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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Fall is fading into Winter, and I've been busy.

The Sci-Fi and Fantasy

I read Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth from cover to cover. Good stuff. Not for everyone, and it certainly had its annoying moments, but there were some gems in there . . . and it had some charms that are hard to explain. For instance, his character Cugel the Clever was just not likable for most of the story The Eyes of the Overworld. However, in Cugel's Saga, he became more likable (and funnier), despite keeping most of his bad character traits. Maybe the fact that the character grew in the second story made him likable. I'm a sucker for epiphanies and character growth and all that.

Also, if you're a Gene Wolfe fan like me, it's worth reading just to see where Wolfe got some of his inspiration for his Solar Cycle books. Beware the vocabulary, though, unless you like learning lots of new, strange words (My personal favorite: animalcule).

Continuing on the books I've been reading, this last week I started Mister Troll's recommendation, The Anvil of Ice. Holy crap. Beautiful. It hits all my soft spots: Archaic magic, forbidden knowledge, desolate world, troubled hero, intricate plot, and lovely magical artifacts both new and old. Rohan describes a world that is dark and mesmerizing. I hope it keeps up. Reading books like this is what makes me glad I joined Mister Troll in this project. Sure, I might have otherwise read it on his recommendation, but then I wouldn't have the pleasure of gushing about it to you.

The Romance Experiment

One of the blogs I visit on occasion is Avid Book Reader, a blog that focuses primarily on reviewing romance novels. I chatted with the owner of the site, and she recommended to me some romance novels to try out. Luckily, I found some of them at a local library book sale, so I've been expanding my horizons with them. In the past I've often looked down on the genre, and it's easy to see the stigma that's attached to it. For instance, some of my friends had a good chuckle when they found out what I was reading. Furthermore, Mrs. Gruff expressed that she was a little embarrassed for me that I carried my new romance novel around so openly. I've heard that Sci-Fi and Fantasy have a similar stigma attached to them, but I've been so immersed in those genres and surrounded by fellow readers, that I've mostly forgotten about it (I vaguely remember being embarrassed about the books as a kid). Not that I care about such stigmas. Just something to think about.

Reading romance has had some benefits as well. For one, it gave me an opportunity to bond with my mother on her latest visit. From talking to her, it seems almost like she has read every romance novel in the universe. There's much more to write about here, but I'll hold off on it for now. I hope to write an expanded article on my forays into the romance genre in the near future.

The Secret Project

Mister Troll and I have also been working on another project. I can't say how close to launch it is yet, but it has both of us excited. Let's just say it's of a creative nature, and it's going to push us in some new and exciting directions. I'll let you know when there's news to be had on it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Time Machine

Recommended: The Time Machine (H. G. Wells)

H. G. Wells was one of the founding titans of science-fiction, a novelist whose works have inspired, directly and indirectly, a large portion of the works that have followed. Like the best - or perhaps just the luckiest - science-fiction authors, Mr. Wells was ahead of contemporary science; the Time Traveller's explanations of the mechanism of travel spookily remind one of Einstein's theory of special relativity.

The Time Machine is a very short, simple novel. It does not contain the detailed plot we expect in a modern work, but it is a better novel this way. It invites you to think, and not merely to experience. I feel myself as a member of the dinner party when the Time Traveller tells his story. Can I trust him? Do I believe what he says? Is that indeed what the future holds in store? If it is, is it good, or inevitable? Even the Time Traveller's explanations invite disagreement and provide food for thought.

Most futuristic science-fiction is not written as a prediction of the future. The author will take some concept, toy with it, and say, "What if..." (Ursula K. Le Guin comes to mind as an obvious example.) Mr. Wells tries to predict the future, but asks the reader to make his own predictions as well. You'll likely disagree with Mr. Wells ideas, who was after all writing at the close of the Victorian era, but I hope you'll enjoy your chance to argue through his case.

Mr. Wells is best known for The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds. All three are excellent books, and certainly the latter two will garner their own recommendations here in due time. The Island of Dr. Moreau is also very good, but alas not as well known. His other works I leave to interested fans to ferret out for themselves (The Food of the Gods is one of my favorites of his, but you might find Rule Number One to apply).

Monday, October 1, 2007

Short Fiction: Like Soup and Salad

I saw that was running a "Creative Writing Challenge" contest, so I decided to enter. The rules are simple: write something creative, 750 words or less, and correctly use in it the ten words they provide.

Here is my entry.

Like Soup and Salad

Two quirks of personality kept Sam from the grave. The first was his sense of duty. He lived with and supported his grandson, and that required not dying, like the child's parents had so irresponsibly done. The child harbored his DNA, blood of his blood. Some would say this was a faulty reason, because the boy also harbored the blood of simians, fish-things, and amoebas. Still, Sam would not abandon his grandson to face the horrors of modern-day England alone.

The second quirk was a love for his adopted country. England was agog with war, an unjust war, a war she had instigated. And he would see the end of this war, an end that would bring England back to her senses.

Before the war he had been a renowned poet, writing mostly charged free verse, but also the occasional sestina about hope or sonnet on public policy. These days, he wrote for an underground rag that catered to the patriots secretly assisting the European Allies. His articles were low, common things, but they gave him a hope that unpublished sestinas could not provide. However, sometimes it saddened him that he had gone from Poet Laureate to fifth-columnist in fourteen short years.

But today there would be no writing. The boy needed to visit Kew Gardens for a school report. Sam yawned and resolved himself for the chore ahead. He served breakfast: leftover gazpacho and caesar salad.

As they ate their soup and salad, the phone rang. Perry Harding's voice rattled on the other end.

"Perry! How's the wife?" said Sam. He then clicked on the steganophony device attached to his phone, and business began.

Harding talked about the latest intel from France, a plan he called a "military opus," and the recent TV propaganda.

Sam did not care about the propaganda. "Yes, yes. I know, it's infuriating. The old claptrap about the Good Soldier and his troupe of heroes."

"Troupe, tripe, trope," said the boy. He liked to play with words, like his father had.

"So, about that plan. Anything for us?" said Sam.

There was, and it was risky. Afterwards, he and the boy would have to abscond to the country for a while.

The boy was staring at him when he hung up.

"Eat your soup, finish the salad. There won't be any more for a while."

The boy speared a wilted lettuce leaf and said, "No more salad days?"

"These are your salad days. Make the best of them, and eat."

"This salad has seen better days," mumbled the boy, dropping the limp lettuce from his fork and watching it fall.

Sam glared, and the boy ate.

They walked out into the morning. An ugly fug filled the street, like the stench of decayed civilization. Sam put his hand on the child's arm. "What's this horripilation?" he said, and caught himself. "It means 'goose bumps.' Are you cold?"

"Horrible-ation," said the boy, shaking his head. He shivered and looked down the stark street.

Of course, he would be afraid. "The police won't be out this early. Besides, I have our papers this time."

At Kew Gardens, the boy's wonder overcame his apprehension. Rain began to fall, but the boy sprinted around the gardens, photographing flowers and giggling wildly. They made their way to the Secluded Garden, and the boy pointed at the stream bubbling through it. He reached out and patted a bamboo stalk that whistled at his touch, and rolled a fallen pear into a bed of blushing rockroses. Then, an overhanging quince tree rustled, and water fell in a tiny stream onto the boy's head. His laughter ascended like a little bird's trill. Sam grinned despite himself.

After the boy finished playing, they turned to leave. The boy's, David's, eyes glittered like those of a Spanish beauty Sam once knew. Then David chanted:

Like bamboo in my palm, like a rhyme, like a psalm,
Singing songs like my dad, in the garden where it's calm.

And the old man smiled, and a gland somewhere, shriveled like a raisin from age and disuse, squeezed out a tear. Even in this stark state, beauty flourished. Like a rich soup surrounded by wilted leaves, it tasted stronger for the contrast, and the greatest part was that someone appreciated it, and could rhyme it, and transform one majesty into another.

No tyrant would be overthrown today, but a day could be spent on beauty and silly similes.