Posted in Male Author, Novel, Other Media

Miscellanea, 11/21/22


Cover: Neom by Lavie Tidhar

Neom by Lavie Tidhar

(A copy of Neom was provided to me by Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review.)

Compelling world building is a scale with details on one side and ambiguities on the other. A real world needs details: politics, religions, economies, arts, even sciences. The trick is knowing when to not explain these things. Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is one of my favorite settings because, as a reader, I’m simply dropped into the world and maybe a reference is explained, maybe it isn’t.

The city of Neom is near Central Station. The story is (mostly) Earthbound, but it’s still a mash-up of space opera and fable, where an old robot takes a rose into the desert and digs up a buried automaton messiah. Neom is situated between Mecca and Bethlehem, so I’m sure there are allegories to be had here, but biblical comparisons feel too mundane and not mythical enough.

The characters in Neom are somewhat coincidental to the plot, but that plays into the feeling of predestination. Of course Miriam, with her half a dozen part-time jobs, is always where the story is taking place and of course Nasir and Saleh have items that are needed. The robot characters are more interesting and I’m glad a few of them might live on in other stories.

Short Stories

Deal Me In, Week 46: 10❀️ “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde
Hearts are for Eugie Award winners and Nominees. “Clearly Lettered . . .” won in 2018. A sly story that reminds me of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), at least a little.

Yuletide Spirit

Yuletide Spirit Challenge & Readathon image

I’ll admit that this year I’ve been keener than usual to jump into the “holiday” season right after Halloween. (Though feeling that and hearing “All I Want for Christmas” at the mall last week are two different things . . .) When I saw Michelle’s announcement about the Yuletide Spirit Challenge and Readathon, starting on Nov. 21st, I thought, “Perfect! An excuse to have a November start time for celebrating!”

I’m going to shoot for the Mistletoe level (2–4 Christmas books) with a side of Fa La La La Films. And I’m going start my decorating process!


Nope (2022)

  • I’m kind of amazed that I managed to go into Nope without knowing very much about the movie. This probably says more about my lack of interaction with media than the popularity of the film.
  • I liked Nope better than Us (2019) and maybe more than Get Out (2017) too.
  • As a kid, I found Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) a bit scary. On second watch, I noticed a few things in Nope that strike me as a bit Spielbergian.
  • I miss Fry’s Electronics.
  • I’ve also missed Michael Wincott.
Posted in Female Author, Novel

Review ~ The Monsters We Defy

Book Cover: The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

I wish I could remember who on Twitter mentioned The Monsters We Defy. It’s maybe a book that wouldn’t have crossed my path despite its blurb: “A woman able to communicate with spirits must assemble a ragtag crew to pull off a daring heist . . . ” A heist novel? With a spiritualist (of a sort)? That’s pretty much catnip to me.

And you know what’s even better? It’s good!

The plot is well constructed, the characters are enjoyable, and the setting and world building are clean and simple. Penelope based the main character of Clara Johnson on Carrie Johnson, a seventeen year-old who was arrested (and later acquitted) during the Washington DC race riot of 1919. Of course, this is historical fiction with an overlay of the supernatural and it works for me.

The Monsters We Defy has a few loose ends and I won’t mind mind reading more stories with these characters!

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer Review: The Ballad of Perilous Graves

cover: The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings

The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings

The Ballad of Perilous Graves has *so much stuff.*

Dual cities of New Orleans and Nola. Characters have the same name. Songs that are characters. Graffiti that that floats through the city (and a host of people who are sort of addicted to engaging with the graffiti). Drawing that become real. Flashbacks, dreams, near immortals, ghost, zombies, talking animal, crashed UFOs. Killer storms. Lafcadio Hearn…

It’s *so much.*

I very much enjoyed the base world building. The kinds of characters that songs are, especially jazz-blues standards, is a great concept. That the safe-keeping of these songs is vital for the preservation of Nola, an alternate New Orleans is also great. But there is so much other lore and plot going on that I felt a little overwhelmed at times.

I did also like Alex Jennings writing style, especially his use of dialect. I often shy away from works that use character dialects because deciphering dialog can take away from the actual writing. Jennings’ use of dialect comes of as natural for the characters and natural for the reader.

The Ballad of Perilous Graves was often fun, but my wish is that it were a little more trim and focused.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ The Cormorant

Cover: The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

I don’t remember how, but at some point in college, I watched “The Cormorant,” an 88 minute episode of Screen Two, which is a British anthology TV series. I think it was probably on PBS and caught my eye because it starred Ralph Fiennes. Knowing that it was based on a book, I kept an eye out.

A few years later, the book was republished by White Wolf. A double win for me since I wanted to support White Wolf’s fiction publishing venture. (White Wolf is better known for RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade.) And then, as is my MO, I didn’t read the book for 20 years . . .

It’s been nearly as long since I saw the TV version, but there are a few scenes that I’m pretty sure weren’t included in the adaptation. The story set-up is this: when misanthropic Uncle Ian dies, he leaves his cottage in Wales to his nephew, with the proviso that the family continue to take care of Uncle Ian’s cormorant. The cormorant is capricious, as any wild animal is. The year-old son of the protagonist is fascinated by the bird. Additionally, maybe Uncle Ian hasn’t quite moved on and is influencing little Harry.

Gregory’s writing is very sleek and raw. The tone of the novel reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates. Discomfiting, being an apt word for both. There is a somewhat incestuous scene that occurs. Many other reviewers see this as gratuitous and out of place, but I read it as Uncle Ian almost possessing Harry. This doesn’t make it any less squicky. There is also not surprisingly a bit of animal cruelty; be aware.

According to LibraryThing, I no longer own Gregory’s The Blood of Angels. I’m not sure that’s accurate, which would mean I have a box of books somewhere that I didn’t catalog. (This is not beyond the realm of possibility.) If I do still own it, I’ll probably read it at some point. If I don’t, I probably won’t go out of my way to read more Gregory.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ Elric of Melnibone

Cover: Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock (art by Brom)

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

I realized about halfway through Elric of Melnibone that I had wrongly bucketed Michael Moorcock with pulp authors like Robert E. Howard. Elric felt to me like one of those very core fantasy characters. He is all over fantasy art and, being a dude with a big sword, I figured he was like Howard’s Conan.

Elric is very much a response to characters like Conan. I was surprised that almost thirty years separates the first appearances of the two swordsmen. Where Conan is a big, burly warrior, Elric is intellectual and sickly. The product of a dying, somewhat depraved culture, Elric feels that a change needs to be made and is unsure about whether there is anything he can do to bring about change without destroying everything. It’s a refreshing level of introspection.

There are of course adventures. Elric isn’t exactly the most popular leader of Melnibone. His cousin Yyrkoon sets things in motion; by trying to usurp power, putting Elric’s love interest in peril (who is also Yyrkoon’s sister), and forcing Elric into certain actions. This first volume of stories sets up Elric as a wanderer and seeker of wisdom. More adventures doubtlessly follow.

What I really appreciated was Moorcock’s streamlined storytelling. He has the efficiency of a short story writer, which is much not what I expect from epic fantasy. I can imagine other writers going on for multiple volumes to tell the same story sequence that Moorcock covers in 180 pages. Mainly, this is due to Moorcock only focusing on the titular character. No “B” plots are investigated if they don’t include Elric. I suppose this could be considered too sparse, but I liked it. I’ll probably read more Elric in the future.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer Review ~ The Circus of Dr. Lao

cover: The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney

The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney

As John Marco’s introduction to this edition points out, the plot of The Circus of Dr. Lao is simple: a circus arrives in a small town, puts on its show, and then leaves the small town. The devil, though, is the details.

Dr. Lao’s circus isn’t your usual show. There are no P. T. Barnum elephants and clowns. There isn’t a mirror maze or carousel either, Γ  la Mr. Dark’s carnival. Bradbury was probably influenced by Finney’s novel and Peter S. Beagle perhaps moreso. Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival shares several attractions with Dr. Lao’s: a satyr, a “sea serpent,” and a unicorn. Dr. Lao does present a peep show too (for sober men over the age of 18) but the subject matter seems rather more like a cultural documentary than a kootch show.

On one hand, the text feels surprisingly modern. Finney plays around a lot with concepts of gender and expectations. Miss Birdsong, the town’s English teacher, briefly considers dressing as a man in order to see what the peep show is all about. Many of the attractions have shifting genders. Dr. Lao, a Chinese man, shifts between erudite educator and broken-English stereotype, based mostly on who he’s interacting with. On the other, this is a novel written in 1934. The word hermaphrodite is used probably more than it should be. Need to know a racial slur? Well, it probably gets casually used at least once within the narrative. And there are definitely some cringe-worthy racial stereotypes at work in the context of the peep show.

Dr. Lao offers no morals at his circus and Finney doesn’t moralize either. Most of the citizens of Abalone, Arizona continue on with their lives unchanged (except notibly for those who don’t follow the rules about the medusa exhibit). I can see myself giving this book a reread in the future after I’ve let my mind mull on it more. Maybe then I’ll come to some conclusions about it.

(This was also book #15 for Beat the Backlog. Ten more to go!)

Posted in Female Author, Novel, Readathons-Challenges-Memes

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Recently, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in my corner of the internet over the trailer of a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. After reading some of the passionate discourse and having liked Pride and Prejudice more than I expected, I decided to add Persuasion to my summer reading list.

Unlike Pride and Prejudice, I was relatively unfamiliar with the story of Persuasion and perhaps my reading suffered for that. The cast of relations and relatives was somewhat dizzying to me. I lost a few threads, I feel, after about to75% mark. I probably would have fared better if my brain could put more concrete attributes to names (which having watched a film adaptation of P&P before I read it allowed me to do).

I can definitely see where things in the recent movie trailer are striking wrong notes for Austen fans. Anne seems to be the constant, solid one in her family, probably not prone to jelly mustaches. “Now we’re worse than exes, we’re friends” also seems to be a big bone of contention and, yeah, I don’t know where that sentiment is in the novel. Director Carrie Cracknell implies that the trailer paints a potentially inaccurate view of how the movie actually is. I guess the world at large, or at least people with Netflix subscriptions, will find out in a couple of weeks.

Personally, I found it to be a fine story, but Austen doesn’t have quite enough setting details for me to truly love her work. I do think that filmmakers can bring a lot to her stories, whether in faithful adaptations like the 1995 (or 2005) Pride and Prejudice or very modern updates like 2022’s Fire Island.

Tangentially, Persuasion was published posthumously in 1817. I never fully realized that Mary Shelley and Jane Austen were publication contemporaries.