Category Archives: Authorship

Reading Notes, 5/19/22

Cover: Sundial by Catriona Ward
Cover: Come Closer by Sara Gran
Cover: In Cold Blood

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Sundial by Catriona Ward

This was Ladies of Horror Fiction’s May book selection. I almost gave up on this book because its first 10% is pretty much all domestic drama, mostly Rob and her awful husband fighting. Luckily, Ward started weaving in some creepy threads kept me reading. Ultimately, Sundial goes in a science fiction direction that I’m not too sure about. That, mixed with a melodramatic aspect that wouldn’t be out of place on a CW show, makes for a somewhat entertaining read, but I really would have been happier with just the creepiness.

Come Clean by Sara Gran

Heard about Come Clean book from a Tor post on possession in books. One of the things that freaked my out about The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty when I first read it was that the possession of Regan starts with noises in the attic that no one pays attention to. I don’t know if that’s a general “you’ve got demons” trope, but it’s the jumping off point for Come Clean. Oddly, I felt the first person perspective of Amanda took away from the horror of her becoming possessed. While she’s helpless to stop it, she also isn’t really part of bad things happening during to blackouts. I did like the background that Gran brings to the demon Naamah: that Adam rejected his second wife because he saw what was inside her. You can read that literally or figuratively.

Deal Me In, Week 19

Q♠️, “Wake Up, I Miss You” by Rachel Swirsky – From Into the Night’s archives, but not strongly horror in my opinion. Very dream-like because it is full of dreaming. Not quite sure what the Queen of Teeth is meant to be.

Reading

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

Reading Notes, 5/12/22

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Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter by Janet Campbell Hale

In the fall of 1995, as junior in college, I took a Native American literature course. Since it counted for the college of arts and sciences’ cultural minority requisite, many of the students were there because they had to be. I was there because I had to be too, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to do the work. Plus, it wasn’t uninteresting. I took an introductory anthropology class and a course called “Stories and the Human Experience” that semester too and they all meshed together nicely. At the end of the semester my instructor gifted me with Janet Campbell Hale’s Bloodlines.

At the beginning of Bloodlines, Janet Campbell Hale warns that autobiography isn’t always entirely true. Some stories are better if they aren’t entirely true. Yet, I have little reason to suspect that Hale isn’t telling the truth. Her narratives move from the history of the Coeur d’Alene and Kootenay peoples to her own fragmented childhood, spent traveling with her mother. Her writing is clear and unadorned, but still lyrical.

I learn from Wikipedia that Hale died just last year of complications due to COVID-19. According to LinkedIn, my professor moved on to non-teaching pastures, establishing a company that combines archaeology and law to help deal with cultural property issues in the Great Plains.

Deal Me In, Week 18

18♦️ “The Tyger” by Tegan Moore – As I kid, I very much enjoyed museums. That might have been because a trip to Lincoln to visit Morrill Hall was a treat. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the museum more when I was a student at UNL. So, I understand Jules a little. This is a gentle fantasy and, for once, I didn’t mind the kid narrator.

Reading

As I mentioned, it’s Bout of Books this week. My reading has been pretty slow though, so far.

  • Sundial by Catriona Ward – This seems to be going well for me, but the beginning had me worried.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – In bite-sized pieces.

Reading Notes, 5/5/22

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Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

About mid-April, I was in the mood to read something neither old (19th century) nor new (21st century). I also wanted to actually finish a book for Spring into Horror. Mystery counted for the theme, so I picked the slimmest Patricia Highsmith novel that I had on my shelves.

Ray’s wife commits suicide early in their marriage. His father-in-law blames Ray and attempts to kill him. Several times. The majority of this book is Ray hiding out in Venice and trying to decide what to do about his angry in-law. Not much happens, really, yet I wanted to know more about the characters. Having read some of Highsmith’s Ripley novels, characters are obviously Highsmith’s strength. She write messy, complicated characters, which of course makes them feel real.

Since there was a bookmark from The Antiquarium tucked in it, I probably bought Those Who Walk Away there. The Antiquarium was chaotic, over-stocked used bookstore in downtown Omaha, NE. The store moved to Brownville, NE in 2006. Since I never visited it after the move, chances are I’ve owned this book since before 2006.

Deal Me In, Week 17

A❤️ “The Sycamore and the Sybil” by Alix E. Harrow – I read Harrow’s “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium to Portal Fantasies” a few weeks ago. Both were on my Eugie Awards list. This is a lyrical if depressing story. I know the end is meant to be victorious, but I get so tired of men being portrayed as wolves, even if they are wolves sometimes.

Reading

  • Bloodlines : Odyssey of a Native Daughter by Janet Campbell Hale – This is my morning reading.
  • The New Annotated Dracula by Bram Stoker & Leslie S. Klinger – If you know Dracula, you know that it’s an epistolary novel (at least in part) told in the form of letters and journal entries. About a week ago I came upon Dracula Daily, which emails parts of Dracula to you on the day they happen in the book. I’ve done this on my own in the past, but I was up for another reread of good ol’ Stoker’s masterwork. Also, I have this big, fat annotated edition that I bought and hadn’t read.

Book ~ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I love cover songs. I find that there are several sorts of covers. The low hanging fruit is the cover that is faithful to the original, but probably not done quite as well, often due to the talents of the vocalist. An example: Miley Cyrus’s cover of “Heart of Glass.” It’s fine, but Cyrus is not Debbie Harry. My favorite type of cover is when an artist brings their own signature style to a familiar song. Marilyn Manson is particularly good at this sort of cover. He does not try to be Annie Lennox; he makes “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” a Marilyn Manson song, while still keeping faithful to the original song’s mood and structure.

What does this have to do with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Because there is the rare cover that takes an original song, reworks it in a different style, and the new version become what is thought of as the standard. The most notable example of this is the song “Tainted Love.” Pretty much everyone knows the Soft Cell 1981 cover, but fewer people are familiar with the 1964 song (released as a B-side) by Gloria Jones.

Blade Runner, the 1982 film, is the Soft Cell cover: well-known enough to have spawned sequel novels, a sequel film, short films, comics, an animated series, and an upcoming limited series. Far fewer people have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick. And the two are more different than versions of “Tainted Love.”

Blade Runner. The term is never used in the novel. In fact (according to Wikipedia), The Bladerunner is a novel by Alan E. Nourse (about a dystopian society in which comprehensive health care is provided under eugenics laws). That novel was adapted into a screenplay by William S. Burroughs. The eventual screenwriter for Do Androids Dream . . ., Hampton Fancher, had a copy of the Burroughs treatment and thought the title was a good one.

Rick Deckard, Roy Baty, Pris, Rachel. These characters exist in both, but are fairly different. In general only the bare-bones of the plot make it to the movie: Deckard is a cop whose job it is to hunt down androids (never called replicants in the book) who have come to Earth and “retire” them. In the book, the pressures of wanting a better life for his wife—in the form of class status—overwhelms Deckard’s growing doubts about whether androids are people too (or whether he’s no better than an android). In the movie, Roy becomes the voice for these thoughts. In the book, Roy’s the mastermind, but is never given much to do. The female androids are a much bigger deal, mainly because Deckard’s attractions to them get in the way. Pris and Rachel are, in the book, duplicates of the same model.

Mercerism. Mercerism is absent from the films. Empathy is a big deal in the novel and Mercerism is this sort of new tech religion based on connecting with Mercer, a man who toils continually up a hill while being pelted with rocks. The whole human race can seemingly come together via communing with Mercer and his plight. Androids, of course, feel no empathy (maybe?) and cannot partake of the religion.

Electric Sheep. Faux animals provide a plot clue the 1982 Blade Runner and there are several comments in passing about the cost of real animals. In the book, there is a very middle class, keep-up-with-the-Jonses kind of pressure to own a real animal, which honestly give the novel too much of a 60s feel for me. On the plus side, real animals are given an almost religiously protected status, which makes the empathy test questions make sense .

Voigt-Kampff test. One of the few things that is lifted nearly word for word from the book are the Voigt-Kampff questions (Voight-Kampff in the movie). In the context of the book when presented with the scenario of “you’re given a calf-skin wallet” and the response is “I’d report them,” it’s because making something so frivolous as a wallet from an animal is illegal and immoral. In the movie, the questions serve as a slightly confusing bit of world building. Which is fine, not everything needs to be explained.

In general, though, I found the novel to be a product of its time. It’s big on ideas, fuzzy on details, and lacking in characterization. It is nice to know that Dick, who was dubious of Hollywood, was fairly positive about the movie adaptation. I can’t say I felt as immersed in Dick’s world as I have in Blade Runner or Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which is a shame for book. It’s certainly a case of liking the cover better than the original.

#BeatTheBackLog Reread ~ The Last Unicorn

Picture of two editions of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. One is a fairly beat-up trade paperback. The other is a like-new hardback.

Katherine, how can a reread be part of #BeatTheBackLog?

For me, Beat the Back Log includes editions of books I’ve spent money on, but have not read. I don’t often buy multiple copies/editions of books, unless I’ve shamefully forgotten that I own the book in the first place. Usually, there is some reason for the repurchase/re-acquistion. My original copy of The Haunting of Hill House was water damaged during a trip to Florida. I decided to invest in a copy of Moby Dick instead of only rereading the Gutenberg ebook version because I want the experience of reading it in physical form and might decide to scribble in the margins.

In the case of The Last Unicorn, I purchased the copy on the right above in 1993 when I visited UNL’s bookstore the first time. I knew the animated movie that I had adored as a kid was a book, but that was the first time I saw it on a shelf. It had some wear on it when I purchased the hardback deluxe edition when it came out in 2007-ish. I figured, my old copy was getting worn out and this new one included the novella Two Hearts, which is a soft sequel to the original novel (which I also own in a collection). But then, every time I time I decided to reread The Last Unicorn (it’s one of my favorite books), I’d use the old copy.

At first, it was because of good college memories associated with the beat-up paperback: finding it at the bookstore, purchasing it along with a very over-priced chemistry textbook, reading it on a Lincoln–Omaha car trip. Then, it was because of negative associations with the hardback. See, in the 2000s–early 2010s, Peter S. Beagle had a resurgence as an author, seemingly sparked by his new business manager. This business manager was unfortunately a very unscrupulous man who ended up not only defrauding Beagle, but many fans of the author. His fingerprints are all over this deluxe edition. There’s an introduction by him, an author interview moderated by him, and just seeing his name by copyright symbols makes me a little sick. (If you don’t know the tale, Mr. Beagle eventually ended up suing said manager and won the suit. I don’t know how the fans have fared.)

But, I decided to finally read the deluxe hardback this month. And, honestly, I like my tatty paperback better. It has a nice font (I wish I knew what it was called) and I missed the illustrations by Mel Grant. The hardback also had some odd typography issues and was harder on my hands. As for the story? I’m always a little worried, on my fourth or fifth reading of a book, that I might this time find it boring. But I didn’t. There are always little things in The Last Unicorn that catch me, different things that resonate each time I read it.

Book ~ Beowulf

Cover for Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, featuring the head and shoulders of a figure (including the face) covered entirely in chain mail.
Cover of Beowulf, translated by Maria Dahvana Headley. The bright blue cover features a dragon intertwined with a red Gothic font B with a gold crown atop,

The first time I read Beowulf was in college, in a history class rather than a literature class. It was a prose translation, probably the ubiquitous one by E. Talbot Donaldson. I came away not very impressed. That mass market paperback hasn’t survived my occasional library culls, even though the notes from the class have (due more to the art on the back of the notebook). The class, History of the Middle Ages, emphasized what the social value might have been for its original audience: an ideal leader is one who is brave, generous, and, most importantly, tied to his community.

I gave Beowulf a second chance when Seamus Heaney’s translation was published. I was already familiar with Heaney as a poet, and it seemed to me that there was probably some literary value to the poem that I hadn’t seen previously. I love Heaney’s translation and it’s become a work I reread every-so-often. When I sat down to Beowulf a couple weeks ago, I got curious about Marie Dahvana Headley’s 2020 translation and queued it up in audio book form.

In Headley’s introduction, she states that she wished to provide a more female forward translation of Beowulf. It’s true, the original author fails to give any details to the women and gives only negative attributes to Grendel’s mother. Headley also wanted to liven up and modernized the language of the poem. What would Beowulf sound like if it were being told today by the dude at the end of the bar, three drinks in?

I’m not sure Headley is entirely successful in either of these two goals. I’m going address the language first, because I realized that is why I reread Beowulf. It’s not for the story (even though I like competent heroes) or the literary value* or even to chew on the interplay of Judaism/Christianity within the narrative. I reread Beowulf, Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, for the language. For me, his translation does feel like an old seaman telling a (tall) tale to a bar full of serious fisherman who want a story of honor and derring-do because their profession is full of mundane danger. That said, I think Headley’s hip-hoppy “Bro” tone could have worked if it were consistent and avoided references that are already past date (yes, like “hashtag blessed” (Also, I looked at excerpts from the printed version, why isn’t it written as “#blessed”? I call the publishers cowards here.)). As it is, I feel like Vin Diesel is the only person who could read this aloud and even out the grandeur and the gutter.

On the second point, I’m going to recuse myself: I only listened to Headley’s translation to just after Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother. (The language was that jarring to.) While Headley does make efforts to point out that many of the women in Beowulf, queens even, aren’t given the names and lineages similar to male characters, there doesn’t seem to be much done to make Grendel’s mother less of a monster. And that’s fine with me. I’m assuming that translations, including Headley’s, have been generally faithful and there just isn’t much to work with. Grendel and his mother are spawns of Cain. Though they anger and hunger and grieve, they are still the monsters of this piece and Beowulf, the hero.


*Co-current to my delve into Beowulf, I’ve been reading Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing lectures, which cover the nature of English literature. He touches on Beowulf:

The pretence that our glorious literature derives its lineage from “Beowulf” is in vulgar phrase ‘a put up job’; a falsehood grafted upon our text-books by Teutonic and Teutonising professors who can bring less evidence for it than will cover a threepenny-piece.

Anthology ~ In Our Own Worlds

Cover for In Our Own Worlds, an anthology of LGBTQ+ novella published by Tor.

In Our Own Worlds is a four novella anthology featuring LGBTQ+ characters. It was a freebie I picked up from the publisher, Tor, in late 2019.

The first novella is The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy. Welcome to Freedom, IA, where the peace is kept by a demonic deer! Not everyone in town thinks a demon who brings retribution on “predators” is a good idea. I like the play on philosophy here, but the story seemed dependent on the reader just going along with character actions when those actions don’t have much reasoning behind them. It wasn’t that characters did outlandish things, but there was the occasional leap of logic that seemed to come out of nowhere.

I had high hopes for the second novella, Passing Strange by Ellen Klages. I have read and enjoyed Klages’s short stories in the past. In fact, this novella is why I picked up the anthology: Klages’s magical realism in 1940s San Francisco seemed like a slam dunk. Alas, as with Nebraska basketball, Passing Strange didn’t do as well as I hoped. I’ve become a bit aware of how authors present exposition and there were a lot of As You Know, Bob going on. Also, the use of magic in the story was very minimal. It almost felt like an overlay on straight (no pun intended) historical fiction.

The third novella was A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson. I enjoyed this novella the most*. Okay, I’m not sure I entirely followed chronology, but that’s fine. Aqib and Lucrio are compelling main characters and I was in it for their story/stories. I also enjoy world-building that isn’t spelled out for me; I don’t need every thing explained. In a way, this is an interesting contrast to Passing Strange. Both could tell straight-up stories of forbidden romances, but use magic to solve problems for their lovers (though with consequences). A Taste of Honey just infuses the whole narrative with that magic/science.

* I decided not to read The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang. It really didn’t seem like my kind of story. Political machinations =/= A book for Katherine.