Monthly Archives: January 2016

R.A. Lafferty Collected Short Stories Volume Three: The Man Underneath

Is here! Is here! Is really really here! It’s here!

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The bottom part of the page shows the wrong book… (edit – TOC on bottom of page has been fixed, 01/31)

But whatever – buy yours today! And remember, like last time, order it from Centipede Press for $45 and not Amazon for a staggering $100.

 

 

 

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Song of Kali

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I’ve loved some Dan Simmons ever since his Hyperion series. I was about to read Drood, also by Simmons, but after barely finishing Leckie’s Titanic disappointment, and Wright’s super-dense 4th installment of his Eschaton series, I needed a break. So I thought a good horror story would be in good order.

And in good order it is! I am only 65 pages through it (and in one day which is warp speed reading for me) but damn if this isn’t good. I mean really good. He will have had to really let out a cosmic fart to screw this up. I’ll post something about it when I am done reading it.

Wright’s book, Architect of Aeons, tried my patience a little. It was mainly info dump through dialogue. I hope he has enough of a set up now that the last two books are mainly action. There is just too much referenced by the characters of times, peoples and ages and all done up quasi-medeival (which is not a problem of itself) that after awhile you glaze over and think, “I’m I supposed to keep this terabyte info dump in my head? Do I need it to follow along?” I did come into this book in a foul fiction mood after Leckie’s cosmic fart of a series, so that is a factor.

I needed a straight ass story. I got it. I certainly recommend the first 65 pages so far!


The Force Awakens – Revisited

Last Monday, nearly a month after seeing it the first time, I went back and watched it early in the morning. I have to say I had a much better impression of it the second time I watched it than the first time. That is certainly something I could never get myself to do with the prequels.

One of the things I had against it the first time is the usual, modern, spectacle of skinny little girls beating up men. But, on review, before she got what I have to call a Force infusion, she engaged in no upper body combat, merely kicking and a staff. That’s alright, I can buy that.

I know it is heretical to say nowadays, but girls are not as physically strong as boys. So I need a good explanation as to why a waif is sending men to the floor. Trinity in The Matrix had a very good reason – she was in the Matrix. If she was doing that to giant goons in the real world, I would have laughed.

I still have a problem with her being able to do all manner of things for which there is, as yet, little explanation. One hopes that the new guy on the film is not a drooling retard and realizes that he has to come up with a way cool power for Luke that enables him to virtually train Jedi from afar…


A Tale of Two Skeletal Reviews

SPOILERS (…sort of…)

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Recently I finished reading Anne Leckie’s Ancillary series. It was one of the biggest letdowns I have ever encountered in science fiction. Scratch that – the biggest.

Imagine it is 1977 and you have just seen the first Star Wars movie. And you go to see the second movie. Except you are not in our timeline. No, you are in the shrinking universe timeline where science fiction writers reduce the scale of subsequent stories in a series. They can start as wide as they want, but the rule (or expectation) is you have to whittle it down and reduce the scope and locale of the original story.

This would require some significant rewrite to follow the rules of this mundane timeline.

So imagine Han, Leia, Chewbacca & Co (and Luke, we can’t have more than one locale, that might give the impression of SPACE, so forget the Jedi training and all that, he’ll do a couple of things but nothing associated with the abilities teased in the original), arrive at Cloud City Bespin at the end of the first Star Wars movie. Let’s say that they destroyed the Death Star, but there is, in its place, the Empire’s Armada advancing towards them. So they bail to Lando’s mining operation.

Darth Vader is not there yet. He’ll show up near the end of the third movie, not get hurt and remain in power. We don’t want a definite ending structure here.

So, they all arrive at Bespin. But, it appears Lando is not such a good administrator – not such a “nice” guy to the downtrodden, the underprivileged, the poor of the Cloud City. So, the entire rest of the second movie is spent on discussions (over tea, everyone loves tea) about the poor conditions in some substation of the city. There will be some mild unrest and a few tears. Someone will die, but someone we really don’t know, but one of our main characters will go into mourning over it “because” and we will spend time in tea and discussion.

There is, at the periphery, a possible threat by a third party, a mysterious and deadly race, that never materializes, not in the second film nor in the third. Although a quirky representative from this mysterious race does show up to drink tea, make odd comments, and enjoy the food of your race. His – her? role is merely to prove that you can’t expect a weapon that he made and gave to you to actually work on him when you turn on him. Probably the only thing that makes sense after two thirds of a story that grounds, as if by design, to a complete slumbering halt.

Now it does happen that Darth Vader has some responsibility for the conditions of the poor on Bespin (there is no wider conflict by the time you are in the third film in this timeline). There is a stand off where Vader is set to whoop everyone’s ass and the good guys are in a pickle. But Vader tries to use his lightsaber on the mysterious race guy that manufactures them, it has no effect because the mysterious alien race are the only ones not stupid, the good guys manage to get out of their pickle, and Vader agrees to not be such a dick to the poor on Bespin.

Roll credits.

Remember everything that was in the original Star Wars is there, the Galactic Empire, the Rebellion, the Force, Luke’s powers, the vastness of the conflict, the might and oppression of the Empire. All of it – ignored for some six hundred pages about crappy administration on some tiny speck of a space station orbiting some planet in some far off portion of a galaxy.

Now you know the experience of reading the Ancillary series by Anne Leckie.

The first book promised so much. I am not exaggerating when I say the second and third books are tea and crumpets and civil administration on some insignificant space station. A galactic tyrant was supposed to go down. That was the promise delivered in the first book. That not delivered on, and the scope delivered in the first book was reversed as far as can be done in science fiction in subsequent installments.

I haven’t been this disappointed since Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. And that thing stunk!

Luckily, after this mundane journey, I knew I had an author up my sleeve that would not disappoint. An author that is the exact opposite of what I described above. John C. Wright, and the book was (is – I still have 120 pages to go) The Architect of Aeons – the fourth installment to his Eschaton series – I think that is the name for the series. If not, I deem it so!

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It can be said that Mr. Wright goes not only in the opposite direction of Leckie, but sometimes a tad too far. Meaning he stretches the scope each installment so far that a little too much of this book is info-dump. But, otoh, to be fair, his series is so out there, so far reaching, if he had to show all of this in action, it would require twenty, thick, volumes.

And it is really so dense that reading it with the publishing gaps (and I had to wait some months on top of that) makes it somewhat hard to hold on to all the details from book to book. Luckily in those info-dumps you get a pretty good recap.

I believe Mr. Wright’s series, if I remember him saying aright, is supposed to go to the heat death of the universe, the end of time. That is a place he has taken his readers before. He is one of the few modern science fiction authors who can.

But the point is this. He knows the pattern of how a science fiction (and really any multi- part work) tale is supposed to progress. The scope doesn’t have to go to the end of time, it doesn’t have to stretch for thousands of light-years in distance. But whatever you start with, it cannot shrink. You cannot promise galactic war, and end up talking about ventilation on some sub-section on some remote space station.

And you have to have an ending. You can have an ambiguous ending. But no ending is not an ending. Leckie actually had her first person protagonist narrate on the last page that there were no endings. Well that’s great if there are two or three books still coming. However, even if there were, I wouldn’t be reading them. If I want a bunch of women (I’m pretty sure they were all women, or men with excess estrogen in their blood) drinking tea and gossiping about who likes who and other such dull trivia on relationships, I can read Jane Eyre or something from England where they sit around with their fancy umbrellas – you know that boring shit they’re always showing on PBS! My wife love those things, I don’t get it.

In fact if that is what you are going to do, it would be better to not be in a science fiction setting because that just gets in the way. I shouldn’t have to take the extra time to here some technicality about your ship or your command hierarchy or other minuet of science fictioning if it is not integral to the story. If 90 plus percent of your story can take place at the Winsdore residence at Debynshire (and you really do have all the elements necessary there) keep it there.

Back to Mr. Wright. Another thing you want to do is to expand and deny the expectations of the reader. I am not giving anything away here, but this installment in particular is all about slashing away what you thought you knew and then expanding the story. It is, actually, veil lifting. It is all a skillful magician’s trick. “Here, look at this, this is what this is… No! it is this!”

Countless times in Aeons I have said, “holy crap!” to some revelation, to something I thought was one way, but I was as blind as the character Mr. Wright blindfolded.

And I laughed. I didn’t laugh once in Ancillary. Not once.

Thank goodness there are still men (men, LeGuin and Willis are still around, right?) out there that know how to write science fiction! That reminds me, what the hell is Vernor Vinge doing these days?


Face-a-Booku! And Catholic Mass

So, upon leaving my job I decided to get keep in touch with people I knew through Facebook. I sort of wish I had not. Most of my friends and acquaintances are free-wheeling, atheistic, liberals and free lovers. I am none of these things. I did, however, connect with a bunch of Lafferty fans on a page I had been following for some time. That was cool.

My mother also posts on Facebook, and while it is better than all the liberal crap (which consists of calling anyone not in lock-step with them assholes or bigots or motherfuckers – you name it) she posts some eye rolling stuff as well. The other day she posted a “mugshot” of Obama and his arrest plate (what do they call that thing the processed holds in front of him?) date said 1968. Mom, for God’s sake, Obama was 7 in 1968 and that is the oldest seven-year old I have ever seen.

I will remain “active” for a time and then disappear. Not from my mother or family, mind you, that’s ridiculous.

I saw Word Perfect Office on repackage sale at Target yesterday and bought it. Man, 1997 was a long time ago. And the software hasn’t changed too terribly much. I remember liking it so much, but perhaps that was because it was my first. I am going to stick with Scrivener as usual. I think I just like getting new software. But so far nothing has come close to Scrivener. I sort of like the new Word (well, the one before they tried this retarded “we’ll lease it to you on the web” bull crap that is so Microsoft) and I have to learn it for my new line of work.

Which is all for naught since I haven’t written anything in almost a year. I can’t wait to finish school and get a job. I am going to write like it was crack, all day and all night. And read too.

Last night, because it was only $1.99 I got Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism for Kindle. I’ve dug (you dig?) Bishop Barron from when I found him on YouTube talking about Bob Dylan and The Matrix movies. It says it’s available at this price for a limited time.

Speaking of all things Catholic, I attended Mass today. Most uncomfortable thing I have done… in recent memory. I went by myself because I know no one to drag with me. Perhaps I should not have gone on a weekday. People going during the weekday, they freaking mean it. So I was with a “pros”. Ever jump in the middle of something? A dance, a complex board game, or how about a song that you barely know but everyone else does? I thought that thing by my ankles was a foot rest. Apparently it’s a lever that brings down a pad to kneel on.

I just watched what everyone else was doing. Luckily I was at the very back. It was the most awkward experience ever. I also thought the priest was a little flat and the song they picked to sing was terrible. There was a point where everyone shook the hand of the person next to them. The guy next to me said something to me, but I missed what it was (too many years of loud amplifiers) and stuttered out a “same to you”. Which caused an odd look. Whatever.

At the end I got another odd look because people started coming out from behind their pews, I asked the guy next to me, “Is this the communion thing?” Well, shit, buddy, I don’t want to get in line for something I’m not supposed to! He answered me politely enough. Of course when he and his family came back from communion they made sure to sit four rows in front of me.

I read a little about the Mass before I went (alright I read about it sometime last year) but I don’t want to be the jackass that stayed seated while everyone went up for something I was also supposed to because I misremembered or misunderstood something.

And then when it was over the priest gave me a weird look as he passed by. Weird as in I don’t know if it was antagonistic, fearful, bored or what. It certainly wasn’t friendly. I’m sure I probably seemed like an idiot, or, closer, someone who had never been to church before. Not very welcoming at all.

But that’s alright. Actually, it was kind of funny how much of an outside they made me feel! I mean I really am, but… wow.

The interior was beautiful, I managed to sneak off a few pics before anything started.

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R.A. Lafferty Republished!

But only in the freaking UK. Amazon US just better be a little behind or getting a slightly delayed release. I will be completely pissed if he is only republished in the UK. See, he is being republished digitally but apparently not in hardcopy. Which I understand, he is a very niche writer. For a genre that is probably 98% media tie-ins and George RR Martin, Lafferty is beyond most science fiction fans reach and/or patience. If you are reading the novelization of The Force Awakens, Lafferty is something you will NOT be interested in.

However, if you like Gene Wolfe’s earlier work you will probably like Lafferty… or at least be able to read him.

But even on the Amazon UK site I have all but two of the new digital releases in hardcopy. I assume they will be releasing the rest of his work in due course.

They better be releasing this stuff beyond the UK, and they better be releasing the rest of his stuff as well.

Mood: Tentatively excited, prepared to be pissed…


Chicken Boy Enters Parking Lot…

…sees too many people and drives off.

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I decided this morning that I was going to give Mass a try.

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That is Catholic Mass to you, sir. I have just got off the vampire schedule that consumed the last ten years of my life

 

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so I thought, “why not?” My schedule had been to bed at 7am (or 8am) and rise at 3pm-ish.

You really don’t do much of anything on that schedule.

So after a few days of hemming and hawing about it, at 8:30 I said, screw it, I’m going. I’m figuring there would only be about 10 people in the place and plenty of seats. Sit in the back and then slip out at the end with the experience whatever that may be.

I get there and there are five or so parking spots left to the place. We are talking a healthy number of cars. There are people getting out of their cars and walking to the chapel, more people pulling in…

I’m thinking, “It is Wednesday, right? Where are all these people coming from? Isn’t it a workday?”

So with about five minutes to spare, I pull out of the parking lot and head home. Then I get a little angry with myself for being such a coward. I look at my clock – three minutes to nine. Not enough time to get back.

I think I spent too many years in too comfortable a position. Ooo, people I do not know, in an unfamiliar place, an unfamiliar atmosphere. Ooo!

OTOH, nothing stops me from going to a science fiction convention (I belong to that group… despite what Mr. R.R. Martin says) or to a movie, or anything else.

It is clearly (I think it’s clear) a case of being the OTHER. And I am not just an other, like a Lutheran or even Buddhist. But atheist, staunch 100% naturalist, that is what I was. Someone who paid lip service to the Russian “deity” Ayn Rand. Although I made one piss poor Randian, I was one darned good atheist.

I have to be willing to blunder.

 


Reading 2016

I can’t just study all day so, when I am not studying, I will be doing one of my other favorite things, reading! So here is a partial list of what I’ve got pegged for 2016.

First up is John C. Wright’s The Architect of Aeons.

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Which is exactly what I needed after Anne Leckie’s disappointing Ancillary series. The first installment was really good and promised quite large story. Then decided to whittle it down and focus on a smaller scale in the second book. And then stayed on that smaller scale for the third installment and then purposely left no ending. Her character states it at the end.

Get this set-up from the first book. A galactic empire is ran by a ruthless tyrant who possesses thousands of bodies. This tyrant one day commits an action so heinous it causes a rift between parts of her – one side is ashamed of herself, the other rationalizes the action’s expedience. The two sides start maneuvering against each other. Now much as the tyrant has many instances of herself, so the ships of her fleets and its crews are all the same person (except for the human elements). There is no distinction between the ship-mind and the minds of the crew, they are all the same person. They serve the human captain, in fact they usually form attachments to their captains.

One day this set up leads the tyrant to demand one such ship/humanoid to shoot her captain dead. The fragment then shoots the instance of the tyrant in the head and goes rogue. This causes another instance of the tyrant on the ship to blow the ship up. One fragment of the ship escapes torn from all her other selves, and her captain who she had to execute.

She vows revenge. Now that is a pretty good set-up, right? Thousands of instances of the tyrant at war with herself and with a rogue ship-fragment vowing to bring her down. If you are a science fiction fan, you want to read that series!

But what if in the next book this ship fragment was sent (by the “good” part of the tyrant) to an outpost where she spent time drinking tea and helping the poor and out of this outpost? What if the story never left this outpost? What if the ship fragment never killed another instance of the tyrant? Rip off! And I left out a bunch of other stuff that was unresolved.

The whole gender neutrality thing? Meh? If they weren’t all girls, the author gave me no indication they weren’t. It was like the female cast of Jane Eyre in SPACE!! Let’s have tea, do you think so and so likes so and so? Ack, give me LeGuin any day, please.

Also the book was pretty humorless. So it was with great pleasure that I picked up Wright’s Aeons. Not only is most of what he writes outlandish, I’m usually laughing right off the bat.

Then in no particular order is: Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

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Nope haven’t read it. I’ve read quite a few of his other works, this one never grabbed me.

A Borrowed Man: by Gene Wolfe It’s Gene Wolfe, nuff said, right?

 

Nod by Adrian Barnes

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I decided to give this one a chance because I am pretty familiar with lack of sleep and its effects and it seemed to have a Stephen King vibe to it. I bought it despite the author interview at the back of the book where he sounds like a college freshman retard, “the corporations man, we need a revolution man…” Shut the fuck up if you want to think and speak with your anus, write me some cool stuff and I will pay you, don’t expect me to pay attention to your late adolescent drivel. On the other hand, he’s Canadian (Canadian science fiction usually has the “Corporation” as the bad guy) so what can you do?

China Mieville: The Scar

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I have heard of Mieville for a number of years. So a couple of months ago in the bookstore I open up this book to the first page, read the first couple of sentences and bought it on style alone. This is also a man who thinks and talks from his anus outside his field. But I really don’t care as long as you deliver the product I’m paying for. He would hate that kind of capitalistic libertarian style thinking. Apparently he’s a socialist. Apparently he missed twentieth century history class…

China Mieville: three moments of an explosion  Bought this also on the strength of the sample I read from The Scar. Style can be a rare thing to enjoy. And I mean style of a kind where you just like the way they use words. I have this with R.A. Lafferty. I can read a story of his and not tell you what it was about it or its plot, but man, was it great to read!

Then I decided to go outside my usual stomping grounds.

3 by Flannery O’Connor

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Which was cheaper than any of the works singly. I have a certain love for Catholic writers. I haven’t read one I didn’t like. Seems to be a rather dark writer, southern and devoutly religious. Who wouldn’t like that combination in a writer?

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons:

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This is supposed to be one of the best, most frightening horror novels of the twentieth century. And it is written by Dan Simmons. I think I’m going to read this before Drood. Drood seems a chore while being a delight… or it could just be a chore, I haven’t read it yet.

Father Brown Crime Stories by G.K. Chesterton:

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Remember what I said about Catholic writers? He’s one of my favs. Funny I just started watching this series from PBS last week and then I ran across this.

And there should be another Lafferty collection coming out this year as well!