Of all the writers that I've stumbled upon the past few years, few have so consistently left me deliriously happy from the richly imaginative worlds sOf all the writers that I've stumbled upon the past few years, few have so consistently left me deliriously happy from the richly imaginative worlds she stitches together from equal parts light-hearted whimsy and emotional self awareness. Sadly, howver, this collection of stories inspired by the the two lonely years she spent as a military wife in Japan is a very hit-and-miss creation. Teetering from the quite fantastic eponymous poem of a mech pilot battling existential angst that opens the collection to the heavy-handed tale of alienation and isolation of "One Breath, One Stroke." Still, this entire collectioin is worth reading if only for "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time," which reimagines the creation stories of a multitude of the world's cultures as a narrative for the creation of the universe, each myth interspersed with vignettes of the author's recognition of the impending end of her marriage. Intensely imaginative and emotionally vulnerable, I had to read it three times before moving on. ...more
You'd think that with how much I read this would be old hat by now, but I always get a little bit anxious when a friend publishes something. What if iYou'd think that with how much I read this would be old hat by now, but I always get a little bit anxious when a friend publishes something. What if it isn't good? What if I don't like it? How do you walk that line between supporting their work and wanting to be honest about your opinion of their work? I've lost a lot of sleep over how to review books of this sort, that complex dance of criticism, the "well i liked this aspect, but this and this felt like they were superfluous" waltz of carefully worded critiques. Fortunately, when it comes to the stories of Casey Plett, this concern never even crossed my mind. I was in love from word one.
No stranger to the written word, Plett has previously written a column on transitioning for McSweeneys and had a story featured in Topside Press' 2012 anthology, The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard. Both marked her as a voice to be watched, a writer whose spare style and conversational approach evokes many comparisons to Michelle Tea's fictionalized memoirs of lesbian living. With the publication of her first short story collection, Plett makes good on the promise hinted at in her earlier stories, also reprinted herein, and offers us a sampler plate of the myriad ways that trans women are living, loving, and existing all throughout the country.
These girls are beautiful, at turns both fiercely strong and defiant against a world that loathes or fetishizes them and also so frighteningly fragile and vulnerable, so breakable that you'd like to capture them in a bell jar and keep them tucked away safe forever. Like Lisa, the recently single cam girl haunted by memories of her ex and crippling social anxiety, who ends up having a kink-fueled fling with an older lesbian in "How Old Are You Anyway?", a story which had me both titillated and nodding along in recognition as her conscious narrative devolved to a catalog of sensory input, those amazing spikes of pain that shoot from nipple to groin to neck and back again and all you want is for that ache to never end because for a moment you're so mercifully free of all concerns and actually home in your body and actually feeling and what does it matter that it's pain and hurt because for so long you've just felt nothing that to be able to feel anything physical at all is just so fucking transcendental. And then it's over. And the walls come back up and your thrice-damned thoughts come rushing back in and that blissful nothingness is just the faintest blissful memory.
Or the dynamics between "Lizzy and Annie," two Brooklyn trans girls negotiating their own uncertainty and fears to find love with one another, bouncing from bar to bed to breakfast all whilst ducking the attentions of chasers and the leering stares of their coworkers. Or the unnamed narrator of "How to Stay Friends" out for dinner with her ex for the first time since transitioning and simultaneously wanting to make a good new "first impression" and deconstructing everything that you did wrong and regret while you were dating and trying to maintain the facade of being a virile straight man. That particular story hit a little close to home and necessitated me putting the book down for a few minutes to catch my breath and get some distance from the material before returning. We all have those things we really regret from the times before transitioning, but it's always a bit disconcerting to see your own thoughts writ so clearly upon the page.
By far my favorite story is the largest, "Not Bleak," about Carla, a trans girl living in a small Mid-Western town near the Canadian border working at a book store and her friendship with Zeke, a mennonite trans girl who may or may not have stolen her hormones and her passport but who also really needed a friend and a community. Carla, ever of the warm heart and willing to extend the benefit of the doubt becomes close with her to the point of posing as her girlfriend and returning with Zeke to the small Mennonite community she grew up in so she could see her grandfather before he passed. Zeke utterly broke my heart, this poor little trans girl who was willing to hide her identity and be seen as a boy so as to preserve the links she had with her family. This girl who needs support so badly but who is her own worst enemy and continually brings people to distrust her. I want to say more but I don't want to spoil the story, but Plett's portrayal of an insular small-town queer community where everyone knows one another and has for years and how the lack of anything to do leads to some enormously silly hijinks in the name of entertaining yourself is absolutely spot-on. Of all the stories, this is the one that I've come back to and read several times more.
These stories are all about trans characters, which I love because there's a frightening lack of creative work by and about girls like me, but they appeal to a much larger crowd as well- those of us who have ever stood on the outside of a party and watched the interplay between people and wondering why it seemed so easy for everyone else, those of us who have ever dealt with fear, anxiety, or isolation, those of us who have ever gotten sloppily drunk in order to feel more at ease in social situations. Plett has an amazing eye for the fragile foibles nestled within everyone's hearts and I think that any reader, trans or cis, can connect with her characters. This is her first collection, but I'm certainly hoping it's not her last as Casey Plett's voice is one that is desperately needed within the realm of fiction. Her stories are the sort that I long to read. I don't know that I could ever recommend a book more highly....more
Daniel Woodrell is an author gifted with extraordinary descriptive talents and an imagination so dark and murky I would not want to go wading throughDaniel Woodrell is an author gifted with extraordinary descriptive talents and an imagination so dark and murky I would not want to go wading through too deeply lest I end up a meal for the alligators and snakes that surely flourish in such conditions. It shouldn't be as easy as it is for him to call to life the haunting beauty of the forests and rivers of wild Appalachia while at the same time people it with characters for whom complete and spontaneous violent outbursts are always an acceptable method of conflict resolution. Whether you're bashing your rapist Uncle over the head with a log or driving your car over a cliff while attempting to run over a hitchhiker, you fit in well in Woodrell's world.
These short stories are not all bloodlust and Southern-fried violence, however. Into the mix, Woodrell scatters some of those bittersweet moments of earnestness that made Winter's Bone such a compelling read and make Woodrell's debt to Cormac McCarthy all the more obvious. Two offerings in particular stand out among this collection. The first, "Black Step", is a painful tale of alienation and hurt as it recounts a recently-returned-from-Iraq veteran taking care of his ailing mother's farm while also coping with his PTSD and emotionally-shallow friends whose version of commiseration is finding out how people's heads look when they explode. The next, "Woe To Live On", is the stand-out winner in this collection. Set in the early days of WWI it features an elderly wood-carver who had served as a bushwhacker during Reconstruction, ambushing and killing Union troops intent on pacifying the still-roiling South, dealing with moving into a new global era and the changing American worldview. I think this story should be required reading for Tea Partiers, but doubt most would get the point.
Making for an entertaining afternoon of reading, this is a short and quick collection of stories that I could not put down once starting to read. Each surprising twist ending propelled me further, I needed to see what would happen next. Next thing I knew I had torn through the meager 167 pages and wanted more. Some of these stories are clear throw aways, writing exercises that probably should have stayed on his hard drive rather than being used to pad this collection, but which are still entertaining. I'm uncertain whether most of these tales will stay with me as I move on to other reads, but I'm still incredibly glad I read it....more
It is no secret that science fiction tickles my fancy like nothing else. I've penned dozens of reviews by now declaiming the same thing. Yet for all oIt is no secret that science fiction tickles my fancy like nothing else. I've penned dozens of reviews by now declaiming the same thing. Yet for all of my heartfelt ardor for the genre as a whole, I have never been a big fan of Golden Age science fiction. By Golden Age I mean those authors writing either before or during the initial space race, authors whose imaginations were set racing by the vision of Sputnik orbiting overhead and whose Eisenhower minds drew long gleaming phallus-looking rockets flown by Aryan supermen set to spread the ethos of Manifest Destiny to the stars. There’s just something too clean about these visions of the future- nothing worn or battered, nothing broken down. It’s all just a little too neat and tidy, as though these futures had swept the problem of civil rights, women’s lib, or upstart youth collectively under the rug and forgotten about them.
All of which brings me to Ray Bradbury. While he only rarely set his stories among the stars, Bradbury has always seemed to embody much of what I dislike about scifi of that era. I remember well the torment of forcing myself through the slow tedium of Dandelion Wine as a pre-teen, not to mention the enormous disappointment of The Martian Chronicles (that’s a review for another day). His style has always struck me as just a tad too simplistic, events occur that are far too coincidental, everything gets wrapped up nice and pat. What I’m saying, in my typically convoluted manner, is that I was predisposed to dislike The October Country from the beginning.
A compendium of short stories originally published in various trade magazines, The October Country shows Bradbury flexing a little bit of his gothic might with tales both ominous and, occasionally, humorous. There are a lot of sideshows and carnivals, wide-eyed young boys straight from the pages of Boy’s Life investigating mysterious new tenants in cheap boarding houses, buxom wives with nary a thought in their heads, mad shut-ins, and even the stray mummy or two. While some of these tales are enjoyable- "Playing With Fire," "The Scythe" and "The Jar" are all a lot of fun- for the most part they come off as dated and cliched- never more evident than in "Next in Line" or "Uncle Einar."
Of course the very reason that they are cliched is because Bradbury's writing formed the background for generations of writers that have come since then. I can't hold it against him for being inspirational, but at the same time it slows my enjoyment of his works when I see where these tropes have evolved since him.
One final note on this book- the illustrations really add to the overall ambiance of dread that Bradbury tries to conjure with this collection. The pen and ink drawing of the old Victorian clapboard house that opens "Playing With Fire" was especially striking, but I found that any story that began with one of illustrator Joe Mugnaini's drawings was inevitably one that I enjoyed more than the stand-alone stories. Kudos for that, Mr. Mugnaini....more
In his two full-length novels, Brasyl and River of Gods, Ian McDonald has sculpted universes so amazingly rich and detailed that readers couldn't helpIn his two full-length novels, Brasyl and River of Gods, Ian McDonald has sculpted universes so amazingly rich and detailed that readers couldn't help being caught up in these tales of worlds on the cusp of new evolutionary leaps and societal upheaval. For days after finishing both of his prior books I would awaken from dreams set in the far-flung locale of a future India on the eve of its Centenary or the porous membranes between variant realities in the Rio of tomorrow. It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to Cyberabad Days, McDonald's collection of stories set in the future-shocked universe of his renowned River of Gods.
Possible River of Gods spoilers below...
I was not to be disappointed. Set during and after the fragmenting of India into disparate states that formed the climactic crux of its parent book, Cyberabad Days both further fleshes out this vision of an India of tomorrow and answers some of the lingering questions I had after finishing River of Gods. The tales included range from the anime-ready yarn of a battle mech loving chai wallah who falls in with some child soldiers remotely controlling the large mechs to the ethical (and practical) dilemmas raised when an aeai (AI) soap opera star falls head-over-heels in love with a classically trained dancer (Adjustment Bureau this is not) to the closing story, "Vishnu at the Cat Circus", an imaginative epic of a world on the cusp of a true cognitive singularity that could be ripped from some Ramayana of the future.
Individually the stories are of varying levels of quality and would make little sense to readers unfamiliar with the source material, and there are minor grammatical and spelling errors that make me think this was rushed to print in the wake of River of Gods success. Still, in this collected form nearly all offer an entertaining return to one of the most imaginative universes I have yet to encounter. This brief tasting tray of scifi done right has only whet my appetite for McDonald's next long player. Highly recommended for fans of dystopian futures and wonderfully rendered worlds....more
Cory Doctorow is a nerd's nerd. As one of the founders of BoingBoing, he has been at the forefront of web culture, meme dispersion, and fair copyrightCory Doctorow is a nerd's nerd. As one of the founders of BoingBoing, he has been at the forefront of web culture, meme dispersion, and fair copyright advocacy. In his off-time he also writes some pretty decent science fiction.
His style is a familiar one- adopting netwide themes into stories to help explain these advances to those who spend less time fully immersed in the digital world. I imagine trying to explain the phenomena of gold farming to someone who has never played World of Warcraft would be difficult, but Doctorow manages to explain it in an engaging manner with his story "Anda's Game" (yes, that's a deliberate play on Ender's Game).
It's rare that we ever think of the server farms that allow sites like Goodreads, Google, or Facebook to function, but a reader swiftly realizes the importance of the System Administrators who oversee these well-oiled machines when a global catastrophe spares only the SysAdmins who were called from their beds in the middle of the night to take care of their servers in his "When SysAdmins Ruled the Earth."
And that's only two of the six stories that Doctorow offers up in this collection. I had heard most of these before because I subscribe to Doctorow's podcast, where he often reads his works-in-progress, but it was enjoyable to see them in print form for once, and I definitely did not mind reading them again. My only complaint is also a familiar one. Doctorow tends to get so wrapped up in his worlds and ideas that his characters feel like so much filler. The man has a nose for technical innovations (I'm still obsessed with seeing his concept of shared music libraries from Eastern Standard Tribes become a reality) but his characters just don't really leave much of an impact. At times it feels as if a person suffering from Aspberger's were trying to write a passionate love story- disconnected, stilted and a little confusing....more
Fun collection of essays and interviews along with a CD of assorted tunes from the bands featured inside. There's a great Luc Sante piece on postcardFun collection of essays and interviews along with a CD of assorted tunes from the bands featured inside. There's a great Luc Sante piece on postcard photography. Also a fun and informative interview on the New Zealand underground band, The Clean. Up-and-coming hipster favorites, The Vivian Girls, offer a short interview with Rob Simonsen and there are some very interesting papercuts from artist David Fair.
Quick and easy read, perfect for a long trip to the restroom....more