Sunday, April 21, 2013

Back again

Just finished reading a recent copy of Apex Magazine, and came across a heartbreaking short story (it felt like a cross between a short story and a poem to me).

Regardless, you should check it out.  It starts out somewhat whimsical, then takes a dark turn.

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love"

Sunday, April 01, 2012

And we're reading...

I'm still working on The Arabian Nights.  Whoa Nelly, this is going to take a while.  So I decided to put it aside for a bit and read (at long last) Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  I've seen and read the play that was based on the book, so I figured I could knock out the book pretty quickly while I was out of town last week.

Nope.  This sucker, while not as long as The Arabian Nights, is still pretty damn long.  I'm only a little over a third of the way through the book.  Plus, Stowe had the unfortunately tendency to write in dialect.  Makes for a tough slog.

After I get through these two, I'm doing nothing but short stories for a while.  And maybe catch up with some magazines.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant

I don't read political nonfiction.  Don't generally like it.  I usually find that people spout ideology without bothering to back up any of their assertions, which basically just makes me angry.

So it was with some trepidation that I read Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant.  Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given that it tends to support my view that the lower income Republican base has no idea that they are supporting a party that consistently works against their best interests), I really liked this book.

Bageant doesn't come across as shrill and angry like most of the political commentators I've seen and heard.  I think it helps that he knows the people he's writing about.  After leaving his hometown to pursue a career as a journalist, he returned in his late 50s to find that many of the people he grew up with were decidedly worse off than they had been.  His view of the red state working poor and what motivates them is really an interesting read.

In some respects, this reminded me of reading Bill Bryson, but with a more political bent, in that Bageant is a storyteller who is also an affable guy.  He wants to talk to people, to hear their stories, and to try to make sense of them.

I was disappointed to find out that Bageant passed away last year, but I look forward to reading his previous work.

Ghostly Men by Franz Lidz

After reading E.L. Doctorow's take on the Collyer brothers, I decided to check out a more historically accurate version of their story, Ghostly Men: The Strange But True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders by Franz Lidz.

I liked this one, not only because it got more into the true story of the Collyer brothers (and the myth that grew up around them at the time), but also used the author's uncle as an example of another person with hoarding problems, and compared the family issues the Collyer brothers faced with his own family drama.

A very good read, not just for the interesting historical details, but because the Lidz is a good storyteller and the way he weaves the two stories together is particularly well done.

Now I want to go clean out my apartment.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

House of Thieves by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Recognizing that reading The Arabian Nights is probably going to take 1,001 days, I put it aside today to read Kaui Hart Hemmings' House of Thieves.

I knew nothing about Hemmings, other than the fact that she wrote The Descendants, which I've heard is a good film.  Other than that, nada.

After reading the description (I seem to recall that Amazon had it on sale), I was intrigued.  The stories (it's a collection of short stories) are set in Hawaii, a place I've never been, but have wanted to visit for some time.  Reading the stories was a little like visiting, or more to the point, having a look at the lives of the people living there.  These aren't the tourists at the beaches and the bars.  It's the stories of the families who live and struggle there.

All of the stories deal with loss and abandonment.  Usually the loss, either metaphorically or literally, of a parent, and the effect this has on the spouse or child left behind.  The stories are excellently written and very moving.  They are particularly good at dealing with the dynamic between a parent (or surrogate parent) and child.

Well worth a read.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Next up

I just started reading The Arabian Nights: The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night by Richard Burton. Good book so far, but my word, it is long.  I've been reading for days and have barely made a dent.

So far my takeaway is this: Wives are not to be trusted.  As soon as you leave them alone, they'll have an affair (usually with a black dude).  And if you want to distract someone, tell them a story, within a story, within a story, within a story...

Also, if you fall in love with someone who is more lovely and beautiful than anyone else you've ever seen, it's going to end badly.  Very, very badly.

Blue World by Robert R McCammon

I read Blue World by Robert R. McCammon some years ago.  Probably college, or not long after. I was in a major horror novel phase back then (King, Koontz, McCammon, Saul, etc.), and read a bunch of his books.

Most of the stories in this collection had stuck with me, but the details had faded, so it was fun to read them again.  This book is a collection of short stories, mostly horror, and is a terrific read.  The standouts include "Night Calls the Green Falcon," about an aging Hollywood serial actor, best known for playing a superhero called the Green Falcon, who dons his costume and fights real evil after a young friend of his is murdered (added bonus in this one, is that the chapters end with a bit of a cliffhanger, just like the lead character's serials would have); "Nightcrawlers," about a Vietnam vet and the horrors he unleashes when he sleeps; "Pin," which is really, really hard to read... no spoilers here, but you need to have a strong stomach; and a novella, "Blue World," about a priest who becomes obsessed with a porn actress, not knowing that there is a serial killer obsessed with both of them.

One of the other stories that I enjoyed for a different reason is "Something Passed By."  The story deals with a world where the laws of physics and nature have gone crazy.  The story is a pretty good read, but what I enjoyed most is that McCammon names all the local landmarks in the town after famous sci-fi and horror writers.  It's a nice touch, and gives you a list of who's who in case you want to read more in this genre.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Walk by Lee Goldberg

The Walk is a pretty good book, all in all.  Set in Los Angeles immediately after "The Big One," the story follows a TV executive who has to make it through the ruins of Los Angeles (he was visiting the set of a police procedural when the earthquake hit) to get to his wife (assuming she is still alive).

The story was good, if somewhat predictable in a lot of respects, and I'm a sucker for a good disaster novel.  This one has what you would expect - fire, flood, poison gas, looters, psychos, and the rest.  Goldberg is a good storyteller, and keeps the pacing as frantic as one would expect life post-disaster to be.

Some of the nice touches dealt with the fact that Martin, the protagonist, is a TV executive.  It informs so much of his character, and nearly everything he experiences he has to process in terms of the disaster movies and similar TV shows he's seen or worked on.  Naturally, Goldberg is a TV writer himself, so this is no surprise.

My favorite little touch of TV/movie theatricality in the book is the names of the chapters.  Most of them reference TV, movies and songs.  Nice touch.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homer & Langley: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow

I've been a fan of Doctorow since reading Ragtime, though that was the only one of his books I'd read.  Since I've been interested in the Collyer brothers (two of NYC's most famous hoarders), I thought Homer & Langley would be a good read.  It was.

Homer Collyer narrates the story of his life, from a well-off childhood, through his loss of eyesight in his teens, the Spanish Flu epidemic, the World Wars, and the increasingly bizarre behavior of his brother and his obsessive collecting.  As he did in Ragtime, Doctorow manages to infuse his story with the societal and technological changes that happened over the brothers' lifetime - Victorian formality replaced by the summer of love, Model Ts by moon launches, and an upper-class 5th Avenue neighborhood crumbling with the onslaught of the '70s (Doctorow takes major liberties with their true life stories, reversing the order of their birth, pushing their birth years forward, letting them live to see the '70s, changing the details of their parents' deaths, etc.).

Anyone familiar with the history of the Collyer brothers knows what fate is waiting for Homer at the end of the tale, but Doctorow handles it so aptly, that the emotional impact of the final paragraph of the book is astounding.

Two Burglar Short Stories by Lawrence Block

I've been a huge fan of Lawrence Block for many years (even more so once I moved to New York).  In particular, I've really enjoyed his Matthew Scudder series (hardboiled mysteries), his Bernie Rhodenbarr "Burglar" series (more comic mysteries), and his Tanner series (about a spy who can't sleep due to a brain injury).

I was happy to see that some of his short stories featuring these characters are now available for Kindle, in addition to the novels.

I read two today, The Burglar Who Dropped in on Elvis (Bernie is hired by an unscrupulous tabloid editor--the kind of tabloid that makes the National Enquirer look like the New York Times--to break into Graceland and get picture of the rarely seen second floor and Elvis's bedroom) and The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke (a terrific locked-room murder mystery about the death of a wealthy book collector).

Both were fantastic, and at $.99, quite a bargain.

I'll continue to read most anything I can get by hands on by Block (with the exception of his Hit Man series, which I just couldn't get into), and I have a bunch of his reissued early work on my Kindle, so I'll be covering that at some point.

Next up is Homer & Langley: A Novel by E.L. Doctorow about the Collyer brothers.  This is my second Doctorow book, and I'm enjoying it just as much as I did Ragtime.  Fantastic storyteller and historian.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

So after reading the recommendation of this book in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, I decided to give After the Apocalypse a try.  It was well worth it.

This series of short stories all feature an apocalypse theme.  My two favorites were "The Naturalist" in which prisoners are released into a zombie-infested wasteland, or more correctly speaking a zombie nature refuge, and one of the prisoners sets out to learn as much as he can about these creatures, and "After the Apocalpyse," a tale in which America has been crushed by economic collapse, a massive crime wave, and the complete destruction of its basic infrastructure, and refugees flee the cities and head to Canada, and they hope, a return to the life they used to know.

Not all of the stories deal with apocalypse on this scale.  Some deal with a more personal apocalypse, the end of one way of life and the beginning of something new and unknown.

McHugh is a really strong writer, and she does a marvelous job creating characters that are interesting (even the cold blooded killers are fascinating), and stories that are enjoyable to read.  I definitely want to check out more of her work.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

How is it possible that I have never read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?  Absolutely delightful.  It's especially interesting coming at the book having only seen the movie (and, I suppose, seen Wicked and read Gregory Maguire's books), to see how the writers of The Wizard of Oz screenplay manipulated the book to make it fit the film format.  They did an amazingly good job of it.

Going to have to read all these books now (and they're all free on Amazon).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

My only experience with Doctor Dolittle is bits and pieces of the Rex Harrison movie.  Talk to the Animals and all that.

Since the book was free (thanks Amazon) and it's a short one, I decided to read it.  A 30 min workout and two subway rides was all it took.  A children's book, clearly, but still a fun one to read (albeit one with a very 1920's view on black people... it wasn't Song of the South, but wow, it certainly isn't politically correct).

I also had no idea there were 9 Doctor Dolittle books (and a few more that were published posthumously).

I'll probably check them out at some point, but I think I want to see what Oz holds next.

Fantasy & Science Fiction - March/April 2012

One of the best things about my Kindle is that I can once again subscribe to some of my favorite magazines without making my apartment any more cluttered than it is.  So far I've subscribed to Ellery Queen Mystery, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Fantasy & Science Fiction.

This month's F&SF features a number of good stories.  Among the highlights - Electrica by Sean McMullen (about a creature from prehistory whose consciousness is trapped in amber), Twenty-Two and You by Michael Blumlein (showing the unexpected consequences of messing with your genes), Gnarly Times at Nana'ite Beach by KJ Kabza (not cyberpunk, not steampunk, but beachpunk), One Year of Fame by Robert Reed (an author briefly becomes the most famous person on Earth), The Queen and the Cambion by Richard Bowes (Queen Victoria discovers a way to summon Merlin), Perfect Day by C.S. Friedman (a glimpse of the future online, plugged in, popup world that we're creating for ourselves).

In the book review section was a description of a short story collection by Maureen F. McHugh called After the Apocalypse.  Sounded good, so I bought it.

There was a great short story, Pimp My Read by Paul Di Filippo, about the increasingly absurd lengths authors must go to in order to get their books read.

And just a note to myself - find a copy of Anthony Trollope's The Fixed Period.  A little bit of Logan's Run, a bit of the ST:TNG episode Half a Life, but written in 1882.  (Turns out Amazon has it, and it's free)