Thursday, May 25, 2006

Aloha

Tomorrow I leave on vacation to wonderful Maui. I look forward to much relaxing, some golf, some diving, and more relaxing (I may even have a few drinks with umbrellas rather than my usual beer or wine). Anyway, it's very unlikely I'll post before I get back, so don't worry about a lack of posts for the next week. Look for a few reviews of books I'll read this week sometime around June 5th.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Robert Jordan Update

As many of you know, Robert Jordan is sick with a rare blood disease, amyloidosis. He has recently undergone chemotherapy and is not recovering. Through the process, he has updated his blog periodically and now has a bit of a summary of it all from when he first noticed symptoms of the disease, through diagnosis and treatment, to his current state of recover (hopefully fully).

Anyway, he has a tremendous attitude (I doubt I could be so positive if it were me) and I wish him and his family the best. His latest
blog is a good read and it’s nice to see that he has decided to champion amyloidosis and improve diagnosis by general practitioners.

Related Posts: God’s Speed

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Interviews


Occasionally I get the opportunity to interview an author, generally working with a message board that I’m active with. Below are the interviews I have conducted.
My Evening With Brandon Sanderson
The SFF Literary Pub Crawl
Interviews in the 'Questions Five' series.
Sometime even I get interviewed:

*Interview conducted for FantasyBookSpot
**Interview posted at Pat's Fantasy Hotspot and done with a group of interviewers.

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer

Sometimes when reading a book I get feeling that I could be a writer – in other words I’m inspired by thoughts that I could write a book just as good as the one I’m reading. This would be like watching things on TV and thinking similar thoughts – such as someone who hasn’t really played golf thinking that it looks pretty easy after watching the pros. Of course it’s not that easy, but the thoughts come none the less. This is not the feeling I got when reading City of Saints and Madmen. This collection of stories is brilliant work that I could never dream of approaching. I periodically realized that I was in awe of various elements of these stories – an emotion that only the best books and writers can bring out in me. Questions in my mind included ‘how did he come up with that’ and ‘could a sane man write this’. Then VanderMeer takes things to a new level – he actually addresses some of these questions in disturbingly wonderful ways.

City of Saints and Madmen is the exploration of the city of Ambergris, an incredibly realized city of VanderMeer’s creation. The first short story begins with a young and disillusioned missionary, Dradin, searching for a new beginning in the great city. Following stories include the early history of Ambergris as told by a historian, the origin of the city’s greatest artist’s inspiration, an interrogation of a writer, a publication describing the habit of the King Squid, and more. The stories are darkly funny, disturbing, connected in interesting ways, and always more than meets the eye.

This collection of stories can be enjoyed on several different levels – many of which are simply beyond me. Can someone of my background truly appreciate the shifting voice and perspective of these stories? Do I really have a chance of fully realizing the symbolic elements contained within? No – yes this is me admitting that on some level ‘I don’t get it’; but I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy those elements or the stories themselves. VanderMeer’s visual writing echoes our own world to a degree that anyone can relate to – these stories are experienced as a visceral reaction as much as an intellectual one.

City of Saints and Madmen won’t appeal to everybody. This mosaic novel shifts voice, style, and even font without the benefit of a central narrative to bind. Stories range from more traditional modes to fictionalized scientific journals to literary criticisms. The stories are dark reflections of the world we live in, self realizations of a disturbing sort. Ambergris is a fascinatingly horrific city that takes its toll on writers and readers alike. I absolutely loved it, though I suspect I'm developing a phobia of fungus.

On my 10-point scale (described in detail here), City of Saints and Madmen rates an 8.5. Read it so we can discuss the merits of squidology and other oddities – but then I once read The Search for the Giant Squid : The Biology and Mythology of the World's Most Elusive Sea Creature for fun; I found VanderMeer’s squid-centric city to be…captivating.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Graduation, Family, and Curling

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Last week was my wife’s graduation – she now officially has her PhD in the eyes of the entire world, and not just her advisor (now boss) and committee. With all the pomp and circumstance associated with that and several family members in town, it was busy last week. Throw in a 2-day conference I had to attend (and present at) and a big business meeting, I’ve had almost no reading time – which I hate.

Yes, the title really does say curling. This Texan, who’s nearing a decade of residence in Arizona, has joined a curling league. If nothing else, it’s a cool place to spend a few hours now that the temperature is over 100°. In all seriousness, it’s been tons of fun and ‘stacking the brooms’ has become the social event of the week. I’m not yet used to staying out until 2 am (we finish our games around 11:30 pm), but I’m sure my body must remember those college days when I did this all the time. And I can promise you that it's much harder than it looks on TV.

Work is still busy, but things have quitted down enough to give me some reading time again. I’m still reading City of Saints and Madmen and I’m really enjoying it so far. After that, I’ll be rounding out my recommendations for the June Bookclub discussion at Wotmania OFRed Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, and The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. In two weeks I’ve got a week's vacation in Hawaii, so I should be getting these read fairly quickly. Beyond those planned reads, I may finish the series I’ll have started by Williams and Robinson and then I’ll be moving on to ‘preparation’ for my next vacation in September. That’ll be a two-week trip to the UK (we plan on covering quite a bit of ground in England, Scotland, and Wales). So I’ll be reading a number of books set in the UK, most will fit into the SF realm, but not all. So, if you have any recs on good books and places, let me know.

Anyway, that’s it for the update. Look for the review of City of Saints and Madmen to be up on Thursday or Friday (like I said, work is still busy).

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My (Brief) Adventure at the Nebula Awards Weekend


The 2006 Nebula Awards Weekend is being held in Tempe, Arizona, a virtual stones throw away from where I live. While I wasn’t going to pony up for registration or anything, there was a big autograph session on Friday night that was open to the general public. I’d read about this far enough in advance to get a few books to have signed.

I showed up about 40 minutes before the scheduled beginning of the session and wait outside the room – the previous session is still in progress. There is a large table for purchasing books and quite a few people waiting – mostly people registered for the weekend, with only a couple local ‘geeks’ like me.

The previous session lets out, and everybody pours from the room (I get some brief amusement at the dress of people not used to Arizona’s climate). An old man comes out, kindly asks the woman sitting in a chair next to me near the door if he can use it to get a jump on signing books – this would be Harlan Ellison. He goes on to tell us that he’s signing with a $2000 dollar pen and the story of how he came to buy it. Anyway, he was clearly enjoying himself and I’m almost certain that the ink from his $2000 pen is worth more than the worn book club edition of Again Dangerous Visions that I had him sign – Mr. Ellison was kind enough point out that it is a book club edition. So, I was off to a great start being at the de facto front of the line for Harlan Ellison and he wasn’t running around naked or anything like some of the stories of I’ve read about him led me to believe was a possibility.

The previous session was a bit late in getting out (of course) so it was a bit disorganized setting the room up. Slowly table got in place with place names for the various authors attending; and the bar was brought in (always important). So I proceeded to have my various books signed by various authors. As I’ve come to expect, the authors were quite friendly and genuinely glad to be participating. Though I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for those that are a bit more obscure who had virtually nobody asking them for autographs, while people who were sometimes sitting right next to them had several people in line, sometimes carting (literally) boxes full of books to sign.

Books I had signed include Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, Black Juice by Margo Lanagan (my review), The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (my review), Dreams of the Compass Rose by Vera Nazarian (my review), The Folly of Assumption by Lee Martindale (my review), The Labyrinth Key by Howard Hendrix, From the Files of the Time Rangers by Richard Bowes, Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright, Inventing Memory by Anne Harris, Tumbling After by Paul Witcover, and the first two books of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

As I’ve said everyone was very nice to speak with, though I’m not of a personality to speak overly long with ‘strangers’ in such a setting. Joe Haldeman was engaged in the sort of political discussion you’d anticipate with an old Vietnam Vet with a box of books to sign when I got there – I didn’t interrupt. John C. Wright happily informed me not to worry that Orphans of Chaos is a trilogy because he just sent off the final book in the trilogy, so I shouldn’t worry that he’d die leaving an unfinished work. Diana Gabaldon was exposing enough cleavage to the world that you’d expect a Harlequin Romance cover on her books. Of course she was very nice and who am I to criticize one’s dress (trust me). Howard Hendrix was extremely personable and happily told me about all his books. While I didn’t have a book to be signed by David Weber, he is one of the amusing people who can dominate a room and conversation.

Well, that’s about it – nothing earth shattering and no actual information about who won the awards, just my little adventure.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Dreams of the Compass Rose by Vera Nazarian

Nazarian realizes a spectacularly fantastic world in Dreams of the Compass Rose, her first novel (she has since published Lords of the Rainbow and several collections of short fiction). In many ways, this novel reads like an epic poem, and the language can only be described as, well, poetic. Descriptions are beautiful and fully realized as the mystique of her world seeps from the pages.

The novel is more of a collection of 14 short stories, yet all are related somehow, with overlapping people and places, if not necessarily time. Time is fluid; Nazarian’s ‘dreams’ leap back and forth through thousands of years of history of this great world. At times it’s hard to determine when and where the story occurred, but the story’s prose quickly entraps you, leaving issues such as these unimportant.

The story opens with a Grandmother telling her granddaughter of the mythical land, Amarantea. The sequence of dreams moves forward (and backward) from their as our granddaughter grows up to seek Amarantea. We follow the eccentric captain of an unsinkable ship on a journey with a young sorcerer. We witness ancient betrayal and slaughter and the birth of a new God. A young child pledges service to a cold princess. The tales are wonderfully told of great deserts, oases, steppes, oceans, devine interventions, and people of the Compass Rose.

Poetic prose aside, Dreams of the Compass Rose suffers at times from the directionless aspect of the tale. There is no central narrative to bind the tales to one another. Her enthralling story telling does not completely abate this.

The stories are strikingly human in nature and dominated by short-comings and illusion. However, weighty thematic play does not rear up in these stories. Their greatest value is in the realization of a skilled wordsmith. Nazarian is sadly overlooked talent and potential – fans of SF should line up to read her work.

So, on my 10-point rating scale (fully described here), Dreams of the Compass Rose rates a 7. Nazarian deserves more attention. Go forth and read.

Monday, May 01, 2006


The Folly of Assumption by Lee Martindale

The full title of this collection of short stores is The Folly of Assumption: The Collected Fat Fantasies of Lee Martindale. As the title implies, what makes these stories stand apart is the role of fat, overweight people. Lee Martindale is unabashedly a large person herself and these stories are clearly an outlet for her own frustrations, encouragement to others like herself, and a message to stick figures of the world. The stories are entertaining, often a satirical, and generally leave the reader with a sense of justice.

This short collection of only about 40 pages contains five stories: “The Folly of Assumption”, “Porter Piedmont and the Office Party Santa”, “Neighborhood Watch”, “Porter Piedmont’s Not-So-Wonderful Life”, and “What Goes Around…”.

"The Folly of Assumption"

This short, entertaining tale is the story of a man who has just survived an assassination attempt. Our would-be assassin is a large woman, often underestimated, who is quite an accomplished assassin. The assassin and her captor speak and come to terms of a new bargain, or not.

"Porter Piedmont and the Office Party Santa"

Porter Piedmont is the stereotypical, disgusting CEO of a large corporation. His company produces various foodstuffs and the like for overweight people and Porter is generally less than kind to his employees. At this Christmas Party, Santa visits with surprises for everyone.

"Neighborhood Watch"

A detective investigates a potential bogus complaint by a neighborhood’s somewhat eccentric ex-cop. He speaks with a relative new comer with the odd habit of being a true night person. She is a unique person, and the witty banter slowly evolves into a horrifying revelation for the detective.

"Porter Piedmont’s Not-So-Wonderful Life"

It’s a year after the infamous Christmas Party above, and things are not going well for Porter. A substitute guardian angel takes him on a journey paralleling the movie alluded to in the title, only the world really would have been better off without Porter Piedmont.

"What Goes Around…"

The title tells you what’s coming. What can only be described as a fitness Notzi dies in her sleep. She wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings being attended to by a fat servant. Slowly it becomes clear just where she has awoken.

The stories are all quick, fun reads that I enjoyed. Martindale risks getting ‘preachy’ about her ideas, but I felt the line was negotiated fairly well in the end. She clearly has strong opinions about world’s treatment of the overweight. On my 10-point scale where 5 is a take-it or leave-it read, and 10 is unsurpassed, The Folly of Assumptions rates a 7. A good fun, read.

Unrelated to the content of the book is an issue that I have with its publisher that I wrote about in this recent post. Come to your own opinions, but perhaps these stories are better read from other sources – I believe most have been published on-line at some time or another.

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