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Showing posts from July, 2005

A Conversation with John Benson

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I sometimes fall prey to a silly and mistaken idea: that small-press 'zines are something new. And then I discover someone like John Benson, who has been publishing his 'zine Not One of Us for 19 years now, and has garnered quite a few accolades during that time. After Sonya Taaffe introduced us last year, I knew that I would want to interview John, but other obligations stole my attention, and I didn't get around to it until now. It was, I hope you'll agree, very much worth the wait.


When did Not One of Us begin? What made you want to create it?

To explain how Not One of Us began, I have to back up a couple of steps. When I first met my (now) wife Anke Kriske, I was a doctoral student in history and she was an aspiring author who was not a native English speaker and did not know how to get started. For three years, before and after we married, I edited her stories and tried to market them. Finally in 1984 a story of hers ("Transitus") was accepted by Ronny…

Linkdump

Lots of things out there to cause you to leave here:Some new unbooked blogs: Dracula Blogged and This Date, from Henry David Thoreau's Journal. I got the links from The Little Professor, who discusses them briefly, with some good ideas and questions about how they work and why. She's put up a lot of good posts, recently (including a review of Dozois's latest Year's Best Science Fiction).

Speaking of a lot of good posts recently, the academic group blog The Valve has been opened wide and spouting great ideas and discussions over the past week. There was John Holbo's post about John Crowley, and Crowley showed up to join the discussion in the comments. John Holbo then had an interesting piece on "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Pulp". And Ray Davis on "The Liebestod of the Author", with a fascinating anecdote about a Kate Wilhelm workshop at Clarion. And Miriam Burstein (the aforementioned Little Professor) on academic prose.

Wheatland Press h…

World Fantasy Award Nominations

I happily took a break from a mound of reading and writing to visit some weblogs and hope for perhaps an idea for a short post hereabouts. I was happy to see Gwenda had posted the nominations for the World Fantasy Awards, and was amazed by all the richness in each category, when suddenly I got to the "Special Award: Non-Professional" nominations, and saw my name there.

Clearly, Gwenda was playing a silly joke. So I hopped over to the official website to see what the real nominations were. Gwenda was not joking.

Huh.

Well.

I'm too stunned to come up with a good response, except to say thanks to the judges, and congratulations to all the nominees. It's a magnificent list of writers, editors, publishers, and artists, and I'm amazed to be in such company.

Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal

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Below is the latest in a continuing series of guest reviews. Our reviewer this time is Catherynne M. Valente, author of the acclaimed novel The Labyrinth, as well as Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams, Apocrypha, and Oracles, all published by Prime Books. Catherynne recently sold a four-book series of fairy tales to Bantam/Dell.


Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal
a guest review by Catherynne M. Valente


In this postmodern world of meta-narrative and fractured plotlines, books-within-books and fictional footnotes, it's rare to find a book that holds to convention which such white-knuckle ferocity as Susann Cokal's second novel, Breath and Bones.

I'd like to say it's brave, radical simplicity, a return to solid, un-pretentious literature, but I can't.

In the interests of disclosure, I should mention that I was once, very briefly, a student of Ms. Cokal's at Cal Poly SLO. I went into this book with solid expectations, and was astounded at every turn by the sheer audacity …

A Conversation with Don Nace

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The minute I saw the cover of Don Nace's Drawn Out, I knew it was something special.

Usually, I don't judge a book by its cover, but when it's a collection of drawings, the cover is a good starting place. Flipping through it while ignoring various other books that needed to be reviewed, I discovered I was incapable of giving it anything but my fullest attention -- it was too strange, too raw, too enchanting to be dipped in to. I went to the first page, then the second, the third, and continued on to the end. The effect was beyond any description that avoids the purplest of prose, although one person I showed the book to described the effect in a way I very much liked: "It hurts. But it's a necessary hurt."

Drawn Out became a book I carried around with me to show to people. Not just anyone -- the drawings are too emotional, the story they tell too painful, for them to be appropriate for just anybody. But everyone I showed the book to had the same reaction:…

Questions and Answers

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Some good questions have been asked in the comments section to my previous post about Hal Hartley's new film, and so I thought it might be helpful to foreground that discussion a bit by giving it its own post.

Toward the end of the post about The Girl from Monday I wrote, "It's sad to see once-interesting artists decide that they have messages to communicate to the world," which the commenter pointed to and said, That's a strange statement. It could be argued that ALL artists feel they have messages to communicate to the world, and I can't see that as a bad thing. It seems that what you object to is the lack of sophistication in these particular messages, or their lack of relevance to you, not their existence.I then suggested it was a matter of approach, the difference between asking questions and giving answers, which elicited the question, "So no one has any answers to offer, even provisionally?" That seems a vital and important question to me, an…

The Boar by Joe R. Lansdale

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Below is the latest in a continuing series of guest reviews. Our reviewer this time is Teresa Tunaley, who spends most of her waking hours working as a freelance Art/Editorial Director for LBF Books. Living as she does on an idyllic tropical island in the Canaries, Teresa is the first -- but not last -- of the guest reviewers to be from outside the United States.

The Boar by Joe R. Lansdale
reviewed by Teresa Tunaley


In The Boar, award-winning author Joe Lansdale displays once again his excellence for storytelling. In the 121 pages of this short novel, Lansdale cleverly combines both humour and horror into a heartwarming story of tragedy, love and despair.

The reader is taken on an adventure to Texas during the Great Depression of the '30s as we follow in the footsteps of fifteen-year-old Richard Dale and his encounter with a giant boar, better known to all the locals as 'Satan'.

Lansdale creates a unique world that draws on folklore for its inspiration. For me, the story wa…

The Girl from Monday

Why do good filmmakers go bad? In the case of Hal Hartley, it may be the effect of trying to apply a limited style to a range of subjects -- what seemed amusing and absurd in Hartley's films through Henry Fool has, in the more expansive settings and more serious attention to philosophies and "issues" of The Book of Life, No Such Thing, and The Girl from Monday, turned to awkward sentimentality, sophomoric self-righteousness, and mannered tedium.

The Girl from Monday seems like the work of a film-school student who's seen a bunch of Hal Hartley movies: it's got the same affectless performances, off-kilter photography, and rhythmic editing, but the tone is more plodding, and what was once so prevalent in Hartley's best films -- surreal and absurd moments interspersed with naked realism -- has become a rarity. Hartley's early films worked so well because they applied what seemed to be a self-consciously Meaningful style of acting, filming, and editing onto …

Three Paragraphs

As I noted in the last post, I've been reading Alejo Carpentier's novel Siglo de las luces ("age of enlightenment"), translated into English by John Sturrock as Explosion in a Cathedral, and it's excited me more than anything I've read at least since Tainaron by Leena Krohn. I can't resist sharing a few paragraphs from a seven-page scene that uses eloquent description of nature to both indicate character development and create symbolic resonance. Excerpted from the narrative, neither of those particular qualities will be apparent, but perhaps you can appreciate the rhythm of the language* and the vivid imagery:Going from surprise to surprise, Esteban discovered a plurality of beaches, where the sea, three centuries after the Discovery, was beginning to deposit its first pieces of polished glass -- glass invented in Europe and strange to America; glass from bottles, from flasks, from demijohns, in shapes hitherto unknown on the New Continent; green glass…

Currently Reading (and reading and reading)

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Sorry things have been slow around here since ReaderCon, but various forces have drawn me away. There are quite a few things lined up for the coming week or two, however, including three new interviews and at least one more guest review. I haven't had much of a brain for actual blog posts, but managed to update the sidebar for the first time since February, adding a few things and, most importantly, getting rid of dead links.

Though I haven't been writing here much, I have been reading an awful lot, some of it for classes I'm taking, some for reviews and essays I've promised to various and sundry places. I thought I'd list a few here, for anybody who's curious:

Anima by M. John Harrison -- this is a one-volume British edition of two books I have read previously, The Course of the Heart and Signs of Life. I think they're both extraordinary, difficult, rewarding books, and putting them together makes quite a lot of sense. I've been working on a review …

Best LitBlog Article EVER

Well, okay, so I'm giving in to my hyperbolic dark side in the title of this post, attempting to hide the fact that all I want to do is point you elsewhere, to Scott Esposito's article at Rain Taxi Online about literary weblogs. I'm further trying to hide the fact that I particularly like it not just for its fine writing, its judicial taste, its elegant structure, but because it mentions this site that you're reading right now.

By the way, the print version of Rain Taxi is a marvel, but one I had not paid enough attention to until somebody told me that people like Alan DeNiro, Stepan Chapman, Kristin Livdahl, Rudi Dornemann, and Scott himself, among many others, write reviews for it (and yes, I just started writing for them, but I subscribed before that happened, once I discovered who their reviewers are). With Rain Taxi, BookForum, and a good selection of litblogs, you're likely to find out about a lot of books you wouldn't discover otherwise.

Settling Accounts: Drive to the East

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Below is the next in an ongoing series of guest reviews of upcoming or recent books.

Settling Accounts: Drive to the East by Harry Turtledove
reviewed by Gerard Marzilli


Settling Accounts: Drive to the East is the second volume in Harry Turtledove's World War II quadrilogy set in an alternate universe in which the South won the Civil War. The book is an incredibly fast paced yarn that will leave readers gasping for breath -- and incensed because they will have to wait an entire year for the next installment.

Although Drive to the East is only the second volume of the Settling Accounts series, Turtledove has set up the characters and situations in several other works, including the 1997 novel How Few Remain and the Great War and American Empire series. For this reason, readers who are unfamiliar with the series should not begin with Drive to the East.

That being said, the book is a chilling and realistic jaunt through an alternate 1940s America containing death camps, daily suicide bo…

Pottered

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I suspect this is tired desperation on my part, but here are some obligatory Harry Potter links:"18 Fantasy Authors to Read Instead of J.K. Rowling" by Ed Champion

"18 More Fantasy Authors to Read Instead of J.K. Rowling" by Gwenda Bond

"Adults Who Read Harry Potter: Yea or Nay?" by Scott EspositoAlright, that's enough.

I actually don't have anything against the Harry Potter books, as long as they're not touted as the greatest things to ever be printed. I've read the first four, and found the first three of those quite entertaining, particularly the third. The fourth I thought was tedious, but I know 12-year-olds who were riveted. I'll get to the fifth one of these days.

It's fun to see kids excited by books, to see them enchanted by stories and characters. There's something unsavory about scoffing at it all and being a Great Big Grump saying, "Well, child, one of these days you'll realize how much of your life you hav…

Content with Form

Now and then an irresolvable discussion of how we approach works of art can be fun, and even occasionally enlightening. For instance, Mark Kaplan's discussion of aestheticism at Charlotte Street:Whether it is Kafka (Kafka speaks of books that break open the frozen substance inside us) or any other of the authors who really interest me, there is in these writers a content which burns a hole in the given social substance, which is indifferent to the Symbolic Order in which the writer lives, and which, taken seriously, is incompatible with a life lived pragmatically within that order. And the view of literature as no more than a painless supplement to such a life is anathema to such texts.

I have strayed a bit... the point is to suggest that the 'aesthetic' is often a denial of content, a defusing of its radicalism; the content is placed in parentheses. And yet the critics by insisting on the aesthetic (defined as the suspension of content) have turned things on their head. F…

Blogger's Revenge: Return of the Linkdump

Since I'm trying to catch up with life and should be doing all sorts of things other than being online, here are a few links, all vegetarian-approved, to keep you busy for a couple minutes:The new Strange Horizons has been posted, and includes a great column by Debbie Notkin about various new organizations (of a progressive slant) within the SF community.

At MemeMachineGo a look at the Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemmings controversy/history and the stupid white fears that underlie it.

Chris Barzak's lovely story "The Language of Moths", originally published in Realms of Fantasy

Alan DeNiro's story "The Centaur", which may also be lovely, but I haven't read it yet.

Recently discovered blogs: The Emerging Writers' Network and Romancing the Tome (a blog about adaptations of books into movies)

Apparently Kurt Vonnegut is in favor of nominating Judge Judy to the Supreme Court. Me, I'd prefer Carson Kressley, but each to their own. (via The Rake)

Readercon: Day 3

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Today was the end of Readercon, and everyone looked a bit dazed and even bedraggled, though happy. Corrections to my earlier posts have already begun to appear in the comments -- please feel free to correct anything you think I mistyped, misperceived, or missed. (Thanks to Kathryn Cramer for doing so already.)

First, the Rhysling Awards have been posted and the winners announced to all the world, not just Readercon attendees. Congratulations all around.

Now to today: I arrived in the morning to see Greer Gilman read from the third story in her series begun with "Jack Daw's Pack" and the World Fantasy Award-winning "A Crowd of Bone". I'd heard Greer read other pieces of the story last year, and it's as vivid and unique an artifact of language as the other two, so I wasn't about to miss another sneak-peak. Her writing can seem, on the page, almost opaque, but when she reads it doesn't feel the least bit difficult or obscure to me. I told her t…