To compare the story of a platypus in search of Old Australia to the allegedly deep, profound post-apocalyptic nihilism of The Road is, it may seem, i...moreTo compare the story of a platypus in search of Old Australia to the allegedly deep, profound post-apocalyptic nihilism of The Road is, it may seem, is an apples-watermelons comparison.
But, shave off Cormac McCarthy's layers pretentious faux Faulknerway prose, and humans-reduced- to-pronouns nihilism, and you have the story of a journey through the heart of darkness that is just darkness and virtually no story.
With Howard L. Anderson's Albert of Adelaide, you get a journey into and out of the heart of darkness, as seen through the eyes of a platypus, Albert, escaped from a zoo to search for a promised land known as Old Australia. What Albert finds instead is a pyromaniacal wombat, drunken bandicoots, a militia of kangaroos (bent on preserving the purity and superiority of marsupialness over other species)and various and sundry misadventures in a barren desert settlement known as the Gates of Hell.
Unlike McCarthy's dark, soulless novel, Anderson has achieved with Albert of Adelaide what few alledged literary do---give readers a story and characters to care about, even as they are committing atrocious acts of violence, and a protagonist worth caring about. Something McCarthy's The Road fails to do.(less)
It's not what I remembered reading as a teen D&Der, but still interesting, especially the clash between law and chaos and the role of fate in the...moreIt's not what I remembered reading as a teen D&Der, but still interesting, especially the clash between law and chaos and the role of fate in the universe. Elric's fate is decidedly determined almost to the point of absurdity.(less)
Combine Henry Miller with Camus and Sartre and you have Walter Mosley's sexistentialist novel Killing Johnny Fry.
When Cordell Carmel discovers his lon...moreCombine Henry Miller with Camus and Sartre and you have Walter Mosley's sexistentialist novel Killing Johnny Fry.
When Cordell Carmel discovers his longtime lover Joelle is having an affair with a casual acquaintance Johnny Fry, Cordell descends into a long day's journey into night. Cordell immediately quits his job and proceeds to have affairs with multiple women and plots Fry's murder.
Cordell's psyche is sent deeper into an existential abyss through his obsession with a high-end porn movie, the Myth of Sisypha.
What follows is a sexual odyssey--and sexually explicit that leads Cordell, bent on revenge, into a hallucinatory adventure with Sisypha herself at an underground combination orgy/Fight Club in which Cordell's very being is at stake.
In many way's reminiscent of Camus' The Stranger and perhaps even Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, the novel's climax---spoiler alert---ends with Johnny Fry shot down, although it becomes murder by proxy, as Cordell himself cannot go through with the act.
It's dark exploration of Eros, worth the read. But, don't expect a story of redemption. Cordell is an existentialist anti-hero at the same level as Camus' Meursalt. (less)
It was fun to re-read Howard after 31 years or so, and realize the Conan stories can reinvigorate, at least for a few hours, the 13 year-old-boy in al...moreIt was fun to re-read Howard after 31 years or so, and realize the Conan stories can reinvigorate, at least for a few hours, the 13 year-old-boy in all of us. Plus, where else are you going to find purple prose gems like "lizards of desolation"?
Of course, after such a long haul with the brutish Cimmerian, you do realize each story is essentially the same--Conan rescues a lithe mostly naked damsel in distress from a wizard or monster or both, usually in a lost city or on some mysterious island. (less)
A real teacher, I suppose, can teach through any medium, even if he's dead.
John Gardner died at age 49 after a motorcycle accident about a year befor...moreA real teacher, I suppose, can teach through any medium, even if he's dead.
John Gardner died at age 49 after a motorcycle accident about a year before his classic The Art of Fiction was published in 1983. It's basically Gardner's collected notes on the craft gathered with exercises. (As an aside: Gardner, as a writing teacher experimented with broadcasting his writing classes on TV, which seems to prefigure online instruction.)
About ten years later, a friend loaned me a copy of the book at a key time in my long apprenticeship as a writer (like most writers, even famous ones, there are moments I fear I'm a fraud, given my success as a fiction writer amounts to two short stories published online over eight years ago). I read it, absorbed it, worked through its exercises, some of the toughest exercises any writer could and should try.
Its still one of the best books on writing any writer could read, and I recommend it, as I recommend John Gardner: Literary Outlaw, the first fairly extensive general biography of Gardner ever published. The biography is absorbing, for the most part, a solid portrait of a writer as full of foibles and contradictions as he was genius for writing and teaching writing.
In many ways Gardner, or the image of himself that he portrayed publicly, and to most of those who knew him privately, was a model writer, wholly devoted to writing, to the craft; writing absorbed him. It was as much a state of being almost inseparable from the man, which is Silesky's theme throughout the biography. I suppose today much of Gardner's life as a writer falls into cliche: heavy drinking, womanizing, depressive (probably bipolar, given the envious bouts of energy Gardner seemed to possess, even after drinking astounding amounts of gin, etc.). And yet, it's sort of a cliche you, as a writer, want to aspire to. A life almost wholly devoted to writing and literature.
As far as Gardner being a literary outlaw: I suppose he was at the time his fame and stature grew in the late '70s and early '80s, or infamy as some might and did say with the publication of his On Moral Fiction, a polemic that pretty much slapped most of his contemporaries (Mailer, Updike, John Barth) in their, according to him, amoral faces.
In time, he would recant some of what he wrote in On Moral Fiction,and his novels (Grendel, Mickelsson's Ghosts, for instance)would seem to contradict his dismissing the fiction of fabulists and metafictionists, such as Barth, as basically crap that largely broke its promises to the reader of providing a profulent uninterrupted dream, and rather descended into cheap wordplay. (Although to this day, Barth's short story "Lost in the Funhouse" mostly makes me scratch my head and say WTF?)
At the time that I read On Moral Fiction, I loved it; back then, when I read it, my life had turned seemingly into an absurd existentialist vacuum. I viewed the book then as sort of a secular bible. And, I suppose, its urge toward attempting to write not didactic fiction, but fiction that challenges and moves toward transcendence rather than the Abyss, is still a driving force in my writing.
And it's not hard to believe Gardner reached such a transcendence in his own life, as Silesky suggests poignantly at the end of the biography, quoting one of Gardner's students who wrote after visiting the site in 1998 in Susquehanna, New York where Gardner crashed his motorcycle and died: "'In the mythology of death . . . one must cross the river; and there it was [the Susquehanna River]. All he had to do was get up, brush the grit off his trousers and step across.'"
I love Kress' prose style, and the multi-voiced narrative really works well.
From Locus magazine (June 2012):
"In addition to being a graduate level class on how and why non-linear story structures work, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is a swift and engaging story about the end of the world as we know it."(less)
How did I get into this stuff? I ask, paraphrasing China Mieville's question to himself in the New Yorker's Science Fiction issue.
Robert E. Howard. Co...moreHow did I get into this stuff? I ask, paraphrasing China Mieville's question to himself in the New Yorker's Science Fiction issue.
Robert E. Howard. Conan the Barbarian. Monsters and swashbuckling battles. Comics. Star Wars. D&D. That's just the short list of how I got into fantasy and science fiction.
Let's backtrack to D&D. At the root of Perdido Street Station's story is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure, full of magic, monsters, swashbuckling battles, and adventurers willing to do "anything for gold and experience" (p. 383).
Of course, it's much more complex than a Saturday night gaming session (paper, pencils, dice and miniatures subbing for digital images)---not that a session of D&D can't be as complex as a novel. But, unless you play the game long enough with the same group, and survive the DM's whims, it's hard to fulfill the promises of a lengthy novel, the depth of character, an evolving plot and subplot that can be fully explored. A fully-realized world.
And a fully-realized world, a city---New Crobuzon---as alive and bustling as any real city, and peopled with just as fantastic creatures as a real city: the tortured Remade, the mysterious Jack Half-a-Prayer, the birdlike garuda, the monstrous psyche-sucking slake-moths that the main characters must finally destroy.
Which is the basic plot, one that could rival and perhaps surpass any the most sadistic Dungeon Master could create: one the human scientist Isaac undertakes after the garuda Yagharek, exiled from his people for taking away another's choice, hires Isaac to rebuild his wings so he can fly once again. Isaac takes up the task, and in his experiments to learn how to engineer the wings, accidentally unleashes a terror that stalks the city. Reluctant at first to fight the slake-moths, Isaac is driven into the battle not only to help the garuda, but also to save his girlfriend, and test out the crisis engine that could lead him to scientific notoriety.
One one the things that drew me to reading more of Mieville's novels, after being completely rocked by his Hugo-winning The City & The City, was learning Mieville grew up playing D&D. It's clear the game is a serious influence, on his imagination, but Perdido Street Station takes you beyond the limiting world of elves and dwarves and dragons into a blend of magic and science and mixed technologies--the characters arm themselves with flintlocks, but are aided by steam- and magic-driven construct/robots. Mieville is well known for his efforts to genre-bust, and Perdido Street does that very well.
It's mostly a riveting book, although it slows about midway (it's 623 pages in the paperback edition I read) and Mieville does seem to to linger on repetitious descriptions of the psyche stealing slake-moths (although his descriptions of them exploding in the end were exquisite), but overall the novel pulls you in and holds you and reminds you of why you got into this stuff (fantasy & science fiction) in the first place: it's a riveting tale with fascinating characters and it draws you into its world.
And I'll let Mieville ask you the final question: "How did they [readers] get out of it?" (less)
A clever revisionist vision of the Pied Piper story. It reminds me of John Gardner's retelling of Beowulf through the eyes of the monster, Grendel. It...moreA clever revisionist vision of the Pied Piper story. It reminds me of John Gardner's retelling of Beowulf through the eyes of the monster, Grendel. It makes me wonder what makes Gardner's novel Grendel "literary" and this novel "fantasy"? I'm sure it's a question Mieville himself would ask in his quest to abolish genre as a rigid category.
Mieville's such a unique visionary. At the same time, this novel reads like a superhero novel that begs a sequel.
I rarely give five star ratings, but this book is just that good. It's not necessarily life-changing or . . . maybe it is, at least for this writer.
As...moreI rarely give five star ratings, but this book is just that good. It's not necessarily life-changing or . . . maybe it is, at least for this writer.
As it's subtitle says, the techniques outlined are techniques that shouldn't be ignored, although they aren't new and you've probably encountered them in any number of writing books or classes. But, what Lyon gives you is a compact reference for improving writing, for deepening characterization, structure, plot, etc. She also touches on copy editing and marketing, because, as we know from Dr. Johnson, none but a blockhead writes for fun.
Lyon suggests techniques such as "riff-writing" that I, at least, was unaware of. "Riff-writing" is a version of free writing directed at a particular sentence or paragraph in a finished draft of a work. It allows the writer to play, to give depth and breadth to a particular piece of writing. She also suggests common techniques such as imitating other writers to help "see" style, and to help loosen the inner editor and stave off the inner critic when drafting. (less)