Deal Me In, Week 20 ~ “The Albertine Notes”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Albertine Notes” by Rick Moody

Card picked: Queen of Spades

From: Thrilling Tales, ed. by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: At week 20, I have come upon my first DNF story of the year. More of a novella than a short story (weighing in at 61 pages), I gave “The Albertine Notes” twenty pages to keep me interested. Honestly, I only made it seventeen pages.

The premise seemed good: After an atomic bomb is detonated in New York City, many disenfranchised people turn to the drug Albertine. Albertine allows for perfect and immersive recall of memories. And even the ability to “remember” the future. I was willing to suspend disbelief; memory doesn’t work like this, but I’d go for a speculative fiction ride. Unfortunately, the telling of this story is really muddy and repetitive.

Kevin Lee, our narrator, is a journalist tasked with investigating the claims that surround Albertine. There are long circular explanations of how the drug might work and how it might have been connected to the bombing mixed in with paranoid conspiracies involving the government and drug dealers. It reminded me of Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but without the weird feeling of impending doom. It just didn’t work for me.

About the Author: Rick Moody is pretty notable in the realm of literary fiction. Alas, I’m only familiar with his works via a movie adaptation. The Ice Storm is rather good.

Deal Me In, Week 7 ~ “The Sandman”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Sandman” by E. T. A. Hoffmann

Card picked: Two of Diamonds – A WILD card. Yes, seven weeks in and I’ve already drawn two wild cards. I don’t much like the deck I’m drawing from.

From: Weird Tales by E.T.A. Hoffmann, translated by T.J. Bealby, available from Project Gutenberg

Thoughts:

This is the second story I’ve read from the Obscure Literary Monsters list. The story might be “obscure” in that I’m not sure it’s widely read, but some of the details have a curious legacy. The Sandman in his most benevolent form sprinkles sand into children’s eyes to bring sleep and dreams. I understand that this is a myth to explain the grit in the corner of your eyes that you wake up with, but I’ve always thought the concept sounded terrible. A guy sneaking around and sprinkling *sand* in someone’s eyes? Nothing about this says sleep and good dreams to me. E.T.A. Hoffmann seems to agree.

Our protagonist is Nathanael, a student at an Italian university. We learn in a letter from him to Lothar, the brother of his fiance, that he is being troubled by something that he believes he left behind in childhood: the Sandman. When he was a kid, he explains, his nurse scared the bejeezus out of him with tales of a Sandman that threw sand in the eyes of children who refused to go to sleep and then would pluck their eyes out to feed to his own children. That’s a tale that will put a kid to sleep…never again. Young Nathanael convinces himself that a particularly loathsome man, Coppelius, who occasionally visits his father late at night, is actually the Sandman. Nathanael sneaks out of his room one night in hopes of proving his theory, but he’s quickly found out and further scared by Coppelius. In fact, Nathanael is convinced that Coppelius removes Nathanael’s hands and feet to examine them, before his father rescues him. His childhood trauma culminates a few months later with an accident–a late-night explosion which kills Nathanael’s father. Nathanael is certain Coppelius, or rather the Sandman, had something to do with it What has troubled older Nathanael is the arrival at the university of a weather glass salesman who looks *just* like feral old Coppelius.

The letter ends up being read by his fiance, Clara. On one hand, Clara is level-headed about it all. Her theory is that Nathanael has blown his childhood fears way out of proportion. His nurse told him a cruel story, Coppelius didn’t care for children and delighted in scaring him, and his father died while doing some sort of chemical experiment. The monster that is dogging Nathanael is all in his head; we create our monsters.  On the other hand, Clara is sort of annoyingly optimistic.”[T]he intuitive prescience of a dark power working within us to our own ruin cannot exist also in minds which are cheerful” is sort of her final statement on the subject.

Nathanael seems to mostly agree. In a second letter, he admits that he’s been a bit foolish. The weather glass salesman doesn’t look *that* much like Coppelius. One of his teachers, Spalanzani, knows the guy and vouches for him. All in all, Nathanael is happy to be coming home for holidays. He relates one more thing to Lothar. Speaking of Spalanzani, Nathanael peeked through a crack in the door to catch a glimpse of Spalanzani’s daughter. She’s beautiful, but sort of vacant…

Despite the tone of the letter, Nathanael isn’t over the whole Sandman/Coppelius thing. He drones on about everyone being the playthings of some evil ultimate power. He even pens a poem in which he and Clara happily woo but when they come to the marriage altar, Coppelius shows up and plucks out Clara’s eyes. Needless to say, this poem is not endearing to Clara.  She’s not unhappy when he goes back to the university.

When Nathanael returns, he finds that the building where he used to live has been burnt down. Some of his fellow students rescued his belongings and he’s been moved to an apartment next to where Spalanzani and his daughter, Olimpia, live. In fact, often Nathanael has a direct view into the room where Olimpia sits for hours on end not really moving or doing anything. The weather glass salesman finally pays Nathanael a visit and to get rid of the guy, Nathanael buys a mini telescope from him. Now with an even better way of spying on Olimpia, Nathanael becomes utterly besotted. It’s as though, she never had life in her eyes until he looked into her eyes. Olimpia is given a coming out party, but Nathanael is her only suitor. She can dance, but is stiff in her movements. She can sing songs, but doesn’t talk much beyond saying “Ack!” But she listens to Nathanael with utmost attention. She’s the perfect woman! Alas, Nathanael is doomed. He walks in on an argument between Spalanzani and the weather glass man (who actually *is* Coppelius) about who made Olimpia’s clockwork and who made her eyes. Coppelius makes off with Olimpia’s body, leaving her eyes behind. That’s not the end of Nathanael’s story, but I don’t want to spoil it all.

I wasn’t expecting a 1816 tale called “The Sandman” to so heavily involve an automaton. (Due to the name. The subject matter–life from unlife–was definitely having a resurgence.) Other sinister versions of the Sandman have been done, but I have to wonder if there isn’t more than a little of this story in the movie Blade Runner.

About the Author: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s best known work, at least in its ballet form, is The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. “The Sandman” gets a much more light-hearted dance adaptation too with Coppelia, the story of an inventor with a life-like dancing doll, the young man who falls in love with it, and Swanhilde, the girl he was supposed to marry who saves him from himself by pretending to be the doll. Presumably things work out better for all involved in this version.

Swanhilde (performed by Leanne Benjamin). I have to think that abrupt, wooden movement do not make for easy ballet.

Review ~ Under Stars

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Under Stars by K.J. Kabza

Cover via Goodreads

KJ Kabza is back with a second, bigger round of short fiction that’s “Incredible” (Tangent), “Fascinating” (SFRevu), and “Worthy of Edgar Allan Poe” (SFcrowsnest). Featuring his freshest work from the top science fiction and fantasy venues of today, including F&SF, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and more, UNDER STARS showcases wonders from worlds both here and beyond—enchanted hedge mazes, abandoned cities, programmable cyberneurons, alien overlords, 1,000-foot-high tides, secret dreams, and humanity’s omnipotent future. (via Goodreads)

When I read “The Soul in the Bell Jar” in the pages of The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 6, I wondered if the setting already existed, if the short story was an “expanded universe” type of deal where an author explores a nook or cranny of the world they’ve already built in five novels. No, it wasn’t. My next question was, “Was it going to be five novels?” ‘Cause I’d totally read that! Sadly, the answer to that question is “no” too, but it’s okay.

It’s okay because K.J. Kabza puts that seemingly effortless world building into all his stories. There is no dry exposition about how any given world works. These stories don’t have time for that. As readers, we are simply put down in the story. We interact with the world as the characters do and feel like we have what knowledge we need. Each story is being told from the speculative fiction culture it’s from without the easy-mode outsider to explain everything. And as lovely as the world-building is, these stories are about the characters.

This is a weighty anthology. Twenty-two stories, only a few of them are 2-3 pages in length, and a section of “poetry.” It’s broken into three sections: Fiction, Fantastic; Fiction, Science; and Limericks, Dirty.

I’m picky about my science fiction, so the first section worked the best for me. “The Soul in the Bell Jar” is here with its gloriously squwicky concept of stitched souls, but I would as easily love to spend more time with the sandcats of “The Color of Sand” or in the dictionary of “Neighbors: A Definitive Odyssey.” Some of the usual fantasy cast are also given a treatment: vampires, trolls, unicorns, and (ahem) dragon riders.

This isn’t to say that the SF stories are chopped liver. There is a lot of tech fun to be had in extrapolating surf culture into the future with a story like “Gnarly Times at Nana’ite Beach.” “Copyright 2113″ does what good science fiction should do: *gently* show how humans might end up interacting with technology (in this case DRM on memories) instead of being preachy and/or pessimistic about it. My favorite story of this section though is “The Land of Stone and Stars,” a poignant tale of loss set in a subtly different world. Again, these stories are about the characters, not the settings, even as fully rounded as the settings seem.

The limericks? Well, they’re limericks. Naughty nerdy limericks. Fun at parties and apparently cons. If I could go back in time, I would have read them between the story sections as a palate cleanser.

Publisher: KJ Kabza
Publication date: October 27, 2014; Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple & Kobo
Genre: Speculative fiction.

#COYER ~ Short Reviews of Short Works

And, they’re all free online! Yes, I know #COYER is supposed to be about cleaning out your ereader, but who doesn’t love free fiction?

“Abigail Abernathy: All-Night Analytical Engine Analyst” by T.R. Goodman

Cover via Goodreads

All Abigail Abernathy wants is a respectable job where she can put her knowledge of analytical engines to use. The Royel Trading Company of Bristol provides her with just such an opportunity, but not everyone is pleased to have her aboard. Between incompetent management, clients helpless beyond her imagination, and a disgruntled former analytical engine analyst who will stop at nothing to take back the job she unknowingly took from him, will her credulity, not to mention her sanity, be up to the task? It’s going to be a long night. (via Goodreads)

While I’m not much of a fan of the “improper” female Victorian character that spends time thinking about how improper she is, this was a fun story. This quick introductory tale is sort of what it might be like to be sys admin in a steampunk world.

“Abigail Abernathy: All-Night Analytical Engine Analyst” at Amazon

“The Rose of Fire” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Cover via Goodreads

Set at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century, “Rose of Fire” tells the story of the origins of the mysterious labyrinthine library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which lies at the heart of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novels The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and now The Prisoner of Heaven. (via Goodreads)

Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series has been on my TBR list for a while now. “The Rose of Fire” was written between the second and third books, but is a prequel of sorts for the whole series. It’s a nice slice of background and doesn’t require any knowledge from the other books. My only disappointment is that the file on my Kindle includes an excerpt from The Prisoner of Heaven and I was looking forward to the story being much longer than it was.

“The Rose of Fire” at Amazon

“Strigoi” by Lavie Tidhar

Cover via Goodreads

First published in Interzone #242, September 2012. Cover artist, Warwick Fraser-Coombe

Lavie Tidhar is another author I keep meaning to read more of due to intriguing concepts. “Strigoi” takes the concept of the Romanian vampire and the shambleau from C. L. Moore’s story of the same name and sends it into space. The story focuses on Carmel, the turned victim of a strigoi. She left earth to see the universe and returns to Central Station in search of fitting in somewhere. I really liked the mash up of science fiction and traditional supernatural elements, but the story seemed to lose focus near the end.

“Strigoi” at Lavie Tidhar’s website

COYER SUMMER VACATION

Deal Me In, Week 26 ~ “TechnoMagic”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“TechnoMagic” by Kevin J Anderson

Card picked: King of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review:

Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

(I would have been disappointed if no one had used this as the basis for a story in a genre anthology about magic.)

Taurindo is not originally from Las Vegas. He is, in fact, a xenosociologist stranded on Earth for twenty-seven years until a rescue mission arrives. What does an alien with “sufficiently advanced technology” do in the meantime? He becomes the Great Taurindo, the most popular magician on the Las Vegas Strip. The beauty of this tale is that Taurindo himself doesn’t understand the gizmo he uses to perform his tricks.

The machine was far beyond my level of understanding and education… The palm-sized gizmo worked, and that’s all I needed to know…

How much of our day-to-day is reliant on “gizmos” that might as well be magical for all our understanding of them?

This was short, completely enjoyable story.

About the Author: If you’re familiar with genre media tie-ins, you’ve probably heard of Kevin J. Anderson. He’s written dozens of novelizations and media tie-ins as well as his own original novels. Currently, he’s probably best known for expanding the Dune universe with Frank Herbert’s son, Brian.

Is This Your Card?

A pretty long, but very entertaining set by Christian Cagigal, who combines storytelling with card sleights. The King of Hearts makes his appearance during the second story.

Reviews ~ Spore & Whom the Gods Would Destroy (dual review)

(Whom the Gods Would Destroy was provided to me by DarkFuse via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Dual review for these two novellas.

Spore by Alex Scarrow

Cover via Goodreads

In a small town in the Nevada desert, an alien pathogen has reduced the entire population to a seething mass of black slime. When the Eighth Doctor arrives, he realises this latest threat to humanity is horrifyingly familiar – it is a virus which almost annihilated his entire race, the Time Lords…

Eleven Doctors, eleven months, eleven stories: a year-long celebration of Doctor Who! The most exciting names in children’s fiction each create their own unique adventure about the time-travelling Time Lord.(via Goodreads)

Whom the Gods Would Destroy by Brian Hodge

Cover via Goodreads

“Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from godhood.”

For Damien, growing up was all about being an outsider in his own home. His mother and brother shared an unfathomable bond that left him excluded from their lives. Yet his earliest, fragmentary memory of them was so nightmarish, their lives were something he ran from as soon as he could.

Now an astronomy graduate student in Seattle, Damien is happy with his place as a speck in a cosmos vast beyond comprehension. Until his brother turns up after 13 years, to make amends and seek his expertise on a discovery that may not be of this Earth. The more the world expands to admit the possibilities of a universe stranger than even Damien has imagined, the greater is his urgency to resist being reclaimed by a past that never seemed to want him…until now.

Like a collision of galaxies between H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Sagan, Whom the Gods Would Destroy looks to the night skies as the source of our greatest wonder, and finds them swarming with our worst fears. (via NetGalley)

I wouldn’t have suspected that a short novella for young people and longer, darker novella meant for an adult audience had much in common. Sure, both are science fiction of a sort, but one is Doctor Who and the other invokes Lovecraft. They are surprising bedfellows.

While Spore is part of the 50th Anniversary collection of short works written presumably for young people,  its characters are adults and it pulls no punches. One of my favorite aspects of Doctor Who is that, while it purports to be science fiction and is commonly fantasy, it’s also quite often horror. As reputation dictates, kids don’t hide behind the couch while watching Doctor Who for no reason. Thrills should be part of childhood and Spore delivers. The spore, as it liquifies people and gathers itself into more complex forms, is pretty squicky. Its impetus is to test the intelligence of the foremost native species on a planet and, if the species is found wanting, wipe the planet clean for its own colonization. I haven’t read much Doctor Who fiction, but this is the best written of the lot thus far.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy is also a story of colonization. In both cases, von Neumann probes are referenced, but with a twist. In both cases, the self-replicating “spaceship” is of biological nature. Whom the Gods… is an incredibly dark tale. There is no Doctor to rescue the world, only a graduate student whose own family history can shed light on what’s occurring, but can not stop it. It’s a more personal tale and it *is* a more unsettling tale. Hodge plays with the notion of evil versus amorality. If an advanced enough intelligence seems like a god to us humans, what do we seem like to it? Not a pleasant concept to contemplate. Hodge’s writing is tight and suspenseful with the right amount of jolts.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy will be available from DarkFuse on December 10, 2013.

2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Review ~ The Eight Doctors

Doctor Who: The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks

Cover via Goodreads

Newly-regenerated and travelling through the universe in his TARDIS, the eighth Doctor is suddenly hit by a mind-shattering blast of malignant psychic energy – a final booby trap left by the Master. (via Goodreads)

My entire reading plan for the week went out the window when I decided to skew toward celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. After the surprise of “The Night of the Doctor” webisode last week, I again wanted more of the eighth Doctor. The Eight Doctors picks up where the 1996 TV movie leaves off and provides an adventure akin to the 20th anniversary The Five Doctors.

“Let’s just say I’m a Doctor…Clearly, I’m not the one you were expecting.”

The premise is simple. The eighth Doctor must meet his previous incarnations to regain his memories. Of course, the Doctor being the Doctor, there’s always trouble. Some of these visits work considerably better than others. Dicks’ writing shines when describing about Four’s adventures with vampires and the events of The Five Doctors; Raston Warrior Robot included. If there had been more Sontarans, so much the better. In contrast, the political intrigue portion was rather dull and the framing story set in 90s London was somewhat cringe-worthy.

Still, it was fun. Many of the iconic episodes referenced are ones I had just watched or read about in Who’s 50. It’s a nice bridge between big, multi-Doctor adventures, which this weekend’s “The Day of the Doctor” promises to be.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Why did I choose to read this book? Wanted some Doctor Who fun.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes. It was a quick read.