A Nostalgia I Never Had: William Sleator vs. Roger Zelazny and Nicholas Fisk

I really like William Sleator (his books are a nostalgia I had, specifically INTERSTELLAR PIG and THE BOY WHO REVERSED HIMSELF). He has books which are amazing, such as HOUSE OF STAIRS and THE LAST UNIVERSE, and books which are not, like TEST. However, his best books are horrifying and utterly raw, with none of the characters being able to hide behind a lack of self-knowledge. The teens in his novels are presented in a stark light that shows all their strengths and flaws, and he lets them hang themselves with their own thoughts and words.

Once in an article about Sleator, I found him compared to Nicholas Fisk, a British science-fiction who, like Sleator, also mainly wrote for children. So I picked up A RAG, A BONE AND A HANK OF HAIR (a title that conveniently leaves out the Oxford comma, which is ironic? Maybe? Should I be quiet now?). The second book in the photo above is by Roger Zelazny, one of my favorite writers, and an author who I never knew wrote books for children. The closest I’d come before was A NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER, which was a light book, more of a romp than an adventure, but still clearly in the adult category.

(Now is the point to say that I’m not sure what that means in reference to myself and my own reading since I’ve been into Zelazny since early High School, if not Intermediate School, and so he was, in effect, my YA.)

I’ll take on Zelazny first because reading this book was like reading Sleator’s TEST, except that I was able to finish it. A DARK TRAVELING reads as a book written to a young audience by a writer who thinks this is what a young audience wants to read. The plot is bare bones thin, the characters uncomplicated, the struggles slight, and the writing–which Zelazny often makes beautiful and haunting–is flat, dead on the page. I can’t even give you a summary of the plot here because it vanished so completely from my mind after I finished. I mean, it involved witches, werewolves, aliens, multiple worlds, mechanical golems, all of it hodgepodged together in a way that provided no coherence, mainly because there was no room to build that coherence. In 151 large-font pages you can’t do much world-building, and Zelazny doesn’t, instead relying on ideas somewhat explored in the AMBER series (i.e., in a multi-verse everything exists somewhere). Zelazny is one of the writers I want to build a complete collection for, but I won’t be adding this to that collection.

It’s disappointing to be disappointed, especially with a writer I know and love (the work, I mean, as I have no idea what Zelazny the man was like). It’s an entirely different experience to be disappointed by a book you have little-to-no expectations for. A RAG, A BONE AND A HANK OF HAIR falls on this line with a boy tasked with infiltrating a group of people recreated from before civilization ended (i.e., now, apparently) who are being studied by scientists for…reasons. The scientists used science to reconstruct these people from organic refuse they found in the ruins, which somehow also recreated the kind of people they were and how they lived at the time.

Which is…whatever. Internal hand-waving aside, I don’t really care much about science in books as long as it’s internally consistent with the story. I’ll take this as science fantasy and be fine with it–and I am fine with it. Like Sleator, Fisk’s story is brutally dark and unapologetic in how it depicts people, especially the main character. To my mind, the world depicted is a little thin, but that makes it more like a dream than a literal accounting, more a nightmare mood piece than a beware-this-could-happen.

For whatever reason, I just didn’t fall for Fisk’s voice here. It’s good writing (unlike, I have to say it, Zelazny’s book) but maybe it’s too clinical for me? One aspect of Sleator’s writing is that he puts you in the head of his characters completely, not thinking their thoughts, but witnessing those thoughts and their actions from inside their bodies and minds, so you can’t help but see them as hopeful, petty, brave, and flawed.

In these books, both Zelazny and Fisk keep the reader at a distance, which means it’s hard to create empathy with the characters as real people. And now, more than ever, we need Sleator’s kind of empathy as practice for the real-life necessity and moral responsibility of seeing other people as real people. Lives depend on it.

*Really, if nothing else, you should read HOUSE OF STAIRS. Here’s a link. Go buy.

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Analog March 1975


This is one of those several months after the facts book reviews, so if it sounds like a dream being recounted in a dream, that’s why.

“Jill the Giant-Killer” by William Tuning and Ewing Edgar: Most noticeable here are the fact of the scientist heroine overcoming sexism both in the larger culture and in scientific circles in particular in order to achieve her dream of stopping tornadoes through using tactical missile strikes  delivered by fighter planes. Also noticeable, how simply and acutely boring this story is. It epitomizes all the strikes against Hard SF, especially in the use of technical specifications as though they are innately interesting and flat, nearly dead language.

“Building Block” by Sonya Dorman: This story, compared to the last, is actually quite fascinating even if both are relying on very little action in the story themselves. Here, though, character is key. Arachne is a designer of space homes, expensive but highly desired homes in low orbit around the planet, and she’s suffering a creative block. The story simply follows her as she attempts to overcome that block, and, eventually, almost by accident she does. Despite not much happening in the story, it held my interest because Arachne is fascinating.

“Child of All Ages” by P. J. Plauger: Another fascinating story, which made me feel like I was winning with this issue (as opposed to the others, which provided mostly stories to slog through, up to my ankles in it–then again, “Jill the Giant-Killer” took up a third of this issue and was the slog to beat all slogs, so sloggy I’m still scraping slog off my shoes). Here is a child who is immortal, but is immortal always as a child. She can die. She can be studied by science, and dissected to see what makes her tick, and so she continually needs to find a new family to protect her, to adopt her as their child, until they–as they always do–become scared by the fact that she doesn’t age. It’s a sad story, one embedded with loneliness, but worth the read.

“Lifeboat” (part 2 of 3) by Gordon R. Dickson and Harry Harrison: Spoiler: Our main character did it. He exploded the bomb that destroyed the ship that trapped him and all the survivors on the titular lifeboat. Other than that revelation, the story continues with its sexism and classism and the insistence that we identify with the main character even when he’s a complete tool. I will not, sir. I will not.

“Mail Supremacy” by Hayford Peirce: A joke story using the RETURN TO SENDER response from the post office to kickstart interstellar communication and bring humanity into galactic society. It’s three pages longer than it needs to be, at three pages.

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Unpulped #12: Ground Zero Man by Bob Shaw


Here I am attempting to be immediate in my book-talking again, because my default is to finish a book or a magazine or a game or a movie and want to talk about it immediately, but then end up writing about it weeks if not months later. Luckily, my memory is decent. Luckierly, I also don’t mind making things up. I am a font for fiction after all.

But today I have an immediate response to you on a book by Bob Shaw, a writer I’ve never read before this (unless he was in one of those Analogs, in which case I’m going to feel really silly). This response isn’t immediate because it’s timely or because my hackles were raised, but because I’m trying to be a better person, and we all want to be better people, don’t we, even if we fail again and again and again? (Forgive that–M and I just watched THE VOICES and it was the most horrifying movie we’ve seen in a long time.)

Ground Zero Man tells the story of a scientist who invents a way to set off every nuclear bomb in the world at once. After a nuke is detonated over Damascus, he is filled with horror at the world and the devastation humanity can inflict on itself, and so this invention, which, when it was first described to me, seemed no better than nuclear war. HOWEVER, his plan is to let every nuclear power know about the device and that he is planning to press the button in a few weeks, giving them barely enough time to disassemble all the bombs and, hopefully, not enough time to track him down and kill him.

I almost put this book down several times for good.

First, it was about a subject that seemed more fit for a short story than a novel, and also that story would bore me to no end. However, Shaw managed to keep bringing interesting twists to the novel, cutting off paths I thought he was going on in order to take a new direction into the untrammeled forest. Each of those new paths kept my interest enough so that I managed to speed through the second half of the book.

Second, none of the characters in this book are likable. Granted, what is likability, and does it matter? I suppose what I mean more so is that the view of the writer is very cynical, and that plays out in both his characters and the world they live in, which is depressing. I like dark. I write dark. But a view of gender where women and men are constantly at odds, and a married couple are virtual strangers, unable to crack each other’s shell, it all wears on me. It’s not that I read for pure escapism, to enter into a world where all of reality’s problems don’t exist, but it is taxing to spend so much time in another POV that by its very nature tends towards depression.

SPOILER: This book ends with the main character pressing the button. This is not really a spoiler, as his life has fallen apart by that point and the only thing giving his further existence meaning is the fulfillment of his plan that might, in some way, save the world (in his mind).

SPOILER: This one really spoils (though maybe not if you fully accept the cynical worldview). Though all the nuclear weapons are disabled or exploded, that won’t prevent people from inventing bombs immune to his auto-detonation, and so the end he’s presented as simply making everything worse by funneling so much more money into nuclear weapons research rather than into schools or hospitals or etc.

NOT A SPOILER: This book has a sort of twisted view of women. It’s hard to say whether Shaw is blaming society for that, the resulting behavior of women purely a result of the pressures society puts them under. Most of the women in the book come off badly, and one is killed (the promiscuous one), and another is permanently paralyzed (the jealous wife). It’s not that men are portrayed as paragons of virtue in any sense, but the women seem to get the worst of it.

Overall, not a bad novel, but also not something that spurs me to go out and find everything Shaw has ever written.

So there you go.

A hot take.

Nuclear, even.

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Analog February 1975

Analog February 1975

I’m not spending any time on the non-stories in these old Analogs, but that’s not because what’s there isn’t interesting. In fact,  reading those reviews and editorials and science articles are a large part of the fun of this cultural archaeology–it’s just that they’re harder to summarize. This issue contains a prediction as to the future of moon exploration, a paean to P. Schuyler Miller (the long-standard book review who died a few months previous), letters to the editor regarding a fight between Asimov and Velikovsky, and mail-order ads involving pseudo-science. Fascinating artifacts, but what I’m concerned with here is the state of the SFF story (according to one magazine) during a single year.

On we go.

“Lifeboat” (part 1 of 3) by Gordon R. Dickson and Harry Harrison: Harry Harrison wrote a series of books about Deathworlds, a Stainless Steel Rat, and Bill, the Galactic Hero. Gordon R. Dickson you might remember from the dragon poem of last issue. Together they write a story about an unpleasant and, frankly, a little abhorrent hero (he pats a grown woman on the head as encouragement) whose space-liner explodes, leaving him and his slaves (essentially, though they are given a different name) on a lifeboat run by the last two crew remaining from the ship. The lifeboat is in bad shape, however, so there is the danger that the survivors are just dragging out their unavoidable end.

There is some interesting world-building here. The crew of the ship are aliens whose culture prioritizes death in space (somewhat akin to the glory of dying in battle other cultures have prized) and are resentful both of the loss of the ship–it was clearly sabotaged–and the fact that they weren’t allowed to die with the ship. The main character, Giles, is a Adelman who is one of the elite of Earth while the others are arbites, people bred to serve specific functions.

I suspect over the course of the story, Giles will learn that arbites are people, too. Maybe. But there is very little that is pleasant about this story setting us firmly in the mind of a paternalistic, misogynistic slave owner.

“The Hunters of Tharsis” by Bob Buckley: A strange story about human colonists on Mars being devoured by a native creature that essentially remakes them using its own flesh as a basis around the devoured one’s brain. A number of the colonists become part of this creature, creating a new society at odds with the old one, the struggle of the story centered around whether the two different groups can live in peace. In some way, it is a tale about belonging to a group, and how your perspective on life changes when the group you belong to changes (because of race, class, disability, etc.) because suddenly your needs or the way you are treated is different.

The writing here is good, though I am again presented with no likeable/relatable characters. Is this a problem? Or a result of having a focus on plot/situation rather than people? Or my own myopia at work?

“Equinocturne” by Bob Chuck Wilson: “Equinocturne” is a beautiful story about a spaceship captain trying to settle down before the radiation of space permanently damages his DNA. His lover/partner/promised-wife lives on a planet he only visits once a year, so much of what Wilson focuses on is the simple difficulty of two people who knew each other coming to know each other once again.

Of course, that’s not the main plot of the story (though it would’ve been enough for me) (and it is the main plot, as far as I read it, except that it has no adventure to it, and adventure/science/twists are key to the stories here) which instead revolves around recent mysterious deaths of some colonists. That thread is interesting, too, but almost only as it highlights the relationship dance at play. This is well worth reading, if you can find it.

Sidenote: What are the chances of two Bobs being in the same issue?

“The Tax Man” by Stephen Robinett: A joke story that actually has heart and drive to it. The premise is sort of an extreme Libertarian nightmare where the vast majority of the U.S. has a 98% tax rate but is also provided with all their basic needs (the rich and famous and political are, of course, exempt from this burden). If you choose not to pay your taxes, then a Tax Man comes to collect by killing you and taking all of your possessions as forfeit. Our main character is one such tax shirker who then runs for his life to Mexico.

The absurdity here appeals to me greatly, the story becoming a phantasmagoric dream as entertaining as a Beckett or Ionesco play. Are any of the characters relatable or even believable? No, but the end result is engaging writing all the same.

“The Negotiators” by Keith Laumer: Laumer is perhaps best known for his Retief stories about a galactic ambassador dealing with the idiocies of rampant bureaucracy with characters who are named things like Colonel Betterparts and Sloonge. The main plot of this story involves making a deal with meat-eating, quickly reproducing, violent aliens for ownership of Earth’s oceans. It’s absurd. You’d think after “The Tax Man” that I’d be completely into this story.

But Robinett, even in the midst of his absurdity, makes us care about the characters, even if they are jerks or careless or sinister. We can’t help but see their sides and be interested in the outcome. Laumer’s characters, on the other hand, are all the most cardboard of cardboard. The cardboardiest. They’re not meant to be much more than names and a transparent, single-minded attitude. They are representations. The humor of the story is crude and angry, the most bitter kind of satire without warmth or hope.

Laumer’s books have been very popular, so I know there’s a market for this writing. That market is not me.

BONUS: If anyone would like to read this magazine, send me a note and I’ll start it on its way. Regardless of my reactions to some of the stories, reading something from another era like this is fascinating.

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Analog January 1975

Analog January 1975

A friend of my mom’s gifted me with a entire year’s worth of Analog from 1975. How could I turn this down? I’m fascinated with the history of speculative fiction and what better way to immerse myself in that history than reading through this time capsule from the year before I was born?

Now Analog has never been a magazine I’ve read regularly, mostly because they have always seemed to focus on Hard SF, that brand of science-fiction steeped and stewed in technology (which, frankly, would make a very strange tea or stew). Though I love science, it’s never been more than a jumping off point for me in both reading and writing stories.  And so I was afraid that reading through this year’s worth of magazines would be a technophile’s dream but deadly boring for me.

And so begins this series of posts detailing the experience of going back in time. Already I’m seeing things I didn’t expect. Authors I recognize. Books printed in their original, seed-like form. Casual racism and sexism. Come with me on this exciting trip through pages past!

Be warned: probable spoilers abounding.

“The Borderland of Sol” by Larry Niven: Science, science, science, science. Have I told you about my science? It’s big, believe me. No one sciences like I science.

This story is a noir-ish mystery set in the far future of Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars universe. Ships leaving or entering the solar system are disappearing, and our MC gets involved into trying to figure out why and how this is occurring. There are characters, but they are flat. There is action, but it’s dull and uninspired. There is science, gobs and gobs of science, delivered in giant paragraphs by every character, and that is the main draw of this story. For some.

In case you were wondering, this story exemplifies everything I feared about reading this year’s worth of Analog.

“The Present State of Igneos Research” by Gordon R. Dickson: This is…a joke? A faux scientific survey of the study of dragons (the igneos of the title) that involves time travel and a (bad) faux-Middle English poem about dragons which I couldn’t even force myself to read. Bad rhymes and tortured syntax abound.

“January 1975” by Barry Malzberg: It’s not a good sign that I finished this magazine a few days ago and have no idea what this story might be.

Oh yeah. A epistolary story (I’m resisting quotation marks) with letters exchanged between Malzberg and Ben Bova (Analog‘s editor for all of these issues) which posits them writing in an alternate universe where Kennedy apparently wasn’t elected, but Malzberg puts forward his writing a story about our universe, where he was (and then was assassinated).

What happens in this story (the one we’re reading, not the one alt-Malzberg is proposing to write)? Nothing? Why is it here? Because Malzberg and Bova are friends? I have no idea.

So far, in my reading of 1975 Analog what I’ve seen are two types of stories: serious ones dealing with serious problems often pivoting around science & jokes that don’t even seem to take stories seriously.

“End Game” by Joe Haldeman: This is where my revelations began. So, although I’d heard of all the authors coming before now (Bova, Niven, Dickson, Malzberg), none of them are in my list of favorite authors. Niven is the only one whose work I’ve read, mostly with Jerry Pournelle. None of them stick burr-like in my mind. Whatever they write dissolves into the mist of my memory.

But this story is actually Haldeman’s THE FOREVER WAR in its first incarnation. (FYI: Science fiction novels during this time often existed both as stories and serials (the novel stretched out over several magazine issues) & then as novels so that the writer could get the most money possible out of any idea.) I’ve read the book before, but I don’t think that’s why my attention was instantly arrested by the language here. The other stories were water from the tap. This story was an ocean. Or a glacier. After forcing myself through the other stories, I was hooked again, again caught by reading, reminded why I love it, how I can drown in it.

“The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl” by Katherine MacLean: And then back to the slog. This story is crap-science and really only a classic cliche of another story dressed up as science fiction. Appalachian-style poverty abounds, as does the myth of the big city evil that seduces the innocent, as does women needing to be protected from that evil, as does the idea of the solid working-class hero of strong moral character.

Gene Wolfe would often take older non-SF stories and translate them into science fiction. His stories would be different enough from the original that you might not notice the similarities, or at least you wouldn’t care, the new story being truly its own thing.

This story is Beverly Hillbillies in space.

“The Indian Giver” (part 3 of 3) by Alfred Bester: I have not read anything by Alfred Bester before this story. This story does not make me want to read anything else he’s written.

It’s messy. It’s racist. It’s sexist. It’s a conglomeration of so many ideas and characters and plot points it simply becomes a hash of nothing, not because I couldn’t follow what was going on, but because I didn’t care. There is a four paragraph description of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, because science.

Plot: There are people who, when they die, come back as near immortals. One of the newest of this group (the group is called the Group) bonds with a super-computer that is bent on taking over the world. This bonded guy, called the Chief because he’s a Native American, also has sent three astronauts into space, and when they came back they were embryos.  The MC goes to Titan to retrieve a neanderthal immortal and then uses him to destroy the computer. A woman died, and they are going to clone her to “bring her back” (as though a clone would be identical to the woman who died, personality-wise, knowledge-wise, as though cloning is simply photocopying). The immortals are susceptible to Lepcer, a blend of leprosy and cancer that somehow turns one of them into a bipedal lion. Another of the group has the ability to send people back in time. Everyone spends time wandering through the North American wilderness on various beasts of burden, including a donkey, the whole experience somehow reading as semi-religious.

In some ways, the style Bester is using here is like that of Philip K. Dick and A. E. van Vogt. It’s chaotic, deliberately wild and headlong and (trying to be) crazy and surprising. Plot-twisty. But here it seems just tired and forced and, the greatest sin of all, simply uninteresting. The characters are cardboard, collections of quirks and reductive names (the Jewish immortal is called the Jew, Hebe, etc.; the East Asian, Rajah; the drag queen, Queenie).

I don’t know if I’ve successfully given you this impression yet, but reading it was horrible. A horror. Just bad all around.

Something to note: “The Indian Giver” was published as the novel THE COMPUTER CONNECTION and ended up as a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards and was third place for the Locus award.

BONUS: If anyone would like to read this magazine, send me a note and I’ll start it on its way. Regardless of my reactions to some of the stories, reading something from another era like this is fascinating.

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Smashing Through the Word Thicket

Thorny thicket

As many or most or all or none of you know, I also have stories (and poems!) in places other than Patreon, so if you haunt Amazon or Smashwords (and through them Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and many other places) then you might see my mini-collections of short stories. (Here I’m specifically talking about work for sale by me alone (assuming Patreon is sort of selling stories) rather than stuff I’ve published in magazines in print or on-line, that might be sold by other people, and you might and should buy them (for example, the latest of Interzone here, which includes my story “The Inside-Out” as well as some awesome art specifically for the story).)

All of which is to say that when I started my grand plan to make money off my writing (for survival purposes) I had Patreon as one prong and selling collections of stories via (mostly) Amazon as another. (The most likely way to make a living as a writer–through selling novels to big publishers for advances–requires an agent and is beyond my reach, in that I don’t have anything to do with the actual selling, I just create and put that creation into another’s hands.) Both methods are slow-growth prospects, the mini-collection one much more slow than the other. Perhaps because I’m a bad marketer. Also, perhaps because I dislike self-promotion.

Or perhaps it’s because I don’t know how ebook marketing and sales work. I remember reading once that giving a book away for free for a limited time can actually improve sales drastically after the giveaway has ended. This makes sense in terms of a series, giving the first book away to ideally seduce readers into buying the sequels. But how does this work for unrelated works? I guess, since my goal was to make money, I never considered giving away my books, especially when I didn’t have any other books to (hopefully) be boosted by such a giveaway.

At least, I didn’t have that until now.

On August 12th I’m going to be releasing a new mini-collection of stories, all previously unpublished (unlike the first two collections which were reprints), titled A PASSPORT TO A NATION OF TALKING SLUGS (which can be pre-ordered here, if you are so inclined), and this time I decided that I’d just go along with whatever Amazon suggested, since my own efforts at salesmanship didn’t take. What this means for that book is listing it in KDP Select–meaning only Amazon can sell it, and it’s free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers–as well as selling it for 2.99, which Amazon claims is the best price for this kind of book. So, we’ll see.

In a similar way, Smashwords (where I have my first two mini-collections listed, in addition to Amazon) is doing a month-wide promotion where authors are encouraged to list their books at deep discounts or for free. So I’m giving my books away for free for July. The books weren’t selling through Smashwords anyway, and I’d only made two sales through their affiliate program (and I can’t collect my share of the profits until my pay-out reaches ten dollars), so I figured I had nothing to lose.

The result is a lot of people “purchasing” the collections for free (and at least one has read YOU HAVE BEEN MURDERED and rated it on Goodreads already), which is great because, well, hopefully people will read them. They weren’t being read before (except mostly by people I know) so bonus.  The more surprising result is that these free “sales” have apparently also caused sales (for money, even) at Amazon, as though my name being more out in the world has caused more people to find my writing and, as a consequence, decide to pay for it.

I don’t understand the process by how this all works. I don’t know if the free collections will continue to sell on Smashwords. I can’t say that following Amazon’s suggestions for the new collection will result in any real difference than what happened with my first two. But I’ll keep you updated. Wish me luck.

Oh, and if you want to pre-order the new collection, get the first two collections for free, or (gasp!) buy them for monies, the links are above.

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What I’m Reading (June Edition)



Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller

Is it enough to say that reading this book caused me to go out and buy non-grocery store olive oil? To drink shots of it to get the full experience of the olive oil, to understand it’s mouthfeel? To learn it can be drizzled over everything you eat, and perhaps should be? That during my read, I hungered for olive oil in any form I could get it?

That’s the mark of a good writer, I suppose, imbuing the reader with those passions they so strongly feel themselves. In that, Mueller definitely succeeds.

And he succeeds in the rest of the book, as well. He’s not as entertaining as Mary Roach, but he delineates both the present culture and the ancient history of olive oil production with skill. Perhaps the most interesting to me–though I partly knew this already, factual detritus in my brain–was how criminal the olive oil industry is. Oh, not all of it, but there was (is?) a time when the mafia ran olive oil groves because it was the most profitable activity they could do.

A great and taste-bud torturing read. Also, all the olive oils in the supermarkets aren’t for shit, apparently.

This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Don’t ask me what this book is about.

Most of Miéville’s books are plot-heavy, thick with characters and action, running wild and free on ideas and worlds that seem both created on the fly and so intricately detailed that you’d never be able to explore every bit of them.

This book, however, is more like a classic, literary character study. It tells of one boy’s life. Well, it might be a boy telling it, or it might be someone else telling the boy’s story, in which case, according to the logic in the book, most of it is made up. Anyway, the boy has a troubled relationship with his father, who he believes killed his mother. There is also a pit in the hill behind their house holding, perhaps, some Lovecraftian god. And the eponymous census-taker (I think) who is being forced to write down this story in the present while under armed arrest.

It is the relationship with his father that is the most important thing here, that drives the story like an engine you did not want to start and do not want to keep feeding fuel to. It is beautiful, and terrible, and though the book comes to an end, no questions are answered. I did not mind.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

I’d read about this before I’d read it, so if you want your “reading it” to be completely untrammeled by preconceptions (a state I recommend), then skip to the next entry.

That said, I’m not sure anyone can really ever be prepared for a PKD book.

I know I’ve said before that PKD was influenced by A. E. van Vogt’s process of introducing a new idea every 900 words or so. Every few pages, a twist in the plot. A new concept that has to be integrated.  A new character to work in. Ubik is the best example of this for PKD that I’ve read so far. When you think you have a handle on what’s going on, the very essence of the book changes, no longer a kind of anti-heist, but now a murder mystery, now a living nightmare, now a slasher movie. Characters you’ve known up until this point suddenly reveal themselves to be someone entirely different. Reading the book is like living in someone else’s dream.

I can understand that this experience isn’t ideal for everyone. Fair warning, though, that this is constantly what I’m trying to do in my own writing: bring my dreams to life.

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

This book isn’t for me.

I mean, it is for me, and I love it, and I think the essays in here are important and fascinating and interesting and inspiring (especially in terms of writing persistence and fighting the dominant cultural paradigm), but the book itself is not written for me. Look at the title. Look at the first few essays. The book is written with the expectation that the reader is a woman (or female-identified) and the “we” is not a we I’m automatically part of.

Women have been reading this way since the invention of the book. It’s a strange, and not unpleasant, feeling to be on the other side of the page.

The seeming genesis of the book comes from her essay “We Have Always Fought” about her own misperception of women in combat, her assumption based on our cultural narrative that women should be domestic and, therefore, it has always been this way throughout history ever backwards we go. (She talks about this in other situations, too, such as how archaeologists might force their nuclear family view on the first humans, putting women around the fire rather than thinking about how able bodies would be more important than gendered ones.) It’s a fascinating view of how her own perspective changed–this from a person who was getting her Ph.D. in revolutionary movements at the time.

Anyway, it’s a great book. My only (small) complaint is that the essays aren’t longer. Most were published online on her blog or elsewhere, and so are (due to the medium) shortish, 3-5 pages on average. I want to see her dive into a subject. But then again, because a relatively few number of interests weave through the book as a whole, it’s easy to think of the book as one-long essay, circling back again and again to see the same points from a different point-of-view.

The Best of Gene Wolfe by Gene Wolfe

I don’t know why I bought this book. It was six or seven years ago that I did, and it’s been sitting on my TBR shelf since then. I’ve never read anything else by Wolfe, but I suspect I wanted to dive into good SFF stories in order to partly inspire (and understand) my own.

Wolfe takes pleasure in writing characters who are hard to relate to. They might be brain-damaged killers or psychically abused children or just, well, distant. Maybe distance is the best way to describe it. As though Wolfe is a scientist working his characters through a maze, but there’s no cheese at the end, no prize. This is strange to me, as many of his stories are somewhat occasional (as you might talk about poetry) in that they memorialize friends or, more directly, religion. More specifically, Christianity. I don’t know what that seems strange to me in a SFF writer, but there you go (Tolkien and Lewis notwithstanding). (Honestly, there is a story that reads sort of like a one-joke tale where the end is JESUS IS BORN ON ANOTHER PLANET. As though that’s supposed to be enough. Or startling. Or whatever. But the world he creates before that point is so much more interesting I could’ve lived in it for hours.) (In other news, there’s a story in here where the main character considers forcing himself on a woman he’s interested in because otherwise she might not think he’s passionate enough.)

I would find it hard to recommend this book as a whole. However, there are a few awesome stories in this collection that I think everyone could do with reading–and I don’t think it’s just because Wolfe has a sort of magic-realist/absurdist track that falls in line with my own aesthetic. “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” is a beautiful Gothic tale that, again, creates a world I could live in for a long time (not that I’d want to, actually, as it’s a pretty horrible place to live). Wolfe appears to have expanded it to novel length, so I might actually check that out.

The stand-out story for me is “Forlesen,” a tale that’s a mixture between Kafka and Ionesco. The summary: a man goes to work at his office. The opening paragraph:

“When Emanuel Forlesen awoke, his wife was already up preparing breakfast. Forlesen remembered nothing, knew nothing but his name, for an instant did not remember his wife, or that she was his wife, or that she was a human being, or what human beings were supposed to look like.”

How can you not want to read that?

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