Thursday, July 01, 2004

Lacking Direction

Can't seem to work on anything consistently. Right now I have, I don't know, let's count them, shall we? The Battle of the Bulge/Ragnarok story, the Devil's Baseball Team story, the Bending Parlor story and the Love Spell story all needing finishing, and "Breaking Glass," "Flash Bison" and the 9/11 novel all wanting revision.

I can't concentrate on any of them, mainly because I keep thinking about school, and the reading, and the fact that I haven't done most of the reading. I've finished most of the first text, Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig; it's about intellectual property, copyrights and how the Internet is being used by Big Media to change them both. Fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

On the positive tip, Marianne gave me the Buffy Season Six DVDs, 'cause she knows I've been too broke to spend the cash. Yay! It's not the best season, no--that honor goes to Season 3, IMNSHO--but it's got a few great episodes and some great extras, and, well, I'm a completist. Oh, and, I got my contract and check from Strange Horizons. Woo-hoo! Daddy can pay his credit card bill!

That's it for now. Daddy must type up his critique for tonight's meeting.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Midnighters: The Secret Hour, by Scott Westerfeld

This is the first book of a trilogy. However, despite the use of the subtitle and the "1" on the spine, I didn't realize this until it was over. This is me; subtle sticks out like a sore thumb, but I frequently miss the obvious. Anyway, it's a good thing there are more books, because there's a lot happening.

I won this at WisCon because there are thirteen letters in "David Schwartz." I'm not sure that would keep me safe in the midnight, though. You see, in certain spots on the globe--Bixby, Oklahoma is one--there are twenty-five hours in the day. The twenty-fifth is set aside for monsters like slithers and darklings, and for humans born at midnight exactly. Everyone and everything else is frozen in time for that hour, which is probably for the best, because midnight isn't safe. The Midnighters--the kids who walk freely in the midnight--have special talents that keep them alive.

Like I said, there's a lot happening. And there are some great characters, too. There's Jessica, the new girl in town, who doesn't know what she's walking into. There's Rex, the one who thinks he knows everything, or at least, more than anyone else. There's Melissa, who knows what you're thinking, and there's Dess, who's got the numbers on her side. And there's Jonathan, the mysteriously attractive one. They don't all get along, and they aren't all to be trusted. I'd say I trust about forty percent of them.

Westerfeld's prose is economical and fast-moving, and the story is engrossing. I'm damned curious to find out what happens from here on in. When does Book Two come out?

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Rabid Transit: Petting Zoo, edited by The Ratbastards

My copy of this fine-looking chapbook, with the royal blue cover, crawled menacingly up to me today as I was dozing after a long bike ride.

"Every day," it said. "A review a day, you said, until you catch up. And you already missed yesterday. Review me."

"There's some question about whether or not what I do could really be called reviewing," I said. Nevertheless, I sat up and tried to collect my thoughts. Then I hit upon an idea.

"Tell me about yourself," I told Petting Zoo. "What is it you're all about?"

"Stories," it said, hopping up on a chair and cracking open a beer.

"Yeah, I know that. You're a fiction chapbook, six stories, one comic and some nice-looking art. But if you were to pick out a theme, what would it be? What is it you're talking about?"

"Stories," it said again. "Stories about stories, about creation. Take my first tale, M. Rickert's 'Art Is Not a Violent Subject,' which could be about a serial killer, but only if you're agonizingly literal. What it's really about the act of creation, of carving something out of something else (in this case wood) and the inherent brutalities therein."

"Oh, I see," I said, lighting a cigarette for my staple-bound friend. "And John Aegard's story 'The Golden Age of Fire Escapes,' about a mysterious and heroic Fire Marshall, is about myth-making, about the tinted lens through which we view the so-called Good Old Days."

"Well, maybe," it said, blowing a cloud of smoke at me. "But David Moles's 'Five Irrational Stories' is undoubtedly about history, of the revisionist sort. In presenting five highly unlikely and yet attractive alternates to the timeline on which we currently reside, he drives home the point that we exist in one of the most highly irrational of realities."

"You're right. And the comic by cover artist Jesse McManus, 'Heat Flute,' is about the commercial drive of art. A freezing musician comes upon a flute and manages to summon a heat spirit from it with his playing, which he then consumes to stay warm. A dark take on the relationship between the artist and his art, don't you think?"

"I think you've got the idea," said Petting Zoo. "Have you got any jalapeno poppers?"

While I made up some hors-d'oeuvres for us I thought about David Lomax's "How to Write an Epic Fantasy." When I returned, laden with cheeses and dips and other carbolicious things, I made my pronouncement. "Lomax's story is deceptive, isn't it? It's clearly metafictional, but in some ways it turns the norms of that genre on their head--instead of telling a story in such a way that it becomes a commentary on storytelling, he presents a commentary on storytelling which ends up telling a story."

"Quite correct," said the chapbook around a mouthful of stuffed mushrooms. "Light sleeper Elad Haber continues the theme in 'Ophelia and the Beast,' which brings together two archetypal figures from separate stories--only, by the time the story is over, you wonder if they weren't both in the same story in the first place. Perhaps Haber is telling us that the great stories all share a bloodline."

"Perhaps," I said, opening another beer for my friend. "Amber van Dyk's 'Storyville,' on the other hand, is less about archetypes than it is about the stories we tell each other every day. It's almost a prose poem, one that speaks a language similar to the work of Patti Smith and Lou Reed. The ending is abrupt and brutal, which sort of brings us full circle."

"So." Petting Zoo belched and loosened its pants. "What's the verdict?"

"Er. I'm not much for verdicts, really. But the Ratbastards have come up with another winning combo here, each piece entertaining and thought-provoking. It's well worth the $6.00, and probably more."

"Good," it said. "Go write it, then. Right after you give me a foot massage."

In Which I Out Myself as a Country Music Fan

Yesterday I went with Marianne, Stephen, Tiffany and Michelle to the Taste of Chicago/Country Music Festival (somehow the two run concurrently, in the same place, but are not the same thing) to see Buddy Miller and The Flatlanders. It was a beautiful day, which worried me some because I had no hat and forgot to put sunscreen on my bald head, as usual. But part of the beautifulness was that I didn't get fried after all.

It was a great show, and you can't beat the price. (It was free, natch.) Some of Buddy's songs I'd heard before, but most were new to me. Probably the oddest recognition was hearing him do "Hole in my Head," a song the Dixie Chicks do on Fly and which I didn't realize Buddy and Jim Lauderdale had written. I really ought to get me some Jim Lauderdale, considering all the great songs he's written for other folks I like (such as Bruce Robison, Patty Loveless, and George Strait).

Anyway, solo Buddy was good, but I must admit I prefer the stuff he does with his wife Julie. (Check out their 2001 joint effort, the imaginatively titled "Buddy and Julie Miller," for some heart-breakingly beautiful stuff.) The only reference he made to her was an odd comment about her not leaving the house much during the summer. Is her skin horribly sensitive to the sun? Is she violently allergic to everything? Whatever the case, she wasn't there. Considering that Buddy is on the road a lot--aside from his own shows, he plays with the divine Emmylou Harris regularly--their marriage must tolerate, or even thrive upon, frequent separation.

After some line dancing lessons (no, I didn't participate), The Flatlanders played. The Flatlanders are three singer-songwriters originally from Lubbock, Texas: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. I didn't think I'd ever heard them before, but I recognized a couple of the songs, particularly "Right Where I Belong." (My theory is that I caught them on Austin City Limits without really knowing who they were; considering that they appeared on the same episode as Alison Krauss and Union Station, it's a pretty good bet.) They were awesome, probably the best live act I've seen since, oh, Robbie Fulks, probably. Want all of their albums, now. Sigh. See above enthusiasm for freeness of show.

So that was a great time, and we decided to go out afterwards to the California Clipper, a lounge/dive not far from here. As I was not driving, I added a martini to the beers I'd had at the show, and a few more things, before remembering that I am no longer twenty-two. Damn. The Clipper had entertainment, a band called--I shit you not--Snatch, Inc.. They were billed as R&B, which sounded promising, but proved to be more of a smooth jazz combo, which is just Not Cool. Smooth Jazz is the handiwork of the devil. The question is, really, what is R&B? It encompasses an awfully wide range of music, from George Clinton space-funk to Luther Vandross' sexy-safe ballads. (Get better, by the way, Luther.) I don't think it encompasses Smooth Jazz, though. Maybe Grover Washington, Jr.. Anyway, Snatch, Inc. may or may not have been R&B, but the consensus was that they were not very good.

Anyway, that was yesterday. Maybe I'll tell you about today tomorrow.