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Readings: Hill, Faye

Now that I have moved and unpacked all my things, I am trying to get back into some sort of a routine. It’s harder than I thought it would be; for several days I could not even remember what things I used to do before the Month of Anxiety and the End of the World (aka March). What was the last book I read from start to finish?

It seems like I did not do any reading in March at all, but as I think back, I realize I did finish Joe Hill’s The Fireman in two or three days. In retrospect, it wasn’t a wise choice to read when my mental state was already not particularly steady. It’s big and on fire. People already refer to it as Hill’s magnum opus, which I suppose it is, but I don’t think it’s my favorite of his. It is very good, though. I remain a fan of N0S4A2 (as much as its title annoys me). But The Fireman will please you if you like your novels in high gear for many many pages. It’s out in May.

janesteeleAfterwards, a couple of books were picked up and then abandoned after a handful of pages, and then I read a memoir that was fine until it used the ‘t’ word to refer to a certain type of bar. It seems that its author is one of those gay men who remain largely ignorant of the fact that certain terms are no longer kosher to use (see also John Barrowman’s usage of the same word a few months ago).

And then I picked up something I did not expect to like. It did not seem like my type of book at all, but a number of people mentioned it was quite good, so I decided to give it a shot. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is definitely delightful, smart, and witty. It is a reimagining of Jane Eyre, wherein Jane happens to be a serial killer (“Reader, I murdered him.”).  I never particularly liked Jane Eyre, to be honest. Maybe I have been waiting for this iteration.

 

Readings: Vowell, Liu

Personal kerfuffle in my life still has not settled, and so there was little time for reading and writing, and even things like Twitter and other social interaction have fallen by the wayside. I need this month to be over, out like a lamb or however it would like to go.

I have re-read Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Rather, I re-listened to it, because her audiobooks are narrated by herself and a crew of various star guests (like Nick Offerman as George Washington), which makes them more like audio play productions. It is excellent.

three bodyOther reads were on the speculative fiction side, the first one being Third Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. It got a lot of buzz and love last year, but it happened during the time when I briefly fell out of love with hard sci-fi. Third Body Problem reads like science fiction from the Golden Age, eager to cram all of the science and ideas inside. It reads stilted, emotions plainly explained, all character motivations delineated, everything over-described. And therein lies my beef with Third Body Problem. It’s not that I need a pure ‘show don’t tell’ approach, but I need my science fiction to be more of a novel and less of a guidebook. I don’t think it’s translation. Perhaps this is just Cixin Liu’s style. Sadly, I will never know, Chinese being one of languages I am not going to master in this lifetime.

And yet it is not a terrible book. In fact, it is rather smart in its ideas and connections. I wanted to keep reading despite being annoyed by the style, and I do not regret finishing it (that’s the kind of blurb you want for your novel, ‘did not regret finishing’). I might even read the second one (The Dark Forest), if only to see how different it is with a different translator.

And now I am off to finish Rob Spillman’s memoir, All Tomorrow’s Parties, a book that feels familiar even though his life is quite different from mine. Next after that, Joe Hill’s Fireman, out in May. Quite excited about this one.

Sundry weekend reading: Eco, historical fiction, realism snobbery

I used to have no weekends. I had two days off, one weekday and one weekend day, and I loved it. There wasn’t enough time to get away from it all, I could visit almost entirely empty museums, and it was easier to come back to work after just a day. Now that I have a weekend, I both sort of enjoy having two days off to myself and hate the fact that I am once again part of the masses who resent Sunday night and don’t want to go to work on Monday.

foucaultThis week has been annoying to say the least, and now Umberto Eco died, so it is not ending on a high note either. What I would really like to do is to spend an entire day tomorrow re-reading Foucault’s Pendulum, the book with which I used to obsessed at one point in my life. Yet for some indescribable reason, I no longer have a copy, so I am going to settle for another example of strange historical fiction, John Wray’s Lost Time Accidents.

To continue with the historical novel theme, here’s a great interview with Alexander Chee about his new novel, The Queen of the Night, and about how historical novels are still seen as lower-class fiction. You can replace ‘historical’ with any other genre fiction descriptor and it would still apply. The interesting thing mentioned therein is that realism fiction is seen as superior, but only if it’s produced by Northern American writers (so see, Eco was not in this category and thus got a pass to write whatever the hell he wanted). Read it, it’s a very good interview. And read The Queen as well, especially if you, like me, love your novels long, vivid, and detailed.

Speaking of historical scribblings, where would one submit historical weird horror? Asking for a friend.

Readings: Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome by Serge Brussolo

brussoloSerge Brussolo’s mind must be a fascinating place. The best and possibly only way to describe his Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome, now published in English by Melville House, is weird. It’s probably not the New Weird, seeing how it’s decades old (funny how something published in 1992 can now be described as such), but weird nonetheless. The book is about mediums, people who ‘dive’ into dreams, steal artifacts within, and bring them into the real world as art objects. The quality of this art depends on how dangerous and daring the theft was. Some people bring back enormous sculptures, some bring what might better be described as trinkets.

 
Here’s why this book is amazing: the imagery. Brussolo is so good at descriptions and details, that when he describes nausea, you feel queasy. He throws a lot of bizarre details at you, and occasionally they miss, but mostly this barrage of sur-reality is incredibly immersive and thus makes you wonder what it’s like to have a mind that comes up with this.

Here’s why I have a problem with it: it has a certain dated aesthetic, mostly in how it treats characters. All women in it are either there for sex or are not particularly nice and at the same time needy. This didn’t really hit me until about halfway through the book because I was just so immersed in the fantastical minutiae, but when it did, it soured the book for me quite a bit. Basically, what could have been a five became a three.

Readings: This Census-Taker by China Miéville

When I was writing a draft of this post, it started with ‘I just listened to the new David Bowie, and it might have broken my mind.’ This was on Sunday morning. Then he died and broke everything in my body, mind, and soul. I rarely mourn famous people. I see announcements, ponder about mortality for a second, and move on with my life. This one was different. I’ve been playing his music non-stop for the past ten hours. I’ve seen all the tributes, I’ve read all the tweets. I’ve drunk all the wine. I might form some coherent longer thoughts about it later, but not right now. The last time I remember being this sad was when I was thirteen, and Freddie Mercury was dead.

I leave this with the most appropriate tweet from Monday morning:

Screenshot (2)

And also this short story by Neil Gaiman.

Let us move on, since we have to.

51CnHfrWXnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I have finished The Census-Taker by China Miéville, and did not particularly like it. I appreciated the style, but I didn’t enjoy it. It’s as if the entire book were chiseled out of a gray stone, with gray town, gray people, and gray things happening in it. Perhaps it’s the almost complete absence of names (but no, that can’t be it, Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation did not have names either), perhaps it’s the length. I always find novellas awkward. They spread out past short story length, but feel half-formed, like dough that has risen but not baked. I might not be able to articulate precisely why I didn’t have fun reading it, but the verdict remains that this was definitely not my favorite Miéville. He has another book out later this year (The Last Days of New Paris), so we will see how I fare with that one. As I mentioned before, my favorite writers are those who are hit or miss with me, because that means they are trying different things. I love Miéville’s writing, and I will definitely continue reading his books.

And now I am off to work on my secret thing.

Short story Sunday, January 10th

I want to read more short fiction this year, and with that, I am resurrecting a series of posts that used to exist here for a brief second: Short Story Sunday. I am not going to write reviews of short stories. It is too easy to make your review seemingly longer than the story itself, and I am not looking to write long criticisms and dissect every paragraph. I’m just going to note a few really excellent short stories read that week, with links included if such exist. I have a lot of anthologies and collections that I bought and never read (or didn’t read completely), and there are a lot of digital magazines that publish great things.

If you ever sit around and think about where stories come from, or if you are suffering from a certain lack of inspiration, read Neil Gaiman’s introductions to his short story collections, Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors. I like him a great deal as a short form writer, more than I like him as a novelist, and he has an enchanting and wonderful way of portraying magic as hard work and vice versa.

I have read 10 short stories this week, and here are the the best of them (I am going to collapse the New Year long weekend into this week, since I missed the boat for 1/4):

Even In This Skin by A. C. Wise (Shimmer # 28, November 2015) – gorgeous story, with a gender-fluid component. I would very much like to read more things by A. C. Wise.

The next two are somewhat of a set, in that they are by the same author and are both alternate versions of queer history. The Heat Of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History by Sam J. Miller (Uncanny #2, January/February 2015) is a fantastical version of the Stonewall riots. Angel, Monster, Man (Nightmare #40, January 2016) is Miller’s short fiction take on the AIDS epidemic.

The Virgin Played Bass by Maria Dahvana Headley (Uncanny #8, January-February 2016). This one is a little longer, novelette-length. Headley is pure magic, and she combines seemingly unrelated parts of storytelling tradition in a way that is occasionally dark, or funny, but always incredibly vivid and brilliant. Her writing is just as good in novel form. I just finished her Queen of Kings and enjoyed it a lot.

Writing discipline and winter woes

It’s amazing how much of a difference discipline makes. If I write every day, I feel like I can write. If I skip a couple of days, I feel irritated and discouraged and completely depressed. It doesn’t have to be a lot of daily writing. In fact, I realized a sad fact about myself that I cannot produce pages upon pages of words a day. I write what is essentially the near-perfect draft, but it wrings me dry.

I have these lofty aspirations of sitting down and really banging out some story in one sitting, or making like fifty drawings in one stretch, but the truth is that the end result is probably going to be me making a sketch of something vague or writing 500 words and then feeling like my brain has been emptied.

Lofty aspirations are way too lofty, it seems.

I’ve always thought of myself as a morning person, but these days I can barely get out of bed. The idea of having some kind of work schedule is irritating because it is largely guided by other concerns rather than my own self. I am planning on taking a few days after Christmas off no matter what my traveling plans end up being. I need to not do what I do every day for at least a week.

This has not been about books so far, so for the sake of everyone who reads this blog because of books, let me mention a couple of latest YA reads: Sara Jaffe’s Dryland and Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. Both are pretty good, although Dryland did not quite stay with me as much as Dumplin’ did. Jaffe made an interesting choice of not using quotes for any of the dialogue, and while it seems like a purely stylistic issue, it does give the narrative a more personal, diary-like feel. Dryland might be just one of many coming out stories, but the thing with coming out stories is that one cannot really have too many. Coming out still happens and is still important and is largely uncomfortable and painful for a lot of people.

Funny how I spent more time talking about the book that didn’t stay with me than about the one that did. Let me just say that everyone should go read Dumplin’. That book is everything that is right with YA these days.

I’ve spent the last few days listening to first opera and then Renaissance (William Byrd etc.) music. I think it did something to my brain. I’m going to go read some near-future thriller to bring me into the present time.