Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just Proves My Point

My assessment and summary of the May/June 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction serves as a perfect example of why my blog and website are necessary for readers of either classics or genre fiction.
 
It's important to cross read - to read more than just one certain category. Stephen King's advice to budding writers is to read as much as possible, especially books outside your chosen niche.
 
One of the best short stories on the long term scars of war came from the story The Memory Cage by Tim Sullivan. As a man goes through his father's effects - a father who served in World War II - a father who would later commit suicide because of the images he continued to see many years later, the adult son makes this observation:
     Three sentences from another keepsake, a letter sent to my grandparents from French Morocco, were most telling.
     "We shot down a German bomber. I guess we killed the men in that aeroplane," he said. "I don't know how to feel about it. Good, I guess."
      Good, I guess. An eighteen-year-old boy, on the opposite side of the world from all he knew, had just killed a group of other boys whose faces he never saw, consigning them to a twisted-metal funeral pyre in the Sahara from the business end of a gigantic cannon. I don't know how to feel about it. Good, I guess.

And here's proof that Sullivan read much more than just science fiction. When describing the father's mental state after coming home from WWII, the author makes a one-line reference to Hemingway in what many might think is a casual way, but shows a clear brilliance of writing:

     He didn't waste time sitting on the porch like the damaged vet of Hemingway's story. 
There's our proof! That shows not only a depth of reading, but the ability to create a character's state of mind with one sentence. That, my Cheesy Readers, an example of great writing - the ability to completely capture a character with one simple sentence. If I offered a Classics And Cheese annual short fiction award, this short story would be nominated.

The novella featured in this issue is Bartleby The Scavenger by Katie Boyer. A clear homage to the classic Melville story many of us read in high school. It was a bit long, and the author went above and beyond in establishing parallels between the original and this futuristic dystopian version, so in my opinion its overall length could have been trimmed by about 25%, but it's still worth reading if you get the chance.

Rooksnight by Marc Laidlaw and Containment Zone: A Seastead Story by Naomi Kritzer are two novelletes worth their time. Fun stories, told well, and worthy of these pages.  

Until Next Time...
Bartlebly Yours,
Michael 
 

Monday, July 14, 2014

It Was One Simple Task...

THE MISSION: Drive to the grocery story. Pick up two items.
 
ESTIMATED TIME TO COMPLETION: 15 Minutes
 
MISSION SUMMARY: Pulled into parking lot, walked into store, spotted dump bin full of bargain books, priced 5 for $10. Felt overwhelming compulsion to sort through dump bin until I had seen and evaluated every book. Came away with two (pictured). Left store with a total of four items, the two I was originally sent to purchase, plus these two additional items.
MISSION COMPLETION TIME: 30 Minutes
 
MISSION STATUS: Failed.
 
LAME EXCUSE: Still a sucker for dump bins full of bargain books.
 
Until Next Time,
Ashamedly Yours,
Michael


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Word of the Moment V

It's no surprise that people can increase their vocabulary by reading, and I've often bragged that a person can increase their vocabulary by reading genre fiction as well, but I had no idea that you can increase your vocabulary by reading reviews of science fiction and fantasy novels.

That is until I read James Sallis's column Books reviewing The Land Across by Gene Wolfe and Cordwainer Smith, Lord of the Afternoon by Pablo Capanna in this month's The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Seriously. When I sit down to read book reviews, I don't expect to have to run over to the dictionary every few minutes to look up words the reviewer is using. If he's quoting a passage from the book and I have to look up a word from the quotation - then fine. But to look up words from his writings? Come on? Are we sure he's not showing off?

Well, doesn't matter. Mr. Sallis expanded my vocabulary this week, so I suppose I must thank him. So without further (boring) adieu, here are this entry's words of the moment:

  • encomia - noun - a formal expression of high praise; eulogy
  • shibboleths - noun - 1. a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons; 2. a slogan or catchword; 3. a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.
  • mimetic - adjective - 1. characterized by, exhibiting, or of the nature of imitation or mimicry; 2. mimic or make-believe.
  • cavil - verb - to raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (usually followed by at  or about)
 
So there we go, four new words we can struggle to actually use in our daily lives. And don't let people convince you that you're just showing off your superior vocab, because you're not, you're just letting them know you read science fiction book reviews.
 
Until Next Time...
Cavilly Yours,
Michael

Friday, June 27, 2014

Enough Already

1. I like mysteries
2. I like gumshoe detectives
3. I like epic fantasy
4. I like science fiction
5. I used to like them mixed together
6. "used to" being the operative words of Point #5

Seriously...

It was cute at first, but the cuteness has worn off - kind of like a cute, little baby alligator who grows up into a big adult alligator and is eating everything in sight.

There's only so much I can take of these stories, yet authors keep pumping them out, and publishers keep publishing them because apparently there are people out there buying and reading the dang things.

There's got to be at least a dozen of these wise-cracking gumshoes, each one in their own universe, but deep down, all exactly alike - so much so that I think the word "dame" is probably one of the most used words in the genre right now; "sultry" might be a close second. And their "smart mouth" always gets them in trouble, and local law enforcement is out to get them, except for one inside guy/gal who is really their pal and goes out on a limb for them all-time risking their career on behalf of the P.I., etc. etc. etc.

Yawn. Now I'm tired. Bored. And a bit irritated.

So before I turn into a mean ol' nasty alligator and start publicly calling out authors and publishers for flooding the market with this over-done cuteness, I should probably stop here.

Until Next Time...
Toothily Yours,
Michael

Thursday, June 26, 2014

It's Only Sensible

We're all guilty of it. We mean to read more classic works of literature than we actually do. I love many of the classics, but I get so caught up keeping up with modern books and publications, that I don't read nearly as many of these works as people assume I do. And looking back over the books I've read since January, I realized I haven't read any so far this year.

Among my reading friends, it's well known I'm a Jane Austen fan, so I figured what better way to get back at it than to pull "Sense and Sensibility" off the shelf. I love Pride and Prejudice (before you ask, yes, the Colin Firth BBC adaptation is my favorite of the screen versions), so I'm hoping S & S is just as good.

And while this may sound crazy to some, I think Austen is a good place to start for people who normally read fantasy. Let me explain: As we all know, most fantasy novels takes place in what many characterize as medieval or prior times in terms of technology, so fantasy fans, by choice read stories in which there are no phones, cars, electricity, etc. Also, Austen is know for her witty characters and rapid fire dialogue to keep readers engaged and propelled forward. Which means the only adjustment fantasy fans have to make is the lack of magic or strange creatures -- something some fantasy novels even use sparingly, if at all.

Okay, maybe I'm stretching here a little, but seriously... Austen is a fun author to read, one who engages her readers early and let's the dialogue and characters' actions propel the story forward.
If I did have to recommended one Austen novel, it would be "Pride," but I know others who recommend "Northanger Abbey", "Emma", or "Sense" (all of which have screen version, either via the BBC or Hollywood, or both).

It's time for me to stop gabbing and head back to the 19th century.

Until Next Time...
Sensibly Yours,
Michael
 
 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Poetry & Music

Monday, June 30, the Tavern of Fine Arts (313 Belt Ave, St. Louis) will be hosting "Poetry & Music" starting at 7:30 pm. Presented by CHANCE OPERATIONS, this intimate event will feature poetry readings by Michael Castro, Jerred Metz, and Howard Schwartz. Music for the evening will be provided by Tracey Andreotti and Henri Claude.

Free parking is available in a small parking lot across the street, and outdoor seating is available in front if you wish just to sit and enjoy the atmosphere of a quiet neighborhood.

You can see an entire list of the summer's events here.

Until Next Time...
Poetically Yours,
Michael


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Daniel Keyes (1927 – 2014)

A classic science fiction author now knows The Secret.

Daniel Keyes passed away at his home in Florida on June 15, 2014, due to complications from pneumonia. Keyes was best known for his short story and later novel "Flowers for Algernon," which became an instant and well-loved classic.

First published as a short story in my favorite magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, "Flowers" won a Hugo in 1958, then as a novel won a Nebula award in 1966. A movie adaptation, "Charly," was nominated for an Academy Award.

Told from the point of view of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, who is mentally-handicapped, Algernon is a laboratory mouse who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means. Charlie Gordon has also undergone the same surgery and these reports are a method of measuring the success of the surgery to the scientist who performed it.  The story has many moral themes, and like any classic story whether science fiction or not, it leaves the reader pondering those issues long after the last page.

As is typical with many controversial stories, this book has been challenged and banned in libraries and schools at various points in time. (That makes this a perfect title to consider during the next "Read a Banned Book Week.") Seems like all the greats always scare some small-minded people at some time or another.

Until Next Time...
Flowerly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Word of the Moment...IV


(Alternate Title: Am I An Idiot?)

I follow poet Taylor Mali on Twitter, and after reading a recent post, I had to wonder if I'm an idiot or if he was being too witty for his own good.
"The wise path to peace resembles surrender to those jingoists distrustful of nuance. Don't get it? Then I'm talking about you. "
What?

Did his autocorrect screw up again? I read it two or three more times and still drew a blank, so I figured he must be talking about me, because I have no clue what his tweet meant. I did know it all centered around that funny "jingo" word. Off I went to the dictionary, where I found:
"jingo - noun - a person who professes belligerent patriotism"
Um.... okay. That was totally...  unhelpful.

Maybe it's just me, but I still didn't get it. So I piece together that jingoists must be those people who profess their love of country in a belligerent way and don't trust nuance. But the wise path to peace is like surrendering to those people who belligerent profess their love of their country. And not only that, by using the word "profess" it can imply that the person isn't patriotic, or at the very least, isn't as patriotic as they think they are.

Still with me? I'm not so sure I am. So, yeah, now I really think he's talking about me.

The only other explanation is that I'm taking him too literally because he's unintentionally been too witty and out-smarted his sense of how smart his followers are. Or maybe his followers are that smart, and I truly am just an idiot.

Either way, I eventually reached a point where I didn't care. I learned a new word - probably one I'll never actually use* -  but I'm way past the point of caring anymore.

Until Next Time...
Jingoly Yours,
Michael

*to be fair, I did use the word as the topic of this post. I don't think that counts though.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rustle Me Up a Couple of Western Yarns


I recently had a friend say, "The older I get, the more I find I'm starting to like country music."
 
A few years ago, I would have laughed at her for that statement, but The Boss and I found ourselves laughing with her, because strangely enough, we had both noticed that change in our tastes. I used to proudly say was, "The only thing I hate more than country music is LOUD country music!" I can no longer say that with any degree of honesty. 

The same goes for westerns. I hated westerns growing up. Friends used to watch reruns of The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, etc. etc. Not me, I would have rather watched static than even 30 seconds of a western. I even avoided non-western John Wayne movies, just in case.

But eventually, I did watch one because it truly was the only thing on: "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (Paul Newman, 1972). I actually liked it, but I considered it the exception - not the rule. Many years later I found myself watching "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Charles Bronson, 1968). Loved it, but again it was the exception, not the rule. That eventually gave way to "Unforgiven" (Clint Eastwood, 1992), "Quigley Down Under" (Tom Selleck, 1990), and finally, "The Quick and The Dead" (Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, 1995).*

Hm.... somehow those pesky westerns snuck up me and the blasted things hooked me. Dagnabit!

At this point I decided I had to read a Western. I had to know one way or the other if, as a young impressionable kid, I had been too caught up in science fiction and fantasy to legitimately consider a western as something worthy of my time. Afterall, who wants dusty boots and cattle rustling when you can have either dragons and wizards or spaceships and lasers.

So now, the decision was.... what western to read? I could read Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" which won all sorts of awards, both as a book and as a made-for-TV movie, but that's a darn thick book and I wasn't sure I wanted to spend that much time finding out. So I decided to pick one of those thin, pocket-sized westerns off the rack at the local library, and to really play it safe, I chose one of the best-loved western writers of all time, Louis L'Amour. "Dark Canyon" seemed decent enough, so I checked it out, brought it home, and read it.
 
Did I like it? Darn tootin' I did.

So that confirmed it. Granted it was only one novel, but I had proven once and for all that the western genre was I could categorize as Enjoyable. I still haven't read a whole lot of them, but have picked up a few of William W. Johnstone (whom many considered L'Amour's replacement). I've also decided to read a few Tony Hillerman mysteries - no, they're not westerns, but they concern the modern Native Americans and their customs juxtaposed against the culture that invaded them. 
 
Lots of great reading ahead, so I supposed it's time to move along, stop writing and start reading.
 
Until Next Time...
Good, Bad, and Ugly Yours,
Michael
 
p.s. "The Rifleman" can now be seen on MeTV, and come to find out, The Boss has always liked that show, and recently managed to convert me. She also insists that one day I find the time to watch "Tombstone" (Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, and Dana Delany, 1993) - says it's not half bad.

*If you ever get the chance, read about the making of Sam Raimi's "The Quick and The Dead" from Bruce Campbell's memoir "If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor". He tells a funny story about how Raimi convinced Gene Hackman to speak lines he didn't want to speak.
 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Business of Books

Don't know if you follow the publishing industry, but if you do, then you know all about the current feud between Amazon and Hachette publishing. To make a long story short, Amazon wants to make certain books loss-leaders by cutting the retail price below wholesale costs thereby attracting customers to those books and then sell them other books at a slightly higher cost to make up the difference. The catch is -- they don't want to cut their profits, they want the publisher and authors to take the loss in revenue.

Hachette Publishing stood up to Amazon, so Amazon decided to retaliate by making it difficult for customers to buy books published by Hachette. Some of the tactics they've imployed include not allowing pre-orders on Hatchett Publishing titles and purposely delaying shipments for weeks at a time, encouraging customers to buy used copies from other locations (thereby insuring that the publisher, and more importantly the author, from receiving any compensation for their work). These tactics affect authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen Colbert. So, Colbert being Colbert, he uses a segment of his show to let his feelings be known on this topic, while giving his viewers a bit of education on the matter as well.

If you have a few minutes, watch both of the below links, follow their advice, and you'll be helping out a new debut novelist as well.

Colbert's Thoughts on Amazon

Amazon vs Hachette --- Author Sherman Alexie offers up more information

Join the fight against Amazon and their attempt to deprive authors their just compensation for writing the stories we all enjoy.

*************

Like Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming services? Enjoy checking out books from your local library? Wouldn't it be cool if you could combine the two?

Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, publisher Simon & Schuster and E-Book services Oyster and Scribd have made a deal where, like other streaming video services, readers can pay a monthly fee and have e-reader access to thousands of S&S titles in "Netflix-like" style.

I haven't heard what the cost is yet, but many suspect it'll be somewhere in the $10 per month range, and this will allow you access to as many books as you can read with no limit on the number of books per month.

Of course, this move is being closely watched by other publishers, since the success or failure of this new business model could radically change the book publishing industry once again.

So that's the publishing business news of the moment.

Until Next Time...
Profitably Yours,
Michael