Kij Johnson is a writer to watch. She's done some great work in this collection, and that's no hyperbole. The stories are simple and stark and yet creKij Johnson is a writer to watch. She's done some great work in this collection, and that's no hyperbole. The stories are simple and stark and yet create these fully realized and often haunting visions. A thread of surrealism runs through all of them. The monsters we can see, the monsters we cannot see, and the monsters we become....more
A quick read with some funny Twitter-ized parodies of famous books. The parodies are probably funnier if you're familiar with the original stories. MaA quick read with some funny Twitter-ized parodies of famous books. The parodies are probably funnier if you're familiar with the original stories. Maybe turning some of the sexual themes a little too overtly?...more
There is this strong temptation to liken Millhauser to Borges. It's the style--the touch of magical realism--the way these stories are crafted as if tThere is this strong temptation to liken Millhauser to Borges. It's the style--the touch of magical realism--the way these stories are crafted as if they were academic papers on people that could never have lived, as if they were found journals of impossible experiments, as if they were mythologies transmuted into historical records. And it is not that this is too lofty of a comparison, but if Borges is strip-mining the subconscious then Millhauser is rooting around in the tailings--but even if he's salvaging from the waste, it must be a rich vein, for he's still far more successful than most other attempts in this style.
But as I worked my way through this collection, the comparison to Borges came later. The first comparison that came to mind was as I was reading "The Dome". My thoughts became: Well this seems like something George Saunders would write. But with all the humor sucked out of the irony, and all the wit drained from the parody.
The stories collected in Dangerous Laughter all appear to focus heavily on two of the major chords from late-twentieth century fiction: obsession with replication and simulacra; and a flavor of solipsism that seems a dry parody of itself. Not that these characteristics make the stories unenjoyable, or unoriginal. But they do not captivate. They set up their themes against a template of Oblique Universal Allegory, and then construct subject characters and settings at arm's length. It seems impossible to get close to anything in these narratives. (And this being despite Millhauser's own "Versimilist" obsession with inserting and describing minutia in all its banal detail.) The abstractions Millhauser engages just make them feel that much more antiseptic or detached. And for all the places where the stories succeed, it's this asymptotic relationship to the associable and relatable nuance, that is where they fall down.
Further reading: • "The Illusionist", D. T. Max - link ...more
A strong collection for King; a little of what I expect (i.e., schlocky horrorshow) and then some very awesome surprises. It's a bit more literary, aA strong collection for King; a little of what I expect (i.e., schlocky horrorshow) and then some very awesome surprises. It's a bit more literary, a bit more high-brow than what I expect from King — and those "keepers" are real keepers. There is some not-unexpected post-9/11 influenced overtones in places, but that just seems to be a framing technique for some more fundamental human horrors. In that respect, "Graduation Afternoon" is by far the pick of the litter.
Averaged rating on the Goodreads scale: 3.6923
Individual Story Ratings: • "Willa" — ★★★★½ • "The Gingerbread Girl" — ★★★ • "Harvey's Dream" — ★★★ • "Rest Stop" — ★★★★ • "Stationary Bike" — ★★★★ • "The Things They Left Behind" — ★★★★★ — like a more brooding, post-9/11 Skinny Legs and All? • "Graduation Afternoon" — ★★★★★ — pretty heavy-hitting for "just" 7 pages; interesting, the way it drives home how superficial and petty class differences can be (and nicer still how the nuke is down-played and isn't even a big end-of-the-world thing but just an end of the world as she knows it). • "N." — ★★★ — Lovecraftian and epistolary. • "The Cat from Hell" — ★★★ • "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" — ★★★½ • "Mute" — ★★★ • "Ayana" — ★★★ • "A Very Tight Place" — ★★★★
SPECIAL SIDE NOTES: • Multiple references to VT and ME (though ME references are more predictable); New England seems to be King's setting-of-choice for the supernatural. • Also: what's King's deal with Florida? That seems to be his setting-of-choice for those non-supernatural but utterly base human-on-human destructive acts. ...more
I don't have much to say about Slippage. I had never (consciously) read any Harlan Ellison before and because of how celebrated the man's name is, I dI don't have much to say about Slippage. I had never (consciously) read any Harlan Ellison before and because of how celebrated the man's name is, I decided it was worth giving his werk a shot.
Maybe Slippage just isn't one of his better collections. I'm certainly open to the possibility that I got the bad egg from the dozen, if you catch my meaning.
This is not to say that there was nothing redeeming or at all enjoyable about this collection. "This Story Is Titled the Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore" had a fun little irreverent streak to it. And "Darkness Upon the Deep" was good (it was certainly readable) but it also felt like a warmed-over and slightly updated Lovecraft(†). Several stories came off this way to me -- as low-impact knock-offs from other writers. Or else as simply low-impact Twilight Zone-esque prose(‡). As I progressed through the pages, the short fiction got better but was best when it was shortest. Ultimately I decided to abandon the collection. Perhaps I'll come back to it later?
But maybe I just walked into the whole mess a bit resentful when I mistook Ellison's introduction for the inceptive short fiction.
--- † = On that note, I found myself thinking about Ellison's reputation as mean-spirited and litigious and secretly wished the zombie Lovecraft would dig his way out of his Providence grave and go after punitive damages. Possibly as a literal pound of flesh.
‡ = Yes, I am aware that Ellison has written rather extensively for The Twilight Zone.
--- TANGENTIAL ASIDE: Anyone have a clue as to what is up with the typeface and/or typesetter? All the periods seem clumsy and too large -- like "BOLD" was turned on for just the periods. But just the periods. The terminating punct for exclamation points and question marks wasn't that big. Did anyone else find this distracting?
Perhaps it is unfair to George Saunders to review Civil War Land in Bad Decline when Pastoralia was the book that introduced me to him. But that iPerhaps it is unfair to George Saunders to review Civil War Land in Bad Decline when Pastoralia was the book that introduced me to him. But that is the order in which they were read and so that is the order in which I evaluate them. That being said, I suspect I may have been more pleased with this collection had Pastoralia glinted suggestively from the future instead of casting a shadow from this reader's recent past.
Civil War Land in Bad Decline opens with a short story of the same name. And in many ways there is a flash of instant recognition with "Pastoralia" -- the short story that opens the collection sharing its name. The recognition comes from many familiar-sounding echoes: people that live in or are otherwise bound to theme parks, "fake" elements of the landscape (e.g., brooks, bugs), a never-ending stream of performance evaluations and other paperwork, ghosts and other shambling undead cast members... Perhaps these are the hallmarks of Saunders' work but these elements are more pronounced and repeat more often in these collected stories; Pastoralia's seemed to temper them better, rationing out these specific images more judiciously.
Maybe Saunders was just more mature when he wrote Pastoralia. I know that I read that one in about a day; compare with Civil War Land in Bad Decline where I started it and then took a 3-4 day hiatus before resuming -- not really missing it and knowing that (1) I'd remember where I left off because (2) I had a pretty good idea of where it was going.
And where it goes is into some pretty bleak territory. If you're optimistic, you might say that Saunders has given us a black comedy. But I'm not so optimistic. I'll admit there are some catchy one-liners, some humorous insights and laugh-out-loud mise en scène -- but there is a grim fatalism that looms over everything. Everyone and everything in Saunders' stories is destined for failure. Hen-pecking and cuckoldry prevail; abusive bosses nit-pick their employees more/less to literal death; good intentions are met with skepticism and rejection -- moments of apparent acceptance or good fortune are thinly veiled cynical plays of one-upmanship. No one is safe. Everyone is out to get you.
You have to stop and wonder what it's like to be married to this guy.
The epiphany moment was, for me, while reading the second story -- "Isabelle". It struck me as somehow better that "Civil War Land in Bad Decline" but it was also a bit more oblique and morally cloying. It reminded me of David Foster Wallace's "Think" -- only without the prurient overtones that got me all excited (right before making me feel bad that I kinda/sorta hoped this guy might cheat on his wife).
And perhaps that's where I feel myself leaving off with George Saunders. Like I (the proverbial Reader) have already married DFW and I'm sneaking off to these motel rooms with handsome George for lunch-break trysts. It isn't that he isn't a good lover (writer) and isn't that I couldn't love him (his stories). But the timing was wrong. He came along after the vows had been spoken and I'd committed myself to Wallace. We could have been so happy together but instead we sneak off and keep it clandestine. We should cut this off, George; you've grown and you should be happy but it can't be with me. I feel I'm being dishonest... Am I being unfaithful to DFW? Or in having married myself to him am I unfaithful to you? Even just asking these questions only seems to make your missives to me (your stories) that much more bleak, that much more depressing and hopeless.
At least as we part ways and we close the pages of this volume, you manage to pull yourself together and prove to me that you need not remain mired in despair, that you're going to be just fine.
Imagine for a moment that you go into the up-scale liquor store around the block that is celebrated city-wide for its fabulous wine selection. You'reImagine for a moment that you go into the up-scale liquor store around the block that is celebrated city-wide for its fabulous wine selection. You're a bit of a novice when it comes to wine and are a little embarrassed to be here because your wallet is that ballistic nylon stuff and not something truly exotic like alligator skin and with that in mind you decide not to ask the sommelier for any help. You browse around the store looking for a bottle of something called David Foster Wallace that was recommended to you by your friend with the alligator skin wallet. You manage to find the bottle of DFW and admire the fancy bottle with its fancy label and its curlicues and footnotes and excellent leading. The bottle seems really heavy and big and everyone has told you how excellent it is. So you decide to try it but when you actually get to the counter you discover that you've picked up a bottle of something called George Saunders by mistake. The George Saunders bottle isn't as big or as fancy as the DFW and in fact it looks a little bit like a down-market or off-label knock-off of the vintage DFW but at the same time you believe that there is maybe something authentic and distinct about it anyway. The sommelier gives you a funny look as he rings you up but you don't say anything because you don't want to look stupid in front of him and anyway you're probably just being self-conscious about the whole thing like the time you had a glass of Pynchon at your friend's house and you said that it was a good Vonnegut and everyone laughed and your friend explained that the Vonnegut has a much sharper finish and you'll notice how the Pynchon seems to hang around in your mouth so much longer but he could see how you might make that mistake. And you try to think about that night on your drive home because it's that same friend with the alligator skin wallet that is coming over for dinner tonight with his wife and you remember how he plays golf with your boss and this is an important event to get right. So that night before the main course you pour everyone's glass in the kitchen so that no one will see the bottle and the secret will be safe with you. And your wife brings out the entree and you bring out the wine and everyone digs in and finds it delicious. Your friend with the alligator skin wallet remarks on how delicious the wine is and did you have any trouble finding the David Foster Wallace at the store? And was the sommelier there helpful? And what year did he recommend because this is really really quite good? And you smile and try to decide whether or not to say anything because you know that you'll need to say something but how are you going to make up something plausible on the spot. But then your wife blurts out that it's really a George Saunders and don't you just love it? Because she slurped down her glass of George Saunders and it was her third of the night anyway because she and your friend's wife managed to down a whole bottle of David Sedaris as a warm-up but they both agreed it was too dry for them even though you and your friend think that it's the perfect middle-of-the-week wine. For a moment you're paralyzed with fear because this was your shot, your chance to show off and really shine and display your competence and you blew it because you were too chicken shit to tell the sommelier at the counter that you picked up the wrong bottle by mistake. But instead your friend raises an eyebrow and says that it's wonderful, just delightful, and he'd never tried it before and though maybe it's not as dry as the DFW, does it ever have a great finish and it's just perfect for a dinner party, isn't it?...more
A solid and damn near close to that we'll settle for . But then again, I'm a serious Sedaris fiend.
When You Are Engulfed In Flames makes Sedaris' prA solid ★★★★ and damn near close to ★★★★★ that we'll settle for ★★★★½. But then again, I'm a serious Sedaris fiend.
When You Are Engulfed In Flames makes Sedaris' previous collection, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, seem like a disaster, a complete train wreck. Which is unfair because I think that Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a strong collection with some exemplary essays. And also because I get the feeling that it was a more personal werk for him, that he's a bit more exposed and vulnerable in those essays.
Thematically, When You Are Engulfed In Flames is a reprise of Me Talk Pretty One Day -- highly focused on language and style, on the humanity of humiliation and (to echo some other reviewers) those dark places where our sentimentality tends to get the best of us. But it's a counterpoint melody to Me Talk Pretty One Day -- arrogant where the other was modest, chagrined where the other took delight.
Structurally, this collection is an echo of Naked, though a bit more mature. As I wrote of DFW's Consider the Lobster, the essays are arranged well, jokes from earlier essays recurring, serving to inform your tittering later on. That said, the individual essays seem to follow a rhythm that is new for Sedaris. If this were an elementary school music class, I would say that his earlier essays have a rhyme scheme that goes ABAB, these are turned more toward ABCA.
But if you're reading this, it's probably because you were curious what I thought of When You Are Engulfed In Flames. By now, you (dear reader) have already made up your mind about David Sedaris and have either worked your way through this collection or else long ago discarded him, irrelevant as an expended filter tip....more
If you must, you may call it jealousy, but there is no getting around the fact that if someone had read my essays during college, and then paid me toIf you must, you may call it jealousy, but there is no getting around the fact that if someone had read my essays during college, and then paid me to keep writing those essays, then I could (would) have been Chuck Klosterman.  But seriously: I feel like I could have written all of these essays (possibly better) if only someone had come along and said: Hey, you've got the right kind of sarcastic wit and you know how to stitch together a bunch of quasi-esoteric references... can you bang together a couple of 5,000 word essays on pop culture subjects? Only problem is that I'd probably have peaked at like 25. 
Anyway: this is Chuck Klosterman. Basically, he is the older brother that I never had--the older brother of whom I am extremely jealous. He gets all the girls. (Even if he can't keep them.) He smokes all the best weed. (Even if he can't handle it.) He goes to all the best concerts. (Even if he doesn't enjoy them.) He's seen every episode of every show, went to every game of every team, heard every record by every band, read every book by every author, taken every class by every prof, and remembered every detail about all of them.  Thus is he the smartest kid in the room--even if he still goes around claiming to be an idiot. And despite all that, I can see right through all of his bullshit shenanigans.
And trust me: there are some bullshit shenanigans going on here.
Klosterman is lazy. Seriously: how can you (in good conscience) open an essay ("Every Dog Must Have His Every Day, Every Drunk Must Have His Drink") with a not-at-all-oblique reference to September 11th and then not tie that back in to the overall theme? When we get to the end of "Every Dog Must...", all he got was Billy Joel-Billy Joel-Billy Joel and the eternal struggle between Cool and Great. But he opens with "nineteen unsmiling people from the Middle East" and then he just leaves it hanging there, never to crash back into the rest of the narrative. Lazy, sloppy work. 
But for as lazy as Klosterman is, he's sharp. He "gets it". And how do I know that he "gets it"? Because he is harping on "that celebrity thing"--the same way that William Gibson talks about celebrity in Idoru; the same way that Bruce Sterling talks about celebrity in Holy Fire; and (to a lesser extend) the way that Neal Stephenson talks about celebrity (and/or pop culture's collision with itself?) in Snow Crash. Yes; Chuck understands it. The bizarre world of the successful (?) cover band in "Appetite for Replication". The meta-conflicts of the simulated life of simulated people in the simulated world of "The Sims" in "Billy Sim". The exegesis of Pamela Anderson-vs-Marilyn Monroe-as-the-best possible-sex symbol-for-her-time in "Ten Seconds to Love". The circular conundrum imposed by MTV's "The Real World" and the full explication of that subject in "What Happens When People Stop Being Polite". And that's all in the first 85 pages. Yes indeed; he may be lazy and sloppy, but this is Chuck Klosterman at his best. 
Anyway: Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: just as easy to love as it is to hate.
 Only seven years later?
 So... replace "jealousy" with "schadenfreude"?
 Despite smoking all the best weed.
 And/but that's OK? because he writes like some sort of proto-blogger? or like a college student at a fancy liberal arts school that never bothered to graduate? And/but maybe that's a whole big essay in and of itself? About the proto-blogger style? about the liberal artsy interest? about the elevation of pop culture and equalizing it with all of your fancy-pants schooling subject matter?
 ALSO: Chuck is really at his best when he's writing about sports. Because it's funny when nerds write about sports. ...more
for importance but I stand by my ; I liked it but these are not pleasure reads.
John recommended this one to me, saying that "Carver is quite simply t★★★★★ for importance but I stand by my ★★★; I liked it but these are not pleasure reads.
John recommended this one to me, saying that "Carver is quite simply the master of the modern American short story." A glowing endorsement from a source that I trust. Working my way through this collection, I could see how John could arrive at such an assessment.
Carver's strength seems to be in using strict banalia as strict symbolism. When I read these stories, I imagine that George Saunders has written these characters' dreams and Carver has written out portraits of their waking lives. The stories are short and extremely dense. I wonder, however, if they aren't too dense. I consider myself a pretty deft and erudite reader but several of these stories seemed to take entirely too long to unpack for their thematic payloads; in some cases I walked away feeling like Carver had only spun me around. The short stories are too heavy for pleasure reads — all alcoholics and out-of-work salesmen and troubled children etc. — but meanwhile many also seem like nuclear reactions that burn hot but never quite reach critical mass. But Carver pounds away on his themes and what is "mercifully short" in his early werks turns to "frighteningly concentrated" later; "A Small, Good Thing" is a novel's worth of ideas and emotions packed into the smallest possible space it can fit.
Which is not at all to suggest that there is nothing by Carver worth reading. I was blown away by "Are These Actual Miles?" (for example), thinking it painfully prescient and an early warning allegory for the late-stage capitalism of the early 21st Century Credit Economy. "Cathedral" was another, chilling my bones with echoes of latent, solipsistic prejudices and the curious tangents that connect people despite them.
But, for me, too many of the stories were hit-or-miss and I decided to abandon the collection. I plan to circle back on it at a later date but in the meantime, I'm putting it in the mental bucket that contains musicians like Bob Dylan and the Beatles — whom I can't stand but also can't deny have left an indelible mark on their craft. ...more
In lieu of a actual substantive review, a few notes:
(1) A typical Saunders collection. This means you're getting some delightfully weird prose but itIn lieu of a actual substantive review, a few notes:
(1) A typical Saunders collection. This means you're getting some delightfully weird prose but it also means you're getting (more than?) a few tales oblique enough to blot out the sun. Which is not to comment on whether/not those stories are any good.
(2) Recipe for a Saunders short story: take 1 protagonist (preferably male) in some way already at the end of his distressed rope; add 1 foil (preferably female) at the end of her respective rope with him, mix liberally with 2 parts cuckoldry (though henpecking will do as a substitute if beaten with sufficient vigor). Blend in a conservative portion of concentrated lampoon of consumer-culture. If you haven't already, make sure to de-bone the protagonist before the story's end and to remove any chance of success. Garnish with a zombie; or if no zombie is available, try ghosts.
------ Out to four decimal places, the composite Goodreads score is: 3.4166
• I CAN SPEAK!™ — ★★★ • My Flamboyant Grandson — ★★★★★ • Jon — ★★★★★ • My Amendment — ★★★ • The Red Bow — ★★½ • Christmas — ★★½ • Adams — ★★★ • 93990 — ★★★ » note to self: oblique, re-read will be required • Brad Carrigan, American — ★★★ • In Persuasion Nation — ★★★★ • Bohemians — ★★★½ • Commcomm — ★★★½...more
Overall, a very strong and representative collection of PKD's short stories. These shorts in this binding include a lot of old favorites that are arraOverall, a very strong and representative collection of PKD's short stories. These shorts in this binding include a lot of old favorites that are arranged chronologically so we can watch PKD's obsessions and themes emerge and unfold and develop. It also allows us to see where he managed to frustrate himself along the way as well. Anyone reading this would do well to read the PKD bio by Emmanuel Carrere, I Am Alive And You Are Dead; it's interesting to line up the parallels in PKD's life with his recurring tropes and stylistic choices.
Perhaps this is heresy but... I just don't find Hemingway's work to be all that interesting. It just seems like macho tough guy bullshit and maybe-jusPerhaps this is heresy but... I just don't find Hemingway's work to be all that interesting. It just seems like macho tough guy bullshit and maybe-just-maybe there is something humanized and vulnerable deep down in there but I'm not so sure.
Having never before read any H.P. Lovecraft, I held a deeply geeky shame. This was an author that was supposed to have helped define modern horror, heHaving never before read any H.P. Lovecraft, I held a deeply geeky shame. This was an author that was supposed to have helped define modern horror, helped define weird fiction and the truly-out-there sci-fi. The "Cthulhu Mythos" was something that I referenced frequently and yet ignorantly. All this time it was as if I had been brandishing a phony R'lyeh passport, muttering incoherently in the Elder Gods' tongue without any authority.
And since Great Cthulhu was the fulcrum here, the pivotal point of contention, I was certain to identify the Lovecraft collection at the library that actually held that short story. (Only doubling my shame for having imagined it to be a full-fledged novel for all these years...)
Working through this collection, I could see why Lovecraft became so well-known as a father-figure in modern sci-fi and horror. He seemed to have an odd relationship with his vocabulary. Reading his prose, I get the impression that Lovecraft latched onto a handful of peculiarly "advanced" words and significant mythological/literary images and then milked them for every atom of their worth. It is a shame that he died as young as he did; it would have been interesting to see what may have happened had he had another 20-30 years to develop his werk. As is, while his prose was far from high literature, he did manage some curiously well-executed pieces with respect to pacing and imagery.
What I was not prepared for (however) was some of the -- how shall I put this? -- ideological artifacts of his era. I posed the question to some friends: Was Lovecraft a racist? Or was he just exploiting the overt physical differences between European-descended and African-descended peoples for the sake of otherness? Take "Herbert West -- Reanimator", for example; simply peppered with what we would consider racists perspectives! Meanwhile (I had a friend point out) many of these perceptions and opinions were quite commonplace for the period. As my friend remarked: "He lived in a United States that was toying with the idea of eugenics, phrenology still hadn't been fully dismissed, and decades before desegregation." Fair enough -- but I still was not fully prepared to encounter some of the expressions kicked around in the text.
Explanatory Background Statement: You will notice that this book is shelved "unfinished". In between novels and on a short fiction kick, I decided thaExplanatory Background Statement: You will notice that this book is shelved "unfinished". In between novels and on a short fiction kick, I decided that I should at least dip my toes into a few hallowed literary names before taking on the mantle of my next Big Read. Ellison was one (see also) and Nabokov was the other. I didn't crack the covers on this one expecting to finish it. Especially as I hefted the thick volume from the library's shelf, I knew that my goal was only to get my feet wet.
My Review (more about Nabokov than this collection, specifically): Nabokov is eloquent and purposeful in his prose. Even as diaphanous metaphors dance fairy-like around The Point, The Point is there -- some artful nugget of Truth upon which he has fixed and thrust his (and now your) attention. I often wonder what gets lost or otherwise muddied in the translation. Which stories are written in "the original Russian" and which in English? Need I not worry about that at all? But I worry that certain expressive techniques don't come across correctly. Alliteration, for example: could an alliterative phrase in one tongue have no analogous transformation? I suppose you could always supplement with a footnote.
Anyway, I feel like a troglodyte saying it but: Nabokov's writing sure is artful but there just wasn't very much in it that I found... compelling. However, "Russian Spoken Here"? A+
I expect to circle back on this collection again, perhaps finish it off, and find more to love.
A decent but not terribly impressive or memorable werk; I think there is a spark of talent buried in there and I hope it matures. This little collectiA decent but not terribly impressive or memorable werk; I think there is a spark of talent buried in there and I hope it matures. This little collection has a few fleeting moments of brilliance but overall doesn't linger with much substance. For every passage that suggests depth and insight, there are two on each side that feel vapid -- heavy on the style, like he's searching for his voice and spends too much time imitating others....more
Huntington’s The H.G. Wells Reader - - got this one as a birthday gift. And what a gift it was. Modern sci-fi owes a lot to Wells. His substance and sHuntington’s The H.G. Wells Reader - - got this one as a birthday gift. And what a gift it was. Modern sci-fi owes a lot to Wells. His substance and style (while indicative of his time period) set an important tone for the genre as a whole. His thoughtful prose illuminates how humanity is wrapped up in science and how science can’t escape its legacy of humanity. These excerpts and short stories are brilliant, plain and simple. (Only criticism is on their typesetter - - lines are too long with typefaces too small there, pal!)...more
A worthy read on more levels than we have fingers and toes to offer. I’ve been a tremendous fan of Wallace’s fiction (”found drama” duh!) now for abouA worthy read on more levels than we have fingers and toes to offer. I’ve been a tremendous fan of Wallace’s fiction (”found drama” duh!) now for about five years and was more or less commanded by a good friend to check out this collection of essays. Several of them floored me. A few others I was “eh” about. His humor shines through in damn near all of these essays and in ways that are both easy to appreciate if you’re literate. “Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Away from It All” (for example) shows us his rare gift of being able to take a group of people and totally illuminate their follies and flaws without going about it in a way that is insulting or degrading; he saves that for his self deprecating remarks re: rich desserts. Then there’s “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” which is probably the first and only time I’ve seen him use footnotes in a way that I “expected”; oh, and this is pretty much required follow-up reading for anyone who just finished Infinite Jest. “Greatly Exaggerated” is a true gem - - a subtle jab at how literature/critical theory is so often so far up its own ass - - and making that jab as only an insider looking in as an outsider can do. But it’s the essay whose title is shared with the collection that makes it all worthwhile....more
A fun collection of Tom Robbins' short work. Essays, short stories, poems... (Well, I don't much care for poems...) Generally fun and a good follow-upA fun collection of Tom Robbins' short work. Essays, short stories, poems... (Well, I don't much care for poems...) Generally fun and a good follow-up act considering the complete trash that Villa Incognito turned out to be....more
This collection is about two short stories shy of a perfect "10". That said, for anyone that wants to cut their teeth on some DFW before taking the IThis collection is about two short stories shy of a perfect "10". That said, for anyone that wants to cut their teeth on some DFW before taking the Infinite Jest plunge, I would gladly recommend this compilation. There are numerous gems in here that tease you in every which way. Here are the great (short) examples of DFW's work: format bending, expectation jerking, emotion shredding -- all of it.
Rated Individually: • "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life" ★★★ • "Death Is Not the End" ★★★ • "Forever Overhead" ★★★★ • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" ★★★★★ • "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XI)" ★★★ • "The Depressed Person" ★★ • "The Devil Is a Busy Man" ★★★★★ • "Think" ★★★★★ • "Signifying Nothing" ★★★ • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" ★★★★★ • "Datum Centurio" ★★★★★ • "Octet" ★★★★ • "Adult World (I + II)" ★★★★★ • "The Devil Is a Busy Man" ★★★★★ • "Church Not Made with Hands" ★★★ • "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)" ★★★ • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" ★★★★★ • "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko" ★★★★ • "On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright's Father Begs a Boon" ★★ • "Suicide as a Sort of Present" ★★ • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" ★★★★★ • "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XXIV)" ★★★★
Updated: (8/25/2012) • Upon re-(re-?)-reading "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko", I bump it from two to four stars. If you accept the style for what it is, and comprehend the sort of tragic Greek myth re-telling thing that he was doing here... well, it's good....more
Take this and the collection Mirrorshades (edited by Bruce Sterling and you will have the definitive "cyberpunk" short story collection.
Burning ChromeTake this and the collection Mirrorshades (edited by Bruce Sterling and you will have the definitive "cyberpunk" short story collection.
Burning Chrome is a solid representation of Gibson's early work ("the Sprawl period") and while its most often represented with references to Neuromancer, his finest, most poignant prose is in this collection of short stories.
Perhaps most utterly fascinating is the late-stage Cold War mentality that we had ourselves a nuclear armageddon just around the corner but that after we got there, we would discover it just wasn't nearly as bad as we'd hoped. A few feeble bomb exchanges are overshadowed by black ops infiltration both physical and digital. Our wars are over in days rather than years and then we all go back to normal with re-drawn borders that mean anything only to cartographers anyway.
Even in the shorts where a near-term memory of war is noticeably absent (e.g., "The Gernsback Continuum"), the emphasis still seems to lie on epoch-altering events that are so feeble in their moment but so far-reaching in their wake.
All that said: "Hinterlands" is the most gut-wrenchingly emotional story in science fiction; if nothing else, it alone makes this collection a must-have.
Rated Individually: • "Johnny Mnemonic" ★★★★ • "The Gernsback Continuum" ★★★★★ • "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" ★★★ • "The Belonging Kind" (with John Shirley) ★★★★ • "Hinterlands" ★★★★★ • "Red Star, Winter Orbit" (with Bruce Sterling) ★★★★ • "New Rose Hotel" ★★★★ • "The Winter Market" ★★★ • "Dogfight" (with Michael Swanwick) ★★★★ • "Burning Chrome" ★★★★
Update 8/14/2011: Now more than ever, the imagery shows its age. Talk of slamming cartridges into consoles like kids slamming quarters into arcades? How much more late-20th century can you get? But rather than feel worn-out and dated, it conjures up its own special nostalgia. But who knows... maybe it's only my generation of scifi reader that is going to look at early-to-mid-80s cyberpunk literature (with all its now-kitschy references to the Soviet Union and cybernetically-controlled aircraft fighting for air superiority over South America) with this kind of fondness. But I'm not ashamed of that even remotely....more
A couple of gems in here though it's not nearly as stellar as Me Talk Pretty One Day. Still, I keep this one handy for those nights between novels.
IA couple of gems in here though it's not nearly as stellar as Me Talk Pretty One Day. Still, I keep this one handy for those nights between novels.
In a way, I would describe this as Sedaris' most cynical work. Example: the take-home message of the short story that shares the collection's title. We find out something about ourselves when we bear all, eh? But we'll just as soon retreat to the comfort of our coverings. And those that don't be damned; you don't want to associate yourself with those shameless folks anyway....more