Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Some Stuff I've Been Reading + A Motivational Video For You

Go check out Steph Burgis's story at Strange Horizons, Locked Doors. It's my favorite story of hers that I've read, which is no easy compliment.

Also new, the first installment of Farrago's Wainscot. Let not your distaste for Farrago (I have my own reasons for despising the man, but I've sworn never to tell another living soul of that weekend; suffice it to say that Cthulhu wept) let you overlook the work that he's put together here, from folks like Forrest Aguirre, Jay Lake, Nisi Shawl and Leah Bobet--and that's just the short fiction!

Had a recent run of really enjoyable reading. It began with a re-read of Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club, which is simply a perfect book; witty and wry and occassionally a tad mean-spirited, but with the best of intentions. After I finished it I cast around for something as good, but nothing I picked up initially was working for me. I wanted something fast and funny and a bit cynical, and I found it in Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, which has been on my shelf for years. It turns out to be my favorite of the Lethem I've read--it shares some elements with Gun, With Occassional Music without the veneer, is more heartfelt than As She Climbed Across the Table and, well, I didn't like Amnesia Moon at all so never mind that. After Motherless Brooklyn I moved on to The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner's not-sequel to the classic Swordspoint. It's funny; I remember liking Swordspoint but not being blown away, and yet years later that book looms large in my story-mind. (It's to the point where I've described my novel-in-progress as "War and Peace meets Swordspoint.) Privilege is the sort of book that I almost want to hug, though I imagine it would be rather embarrassed if I did. (Also there's the question of how to do so around the sword-belt.) A coming-of-age story, a tale of court intrigue, and a sometimes bitter take on love after happily ever, it's funny and dark and has swordfights--although the remarks draw blood more often than the blades. Finally, I picked up Jeff VanderMeer's Shriek: An Afterword. It's an unexpectedly suspenseful book, as Janice Shriek's memoir of the lives of herself and her brother Duncan quickly takes on a very immediate feel of menace and danger. Janice's digressions, and the after-the-fact manuscript comments of Duncan (whom Janice believes to be dead), create a pattern of approach-and-withdraw with story information that is--rather surprisingly--more rewarding than frustrating. An extremely well-put-together book. Since finishing that one, I've started on Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, which was a fave of the LitBlog Co-Op a couple of years back. I found the beginning rather frustrating, to be honest, but it's beginning to pick up now.

Another book I'm reading is Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, by the impressive-is-not-quite-the-word Ignatius Donnelly. (Someone out there--was it you, Barth? Mentioned Donnelly a while back, and I hadn't heard of him; considering that he was a Minnesotan, I had to check him out.) Many of our modern crackpot theories regarding Atlantis stem from this book. It might not be technically correct to say that Donnelly himself was a crackpot, just a bad scientist; many of his arguments are based on scientific knowledge that was considered reliable in his day, but Donnelly clearly had his theory first (that all human culture stems from Atlantis, which sank in a great volcanic cataclysm back in what we would all call pre-history) and uses the facts to prop it up. Mainly he builds on Plato, but so far he's cast his net pretty wide. Sometimes his arguments are hilarious in and of themselves; clearly, the fact that peoples on both sides of the Atlantic developed painting can only mean that they were linked by a big honkin' island! The editorial comments are, at times, priceless. Donnelly is fond of posing what he must consider to be unanswerable questions, emphasizing the revolutionary character of his theory with italics. "How can we, without Atlantis, explain the presence of the Basques in Europe, who have no lingual affinities with any other race on the continent of Europe, but whose language is similar to the languages of America?" To which one E.F. Beiler calmly appends the note, "Basque and the American Indian languages are not related." (In his introduction Beiler notes that, not content to credit the works of Shakespeare to Francis Bacon, Donnelly attributed the works of Marlowe, Johnson, Cervantes and Bunyan to a single source.) Donnelly attaches a bit too much significance to linguistic coincidence. "Look at it!" he flails. "An 'Atlas' mountain on the shore of Africa; an 'Atlan' town on the shore of America; the 'Atlantes' living along the north and west coast of Africa; an Aztec people from Aztlan, in Central America; an ocean rolling between the two worlds called the 'Atlantic'; a mythological deity called 'Atlas' holding the world on his shoulders; and an immemorial tradition of an island of Atlantis. Can all these things be the result of accident?" Hee! I don't know exactly why I find this book so entertaining, but I think it has to do with the part of me that's less interested in science fiction based on current theory than on old science fiction based on bad conclusions.

Oh, and finally; "Arrested Development" fans, check out what George Michael Bluth has been up to. Hilarious.


Blogger Andy Wolverton said...

Good stuff indeed. Motherless Brooklyn was the first Lethem I ever read and I absolutely loved it. I've given the book as a gift several times. I've got Fortress of Solitude on the shelf that I'll have to get around to someday.

5:09 PM  

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