Some Points Re: Recent Matters

1) If you decide to subvert the nomination process of a literary award in order to score a "Gotcha!" on your political opponents, you're probably kind of a prick.

2) Some people are proud of being a prick.

3) In an ideal world, all fiction would be judged separately from its author.  In the real world, some people are so loathsome and despicable, others may declare them anathema.  In the ecclesiastical sense, that includes excommunication, refusing them the sacraments.  In the literary sense, this equates to refusing to read or consider their writing.

4) Some people are proud of being so loathsome and despicable that others will declare them anathema.

5) However strong and determined their efforts toward that end, there is no one so loathsome or despicable that they cannot find people who will befriend or even love them.

J.T. Ready, neo-Nazi, anti-Semite,
former public voice of white supremacy
in Arizona, and boyfriend of Lisa Mederos,
up until the day he shot and killed
Ms. Mederos, Mederos' daughter,
the daughter's boyfriend, and
the daughter's 15-month old infant
before turning his gun on himself.


Amazon's 100 Mysteries

Amazon has a recent list of "100 Mysteries and Thrillers To Read In Your Lifetime".  Here are the ones I've read:

  • Caleb Carr, The Alienist
  • Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
  • James Clavell, Shogun
  • Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  • Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
  • James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential
  • Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal
  • Dashiel Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
  • Thomas Harris, Red Dragon
  • Franz Kafka, The Trial
  • Stephen King, Misery
  • Donald Sobol, Encyclopedia Brown
  • Mickey Spillane, I, The Jury
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance
  • Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
  • Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me

There were books by additional authors (James Lee Burke, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, John MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, James Patterson, and Donald Westlake) that I've read some (sometimes a lot) of their work but don't remember for sure if I ever read those specific titles.  (If Kiss The Girls was James Patterson's first book, yes, I read it, and yes, that's why I've never read a second Patterson book.  *ka-zing!*)  A lot of those books were made into movies that I do remember seeing.

The Amazon list tries to provide a cross-section of various subgenres in the mystery/thriller line, so someone who's never read any who tries blind picks from the list is likely to have a roller-coaster ride, from puzzle mysteries to procedurals to noir to historicals.  But it's an interesting list.

The list includes one of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden detective-with-magic books,so I was a bit surprised that Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel wasn't included to represent the SF end of that spectrum.  Other omissions will probably come to mind later.


Wheel of Time and the Hugo Awards

Based on a technical interpretation of Hugo Award rules, the entire 13-volume Wheel of Time fantasy epic by Robert Jordan was ruled as eligible to be nominated for Best Novel for this year's Hugo awards.  People who bought a supporting or attending membership in this year's Worldcon are able to vote on the awards.

In recent years, a "Hugo Voter Packet" has collected a year's fiction nominees (usually four or five full novels, plus the shorter works) in digital format.  Some people view the HVP as enabling voters to read the full slate of nominees for Hugo consideration, and some people see it as an opportunity to buy a whole bunch of books and stories for a bargain rate.   (Supporting memberships are $40 this year.)

When Jordan's multi-volume epic got enough nominations to end up on the final Hugo ballot, a number of people wondered online whether Tor Books, Jordan's publisher, would actually include the entire three-million-word-plus work in the Hugo Voter Packet.

Yes, they will, it turns out.

In another example of why I am kind of a weirdo, this news actually lessens whatever small* impulse I had to buy a supporting or attending membership in this year's Worldcon.

Because if I bought a membership, I’d feel obligated to actually read the contents of the Hugo Voter Packet, give some consideration to the content’s merits, and actually vote. And one of the reasons I haven’t had a membership in any Worldcon since 1984 is that simply finding time enough to read all the Hugo-nominated work before the voting deadline was difficult if not impossible. I’d feel guilty about not doing that.

Add in a 13-volume, 10,000-page, three-million-word Big Fat Fantasy, and that guilt goes to a whole new level. “Crushing guilt” sounds appropriate.

(portions of this post originally appeared as a comment on File 770)

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A Swarmish Souvenir

The bee swarm that tried to establish a hive in our front yard ash tree a few weeks ago left behind something to remember them by:

posted from Bloggeroid


Lost Creatures: A Short Story

(I generally don't put my fiction on my blog here. But this isn't my usual science fiction or fantasy. It's over ten years old, and has never been a suitable fit for literary-fiction or other markets. But I think it's a nice little story, so I'm putting it out here as an experiment to see if it has any audience. If you like it, let me know. Better yet, let other people know.)

by Bruce Arthurs

He had been called Handsome Devil. That had been when he had a home, and owners who had fed and brushed him regularly, had played the fetch game with him on an almost daily basis. Then they had left in their car one day, and had never come back. Strangers in black clothing had entered the home after several days, bearing boxes into which they had solemnly packed his owners' belongings, sometimes breaking out in tears. Handsome Devil had hid from them, uncertain what their presence meant. One had opened a window, and failed to close it completely when the strangers left at the end of the day. Handsome Devil had squeezed out the narrow aperture, jumped to the ground, and gone to look for his owners. 
He had been full-bodied and sleek of coat, then. Now he was thin, and his coat was dry and spiky; both ears were ragged from combat, and one leg still ached from the damage when a boy had deliberately ridden his bicycle into Handsome Devil. He had learned that the world beyond his home was a dangerous place, and that many of the people who lived there were not kind, and were best avoided.
Hunger was his constant companion. He caught the occasional bird or lizard, scrounged in trash cans, would sometimes chance stealing food from a dish left outside for a cat or dog who still had their owners. He drank from gutters and puddles. His owners were a fading memory, and survival was his predominant thought.
There were places where finding food was more likely, brightly lit glass-front buildings where people would stop for snacks, drinks, cigarettes and sundries. Handsome Devil could usually find a bit of hot dog, or at least a piece of the bun, dropped on the ground or thrown towards the garbage cans. Sometimes pigeons or sparrows would gather for the crumbs found there, and he would be able to stalk and ambush them for his own needs.
He was in the underbrush near such a place, eyes and attention fixed and tense upon a sparrow pecking at crumbs, when the man approached. The man walked with a heavy step, his head down, his thumbs hooked into the pockets of his worn jeans.
The sparrow looked up at the figure approaching across the asphalt. Handsome Devil began his move, rising and taking several quick panther-steps forward from under the bush, then stopping in frustration as the sparrow rose upwards in a fluster of wings.
The man stopped short as well. Cat and man stared at each other, one wary, the other surprised.
"Christ, puss," the man finally said. "You look like I feel."
The man slowly lowered himself into a crouch and extended a hand towards Handsome Devil; he made come-hither motions, strumming his thumb across his fingers. Handsome Devil stayed frozen in position, ready to flee but not sure this was the safest moment to do so.
The man ceased the come-hither motions. "Nah," he said softly, "you don't trust me. Or anybody else, I reckon. It's a hard world, isn't it, puss? A hard, crappy world."
He reached up slowly and pulled a cord from beneath his shirt. The cord went around his neck; a colored plastic disk was strung on the cord. The man held up the disk and looked at it.
"Ninety days sober, last week. I thought I was pulling things back together. And then..." He paused. "...this morning she told me she wanted the divorce anyway. She's going to take the kids and go to her parents back East."
He yanked at the disk, snapping the string. He rose back to his full height and stared at the storefront ahead of him. "To hell with it," he whispered. "To Hell." The man flung his arm to one side and cast the disk away.
The disk tumbled through the air. Sudden memory blossomed in Handsome Devil's mind as his eyes automatically tracked the colored object.
Fetch it, Handsome Devil, his owners would say, and toss the plastic bottlecap across the tiled kitchen floor.
He burst into a run across the asphalt. The disk struck and bounced, struck again, spinning and tumbling, and then Handsome Devil was on top of it, pinning it, capturing it, rising with it clenched in his mouth and turning proudly to display his catch.
And the man was disappearing into the building, the glass door starting to swing shut behind him.
The door almost closed on Handsome Devil's tail as he scooted through the shrinking opening and into the cooled air of the store.
The man was standing at the counter, staring past the clerk and at the rows of bottles containing amber and clear liquids. He raised a hand, started to point. "Give me one of----"
And stopped, and looked down towards his feet, where Handsome Devil was rubbing back and forth against his pant legs and purring around the disk still held between his jaws.
The clerk looked over. "How'd he get in here?"
The man leaned down and slipped a hand under Handsome Devil's stomach. He lifted him up, took the disk from Handsome Devil, and laid him against his shoulder. The man stared at the disk as he absently stroked the cat's head and shoulders.
Handsome Devil purred louder.
"If he's yours, you can't bring him in here," the clerk said.
The man turned his eyes toward the clerk. "Do you...?" he began. "Do you have any cat food here?"


The Brave Free Books -- April 2014

Yeah, it's been awhile since I did an installment of "The Brave Free Books", reviews of various books and e-books I've read for free (from promotions, giveaways, sweepstakes wins, and/or the Nook Free Fridays offerings).

In the self-published line, I'm very impressed by the work of a British chap named Luke Smitherd. His novel TheStone Man and novella The Man On Table Ten are both very compelling stories. They might be described as "Science-Fiction/Horror"; both use mysterious aliens manifesting in the normal world. The aliens don't explain themselves (with the strong implication that humans are too insignificant to bother giving explanations), they're close to omnipotent in what they can do, and we can't stop them. In those respects Smitherd's aliens are closer to Lovecraft's Elder Gods than traditional SF aliens. Smitherd draws you into the minds of his characters slowly, layering details and emotions, until you fully believe in them. Most "horror" stories, of whatever genre, slide off me; these stories actually made me anxious, both for the individual characters and for the suddenly-endangered worlds they lived in.  (Current Kindle prices: The Stone Man, 2.99; The Man At Table Ten, Free)

A less impressive self-published work was Strawman Made Steel, by Brett Adams. I picked this up during a free promotion by the author, because the opening scene was a compelling beat-the-clock scenario where the just-poisoned protagonist has to figure out which of two poisons he's been given, because taking the wrong antidote will kill him immediately. The rest of the book didn't live up to that scene, unfortunately. The protagonist can travel, via mirrors, between our normal world and a future where electricity vanished suddenly and the world has had to convert back to steam and kerosene and gas. An interesting premise, but I couldn't believe that the world, and the future New York City, would not only recover from such an overwhelming cataclysm in less than a century, but grow. The premise needed a lot more propping up and development. I also didn't see the need for the protagonist, a hard-boiled private detective, to be hopping back and forth between worlds. The central conceit of the world, the sudden disappearance of electricity, is never examined or solved. Pretty much a standard noir mystery, with gangsters and the spoiled rich and nightclubs, etc., with some fantastical trappings added on. Disappointing.  (Current Kindle Price: 2.99)

Death Blimps of Doom! by James Ivan Greco is a prequel short story to his "Reprobates of the Wasteland" novel Take The All-Mart!  The "Reprobates" series is about a couple of wasted wastrels in a satirical post-apocalypse setting.  (Chinese troops occupy a trashed California; the All-Mart has become self-expanding in runaway-nanotech style and now covers a large portion of North America; etc.)  Trip and Rudy may be the inheritors of all the bad genes from Charlie Sheen, Hunter Thompson, Cheech-and-Chong, and Leopold-and-Loeb; they make Harry Flashman look like a paragon of moral virtue and rectitude, leaving wreckage both literal and metaphorical in their wake.  It's funny, but in a kind of feel-dirty-afterwards way. As a short story, I think this sort of thing works, but I'm reluctant to engage in a full-length novel about these characters, and haven't gone on to read Greco's novel about Trip and Rudy's further adventures.  (Current Kindle price: Free)

Wool - Part One, a novellette in the Silo series, by Hugh Howey.  Oh, so this is what all the fuss has been about the last few years.  Howey was an early self-publisher, and has achieved spectacular success and income from the Silo series and other works.  "Wool" was the story that started it all.  Why did "Wool" succeed, where so many other self-publishers had only limited or negligible results?  Canny marketing and promotion was one reason, but I think the primary reason is that "Wool" is a pretty damn good story.  The post-climate-collapse, dystopian underground society is well thought out, the characters are fully fleshed, there's an underlying mystery to this future setting, all of which draw the reader through to this story's conclusion and make one want to read further works in Howey's world.  The lesson is: Write a good story first.  The rest -- marketing, promotion, etc., whether in traditional publishing or self-publishing -- are secondary.  A reader might be hooked once by marketing, promotion, a striking cover (although "Wool" succeeded despite a, umm, less-than-impressive cover), but being more than a one-shot writer requires being the very best writer you can be.  (Current Kindle price: Free)

Augur is a short story collection by Freya Robertson.  While I was reading the collection, I kept having a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, but wasn't sure why.  The stories were decently written, decently plotted, decently inventive.  But I kept scratching my head as to why I wasn't enjoying them as much as I would have expected.  Until I got to one of the last entries, "Bearcub", about a young boy competing to be chosen for a knight's training, and found myself significantly more "into" the story than I had with earlier entries in the collection.  I thought about this, and went back and reread some passages from the earlier stories.  I think what the mystery was is that Freya Robertson's use of language, overall, tends to a shorter vocabulary, simpler sentences, and uncomplicated character development.  That her natural writing voice seems to be better suited to a middle-school or YA audience; the stories that left me feeling most dissatisfied were those with adult protagonists.  "Bearcub", with its young protagonist, read much more naturally for me; the writing style seemed much more suited to that particular story and character.  (Robertson's novel Heartwood catches up with Bearcub in his early-adult life; the sample chapters included at the end of Augur read pretty well, and it's being promoted as a YA book.) (Current Kindle price: 3.99)

Unnatural History by Jonathan Green is the first novel in the Pax Brittania alternate-history series from Abaddon Books. The cover and blurbs for this made it sound like it would be a fun romp.  (Dinosaurs on the rampage in a Steampunk London!  What's not to love?) Ehh, not so much.  The hero of the series, one Ulysses Quicksilver, appears meant to be an amalgram of Alan Quatermain, Doc Savage, and other heroes from pulp and adventure fiction.  But there's no real depth or development to him, and he came across as very flat and uninvolving.  (As a lead character in a series, it may simply be that he's not permitted to change or grown from episode to episode.)  Another disappointment, and I don't feel any inclination to read more in the Pax Brittania setting.  (Current Kindle Price: Free)

The above were all e-books.  This next was a hardcover I won in a Goodreads giveaway.

I read Jo Baker's Longbourn, a retelling/expansion of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, focusing on the household servants as the primary characters. Much about the wide gulf between the working class and the privileged/wealthy, and the lives of unending drudgery and work most people lived. In some ways it was like reading a well-written science fiction novel, because the society of early 19th-Century Britain is almost like an alien planet. Some of the antiquated terms used were ones I was unfamiliar with, and sometimes context wasn't quite enough to fully grasp the meaning; first time in a long time that I kept a notebook handy to jot an occasional word down to look up later. Baker depicts a very grim society to live in, but I came to... "enjoy" is not the right word... appreciate her depiction of the lower classes struggling to find love and a hope for the future in their harsh lives.  (Hardcover/retail 25.95; Amazon HC 15.11, Kindle version 10.99)

And that's it for this installment of Brave Free Books.


A Gallery of Godzilla

There's a "Poster Posse" group of artists who do occasional riffs on alternative posters for various movies. Their latest subject is the forthcoming reboot for Godzilla.  I like this traditionalist version, by Daniel Nash, best: