Lexifabricographer

April 29, 2012

Some random thoughts on my evolving reading habits

Filed under: books read — lexifab @ 9:30 pm

Short stories – Last night I finished reading The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines, a wonderfully gruelling and startlingly autobiographical collection of Australian/New Zealand horror short stories and novellas. I’ll do a review when I feel up to it, though that might be a while at my current rate. Short review: Fantastic, highly recommended, but steel yourself before reading his award winning novella ‘Wives’, an brutal and upsetting social apocalypse story which delves the worst excesses of the Australian male psyche. No, really. It’s tough going. I honestly can’t decide whether it’s one of the best or one of the worst stories I’ve ever read. Could be both.

That equivocation aside, what the last couple of months’ reading has helped me realise is that my appetite for good short stories is growing ravenous. I tend to drift away from reading short form stuff for years at a time, only to rediscover it and feast gluttonously in short bursts. I have the feeling that the current rate of consumption might be a little more sustained, thanks to the Kindle. For whatever personal prejudice, I haven’t ever tended to buy short fiction in great quantities, which I suspect lumps me in with 95% of the rest of the reading community. Having easy access to relatively low priced collections through ebook vendors – primarily Amazon, but also Smashwords, direct from authors/publishers and presumably Google Books and Apple – has changed my purchasing habits. It’s not that I don’t think of my ebooks as ‘real’, per se – but knowing that I don’t have to find shelf space for my impulse buys has really made a difference in what I’m willing to take a chance on.

So now I have several recent anthologies lined up in my to-read pile, and I’ve picked up the collected works of several out-of-copyright and long-deceased authors – Poe, Lovecraft, Howard, Chesterton. If I can find Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Fritz Lieber and whoever that guy was who wrote the Shadow [consulted memory further: Lester Dent], then so much the better. Chow down.

April 25, 2012

Flash Fiction – Moonlight Serenade

Filed under: fictionchunk — lexifab @ 10:10 pm

The site is playing funny buggers. I’ve already tried to post this entry once and it black-holed out on me. Wodin knows what it’ll do this time.

Since technical dysfunctionality has already eaten one post, I’m not going to risk writing anything lengthy. So instead here is a short piece I wrote last week when I was procrastinating on doing something – I can’t even remember what that was. Would that work avoidance was always so productive…

My damn cough is still hanging around. I thought I’d knocked it on the head but now I believe it may have been more tenacious than I gave it credit for.

Let’s see if some sleep will deal with that.

(more…)

April 22, 2012

In sickness and in health

Filed under: fitter/happier,friends,news of the day,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 4:10 pm

It’s been quiet around here. Too quiet. I’ve finally come through the bout of bronchitis that I’ve been carrying for the past two weeks, just in time for the wedding yesterday of our housemates Simon and Sarah.

The bronchitis hung around forever, morphing its modus operandi several times over – hacking cough, stinking headache, fever, lethargy and never all at the same time. Thankfully the suite of antibiotics – including one normally prescribed for pneumonia (!) – put a bullet in its tricksy little brain and rolled it into a ditch. I’m still a bit on the flimsy side, but I’ll be back at work on Monday without any problems.

The writing

Since I had the concentration span of a fish finger during the illness, work on the novel was non-existent. That is, until one night last week when I sat down and hammered out the final chunk of text for Draft Zero of my novel in a single literally feverish session of a couple of hours. It really was one of those trance-writing sessions that some authors talk about, when the story pours out as fast as the writer can type it. [1] I don’t have those very often – my technique is more “think for twenty minutes, type for five, repeat”. It seems that slight doses of delirium agree with me. Reading back over it, it’s mostly usuable, which is even more startling.

So, yay, step one complete. My unreadable mess draft is finished. Sure, nothing much happens for the first forty pages, the protagonist doesn’t drive the action much, the cosmology is half-thought-out and largely nonsensical, there’s continuity errors all over the place and the climax is a cluttered mess that fails to address most if not all of the questions raised in the preceding narrative – but it’s done. Next job will be to go back to first principles and write a proper outline of the novel. What’s there is a useful guide, but now I have to knuckle down and start applying some elbow grease. I figure I will do at least three or four passes on the outline before I dive back into the writing. I do tend to write a lot faster when I know where I am going with something. I’m not setting myself any deadlines yet, but I hope it won’t take more than a few weeks to get the outline into the shape I want. While I’m doing that I will write short fiction if I feel the occasional urge to be spontaneously creative.

The wedding

The wedding of the year took place on a beautiful autumn afternoon alongside one of Canberra’s many picturesque lakes. Simon and Sarah opted for a very simple ceremony under the trees, with the formalities over and done with inside ten minutes. That’s always a good idea when most of your guests are standing. Brother Jimbo and I acted as Simon’s groomsmen. I am happy to report that neither of us managed to break anything. Then there were photos with mountains, trees and a lake decorating the backgrounds, some chitchat with some dear friends who’d come from near and far for the ceremony – not to mention various members of Simon’s family whom I’ve not laid eyes on for mroe than ten years – and finally it was off to the reception.

The venue was a small brewery called Zierholz, in the industrial wilds of Fyshwick. The food was excellent German fare – sausage, pork, sauerkraut and a slightly out-of-place-but-delicious risotto – but the beer was extraordinary, with a great range of styles. Nothing that I tried was less than pleasant and a couple of them I would have been happy to drink myself sick on. If not for the fact that I was still popping post-bronchitis codeine and that I had to do a speech, I would have researched their range with considerably more diligence.

Simon extended me the honour of delivering his best man speech, which I think came off well. Lacking the sincerity and depth of character to do a serious speech, I went for (specious) meta-analysis of the purpose of best man speeches and for (ludicous) speculation as to what Sarah might be getting out of the marriage. I made it to the end without blowing any of the jokes or collapsing with a coughing fit, and everyone laughed at the right parts, so I assume that it had the desired effect.

Even jokey public speaking takes a lot out of me though – after the speech (and the fatty food, and the booze, and the tremendously rich and fabulous chocolate cake) I was trashed. That’s my excuse for not dancing – not even for ‘The Time Warp’. My other excuse is that I can’t dance, but in fairness nobody else used that as an excuse, even though it would have been reasonable to do so.

Anyway, the whole day was sweet but exhausting. I’m glad for the relative lack of social obligations today. I probably need a bit of a rest before I resume normal speed tomorrow. I have a lot of work, exercise and writing to catch up on.

[1] Alternately, it may be comparable to Stephen King’s inability to recall writing the novel Cujo, though in that case it was because he was hoovering up sacks of cocaine at the time.

April 5, 2012

More Kickstarting

Filed under: Games,the interweb she provides,Uncategorized — lexifab @ 11:37 pm

I had noble intentions to post up the Deborah Biancotti review tonight, but I have kids who feed off the sleep deprivation of others. The squamous little fatiguovores. So instead I will direct your attention, all sleight-of-handishly, to a handful of rather awesome creative projects currently in need of sponsorship.

The Dinocalypse Trilogy by Evil Hat, Chuck Wendig and now a bunch of other people. To kick off the fiction line of their rip-roaring pulp-action Spirit of the Century game, Evil Hat Productions have invited funding for a trilogy of novels by Chuck Wendig. I will say only this: Time-travelling psychic dinosaurs invade New York. If that sentence is not enough to absolve these books of the presumed sin of being gaming tie-in novels, your tastes and mine may fail to correspond at a primal level.

BUT this being a project orchestrated by the inestimable Fred Hicks, the Dinocalypse Kickstarter blew through its initial targets in, I dunno, three or four minutes. Now they’re aiming for the stars, tacking on another novel for every five grand or so raised. So for the minimum buy-in of ten bucks, you can currently pick up SIX novels, written by a variety of young people who are extremely hot right now [1]. I told you that so that I could tell you this – the next stretch goal is for pledges totalling thirty grand. If they hit that target – and they will, in another couple of days probably – the next novel down the pipeline will feature Professor Khan, the intelligent gorilla who lectures at Oxford, in an adventure on Mars.

THAT IS A BOOK THAT I NEED TO EXIST!

(Ahem). If you like ridiculous high-octane pulp action with airships and jetpacks and sorceror-detectives and international dames of intrigue, consider slinging this one some bucks. The minimum pledge reward represents stunningly good value.

Shadowrun Returns by Harebrained Schemes. When I was still at uni I played the absolute hell out of tabletop Shadowrun. In summary the setting sounds pretty weak: in the near cyberpunk future ruled by megacorporations, the Mayan apocalypse arrives and heralds the return of magic to the world. A whole bunch of people find they can work spells and a whole bunch of others get turned into elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls and so on. Everyone plays edgy criminals with smart guns, stealth motorbikes, armoured trenchcoats and monofilament katanas and they all get together to steal corporate data from heavily fortified research labs and to blow the shit out of dragons or an attack chopper or whatever.

Shut up, it’s awesome. No, YOU’RE old!

Whatever, grampa. Anyhow, anarchic criminality, gun fetishism and stickin’ it to the man-who-might-be-a-dragon would seem like a good fit for a computer game translation, right? For some reason none of the attempts to date ever managed to capture the appeal of the original setting. That sense of the improverished street renegade struggling not to draw the attention of insanely powerful enemies; the wonder of ancient elf conspiracies and creepy alien shamanism; the clash of cultures, corporate and criminal, Native American and Elven, Orc Underground and (boo!spit!) Humanis Policlub. Back then I think we never quite got at the meat of what made the setting interesting (we were too busy playing it like a reskinned D&D with machine guns and hand grenades).

I’m kind of hoping that this game – a turn-based 2D interative story-telling game for PCs and tablets – will manage to find the sweet spot between immersion, in what was to me a fascinating setting, and the technoporn of smart-linking your Ares Predator to your combat reflexes and ocular implants. It’s back with at leats one of the original designers, so I have some reason to be optimistic.

And finally, Jess Nevins, an uber-historian of American pulp fiction, is compiling an Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes. Okay, so this is a pretty obscure subject, but I do think this kind of cultural anthropology is both cool and valuable. Where else in this day an age are you going to find a detailed accounting of the careers of luminous creations like Captain Future, Mister Amazing  and, I dunno, Lady Zap or whoever. The point is, we’d never know how many of those three I just made up without a useful reference resource like this book and website. Unless I told you that it was two.

So that’s where my Kickstarter addiction has wandered this month. There’s obviously a wealth of stuff on there that it would be dangerous for me to explore any further given my apparent inability to suppress the urge to impulse-support neat stuff. If you seen something cool out there (or at Indiegogo or wherever else) shout it out in the comments.

 

[1] One of whom is a chap named Brian Clevinger, who writes a comic called Atomic Robo (art by Scott Wegener). As an aside, remind me one day to tell you how frickin’ great it is.

April 4, 2012

Books of 2012 – March

Filed under: books of 2012,books read,reviewage,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 11:33 pm

March was a series of near constant interruptions, so the only thing that surprised me about it was that I managed to keep up with my daily walking step-count (tedious monthly stats post is still to come). I didn’t read much either, which again was not surprising. Happily, those books that I did finish are all ones I would recommend without hesitation. I’ve already lauded the Tansy Rayner Roberts collection, and I will do a full review for the second of the Twelve Planets books I picked up.

Most of the books I read this month were short stories. That was deliberate. Knowing I had less time than usual, I just went with stuff I could dip into quickly. I plan to chuck a few more collections and anthologies in my Kindle’s ‘to read’ folder to make sure I have a good supply handy – this month isn’t looking any better for spare time.

With four more books read this month my total comes to 17, including 5 for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. Despite the lean count, I still look pretty good to hit my goals of reading 80 books this year and reading 6 works by Australian women (not that the latter has turned out to be difficult at all). I’m halfway through a couple of paperbacks that I should finish soon. That will punch up the April numbers, as bad sitcoms would have us believe they say in high-powered business meetings.

So here we are with the riches uncovered in March. Will we see a repeat of last month’s controversial review of something I didn’t like that much? Er, no.

Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley Denton – Kindle copy. I believe that I picked this up on the recommendation of someone like Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing. It’s a 1992 novel that does a remarkably good job of describing itself in the title – to whit, one day every television channel in the world cuts to a picture of a mildly-confused Buddy Holly, sitting in a glass box in orbit around the Jovian moon Ganymede. Holly chats amiably to the camera, sings a few songs and asks if anyone can get in touch with one Oliver Vale of Topeka, Kansas. Most of the novel is concerned with Oliver Vale – who was conceived at the moment Holly died, decades earlier – fleeing for his life while he tries to figure out what’s going on, pursued by enraged couch potatoes, crazed evangelists, a hit man from the FCC and a cyborg doberman.

It’s part road movie, part nostalgic journey through the early decades of American rock and roll and part alien/Atlantean high weirdness. It’s funny most of the time but there are some achingly sad moments, of wasted lives and squandered love and obsession supplanting affection. To me it also commited the unsettling crime of inflicting every song Buddy Holly ever recorded as a string of consecutive earworms. Which is fine until ‘Rave On’ gets into your brain and just stays there for a week. (Oh, and you can get the book for free if you want to. Obviously I think you should. Especially Evan, who won’t read this. Also, there’s a movie in production starring the guy from Napoleon Dynamite. The trailer is pretty amusing).

Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts – short story collection, Kindle version. My review is here. I liked it a lot.

Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti – short story collection, Kindle version. Review coming as soon as I finish it. I liked it a lot as well.

Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled by Various authors (Anthology edited by David Cranmer and Scott D. Parker)  Kindle version. Beat to a Pulp is a series of anthologies of crime noir short stories. I won’t go through the full collection of thirteen stories – most of them were enjoyably gruesome and misanthropic, ranging from fair to pretty good. There were outliers in both directions, of course. I’ll only mention a few of the best ones, but in all it’s a good collection, well worth checking out if you have a taste for sex and violence, murder and revenge and bodies dumped in bayous for the ‘gators to pick over.

The first story is ‘The Tachibana Hustle’ by Garnett Elliott, which has by far the strangest premise of the lot: it’s the story of some low-rent Tokyo hoodlums trying to preserve their boss’ fading star by stealing these new-fangled Pac-man games everyone’s putting their money into. Like every other story in the anthology it’s violent, but unlike all the others it’s kind of adorable too. Viper and Jun are such hard-luck losers it’s mean not to like them a little. Most of the protagonists of the rest of the stories are vicious, uncompromising, world-weary or all three, so the laughs die off pretty quick. Still there are some gems in there – ‘Second Round Dive’ by Benoit Lelievre, about classic down-on-his-luck boxer, is grim and inevitable; ‘.38 Special’ by Amy Grech lends a kinky absurdity to Russian Roulette; and I have to give a special shout-out to the stomach-churning brutality of ‘The Death Fantastique’ by John Hornor Jacobs.

Also worth the very reasonable price of admission is a well-research opening essay on the history of hardboiled noir and its antecedents in Westerns and pre-WWI crime fiction, most of which I had no idea about.

April 3, 2012

Review – Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Filed under: reviewage,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 1:29 pm

My second full review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012 will be Tansy Rayner Roberts’ short story collection Love and Romanpunk from Twelfth Planet Press. It’s part of TPP’s ‘Twelve Planet Series’ of what I presume will be a dozen collections of interlinked short stories by Australian women in the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres. (My next review will be of another collection in the same series.)

The four short stories that make up Love and Romanpunk wrap around the premise that the Rome of Augustus and his heirs was crawling with mythological beasts, in particular vampires and lamia. So far, so here-take-all-my-money please. I’m not a particularly dedicated history buff (unlike Rayner Roberts, who has a doctorate all up in that bizzo) but I am drawn to the lives gleefully depicted in I, Claudius, Rome and even goddamn Gladiator. There’s just something about the series of debauched lunatics who paraded through Octavius’ wake that captures the imagination – Nero, Tiberius, Caligula and dear old Claw-claw-Claudius. Rayner Roberts cannily folds inhuman monsters into that mix and serves up a delicious alternate history in which lamia plague humanity over the course of centuries.

First up is my personal favourite, ‘Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary’, which recounts the rise and disintegration of the Augustine Emperors, as told by Nero’s mother Julia Agrippina Minor. It begins – and wins my undying affection – with this passage:

Let us begin with the issue of most interest to future historians: I did not poison my uncle and husband, the Emperor Claudius. Instead, I drove a stake through his heart.

Colour me delighted. It goes on to detail, in alphabetical order, the specific mythological monsters that helped or beset or sometimes comprised the various branches of the Imperial family. Basilisks, centaurs, harpies – and of course the much-reviled Livia (Augustus’ wife) was a blood-drinking lamia. The story centres around the Julias, the three sisters of Caligula (Julia Agrippina, Julia Drusilla and Julia Livilla) who fight to preserve themselves, their brothers and their children from various brushes with mythology and from their fiendish relatives.

The choice to tell the story in an alphabetical-order series of vignettes seems a catchy gimmick at first, but the story so comes alive with Julia Agrippina’s passionate ferocity that the gimmick completely fades into the background. Looking back on it, it’s a clever artifice that gives ‘Julia Agrippina’ the feel of a real old-world bestiary as well as an epic family saga.

‘Lamia Victoriana’ is a gothic retelling of the romance between Mary Wollstonecraft and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, which somehow despite the presence of bloodsucking monsters, gratuitous murders and a rather steamy lesbian seduction is rather less sordid than its real-history equivalent. The characters swan about The Continent being determinedly romantic and inevitably tragic, which makes it sound like a romp, albeit one where the consequences of thoughtless indulgence and frequent acts of murder are always lurking. The ending is upliftingly chilling, which is a bit of a neat trick.

‘The Patrician’, a YA romance featuring a young woman and an ancient monster hunter (set primarily in an Australian tourist attraction only a little more improbable than most of the real ones) which explores the dynamic of a Doctor/Companion relationship without once making even an oblique reference to Doctor Who. Instead, ‘The Patrician’ concerns the hunting of ancient Roman monsters and their kind, with the focus on the young protagonist’s lifetime journey to becoming an unmitigated badarse. This is the story in the collection that picked up a nomination for an Aurealis Award, for which it is more than deserving, though as I mentioned it’s not my favourite. I loved the line “She did not see him again for five years, and when she did, he was too busy stabbing harpies to stop and chat.” Sweet.

Finally there’s ‘The Last of the Romanpunks’, which is a straight-up action-adventure set on an airship crawling with monsters. It ties directly back to the previous three stories in amusing and unexpected ways, but Rayner Roberts never lets that get in the way of the hardboiled Die Hard antics. Snappy dialogue, clever and determined protagonists and – yeah, well, she had me at airships.

‘Love and Romanpunk’ is a great collection. While I picked up this one more or less on a Rome-based whim after hearing it mentioned on the Galactic Suburbia podcast (co-hosted by the author of this collection and its editor, Alisa Krasnostein), I now plan to pick up the rest of the Twelve Planets Series as soon as they become available on the Kindle. Highly recommended.

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