Monday, August 12, 2019

The Conspirators: A Tribute to Jorge Luis Borges

This is a collection of fourteen pieces, written in tribute to Jorge Luis Borges, and edited by Alcebiades Diniz Miguel, who also contributed one of the fourteen pieces.  Other notable authors include Rhys Hughes, Mark Valentine and John Howard (in collaboration), Justin Isis, Jonathan Wood, Brednan Connell, D.P. Watt, Adam Cantwell and Eric Stener Carlson.

The bulk of the stories are good to excellent. Only one, the opening tale by Rhys Hughes, did I find labored and dull. The best story was that by D.P. Watt (a writer new to me), together with the bookish tale by Mark Valentine and John Howard. Most are openly Borgesian in nature, some more so than others.  In all a good read and a good tribute. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Archive of Alternate Endings

This new book sounded very interesting.  The blurb notes that "tracking the evolution of Hansel and Gretel at seventy-five-year intervals that correspond with Earth's visits by Halley's Comet, The Archive of Alternate Endings explores how stories are disseminated and shared, edited and censored, voiced and left untold."  Well, I suppose it does all that, and much less too. 

This is a short book, which I hesitate to call a novel, and some of the sections are only a sentence or two in length, with a lot of white space afterwards, so it feels even shorter than the 152 pages that it clocks in at. The narrative bounces all over chronologically, from the past to the future, telling snippets of life stories. The problem with this book is that the narrative distance between the text and the reader is large. There is little connect, little characterization, and little story, beyond the structural meta-speak about storytelling. And the disparate elements (e.g., tying threads in with appearances of Halley's Comet) serve no purpose other than structurally. Some readers will find such writerly playfulness intriguing. I didn't. In fact I found it dull and disappointing. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

How Long 'til Black Future Month?

N.K. Jemisin won three consecutive Hugo Awards for the three volumes of her Broken Earth trilogy. Not wishing to embark on a trilogy at the present time, I thought I'd try Jemisin's new short story collection, How Long 'till Black Future Month? (2018), as a taster before approaching her novels.  It contains twenty-two short stories, plus an interesting introduction by the author. One expects the first story in a collection to be a standout, and in this case, "The Ones Who Stay and Fight" (a kind of oblique response to Ursula K. Le Guin's famous story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas") is a standout for all the wrong reasons. I found it dull and diffuse, and my reaction tempered my interest in reading further.  But I persevered, and found some better tales in "The City Born Great" and "Stone Hunger."  But the author's style never really won me over.  It might be described as stream-of-consciousness surreal.  The fantastical elements don't really make a great deal of sense.  They are just there as plot-devices or plot impediments.  I'm still planning to give the first volume of the Broken Earth series a try, but my interest has diminished.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Le Guin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

This is a collection of seven interviews with Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away early last year at the age of 88.  These range in years from 1977 to "The Last Interview" itself, by the volume's editor, which took place occasionally from the summer of 2015 until Le Guin's death.  All of the interviews are interesting and revelatory, but the later interviews seem to me to be more free and revelatory on more subjects. So I would suggest that Le Guin may have been guarded in her early interviews, but opened up in the later ones.  In any case, the seven interviews make for a nice collection. I did not know before getting this book that it is one entry in a series of such books, all titled "The Last Interview and Other Conversations." Other volumes cover Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, Philip K. Dick, and Christopher Hitchens, along with musicians such as Lou Reed and David Bowie, as well as public figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Hunter S. Thompson. All of the books have a uniform cover design, with frankly ugly art by Christopher King. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Addams Family: An Evilution

This coffee-table book, edited by H. Kevin Miserocchi, is basically a brief history of the evolution, from the late 1930s onward, of the characters of Charles Addams's cartoons that became known later as The Addams Family. The book is heavily illustrated with the cartoons from The New Yorker, as well as from other places. The characters are probably best known from the 1964-66 television series, or from the 1991 film (and its 1993 sequel). The characters have lived in popular culture for decades, and it's pleasant to revisit them while viewing the story of their development. And it's hard to describe the appeal of these characters--essentially they are outsiders, who view the world from a jaundiced and indeed morbid perspective, but who also have a warm-hearted side. Mostly.  Or to their fellow family members. Sometimes. Anyway, I enjoyed this retrospective as a kind of nostalgia. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Writer's Map

The Writer's Map (2018) is one of those coffee-table books with lots of colored illustrations. Here the subject is maps of imaginary literary lands. Contributors to the volume include Phillip Pullman (prologue), David Mitchell, and Lev Grossman, and others.  In some ways this book is a kind of variation on J.B. Post's Atlas of Fantasy (rev. ed., 1979), but while Post showed a lot of maps (all in black-and-white) he gave very little text.  Yet his coverage was more representative across the field than is found in the present volume, which seems more scattershot. And the text here is often less illuminating than it might be--most are personal histories rather than in-depth critical articles. Still, for what it is, this is an interesting compilation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Binding

The Binding (2019) by Bridget Collins is marketed as her first book for adults, following seven novels for young adults.  But there is really nothing in this novel that marks it out as for adults per se. It is basically an elongated love story, though details of the love are at first hidden.  Young Emmett Farmer tells his own story after a mysterious illness. It turns out that he was taken to a witch-like Binder, whom he learns removes memories from willing subjects and writes them down in beautifully bound books.  After he recovers from his ailment, Emmett is taken by the Binder Seredith (of whom he has no memory) to be her apprentice, for in binding him she discovered that he had the powers of being a notable Binder himself. In the first of three parts of this book, Emmett tells his story up to when he learns that he had previously been bound, and by burning his book, the memories come back to him. The second part of the book is  also in Emmett's voice, telling of the memories that were taken away. It is not really giving much away to say that his love story concerns another young man, as this is foreshadowed from very early on. For the third and final part of the book, the narrative shifts to the point of view of Lucian, Emmett's lover, who has similarly had his memories of their relationship bound. The shift in narrative voice is not very successful, and the whole third section seems rushed and forced in the telling.  Thought inevitably the two young men end up together again at the end, the reactions of virtually every other character in the novel to the idea of a same sex couple is positively medieval.  Though the plot gives the tale some aspects of a page-turner, the construction and technique of the author are second rate at best.