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Category Archives: Books

Mazeppa, A Brief Review of Two Brief Tales

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Never cared much for poetry. I read Mazeppa anyways and I really like it. The tale of a man strapped to a horse who runs with an almost endless energy is great. But I hunted this down for the ”Fragment of a novel” included. It’s cited as the first vampire tale in literature. I’m interested in reading Bram Stoker and Prest’s tales of Varney the Vampire so I figured I’d start at the beginning. But it really is only an unfinished fragment and we only know that it’s about a vampire because the author said so. His publisher apparently printed it, without permission, combined with Mazeppa to pad the volume out. It’s very slight and there’s not much to say, but what’s there is good.

What’s perhaps most fascinating is that Byron wrote this fragment during the same ghost story competition held with Percy and Mary Shelley, out of which Frankenstein also came. History. Get it.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2012 in Books

 

Book Review: The Day of the Locust

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A bunch of weirdos and their messed up lives intersect on the fringes of Hollywood and everything gets more and more tense until a man goes Lou Ferigno on a little boy’s torso. It was a nice way to end things, especially since this reader wanted to strangle some of the characters himself by that point.

Funny story: I got this book because I read somewhere that it was science fiction. Or at least I thought i had. Obviously it’s not, but the whole time I was reading I kept wondering when someone was going to travel through time or aliens would pop up. Those that “come to California to die” seemed likely candidates for lizard people.

But about three quarters of the way through (okay maybe four fifths), it was clear that no one was going to be losing their cat in a wormhole. That complete misdirection got me to read something I may have never noticed otherwise, and I’m mostly glad for it. Also being such a short book helped.

It reminds me a lot of Camus’ The Stranger. But where Mersault acted on his sociopathic thoughts, Tod Hackett does a much better job of keeping his violent and rapey impulses to himself.

The cock fight scene was truly horrifying and depressing – I didn’t know much about that, and I wish I still didn’t.

This book is probably particularly relevant, and maybe even cathartic, for people living or working in Hollywood. But the basic idea comes across just fine even if you don’t. It’s ultimately an intriguing mix of repulsiveness, curiosity, satire and pointlessness.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Books

 

Book Review: Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis

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Tagline: An Allegory of Christianity for the Progressive and Nerdy

Normally I love detailed exposition of retro-futurist tech and alien environments but I didn’t enjoy it here. It is too mechanical, as the author seems to want to be as accurate as possible so the reader can establish the scene perfectly in their mind, which is going too far. Or maybe my brain has been turned to mush by Burroughs’ Barsoom series and Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber.

While the story itself is interesting, it’s similar to other space fiction of the time – basically they were all a variation on Dances with Wolves in space. It’s the broader themes it illustrates that are really engaging. As other members of GoodReads have noted, the exchange between the main character, his captors and the metaphysical being of Oyarsa is excellent: a comically hilarious and frustratingly accurate discourse on expansionist ideology. This scene is mostly about the application of Darwinism to the conquering of foreign peoples. Perhaps the Nazis or fascism in general were the source of inspiration, given its publication in the late 1930s, but I think it more closely resembles American settlement and expansion.

It’s encouraging that Lewis finds contempt for those that justify colonization under the guise of twisted Darwinism and Manifest-Destiny-like ideals. It’s equally encouraging to find that Lewis accepts the real theory of evolution in general. In fact it may be surprising to some how matter-of-factly he accepts it.

One thing I really appreciated was Lewis’ focus on language throughout, being a philologist himself. We learn some basic Malacandrian along with the protagonist, and it’s wonderfully immersive – the author even uses racial accents to distinguish between characters. It reminded me of the way Stephen King uses onomatopoeia, nicknames and rhymes throughout the Dark Tower series. I find this stuff key to making rich experiences.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Books

 

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Short Story Review: The Jaunt by Stephen King

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Teleportation. Minds suspended across time. Rat butts. And oil. It’s always the oil.

[schema type=”book” name=”Skeleton Crew” author=”Stephen King” publisher=”Signet” pubdate=”1986-06-03″ isbn=”0451142934″]

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Books

 

Book Review: The Courts of Chaos (Chronicles of Amber Volume 5)

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“…the Courts of Chaos, a grossly non-Euclidean realm…”

A satisfying and touching finish, despite its uneven start. This last chapter was the best, being a final adventure filled with wonderfully surreal encounters and phenomena.

Some details were probably inspired or borrowed from better-known predecessors. But like King did with The Dark Tower, they are woven together to create a new entity, unique in its own right. And Zelazny’s epic must have provided things that became the basis for many of the principles at work in Roland Deschain’s universe.

I especially enjoyed the minor confrontation with the cannibalistic little people, which seemed deliberately borrowed – and twisted – from Swift. The quote above is another bonus, a Lovecraftian description of the titular realm.

“But it has far greater depth than originally conceded by critics and readers who dismissed it as lacking substance.”

This series is deceptively clever. It is full of allusions to other literature, historical events and figures. Zelazny was having fun writing this, but he was also teasing and engaging the reader in a multifaceted discussion on the nature of identity, without dragging the plotting down.

The July edition of the New York Review of Science Fiction has an amazing essay that examines all of the brief, cryptic references and allusions. This bit of fantasy is more than just a minor sword and sorcery tale crossed with some science fiction. If you’ve finished this series (the first five), I highly recommend their article, available here

[schema type=”book” name=”The Courts of Chaos (The Chronicles of Amber Volume 5)” publisher=”Sphere Books Limited” isbn=”0722194412″ ]

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Books

 

Book Review: The Chronicles of Amber Vol. 3 of 5 – The Sign of the Unicorn by Roger Zelazny

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The story of this time-traveling, in-fighting and incestuous family dressed in anachronistic medieval attire really hit its stride in this volume. The pacing and political intrigue are tight and complex, yet comprehendible. The things revealed by twists are unforeseen and captivating. If you’ve read the first book or two and wondered what all the hoopla was about (the series has appeared on many Best Of awards lists and name-checked as an influence by a healthy number of talented writers, Neil Gaiman among them), stick with it and you’ll probably be rewarded at this point.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Books

 

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Finished Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ Novel, Here’s My Brief Review

Galaxies! Check this out:

“Look, Manlio, we’re proceeding along a planned history. We know that Hari Seldon worked out the historical probabilities of the future. We know that some day we’re to rebuild the Galactic Empire. We know that it will take a thousand years or thereabouts. And we know that in the interval we will face certain definite crises. Now the first crisis came fifty years after the establishment of the Foundation…Almost seventy-five years have gone since. It’s time, Manlio, it’s time.”

That’s got to sound really cheesy to if you haven’t read it before. And it is amazing how goofy a lot of this stuff is, especially taken out of context, yet it ultimately comes out of something intelligent and compelling. I’m addicted to the feeling of discovering fictional universes with traits that sound corny and stupid on the surface, but are actually deep and fascinating once I take the time to get to know them.

The most unique thing about this book is probably how protagonists and their rivals change regularly as the story spans multiple generations. The concept great – a plan to save the collected knowledge of sentient beings over a millenium as an empire collapses and regresses. It was challenging trying to keep track of all the characters, but not that bad. Chapters are usually 8 pages or less (much, much less in many cases) and the plot is engrossing. You have to keep reading to see how they’re going to solve each new crisis. Each time the hologram of the plan’s creator appears (and this is rare) to guide his descendants, I’m palpably excited, almost as much as the characters themselves.

The central mechanism upon which this whole thing is built requires your acceptance that something called ‘psycho-history’ is developed in the future, and that it can reliably predict future actions of human groups – for at least a thousand years. This can be difficult to accept at first, and for some reason seems to make the writing feel a little dated. It’s explained that the ability to understand and predict human behavior requires really large sample sizes, which is something I deal with in my statistics work as well. It’s a sound, if very basic, truth about any data set, and you’ll learn to live with a little disbelief since the rest is so exciting.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Books

 

Magazine of F&SF, June 1972 – Review

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1972 (Volume 42, #6)The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1972 by Edward L. Ferman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I regularly find a lot of different issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction in bookstores and I’ve always wondered what I might discover if I only had the time and conviction to go through all of them. I came across this issue and purchased it immediately after seeing Gene Wolfe’s name in the contents. 

While his story was worth the $4 I paid, there were some bonuses too, listed below. One of the bigger surprises: The film review just happened to cover Night of the Living Dead!

Tarzan of the Grapes by Gene Wolfe: 
This is an enjoyable, if slight, story; tongue-in-cheek and having a very “meta” concept. This is only the second story I’ve read of Wolfe’s but I am anxiously awaiting the day I make it to the Book of the New Son that sits at the end of my to-read shelf. If these couple of glimpses are any indication, then an Amazon.com reviewer’s comparison of him to J. L. Borges is not inappropriate.  

Affair with a Lonesome Monster by Paul Walker:
Well-written story about a couple of psychic aliens that wage their final battle in a gay teenager’s mind. The setting and the frankness of the boy’s sexual orientation makes me really curious about how commonplace the topic was in popular culture at that time. Perhaps F&SF was still so marginalized that it was one of the safe places to write about that. 

The Week Excuse, by Isaac Asimov:
This is a well-reasoned essay on the failures of the Gregorian calendar and how it could be improved. Well it seems well-reasoned, I wasn’t able to follow it completely. It seems comically fitting that the first Asimov I’ve ever read would be this. Foundation is next, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it much more than this dry diatribe.

Variation of a Theme by Curt Siodmak:
Well-told short tale of a man trying to get rid of an actual halo that appears around his head. Perfectly paced, most likely due to the fact that Mr. Siodmak was a prolific screenwriter (turns out he penned the script for The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney and the 2010 remake). 

Son of the Morning by Phyllis Gotlieb:
I had to force myself thru the first half of this one.  It got way better after that. Giant, psychic red tigers from outer space prevent a ball of pure energy from instigating a pogrom in a small village’s synagogue. Yes it’s crazy, but you’ve got to love those really absurd concepts. Apparently Ms. Gotlieb was a somewhat popular Canadian scifi author. I probably won’t seek out her other stuff, out but I can see why plenty of other GR users like her. 

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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Books

 

I Hope They Make Another

Found this gem today:

…it’s not a classic but it’s on its way to becoming one, and I want to talk about it here because it received minimal notice (like none) when it first appeared. By now it is a prize example of the film that builds a reputation only by word of mouth, without even the benefit of TV exposure, because it’s too rough to be shown thereon. Readers who live in cities or college towns, or who read the underground press…will know that I’m talking about Night of the Living Dead.

…I attended a midnight showing, the audience of which was primarily hip kids in their 20s come to laugh it up. Instead, I haven’t heard that kind of authentic audience response in the way of screams and gasps since the old days when an audience really did scream and gasp at horror movies.

…it concerns a night when the recently dead are reanimated with a hunger for human flesh.

The film combines suspense/terror … with gut, shock horror (extreme graphic cannabilism) more successfully than any other I can think of. Presumably George A. Romero (director/photographer) and John A. Russo (writer) deserve credit for the extraordinary film. I hope they make another.

– Baird Sales movie review in the June 1972 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Books, Film

 

Ender’s Sister

“The most noble title any child can have,” Demosthenes wrote, “is Third.”
Valentine (as Demosthenes)

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2011 in Books

 

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