Thursday, March 29, 2007

Harry Potter hoopla

Well, I don't imagine I'll ever have a book come out where the cover gets as much scrutiny as the recently unveiled covers of Harry Potter. Admittedly you never can tell, but I just don't see my writing as ever reaching this kind of popularity (in fact, that's not really my goal in writing--it's not lack of confidence that makes me say that, but simply a different type of approach to writing--would you expect a new cover from McKillip or VanderMeer, LeGuin or Beagle or Wolfe to get such a reaction?).

Still, I'm looking forward to reading the new book. And if you want to brush up a bit on the series as a whole, I have a perfect recommendation for you. My cousin Steve runs one of the main Harry Potter websites out there, the Harry Potter Lexicon. You won't find a lot of speculation about the new book there, but an incredible amount of information on the books that are already out as well as a collection of essays about the world that are fun to read. The people involved in the site are far more into the series than even most fans, so you'll find all kinds of things you missed if, like me, you only read each book once.

Yeah, Harry Potter is a far cry from the books I usually mention here and recommend, and a far cry from anything I write, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it for what it is.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Sports Fable Press" story at Noneuclidean Café

Go check it out. This is not a fantasy story, not really a speculative story at least on the surface. There are certain ways that I think it betrays my speculative nature, especially in the nature of the short-lived newspaper of the title. I started writing this years ago, shortly after college, before I was even married when I was living in West Michigan. But then I got stuck and buried it for 4 and a half years. During that time I moved to Detroit, which is where the story is set, but it wasn't until I left Michigan for Colorado that I realized how to finish the story. I think it was while browsing Adbusters's website that I came up with how to complete it (and I wouldn't be surprised if the original concept came from reading an Adbusters magazine). I've long been the type to dislike brand names on my clothing--it can be a name brand if that means better quality, but I don't want to scream that fact out to other people.

In other news, I've just had a poem accepted for publication by Raven Electrick. I've been dabbling a bit more recently in speculative poetry, both writing and reading, so I'm excited by this, though it won't actually be appearing until May 2008.

Monday, March 26, 2007

All Possible Worlds

I did receive my contributor copy last week, and it looks great. I have a couple stories I haven't read yet, but I just thought I'd get my reactions up here now. The overall quality of the magazine is good, quite similar to the print version of The Sword Review (which also impressed me), but with interior illustrations as well. The illustration of Orfie, the sleep shaman, is not at all how I pictured him, but I like it anyway. And the story still makes me laugh. Of the stories I've read, "Nithad: The Lonely Valley" by John N. Baker stands out. It's the longest story in here, a story with a mythic feel, as if you feel like the parts of the story are familiar but you can't quite pin down why. I also liked "A Snowball's Chance" by Kurt Kirchmeier and "The Apocryphist" by Bruce Golden. Not to say I disliked the others (and as I said, there are a few I haven't read yet), but those are the ones that still stand out about a week later.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Our trip to the mountains

So back in December we'd reserved a cabin for ourselves during my wife's vacation. Not until the day before did we begin to hear even hints of bad weather coming, and even then we just thought it'd be nothing to worry about. But late the night before the forecasts took a change...and we realized there was no way we dared drive up a twisting mountain canyon with snow blowing as hard as they were saying.

Good thing--that was the blizzard that shut down the airport in Denver for days, that shut down the expressways all across the western plains. It gave us more than 2 feet of snow, and Estes Park, where the cabin was, at least 3 feet. Our Kia is not equipped to handle such conditions.

Well, we couldn't get a refund on our cabin, but they offered a gift certificate instead. So my wife rearranged some of her schedule to give us a 3-day weekend and make a second go. It's been such good weather here, we had visions of hiking all over, of letting our son play on the playground at the resort and wander around with us among the cabins.

And the weather was good when we first arrived...

We managed a brief hike with the rain already starting to fall, and then we returned to our very small cabin to check the weather report. Winter storm warning for Estes, 8-20 inches of snow. What? Fortunately it stayed as rain overnight, only switching to snow Saturday morning. And even then, the air and ground were so warm that most of the snow melted as it fell--there was maybe an inch total accumulated, though it was probably 3-4 inches that actually fell.

Still, slush didn't sound like a great way to drive back down the canyon this morning. So I was a bit concerned. ("We can stop if you're scared." "I'm not scared. I was...concerned, but that's not the same thing.") But then the snow stopped already in the evening, and the roads were already clear then when we ran into town mostly to see how they would be. So the drive this morning was fine. Beautiful and sunny--but why couldn't it have been like that yesterday when we wanted to go hiking? Instead we could only look out the little windows in our cabin and catch the occasional glimpse of part of a mountain peeking through the clouds or fog or snow.

We have another cabin reserved over on the western slope in a little over a month when my parents visit, and now I'm nervous what will happen then. Are we cursed?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Denia, Spain

It just occurred to me now that exactly ten years ago I was living in Spain. By this point, actually, I was a little more than halfway through my time there. Spring break was still coming up when one of the other guys and I did the stereotypical North American college student backpack-carrying train tour of Europe...well, of France, Germany and Switzerland anyway--we would have spent time in Italy too, but there was a train strike so we couldn't get in. And Madrid, Segovia, Toledo was still to come (a trip organized by our program). But we'd been to Barcelona with the program, and Granada. And possibly Sevilla and Córdoba, which I did with just a group of other students...but I forget exactly when we did that. We'd celebrated Carnival in nearby Benidorm, dancing all night long in the streets while dressed as a caveman...with black face paint that did not come off easily, and we'd been to visit Javea/Xabia and were greeted as very important visitors by the town itself.

And what was there in Denia itself? The people, especially my host family. The Mediterranean Sea. An old castle on a hill in the middle of town. An older Roman tower down the coast a little ways that I liked to walk to. Raw sea urchins, the local delicacy. De Nit ("Of [the] night" in valenciano), the club where we'd hang out some weekend nights, not a proper discoteca since it closed at 2 am, and the real discotecas didn't really get busy until 2 am. Orange groves--beautiful. Lots of seafood. Lots of oranges. Olive oil and red wine. And sangría. And then there was the mountain, Montgó, which inspired the first poem I ever had published. There were a few caves to explore and some piles of rock that seemed to be incredibly ancient ruins (the town went back at least to the Greeks and probably to the Phoenicians...and may have had whatever the original Iberian peoples were as well [possibly related to the Basque people, though that's not known for sure right now]).

So to anyone from Denia, I say, "Bon día," and wish I remembered other phrases from valenciano that would make sense here.

Friday, March 16, 2007


This is a follow-up on the last post about images and text, but first the premier issue of All Possible Worlds is now available to be purchased. I'll have a blog entry about it sometime soon--my contributor copy should arrive any time, so once I've read some of the other stories as well, I'll put my thoughts about it up here.

Also, I still can't get Blogger to upload pictures--anyone else having this problem, or is it just some quirk of my archaic computer? I may try through the dreaded Internet Explorer and see if a change of browser makes it work. Edit: It worked in IE. I'm happy to get images on my blog...but not exactly happy to use IE.

Oh, and one last thing before the real entry--unless html leaves you clueless, do not switch your template to the new version. I tried last night and fortunately was able to switch back. You do gain a much easier way of adding links...but at the expense of most of your control about how the sidebar looks or where things go. I was thinking that maybe there were additional cool formatting things I was missing out on with the old template, but no. The switch doesn't add any new options, just a different way of doing what you can already do.

OK...Entropia by Christian Lorenz Scheurer. It's a collection artwork that pretends to be the stamps of an invented country, Entropia. The artwork overall is good--cartoony, probably influenced by anime (though I'm not familiar enough with that to state it definitively). Much of it is of the people and other creatures of the society, especially of Queen Pingo whose story the text tells, with a few that would be better described as landscapes or cityscapes. Opposite each stamp is the text, telling about the history that gave rise to the step--it's not pushing any boundaries for integrating image and text here, but ultimately I liked this. It's a fun way to explore an imaginary land. The story itself is whimsical. The underlying story is of Queen Pingo and her attempts to restore the country after a coup by an army of robots and then moving on toward a democracy. But the stamps take the opportunity to introduce many other aspects of the world--cow-faced animal herders, swimming rabbits, monks who send flower deliveries by spider... I like whimsy, but I think part of my disappointment with the books lies in this whimsy...I'm trying to put in words what it is, and I think the best I can come up with now is that it's a little overly cute. And now I put that, I think some of the artwork veers that way as well. Cute. And it doesn't really seem to be exploring the intersection of images and words so much as using them without a lot of thought.

This makes it sound like I really disliked it, but that's not true. I enjoyed it. There's a lot to appreciate, despite my nagging feeling that it doesn't live up to its promise. Maybe it should have been classified as a YA book--I think if I'd gone into it that way I would have enjoyed it more. I'd still have liked a bit more depth, but the cuteness wouldn't have seemed quite as...precious. So it is a good and worthwhile book. I just wish it could have been a bit more.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Visual art and text

I'm always fascinated with the juxtaposition of different media. It's probably why one of my guilty pleasures when I end up somewhere with cable TV (and a lot of down time without much to do...which isn't very common) is to watch music videos. I'm much more forgiving of music styles I wouldn't normally enjoy if it has an interesting combination of video to go along with it. A lot of them aren't terribly interesting to me, but I like to catch those few that seem to get it.

Far more interesting, though, is that way text and images can interact. I've never been much of a traditional comic book fan--not sure why, though I think it might be in part that the balance is shifted too much to the image side with the text itself not demanding much of the reader (or maybe it's that the images themselves don't usually demand much of the viewer). I have enjoyed some graphic novels and even some comics. I greatly enjoyed Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay, which is about two comic book artists, enough that I liked the comic book that came from it, The Escapist, when I got it from the library. Liked, but nothing more. No burning desire to read the second volume or to reread the first. I've enjoyed some of Gaiman's graphic novels, and a good friend in college got me to read Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which was good. And others...a Moorcock Eternal Champions comic is one that comes to mind as well as some of Nick Bantock's works, for a very different approach.

It seems to me, thought, that I'm always a little disappointed in these, that they never quite live up to the potential that I see in this pairing of pictures and words. I recently got another one with some birthday money, very different from these others and good in many ways--I'm not quite finished with it, but I'll likely blog about it once I have. More on the order of Bantock's works than comics, though the artwork is certainly influenced by anime/manga (I'm sure there's a technical distinction there that I'm unaware of...) And again, it doesn't quite satisfy, as fun and interesting as some of the parts are.

So, if any of you visiting have strong recommendations for works that really take advantage of both media, I'd love to hear it. I think what I'd really like is something with more philosophical depth than most of what I've encountered so far, something that challenges the reader/viewer both visually and textually.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Review of Text: UR at Tangent

My review of this anthology has just gone up at Tangent Online. I definitely recommend this anthology. The highlight to me (there are quite a few that are very good, but the one that I still like the best) is “The Avatar of Background Noise” by Toiya Kristen Finley. I avoided reading the review from Publishers Weekly until I'd sent my review in to Eugie...and I saw once I read it that a couple of those they picked out as worthy of note were some that I didn't find as successful. Oh well. Ever since I sent it in I've been looking for other reviews out of curiosity to see what others thought, but I haven't found any except one Amazon reader review and an exerpt from the Midwest Book Review (though I didn't find it just now on their website). There's something intimidating about throwing a review like this out there, very different from the intimidation of having a story or poem out.

I was going to put a picture of the cover up here too--my blog needs more pictures, plus it's a cool cover. But something seems wrong with Blogger's picture uploading function. I'll see if I can add it later. For now, here's the link to Raw Dog Screaming Press, which sells the anthology.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Perfect day for a track meet

It's occurred to me a few times recently that I really miss track. My last couple years of college I put so much pressure on myself to race well that I stopped enjoying the track meets. I still had a great time with the other people from the team during training and other times--across events but especially our own small mid-distance squad. But I dreaded the meets. That's not completely true. I liked racing during the race itself, but that buildup to the race was torture (and when you compare the hours-long buildup to less than 2 minutes of running...). Oh, and I never dreaded the 4x400m relay. That was just something fun to end the meet with. But then in college I was always on the second team (our first team won nationals, so I wasn't quite at that level). Also, a 400 I could just sprint for 50 seconds and not worry about tactics or anything...which again, I sometimes enjoyed during the 800 but I didn't like trying to prepare myself.

Now, though, I'm enough years out of college that I wouldn't be putting ridiculous expectations on myself. I think I could just go out and run. I wonder what I could do now. I have pretty good endurance, I think, but I'd want a few weeks to train for speed also. Given that, I don't think I could quite break 2 minutes (I'd need a bit more than a few weeks for that and some more rigorous training), but I think I could get close to that.

I wonder if there's any danger of writing becoming like track was for me. There are flashes where I stall out, and I think it's because of putting the pressure on myself. But thankfully they don't last long so far. With track it was when I finished my second college season and could see myself making nationals the next year and dreamed of being All-American the following year (and after that, Olympics? unlikely...but I won't claim it didn't occur to me)--it didn't happen, my second season ending up being my best (in part because a sore knee kept me from training as much as I should have during the next off-season, and probably in part because of the pressure I put on myself). I'm probably not at the equivalent of that with my writing, though it's advancing well, and I receive the types of encouragement that indicate I'm heading there. So I guess the key is to just keep writing, dreaming big put not letting those dreams choke you with pressure.

Sounds good...any wisdom on how to do that? ;)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Follow-up on yesterday's post

Here's an explanation of the origin of poppycock. I may just have to take to using it more... And I have to add that I love that Weird Words site--I've stumbled across it various times in the past, and it's full of many strange words and their origins.
Is science fiction predictive?

I've seen and heard from various places that the value of science fiction is in its ability to predict the future, to predict the ways society and technology will develop in a century or twenty. This leads to dismissing works that didn't predict cell phones or the September 11 attacks or that had computers the size of a city block that only the five richest kings in Europe would be able to afford (Simpsons moment...for an episode I saw years ago, so I've likely completely mangled it). I say poppycock. (I've always wanted to say poppycock and never had an opportunity to...I wonder where such a ridiculous usage comes from.)

And I have none other than Ursula LeGuin on my side. I just picked up a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness the other day (and you'd be right to question my moral fortitude when I admit that I'd yet to read it--but that's being remedied at the moment). She wrote an introduction to the book some seven years after it was first published, and it's included in this edition I have. Prediction, she says, is for prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists, not novelists. "The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like... I don't recommend you turn to writers of fiction for such information. It's none of their business. All they're trying to do is tell you what they're like, what you're like--what's going on now--what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look!"

She goes into the whole question much more, as well as the nature of fiction as lies that are true, and it's certainly worth reading for all writers. I think it's why I find attempts to rigidly define science fiction apart from fantasy or speculative fiction apart from mainstream as silly. Looking at SF as primarily predictive leads to the type of snobbish view toward fantasy that some science fiction fans have, as if this future-looking prediction somehow elevates it above other writing. No. Whether science fiction or fantasy, whether superficially speculative (in the broad sense) or claiming (pretending) to be mimetic, fiction speaks about us. Today. About what it means to be human. And for those works that last, it's because they continue to speak to the nature of humans, not just then but now, a today that keeps shifting as we do. Even if they lack cell phones.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"Six Questions About the Sun" by Brian Conn

A rambling intro to the story I mentioned in my last post--I'm sure I've mentioned a number of times how much I enjoy Italo Calvino's stories. I first encountered him through Invisible Cities, which remains among my favorite books even after having read it multiple times, then moved on to Castle of Crossed Destinies, which I also enjoyed and hope to reread soon. My absolute favorite, and one that always comes up when people ask for my favorite books in general is If on a winter's night a traveler. But the real reason I bring up Calvino in connection with this story is two of his other books (both also very enjoyable), Cosmicomics and t zero. Both are a series of stories that essentially take scientific history, especially astronomy, and have a character with an unpronounceable name narrate his recollection of that time--from the Big Bang to the separation of the moon from the earth to the evolution of species. Not that it treats these with rigorous scientific examination--Calvino takes a theory (and it doesn't ultimately matter if the theory fits the best data or not), and spins a whimsical tale from that premise.

So these are the stories that "Six Questions About the Sun" reminds me of. It's a whimsical story about the sun that doesn't match any current scientific knowledge of the sun and about an explorer (Tariq the Cosmonaut) who sailed there, about the poisons and doors on the sun and the little winged creatures who bring the sun its fuel. Like I said, pure whimsy...and great fun. I won't say any more about the story itself, but do go and read it. The story first appeared in Sybil's Garage No. 3, and they are making it available on their website.
"Swiss inadvertently invade Liechtenstein"

There's a short story I discovered online the other day that I wanted to mention here as being well worth the read...but first, I just had to point to this very funny article. There's just something wonderfully bizarre about it. I especially like the detail that they were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition.

I'll post about that short story later today.