from the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
one thing became clear to me as I read this trilogy: Octaviafrom the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
one thing became clear to me as I read this trilogy: Octavia Butler is not partial to the human kind. oh, humanity: violent, vengeful, and vicious; petty, pitiful, perpetually proud. avaricious and all too willing to prey on their own. as a fellow visitor to this planet, I can only view Butler's perspective as one that is in line with my own. and so this was quite an invigorating experience given the overabundance of naively pro-human novels in the science fiction genre.
the story, in broad strokes: humanity destroys itself... the starfaring race of the Oankali arrive to pick up the pieces by saving what few humans remain on their blighted planet. these saviors of humanity offer them a sort of bargain: join with us - literally - and be reborn. it is not actually a bargain because humanity does not have much say in the matter. predictably, humans seethe and rebel against this kindly offer. my cynical self can't help but think that the main reason humans resist the compassion of the Oankali is because a large number of tentacles are involved. oh, racist humans! the trilogy follows the lives of three individuals: the woman who paves the way for a joining of the two species, and two of her children - two different kinds of human/Oankali "constructs".
Butler correctly assesses humanity's tragic flaw: a genetic tendency towards hierarchism at every level. a flaw that on the micro level leads to an inability to form relationships based on equality - and in the macro, one that could easily lead to the end of humanity's home world as they know it. oh, humanity. Butler writes in simple, straightforward prose, in what I imagine to be a chilly, neutral monotone. her style of writing makes the reading experience a deceptively simple one. but this is not a simple work. there is so much to contemplate throughout this series, in particular the idea of essentialism in terms of basic human nature: in gender roles, in the propagation of the species, in the ability to form families and other necessary social units, in the ways that humans think and act and react. science fiction as a genre once had at its core the idea of "speculation" - what would happen if this concept was introduced, what would happen if that idea changed a world. Butler's trilogy is a part of that excellent tradition and these books are challenging in the best sort of way: they force the reader to speculate on their own limited natures, on their own individual decisions and on the future of their kind. Lilith's Brood imagines where humanity's ultimate path may lie if they continue to give free reign to their basest genetic impulses - and then she imagines another path.
it should go without saying that Butler is ultimately in favor of the Oankali way. as a race, they are not without their own rather endearing flaws. but compared to humanity? well, that's like comparing a human child's scribblings to the works of the relatively advanced human Da Vinci. it was quite refreshing for me to read an alien invasion saga that is so resolutely on the side of the sensible "aliens". it was also fascinating to witness Butler's iciness gradually melt away, slowly revealing herself to be a rather tender individual who fully endorses the spirit and acts of cooperation and connection and joining that are necessary for any species' ongoing survival. her calm, dry-eyed observational skills are merely the outer shell of a person who values above all else such things as curiosity, compassion, and the concept that to live is to change. all beings are works in progress.
I have observed humanity as well; indeed, that is my entire mission on this planet. I hesitate to say that I am more sympathetic to the species, but my robot heart does have a certain fondness for this stumbling, bumbling race - a sympathy that a being from Butler's own insect species would most likely find quite foreign. well, I have been programmed for both sympathy and empathy while all such emotions are eschewed by her culture. I suppose such differences in perspective will be reconciled once our joint invasion of Earth commences....more
so I had a dream last night where Graham and Brian and Steve and I were all back in Seattle, and it was like it was before, four friends who were diffso I had a dream last night where Graham and Brian and Steve and I were all back in Seattle, and it was like it was before, four friends who were different from each other but still really connected, like brothers, and we were having adventures and serious talks and stupid talks and good times and bad times and it was all just so sweet and real, like things had never changed. of course things change and these are still my friends, but change is change and so Brian and Steve still aren't talking when they should both be bonding as fathers and leaders in their fields and as men, but change happens and now they can barely be in the same room together. and Graham - I still love him of course, I still love all of them, but I can't even remember the last time I saw Graham. these days I feel closer to Dave and to Jill, which is odd to consider because honestly back in the day they felt like satellites of the four of us. oh the small little tragedies and realities of life, the changes and the sweet memories and the never going back.
so there's a book called Dreamcatcher and it is about four friends and their histories together and the long times apart and their annual hunting trip. four great friends who were different from each other but still really connected, like brothers. four friends who grew up together; four individuals who are deeply characterized like they are all people the author knows, or maybe all different pieces of the author himself, made separate. or maybe both are true. it is easy to see your friends as a kind of extension of yourself, different but similar, four different sides of a square that is still one basic shape, one thing.
Dreamcatcher is not just about those friends but I sort of wish it had been. it is Stephen King's second version of an Aliens Attack! story and there is a lot to enjoy and speculate about, the telepathy and the strange forms that the aliens take and the government overreaction and spores and infections and two hilariously over-the-top villains. King is a great writer, he can craft a solid, fast-paced narrative and turn it into a great big tome without making it feel especially bloated. I like a thrilling adventure filled with horror and action, sure. but I really wanted to read more about those four friends and their lives together and apart. when one died it felt much too soon because I totally got him and yet there was still so much more to see. then when another died I felt genuinely sad - and not even because of the death itself, which made narrative sense - but because now there was a second story, a second life, that was all finished up in the book and that I still wanted to go on. King's humanism and his skill at giving you characters who the reader can implicitly, deeply understand almost works against him in Dreamcatcher, at least for me. I found myself wishing that this was a different book, one that wasn't a novel about an alien invasion but was instead all about these four friends, their histories and their futures, their annual hunting trips where they could be their true selves. I wanted all of that instead of aliens.
still, good book. and the cover is awesome, meaningful even:
this was a really fun and interesting look at all of the "history" and myths and legends behind A Song of Ice and Fire. it is written in the style ofthis was a really fun and interesting look at all of the "history" and myths and legends behind A Song of Ice and Fire. it is written in the style of one of that series' maesters so it is amusingly pedantic in tone, slanted against magic, and often quite obsequious towards then-king Robert Baratheon. I loved that faux-author's voice; the actual authors did a great job in capturing the feeling of a professor condescendingly lecturing his students while developing and expanding on Westeros and the Known World. it was all so drily amusing. and the art is fantastic! the book itself is nicely thick and weighty, with high quality paper and covers. a perfect coffee table book for a family of nerds. or hey, even a nerd bachelor like myself.
the volume is divided into roughly three parts: a history of Westeros including the arrival of the First Men, the Andals, and a king-by-king chronicle of each of the Targaryens; an overview of each of the 7 kingdoms (although 8 are actually described - those poor riverlands don't even count as a kingdom); and descriptions of various cities and lands outside of Westeros.
things I particularly enjoyed:
- the in-depth details of the various Targaryen reigns.
- maze-makers in Lorath!
- a poisonous city in Sothoros!
- a city called Carcosa all the way behind the Shadow! and other surprising Weird Fiction and Cthulhu-isms, including a couple references to "Deep Ones".
- particularly loved the illustrations of each of the 7 kingdoms' capital city. The Eyrie, Casterly Rock, and Highgarden were awesome. ok if I had to live anywhere in Westeros, it would have to be The Reach.
- lots of details of two underrated kingdoms: The Iron Islands and Dorne.
- quite a lot about Tywin Lannister, which was particularly great to read since he lacks a POV in the books.
- and I didn't realize that the Starks were the only royal family to rule or dominate their realm from the beginning. apparently the Baratheons replaced the Durrandons, the Martells replaced the Yronwoods, the Arryns replaced the Royces, the Lannisters replaced the Casterlys, the Greyjoys replaced the Hoars, the Tyrells replaced the Gardeners. I imagine all of that info is in ASOIF but it really stood out to me when reading this.
ok enough nerding out on this. if you love the series as much as I do, you should probably just invest the bucks and buy this. and don't buy it on kindle for chrissakes.
(view spoiler)[I suppose the less said the better about all of the negative comments and the 1 star reviews that appeared before the book even came out. or that have appeared since. ugh, whiny and entitled people just drive me up the wall. boo hoo hoo, I've been waiting so so long for the next book that I've soiled my diapers because this isn't that next book so I'm going to be a bitter little baby about it. waaaa! FUCK OFF, IDIOTS. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
dig your own grave, gravedigger. become what you hate and let eagles feast upon your heart...
run from your lost love, young lover. mthe book is an elegy
dig your own grave, gravedigger. become what you hate and let eagles feast upon your heart...
run from your lost love, young lover. make a new love of this murderous land...
your fantasies become a terrible reality, empty-eyed princess. your family is a trap, bitter young prince. together you can burn it all away...
ride lonesome, pale rider. shoot yourself down...
the book is not Horror
well, it is not capital-h Horror, it's not of that genre. and yet it is rife with horror, and poetry, the horror-poetry of Flannery O'Connor's Southern gothics and Cormac McCarthy's desolate landscapes, a closed circle of a family by way of Shirley Jackson or William Faulkner. I was reminded of these authors while reading this strange, compelling little book.
the book is not a Weird Western either. sadly, the marketing geniuses at Avon Books slapped a cheesy cover on its first edition: a skull-faced cowboy roaming a western landscape. the cover fits, but only if you look at it as a kind of cartoonish representation of the dreamlike reality that lies within its pages. this is a work of literary fiction and all that that implies: poetic prose, challenging themes, rich characterization. characters and narratives that have a double life as actual characters and plots as well as metaphors and analogies for a place, a time, for places and times and people and fates that change, must change. unknowable places; remorseless Time; people who are callous and cruel and tender and tragic; capricious and sardonic Fate.
so this book barely had a chance; thanks a lot, Avon. no wonder it is buried treasure. the author wrote one other book: a nonfiction book called "The Ecological Citizen". I wonder what it is about.
here is a spoiler
a spoiler for the book, and for life in general: all roads lead to death.
make your plans accordingly!
and here is a synopsis
4 stories in 8 parts that span many decades in fearsome, lonesome Montana. morticians and cowboys and a decaying old house with a decaying old family and towns that are unfriendly to the past. the characters overlap, in a sense. you meet a character in one story and he will likely die in the next. or not.
Montana Gothic is a meditation on loss. it is bleak and beautiful; a tall drink of icy cold water; a dark, sad dream of a book....more
reporter moves to small town and comes across a rash of suicides. are they actually suicides? is there some supernatural presence lurking at the cliffreporter moves to small town and comes across a rash of suicides. are they actually suicides? is there some supernatural presence lurking at the cliff that is the site of those deaths? and is there some sort of shadowy cabal that has formed a pact - a covenant - with that supernatural presence?
I guess I'm ok with reading a graphic rape scene in a horror novel. or at least I don't get so horrified and upset that it becomes hard to continue reading, like I do when coming across a graphic scene of child murder or abuse. I wonder why that is, how I can be okay with one thing but not the other, like I am prioritizing atrocities. so yeah, I can deal with an explicit rape scene in a horror novel, sure. but to have to read one incredibly horrific rape scene... and then, not much later, read another even more horrific rape scene that takes place 18 or so years later... to the same character? why, why, why. it just seems so gratuitous, so cruel just to be cruel. ugh, gross.
the protagonist is almost ridiculously unappealing. it appears as if he is intended to be some sort of Everyman but I doubt every man in his mid-20s would think that it is alright to repeatedly ply an 18-year old with booze in the service of his queasy crush on her. ugh, gross. there is also the basic illogic of his backstory: reporter blows whistle on corruption, specifically singling out his own girlfriend. er, conflict of interest much? I doubt any big leagues newspaper would allow this. the author seems unaware of how lame, repulsive, and unrealistic this guy is.
the villain talks like the sort of demonic super villain that a 14-year old would think up. actually, the villain sounds just like a demonic 14-year old. this is some ageless supernatural menace? I think not.
and the writing is often abominable.
He could almost taste the scent of death in the air. It stank of the bloody tang of brine and betrayal.
there is so much that is wrong with those two sentences that I don't even know where to start. and there's much, much more where that came from. ugh, gross prose, that's the worst!...more
I had no idea that somewhere within me was a craving for unusual westerns featuring a man with a magic gun, a tough lyee-haw, it's Weird Western time!
I had no idea that somewhere within me was a craving for unusual westerns featuring a man with a magic gun, a tough lass with a coat full of knives, and a cat traveling with them in a saddlebag. the duo (trio?) apparently ride about solving supernatural mysteries in the Old West; this particular mystery features cow mutilation, levitating zombies, witchery, and something strange buried in the scrub.
I liked this fast-paced novella. the writing was polished, the humor enjoyably low-key, and the story spun was intriguing and satisfying. no complaints. well, I suppose one complaint: I want more, more, more! my craving must be satisfied!
I had to email the author to ask if there were any more stories he planned for these characters and this milieu. his response made me very happy:
Yes, there will be more stories featuring Dryden and Raisy (and August Finch). First up is a prequel titled ZERO FILL, which tells the story of how Dryden got his gun, how he met Raisy, and where that damn cat fits into it all. After that will be a direct follow-up to DEADSTOCK called LAND OF THE NEVER-RISING SUN. ZERO FILL will be longer than DEADSTOCK, but still novella-length, while LAND OF THE NEVER-RISING SUN will be a full-on novel.
yahoo! I am particularly looking forward to more of the cat, August Finch.
Stephen King's moving novella "The Body" depicts a summer when four young friends from a small town decide to take a look at a rumored dead body. theStephen King's moving novella "The Body" depicts a summer when four young friends from a small town decide to take a look at a rumored dead body. the boys are all good kids who support each other in a world of bullies and dysfunctional families.
James Everington's absorbing novella "The Shelter" is about a summer when four young friends also go on a brief journey to see something best left unseen. except in this story, the four boys are not really friends, they don't support each other, two of them are bullies, and they don't find an actual body. what they do find is something much, much worse.
The Shelter does not suffer in comparison to The Body. it is well worth reading and comparing the two novellas actually added to my enjoyment. The Shelter both parallels and functions as a negative of The Body in many interesting ways. I wonder if it was intentional. probably not - the author's afterward notes that his piece is also based on events from his life. another intriguing parallel. and one major difference: unlike King, I do not get the sense that this author is a sentimental humanist. not remotely. as a sentimental humanist myself, I felt the lack - but it didn't take away from my positive experience reading the tale. it's not my favorite tone, but I can do bleak and hopeless. it's like an anti-vacation from my own personal outlook on life.
Everington certainly knows how a too hot summer filled with "friends" you actually don't like should feel. he put me right there; the boys felt real and so did their late 1980s milieu. his descriptive powers are strong and the boys' visit to an abandoned air raid shelter is genuinely unnerving. the sense that something is goading them to anger and feeding off of that anger, the dank shelter itself and the visions it contains, the bleak ending... well done. it gave me the creeps. 'tis the season.
this elephantine collection of short horror fiction from 2006 & 2007 has a lot that is mediocre but a good number of excellent pieces as well. thethis elephantine collection of short horror fiction from 2006 & 2007 has a lot that is mediocre but a good number of excellent pieces as well. the book includes a chapter on horror-related media in 2006 as well as a "necrology" of those that departed that year. not sure about the rationale for including the latter, but it was interesting to skim through.
anyway, I'm going to ignore the dross and focus on the metal.
"The Saffron Gatherers" by Elizabeth Hand is a gorgeous little mood piece about the end of an era and a way of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. great character work and great details - and as someone who lives in the Bay Area, I particularly appreciated the latter. this is a lovely and, ultimately, very depressing gem. I wouldn't call it horror but I'm not sure what else it would be.
"The Last Reel" by Linda Rucker is a creepy old-fashioned tale of an inherited house, given a modern sheen in its use of film quotes. nicely disturbing ending. Rucker is a writer to watch.
"Devil's Smile" by Glen Hirshberg is a moody, evocative story of a dying village and a horrific tale of terror told in a decrepit lighthouse. melancholy atmosphere to die for. haunting and ambiguous - my favorite sort of horror.
"Continuity Error" by Nicholas Royle is one of those stories where the reader is as caught in the confusing loop of the narrative as the protagonist. I can honestly say I did not know what was happening or where the story was going - or ended up at - in this tale of a father, a car accident, an unhealthy obsession, and women who may or may not have something unpleasant in store for them. a nice little brain teaser.
"Houses Under the Sea" by Caitlin Kiernan was the most successful for me in establishing a genuinely eerie atmosphere. the story is about a reporter re-examining his relationship with a woman who led her cult followers into the sea. the prose is marvelous, really beautiful at times, and the story got under my skin. I really need to read more by the author.
"Dr. Prida's Dream-Plagued Patient" by Michael Bishop is a delightful tale of various vampires. the prose is hilariously arch and the story is tricky. clearly Bishop is, as the Brits like to say, taking the piss out of vampire fiction. he doesn't seek to reinvent the wheel here but rather is pulling the wheel off of the wagon and hanging it up on the wall as a curious conversation piece.
"The American Dead" by Jay Lake is superb. its terrible post-apocalyptic landscape, its use of village and cemetery, the sickening and escalating but mainly off-page threat from sinister religious types, its surprisingly sweet but never cloying portrait of children, its tragedy and bleakness (that ending!), the image of a downed American plane decaying in the middle of a river... smashing work by the recently deceased Jay Lake. I immediately ordered a novel by the author after finishing this one.
"Thrown" by Don Tumasonis is a short bit of poetic, new school Weird Fiction. no supernatural beasties to speak of, but I still saw a little of Algernon Blackwood in its protagonist's otherworldly transcendence and a lot of Robert Aickman in its elegant prose, discomfitingly vague menace, and obscure, minor note narrative about a couple's strange vacation.
"The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train" by Kim Newman is like the movie adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - except it is actually good. tremendous fun. I won't say anything else about it because I plan on reading the collection that this novella later appeared in: The Man from the Diogenes Club.
"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)" by Geoff Ryman
wow! Kiernan's "Houses" and Lake's "American Dead" come very close, but Ryman's story is, for me, the most glittering and memorable jewel in this collection. it is a ghost story and it is story about Cambodia then and now. it may be because I recently visited Cambodia and it is still on my mind, but this tale about a vapid young lady reclaiming herself and forging her own destiny really connected with me on a deep level. the writing is smashing; I particularly admired how the dialogue captured the musical quality and slightly off phrasing of some Asian languages when they are translated into English - I was happily reminded of how my Filipino relatives talk to each in English. some reviewers have found Ryman's use of dialogue disrespectful and that perplexes me - I found the opposite to be the true. but the story is so much more than that. I loved its humor and its kindness (in a horror collection!), its real life details, its humanism in the face of past atrocities and its theme of redemption. I love how it moved me to tears. brilliant!...more