Turf Marking

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  • Some posts, or the links they contain, are NSFW. This is your only warning.
  • This blog serves the cause of my freedom of speech, not yours. I wield censorship like a 10 year-old boy who just found his father's handgun.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

You'll forgive me if my weekly copying/butchering of Nick Hornby's playbook is a little sparse this week with the holiday and all.

This year I'll spare all of you the sarcasm about the celebration of colonial White oppression. No rants on the great U.S. of A.'s foundations on the principles of rejected religious extremists. No, not even "Happy Thanksgiving--have a blanket!" jokes. Just last week's reads:
  • Isaac Babel, "My First Goose"
  • Orson Scott Card, "A Cross-Country Trip to Kill Richard Nixon"
  • Carrie Richerson, "...With By Good Intentions"
  • Isaac Babel, "Guy de Maupassant"
Two Book Sales ago, I got an old edition of Isaac Babel's COLLECTED STORIES. This was back when I got hooked on Raymond Carver, someone who worshipped Babel. It all seemed beyond me at first and it wasn't until I read Lessing's "Homage to Isaac Babel" last week that I had a context in which to finally open up one of Babel's story and actually get it. It's not for nothing that folks often quote "No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place." from Babel's "Guy de Maupassant."

Back on the skiffy/fantasy tip, I dug out another one from Card's MAPS IN A MIRROR anthology. Even a casual reader could look at the title "A Cross-Country Trip to Kill Richard Nixon" and dread the hundred-and-one different things that could go wrong with a story with that premise. Thing is that any problems the story had, IMO, didn't have much to do with the premise. Just things that seemed unlikely to me, even in a fantasy tale.

The one thing that "Nixon" and the story "...With By Good Intentions" from the Oct/Nov F&SF had in common were the simple plots and premises drawn into simple, crafted tales. One might debate whether they were good or bad--I liked them both. But I'll be damned if Card and Richerson made it look so damn easy it almost made me sick.

Next week: probably some stuff from Harlan Ellison's DANGEROUS VISIONS anthology.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

It's taken a couple of years, but The Wife and I seem to have achieved a semblance of financial stability. Of course, it has to happen right before the holidays. We're simultaneously overjoyed and dismayed to find ourselves in a new consumer bracket, one that includes small pieces of antique (but functional) furniture, home appliances, and consumer electronics. Namely, a MacBook Pro for her and a 250GB external drive for me.

We're still close enough to our previous austere life to feel apprehensive shelling out considerable sums of money for things other than utilities. But when you've been working with old and busted second hand computers for as long as she has, or when you've already suffered near-catastrophic data failure like I have, all of a sudden these things really do start looking like investments, especially when our dreams and goals basically revolve around producing things as efficiently as possible. In the 21st century, you just can't do that with crap.

It's just a wierd feeling, is all.

Because, I'm just not used to being able to buy enough storage to backup my laptop six times over and be able to pick up a couple of cool CDs at the same time.

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Shamelessly copying from Nick Hornby's playbook, and doing a botched job at that, I give you last week's reads:
  • Carol Emshwiller, "Killers"
  • Joyce Carol Oates, "Thanksgiving"
  • Harlan Ellison, "The Few, the Proud"
  • Jonathan Lethem, "Access Fantasy"
  • Doris Lessing, "Outside the Ministry"
  • Doris Lessing, "Homage for Isaac Babel"
I loved "Killers" from the Oct/Nov issue of F&SF. After reading it, though, I have a better understanding of the arguments of those who bemoan the fact that some stories that make their way into the mags nowadays don't have clear fantasy/sci-fi elements. You had to read between the lines of "Killer" to make out what those elements are and they're vague enough that you might be mistaken. My personal feeling is that it takes skill to do that, but that's just me.

It was the same with "Thanksgiving" by Joyce Carol Oates. I didn't plan to read it because of the upcoming holiday. It really was the next one on tap from her collection HAUNTED: TALES OF THE GROTESQUE. And it so happened that this was another story of some kind of possibly post-apocalyptic world featuring characters with all sorts of fears that seem reasonable to them, but go unexplained to us.

Needed something "manly," I read some Ellison. But I had no way of knowing what "The Few, the Proud" was about until I started reading. Sure, I guess some right-wing nut could label this story as anti-military propaganda, but the events in the tale are the sorts of things one intuits as having a ring of truth about them.

One thing I've learned about Jonathan Lethem's stories is that, IMO, you can't worry about the plot holes or you'll miss the payoff. This story is a perfect example of that. Most folks would go "WTF?" if I just tried to simply outline the plot. But then they'd end up missing the point of the protagonist's predicament, not to mention Lethem's opinions about the direction of society.

I was fed up with the Doris Lessing story I had been reading, but because I've continued to promise to read one, I went through her collection STORIES to pick out a shorter story. I read two short ones instead, the four-page "Homage for Isaac Babel" and "Outside the Ministry" which came after it. I didn't much care for the latter, between the confusing political intrigue and the fact that the story consisted of four men talking over the course of a half-hour. But the story gave me a valuable lesson on time when contrasted with "Homage," which was half the length, yet took place over the course of a week.

No explanation, no context. Just the writing that grabbed me.
...and so they went down below the Undermall to the underground corridors, long echoey halls of tile, not so glamorous as upstairs, not nice at all really, the lengths apartment people went never to have to step out onto the street and see car people being really appalling sometimes.

Jonathan Lethem, "Access Fantasy"
Next week: I need me some Card and some Link, I think. And maybe something from out there on the world wide internets.
Hot damn, who'da thunk? This was forwarded to me from the offices of AMERICAN NERD.
I enjoyed your article in defense of 80s Chicago. I could have written it myself. I'm almost done with a doctorate in music composition (all but dissertation) and I've always appreciated all eras of Chicago, early, eighties, and even recent. I think the misunderstanding about the "jazz-rock band that sold out" meme is that they were never devoted to the "jazz-rock" hybridization like Blood, Sweat and Tears or 70s fusion bands in the first place.

To me, they're a "craft band." Every song they record is an expression of musical craft. There is as much craft in "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" as there is in "If You Leave Me Now," and, as you point out, "Hard Habit to Break." The fact that they shifted idioms from jazz to pop rock in order to express their musical craftsmanship
is only secondary.

Bravo on a well-written and pointed article about a misunderstood and vastly underappreciated band.

This was a brand-new experience. I'm simultaneously thrilled and apprehensive. For where there's fan mail, hate mail is always a possibility.
I never claimed to be Honest Abe.

You Are A Little Honest

Sometimes you do the right thing, but not often
You prefer to look out for yourself most of the time
But sometimes honesty does get the better of you
Here's hoping you answered this quiz honestly

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Once again, bastardizing Nick Hornby's playbook, I give you the stuff I read last week
  • John Cheever, "The Enormous Radio"
  • Joyce Carol Oates, "Poor Bibi"
  • Cory Doctorow, "Return to Pleasure Island"
  • Alison Lurie, "Counting Sheep"
  • Kelly Link, "Some Zombie Contingency Plans"
I know what I said and I have been reading some Doris Lessing this week. I just couldn't git 'r' done, unfortunately.

I was off to a good start with Cheever's "The Enormous Radio," the first of his work that I've read (at least I can't recall if I have before). "Chekhov of the suburbs" is right. I picked it because it's referred to in a few places as an example of magical realism. It's not García-Márquez (it's not meant to be) but it does use those elements to deliver an uncomfortable truth or two.

If two weeks ago, I had the experience of finding the story I now love the most, then this week I found the story I loathe. Hey, not every story will click with folks. I know this and Alison Lurie and Joyce Carol Oates certainly understand this. "Counting Sheep" was solid, and ironically, is the story that has my Passage of the Week. But when I got to the end, I found myself asking, "Are you serious?" That's not the story I loathe, though. By the end of "Poor Bibi," I felt that I just got my chain jerked. It was a case of when you think you've figured out the ending of a story and you're given clues to indicate that you're probably wrong, but then you find out you were right all along.

I'm not 100% sure what "Pleasure Island" was about. Oh, I understood the plot (I think). And, I definitely like the way Doctorow seamlessly wove in disparate, unexplained sci-fi and fantasy elements into his story. Seriously, if I tried listing these elements separately, you'd think it was something he bogarted from Timothy Leary. But I can't say I got it on the first read. I'm not exactly sure when I'll get around to giving it a second one.

Kelly Link, as always, didn't let me down. There's nothing I can say about this story that I haven't said about her writing in general, already. Yet again, I was left with the feeling of "Why the fcuk do I bother?" One thing I will say about "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" is that the shoe that finally drops isn't necessarily the one you're expecting and I loved the way she pulled it off.

Whenever you tried to go for a walk or a picnic in the Lake District, the sheep had always got there first. Anywhere you might want to sit down, the turf had been churned by their muddy hooves and littered with their droppings, like greasy brown bunches of grapes.

-Alison Lurie, "Counting Sheep"
Next week: that freaking Lessing story already. Probably some Ellison, too.
Ed Bradley's passing was sad. Hearing about Jack Palance was sad, too; this was a piece of my childhood gone this time (If I saw THE EXORCIST at 8, you don't think I would've seen SHANE?). But, now Gerald?? "Casanova" pretty much defined my love life in the late 80s.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Have you voted yet? Go on, go. I'll wait.

Last week was the work week from hell (So far it's better this week, thanks for asking) that started off badly when I got some bad news from the Old Neighborhood. Yeah, that whole youthful I'm Gonna Live Forever vibe? Gone. Oh, it'd been slowly wearing away anyhow, what with drinking herbal tea, listening to Satanic smooth jazz, and bitching about local tax rates. Let's just say that when someone your own age passes away, someone with more to live for than I do (and I've got a LOT), it definitely puts things into perspective. Which is why, during what is hopefully my first in a long line of annual physical exams, I got the sort of exam that they say guys in their thirties need to start having. Not to mention getting a cholesterol test. I shudder at the possible results. What can I say, I'm from Cleveland, Land of perogis and smoked meats.

So, last weekend I caved and went to a local NaNoWriMo meetup and started something that I eventually titled EXPERIMENTAL PHASES. I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to keep going with it, though. My Writer side (the side that's the antithesis of everything NaNoWriMo stands for) has been pestering me with, "You've got two shorts to finish and one you haven't submitted yet! Get to it, NOW!" I got the submission in. But, instead of finishing the shorts, I'm blogging before work. Hey, baby steps, right?

Anyway, I've got my plans, I've got my time mapped out and...oh geez, 10 minutes before work, apparently.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Again, borrowing--then crossing out lines with a black Sharpie, writing notes on the side, and adding my own rules to--Nick Hornby's playbook, I give you what I read last week.
  • Sarah Zettel, "Kinds of Strangers"
  • Jonathan Lethem, "The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door"
  • Harlan Ellison, "Chatting With Anubis"
  • Neil Gaiman, "The Daughter of Owls"
  • Neil Gaiman "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar"
  • Gabriel García-Márquez, "Big Mama's Funeral"
  • Orson Scott Card, "Unaccompanied Sonata"
I hadn't heard of Sarah Zettel except through my copy of THE HARD SCI-FI RENAISSANCE. Her story was a solid example of everything that compilation stands for. It's a straightforward genre plot about a ship in deep space but the emphasis isn't so much on the science of space travel as much as the science of psychology.

"The Dystopianist" is your typical Lethem fare (that's not an insult, btw). It's a simple well-written story with one theme being, basically, about self-examination.

I got two Gaiman stories in because they were short and followed one another. I'd call "The Daughter of Owls" pleasantly grisly (Note to self: I think there's a comic adaptation of this around somewhere that I should check out). "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar," yes, refers to that Shoggoth and is set in Innsmouth. Truth be told, they were written as well as Gaiman's usual, but the stories were...well, okay.

Ellison's "Chatting With Anubis" and Card's "Unaccompanied Sonata" had some pretty straightforward plots as well. In them, the protagonists go through some pretty profound changes and not necessarily for the better. True, most like stories where a hero acts heroic and wins big. Some like the hero to lose, but still be a hero; more people can identify with a hero like that. But stories where the hero loses himself? Those stories, stories like these, can be a little harder for some people to stomach.

The story that blew me away was "Big Mama's Funeral." This is now, hands down, my favorite short story. The mechanics are nearly flawless and the language (at least insofar as the translation) is beautiful. García-Márquez's attitude toward the subject matter, i.e. his truth, isn't readily apparent until near the end, though reading it makes the last line of my choice for Passage of the Week more relevant.

Now that the nation, which was shaken to its vitals, has recovered its balance; now that the bagpipers of San Jacinto, the smugglers of Guajira, the rice planters of Sinú, the prostitutes of Caucamayal, the wizards of Sierpe, the banana workers of Aracataca have folded up their tents to recover from the exhausting vigil and have regained their serenity, and the President of the Republic and his Ministers and all those who represented the public and supernatural powers on the most magnificent funeral occasion recorded in the annals of history have regained control of their estates; now that the Holy Pontiff has risen up to Heaven in body and soul; and now that it is impossible to walk around in Macondo because of the empty bottles, the cigarette butts, the gnawed bones, the cans and rags and excrement that the crowd which came to the burial left behind; now is the time to lean a stool against the front door and relate from the beginning the details of this national commotion, before the historians have a chance to get at it.

Gabriel García-Márquez, "Big Mama's Funeral"
This was only one of about five that I could've chosen. I still get shivers.

Next time: Maybe some of that Doris Lessing I promised last time and possibly a comment or two about Satrapi's PERSEPOLIS, should I decide to include comics in my weekly reading list.
See? That's twice in a row, so it's weekly again. (Well, at least for now.)

You know, I put my counseling/mental health books away a long time ago, but from what I remember, these results don't seem right. Then again, a cold-reading from a psychic hotline often produces better results than one of these online things.

Maslow Inventory Results
Physiological Needs (34%) you appear to have everything you need to survive physically.
Safety Needs (44%) you appear to have an adequately secure environment.
Love Needs (50%) you appear to be semi-content with the quality of your social connections.
Esteem Needs (50%) you appear to have a medium level of skill competence.
Self-Actualization (60%) you appear to have an average level of individual development.
Take Free Maslow Inventory Test
personality tests by similarminds.com