V. 1922 - 2007

no, not quite a fan, nor even necessarily a believer. but is there any particular reason i need to explain myself to you? to anyone?


Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen: first one, or maybe two stories...we'll find out in a bit

[note: this (with its subsequent clarification here ) continues to apply.]
i forgot: i also got Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen over the weekend. (yes, i know...retail therapy. what a bitch. still, it seems to have worked. i'm feeling much more chipper now, thank you very much. i, consumer.)
my introduction to Link was by way of The Faery Handbag, which i'd pulled at random from the interweb. sadly, no, that didn't get me out there hunting for her stuff, and i passed up the other samples of her work available online.
surely, however, i was missing something? so i went ahead and read bits of The Specialist's Hat from some 'Slipstream' Anthology a bookstore had sold me by mistake. (i can't remember the title of the book, but Banzai Cat will know the one. ask him.) better, imho. much. but i'd only read the first bits of it to fill in some dead space in between doing other things, and when i put the book down to continue with those other things, it promptly, er, slipped from my mind and i've never found the urge to get it back.
but i ramble aimless. where was i?
right. Stranger Things Happen.
Story the 1st: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. sigh. i can't help but feel disappointed by this story. certainly, the dead man's letters are simply lovely, and the prose and narrative and all the strange details are all successfully evocative of that same twilight described by John Singer Sargent's painting -- that precarious balance between fresh-lit lanterns and faded evening sunlight, that ethereal yet somehow ambivalent glow to the faces of the innocents, the carnations, lilies, roses, used here to magnificently subtle effect (and affect) to illustrate something like capture, or maybe entanglement in the delicate membrane between life and death.
unfortunately, the intervening omniscient voice, though most likely deliberate, strikes me as a kind of literary failure of nerve, as though Ms Link couldn't find it in herself to trust either her dead man narrator or the reader to get the story right. or, at least, not the way she wants either of them to get it.
i can't help but feel this story could have been so much better without those intervening bits, and was thus mortally wounded by them, the way, say, AI could have been so much better without being Disneyfied by Spielberg.
(ok, it isn't quite the same thing, not a very good analogy at all, but i wanted an excuse to link to this.)
so what Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose suggests to my mind is a writer with obvious talent, more comfortable with the sort of evocative yet minimalist prose that seems favored by high-minded literature these days than most other writers in the so-called genre, but who hasn't yet learned to trust either her self or her audience or both.
no, i wasn't completely happy with Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (this is entirely unoriginal of me, but can't you tell i just love that title?), but there's no way i can deny it's a beautiful piece of work.
an ambiguous start: promising, and lovely, but fatally flawed and, by itself, ultimately disappointing.
Story the 2nd? no, not yet, i think. not here, from work. i'm currently (perhaps wrong-headedly) trying to draw up some vague parallels that seem to be lurking between Water off a Black Dog's Back and James Salter's lovely My Lord You, and while i'd like that to manifest in the next post, i have to admit it might not.


fiction comma electric

in case i wasn't being clear -- and a recent conversation with Banzai Cat seems to indicate as much -- i have dropped all pretense towards 'critical' review on this blog. whatever i may say by way of 'comments' (such as this here set of so-called 'reviews'), until further notice, is purely reactionary; none of this from-the-hip 'criticism' (for lack of a better word) is meant to stand up to critical deconstruction, and if any of it does, i'll be more surprised -- if, i'm sure, more pleasantly so -- than anyone.

anyhoo, that out of the way...

today i picked up James Salter's A Sport and A Pastime, Iain Sinclair's White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, and The New Nature of the Catastrophe, ninth volume of The Tale of the Eternal Champion, the latter as a result of my crusade to track down and obtain every single piece of published fiction i can find by M. John Harrison (not to mention the fact that, yes, Jerry Cornelius is cool).

though i'm still wholly engrossed in Rupert Thomson's Death of a Murderer, i dipped into Catastrophe for M. John Harrison's 'The Ash Circus', which starts after the death of Jerry Cornelius, and, about which, this seems the best way to describe my feeble-minded reaction:

I read anyone who electrifies me or seems to be doing something I don't understand

-M. John Harrison, Disillusioned by the Actual, interview by Patrick Hudson, here, at The Zone.

(which also happens to go some way in leading me closer to a solution to certain investigations i have been conducting in my increasingly malcontent little headspace.)

a better way to celebrate Easter all by my lonesome, i can think of none.


here comes the rooster

so. The Road beats all the other competitors to a spit-roasted pulp and takes the Rooster. more meat for the roast, i presume. a bit disappointing for being a most predictable end to my first experience of the Tournament of Books.

no, i haven't read it. sure, ever since Paul raved about it on his blog, i'd been curious about it, reading the first few passages everytime i step into a bookstore. but somehow, i never felt the urge to take it with me out of the bookstore. if the reviews are to be believed, this book has everything going for it: post-apocalyptic setting; check. heavenly writing applied to descriptions of Boschian hell; check. the 'intimate in the face of the cataclysmic'; check. enough gloom to last a lifetime; check. brilliant minimalist *black* cover, great quality paper, etc.; check.

i *almost* got it yesterday. instead, i got Rupert Thomson's Death of a Murderer.

so far, it's working out rather well, pulling me out of Thomas Disch's bathetically cool 334.

(wtf?!? you say? where did *those* books come from? what happened to Ballard and Pynchon and Darrieussecq and Peake? welcome to the clamor and chaos that is this facet of my life: 334 peeped out from my boxes back home and insisted i take it with me, and now Myra Hindley's quiet whispers are beckoning, and, i find, impossible to resist.)

the hunting of the snark

read this before you go on. then, if you still feel the burning need to, proceed as you will with the rest of it:

Wail of the Sun:

i admit: i’ve had it with this sort of epic fantasy, you’ve got to come up with something truly imaginative and magnificent to impress me these days with this sort of fiction; so there’s no way i can pass off saying i approached this story without apprehension, without bias. still, there’s much to be said about how this story didn’t work without resorting to ‘bah. another epic fantasy. grumble grumble’: the fantastic elements felt very contrived. some vivid imagery, maybe, but typical. the human elements were even weaker: Redenthor’s ‘flaw’ was hardly anything more than fluff, and couldn’t have been more poorly chosen; the characters in general were stereotypes, their dialogue predictable, artificial, unnecessary. the underlying sentiment of the entire piece was more melodramatic than truly affective, and while this story is supposedly meant to be a mere fragment, it also dismisses any responsibility for that connection; a king falters, a world burns; we’re meant to feel for the fact that he dies for his daughter? it can be done, sure -- in fact, i’m all for focusing on the intimate in the face of the cataclysmic -- but it certainly wasn’t done here.


this was the most fun of the lot. the sheer imaginative cheek of the premise alone is worth giving it a go, and Andrew Drilon’s well-sustained second-person execution does it justice, with just the right amount of humor -- cheeky, at times even self-effacing -- thrown in with the gore. it’s a typical zombie story, sure, and fits right in with the whole ‘Living Dead’ canon, with, perhaps, a little less of the biting social commentary. but who really watches those movies for ‘social commentary’ anyway?

and what did you expect after learning that MJ’s true legacy wasn’t, after all, certain questionable doings at a whimsical little place called Neverland? (i know, i know: we’ve all heard that one before. but it’s true, ennit?) pure entertainment.

The Middle Prince:

i’ve said much about this already, broadcast by Banzai Cat over on his blog, and i really don’t know how else to put it. an interesting premise that was not done justice; there seem to be a few too many ‘shortcuts’ in the narrative, ‘violations’ of the ‘rules’ upon which the premise relies so heavily for it to be truly
meaningful. i can’t help but feel it could have been so much richer; i don’t feel convinced this is the way the story ‘should’ have been written, what i feel is one of the ‘obligations’ of a writer to the reader. that may be utterly wrong-headed and, in the end, may have been the only problem, but still: that definitely ruined it for me.


pulpy, predictable, derivatively lovecraftian horror? hell yeah! Joseph Nacino drops one from his personal crusade to translate spec fic tropes into something that actually fits a Filipino context. i don’t think BC quite does it here -- he good cop-bad cop elements, for instance, are a little disinheriting, though i’m sure some local filmmakers would beg to differ -- but the delivery doesn’t push any such pretensions, and so neither does the appreciation of this story require it; this is a story told the way it’s told, the way it happened. period.


a friend of mine pointed out the sentimentality of this story: ‘the fifth element is love.’ while there is something, appropriately, very Filipino about resorting to such melodrama, i realized my friend was right; there’s also something about it that simply throws the whole thing off. however, i’m not sure we meant the same thing: well-written (possibly the most well-written of all the stories here), well-researched (possibly the most etc., etc., as well), i found a pretension to the tone of this story that i felt inappropriate, and while my friend didn’t agree it was at all ‘too pretentious’, it was his comment that unlocked it for me: the gravitas to this story is somehow undone by that sentimentality; suddenly the pretension is revealed to be naiveté, and the whole thing collapses on the weight of its own, er, gravitas.

obviously, i wasn't personally happy with most of the contents of this Digest, but, given my current tastes, mindset, etc. (and anyway, who am i to talk?) that should probably be taken as a mark of approval rather than a fatal judgement: Kenneth has provided a much needed avenue for the publication of stories that might not otherwise have found a home.

not all of you will be pleased, not with everything you find in this Digest; then again, isn't that part of the nature of genre?