Friday, November 21, 2003

Flying Cups and Saucers: Gender Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Debbie Notkin and the Secret Feminist Cabal

This publication is an offshoot of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award "for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender." Now, I love the Tiptrees, and I love WisCon and everyone involved in it. But because of the nature of the reprint anthology and some weird timing with my other reading, I was disappointed to find that I'd read many of the stories too recently for them to be very fresh for me.

Things start out promising enough. There is, first of all, Kelley Eskridge's wonderful story "And Salome Danced," which showed up in the Datlow Little Deaths anthology which I reviewed below. So that's good, but I didn't feel like reading it again so soon. Then there's Eleanor Arnason's story "The Lovers," and you won't find me saying a bad word about Eleanor Arnason or her writing. She is the proverbial bomb. James Patrick Kelly's story "Chemistry" is decent but has the feel of going through the motions, and Ursula K. Le Guin's "Forgiveness Day" is good but not her best. Ian McDonald contributes "Some Strange Desire," which I read in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Seventh Collection and found disturbing then, no less so now. "Venus Rising" was also in Carol Emshwiller's Report to the Men's Club, which I just read. Next comes "Eat Reecebread" by Graham Joyce and Peter F. Hamilton, which I enjoyed despite finding it a bit predictable. Lisa Tuttle's "Food Man" appeared in Crank! back in the day, and it was nice to read it again here, like an old acquaintance you always wanted to get to know better. Delia Sherman's stories are always a good read, but I read "Young Woman in a Garden" not long ago in another of the Datlow/Windling Year's Best's, so I skipped it here. This collection rounds out with another Ursula K. Le Guin story, "The Matter of Seggri," which also appeared in Crank! once upon a time. So, of more than a dozen stories, seven I had read in recent memory, which is not a bad thing exactly. It may mean that I have something of a narrow reading area when it comes to genre fiction. Anyway, if you haven't read any of these stories, I suggest you buy a copy of this anthology and support the Tiptree award. And come to WisCon, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Domu: A Child's Dream, by Katsuhiro Otomo

Otomo's works include the justly famous Akira comics (don't let Amazon tell you there are only four volumes: there are six) and movie, which despite their near-incomprehensibility (I've never figured out if this is a function of storytelling or translation) are mind-boggling in their scope, their fetishization of violence and destruction, and their stark beauty. Now go back and diagram that sentence. Kidding. The film was a seminal point in the history of anime, and the comics, now fully in print from Dark Horse, are a must-read.

Domu is not on the scale of Akira, but it touches on many of the same themes; psychic madmen, urban despair, and lots of violence. Someone is killing the inhabitants of a sprawling low-income apartment complex in a large Japanese city (I don't think it's ever specified). The police investigation yields little but the realization that this is something beyond the scope of law enforcement. But the murderer manages to make a powerful enemy who can fight back, and from there things proceed in Otomo's usual epic, building-toppling, people-surviving-terrible-wounds-despite-losing-enough-blood-to-fill-a-bathtub fashion. What's great about Otomo is his commitment to the weirdness he creates; there is no attempt to explain how people come by these abilities, only an exploration of their consequences, which translates into a microcosm of global human achievements of war and science. Domu doesn't have the hypnotic depth of Akira, but if you're familiar with the masterpiece and enjoyed it, this is worth a read as well. Winner of Japan's 1983 Science Fiction Grand Prix.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Eye of the Heart: Short Stories from Latin America, edited by Barbara Howes

This book was released in 1973, and by all rights it should still be in print. But it's not, and it's not difficult to see why. Marketing. The copy I have is from the first printing (I found it at an estate sale/gold mine), and aside from the terribly uninspired title, it bears on the cover the inexplicable image of a young brown-eyed Latina (one gathers, from the context) wearing a crucifix. Her thick brown hair completely obscures any background, and although the image ends just above her breasts the suggestion is that she is naked. So: for an anthology of short stories by the most important Latin American writers of the one hundred and twenty-odd years preceding the release of the book, a cover befitting a romance novel with some literary aspirations. This is puzzling, to say the least, and I can't understand the thinking behind the cover or the title.

Bad marketing or no, this is a landmark collection. All the big names are here (Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Juan Carlos Onetti, Jorge Amado (who doesn't have a decent web profile in English, that I can find), Julio Cortazar (ditto), Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, Gabriel Garcìa Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa. Whew. That's a lot of names, but it's not one-quarter of the names represented herein. This is a wonderful primer on the Latin American fiction scene before, during and after El "boom." If you can find a copy, ignore the cover and snap it up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, illustrations by Mary Grandpré

Perhaps you've heard of this book? Yes, I enjoy Harry Potter. The stories are enjoyable and fast-paced, even now as the books become longer and longer. There's a bit of bloating, I don't think anyone would argue that, but then there is more going on as well, and I can't really say that I'd like to see less of Hogwart's and all the rest. On the other hand, I don't think there's any question that the earlier, leaner books are better, and that may be precisely because they left me wanting more. So, I contradict myself. I contain Walt Whitman. So: A Series of Unfortunate Events is better (as is Roald Dahl), but there's no need to dogpile on Harry. Those kids are smarter than anyone gives them credit for.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Pobby and Dingan, by Ben Rice

Ben Rice is also the author of a wonderful (so I have heard, from my friend Marianne, who can't find the copy of The New Yorker that it was in--that would be the December 24-31, 2001, issue, in case anyone feels like helping a brother out) short story that appeared in The New Yorker (like I said). Pobby and Dingan is a novella about the titular imaginary friends of a young girl named Kellyanne, and how their disappearance leads to misfortune for her family and the Australian mining town where they live. Kellyanne's brother Ashmol hates Pobby and Dingan, but finds himself the leader of an all-out search for them, and what results is weird and touching and wonderfully sad. This is an overlooked gem, much as Rice himself appears to be. Check it out.