Sunday, October 26, 2014

A picture is worth...

Discovered this little graphic the other day. It's not the best of quality, but it does a good job of epitomizing the things that genre fiction can do without us even realizing it. It reminds us that sometimes we don't notice symbolism, but it's there.

We are human; symbols mean things to us, even if we're not aware of it. And this graphic points it out more succinctly than I think I could ever do.

I don't know who created this, but kudos, because you Get It.

Until Next Time...
Symbolically Yours,
Michael

Monday, October 13, 2014

'Tis the Season

Every year I try to read 52 short stories, i.e., one per week. This works out well for many reasons. First of all, I love the short form. Second, it helps support the short form industry. And third, it allows me to read per season. Sometimes I'm in the middle of a long novel when a particular season rolls around, like the Halloween season coming up on us, and I don't want to abandon the novel I'm reading to read a more seasonally appropriate novel. The short story, thus, solves all my problems.

This year, I'm going to reread some great H.P. Lovecraft short stories.

During Lovecraft's times and prior, the distinction between science fiction and horror was not as sharp as it sometimes is today. For instance, many consider Shelly's Frankenstein as a horror novel, but among genre readers, it is actually the first distinct science fiction novel. By Lovecraft's time, though, these types of stories were referred to as Fantastic Tales or Tales of the Fantastic, and many times combined elements of horror and science fiction. What we call fantasy today was called S&S for Sword & Sorcery, which also border-lined into horror.

What made Lovecraft's tales of the fantastic unique though was that Lovecraft was an atheist, while the traditional monsters of the day were always in some ways tied into occultism, demons, or Satan worship. So how did this atheist author address that little gap? Well, his monsters were creatures escaped from other dimensions, gaps between parallel universes, or escapees from the Eternal Void. All could be summoned, contacted, or accidently released if an individual - any individual - had the arcane knowledge to do so. A person didn't have to have magic power or be the seventh son of a seventh son to do so.

So to wrap up here... In the mood for some horror as these leaves turn color, a chill nips in the air, and the traditional icons of Halloween pop up all around you? Turn to the short form, read a few of tales of other-worldly beings, and you'll be all set. Remember don't stare too deeply into The Abyss because it will stare back.

Until Next Time...
Cthulhuly Yours,
Michael

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Banned Books and Irony

We are constantly hearing about various books being banned across the United States and other countries. Usually in the United States, it's a small group of people from the Christian persuasion who find a book offensive, pornographic, blasphemous, etc. etc. For example, the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman is offensive to Catholics who then attempted to have it removed from various schools and libraries around the country (they even picketed outside movie theaters when the first book, "The Golden Compass," was made into a movie). It didn't help that Pullman admitted he intended for it to be offensive.

An attempt to ban a book by a group of small group is nothing new. 

But what is new is the (so far successful) attempt of books being banned for being "too Christian." Yes, you read that right. A small group of atheist in California successfully lobbied and compelled a local school to remove books from its library shelves for being overtly Christian. One of those books is "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Bloom. The book is an autobiography about how a families faith helped them survive the Holocaust. It does not preach or try to convert, and does not insist that the reader believe in God. It simply tells the story of a family who believe in God and how that belief affected how they treated and viewed both their fellow prisoners and their captors.


Maybe your first reaction is - Good! Maybe you're thinking, "It's about time those over zealous Christians know how it feels."
Maybe you aren't thinking those things. Maybe, like me, you're thinking of that old cliché: "Two Wrongs don't make a Right."

Banning a book because of the ideas it contains is bad. Period. Your opinion of those ideas is irrelevant. You have the right to free speech, you have the right to express your opinion, and people have the right to disagree with you.

You do not have the right to NOT be offended. If that sentence looks odd to you, then read it again and think about it. Just because you don't like something, doesn't mean you have the right to deny other people access to that material. Just because something offends you, be you a Christian or an atheist, a Jew or a Muslim, does not mean you have some moral right to prevent others from sampling the pool of ideas that make humans thinking creatures.

Freedom of speech exists to protect unpopular speech. Some of the world's greatest ideas and mankind's greatest steps forward started out as an unpopular ideas. But freedom of speech applies both ways, speech that comforts you and speech that offends you.

Sometimes Freedom is messy - Get used to it.

Until Next Time...
Messily Yours,
Michael 

Monday, October 6, 2014

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book, with many calling this the weakest of the five published thus far. I disagree with that assessment, but can understand it. It's the publication dates that matter and mold a lot of opinions.

Book Three: A Storm of Swords was published in 2000, and left the readers in quite a pivotal point in the story. So five years later, here comes the next book in the series, A Feast for Crows. Fans flocked  (pun sort of intended) to stores and online, they feverishly read the book, only to be shocked that there wasn't one bit of story about some of their favorite characters whose lives hung in the balance from the ending of A Storm of Swords. Imagine the indignation, the frustration. Five years, and not a word.

*****This paragraph contains minor spoilers:
But to those fans in an uproar, Martin threw them a bone… at the end of Book Four, he semi-promised them the rest of the story within a year, give or take. He also explained why the story was published this way. Basically, there was so much story to tell he split it in two and instead of telling half the story of each of the characters, he choose to tell the entire story for half the characters and would follow up with the entire story for the other half. Many fans thought he picked the "weaker" story lines for Book Four as a way of guaranteeing the sales of Book Five, which may be true, but I disagree that the storylines were weaker. I feel that Arya, Brie, Jaime, and Cersei are just as strong and just as compelling stories as the others characters.
*****Spoilers end here


No big deal, though, the fans had waited five years, they got a bit of the story to whet their appetites, and although they were not happy about it, they could wait another year with a minimum of grumbling.

So…. the first year passed, the second year passed, jokes began to emerge – the most memorable of which was: "Is Winter Coming?"

Third year, fourth, etc.

YEAR SIX!
A Dance with Dragons (2011) was released. So not only did fans have to wait six years for the story to continue, they had waited a grand total of eleven years to find out the fates of characters they hadn't read since 2000.

That makes it a little easier to understand the belief that Feast of Crows is the weakest of the books to date, but in a general overall view, and when read back to back, it neatly fits into the plot gears and does much to propel the plot forward.

Until Next Time...
Feastly Yours,
Michael 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Odd Reading Habits

When I was in high school, one of my teachers was an avid reader, but there was a catch - he only ever read James Michener novel or reread The Lord of the Rings. Why?

I have no idea.

I found it fascinating though that someone who loved to read restricted himself to only those books. He even commented that he sometimes got tired carrying around a Michener heavy-weight novel, but he did it anyway. That was many many years ago, and maybe he eventually read all of Michener's novel and found another historical author to follow. But the thought and the image of that huge Michener novel sitting on the top of that file cabinet where he brought it in and set it every day that semester has never left my mind.

His love of Michener made me rethink my opinion of the author. At that point in my young reading life, I had read Space and enjoyed it well enough, but nothing else by the author compelled me enough to read anything else by him. Then his novel Texas came out and was a colossal sized book. At that time I was obsessed with reading exceptionally long books (one day I'll write about how I discovered Hubbard's Battlefield Earth), so Texas seemed like the perfect book to add to my "to be read" pile. My parents must have put two and two together (they had seen me reading Michener and knew I had developed a recent obsession 1000-plus page books) and bought Texas for me in hardcover for Christmas. The only problem was they also bought me the Stephen King short story collection Skeleton Crew and an omnibus of the Richard Bachman books. Considering that at the time I was practically obsessed with Stephen King, Michener was going to have to wait.

Michener is still waiting because I just never got back to that Texas-sized novel. But I never let it go, either. It's remained on my bookshelf all these years, hardly opened, and ready for me to read at any time. I occasionally lug it off the shelf, flip through those 1000-plus, view that exceptionally small print (especially in such a long novel) and ask myself if I'm ready to commit so much time to a novel about the state of Texas. I'm never quite ready. Every year I make the resolution that this will be the year I finally read it, but I also make the resolution to read the unabridged version of Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, The Satanic Verses, and reread Vanity Fair, The Mill on the Floss, Barchester Towers, and Battlefield Earth. None of which ever happens. I have too many other books to read.

It's September now. I have a stack of books I need to read before the end of the year, and I just don't see Texas moving from the "to be read" pile to the "read" pile by December 31.

Oh well... there's always next year.

Until Next Time...
Colossally Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Labels within Labels


When we think of genre, we think in general terms of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, etc. But within each genre, there are subgenres, usually known only to the fans of that particular genre, and created as a means of helping to communicate to other fans of the genre what they can expect from a certain author or title. For instance, many people think of Star Wars as science fiction, but ask any science fiction fan what genre Star Wars belongs in and the answer will be either space opera and science fantasy.

So off the top of my head, I tried to list out all the different subgenres within each genre.

Fantasy:
epic, fairy tale, gothic, magic realism, myth, legend, traditional, dark fantasy, fable, folktale, light fantasy, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy

Science Fiction:
alternate history, cyberpunk, futuristic, generation starship, hard science, invasion of Earth, lost colony, lost civilization, parallel worlds, post-nuclear holocaust, space opera, science fantasy, time travel, alien invasion, utopian/dystopian

Mystery:
amateur, cozy, hard-boiled, gum shoe, police procedural, historical, legal, medical, puzzle, locked room, forensic, coroner, whodunit
(I haven't included the suspense or espionage, and to some those are a genre outside of Mystery)

Romance:
(there are about as many categories as there are authors), standard, chick-lit, historic, Amish (yes, I really mean Amish), paranormal, futuristic, dystopian, fantasy, erotica, soft porn, comedy, pagan, RenFaire, foreign, crime, adultery, etc. etc.

I know for a fact that I've forgotten at least six or more subgenres with each of the general genres listed above. And I know that many of the subgenres break down into one more layer of subgenre. But like said, these categories are for the fans who read within those genres, and usually are of little interest to those outside genres.

If you know of any I've missed and can supply a real-world example of it (title and author), please shoot me an email or leave a comment.

Until Next Time,
Categorically Yours,
Michael

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Short Fiction

Since the beginning, heroic stories of great feats and daring adventure have always been long epic tales. From the poetry and narratives of Homer and Ovid, to Le Morte d'Arthur of Sir Mallory, mythical stories, legends, and now modern fantasy stories have become long tombs covering multiple publications with thousands and thousands of pages. Sales figures for such lengthy stories continue to climb as each successive generation acclimates to longer and longer story arcs. In modern publishing history, what may have started with a prequel and simple trilogy with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, has now turned into series that span 3, 6, 9, or even 14 books.

Yet there is a discrepancy.

We are told that because of the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, etc. that our attention spans are getting shorter; our ability to remember details over the course of a long story is less and less; we can't follow narratives that arc across various episodes or chapters. The fiction we buy, and the shows we watch tend to contradict those statements though. In fact, book sales figures indicate just the opposite. Modern readers demand fantasy at least a trilogy, and while science fiction fans will enjoy stand-alone novels, they too like trilogies and longer.

In the pulp fiction days, writers were able to make a living writing short stories, and many rarely wrote novels. It wasn't unusual though for some authors to write serial stories published over several issues. The days of making a living writing short fiction are long gone, and modern publishers rarely publish short story collections unless big names are attached - authors who have established a strong following through their novels - because of the poor sales of those collections. 

I'm not the first to ponder this enigma: If our attention spans are so short, why isn't short fiction more popular? My regular Cheesy Readers know I'm a big fan of short fiction and I always encourage readers to buy and read it whether it's in magazine or book form. Short fiction is not a lost art, as many have proclaimed. It is as strong as ever, popular among writers, but only marginally so among those who aren't. There are many wonderful stories, adventures, and excellent writing in short stories. Many well-established novelists began with the short form and frequently continue to write it long after novels become their main vocation and revenue stream.

Honestly, put down your smartphone, quit checking your text message and Facebook updates, and instead pick up a short story collection. Read a story while waiting at the dentist, while waiting on your flight, or getting an oil change. Your life will be enriched and you'll be promoting an art form that very much needs your financial backing.

Until Next Time...
Shortly Yours,
Michael

Thursday, August 7, 2014

See... Even Jo Does It

Yet another example that just because an author isn't considered mainstream, or intellectual, doesn't mean that they don't have deep academic influences.

Something that was recently brought to my attention was J.K. Rowling's inspiration of the "three brothers and Death" folktale told by Xenophilius Lovegood in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. According to two different sources I've researched, the parable was inspired by The Pardoner's Tale of Geoffrey Chaucer's Middle English epic poem Canterbury Tales.

I remember as I read that folktale that I thought it seemed vaguely familiar, but I didn't put it together until I read that above little bit of information. So I'm happy to have learned that Rowling not only read Canterbury Tales, but that she enjoyed it so much she modeled part of her fiction after it, and thereby indirectly exposing millions of children and adults to one of the greatest poems in the English language. Unfortunately many of Rowling's readers, adults and children, have never heard of the epic tale and will never read it, thus robbing themselves of a beautiful piece of historic poetry.

If given the chance, you should read Chaucer's work, or at least The Pardoner's Tale. At first, it may be difficult to read because of the archaic spellings*, but the more you read from it, the easier it gets. I promise you, you'll find it very rewarding.

Until Next Time...
Brotherly Yours,
Michael

*There were no dictionaries in the 14th century, so each author could spell a word any way they wanted. Some were known to spell the same word multiple ways throughout long texts.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Make Millions Writing Romance

Okay, not quite millions, but it's no secret that in the modern publishing era, romance novels outsell every other genre, and women make up a majority of book buyers in nearly every category of books except for war, science fiction, and sports. With the romance genre alone, women make up 84% of the purchasing market (note: I'm surprised it's that low, I didn't realize that men make up 16% of romance readers).

Ebooks haven't changed that trend too much. The overall male/female split of book purchasers remain the same, women are buying a lot more of their books as ebooks. In fact, ebooks have increased the sale of romance novels, but not necessarily in a way that has increased the profit of publishers. In fact, publishers are feeling the pain of ebooks because many authors, especially in the romance genre are self-publishing or publishing straight through Amazon, choosing to cut out the middle man. This lowers the costs of publishing and creates a higher profit margin for authors.

Yahoo! has an article with a lot more facts and figures, plus a few real stories of authors self-publishing and making a better living at writing now than they were before ebooks.

If you're interested in learning more, just follow this news link to the Yahoo! article.

Until Next Time...
Trendily Yours,
Michael

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Smart Librarians

Many years ago, I read The Hitchhiker Trilogy (age disclosure alert: back when it was only four books), and decided it was high time to read it again. I'll probably buy the leather-bound version from Barnes & Noble the next time I'm there, but in the meantime I decided to check it out from the library.

So.... you know how libraries help shelf browsers by putting little stickers of the bottom of the spine to indicate the book's genre? A book may have a sticker with a unicorn and the words "Fantasy" on it. Or a book may have a ringed planet or a rocket ship and the words "Science Fiction," etc. etc. Western, Romance, blah blah, you get the point.

Now as I scanned the 'A' section of fiction, looking for the first book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, once I found it, I saw the sticker at the bottom of the spine read "Classic."

Oh... Librarians...genius! ... People after my own heart. Yes, the book is science fiction. Yes, it's a comedy. And finally, YES, it's a Classic. Good call, Anonymous Librarian, good call.

Until Next Time...
Classically Yours,
Michael