Current Reading

First, I finished Sophia House. If you haven’t read the excellent Father Elijah then there is no sense in reading this first. Sophia House is a (sort of) prequel to Father Elijah that would not work if read sequentially.

Since this is the day and age where you can find out everything yourself with a click, take my recommendation, read up on it in Amazon, decide for yourself. I thought the payoff way well worth the read. Don’t the long philosophical discussions turn you off, they serve the theme at the end.

Now, onto NOT TO MENTION CAMELS. I have owned this book for four years and, being depressed over missing the third LaffCon, decided to go ahead and jump into what some say is his most bizarre and impenetrable book.

I take that as a challenge, sir. I still can’t say what some of the stuff I’ve read of his is about!

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YOU DON’T MESS WITH SARAH CONNOR!

I still haven’t seen the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. From everything that I have read, I am bound to hate this one more than Mary Sue Awakens. I really started to think about why and then I ran across a conversation on Mr. Wright’s site where people were discussing Sarah Connor from Terminator and Ripley from Alien/Aliens.

Someone came close to differentiating between KTB’s (killer tough babe) and Rey from Star Wars.

The thing that Ripley and Sarah Conner have in common as KTBs, and that most miss, is their motivation.
Ripley and Sarah are mother bears protecting their cubs, and nothing is going to stop them.

While this has some truth in it, it doesn’t go far enough. What is essential is the storytelling. What is crucial is the thing that makes it a principle of character development for both male and female characters.

I call it The Crucible. This idea is not new to me. I am applying a well known concept that is as old as story telling itself. But it is the element that is missing from the character and character development of Rey from the new Star Wars franchise.

What is missing from the new Star Wars series is basic storytelling.

Here is the comment I left at Mr. Wright’s site. I could elaborate, but this should be common knowledge. Note the two KTB’s are both from Cameron. Abrams doesn’t understand character development in general nor female in particular.

I was thinking about the part discussion going on about KTB’s (killer tough babe) here (although it seems to be a dead thread now). The thing that is missing, the thing that distinguishes a Sarah Conner and a Ripley from a Rey is a crucible.

The quintessential example (for me) is Sarah Connor. In the beginning Connor is just young waitress living the mostly carefree life of a single woman who goes out with friends. And if it were not for the intervention of Reese, the first Terminator would have been a short 2 minute clip of a woman getting her head blown off by a time traveling cyborg – The End, please exit theater. She’d have struggled to defend herself from a drunken Seth Green let alone a heavy metal alloy Arnold.

James Cameron knows how to tell a story (most of the time) through character. By the time we get near the end of the first movie when she is screaming to Reese after he sustains a debilitating injury “on your feet, soldier!” Sarah Conner the KTB is almost forged. When we meet her in the second film, lean and mean and menacing, and overpowering other human men, we buy it. We saw her transformed, we were given the evidence (it also helped that Cameron was smart enough to show her working out vigorously in the beginning of the second film).

Sarah Connor had a killer cyborg come back in time to kill her and she lived to tell about it – don’t F*** with Sarah Connor.

The same goes for Ripley in Alien/Aliens.

But the real point is that it applies to men as well as to women. The fault in the Rey character is not that she is a woman. The fault is terrible storytelling. Luke gets his clock cleaned in his first bout with Darth Vader even though he had at least some training with a Jedi Master. Mary-Sue-Rey takes on and bests proto-Sith Ren having just touched a lightsaber for the first time. Luke’s defeat at the hands of Vader is the crucible that forges him into the Jedi (almost) that he appears as in The Return of the Jedi.

In the first Star Wars we learn early on the Luke has piloting experience and thus we buy his being able to pilot an X-Wing, and we are able to buy his destroying the Death Star because he had Obi-Wan as force mentor in the cockpit. Rey “just knows” how to handle the Falcon, she “just knows” stuff about fixing it somehow. She goes through nothing, faces no crucible, is forged in no fire, suffers nothing for her powers.

I don’t think the character follows from the dictates of feminist ideology so much as it follows the pipe dreams of a slacker generation that doesn’t know anything about what character takes, just as they know nothing about man. It is the “safe-space” view of human development. That if you give someone a pillow, fast food, endless pep-talks on how good they are, this is what leads to success.

Abrams had an inkling (perhaps subconscious) that this wouldn’t totally fly which is why Rey lived alone and orphaned and traded imperial scraps for food. But that coin is not enough to buy the power needed that she displayed. Just as Sarah Conner growing up in foster care wouldn’t have been enough.

THE MAN WITH THE SPECKLED EYES

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As usual I am reviewing the introduction and, maybe, later reviewing some of the stories, or the book as a whole.

But probably not. I never do seem to get back to it.

And I usually see no reason to when I get into the book. It is a collection of Lafferty stories, nearly all I will enjoy immensely, and a few I will understand.

So far the only failing of this series (for me anyway) is in the choices for who writes the introduction. So far it is following the opposite of the Star Trek movie rule. The first and third introductions were good, the second and fourth were told by two men who mostly talked of themselves.

However Harlan Ellison had the advantage of having some relation to the man. And took a paragraph or two to relate something about Lafferty from his experience and not himself.

Richard A Lupoff spends most of his introduction talking incoherently about Lafferty being a practitioner of Orwell’s doublethink. And questioning how someone as smart and educated as Lafferty could believe in something as profoundly stupid as Catholicism. It should be noted that Lupoff has no real knowledge of Catholicism.

At the beginning of the introduction Lupoff confesses he only had a passing acquaintance with Lafferty – handshakes and a ‘how do you do?’ at conventions. At the end he goes into this bucket list fantasy about his friend Lafferty and Jack Vance.

I rarely, if ever, read introductions. No one buys a book for the introductions. But I read the Lafferty introductions because Lafferty is my favorite writer and I would like to read of the man. I hope, in future volumes of this series, they will get some writers (or editors or publishers) who had some interaction with the man – something real to relate.

And, perhaps, one who did not wonder how “someone so smart could believe in something so stupid.”

 

The Big Book of Science Fiction

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I got this the other day. It is edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer and it is quite a large collection. I did not buy it because there is a R.A. Lafferty story in it even though there is. I own that story in probably three other collections. No, I got this collection because of how many unheard of authors (unheard of by myself at least) are between its covers.

Now it is part and parcel of the elite clique in charge of science fiction and fantasy circle to poo-poo much of science fiction’s (and fantasy’s) origins as a American/British white male dominated field. I am not one of those people. Although I hate the phrase, I think it useful here: It is what it is. It was a white male (mostly American and British phenomena) dominated field for quite some time. Dominated but not exclusive.

Simple fact is it was thusly dominated because it was, in fact, thusly dominated. The people writing it and overwhelmingly the people reading were, and to a large extent still are, white males. I go to Norwescon here in the Seattle area and, say what you will, it is a white affair, baby. Some newcomers want to make an issue of it. It is a non-issue. Particularly of such a field as science fiction. Talk about a historically inclusive field with a historically inclusively dominate theme running through much of its history.

Plain fact of the matter is white male writers produced white male fans who in turn became the writers. Woman have been part of science fiction for decades now. More now than ever – but that is because of acceptability. Acceptability among women themselves is part of the bigger push, I believe, than anything else.

If someone asks me why there haven’t been as many black science fiction writers than there could have been, I am more likely to say, “because most of them thought it was stupid?”

For myself I don’t really care who, or what, the author is. And in general I avoid bios of authors. I know nothing about the actors I watch on television (mostly) and even less about musicians whose music I listen (mostly). I care about the story.

And I fucking mean that. You can have a message (for Christ’s sake I spent over a decade with Atlas Shrugged as my favorite novel!) but it better gel within the story. If not, it sticks out like a horny thumb through a peanut butter & jelly samich. Speaking of Atlas Shrugged, I still hold that she did a great job of melding message to story what with the force of the anvil over the head messaging in any lesser hands it would have been beyond intolerable. I know some people do, in fact, find the book intolerable, but if looked at dispassionately from a technical standpoint with that level of message she intertwined it quite well.

That rambling aside it remains true that my experience of science fiction (and to a lesser extent fantasy – I don’t read all that much of what is defined as fantasy) has been almost exclusively an American/British affair. And it has had the biggest impact, all around, on the development of the genre. That is just how the world works.

The introduction to this book doesn’t convey that they hold the Golden Age in much regard, that “… gee whiz, can do attitude…” Well, again the genre does not live outside the world that gave rise to it. And America was still just that sort of country that would produce that kind of work for young boys, and some men, to gobble up. You cannot divorce 30’s science fiction and 60’s science fiction from the society they rise in.

Would Frank Capra have been Quentin Tarantino if only born several decades later? Probably not, but he probably also would not have been Frank Capra – at least not the one who made such movies as It’s a Wonderful Life. We cannot divorce the artist entirely from his milieu. Even the rare genius has at least ephemeral feet in his time whether in reaction or protest or material.

And that rambling aside! So I was intrigued by the book. It is good to dip your feet in unfamiliar waters. Maybe I’ll find that there is even more reason why the American/ British dominance existed. Maybe they were also producing the only stuff worth reading! I don’t know. I doubt that, some of these entries are for Russian authors. A country not famous for producing poor writers. Producing shitty governments, check, but not shitty writers.

I’ll post any gems I find.

 

Placemarker for, hopefully, Future Posts

As often happens when I am neck deep in schoolwork and I post that I will not be able to post, things come up that I really feel an urge to discuss.

One such is the Hugo award for short story going to Cat Pictures Please – it is kind of hard to believe there isn’t a destructive element, a ruling element, out there when pieces like this are awarded as the best science fiction has to offer.

I hope to have more to say about it if I can later. Suffice it to say that if this is the best (or even the most popular) that science fiction has to offer now, science fiction is dead. Or at least in its death throes.

We merely have to determine if her death is from natural causes or homicide. I’m leaning towards murder.

Anyone remember the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes – or You Better Not Let ol’ Joe Stalin See You Stop Applauding First? They raise the unexceptional (or even completely outside the category) and you are expected to clap. Applause and praise for the unworthy will identify you as in the group and your duties are dispatched to you. Silence will let you roam the room for a time – but there will come a time when ol’ Joe is eyeing you… To call the sham for what it is is to be branded as outside the group, and to be submitted to the hate, to be non-Fan.

Mr. I can’t finish my series Martin last year even prescribed personality traits that a TruFan should have. He thereby threw Harlan Ellison clear outside of “fandom”. Actually threw anyone out who hasn’t conformed to the New Rulers that took over almost completely about ten years ago.

My favorite author, R.A. Lafferty, saw these people coming decades ago. But no one wanted to listen to a crazy old Catholic man.

They’re here!

I thought this was supposed to be a future post? Ah, it got away from me.

The other is I’d like to explore (from a time that science fiction awarded – at least in the short story realm – excellence and not rambling blog posts of little worth as blog posts) the theme of science fiction’s oft-overlooked treasure.

Science fiction can boast as having within her history two of the best American short stories writers. Yes two. I have another favorite author as well (he comes in the top 5 at least). I can only think of one thing these two men had in common, and that was their command of the short story. Particularly the sleight of hand, the magician’s trick, the short story with the twist.

These two authors were R.A. Lafferty and Fredric Brown. If you have never heard of the first, welcome to my blog; if not the second, you will know him as the writer of the Star Trek episode Arena (and several Hitchcock hour episodes as well). If you do not know the Star Trek episode Arena – I’m sorry you ended up at the wrong website.

I’ve talked little of Fredric Brown here. While he was a master of the short story (and the unparalleled master of the short-short story) his work was usually not very deep, many times there wasn’t much beyond the gimmick. But they were mostly fun stories that were pleasurable in their own right and showed a deft skill of execution. Their lightness had a cause. Fredric Brown was actually a mystery writer (of which he is more famous for usually – see The Fabulous Clip Joint or The Screaming Mimi) who did science fiction on the side while he was idle on the mysteries.

Again, future reference.

Addendum to Previous Post

I wrote in my previous post about my premature evaluation of The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists:

They seem to live in a far future where space is no longer a hostile environment to man and yet they seem to live communally and under some sort of soft dictatorship.

They seem to… This is a great way of writing that too rarely done. Too many times I think an author tries to give the reader an absolute. It is “The Cat is on the Mat” style of writing which may work for children since their imaginations can take the most flat and literal expressions and make them into wonder.

I don’t care that I don’t know exactly, at least not yet, how or what these people really are. Those are questions that keep me going forward. Sort of like the questions of life itself, no? There are two ways to do this by the end of a story, and I’ve seen it done right both ways. You never really find out or the vagueness is used to reveal as we go on.

Now this is material I’ve covered before elsewhere but here it is for the purposes of a book recommendation. One of the best constructed books I have read especially of science fiction. The author, Brian Aldiss uses this technique with the best skill I have ever seen.

The book is Non-Stop (otherwise known as Starship) by Brian Aldiss. His technique is comparatively easy to do on film, not so easy to pull off on paper. But he does it. It is not a deep book, no meta-ethic or anything, just great technique. Or, perhaps, I was so engrossed in his perfection of technique, I missed anything wider. Entirely possible…

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The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists

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I saw this at the bookstore a couple of months ago and my wife got it for me as an early birthday present because I was so intrigued by the title. It is a little rare to find – $60. I decided my breakfast book could not be the current

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(which, btw, is so far great – a mix of Catholicism, spiritualism, psychology, physics, cosmology – its first of a four part series of books by the former president of Gonzaga University) because it is too technical to read over the morning news and my wife getting ready for work. So I decided to take Platypus out of the plastic and dive in.

So far it is different which is one of my key qualifiers for new work. Put it this way, I have no interest in ever reading the James Patersons or Nora Roberts or John Grishams of the world. Stephen King? Sure. Although I prefer his less popular works like Tommyknockers. He calls it his worst novel. I loved it!

He, Cover, is not stylistically inventive in any particular way that jumps out but the subject matter and approach of story is. They seem to live in a far future where space is no longer a hostile environment to man and yet they seem to live communally and under some sort of soft dictatorship. Or a hard dictatorship since those in control can direct your soul where they wish after you die. Or at least the people think they can.

And now the leader says that the Black Pirates are to have their champion fight the Black Pirates champion and the winner will be visited by the dreaded Platypus of Doom!

And this was after the lead character’s girlfriend was killed by a meteor and one of the members was telling him how ugly his girlfriend had been and how revolting it must have been to have entered her. And how he should bed her daughter.

Quite unusual.

There are no technical explanations of how, for instance, the lead character (he has no name as yet) is able to get away from it all by, basically, willing himself to a different galaxy. You just accept that these people have this ability. It is that sort of “soft” science fiction that I usually prefer.

Only 8 pages in and I can give this one a recommendation. One of the tests of recommendation, I think (meaning, would I recommend a work to someone) is: does the material stay in the mind? Will the material stay in the mind? There are many a Pohl and even Heinlein story that I can remember nothing of.

I’ll remember, if nothing else, these first eight pages. So if you run across a copy, snatch it up!

Oh, and the author is not English. You’d think with a name like Arthur Byron Cover he’d be from across the pond!

Rork!

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This was my first foray into the world of Avram Davidson. Not so sure about this guy. The writing style was competent, the story… not very memorable. It certainly fits into its time. You know if a man lands on a planet and slips pretty easily into two or more vaginas within the first 50 pages (to be fair though the book is only 148 pages… alright now I’m laughing) you are reading a book written by a creepy white dude in (probably) America in the 1960’s or 1970’s. There is almost a pathology to it. It is almost incidental. The words related to any fornication could be substituted for relative words for eating a meal together and it would have so the same impact on plot and their lives.

They do the same sort of thing now but we are bored by something as commonplace as free-love, or consequence-free sleeping around with easy women. Instead we get rape and incest a la George RR Martin and sundry types. We’re all John Norman now!

If you contemplate this may all be wish fulfillment… you want to back away… slowly…

Anyway, I am not sure if Rork! represents a nadir in Davidson’s career. A simple “meh” moment, or he simply isn’t that good. I have a couple other books of his that I got off a personal library clearance.

It just wasn’t that special.

Next Centipede Edition of Lafferty Up at Amazon

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First observation is they are getting a little obscure with the introductions. I, at least, have never heard of Richard A. Lupoff. I’m not sure that is just me though. Everyone has heard of Harlan Ellison or Gene Wolfe. Too early for the story list, but I’m sure they’ll add it at some point. I didn’t check Centipede Press as I was stopping by Amazon to order yet another book for my medical coding classes (shit is going to break me, I haven’t written in sixteen months – sixteen months! I long for the days of frantic procrastination and creative loitering (wink). Better that a wannabe writer sits there and wastes his life away in daydreams than to be just fingers grasp away from the object of his desire.)

Anyway, it is still nine months away, but I am looking forward to another installment!

 

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!