordered one, and it should even now be sitting at the bike shop in Fairmont, but it will probably be Monday before I've got a chance to get in there and get it. So I got my "old bike" fixed at the bike shop here in Winona (I'd broken yet another spoke in the back wheel), and had it out today for the first time. I rode from my parents' house (where I'm staying) down to the lake, and once around; probably an eight-mile total trip, which is about what I'd been riding in Fairmont the last couple of weeks -- for some reason I haven't worked my way up to my usual 10- to 12-mile daily ride yet. It was enjoyable and nostalgic to ride around Lake Winona again (and I'm hoping to do so on a pretty regular basis while I'm here this summer). It's a nice scenic route, and I was re-introduced to the numerous swarms of gnats and other insects that congregate about face height above the path.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Graduation Day